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God’s Farm … A Story. Three.

22 Apr

 

God’s Farm … A Story.

Three.

The drive home at the end of the quarter was a time for reflection and self-castigation. Chandler remembered a skit performed during his time as a junior counselor at Camp Cheerio during the summer. Camper volunteers were selected to join The Secret Society, and were lined up in front of the camp in the dining hall. They were told once they could figure out the significance of the secret chant, they were to whisper it in the ear of a counselor and could sit down.

“Here’s the sacred chant. Repeat it very slowly after me, with awe and reverence,” one of the counselors directed them. “O-wha …”

“Owha,” the campers repeated slowly.

“Tafoo …”

“Tafoo.”

“Liam.”

“Liam.”

“Now, say it again, only quicker.”

“Ohwha-tafoo-liam.”

“Quicker!”

“Ohwhatafooliam!”

And, one by one, the campers began to realize the significance of the chant, they whispered it into the ear of the counselor, beet red in the face as the rest of the camp began to titter and laugh aloud.

“Oh what a fool I am!”

That’s me, he thought. A big, fat-ass fool!

He groaned and shook his head with remorse during the entire trip as he recalled his parents’ expectations and his failure to measure up. How Hump Day, which first began on Fridays, gradually slipped back to Thursday, and then Wednesday. How the fraternity had become the hub of his existence, and school and studies an inconvenience that loomed on the periphery of his consciousness.

Gotta paper to write.

Have another beer!

Gotta important class early tomorrow morning.

Have another beer!

He vaguely remembered house-hopping one night in the middle of the week after a $2 all-u-can-drink keg party. What he couldn’t remember at the time was what was that phrase again? Beer after whiskey, mighty risky; whiskey after beer, never fear? Or was it the other way around?

Have another beer!

Someone poured him a large Dixie cup of straight vodka and dared him to drink it in one gulp. “Never dare a daredevil,” he replied. And to the cheer of blurry and bleary-eyed spectators, he drained it. Then someone handed him another Dixie cup.

Have another beer!

As he staggered up North Main Street towards the Delta Pi Zeta frat house (aka, Zeta Zoo), Chandler noticed a harvest moon rising in the black sky above, and tilted his head back and howled like a wolf. In his stupor, he imagined he was a werewolf, and his timing was incredible. Wednesday night services at the Main Street Baptist Church had just let out, and very prim and proper and perfect parishioners streamed out of the front door.

Ha-woooooo!” he wailed loudly, the eyes of every church member drawn to his direction.

Snarling, he leapt over a picket fence and ran though a yard to escape what he imagined was the angry mob chasing him. Dogs began barking as he caromed off bushes and sheds and clotheslines in his frantic efforts to find his way back to the fraternity house.

Owha ta foo liam, he muttered to himself at the memory.

Then there was the time he and Joe, a fraternity brother, were walking at night from the Zoo to another frat house. It was winter, and snow had fallen, and he and Joe reeled and slipped in laughter up the sidewalk.

“Watch this!” Joe said, and scooped a handful of snow which he packed into a perfect snowball. A sputtering Volkswagen bug was struggling up the hill, it’s rear wheels spinning in the snowy slush. A southpaw, Joe cocked his arm and let fly a perfect throw which smacked the driver’s side window. The bug’s breaklights glared as two huge men crawled out of the tiny car. Each wore a Virginia Tech football letter jacket, and as they approached, one angrily shouted,

“Who is the fuckin’ moron that threw that snowball, ass holes?”

Joe and Chandler looked at each other, then around. They were the only fuckin’ moron ass holes to be seen.

Chandler stepped forward. He wasn’t small, but he was nowhere nearly as big as the jocks bearing quickly down on them.

“It was me,” he confessed. “You guys know Rod Caughlin?”

“Who the hell is Rod Caughlin?” growled the bulky driver, his grizzly-sized paws balled into iron mallets.

