The United States: Is she still a beacon to the world? edited by Kenneth Weene

 

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Exceptional or Problem Country

My View – Dellani Oakes

I was raised in a very liberal environment, but a patriotic one. My parents believed in the government, supported the military, but a lot of that faded when we got involved in Vietnam. Much more of that faith was shaken after the Watergate scandal. Still patriotic, still supportive, there was a feeling of discontent, even embarrassment.

I am proud to be American, though I see the flaws in our country. Our system needs an overhaul, where the needs of the people are met, rather than political agendas. It saddens me that we are viewed so negatively by so many in the world. We’re still a destination for those who want a better life, mostly because people have learned to work the system. They ring what they can from it, leaving We the People to pick up the pieces.

Discouraged as I am with our government, I still love my country. I still believe that it’s one of the greatest places to live. We have freedom that many don’t share. We can move from place to place across state lines without having to show papers and a passport. We are free to gripe about our government and its leaders, voice our opinions and gather in protest. We can vote and sign petitions. I’m not saying that our wishes are always met, but at least we can say what we think without fear of death.

Do I agree with everything our country has done? Not at all. But I can’t deny that I am proud to be an American and I believe it is the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

 

Dellani Oakes is an author of romantic suspense novels, who lives in Florida where the sun shines, rain rains, the sky is blue and you can have all three at one time.

www.dellanioakes.wordpress.com

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Stars & Striped Coloured Glasses

by Stuart Carruthers

Back when I was a youngster living in England, we looked across the pond and our hearts sank. America had everything; it was the place from which cool radiated to our young eyes. Cowboys and Indians, trucks and cars with bonnets that stretched to the horizon; police shows were Cagney and Lacey, Starsky and Hutch and The Rockford Files and even the Churches had a band with electric bass guitars and drum kits. We, by contrast had police with pointed hats and sticks, brown short nosed Austin Allegro cars, Juliet Bravo, and churches with pipe organs and hard wooden pews. Evel Knievel jumped gorges and trucks; Eddie Kidd hopped over rivers.  Where we ate cereal and toast for breakfast, I was told by my mum that Americans ate donuts and apple pie! What more could a young boy want!

Skip forward 30 plus years and something has changed. Now everyone has hundreds of TV channels; all countries involve their soldiers in unjust wars and cars have become the same bland Japanese shapes. My son still wants to go to America, but that’s because it’s a long way away not because it has anything more than we do here in Taiwan. Globalization has given us everything from anywhere in the world wherever we are. Being American is no longer an aspiration it’s a way of life. We are fed a non-stop diet of American TV, fast food and god help us Coffee (since when was America synonymous with good coffee!?)

Thanks to social media we’re now fed the worst of Americana: cops that kill indiscriminately, highways perpetual state of inaction and never ending images of the worst of Walmart’s customers.

Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s too much information, maybe, as with the rest of the world, the post-war baby boom has expired and the hope and optimism that came with it has faded and grayed with age like the children of the 50’s and 60’s.

I still haven’t found my way across the pond, but this is largely because other places looked more interesting. Not better or worse, just not the same as the UK. Today, America seems too familiar and it’s that familiarity which leads to a perceived lack of excitement for a traveler. But one day I will go and I hope that I’m wrong and that it’s as different as it could be.

 

Stuart Carruthers is a writer and a British ex-patriot who lives in Taiwan. Find him at https://www.facebook.com/Writeimagination

 

 

A Note on Returning Home

by James L. Secor

After years of travel, wandering in foreign lands, I returned to

My home–or so it was called, this place I grew in, and left for adventure,

But, in fact, was not my home, not a real home, this place I recognized

Showing little change for the years passed but now an effaced place of people living

In cells, cocoons isolated and without touch from other cocoons

Without touch–had touch been reduced to a sin, a perversion, human

Made to be inhuman?

True, a face was on it, all pasted on as

Hollywood, political smiles are, the stuff of cartoons, eyes dead in

Faces of plastic doll heads blurting sound bites of recognized syllables, but

All empty words divorced of any emotion, devoid of sentiment.

So misleading, hearing I behaved, as social, civilized man might and

Became an inappropriate one, my conduct that of a foreigner, lost in

My own land that truly was not my land, or my country, not my home,

Home being a place of welcome and warmth and support, with

Family and friends, but now no more than Odysseus’ isle of coldness and

Treachery calculated and so, fit only for a battle, a battle

I am too old to fight, too old to withstand the volcanic hatred

And killing, for surely some must cease breathing for life to once more break ground.

 

So I knew why, with more conviction than when I began my return,

I felt that I did not wish to come back to this, my country–a lost place

With no connection to me or anyone else. I knew there was nothing,

No life, no soul, no waiting arms open and welcoming, like the place

I had grown to love, with family and friends and support for a life

Far from the abuse and oppression of the people who called me their own

Only to find nothing had changed but everything had worsened and I

Was wanted less than I was before.

So, now I live nowhere at all.

 

Jim Secor wandering scholar, student and teacher, returned to the States in 2010. A social activist/critic playwright, Jim’s 44 years overseas sharpened his sense of a home gone awry. He can often be found at http://labelleotero.wordpress.com .

 

 

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While Nero Fiddled . . .

by Micki Peluso

The Roman Empire between 100 and 200 AD encompassed Northern Scotland and reached out as far as Asia. It was one of four classified Empires; including Han China, Mauryan, India and Parthian Persia. The Roman Empire stands out due to its ability to unify and cause major changes in language and the development of lands conquered. It is said that the United States of America is second in this endeavor. So why did the Roman Empire Fall? The glory that was Rome fell by 284 AD due in part by what is taking down our country today — greed, corruption and apathy.

