Dry

26 Jul

Dry

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Nothing soothed the thirst. Those who succumbed early were blessed, their blood and bladders drained by others for anything that quenched. Their remains littered the streets like dried road kill — skin stretched taut over bony skeletons.

You could not tell the once-obese corpses from those who were always in fit shape. They all looked alike. Like the stark images from Dachau or WWII American prison camps, or the tin-type images of Confederate and Union prisoners. The irony was that those who were fat lasted much longer than the morbidly-fit group, whose muscles and sinew deteriorated much more quickly. There was little fat on them for the arid planet to suck dry.

All rivers and lakes were cracked dry beds of adobe now. The Great Lakes were so drained they were but large ponds, but even those were fiercely protected by the border-states and Canada. Not a tree on the planet bore leaves of any kind. Not a blade of grass was not withered. The air was thus thick and burning when breathed in.

Every grocery shelf product that contained any kind of liquid was ravaged by armed droves of unsupervised militants — the preppers who long-warned the day would come when survival would be the realm of the fittest. Ironically, most preppers had tossed out Darwinism in favor of Spencer’s theory, never associating the two men. Coca-Cola and Pepsi distributors and headquarters had long been assaulted, looted and burned to the ground by tongue-parched protestors over the inordinate amount of water resources used by the two giants to produce product. Their CEOs and board members were attacked and publicly hanged, then their bodies burned.

Birch Holcromb stared at his emaciated image in the dusty mirror on the door to his closet.

God! he thought, realizing he had lost nearly 150 pounds at least over the last year. He remembered he had heard the human body is 98 percent water. At the time it seemed absurd. Now, not so much.

His wife died six months earlier from diarrhea because she drank from the toilet. She was desperate. She was one of millions who emptied the sewer systems by drinking water scooped from toilets, then boiled. Not all of the bacteria were killed by the process. It took about ten days for her to die, keeling over onto the bathroom floor from her hardened perch on the john.

Holcromb knew better than that. But you could never tell Cathy anything. Once she decided to do something, she did it. He left his post sitting on the edge of the tub in support of her after he had no more physical or emotional strength left. He was lying in bed, the fan blowing directly on him from his dresser bureau, when he heard the soft thud of her body onto the tiled floor. He left her there.

Water.

He dreamed about it. Oceans and oceans of clear, pristine liquid reflecting an azure sky and soft sunlight.

Many had urged him to join their ranks in search of the oases of water rumored about on Facebook. He knew better. The majority turned out to be terrible jokes played by worthless weasels who somehow found satisfaction by scamming the public.

The news contained two headlines daily: another source of water dried up, and scores of hopeful and hapless people who had either dropped dead on their search for hydration of any kind, or were killed by preppers as a result of trying to raid the survivalist.

He was amazed at the kinds of things people would try to relieve thirst:

Beer, wine and hard alcohol vanished quickly, to no one’s surprise, but to great dismay.

Canned foods — especially fruits and vegetables — were then targeted. Those were decimated within the first three months of the world drought.

Then anything drinkable, like mouthwashes, was consumed.

On to the not-so-drinkables, like rubbing alcohol and cologne. Followed by anything liquid. Even urine.

Suicides were plentiful and creative. Toilet water, of course. Then Draino, and gasoline, and engine coolant were poisons of choice. Why more didn’t just shoot themselves and get it over quickly bemused him. He supposed that the last savor of something wet was the reason, however horrible the aftermath.

This day Holcomb had reached his point of surrender.

Why fight it?

There was an ironic silver lining. At least everyone in the world pit their frustrations, anger and efforts against one common enemy. It was a terrible price to pay to attain an increased level of reason regarding how the Pre-Drought era. The world was no longer pitted against itself, other than preppers versus everyone else. But in the redirection of care, even the preppers were not hated. Others arrived at the understanding the small enclaves were going to end up brittle skin on bones, too. There wasn’t enough energy left among the dwindling populations to be envious, or frightened, or paranoid. All of the issues that had existed in the once-watered world seemed of no consequence at all. Religious issues dried up, as did political extremes, LGBT controversy, and all of the other “very important” points of view that separated and divided once before.

Even Duke haters no longer hated Duke.

For the occasion, Holcromb decided to go out in style, and put on his favorite business attire, starting with his underwear and socks. He had to tie a knot in the waistband of the underwear because of his extreme weight loss, and used a pair of natty suspenders to hang his trousers. His dress shirt collar gaped open at the front until he clamped the back of it with one of Cathy’s bobby pins. Racked by the pain of dried finger joints, he nevertheless managed to tie a neat, tight double Windsor knot in his necktie. Then he awkwardly slipped into his

Looking in the mirror to brush his thin hair he chuckled. He looked like a Ringling Brothers clown in his oafish, baggy outfit. Socks donned and his wingtips tied, he winked at himself before turning to exit the house.

He closed the door to the bathroom as he passed it in the hallway. It was now a crypt for Cathy’s mummified body, which no longer stank.

