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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Safe

18 Apr

 

Safe

By L. Stewart Marsden

What sole soul has not reached a place
Where her measured pace
Becomes little more than plodding forward,
Bracing against wind and rain and cold,
Aging older and older,
Too tired to tow another burden or bear
Another day or hour or minute or instance?

Are you so immune and protected?
Do you not detect this march is unto death and beyond?
Can you so carelessly wave off the sharpness of
The wind,
The rain,
The cold,
To be so recklessly bold that you feel sealed against
Their cutting edges,
Never to bleed?
Safe?

Pity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking the Count

18 Apr

 

Taking the Count

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Lately I’ve caught myself subconsciously counting things. I don’t know why, I just do.

There are 14 steps from the main floor of my condo where I live to the lower floor. That’s counting the two steps formed by the corner at the bottom of the stairway. Consequently, I take the same number of steps up to my bedroom at night and again in the morning.

When the wall pendulum clock begins to chime, I count along: one … two … three –– until the hour designation has bonged out.

It takes two minutes and thirty-six seconds for the frozen boiled chicken tenders I feed my dogs to thaw. Approximately four minutes for my Mr. Coffee to drip-brew my morning quota of two cups of coffee.

Why? Not why how many, but why do I count?

Perhaps at age 68 I’ve become painfully conscious of things like how much time I have left in my life. I didn’t count everything when I was younger, except things like how many days till my birthday, or Christmas, or until summer.

Now, practically everything is a count:

  1. Number of wives;
  2. Number of children and grandchildren (that are known of);
  3. Number of days until the longest day of daylight;
  4. Number of days until the shortest day of daylight†;
  5. Number of Christmas cards I get††;
  6. Number of age spots;
  7. Number of prescribed medicationsß;
  8. Number of calories in a meal;
  9. Number of calories I eat in a day;
  10. Number of times I check my weight;
  11. Number of times during the day I think about food;
  12. Number of days those leftovers have been in the frig and can I eat them anyhow;
  13. Number of times I’ve gotten food poisoning;
  14. Number of people I can count on;
  15. Number of people who can count on me;
  16. Number of years Duke basketball will continue its failed One-and-Done strategy;
  17. Number of days 45 can go without embarrassing either himself, his wife, or the nation;
  18. Actually, instead of days, use hours or minutes for the previous count;
  19. Or maybe seconds;
  20. Number of days I can go without showering;
  21. Number of times I wear the same clothing without changing;
  22. Number of friends I have (which is greatly reduced because of #’s 18 and 19)
  23. Number of miles per gallon I get in my hybrid Honda Insight;
  24. Number of miles I can go on a tank of gas in my Insight;
  25. Number of miles I have to walk on the highway to get five gallons of gas;
  26. Number of days I can go with the Check Engine light on without getting nervous;
  27. Number of dollars I have to give the mechanic because I didn’t heed the Check Engine light;
  28. Number of cans of LeCroix I drink in a day;
  29. Number of days I’ve been off Facebook;
  30. Number of days I’ve been off Facebook without thinking about Facebook;
  31. Number of times I now check my iPhone for text messages having left Facebook;
  32. Number of times Bless your heart is uttered in the south;
  33. Number of grits in a serving;
  34. Number of times the 2nd Amendment is referred to in a day;
  35. Number of things I count during the day.
†Only one state where this doesn’t count: Arizona. I don’t mind visiting Arizona … I just don’t want to live there.
††I don’t send Christmas cards, but might have to this year since I left Facebook (see #29)
ßWhich at this point is limited to one prescription, and 99 OTCs for all of the other symptoms I’m self-diagnosing and treating (after all, there’s only one letter difference between the AMA and the AMRA). BTW: you have to do some research to understand this quip.

I don’t actually blame myself for this counting obsession. It’s all around us. And, I suppose, brings some semblance of order to what is otherwise a chaotic and unpredictable time in the nation. It’s in our vernacular. Ensconced in our euphemisms. We’ve done it for countless centuries.