As we watch our own great nation, once the shining star of the free world grow ever weaker, inundated with internal and external problems, one wonders if we are following the footsteps of the once mighty Empire whose arrogance and refusal to see or care blinded them to their own demise. Our country became the United States of America in 1776 with the words of our Constitution written in the blood of those who fought and died for it. That would be about 240 years ago.

We face many of the Roman Empire’s problems and more, which includes loss of respect from other nations, mockery from our enemies, little or no aid from countries that we spend billions upon, as well as major financial, medical, and environmental problems on our front. Scandals in government have scorched the integrity of our political philosophies. We have backed down from stamping out terrorism when it first raised its ugly tentacles in the 1970s; beatable than, not so easily now. Our economy, dependent upon two-income families, has affected the lives of this present generation of children, along with the ever progressive computer technology which is both advantage and bane. We have been forewarned and educated in problems needing immediate solutions. As a Super Power we still ‘talk the talk’ but fail to ‘walk the walk.’ Chicken Little is scurrying about, crying out, ‘The Sky is Falling.’ We don’t bother to glance up.

Can we be so foolish as not to see what’s happening to our once great nation? The greed, corruption, and apathy are snowballing into a massive avalanche that may well bury the country we once knew. Cartoonist Walt Kelly paraphrased Navy Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s famous quotation, ‘We have met the enemy and they are ours.’ On the second Earth Day on April 22, 1970, Walt Kelly’s first ‘Pogo’ cartoon graced the cover of a magazine. His words were relating to environmental issues but aptly fit all the problems of our times. “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

 

Magazine writer, humorist, and memoirist Micki Peluso  can be found at http://www.amazon.com/Micki-Peluso/e/B002BLZ7JK/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_2?qid=1435341140&sr=1-2

 

 

American Alchemy

by Kenneth Weene

Having grown up in New England, my childhood was imbued with the “Shining City on the Hill” mythology of America. We were, after all, the landfall of Pilgrims and Puritans, the home of Anne Hutchinson and Rodger Williams, the bedrock of Unitarianism, town meetings, and transcendentalism. We believed in the transformation of man. If the ancient alchemists goal was to change lead to gold, New England offered the promise that mere men could be transformed into pure-hearted signers of a perfect social contract. Hadn’t that been shown on November 11, 1620 aboard the Mayflower? Hadn’t that human steel been proven in the Revolution and again in the fire of the Civil War?

Even today, despite much revisionist history, despite learning of the abuse of Indians by those “founding fathers” and of the slave connections of many of those revolutionary heroes, despite knowing that many New Englanders grew rich during the War Between the States: it is easy to look back on my childhood—so close to Concord, Lexington, Walden Pond, and Bunker Hill—and believe America did offer the world an example of what could be.

Our downstairs neighbor, who appears from time to time in my writing, was a veteran of World War I. Despite the shrapnel in his legs and the laboring of his gassed lungs, he believed America had fought to make the world safe for democracy and to end the age of war. He believed we were a place that offered the possibility of—if not perfection, surely—improvement. We all believed America was the place a man could rise to new heights.

Born just before World War II, I can remember the pride of standing with my grandfather and watching General Eisenhower’s motorcade come down our main street. One of my first published poems was about that day.

Now much older, I look back and wonder when the possibility that was America was lost. Intellectually, I know there were always problems of justice and equality, but what went wrong to our national goal of perfectibility or ongoing improvement. We are no longer interested in the transformation of ourselves or our world into something purer; we have become, as the ancient alchemists, preoccupied with the accumulation of gold.

We no longer believe in a compact between government and citizens. Rather we glorify individualism at the price of mutual responsibility. While other governments offer ever increasing support, protection, and encouragement to all, many Americans see government as the threat and believe that we are in a free-for-all in which the best should and do succeed while the devil takes the rest.

Perhaps it was always so. We are, after all, the nation of slavery, Manifest Destiny, and robber barons. Perhaps we never truly ascribed to the pursuit of something higher. Perhaps my childhood hagiography was a lie. It is enough to make an American weep, shout, and work for change.

 

Novelist, poet, and essayist, Kenneth Weene is one of the founding editors of The Write Room. Find him at http://www.kennethweene.com

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A Rose by Any Other Name by Linda Palmer

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Have you ever read a book that was full of stuff you’d never heard of? By stuff, I mean made-up names for places or things in the author’s imaginary world. Maybe you were reading SciFi. Maybe it was fantasy. Maybe it was another genre. Doesn’t matter. What does matter is whether or not these made-up words took you out of the story.  Did you have to think every time you came across the word? Did you have to remind yourself what it meant before you could picture what was happening?

Nothing bugs me more than made-up names that make no sense and, therefore, cannot be remembered. I’m not referring to character names here. It’s the reader’s job to keep up with the book’s players, though I will say that becomes a challenge when everyone’s name starts with the same letter. For example, I love Stieg Larrson’s Millenium trilogy. I really do. But almost every person in the story has a last name that starts with a B, and when you’re an American, sloppy speed reader like me, keeping them straight is a big fat job. A similar book is Dr. Zhivago. So many P names. There was no spotting the first letter and knowing who’s in the scene. I had to concentrate, which, now that I think about it, wasn’t such a bad thing and could be why the author did it. Way more likely, though, the names were simply appropriate for the time and location of the stories (and I should quit whining and stay tuned in).