On the sidewalk he walked as briskly as he could. He tried in vain to whistle a tune — one his father constantly sang or whistled. Oh What A Beautiful Morning!  From his dad’s second-favorite musical, Oklahoma! His first favorite was South Pacific, because he had served in the Navy in the Pacific during WW II. His lips were too cracked and dry, and whistling was beyond his current condition.

A rare cool breeze blew gently across his face, and the day was bright and hot like more than a thousand days had been.

Ordinarily Holcromb wouldn’t have walked on a hot day. Within minutes — seconds even — he would have been drenched. It’s not the heat … it’s the humidity. That was the standard retort for misplaced Northerners who had moved south to live years ago and who eventually complained of the stagnant temperatures.

But there was no humidity now, and he did not have enough water in his body to express onto his face, or neck, or other body areas in order to cool. Those pores had long puckered closed into his skin.

There were no birds nor insects to accompany him along his walk. The birds had long died off, as had most of the feral animals who foraged and competed for water. Dry carcasses were inhospitable to insect eggs or larvae, and so flies eventually succumbed. There was no standing water for mosquitoes to proliferate, which was a good thing. The cicadae were dried out of the ground, and their summer chirrups had long gone silent. The only insect that seemed impervious to the conditions were the cockroaches. Even they were on the decline, as there was at least a bit of moisture in their crackling bodies.

It was oddly silent as he wound his way out of his exclusive neighborhood and toward the small town bank where he had worked his way up over the decades.

He was Assistant Bank Manager in charge of commercial loans.

He still had his keys to the five-story brick building, his office, the executive bathroom and the penthouse.

The wind picked up as he turned down the final stretch to the bank. It seemed a bit cooler to him. Wind was arbitrary now, and had become the sweeper of dust, debris, dead leaves and random trash.

Scattered along his route were the decayed bodies of people he had once known and done business with. Other than by their clothes they were unidentifiable in their mummified conditions.

Pastor Markham lay prone on the steps to the First Baptist Church. He collapsed three months ago, having forsworn any liquid intake as he prayed on his knees for God to send rain. There was not enough energy or care on the part of his parishioners to remove his body for burial.

Ditty Smith, owner of Ditty’s Dottera, was draped over the front counter of her shop, now hardened into that position. She didn’t die of thirst. She was shot in the head by looters who cleaned out all of her holistic ointments and oils. Hers was the first murder in the town not responded to by officials of any sort. It was the turning point of caring.

The front door to the bank was unlocked.

Normally Gus Amos sat his security watch in an old schoolhouse desk, wearing his silver badge and uniform proudly. He, too, was dead — but at home. He used his gun to dispatch his wife and himself.

Luckily Holcromb’s office was only one flight up, and he climbed the steps slowly, recalling much about his work there, shaking his head at the finality and futility of it all.

He unlocked the executive bathroom and tried the spigots and looked into the john stall. Only orange water stains streaked the sinks and the toilet bowl. All were powder dry.

He moved on to his office, and walked slowly about its walls, touching and reminiscing. He sat in the overly large leather chair, and pulled himself up close to the ornate desk.

The decor was bank-like in nature. His diploma and multiple certificates of merit were neatly arranged in expensive wooden frames. His recognition from the Boy Scouts of America, and from the Chamber of Commerce as well as the United Way were strategically positioned so that visitors could easily see them.

Everything was veiled with a light coating of dust.

He tried to lean back in his chair, but didn’t have the weight to budge it. He smiled and shook his head slowly.

Pulling himself back onto his feet, he trudged out of his office and across the hallway to the elevator. He pushed the UP button, and to his satisfaction it glowed yellow. The electricity was still on.

The doors opened to a ding, and Holcromb entered the elevator cab. Otis. Weren’t all elevators Otis?

He took a key and unlocked access to the penthouse level, then pushed the button. The cab jerked to life and ascended slowly, machinery whirring and grinding above him. When it abruptly stopped, the bell dinged again and the doors opened.

It was the office of the President of the bank, now dead for two years. Its walls were of clear glass, and with the exception of the wall that housed the elevator. The view was a near-complete panorama of the town and beyond.

He turned slowly to purvey the view. It was nearly noon. All around the town was bathed in sunlight and appeared normal, with the exception of no movement and no noise.

Holcromb was the last living person in town, as far as he knew.

He walked to one of the glass walls and placed both hands flat against its surface. It was hot to the touch, yet he let his hands remain, knowing his leathery skin was practically immune to any more damage.

There were no clouds, except a towering build-up of cottony puffs in the west.

Mirage, he thought. Like every other seeming hint of rain.

He walked through a glass door to the outside porch. It was carefully designed for small trees and other flora, which had long since died and withered. Sun-scorched deck furniture had begun to crack of its enameled paint, revealing dull gray aluminum frames. Vinyl straps that served as seat bottoms and backs looked decayed as well, and Holcromb thought better of sitting down. Instead, he walked to the bricked half-wall that bordered the deck, and leaned to look over onto the street below.

A few abandoned cars were parked in spaces, the meters long expired. Their shells no longer gleamed of polished metal, but were faded unevenly.

The sidewalks were empty, and he could actually see the heat radiating from their surface.

So this was it.

His world had dried up, figuratively and literally.