“Rod’s a freshman who plays for the Hokies. He and I played football together in high school.” Chandler hoped the association would somehow get him and Joe a reprieve. As he remembered the scene, it struck him, along with his Dear Professor Calloway letter, he was in the habit of doing things like that.

“Don’t know no fuckin’ Rod!” the grizzly bear snapped, poised ready to knock somebody’s head off. His passenger, not quite as big, but no less imposing, grabbed the bear by the sleeve.

“Wait a minute, Larry! Let’s think this through.”

Chandler immediately liked the other guy.

“You know what Coach told you. Let it go. They’re punks.”

“Ass-holes,” Larry corrected.

“Ass-holes. We gotta party to get to.” Then he turned to us. “Let me advise you guys to leave the snow on the fuckin’ ground, and to quit while you still have your heads.”

Chandler was about to say, “Don’t you mean quit while you’re ahead?”, but thought better of it.

When he and Joe reached the other fraternity they began to boast about the snowball incident, including the fact that “Larry” had backed down because of his friend’s intervention. Someone in the know countered,

“That’s not why. That Larry is Larry Creekmore, a starting defensive lineman who got in trouble last week because he broke into a store on Main when he was drunk. Claiborne threatened to put him on the taxi squad if anything else happened. Otherwise, you would both now be bloody pulp.”

Owha tafoo liam.

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God’s Farm … A Story, Two.

21 Apr

The continuation of God’s Farm … a Story.

 

Two.

Charles Chandler Wilson, III picked up his pencil and began to write in his blue book. It was too late to rue what had gone before, and now he had to craft something compelling in order to “right the ship,” as his dad often said.

His dad had served in the South Pacific during the war on an attack transport — the USS Doyen. Its prewar design was the masterpiece of a yacht builder firm known and employed by then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, FDR. The idea was a smaller vessel with a shallow draft, or hull depth, would enable troop transporters like the Doyen to come in closer to shore than the traditionally deeper-hulled ships. Lives would be saved, it was reasoned, due to men and artillery reaching invasion beaches more quickly rather than bobbing through long distances of water like sitting ducks. The concept wasn’t without its detractors, who argued the ship would capsize in high seas due to the lack of hull depth. Roosevelt persisted in the experiment, and the Doyen splashed into the water untested. Contrary to the naysayers, however, the Doyen proved seaworthy.

Which is more than Chandler could say for himself. He had figuratively capsized at Virginia Tech as a student since pledging and becoming a brother in Delta Pi Zeta, one of the many unrecognized local fraternities scattered about Blacksburg. His success in partying had blown a hole in the shallow hull of his academic pursuits, and after five quarters of ribald pursuits, he was listing badly.

Chandler’s parents were totally unaware of the disaster. It was time, therefore, to sober up and right the ship.

Dear Professor Calloway,

As you know, the country is in the throes of social and cultural upheaval that has found its way to the Virginia Tech campus over the past two semesters. Vietnam, civil rights and women’s rights issues have converged in the forms of protest, anger, and demand for change.

Make Peace, Not War is the message shouted and sung on college campuses throughout the nation. The situation is dire, not only because the body bags keep arriving from Southeast Asia despite President Nixon’s promise to de-escalate. Racial tensions (yes, even on the Tech campus) continue to smolder as those in power seem to want to roll the clock back on any gains made by our black brothers. And women (of which you are one, I might add), are waking up to the fact that barefoot and pregnant is not a status to be desired.

Chandler continued to pour it on, hitting every button he could think of to help his cause. He was particularly careful of his grammar, and when he wanted to use a particular word, if he didn’t know how to spell it, cast it aside.

In terms of what our nation and we are dealing with, it is the worst of times; as to the hope we all hold onto dearly, it is the best of times. Or as the Bard wrote: To be, or not to be, that is the question.

He figured he ought to at least work in some Shakespeare.