But I’m not here to blog about that or to criticize any author’s nomenclature. I mean, who am I to do that? What I do want to do is praise the writer’s I’ve read who got it exactly right.  In other words, all their made-up words work because they make sense.

I’ll start with Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy. First, I want to say right out that I think Collins is brilliant. What a tale she has spun. Love, hate, fear, loyalty, betrayal, death, victory. It’s all there, and the amazing thing? It’s so easy to step into the world she made and feel what her characters felt. I give full credit for this to her skill in weaving together things we know with things we can barely imagine. And her nomenclature is a big factor in this.

For example, if you read the word trackerjacker in the appropriate context, it is very easy to guess that you’ve just met a killer insect.  Tracker in a deadly situation such as Katniss’s is definitely ominous. Paired with jacker, which brings to mind yellow jackets, it’s downright scary. I hate to be stung by anything, okay? So I cringed when I saw trackerjacker. It couldn’t be good. It just couldn’t be. And it wasn’t.

Another example from the clever Collins is mockingjay. We know what a mocking bird is and what they do. We’ve all seen and definitely heard blue jays. By combining mocking and jay, Collins has given us a noisy bird that taunts the players or tributes as they’re called (in another stroke of genius). According to Merriam-Webster, a tribute is something you say, give, or do to show respect. Another meaning is an exorbitant charge levied by a person with power of coercion. While tribute isn’t a made-up word, it’s the perfect choice to describe the citizens from each district who have to fight to the death. President Snow, the leader of Collins’s fictional Panem (the perfect name for this ravaged country, by the way), pretends that the tributes are simply showing respect by participating in the Hunger Games. The tributes know very well that participation was never optional and the ending will not be pretty. One word; two shades of meaning; readers who get it.

I could detail more instances of Collins’s clever choices, but I want to move on to the Queen of Nomenclature—JK Rowling. I know I’m not the only reader fascinated by her creativity. There was a much-publicized lawsuit over an unauthorized Harry Potter lexicon containing all the made-up names of characters, ghosts, spells, and critters in her series. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes or break the law. What I want to do is point out how her made-up names usually makes sense in that they conjure an image based on familiar allusions or root words.

Honestly, there are so many that I don’t know where to begin. I’ll focus on my favorite terms in no particular order. First is Diagon Alley, the magical place where Harry shops for school supplies.  Diagonally, itself, makes me think of something that isn’t straight, something sideways or askew. When she split the word, it became perfect for a street just a little out of the ordinary. Directly opposite to the fun of Diagon Alley is the danger of Knocturn Alley. Nocturnal equals night equals dark equals scary stuff. No explanation needed for the shady area where the not-so-nice wizards hang around. A third favorite is Dementors. One look at that word, and I knew I was about to encounter some bad, bad dudes.

Then there are the spells. Alohamora to open doors. Expelliarmus to disarm an opponent by sending his wand flying. Cruciatus to inflict excruciating pain. And let’s not forget the wildlife, those wonderful animals with their perfect names. Hippogriff, grindylows, blast-ended skrewts for example. So easy to imagine because of Rowling’s inspired word choices.

In addition,many of her characters have names that match their personalities—Luna Lovegood (big hearted girl who’s just a little loony), Professor Gilderoy Lockhart (he’s gilded, a fake), Severus Snape (definitely severe and not a little snaky). The list goes on and on.

I have a series of paranormal books that have some made-up names for things. In particular, one book, Wolf Way, was about a fictional Native American tribe. Since I didn’t want to disrespect anyone, I tried to avoid all Hollywood clichés, beginning with the name of the tribe. I didn’t want to use a real tribe that might be insulted by a mention. So I dissected actual tribal names and shuffled until I came up with Quantauk, which I then Googled and didn’t find anywhere.  Of course, that was years ago. If I Googled again, the result might be different. The bottom line is that I came up with a word that reminded me of Quapaw or Mohawk, well known tribes, without actually using (and accidentally disrespecting) anyone.

The point of this blog? I think there’s a good way to create your fictional world and a not-so-good way. While the creativity and fun of making a new word cannot be denied, don’t get carried away. A glossary isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially in fiction. It never hurts to link a new word to something the reader knows. An instant mental picture can result, which makes the writer’s job a whole lot easier.

 

Bio: Linda Palmer has been writing for pleasure since the third grade and has letters from her teachers predicting she’d be an author. Though becoming a writer was never actually a dream, it was something she did naturally and eventually with intent. Silhouette Books published Linda’s first novel in l989 and the next twenty over a ten year period (writing as Linda Varner). In 1999 she took a break to take care of her family. She learned that she couldn’t not write, however, and began again, changing her genre to young adult paranormal romance. She has twelve full-length novels out as e-reads and in print and there are always more in the works. She also has many novellas and short stories available.  Linda has been a Romance Writers of America finalist twice and won the 2011 and 2012 EPIC eBook awards in the Young Adult category. She married her junior high school sweetheart many years ago and lives in Arkansas, USA with her family.

 

Website: www.lindavpalmer.com

Link to Wolf Way: http://tinyurl.com/q2hcfkz

Photo credit: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / dizanna

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Life is full of surprises! by Jon Magee

 

Queen-Victoria-image

A few years back a British singer was known for singing a song “Life is full of surprises”. The reality is that life is not always as it seems.