  1. Down for the count.
  2. Don’t count me out –– or for the optimist, you can count me in.
  3. The full count.
  4. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
  5. Count your blessings (bless your heart).
  6. Count yourself lucky.
  7. The countdown.
  8. That doesn’t count.
  9. That counts.
  10. Nobody’s counting.
  11. Look who’s counting.
  12. Ad infinitum (which is like trying to determine the true value of π).

I guess I won’t worry about it. It’s a feature of my life, and I can’t count how many times I’ve tried to ignore it –– which is futile. In the long run, it counts for very little anyway.

So I accept the inevitable, and will turn my attention to more important matters, such as how many days until the new season of The Walking Dead launches.

By the way, the word count of this article is 793. I need seven words to make 800.

You can count on it.

 

 

 

 

 

The Opportunist

29 Mar

 

 

The Opportunist

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

The label has a slightly negative connotation. I have one living with me. He is cute and playful, and now, with good breath, fun to have up close.†

But behind those innocent eyes are the secretive desires of an opportunist. And, specifically, with regard to: the garbage.

Each night we climb the stairs for bed, this con artist deftly feigns bones too tired to make the effort. He lags. He needs coaxing and a plethora of “C’meres” before he reluctantly hops up the stairs.

I now know why, having decided to leave him to his own designs, figuring it wouldn’t be long before he came up. It was just long enough. And he was quiet at his work, like a skilled thief in the night.

But with daylight came the discovery: the garbage can toppled to its side. Every scrap of aromatic packaging strewn about.

All it took was a look, and the culprit slinked out of the kitchen, tail between his legs, making no eye contact. Still, he got his breakfast — Fromm bits and boiled chicken tenders (not a lot, mind you), and then the inevitable Talk from me.

Oh he understands, though he might play the ignorant one. He is, after all … The Opportunist. I believe it to be an innate compulsion –– this deceit masked by cuteness and cuddliness. He knows I’ll not be the fool twice.

He is found out. Discovered. Unmasked … for the opportunist he is.

 

 

†Gordie is a rescue dog, and about 8 years old. He never had his teeth cleaned by his previous owners, and his breath could stop a freight train two miles away. I scheduled teeth-cleaning, both for Gordie’s sake and mine. The vet told me he might have to extract some of Gordie’s teeth due to bad gum conditions. He pulled 9. I asked if there are dentures for dogs.

What I don’t miss about Facebook

25 Mar

What I don’t miss about Facebook

By L. Stewart Marsden

Why I quit Facebook

22 Mar

 

Why I quit facebook

By L. Stewart Marsden

Like a storm at sea, it’s been gathering for quite a while. I’ve seen friends on Facebook experience some of the same agonies I have, and leave or disconnect from their Facebook accounts for a bit, only to return. Those are the people, like me, who have/had a love/hate experience with the social media array of ways to connect while not really connecting.

Retired, it was easier for me to give up LinkedIn and Twitter. The algorithms of those platforms continually sent me reasons to update my profile, or to check out what was going on with one of the dozens of people I followed, or who followed me. Yeah, I know … dozens. Not very impressive. Missing the whole point, right? But those are networking platforms, and I don’t care to network at this point in my life.

I was a holdout on Facebook. At one point, after a long dearth of writing on this website, I convinced myself that basically posting on Facebook was tantamount to blogging, and was an acceptable substitute for the daily regimen of working on a poem, or an opinion piece, or one of the many stories and other fiction projects laying fallow in my fields of imagination.

I found myself binging in reaction to what others had posted. Swooping down from cliffs of grammar correctness to attack a misspelling or erroneous usage of a word or phrase. I was like Ralphie’s teacher armed with a red pen, slashing his masterpiece “What I Want for Christmas!” and leaving him in the smoke of my “writeous•” fury. I was like a Stephen King horror unleashed on the social media world.