This semester, as I watched the anger and frustration played out on the Quod, it dawned on me that merely balling up my fist, or singing “If I Had a Hammer,” was not enough to change things.

He had thought to use “effect” or “affect change,” but didn’t know which was correct. He nearly tore through the page erasing both words before deciding not to use either.

So I decided to go to High Point, my home town in North Carolina, and spend the semester working to improve conditions between whites and blacks. I volunteered to help not just bridge the racial gap through dialogue, but through action by rolling up my sleeves and helping to clear large areas of dilapidated houses and trash. These blighted areas are places where rats find a haven and breed. Earlier this year one of those rats snuck into the home of a poor black family and into the crib of a sleeping infant. The rat chewed off several toes of the baby before her parents awoke to her screams, rushing in to kill the rat.

His mother had sent him the article of the incident, which had caused a mixture of outrage among the black community and white commentary about cleanliness is next to Godliness and the like. Chandler thought it would punctuate his argument.

As a result of feeling compelled to spend my time helping to solve some of the problems we are facing, I was not in class.

I hope you will allow me, therefore, to return to campus sometime this summer, after I have been able to read the material on your syllabus, and retake this exam.

Yours sincerely,

C. Chandler Wilson, III
Student # 286-84-9125

Chandler reread his missive several times, debating whether to change anything. He felt his creative juices were flowing, and trusted his initial writing instincts, preferring to change nothing. Surely any self-respecting liberal arts college professor would discern the truth that action was far better than merely sitting around listening to heavy metal music and smoking pot.

He was confident Professor Calloway would not only be impressed by how he had spent his Spring Quarter in High Point (even if it was a lie), and allow him to make the five-hour drive back to Blacksburg to retake the exam†.

“Time is up,” his professor announced. “Please sign the pledge on the outside cover, put your exam sheet in your blue book, and pass each forward.”

Chandler looked at the pledge statement and hesitated.

On honor, I have neither given nor received help on this exam.

If he signed it, would he be guilty of cheating? Then he breathed a sigh of relief as he realized the only thing he would be guilty of would be lying, and since he didn’t receive any help making up his story, he could sign it in good conscience.

He carefully placed the test sheet in his blue book, closed the book, and passed it to the student sitting in front of him. All of the tension he experience prior to the exam was gone. He had pulled it off, and began to think about how he would begin studying Shakespeare. It was important to be earnest, he grinned. Get the ship righted. Go on with life, which was now good again.

†Years later Chandler saw the movie A Christmas Story on television,  and cringed at the scene where Ralphie wrote his masterpiece essay for his teacher, “What I Want For Christmas.”

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God’s Farm … A Story

20 Apr

 

 

A brief explanation. The following is the first chapter of a story based on a true story. Chandler Wilson is a reasonable facsimile of an actual person, and most of the story, though fiction, is true. I’ve added some questions at the end to which I hope you will respond. 

 

God’s Farm … A Story

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

One.

Charles Chandler Wilson, III walked into his Survey of Shakespeare class at Virginia Tech and sat down in one of the combination chair-desks at the back of the room. Looking about him, he saw no one he recognized. The class filled in, students plopping into desks that formed several straight rows towards the large desk and wooden lectern at the front of the room.

On the front wall chalkboard the name “Professor Anne Calloway” was scrawled in large white cursive letters, and below that, ENG 308 – Shakespeare. A stern-looking woman in her thirties sat at the desk, bent over and writing something. When the final bell rang in the hallway she began to call out the roll, and each name responded to by here from randomly throughout the class.

“Wilson,” she finally called out, and Chandler cleared his throat and answered here much too meekly, he thought. She paused and looked up, scanning her eyes in his direction until she found him, then marked something on the paper she read from. Thankfully, his was not the final name called. That would have been more than he could bear, having his name linger in the air conspicuously. Today he wanted to be anything but conspicuous.