My grandmother would often recall stories of her youth, as I am sure is the case with a lot of elderly people. Her maiden name was Gunn, and as her father worked for the royal family at the time  in the late 19th century she could remember the walks she would take with him through the Queens estate. It was always with great excitement that she would  get herself ready for these outings as her dad would show her around the estate that he was so familiar with. On one such occasion she even recalled meeting the Queen, who was also out on her estate. Queen Victoria looked my Great Grand father in the eye and addressed him by name as she said “Good Morning Mr Gunn”. She then turned to the wee girl, my Grand Mother, and said “Good morning little Miss Pistol”. Could that really be true? The one who has been remembered in history by the quote “we are not amused”? Could the reputation the monarch had of being very serious have been hiding a measure of humour?

It is just a few years back that the UK national newspapers featured an item concerning an art exhibition at Buckingham Palace. The main feature was a rarely displayed painting known as “the secret picture” by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, which Queen Victoria commissioned in 1843 as a surprise present for Prince Albert’s 24th birthday, to hang in his writing room at Windsor. The painting, which now hangs in private rooms at Buckingham Palace, shows the Queen in an intimate, alluring pose, leaning against a red cushion with her hair unraveled from its usual tight bun. On Victorian standards it would be seen as being very risqué, and was intended to be for Prince Albert’s eyes only. So, was their more to this lady than just the usual pictures we are familiar with, the lady  dressed in black with her hair tied in a bun?

A school I attended as a teenager was moving premises and I was assigned the task of clearing out a cupboard in preparation for the move. I was amazed as I stumbled across an extremely old newspaper dated January 1901. The front page headline was simple, yet dramatic, “QUEEN IS DEAD!” As one would expect, much of the paper related to the official public life of the Queen. However, they seemed to have a regular children’s column, and as such gave the children an insight into the childhood experience of Victoria. Here is a story from a young Victoria that I found to be of interest.

victorian doll

Victoria was walking through the streets of London one day when she saw the most beautiful doll that she had ever seen. One look and she knew she needed to have it as her own. Imagine her disappointment when her mother refused to buy it for her. There is no doubt that her mother could have afforded it, but she knew that Victoria needed to learn the value of money and insisted that she must save up her weekly pocket money if she really wanted the doll.

Eventually she had saved enough and excitedly went  for her purchase. The doll was still there, but so was a poor man sitting in the door way. He had little money, looked poorly fed, and was wearing torn clothing. She felt sorry for him, but at that moment she was on a mission for a doll. She squeezed past him looking in the opposite direction and made her purchase. Success! The problem was leaving without feeling guilty that she had spent money on a doll when a man before her had no money for food. After a short hesitation, she asked the shop keeper if he would buy the doll back, and her money was handed from the future Queen into the hands of a poor man in need.

I am conscious that each of these stories reveal something that does not fit with the image many would have of the life of the Queen. Yet, is it not true that for many of us there is a public image we portray for professional purposes, yet our private life may be completely different. We all like to keep some aspect of our life locked away, separated from the rest of our life. Perhaps this is equally true for those in public leadership today. We feel we know them, they come into our living rooms each day through the the television, but do we really know them as they really are?

Author of “From Barren Rocks to Living Stones” & “Paradise Island, Heavenly Journey” http://about.me/Jonmagee.author.minister

 

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Traveling with Your Heart by Joyce Elferdink

 

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Summertime…for many of us it means vacation, a respite from routine, time to fill with adventures in our favorite spots or in places we’ve never been. This year my vacation destination is Russia.

How do you and I typically prepare for travel?  First, we shop. We add to our wardrobe clothes that can be tightly packed. We make sure we have several SD cards for our cameras, travel-size toiletries, and all those accessories that promise to keep our valuables safe. Only secondarily do we plan our itineraries—or let a tour guide do it and lose out on the most exciting part of our preparation.

What if we changed our focus this year from ourselves to our destination? From the we part to the they and there of this equation—as in we are going there to get to know more about them.

Is our purpose in traveling to stand out as a well-dressed, well-equipped American/European? Which, by the way, makes us an easy target for scroungers and pickpockets. Or are we traveling to capture the spirit of people and places unknown and to allow that spirit to change us?

Here’s an experience that fulfills my idea of capturing the spirit:

Stalingrad cemetery2

When I first went to St. Petersburg, Russia twenty years ago, I was a Peace Corps volunteer traveling with my Kazakh “sister” and her daughter, a university student there. Walking through Ekaterina’s Palace, which is located in the town of Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin), 25 km southeast of St. Petersburg, one day and returning to student housing at night was one of the most incredible dichotomies I’ve encountered in my life.  Comparing the excessiveness of the palace interior with all its gold and breathtaking art to the austerity and ugliness of this dormitory would not be on any sightseer’s agenda, yet it provided a much more complete picture of life in Russia during the Soviet era.

Stalingrad cemetery

A sightseer is only seeing what’s on the surface of a country and its culture and for many travelers, that’s enough. It doesn’t break our hearts. But my heart crumbled when I walked through the Piskariovskoye Memorial Cemetery with its 186 mass graves and with my Kazakh family stopped to listen to ghosts of those 500,000 who died during the siege of Stalingrad.

But why would we want to get involved with people who will be only faint memories the following year?  In my opinion, once the spirit of a people or a place touches our lives it leads to a deepened awareness of our humanity and a diminished sense of our isolation.  I don’t need to do much to keep that feeling alive; it’s been planted and, like a perennial, continues to reveal connections between my tiny space on the planet and those people and places where I’ve shared magic moments.   As travel writer Lawrence Durrell said, “It is a pity indeed to travel and not get this essential sense of landscape values. You do not need a sixth sense for it…you will hear the whispered message, for all landscapes ask the same question in the same whisper. ‘I’m watching you—are you watching yourself in me?’”