Deep inside, I knew this couldn’t continue. But I was chained to my addiction, and each time I tried to break away, the effort only redoubled my Facebook dependencies.

You’ve heard it before: it’s not the alcohol, it’s the alcoholic. I’d been through and successfully escaped one addiction –– smoking. That effort, twice over a period of about fifteen years, was trying enough. One factor with cigarettes that does not exist with Facebook is the motivation of cost. When I was a kid, you could get a pack of cigarettes from a vending machine for a quarter. Now you need an equity loan to keep yourself in smokes. Also, the Federal Government and all other health-binging entities worked to nearly squash the tobacco industry.

Facebook? No such incentives. It’s free. And is without the negative pressures the big tobacco companies faced, such as huge money settlements, fines, and regulatory parameters. Public reaction today among most Americans towards tobacco? Boo, hiss!

There is no danger of second-hand Facebook exposure. No rising per-session cost. No sanctions to speak of when you react negatively to someone’s unkind and oppositional criticism of your post.

And with every passing month, week, day, hour and second, there is a plethora of new ways to use (and abuse) your social media connection.

Ah, said a marketing person. Look at all of the valuable data we have regarding our users (not customers, because that would infer a reason to please the customer). I wonder if some enterprising companies could mine these resources for their own benefit, and –– gosh –– PAY us for access to this information?

Remember decades ago when the high-tech industry was booming, but with no tangible means of turning the popularity of things like Facebook and Twitter and others into profits?

Pssst: they found a way.

First, benign. Based on number of hits.

Then, the release of overall market profiles for advertisers. Just like radio and television has operated for years selling and placing ads to cover its costs and growth.

Those pesky pop-ups. Those moving text bars at the bottom of your computer/cellphone screen. Just part of the evolution.

Then, rumors of other countries using and manipulating various social media platforms in attempts to influence the mindsets of the users.

Is this one big metaphor for the drug industry, or what?

Users? Original intent? Addiction? Manipulation? Money? Power? (The sex part is assumed).

Then last week the media pounced upon a story that would shake up my world: Facebook, the Trump Campaign think tank, user data, user manipulation. Never mind Trump was not the first politician to think of and use these tactics, although ex-Obama aides claimed they did it the correct way (according to The Washington Post).

It’s a small leap from seeing nuclear power as a resource, to using it for power and destruction.

The tobacco companies: “We did not know the addictive and health-damaging properties of cigarette smoking.”

Mark Zuckerberg: I wasn’t aware of this abuse of Facebook’s tremendous data capabilities. Fire that guy down there. No, not him –– the one next to him.

The I’m sorry Zuckerberg finally expressed was one of those spins we get from the politicians.

“I’m really sorry this happened.” Sorry WHAT happened? That no due-diligence was in place to protect user information? That the whole event was leaked? That you got caught with the proverbial hand in the cookie jar? That the stock market reacted quickly, reducing your paper value by $50 billion in a day?

That was the straw for me. It’s like the Emporor’s New Clothes. You know what’s going on. You see it. But you don’t want to admit it’s happening, or that you might be contributing to it.

Well, golly! He ain’t got no clothes on!

There’s nothing inherently wrong with social media. Like the telephone. Whoever thought when Edison said “Mr. Watson –– come here –– I want to see you,” to actually seeing the person you’ve called on your cellphone? Or seeing up someone’s dress in the supermarket with your phone?

It’s not the tool, (I am not pitching the NRA, by the way), it’s the tool user.

But I hold Zuckerberg accountable. For what happened, for it being possible to happen, and for his apparent smugness in responding. “I’m really sorry this happened.” Huh.

So I turned it off. My Facebook account. Which is not as easy as it sounds, and is a very confusing process. Then I deleted the app from my iPad as well as my cellphone.

Again, I’ve done this before –– temporarily disconnecting from Facebook. But not for these reasons. Perhaps I wanted to live in the deluded social world I had occupied for so long without thinking “how the hell is Facebook making any money?”