Holcromb mustered enough strength to stand atop the wall. He stretched his arms out to the side, as if preparing to take flight.

A distant rumble caught his attention.

The cumulus clouds had built up a bit in that short period of time.

Are they darker?

Again, a mirage. A cruel joke on the part of the gods.

Another breeze crossed his body. Decidedly cooler, he thought.

He held his arms out again, palms up, as if to invoke, to dare. But not to hope. That had shriveled and cracked long ago.

His suit coat caught a draft of wind and ballooned open, the cool air whisking about his sides and back.

Another rumble, only louder and more pronounced.

He flared his cracked nostrils.

He scented something almost totally forgotten — moisture.

Rain?

The clouds were darker, thicker, more angry and saturated. They rolled toward him like a powerful black-engine freight train that spouted more black clouds from its huffing stack.

One tiny dot of water struck the opened palm of his right hand.

He turned toward the freight train cloud.

It was even larger and closer, and each burst from its wheels cracked the sky as though to split apart the blue dam that had long restrained the rain.

Cra-aack! Boom!

With a second drop of rain came his unbridled response, and he began to heave with dried emotion, sensing hope, relief and anger combined.

Overhead almost, a lightning bolt split the air with a deafening report, and Holcromb held his hands to his ears, then leaned back to face the now gargantuan black front.

Crash! came another cannon-like report, followed by a series of volleys.

The sky was no longer blue, but black.

The wind whipped cold, damp tendrils all about Holcromb’s body. He stripped off his jacket and let it fly away with the gusts. He slipped his suspenders from his shoulders, letting his trousers fall to his ankles. He loosened his tie and unbuttoned his shirt, letting it billow behind him as the wind filled it like a sail.

“Rain!” he yelled into the storm. “Rain, you goddamn son-of-a-bitch!” and rose a clenched fist into the bluster.

A crack and a brilliant blast of light were the last things Birch Holcromb experienced. He was dead before his body crumbled apart on the sidewalk below in front of the bank.

His death was ruled both accidental and a suicide by the town coroner, who couldn’t decide between which.

His wife was found dead in the upstairs bathroom of his house, dehydrated and starved to death.

The small town newspaper ran the story as a front-page headliner — Local Banker Commits Suicide. Friends and family were all amazed, and no one could point to any reasons that might lead up to the apparent murder-suicide.

“It’s a puzzler, all right,” commented the sheriff. “Strange thing was he had cut the water off at the street, and anything in the pantry that had water in it was opened and emptied. Not a drop of liquid in that house,” he mused, stopping to drink from a glass of water during the press conference.

 

Copyright © Lawrence S. Marsden, 26 July, 2015

 

 

 

 

The road to writer’s hell …

12 Jul

The road to writer’s hell …

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

The saying may as well be about us writers: The road to writer’s hell is paved with good intentions …

For several weeks I’ve had the best laid-out plan for my work for this summer. It has included:

  • Completing rewriting and editing the 2nd edition of Through the Glass Darkly and getting that book uploaded
  • Final edits and rewrites for The Typewriter novella and uploading for eBook download and sales
  • Revisiting The Huguenots, a historic novel on the diaspora of the French Huguenots to Charleston, SC
  • Revisiting The Knighting of Tommy McPhee, a YA novel
  • Working sales for Stinky and the Night Mare
  • Putting together the final elements of Stinky and the Best Sandcastle EVER!
  • Mapping out the second novella pertaining to Roland Dumphreys and his Royal KMM typewriter
  • Mapping out and beginning a new work, The Feral Cat, a suspense/fantasy involving Scottish lore, Indian lore, and the mountains of North Carolina
  • Beginning a new work, The Skitterers, a fantasy/horror piece about the beaches in North/South Carolina (based from my childhood)

Guess what I’ve completed?

Nope, you’re wrong.

Guess again.

You’re getting warmer.

None. Zilch. Nada. Ningún. Zero. Nil.

Two weeks at the beach with the best of intentions. Brought all my computer stuff with the minor exception of my HP TouchSmart screen. Had to buy a laptop (HP 16-inch). Struggled with the new Microsoft desktop software (I HATE IT!!!!!!)

Watched my feet swell up with the heat, sunburn and blister and peel.

Didn’t get to prepare my famous surf ‘n turf meal for my family.

Had a few other challenges along the way … although they weren’t my challenges, but those of my family. Children, specifically.

My 35-year-old son has been battling diverticulitis and several hospitalizations. He missed a family trip (the other family) to Ireland due to being hooked up to a PICC line for ministrations of heavy-duty antibiotics.

He went under the knife this past Friday and I’m headed his way in order to help out where I can. Hope not to get in the way.

Part of me thinks, “Okay, these are valid reasons for not accomplishing the list. Perhaps the list is too long. Perhaps too many items. Eat the cake one piece at a time.

More like one word at a time.

I’ll probably guilt myself for a half-dozen things until things settle down. Settle down, things.

That’s why no poems lately. No short stories. No nothing other than random reactions to sharks, Confederate flags, and other top-of-the-news stuff.

I suppose I’ll live with it.

Does this count as writer’s block?

Honestly, my intentions were good. Really they were.