So let’s consider together how to revise our preparations if discovering the spirit of a place became our purpose for traveling. I’ll begin the list…

  1. Learn foreign phrases that let people know we’re more interested in learning about them than where to find the bathrooms or where to buy ice cream and souvenirs.
  2. Discover customs of destination. Don’t necessarily mimic them but at least show awareness and respect for differences.
  3. Read what the country’s citizens are reading, not just history lessons and—if possible—the news from their popular local sources instead of American media’s representation of their issues.

What would you add to help yourself and other readers prepare to become traveler-seekers rather than tourist-takers?

 

Elferdink Bio
        Joyce thinks of herself as a teacher, traveler, activist and author of thought provoking time-travel tales. Along with being a right brained slave to creativity, her inspiration comes from the life experiences which expose those questions that stir us to action.
Some of those questions are portrayed through her novel, Pieces of You, with the search for answers continuing in the coming sequel, The Battle of Jericho, 2040.
Links
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/author/jelferdink
Twitter account: https://twitter.com/harmlessjoyce
Book trailer on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIacFKaNWe8
 

 

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MY FIRST PUBLISHED SHORT STORY by John B. Rosenman

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Have you ever looked at a photograph of yourself when you were young and thought, “Whoa, is that me?” Did you gaze at the smooth, unlined face and search your now crumbled, ravaged features for some vestige of it? Where, you perhaps wondered, did that young boy or girl go?

In a way, this is what happened to me when I recently ran across my first published story. While I’d been scribbling since I was a tyke, “The Patriot,” which appeared in a small college magazine was the first work I actually shared with the world. I’d just turned twenty and was starting my junior year at Hiram College. I won’t tell you the year, but folks, it was looonnng ago.

I offer “The Patriot” here, warts and all, to encourage older writers to revisit their early writing and to reflect on the passing of time and what it means. To me, my story seems the product of a callow fellow, crude and immature. It’s as if I wrote it as a baby in another lifetime. Yet at the same time, I recognize distinctive traits of my style and thinking. The child IS the father of the man. For readers who are young, THIS WILL HAPPEN TO YOU. One day you will be sorting through the bric-a-brac of your youth, the archaeological remains of your childhood, and discover something that jars you, perhaps even rocks you to your core. Just as Adolph Schmidt is rocked in my story…

THE PATRIOT

Adolph Schmidt pounded a last nail into the sole of the shoe and tossed it into the pile by his side. From outside came a shout, a barked order, and then the tramp of boots, the sound of soldiers. Within the shop Adolph sat undisturbed, for here the sounds entered faint and curiously detached. Adolph reached for another shoe and in a moment the pounding continued. Presently he sighed and rose from his work, his frame tall and his shoulders stooped as he walked over to the shop’s lone window and peered out. The soldiers were almost at the end of the street now. In a minute would come the bark of authority and then the unthinking robot would return. Disinterestedly, Adolph turned back to his work.

The door opened and a short and very corpulent man entered. Adolph looked up briefly and then turned back to his work. The visitor shut the door and walked in.

“Hello, Adolph,” he said, wheezing heavily and shuffling into the shop.

“Hello, Otto,” returned Adolph, his voice dead, and this time he did not look up.

Otto stared down at him for a moment and then spoke.

“Well?”

There was a long pause, one broken only by Otto’s heavy breathing. Adolph raised his head and for a moment the eyes of the two men locked.

“I’m sorry, Otto,” he said, “but it’s out of the question.”

The matter thus dismissed, Adolph picked up another shoe and examined it critically. But Otto was not satisfied. He stalked about the narrow confines of the shop, one fat finger explosively punctuating the air, his arms gesturing violently in his impotence. Through it all Adolph worked undisturbed. At last Otto pulled up short before him and snorted disdainfully. “It’s out of the question,” he mimicked, slapping his fat thighs for emphasis. “It’s out of the question, he says.”

There was a pause and Adolph looked up.

“Look, Adolph,” said Otto, “we’ve been friends for a long time. We grew up together. This country, Austria, is our home. We have families, women and children to protect.”

Adolph said nothing. Otto, seeing that his words bore no effect upon his friend paused and then furiously roared, “In the name of God, Adolph, does our suffering mean nothing to you?”

Adolph sighed and tiredly raised his head. “It’s not my fight, Otto,” he said. “I work, I sleep, I bother no one, no one bothers me. I am not disturbed. For me there is peace.”

“Peace?” echoed Otto, his face incredulous. “Peace? Adolph,” he said, resting his elbows on the bench before him and speaking softly as if to a child, “there is no peace. No peace when your home is not our own but belongs to the enemy, no peace when your wives and daughters can be wantonly defiled and as wantonly discarded, no peace when your mind is not your own and your highly prized liberty paid for with the grains of your integrity.”

The shoe done, Adolph tossed it into the pile by his side and reached for another.

“All right,” said Otto resignedly, “all right. But will you at least come to the meeting tonight? Will you at least come and hear what we have to say?”

Adolph was a long time in answering, and when he did, he did not raise his eyes from his work.

“I’m sorry, Otto,” he said, “but I’ll have too much work to do.”

Otto heavily shook his head, as if the answer had been one long expected.