Not from my usage.

Or was it?

• I’m sure I’m not the first to think of this word, so I’ll take no credit for it. The irony is that it would make a helluva meme for Facebook!

I have quit Facebook …

20 Mar

I have quit Facebook.

It Doesn’t Always Rain at Funerals

19 Mar

 

It Doesn’t Always Rain at Funerals

By L. Stewart Marsden

It doesn’t always rain at funerals …
For some the sky is azure blue, with billowy clouds and birds aloft;
For others, bands and fireworks fill the air with joy and glee;
Still others find rest quietly, at day’s last light
While a bugler plays atop a hill
As the still of night steals in.

The Great Blood Compromise

16 Mar

 

The Great Blood Compromise

By L. Stewart Marsden

When the agreement reached the public, there was understandable criticism from many sides. But the overall fact was the two sides, having waged futilely at many levels for many years over the issue, had reached a compromise at last.

“It will ultimately save lives,” the Speaker of the House proclaimed, a solemn look etched by deep lines furrowed into his face as the cameras flashed. “No legislation is perfect,” he added before stepping down amid a hail of questions from reporters. He ignored them all.

When the law came into effect, thousands of semiautomatics and gear to upgrade them to automatic weapons were surrendered to Sheriff’s offices and police departments throughout the country. These were shipped to a central location in Iowa, where metal-crunching machines and huge vats, originally designed for the steel industry, were repurposed to destroy and melt down gun upon gun, including bump stocks and high-capacity rifle and gun clips. Armor-piercing ammunition was also, carefully, destroyed.

It took six months. Whether or not every weapon or ammunition clip had been collected and destroyed was a matter of fear among some. It was a matter of anger among gun owners and extreme 2nd Amendment supporters. It was a matter of hope among the survivors of past victims.

On February 10, one volunteer from each state, the country’s fourteen territories, as well as the District of Columbia were gathered in Washington at taxpayers’ expense. Their ages ranged from 18 to 93, and the ethnic and economic composite of the group was as diverse as the nation’s population.

They were quartered in the Trump International Hotel, in which each individual’s room was complete with a lavish supply of the finest cuisine and refreshment. Each was treated to exclusive amenities at the country’s expense, from spas to manicures; massages to coiffures.

They toured Congress, and met with dignitaries and the rich and famous who had gathered, and were touted in a televised ceremony that aired world-wide.

Part of their schedule was an unveiling of a memorial sculpture, onto which the face, name, age, and other personal details had been already etched. The President spoke solemnly at the event for a few moments, then posed with each of the volunteers.

The evening before February 14, Washington went dark for 65 seconds in tribute to the volunteers. NASA captured the event from space, which, again, was aired world-wide.

That first February 14 was chilly and rainy as the volunteers were bused to a point just below the Lincoln Memorial. One by one, they filed out of the buses and stood side-by-side along the western end of the Reflecting Pool, turned in the direction of the Washington Monument. Each was dressed as they would for a normal day wherever they came from.

Once positioned, members of the Marine Corps, in full dress, marched up and, one-by-one, stood behind each volunteer. The Marines covered the head of the volunteer they were assigned to with a black hood, then retreated a few steps back, rifles at the ready in stands.

“The Star Spangled Banner” was then played by the Marine Corps Band from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Spectators surrounded the mall, kept from the grounds by police barricades and officers at the ready. Family members of the volunteers stood at the west end of the Reflecting Pool, attired in black.

At the center of that gathering stood the chaplains of the Senate and the House behind a podium and microphone. Each prayed in turn for the volunteers, the Marines, and the nation. The chaplains stepped back and the Marine Detail Commander stepped to the podium. As he spoke, his orders echoed along the mall and seemed to hang in the air.

“Attention!” With rifles to their shoulders, the Marines came to a motionless stance.