 

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 12 July, 2015

 

Confused

2 Jul

?

Confused

By L. Stewart Marsden

It’s started out as a summer of not-so-sublime events: shootings in Charleston, black churches in the south burned, shark attacks off the coast of North Carolina, Caitlyn Jenner making her splash as her new self, the Supreme Court ruling on LGBT marriage in the nation.

The only “soft” story is about the sharks.

The others are stories that boggle my capacity to comprehend.

I don’t understand why a white man would choose to enter a church, sit down for a brief chat, then spray those around him with bullets. Simple answer? Hate.

I don’t understand the following string of black churches being burned. Simple answer? Hate.

Why Caitlyn Jenner’s transformation had to be such a public affair, and why she is being touted as a hero once again shakes my ability to understand. I don’t have a simple answer.

And to add to the fuel of my inability to grasp things is the ruling of the Supreme Court on legalization of all types of marriage. Part I understand — that of equal rights and protection. The other part? Not so much.

Part of my struggle is similar to that of the fish that swims upstream to spawn. All its life, that fish has pretty much resisted battling currents to go with the flow of the river, ending up miles away from its birthplace. Then, at a mature age, it turns to go back home. Not an easy trek, getting back to the place from which you started.

I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s. Today many of my generation look back to “the good old days” wistfully. If you were white and lived a reasonably comfortable life economically, they were simple, carefree and without worry.

It was post-WWII, and Korea as well (although Korea was a dimmed event in my youth — nothing like the huge war). Everything was “Father Knows Best,” and Beaver Cleaver-esque. Order. Nothing random. No hiccups in daily routine.

Then, The Cold War. Sirens around town signalling everyone duck under your desk. Television images of Khrushchev banging the podium with his shoe at the United Nations. A Catholic gets elected president. The Bay of Pigs. Little Rock.

And as if someone opened the flood gates, the rush of change, carrying all us fishes along with the tide.

A convergence of incredible change. Vietnam — the first conflict after WWII that was controversial. Agent Orange. Baby killers. Soldiers old enough to die for their country, but not old enough to vote or drink alcohol legally. Nightly news body counts. The birth of CBS’s Sixty Minutes.

Malcolm X. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. George Wallace. Freedom Riders. Protests. Police brutality. Sit-ins. Assassinations of presidents, racial equality leaders, candidates. All on camera, or on TV.

Playboy. Betty Friedan. Abortion controversy. Roe v. Wade. The National Organization for Women. Bra burning.

College campus protests. Kent State. Music. The Beatles. Hendrix. Joplin. Dylan. Baez. Woodstock. O’Leary and acid. Pot. Peace, drugs and rock and roll.

Home, the shallow waters where we fishes were excreted and grew up to venture out, was miles and miles and miles away. And, no, we could NOT see for miles and miles.

If you put a frog into a hot pan, it will jump out. If you put that frog into a pan of cool water, and gradually turn up the heat, the frog will cook.

So, as I contemplate this summer, part of me wonders how long I was in the water, and how far downstream I allowed myself to be pushed, pulled, or dragged along.

I’m having difficulty with all of this. I don’t embrace it. I’m struggling how to feel, how to react, what to say. If I choose my normal modus operandi, it would be not to feel, not to react, and to say nothing. Zantac has made a fortune off that particular tendency of people.

I can hear my children now: mortified, horrified, terrified I’m going to say something out-of-line. Something unpopular. Something against the tide and against the flow.

What I say is I don’t like what’s going on. It makes me very uncomfortable. There seems nothing to say. It seems the die is cast. Luckily for those family and friends who should find it in their tolerant make-up to tolerate me, I’m sixty-five, and maybe if I do everything everyone around me is telling me I ought to do, I’ll be around perhaps another twenty. Then, at last, my exasperating inability to understand, grasp, welcome and just go with the river flow will be a moot point. And I won’t bother anyone with my exasperating confusion.

I will remain uncomfortable with those who shoot others, either on purpose or not. I will remain uncomfortable with abortion as a means of birth control. I will be saddened by those with radical hate that emanates so easily from them, be they whatever cultural or political or religious persuasion. I do not understand the LGBT way of life, and will harbor some level of discomfort about it, even though family, friends or others are a part of that life.

I also have a gut feeling there are a lot of people who share my consternation. Once we’re cleared out, I suppose life will be clearer and simpler. That’s not that far away in the overall scheme of things.

Copyright by Lawrence S. Marsden, 2 July, 2015

So, now what?

25 Jun

TheLittleRedHen

So, now what?

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Flags of the Confederate States of America are coming down at state buildings. Statues of supporters of racism are being removed. Ads featuring top celebrities are aired with the message of no more. Twitter and Facebook and every other talk show host, news team and entertainment program are vocalizing a massive disgust of the shooting in Charleston earlier this month.

Wait and see. How long will it take until the dialogue and opinions and special programs finally die down and we return to the status quo?

Three months? Longer?

Yet deep inside each of us fears that once again some seriously rattled person is going to do something to make headlines. Perhaps those plans are being made now. Maybe the plans are in conjunction with outside resources — radical groups that seem to get their kicks by disrupting life. Maybe another movie theater. Maybe at a mall. Maybe some athletic event.