“I’m sorry, too, Adolph,” he said, and he bent his head and dejectedly shook it. “But it is so hard to fight when even those of your side are against you.” Tiredly he crossed to the door and stood poised with his hand on the knob. “If you should change your mind,” he said, his eyes on the hunched, silent shoulders of his friend, “the meeting will be at nine prompt, at the home of Ludwig Wagner. You know the way.”

“Yes, Otto, I know the way.”

Otto nodded and turned to open the door but halted at the scrape of boots on the outside platform. There was a knock, sharp and challenging, and Otto turned in the dead silence of the shop and looked at Adolph with eyes that pleaded the unspoken word.

It was at once a dilemma for Adolph, for Adolph was not one accustomed to the need for decision. Another man, perhaps one who would have acted, would have assessed the problem with the eye of his mind and, the thing resolved, acted positively one way or the other. But Adolph was not such a man. Such a man was Adolph in fact, that the dealing with problems of any kind was distasteful and to be avoided whenever possible. As it was, he did nothing, and so it was that Otto’s plea went unanswered.

The knock was repeated, louder and more insistent this time, reverberating as thunder about the dingy walls. Standing as he was, with his shoulders stooped and his brow wet, Adolph trembled and released his shaking breath as softly as he could. The pounding ceased, abruptly and with a note of finality. There was a brief silence, a sudden barked order, and then the crash of shoulders against the wood panel. On the third assault the door gave way, its rusty hinges torn from the wall as it thundered to the floor. German soldiers armed with death burst into the shop. Otto was quickly seized, his arms pinned behind him as he struggled in vain to escape.

Adolph recognized instantly the tall form of Colonel Silvanyuk, the commandant of the village, as he swaggered into the shop and disdainfully extricated his fingers from one delicate white glove. “Ah, Otto Goering,” he said, his voice suave and cultured, “how good of you to let yourself be caught.”

Otto stopped his struggles and glared back balefully.

“You must excuse my delight at having found you,” continued the colonel, “but we have reports that you have conspired against the occupation. You understand, of course, that we cannot permit such actions to go unpunished.”

“No,” repeated Otto dully, “you cannot.”

“That is,” said the colonel, steepling his fingers as he turned about the shop and stopped once more before Otto, “unless you give to us the names of those who conspired with you.”

The effect of the words was immediate. Otto lunged forward in the arms of his captors and spat in the commandant’s face.

The insult brought him stiffly erect. “Very well,” he said, “if that’s the way you want it. Take him outside.”

The soldiers forced the struggling Otto through the open doorway into the street. The colonel turned to watch them and then turned back to Adolph. “It will be most unfortunate for you, sir,” he said, his voice stripped of its previous politeness, “if we should discover that you are among the conspirators.”

Adolph stared back at him and moved his lips as if in a nightmare. “My friend, Otto,” he said, “you’re going to kill him, aren’t you?”

The commandant smiled half-amusedly. “Yes,” he said, “we’re going to kill him,” and with that he laughed and mockingly saluted.

Adolph stood for a long time after the colonel’s departure, his head bent in the darkness. At last he aroused himself and squared his shoulders. “I’ve been wrong,” he thought. “It is my concern. It is my fight. Otto. I have wronged him. All along I have wronged him. He was my friend, my countryman, but I have wronged him. _I_ was not _his_ friend.”

He turned to the clothes rack and lifted his coat from it. “I must hurry. I have an engagement, and I must not be late.” He stepped out through the shop’s open doorway into the snow. For a moment he stood, and then he started walking, his broad shoulders squared against the winter wind.

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/John-B.-Rosenman/e/B001KMN69E

Website: http://www.johnrosenman.com

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Superoldie

I’m just back from my native land, where I laid my 90 year-old stepfather to rest. He had spent the final month of his life in a residential home that specializes in the care of the dementia from which he had come to suffer. It was an excellent place – The Hollies, in Southborough, England – where the staff treated him and every other resident with dignity, and showed that they cared for them and about them all.

The experience of finding the place, and then visiting it, got me thinking, among other things, about the way the very old are treated in literature, on those few occasions they are allowed across its hallowed portals. All too often, it seems to me, they are treated with condescension and sentimentality. Rarely do you find an attempt to get inside their heads, particularly if they are suffering from dementia. That’s hardly surprising, perhaps, since people with dementia are not in a position to explain themselves clearly, let alone write about their experience and feelings. This opacity is touched upon in a rare acknowledgement of it in a book I read recently: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, so kudos to him, and even more to Delinda McCann for a more thorough treatment in Power and Circumstance. As an author, I’m as guilty as anyone else: the only really old person in my writing is the retired spook Franco Tira in Murder by Suicide, but he is a negative character, and no more demented than he had been in his prime.

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To counterbalance this, I’m thinking of writing a tale about a very old person with superpowers, ones that will be put to no good use. That way I can satirise our attitudes both towards the “paranormal” and towards old age. I shan’t give the powers to Franco Tira, for he is too bad to begin with, but I might give them to a fellow inmate in the hospice, perhaps someone whom the overbearing Franco tries to bully, only to get his come-uppance. I’d welcome suggestions for superpowers with which to endow “Superoldie” and how he might deploy them in slightly mean ways that we can nevertheless sympathise with. Personally, now that I’m old enough to get taken advantage of by shop-keepers and market stall-holders, I’d like the power to make the coins or notes I hand over to them burn the fingers of the ones who short-change me. Is that too mean?