“Half right … Hace!” Each Marine turned slightly to the right.

“Port … arms!” Rifles were positioned across each Marine’s chest at the ready.

“Ready … unlock!” The clicks of safeties being released sounded like metallic chatter.

“Aim!” Rifles were raised to shoulders, and each Marine pressed his/her cheek to the weapon and eyed down their sites.

A murder of crows chose the moment to fly from trees surrounding the mall and curved down the expanse towards the Washington Monument, loudly cawing at intervals.

A hesitation, then the Commander ordered,

“Fire!”

The volley of individual rifles sounded like rapid-fire to the untrained ear. Each volunteer crumpled to the ground differently, their life-blood seeping into the grass before the concrete walkway that surrounded the Reflection Pool.

There were gasps and moans, and finally weeping from the masses that had gathered to witness the event.

From the east end of the Reflection Pool a canon volleyed three times, its whitish smoke residue slowly dissipating, blown by a slight breeze.

Immediately more details of Marines marched in caskets for each body, carefully placing the volunteers into them. Each casket was then slowly hefted by Marine pall bearers, and taken to black hearses awaiting nearby, which drove slowly away.

A queue of funeral cars eased forward to pick up family members of the volunteers, and transport them to Arlington cemetery, where a special area had been designated for burying.

The media quietly and respectfully covered the day’s events without comment.

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Mary Cullens watched the coverage on her open laptop computer as she carefully packed her pink teardrop backpack in her bedroom. Focusing a bright flashlight beam on colored wires, she flinched when the seven honor guards at the special gravesite area fired three times, then carefully twisted various wires together with needle nosed pliers. She knew she would not be afforded those honors, but she also knew her name would reside in the annals of history as the first mass murderer after the initiation of what had become known as The Great Blood Compromise. After all, if one can’t be famous for something, why not infamous.

Everyone Gets a Little of it Correctly

15 Mar

 

Everyone Gets a Little of it Correctly

By L. Stewart Marsden

We’ve witnessed the passing of two world icons over the past weeks: Billy Graham and Stephen Hawking. Polar opposites, one might think. Each convinced of beliefs they deemed pivotal to understanding the universe.

Social media reaction has been varied for both, yet there is an undercurrent of respect for these men, different as they are. And, just perhaps, their similarities outweigh their differences.

Who got it right? Who got it wrong? What happens to those who got it right, and to those who got it wrong?

I wouldn’t touch that with a ten-foot pole. Many already have and hold on stubbornly to their opinion come hell-or-high-water.

For some, the death of Graham signals the end times. Prophecies and words of wisdom are no doubt abounding among some groups. Still others, bent on profiteering from this particular death, are stepping up production of miracle healing water, or prayer cloths, or whatever tangible item is the justifiable reason for someone who can ill-afford it to write a large donation check.

Hawking pooh-poohed religion, preferring the stability of science to the flimsiness of faith. He predicted the extinction of humankind within 100 years, and was convinced humankind had and continues to shoot itself in the toe in so many ways. Air pollution. Nuclear proliferation. Unchecked population growth that is rapidly dismissing the earth’s resources and ability to sustained.

One hundred years. A little over four generations based on the current mean. That would suggest all of this interest in genealogy is a fruitless endeavor.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Sign Watchers have been lining up and checking off the events that will usher in Armageddon and The Rapture. Apparently some feel Graham’s death is one of those events/signs.

Only a handful of mankind seems to care about either when you get right down to it. We’re still bogged down in the mire of right v wrong and other presupposed absolutes.

A friend posted a speculative question: is Stephen Hawking in heaven? That’s based on my friend’s assumption there is a heaven, or afterlife. No one has speculated that about Billy Graham. That would be heresy.