Two questions.

How do we prevent the next horrendous plan from occurring? How do we deal effectively with the elements that fuel the chronic violence in our country? Specifically, how do we treat racism and the racial divide for the insidious malady it is; and how do we better control weaponry that has grown to be the vehicle of daily manslaughter?

The “Demand a Plan” anti-gun ad that features many celebrities was good as ads go, I thought. And then I began to wonder which of the very famous participants will end up becoming a part of a larger effort to demand change, and not wait for the gears of politics to grind.

I wondered what can I do here in my own community? Why wait for an invitation to get involved? Isn’t that what we’ve been doing for the last several decades? The majority of us, I mean. You. Me. Those people over there. Have we gotten to the point that we expect everyone else to get involved and then tell us what to do?

“Who will help me plow the land?” asked the Little Red Hen of the other farm animals.

Years ago … decades, actually … I attended an organizational rally at a church in my hometown. It is in the south, and based predominantly on manufacturing. It was the world-wide center of furniture and textile production. It was 1970 or thereabouts. Organizers were making plans for the March on Washington. A class peer, the daughter of a minister, was among the head organizers. We were going to be a part of a huge demonstration in order to promote peace among blacks and whites. I thought that was ironic at the time, as in our middle-sized town peace hardly existed between the two colors. And I stood and said so.

Decades ago.

I don’t think it has changed much since that time. We seem to want to depend on elected officials off in Washington rather than pick up the sticks and stones out of our own local fields.

“Who will help me plow the land?”

I’m getting to be an old fart. I’ve got many other things that seem very important to me that I could spend most of my time on. I’ve got my children and grandchildren whom I need, and who need me. Other things to do. Other things to focus on.

“Who will help me plow the land?”

Plus, plowing the land is tough work. The plow is heavy. The blade is dull. And the ground is packed and hard, and filled with stones and sticks.

But therein is the challenge. Leave it to Washington? Or in my case, Raleigh? I’m just one person, and I’m an old fart, too. Just what the hell can I do about these overwhelming problems? Isn’t this for the young and the smart? Can’t they do it?

“Who will help me plow the land?”

Oh, I’d rather turn away. It’s not only the safest thing to do, it’s the easiest. I’d surely like one day to break bread with my fellow brethren of different color and culture. I surely would. I’d like to pass that plate of steaming biscuits down a long row of people and share stories and talk of things to be.

“Who will help me plow the land?”

Here’s the thing: the Little Red Hen has gone through these motions so many times before with the same responses, she is at the end of her patience. Like that gospel scripture, “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem …  How often I wanted to gather your children together…” (Luke 13: 34).

“Who will help me plow the land?”

So, now what?

 

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 24 June, 2015

Symbols

23 Jun

Eye-of-Horus

Symbols

By L. Stewart Marsden

I haven’t done the proper research to know when symbols were discovered by archeologists first used by humankind. Probably long before the Egyptian hieroglyphics. Suffice it to say symbols, logos, banners, flags, crests and other tangible and visual designs have been carried, borne, flown and otherwise pressed into too many battles and conflicts to count. They’ve been used to establish ownership, political and governmental dominance, and reminders of what and whom they stand for. Symbols have struck heart, courage, fear and various other emotional responses when heralded.

Depending on the perspective, symbols are welcomed or not. Some are benign in nature, like the constellations. Or the signs for gender. Others challenge long-held points of view and traditional convention, like the rainbow.

Symbols are used for order and safety, as with traffic signs and directional symbols.

Some symbols are highly personal, and relevant to only a few, as with my family’s crest.crest

Some symbols are universally recognized.

Many symbols are viewed and interpreted differently. The impact of some symbols changes with time.

In America, some symbols are seen as an expression of various freedoms. The country has fallen into debate regarding a symbol. Everyone might have an opinion regarding the symbol, though I doubt it. The historical impact of this symbol — the flag of the Confederate States of America — is a point of convergence for those that want to protect it and what it symbolizes, and those who want it taken down because of what it symbolizes.

therebelFor me, it symbolizes one of the worst periods in the history of the United States — the secession of several states from the Union and the ensuing loss of life, property and so much more during the War Between the States. It didn’t always. When I was a kid and my neighborhood friends gathered to play at war, we sometimes played Civil War. The Rebel, starring Nick Adams, portrayed a southern army survivor, Johnny Yuma, in his search for inner peace post-war, was a popular TV series. That gray crushed can-like cap with crossed rifles was bought and worn by dozens of kids I played with.

An earlier TV series that had a short run at the end of the 50’s was The Gray Ghost, a decidedly-biased and romanticized production that focused on Major John Mosby’s unit known as Mosby’s Raiders. But I didn’t know that. The show was very popular among a large following. Not one of us ever stopped to ask about the pivotal cause of the Civil War that I know of. We simply enjoyed playing war. I’ve read book after book on the Civil War. I’ve visited the grounds of Gettysburg and walked over land that was soaked with the blood of Northerners and Southerners.