Professor Calloway stood and gathered into her arms a stack of pamphlets with light blue paper covers. She walked to the far row, counting out books which she handed to the first student in the row, then stepped to the next row and repeated the act.

“Pass these back, please. Put your name in the upper right-hand corner of the outside cover of your blue book. Put the course number and name under that, and today’s date and class period. Do not sign the pledge until you have completed the exam. Do not begin the exam until everyone has received the questions. Place your question sheet face down on your desk until I give you the okay to start.

“Penmanship is important, because if your answer is not legible, it will be marked wrong. If you want to print your answers, that will be much easier on my graduate assistant’s eyes as well as mine.

“No books, notes, or other materials should be on your desktops other than your blue book and test questions. Put all else away now under your seats, and do not refer to them during the exam.”

The sounds of books and papers fluttered through the room.

The professor returned to her desk and picked up another stack of papers which she began distribute in the same manner as she had the blue books.

“If you need a pencil, raise your hand and my assistant will get one to you.” Several hands went up. The older graduate assistant responded with self-importance, plucking a sharpened pencil from a shoe box and placing it on the desk of each raised hand. “And if you should need another pencil during the exam, raise your hand and one will be provided.

“There is no talking of any kind during the exam. Should you need clarification about a question, come up to my desk. You have until the end of the class period to complete your exam, which is now about 80 minutes, ample time.”

She hesitated a moment, allowing the tension to build. It was like those moments at the starting gates of the Kentucky Derby, when each stall is finally filled with thoroughbreds and their riders. It was nearly an eternity. Chandler would have preferred to be at the horse race.

“Good luck, and you may now begin,” she finally said.

A flurry of question sheets being turned over was followed by various gasps, groans, and blue books opening. Then the classroom went deathly silent, disturbed only by the low crackling of one of the ceiling fluorescent lights and the hurried scratching of lead on paper.

Chandler turned over the test sheet and shook his head as he read the first question.

1. Shakespeare’s authorship is questioned by a number of scholars. In addition to Sir Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, Christopher Marlowe and William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby have been identified as the more likely persons who penned plays and poetry held to be Shakespeare’s. Is that argument valid? What do you believe? Support your thesis. Quotes from the works will result in bonus points.

There were five more questions –– all requiring written answers. He quickly did the math in his head: six questions at a value of just under 17 points per question. Already he was cut down to a potential 83 for the exam. The second question was no better.

2. In Hamlet, foils for Hamlet include Horatio, Fortinbras, Claudius, and Laertes. How does each compare and contrast with Hamlet? In what ways are they alike or different? How does each foil react to the conflicts faced?

He felt his grade slip to a 66.

Jeesh! Whatever happened to multiple guess questions, he thought. At least then I would have a remote chance of passing!

Chandler leaned back in his chair, his head beginning to throb. What the hell did any of this have to do with anything about Shakespeare? Then it dawned on him perhaps he had made a mistake signing up for this course. Perhaps he had made a mistake taking the eight o’clock class. And, just perhaps, he had made a mistake not attending class except for the first and last day.

He flipped the test sheet back over on its face and opened his blue book. Gripping his pencil close to the shaved point, he began to slowly scrawl.

Dear Professor Calloway . . .

 

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Questions:

  1. Is Chandler Wilson a realistic character?
  2. Can you visualize the setting?
  3. Is the conflict realistic?
  4. Can you identify with the character, setting and conflict?
  5. Are you intrigued enough to read further into this story?
  6. As to Question 5’s answer, why or why not?

 

 

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.

The Fiftieth

25 Feb

 

 

The Fiftieth

L. Stewart Marsden

Barton Chandler looked at his reflection in the bathroom mirror and was not pleased. He pulled the bags under his eyes down with his index fingers, widening the spider-veined eyeballs until he began to tear.

There was no doubt about it –– the old man staring back at him was nothing like the taut-skinned pimply face of the 18-year-old he once was fifty years ago. He wondered if any of his classmates would even recognize him, and was a little fearful they might.