 

Bryan Murphy is a British writer who lives in Italy. He is perhaps best known for his Sean Linehan series [http://www.free-ebooks.net/search/bryan+murphy] which looks at the topical issue of corruption in international sport, as well as racism, redemption and how to survive being kidnapped.

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One Man’s Dream: Making A Difference

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The True Story About My Grandfather: From Poland to Ellis Island to the Bronx

A Tribute to A Wonderful Man

Making a difference in the lives of everyone he encountered is what Max Jacob Goldberg did the moment he arrived in Ellis Island. It is this special difference that makes a person’s life fulfilled and complete. Respect and understanding for people of all walks of life should be a component instilled in everyone. It is this significant character trait that my grandpa instilled in each member of his family. Throughout his life he was revered by everyone he met, family, business associates and friends. He taught his five children and grandchildren to find the positive and good in everyone. Heritage and upbringing are two key factors that mold and form what a child becomes as an adult. They determine your values about family, education and what is important in life. My grandfather was the most giving, understanding, trusted and honest businessman in the community.

One word defines the character of my grandfather- Humanitarian. His selflessness and courage to better his family and himself is what brought him to America during difficult times. Landing and winding up in Ellis Island was the start of his great adventure. My grandfather could not speak English and when they asked him his name, which was Bocian, he spelled it in Yiddish and could not spell it using our alphabet. Someone asked if he knew anyone or had a relative in America whose name he could use and he said no. They changed his name to Goldberg during the interview and instinctively knew that his new name would bring him new challenges and great things. You see Goldberg means: Mountain of Gold. But, not literally. It just referred to the hard work and diligence he put into everything and trying to survive with five children in a new land and new country.

As an orthodox Jewish man he encountered many obstacles. Married to Fanny his wife, and having five children to support and feed was enough of a challenge for him or anyone else. Being a Sabbath observer he would not work on Saturday and could not get an employment in his vocation as a European tailor. With pride and dignity he did not give in to the pressures of society or wants of others and instead sold apples on a street corner to make ends meet. Eventually, he was able to open his own business. My grandfather was very enterprising from the start.

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My grandmother’s name was Fanny who I am named after. She had four sisters who survived the concentration camps in Poland. Two sisters and Fanny’s parents were brought to America from Poland by my grandfather. Katie and Tillie came from Poland and their parents Tzvia Bella and Joseph Mordecai Cohen as well. Fanny spoke five languages and instilled in her children the importance of being educated and going to school. Both Max and Fanny taught their children Irving, Kenneth, Harry, Tova and Ruth, to always strive for what they wanted and never give up until you succeed. Always working to succeed on your own with the support and guidance of your family is the only route, he felt to being successful. When Fanny passed away, Max was devastated. He no longer had a mother for his five children. Faced with this serious situation he decided to court and finally married the only grandmother I ever knew, her sister Katie. Katie did not walk into a great situation. She had a difficult time making the transition from aunt to mother. A unique and wise woman, she quickly won the love, trust and devotion of all five children that she so rightly deserved. Together they brought up the five children with love, understanding guiding them and supporting each one in whatever they chose to do. With a strong and firm manner my grandfather headed his family and received the respect he deserved from every member.

Throughout his life Max Goldberg, my grandfather, looked for ways to channel his energies to help others. Important to him was the fact that he was Jewish. Going to synagogue on a daily basis made him and fulfilled. Becoming active in the Bronx Jewish Center and donating funds to keep the temple prosperous always brought him joy. When my grandmother, Katie died, he moved in with my parents. My sister and I were thrilled to have him there full time. My mom Ruth and my dad Doc adored him and were so glad that he agreed to come and live with us. He immediately became an important and integral part of the community helping to establish and build a new temple with Rabbi Bulka. Congregation Khal Adath Yeshurun is special to my family and we do everything to support the temple as best we can. The Rabbi and my grandfather became best of friends and the Rabbi enjoyed his many talks with him until he and his wife moved to Israel. Not only did my grandfather donate his time to the temple but any time funds were needed for renovations or anything else he was the first one to make sure things got done. The memorial plagues in his memory are a constant reminder of his everlasting presence.

A child’s most gratifying reward is when a parent or grandparent is proud him/her. He was a grandfather to nine grandchildren. Each one received time that was special with him to discuss and focus on their special goals, needs and endeavors. He encouraged all of us to purse whatever vocation would make our lives fulfilled and most gratifying.

Max Jacob Goldberg touched the lives of many people. Family, friends, relative and anyone that had the honor of knowing him loved him. He was certainly Mr. Goldberg the best European Tailor on Mohegan Avenue in the Bronx. The cleaning store he opened was Arista Cleaners. Arista to him meant the best that someone could attain in school and his store lived up to the name. Goldberg: Mountain of Gold in heart and love for humanity.

I am truly blessed that he was my grandfather and taught me the values that I have today. Helping other people and working to make others succeed brings a smile to my face every time I read and review a book and the author loves what I wrote. He taught me the meaning of giving and my two books on Alzheimer’s and Keeping your Mind and Brain Active were written to raise awareness for a cure for Alzheimer’s and Brain Traumatic Injury with royalties going to two specific organizations. Everyday he would remind me of all that I was understood my strengths and weaknesses and supported me in all that I would do. When he learned I was going in for Education and teaching he beamed. Listening to me practice the piano and violin was one of his favorite parts of his day. He would ask me to wait until he came home so that he could listen to my play and monitor my progress. My grandfather was an important member of his synagogue and the many Rabbis he knew would often call him for advice on many matters concerning the Temple and to join them for important meetings. Just being his granddaughter was special and made me proud till this day.