Perhaps here I should inform you my parents were from Minnesota. Although I grew up in the south, my heritage has northern roots. I was reared when segregation subtly dominated in the background.

Schools, water fountains, restaurants, bathrooms and many other services and conveniences were separated between blacks and whites. It was not until I was in college that I began to have any realization of the great gap between blacks and whites. It was not until I read Alex Haley’s Malcolm X, or read Langston Hughes, Richard Wright or James Baldwin that I came anywhere close to having the binders pulled back. It was not until the great television series Roots aired that I had an inkling of the insidious practice of slavery in America.

As a child I would peer with wonder at the passing shanties along our driving route to the coast of South Carolina each summer for vacation. Dark, foreign structures that only hinted at the decades and centuries of abuse and subjugation on descendants of people from the west coast of Africa.

So within the turmoil of the 60’s and 70’s, I learned. Or better said, was exposed to truths I had not known before.

In an earlier opinion piece, I mentioned that I’ve been told on several occasions white people are inherently racist. Not sure there’s a DNA test that can isolate that particular bent, but when faced not only with the history of slavery and what appears to be continuing efforts by some to keep blacks “in their place,” I’ll concede the point. I compared that bent of racism on my part to other failings I have. For years I smoked cigarettes. Twice I quit — cold turkey — no patches, no support groups, no other nicotine substitutes. That was over twenty-five years ago. But I can tell you this: all I have to do is smoke one cigarette, and I’ll be off the wagon.

I don’t think I’ll become a raging David Duke fan, or KKK patch-wearing racist in the future. I know those people are out there. I stereotypically classify folk as racist who ride around with the Confederate flag attached to the rear window of their truck, or flapping from the radio antenna of their Dodge hemis (see … I’m prejudiced, too). And I am not so naïve as to think removal of the Confederate flag from various state flags or state government flag poles is going to correct centuries of inclinations.

But it’s a start. Take the symbols of hate and fear and stubbornness down. In both camps.

Then, Come now, let us reason together. (Isaiah 1:18).

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 23 June, 2015

Charleston, SC

21 Jun

Charleston, SC

By L. Stewart Marsden

The Old Slave Mart Museum of Charleston, SC, is located on Chalmers Street, about eleven blocks south of Calhoun Street, where Mother Emanuel AME Church stands.

Historians cite close to forty percent of the slave trade from Africa to the thirteen colonies came through Charleston.

According to Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in an article published by PBS.org

100facts_slaveslanded_lgThe most comprehensive analysis of shipping records over the course of the slave trade is the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, edited by professors David Eltis and David Richardson. (While the editors are careful to say that all of their figures are estimates, I believe that they are the best estimates that we have, the proverbial “gold standard” in the field of the study of the slave trade.) Between 1525 and 1866, in the entire history of the slave trade to the New World, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World. 10.7 million survived the dreaded Middle Passage, disembarking in North America, the Caribbean and South America.

 

And how many of these 10.7 million Africans were shipped directly to North America? Only about 388,000. That’s right: a tiny percentage.

[http://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/how-many-slaves-landed-in-the-us/]

outsidemarket-287x300Between the years 1525 and 1808, when foreign slave trading was outlawed in Charleston [http://oldslavemartmuseum.com/charleston-slavery/], one can extrapolate that close to 135,000 Africans, primarily from the west coast of the continent, found themselves on the auction stage to be sold into slavery.

Interesting that Gates, a black man, uses the term only about 388,000.

More about 21-year-old Dylann Roof is slowly rising to the surface of the media blitz. And, when his profile is compared to those of other 21-year-old males, he is clearly an outlier. His opinions, biases, and compulsion to do harm are not those of the vast majority. As he might have wished himself to become somewhere in his skewed perception of the world, he is the exception to the rule.

Roof and his ilk are out there, embedded throughout our nation. We could categorize him in a Venn diagram with Islamic radicals, Christian radicals, and political radicals. He would share space with the likes of Timothy McVeigh, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Eric Rudolph and James Holmes. He would be elbow-to-elbow with proponents of al-Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban. He would share his space with the KKK, Nazi Germany, and a host of infamous groups.

FDR said during his tenure as POTUS, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

As a white man who grew up in the south during the 50’s and 60’s, I have seen a lot of change. Hailing from Minnesota, my dad often said he wasn’t prejudiced against black. “We didn’t have any in Minnesota,” he would allege. Hence his innocence. But along the way by his side, I heard enough to know otherwise.

I was a Republican and rooted for the Republicans because my parents were Republicans. As a kid, it would be like growing up in a household of Mets fans, ergo you were a Met fan.

So was I also biased due to my parents’ attitudes towards blacks?

Mom hired black maids to help keep the house, do the laundry, cook the meals and look after the children so that she could be a part of the Garden Club and the other socialite groups in our southern town. The importance of that was more so because she was a Yankee by birth. Dad’s and her financial success mitigated that fact somewhat.

Mom learned to count the silverware because “it goes missing.” The terms “shiftless,” “non-trustworthy,” and a host of other stereotypes passed to her mindset due to friends’ and neighbors’ input.

When I think about that now, I wonder she could trust her children to be reared by these shiftless, non-trustworthy sorts. Seems a bit counter-intuitive looking back.