Taking the bar of soap and wetting it, he worked up soft white suds, which he gently massaged onto his cheeks and forehead. It was Dove. His mother swore by it, telling him it hid a thousands faults that had lined her face. He hoped she was right. It smelled good, anyway.

Rinsing and toweling off, he began to comb his hair. In his effort to distract from numerous bald spots, he had let it grow. He had never done the “old man thing” –– that of growing out the hair on one side of his head and combing it over his pasty dome. He had seen many of his father’s friends do that. Or pull it forward from the back in a quasi-Italian mafia style. He cringed at the thought. No, he preferred what he called the George Carlin look, and let his now fine and brittle hair grow long, into which he rubbed a special holding cream that cost far too much. He then combed everything back and into the nub of a ponytail, which he held in place with a tiny black rubber band. With his trimmed snowy beard and mustache, he fancied he did indeed look like the comedian. It was his homage to Carlin.

This, he thought, was the best of two worlds. He wasn’t hiding his hair loss, and he was making connection with the 60s and the hippy movement when he had been a fringe member in college –– until his dad sat him down and read him the riot act.

“I don’t spend good money on your education so you can traipse around looking like a long-haired freak, pretending to hate everything I’ve worked and stand for! Get it together, or get off the family dole!”

So he got it together. His dad was right on the money. The fling with the protest movements and anti-establishment was more or less a facade. Deep down he no more wanted to live in a commune with drug-heads than any other person. And while he shook his fist in rallies protesting the war, he was more afraid of being shot or blown apart than upset with the ethics of American presence in Vietnam. Plus, he had become used to the fineries his social and economic status afforded him.

He continued to primp, taking a small electric nose hair clipper to each nostril, and carefully plucking long eyebrows gone amok. Then he examined his ears, where to his horror tufts had appeared in recent years in the canals, but worse –– single hairs from his earlobes.

This was the first night of three at Caulden Academy for Boys. It was the must-do anniversary. The Fiftieth. After his graduation in ‘68, Chandler had been sporadic in his attendances, hitting the one-year and the five-year events. The first gathering was special because he knew many of the students and faculty still at the school. It was his opportunity to strut about on campus as a College Man; to flaunt the fact he could smoke there with impunity, and drink sherry with a faculty member without fear of being expelled. His second gathering he had graduated college, and was in his first year as an underling in the Chandler Corporation –– his gateway to ancestral sameness. His classmates were like him, many starting career paths. Still others were toe-deep in their post-grad pursuits of the law or medicine or some other impressive occupation. Fewer attended that reunion, although none had died yet.

Until tonight, there had been a drought lasting years where he had been too busy, too far away, too fearful to make an appearance. He had kept abreast of classmates who were featured by graduation class in the school’s annual report. It was how he found out the first death in his class was due to suicide. Other news items storied a variety of impressive and ho-hum feats, from world travel to partnerships in medical practices or prestigious law firms to various honors and accolades.

Chandler never sent in news items to the school about himself. Asked by his starter wife (he had gone through two wives) why that was, he couldn’t answer.

“You’re embarrassed, that’s why,” she said dryly.

He fell off the map where Caulden and his classmates were concerned, despite the regular requests for money, or invitations to attend school soirées held in local communities. Even his best friends at school grew distant, and he was totally out of touch with guys who helped him endure the prep school and its idiosyncrasies.

Satisfied he had soaped, cut, rubbed and covered enough to look presentable, Chandler reached for the starched dress shirt hanging from a hook on the hotel bathroom door. As he buttoned, he practiced smiles and looks of glad surprise. “Oh, you haven’t changed a bit!” he said mentally.

He opted to button his monogrammed sleeve cuffs, and not to insert the gold cuff links he brought. He preferred the toned down look. Tie, or no tie? Should he go casual, like a jet-setter? He chose a tie. It was a good juxtaposition to his ponytail, he thought. Go with who you are, his dad had told him. This is who I am, he thought.