The various TV programs that deal with UFOs and ETs and all of the other out-of-this-world contentions, include the possibility that we will return to our planet of origination, and that we are other-worldly. Like the religionists, there seems to be great effort to separate us from the other animals of the earth, and dismantle what they call the “theory” of evolution. You know, hopping a fast freight from a planet a billion light years away, or being molded from clay during the literal six days of creation are far-better answers to imagining we hail from the genetic materials provided by fish or apes. Someone at some time decided to KISS. Imagine the embarrassment of knit-picking through the hair of your brother or sister, and then eating the mite!

I like the simile of the blind men who attempt to describe an elephant by feeling the animal with their hands.

“The elephant is like a strong tree trunk, thick and massive,” says one. “The elephant is like a snake,” says another. “The elephant is like a thin leather blanket,” supposes a third. “It is like a thick, solid wall,” asserts another. “A rope. The elephant is like a rope.” “The elephant is like a spear,” the last suggests.

Each has a little of what an elephant is correctly. Each is vastly wrong.

In the finality, it won’t matter, I think. Which is kind of the Calvinist position, right? You either are or you are not chosen, which doesn’t change despite your life. (I don’t suppose to understand that slant, and probably have only a little bit of Calvinism correctly).

So, where is Billy Graham now? Where is Stephen Hawking? For that matter, where is Gandhi, or Joan of Arc or William Wallace or Genghis Khan or Columbus or Thomas Becket or Hitler or Marilyn Monroe? Or how about your parents, grandparents and beyond? Where are they?

One of my favorite movie scenes dealing with this is from the movie “Rudy.” Father Cavanaugh has sat down next to the main character, Rudy, after the young man goes to church in frustration at not getting into Notre Dame.

Father Cavanaugh: [in church] Taking your appeal to a higher authority?
Rudy: I’m desperate. If I don’t get in next semester, it’s over. Notre Dame doesn’t accept senior transfers.
Father Cavanaugh: Well, you’ve done a hell of a job kid, chasing down your dream.
Rudy: Who cares what kind of job I did if it doesn’t produce results? It doesn’t mean anything.
Father Cavanaugh: I think you’ll find that it will.
Rudy: Maybe I haven’t prayed enough.
Father Cavanaugh: I don’t think that’s the problem. Praying is something we do in our time, the answers come in God’s time.
Rudy: If I’ve done everything I possibly can, can you help me?
Father Cavanaugh: Son, in thirty-five years of religious study, I’ve come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts; there is a God, and, I’m not Him.

Whatever you think, whatever you believe, you, too, have a little bit of it correctly. But not all of it.

The Last Hurrah

14 Mar

The Last Hurrah

by L. Stewart Marsden

Winter’s last hurrah blew in over night, and I’m pretty sure once this storm has passed, I can breathe a sigh of relief and look forward to spring.

Meantime, the local bird neighborhood was gathered when I came downstairs this morning with the dogs. They waited patiently (their feeders were bare) as I fed the dogs and slipped on my walking shoes and jacket. And they were on the verge of impatience as I slowly poured a fresh supply of seed into the feeders.

A flock of larger black birds apparently heard the ruckus, and decided to descend upon the feeders, which are not designed for them, but the smaller ones.

Don’t know why, but it upsets me when the big birds bully the smaller ones away. They can always go to the dumps and trash bins –– and aren’t above picking the streets and roads of carrion. I have this impression they could take out a few of the smaller birds if they’d a mind.

I once shot a robin when I was a boy. Like today, it had snowed, and I took my bother’s BB gun into the yard where I spied the bird yards away and aimed at him, well above so as to miss him. The shot didn’t miss the robin, however, and I watched in horror as the pellet arched downward and hit the unintended victim.

Even so, if I had a pellet gun or BB gun, I’d be very tempted to whiz one by the large blackbirds as a warning.

I know … it doesn’t make sense, does it?

As it is, when the big ones try to raid the larder, I step out and shout BAH! in a loud voice. The bullies scatter, yet the smaller birds hang close and swoop down onto the feeder. And I have a fleeting feeling of satisfaction, followed by one of foolishness.