Virgie Mae Brown with my brother.

Virgie Mae Brown with my brother.

Virgie Mae Brown was my and my brother’s surrogate mother. She reminded me of the Aunt Jemima illustration — a large, round and brown woman with thick kinky hair. Her bosom was the heart of consolation when needed. Her homespun remedies were as effective as any store-bought medicine (try slicing a potato and wrapping it in a damp cloth and putting it on a feverish brow).

There was a distinct difference between Virgie Mae and my mom. I could talk trash to Virgie Mae and get away with it. I fired her on many occasions, though the firings never stuck.

There was a hierarchy.

Schools I attended were lily-white until junior high. There was no busing. The city was laid out in stereotypical quadrants, with the two quadrants below the railroad tracks occupied by the less-fortunate (as they were politely referred to) and the blacks.

Water fountains were segregated, as were the bathrooms.

Signs declaring “Whites Only” didn’t exist to my memory. It was implied that if a store was on Main Street or other street frequented by whites, “coloreds” were not allowed.

The Paramount Theater had a side entrance for blacks, and those moviegoers climbed steps to a small second balcony. They were monitored for disrupting noise.

I was in the ninth grade before I played basketball with a black student. He was the lone black person on the team. He dressed and showered with us, and traveled to away games on the same bus as we did. Our coach, who we called “Stumpy J,” must have stuck his neck out pretty far to let the guy on the team. The student didn’t start. We were an all-white starting five.

As I grew older, the derogatory words, comments and jokes began to pry into my world. I won’t repeat them here.

Then Little Rock.

And Malcolm X.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Malcolm X’s assassination.

The assassination of JFK.

King’s assassination.

RFK’s assassination.

George Wallace.

Televised marches and police responses.

The Freedom Riders.

The KKK.

Greensboro sit-in.

Vietnam.

Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act.

And more.

A vortex that sucked all I knew at the time and spun it so fast and hard it was like having your bell rung in a boxing ring.

Then gradual change.

The first black mayor of Atlanta.

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” types of films.

Busing and integration of schools at all grade levels.

Affirmative action.

More blacks elected to local, state and national positions.

Black studies at the college level in what were predominantly white schools.

Professional sports cracked open to receive black athletes.

Black personalities coming to the forefront in a variety of areas.

So

What

Is

Going

On?

Was no progress realized? Have no changes occurred? Are we, as some suggest, going back to Jim Crow days?

Are white Americans, who will not soon, if not already, become less in overall numbers than “people of color,” digging in and refusing the tide of change?

Is there a tide?

All I know is things are different for me. Perhaps not as much as I’d like. I still live a rather secluded life as a white person. I know the advantages I have today largely have to do with the fact I was born white and to white parents.

I feel the stigma of my whiteness when a black instructor or FB “friend” states, “You are racist,” as though it automatically comes with my pigmentation. Perhaps I am. But I’m also addicted to cigarettes, and I haven’t smoked one since the late 1980’s.

I feel the helplessness of the repeating news stories of blacks seemingly accosted by both white and black law enforcement because of their color and where they live.

It is difficult not to agree with a pervading attitude that we are seeing only the tip of the iceberg.

I don’t know what the solutions are. I only know that calmer heads need to prevail for meaningful dialogue and change to occur.

Wow! More change needed. We still fear one another. Thought that one got checked off years ago.

Then Charleston.

We were wrong. The struggle is not over. We might have seen the mountain, but we are far from conquering its summit.

Notice, I said “we.”

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 21 June, 2015

Shark!

17 Jun

 

Shark!

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

My nephew and his daughter encounter an unexpected swimming mate. Actually, it's Photoshopped.

My nephew and his daughter encounter an unexpected swimming mate. Actually, it’s Photoshopped.

 

 

 

 

There’s shark activity off the NC coast this week. My family and I are about ten days from driving down to the feeding grounds for two weeks’ of sun ‘n sand ‘n shark bites.

One hapless swimmer was nipped at a beach to the south of where we’re staying. Her boogie board has two very nice impressions gouged out of either side of the Styrofoam carcass. The kind dentists use to make a dental impression. Say ahhhh!

Two others, a boy and a girl, lost portions or all of an arm at the next beach up. In the surf. In the afternoon. Not far from the beach’s pier where fishers have been chumming the waters around the stilted wooden structure. Both were left arm injuries. Apparently liberal sharks.

They were tiger sharks — or bull sharks, say the experts.

According to one website, you are more likely to die from bee, wasp or other insect stings than at the jaws of a shark. Actually, twenty more times likely to die from a cow bite.

Doesn’t take the attention off that meeting of land and sea, though. I’m sure the victims could care less about the remote chances of being bitten by a shark.

My youngest daughter says all sharks need to be killed. Yeah — that’s the spirit … kill the bad beasties.

Meanwhile I’m following Katharine and half a dozen other tagged sharks who meander up and down the east coast. Ba-bum … ba-bum … But it’s not the tagged sharks that cause the heartbeat to flutter.