As he measured the tie around his neck for a Windsor knot, he remembered Timbo Matthews. Timbo had taught him how to tie it. Previous to that he had always used the sloppy overhand knot he had learned when he was a Boy Scout.

“You can’t use that knot!” Timbo critiqued, then showed Chandler the only knot permissible if you wanted to prove you had class. For the school prom, Timbo tried to show Chandler how to tie a bow tie, but Chandler opted for the clip-on instead. Less frustrating. At least he still used the Windsor after all these years. When his dad retired from the family corporation, he took to wearing bolo ties, much to Chandler’s disdain.

“I can wear whatever the hell I like!” his dad said.

Chandler registered with the school for the reunion at the first email alert he received from the Caulden School for Boys Director of Development. He signed up for all the events, and made sure his room was booked in the only hotel in nearby Statler. That was months ahead of time. He even promptly filled out a questionnaire about himself that was to be reproduced in a yearbook format –– only paperback because of the cost. It was the first time Chandler could remember being put on an honor list of any kind having to do with Caulden.

Still, as the weekend neared, he found himself weighing whether or not to go. The class of 100 graduates had been whittled down to eighty or so due to a variety of illnesses and tragedies . His roommate during his Fifth Form year had just died. He had to find out via the annual report. It hammered home how out-of-touch he really was. Which led to him thinking about his starter wife’s comment. Was he embarrassed? He thought at age sixty-eight of what could or should he be embarrassed? Perhaps the greatest thing any of his classmates could boast about was that they lived long enough to attend the fiftieth.

He knew that wasn’t true. But embarrassed of what? Mediocrity? He was surprised to see one of his classmates referred to as The Honorable Terrence DuPree. A judge, for chrissakes! One day Terry bounded into his room during his Fourth Form year and dived onto Chandler’s bed as if to make a watermelon splash. The only problem was Chandler’s classical guitar was on the bed at the time!

When he was a student, comparisons were of a lesser, albeit more evil sort. Things like intelligence, looks, physique, athletics. Chandler fell into the midrange of each. He was smart, but not brilliant; okay-looking, but a bit dorky; never six feet tall; and though he reached varsity levels in sports his Six Form year, he mostly rode the bench. In college his greatest success was Shot-A-Minute Champ at his fraternity, and driving around campus in the ‘63 Chevrolet Corvette his dad gave him. Nothing stellar. And the guy who sat on his guitar at Caulden became a friggin’ judge!

Those thoughts gave him reason to reconsider attending the reunion. His was a hand-me-down career. The right of primogeniture and nothing more. Even his derelict brother –– the one everybody knew would end up to no good –– had created a business from the ground up that was now listed on the DOW.

Chandler pulled on stylish socks, then his pants, and slipped into his shoes. One last glimpse into the mirror. Oh, and a splash of Bay Rum cologne.

His hotel room phone jingled.

“Hello?” he said.

“Bart! Where the hell are you? The van is here to take us to school, man! Get your butt down here!”

Chandler felt a twinge of nausea and thought quickly about saying he was coming down with something.

“Yeah. Thanks. I’ll be right down.”

The Gun Show

8 Nov

The Gun Show

By L. Stewart Marsden

Dealer: I need your ID.

Patron: They don’t need it when I vote … why the hell do you need it?

Dealer: It’s the law, Sir.

Patron: Effing law-makers! They need to put those leeches out to pasture.

Dealer: Yeah, the most of them are in it for the money.

Patron: MY money … and yours.

Patron hands the Dealer his driver’s license, who plugs the information into his computer.

Patron: Checking to see if I’m crazy?

Dealer: That, and if you have any felony arrests.

Patron: Ought to make running for office a felony.

Dealer: Get no argument here.

Dealer hands the license back to the Patron.

Patron: Clean?

Dealer: Have to wait ten days for the license to clear.

Patron: Uh. Ten days. Well, you got any of your private stock for sale?

Dealer: You in a hurry?

Patron: I want to get to a range and get used to my gun before the season begins.

Dealer: Well, since you asked – I got this sweet semi I can sell you.

Patron: And I can take it today, right? I mean I don’t have to have a license to buy it and take it home with me.

Dealer: Yep. Kind of like the way it used to be a long time ago. Only thing is if I suspect the buy is unhinged or something. You unhinged?

The Patron laughs in response, and the Dealer laughs.

Dealer: You a hunter?

Patron: Used to when I was a boy. Me and my dad. Squirrel. Rabbits, sometimes. Ever eat squirrel?

Dealer: Can’t say I have. What’s it taste like?

Patron: Chicken. Everything tastes like chicken, right? ‘Cept for chicken …

Dealer laughs …

Dealer: You gonna use this for hunting, then?

Patron: Yeah … hunting. And target shooting, you know.

Dealer: This baby’ll bring down a bull moose at 200 yards. It’s lightweight and won’t throw you to the ground with the recoil.

Patron picks up the gun, hefts it, and points it up, sighting down the barrel. He checks the action several times, then puts it back on the counter.

Patron: Nice! I’ll take it. You recommend a scope with that?

Dealer: I do if you want a clean kill. Otherwise you might miss, or worse – wound your target and have to go traipsing into the brush to finish the kill.

Patron: Well, better add a scope, then. I don’t do traipsing at my age.

Dealer: Okay … I recommend this scope. Assembles onto this model quick and locks in tight. Myself I never use a scope. Kind of takes the challenge out of it.

Patron: Quick and tight. Sounds good to me. Ammo?

Dealer: What do you want? Ain’t cheap.

Patron: What is these days? Any limit on how much I can buy?

Dealer: Only your wallet. Ammo for this gun come in boxes of fifty.

Patron: Ten should do for now.

Dealer: That won’t last very long. Especially on the range.

Patron: It’s 500 shells. It’s enough.

Dealer: How you want to pay?

Patron: Cash okay?

Dealer: Need you to sign for it.

Patron: No problem.

Dealer: Anything else today? Camouflage outfit? Ear protection?

Patron: Naw. I’m good. Wait … can you outfit this with a silencer? For the sound. My hearing is bad enough as it is.

Dealer: What about ear protectors? Cheaper.

Patron: I heard they amplify background noise – least that’s what a friend of mine told me.

Dealer: Yeah. You can actually go online and get instructions how to make one. I sell you one it gets reported to the ATF, and they may want to talk to you about why. Anyways, I don’t carry them.

Patron: I’m an engineer. Or was. I have a huge workshop full of every tool imaginable. Can’t imagine making one will be too difficult for me.

Dealer: Probably not. Anything else?

Patron: You got bump stocks?

Dealer: Nope. But there’s a booth close to the bathrooms that does. They have one that’ll fit what you bought. Not going to use that hunting, right?

Patron: Just curious. Grew up on James Cagney gangster films. Always wondered what rapid-fire would feel like.

Patron pulls out his wallet and counts out the cash, and hands it to the Dealer.

Dealer: Thank you! Now if you’ll sign right here, I’ll get your change.

Patron: Lot of folk pay in cash?

Dealer: Does a bear shit in the woods?

They laugh.

Dealer: Okay, partner … you’re all set. Unless there’s anything else?

Patron: No, no! I’m good. Between you and the guv’mint, I’ll be in the poor house!

They laugh again.

The Patron walks off and disappears into the mulling crowds of the gun show, as the Dealer turns to the next customer.

Dealer: Help you, Sir?

Gun control laws are riddled with loopholes, “protecting” an American citizen’s 2nd Amendment right to own a gun. This is one of them. It’s referred to as The Gun Show Loophole.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

The Projects

5 Sep

The Projects

Click here for latest installment.