The shark killed by humans ratio to human’s killed by sharks is something like a million to one each YEAR! I’ll bet the sharks don’t like those odds one bit. American Pharoah stood worse odds of losing the Triple Crown than sharks have of surviving the slaughter of their species.

Imagine what the shark newspapers are saying? What the headlines are … Keep Your Dorsals, Avoid Japan! And any other country’s waters where men worship shark parts over Viagra.

You know who’s fault this is, right?

Peter Benchley.

He’s not around to kick, though. And actually, Benchley became an advocate of shark protection before he died.

Spielburg runs a close second. And he is still around.

Then there’s Shark Week as well as the Sharknado film series.

Oh, god — if we can’t get hysterical over something …

Thank god for Donald Trump and comic relief.

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 17 June, 2015

Ray Ferrer: 5.20.15

11 Jun

Ray

 

I was saddened today to learn of the death of Ray Ferrer, who illustrated my first book, Through the Glass Darkly. I discovered Ray because he discovered me on WordPress. His style of art fit uniquely with my stories, and he and I talked over the phone on several occasions. He was exceedingly generous with his charges to me for his work.

Ray and his wife, Rhian, moved to California from the New York area within the past couple of years, and it looked like his career was catching fire.

In January of this year he suffered a stroke, and a brain tumor was discovered. He succumbed to that condition last month. I was unaware of it.

You can see his Facebook page under Ray Ferrer, and I encourage you to click on the FundMe link, as I have no doubt Rhian has many expenses due to his hospitalization and treatment.

I’m going to republish Through the Glass Darkly in the next couple of months on Amazon. As it has several new stories, I was hopeful Ray would illustrate them for me. That will not happen. My heart goes out to Rhian and Ray’s family and friends. His is a great loss.

 

Ray Ferrer's cover illustration for Through the Glass Darkly

Ray Ferrer’s cover illustration for Through the Glass Darkly

 

Art by Ray Ferrer

Art by Ray Ferrer

 

Illustration by Ray Ferrer

Illustration by Ray Ferrer

 

Illustration by Ray Ferrer

Illustration by Ray Ferrer

 

Illustrated by Ray Ferrer

Illustrated by Ray Ferrer

 

Illustrated by Ray Ferrer

Illustrated by Ray Ferrer

Review: Sons of Anarchy

10 Jun

SOA

 

 

Sons of Anarchy

A review . . .

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

By the time Jax Teller makes the only feasible exit possible after 95 episodes of “Sons of Anarchy,” the community of Charming, California, surrounding areas as well as parts of Ireland are strewn with an incredible body count. In fact, I’m not sure there is an accurate count available. In the hundreds, I think.

What took seven years to smear onto video tape occupied just a few years of television world time.

To what end?

Was there some kind of bet between the producers of SOA with those of “Dexter” or “Breaking Bad?” Did ratings soar with each shot to the head, decapitation, people burned alive?

Anchored in fantasyland, the storyline seeks to draw both disgust and empathy for a lead character who belies heroic description. Jax begins this jugular-ripping journey with a modicum of innocence. A desire to flesh out the dreams of his dead father. To change the culture of SAMCRO and the Sons of Anarchy.

Most of its members are ex-military. All are etched with scars, tats, and the propensity to hug and slap leathered backs at every turn. Alcohol and drugs are the sustenance of everyone. Women are the subjugated possessions with incredible power that is never used.

Blacks, Hispanic, Whites, Nazis, Asians, IRA members (not the retirement kind) and all part of the mix. Transgender, gay, porno actors … all combine for the Charming effect.

Basically I was disappointed with the series. I’m nearly convinced it was the boyish ruggedness of lead actor Charlie Hunnam and his slick bare butt that lit the fuse of popularity for the series. Again, what kind of hero?

In a screenwriting course at NYU, rogue heroes were touted as a popular character. Maverick is a good example of such a hero. Loveable, funny … an outlier in balancing on the edge of propriety and the law.

Jax takes that to new horizons. And in my estimation, fails.

Again, actor Hunnam spent the series trying to land on an accent. I was never sure if he was from New Orleans, Atlanta, or the Bronx. Every once-in-a-while he slipped and his Newcastle, England accent broke through.

What I got used to was any character that you liked at all was going to get killed. With the exception of Jimmy Smits, who probably didn’t like the way his character ended up in the Dexter series.

The formula of the series really was a daytime drama format. Endless movement from one spot to another spot to have a few words, got a minute, can you spare me a second, I need to see you kinds of rendezvous with plenty of “I love you, man” and slaps on the back.

And cigarettes. R.J. Reynolds and all the other tobacco companies must have LOVED this series! I’m wondering if Hunnam has some sort of lung cancer fund proviso in his contract.

Language? Well, compared to everything else, not a big effing deal.

One more observation . . .

This spring nine motorbike gang members were killed in a shootout in Waco, Texas. The media went WILD! In this series hundreds of people are murdered, including cops — and nothing from the media.

So, like Jax, I’m glad the series is over. There was no way to charge through this series. It took me a looooong time to watch.

Can we go back to something more realistic and tame? Like “House of Cards,” please?

 

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 10 June, 2015

Travel day

9 Jun

No new posts today for The Test. Check tomorrow.

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