Although my grandfather and all of his children are gone his values and his teachings live on in myself, my brother, his children and many others in my family. Thank you dear Grandfather you taught us well and you made each of us strong. Learning that family was the most important component of his life he never gave us material things. He showered us with love, guidance and understanding and was always there when we needed him. My grandfather started out with nothing and wound up owning many cleaning stores but even more he was loved by not only his family but by everyone in the community too. Fran Lewis

 

Bio: Family values and morals are really high on my list of what is important to me. As a child I was never really that popular and often spent my spare time reading books or talking on the phone to some of my friends. Schoolwork was important to me and getting perfect grades paramount to my mom. The one person that was always on my side and my champion was my grandfather. Becoming an educator was my mom and my aunt’s idea as they drummed it into my head from the age of three. (Glad they did). Getting several degrees and working as a reading and writing staff developer still makes smile and me proud. Becoming an author and talk show host was a dare. When I retired because my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s I drowned myself in food. My sister asked if I was going to remain an overweight couch potato or do something with my hidden writing talents. She was right and it was a rude awakening. I weighed close to 190 pounds and now weigh 109. Never gained it back and never will. But, she also dared me to review books and that was the start of my first non- paid career that I love. The radio show was the next as April Robins gave me my first spot on Red River Writers. I have written 12 books and the last if The Vanishing Mind of Ruth Swerdloff: IN HER OWN WORDS, and Alzheimer’s Suffer’s Journal. I miss my mom and my sister even more. Giving me the courage to do something that I never thought I could do: RADIO and review books.

Fran Lewis

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Life is a Beach: A True Story by Patricia Dusenbury

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I married a man who had always wanted to live by the sea, and in 1995 George and I moved to North Carolina’s Cape Fear Coast. Our front yard ended where a saltwater creek flowed into the Intracoastal Waterway. A mile of marshland and ever-shifting islands of sand dunes separated us from the Atlantic Ocean. It was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen, and it was our front yard.

The house was built for the view with living quarters upstairs and bedrooms downstairs. It needed work, which meant we could afford it, and there was enough room for all our children and their children to visit at the same time. It was a lovely spot and a nice house, but, after five years, we moved away. Too many visitors. We enjoyed seeing friends and family, but we hadn’t considered the uninvited guests.

Bertha arrived over the 1996 July 4th weekend. A category one hurricane has maximum sustained winds of 75 to 90 miles an hour, enough to keep the tourists at home, but Hurricane Bertha was more exciting than frightening. People threw parties; we danced in the rain.

Fran came for the Labor Day weekend. She was a more powerful storm, and the state ordered evacuation of low-lying and coastal areas. But we lived in a brick house, built into a hill thirty feet above sea level, and we had a generator hard-wired into the house circuits. It wouldn’t run more than the well, the refrigerator and a few lights and fans, but we could cook on a charcoal grill. We’d be fine. We decided to stay.

That evening, Hurricane Fran made landfall as a strong category three with winds approaching 130 mph and higher gusts. We sat in the living room, watching the storm approach, until a tree bounced off the roof. We decided to stay downstairs. Hours passed and the wind kept roaring. We couldn’t talk without yelling, and it was too noisy to sleep. As time passed, fear morphed into boredom. When the eye came through, we ventured out.

Moonlight revealed a changed world. The marshes and the islands that used to separate us from the Atlantic were gone. Ocean waves crashed halfway up our yard and left behind remnants of other people’s houses. We stared, awestruck, at sections of kitchen cabinets, one with the sink still installed, chunks of walls, doors and windows. Behind us, on the landside, tall pines lay scattered like matchsticks. A big tree had gone through a neighbor’s house.

George went over to see if they were okay and returned with them in tow. They joined us downstairs. The mom tried to comfort her frightened children, who eventually cried themselves to sleep, and we all thanked God no one had been hurt.

The back end of the hurricane wasn’t as bad as the front, but we’d been hit hard. The government declared us a disaster area. The Red Cross converted the local school into a shelter where they fed and housed people whose homes were too damaged to occupy. Three days after the storm had passed, the Marines knocked on the door and asked how we were doing.

Wind had blown off all the shingles from our roof on the waterside, and we’d suffered some water damage upstairs, but nothing we couldn’t live with for a while. Our generator worked, and we had enough fuel. All in all, we felt lucky. Two weeks later, power was restored, and life began returning to normal.

Cape Fear enjoyed a respite in 1997, and 1998 brought only Bonnie, a weak category two, nothing hardened veterans couldn’t handle. Besides, anything Bonnie could have knocked over had been destroyed by Fran. We – and everyone else on the water – lost our dock once again, but that’s a hazard of coastal life.

In August of 1999, Dennis, another category two, slapped us with hurricane strength winds and then lost strength but stayed, dousing us with days of rain. Flooding turned the Wilmington area into an island. The waters had barely receded when, two weeks later, Floyd came up the Atlantic Coast, scaring everyone.

His predicted landfall began in Florida, but he slammed the Bahamas instead. Then, he moved up the east coast, precipitating one of the largest evacuations in US history. We were in the Charlotte airport, on our way home from visiting my father in Arizona, when forecasters made their “final” prediction. Floyd would make landfall in Charleston SC within a few hours.

We flew on to Wilmington, drove home and went to bed. Next morning, the ringing phone woke me.

“Why haven’t you left?” my mother-in-law said.

“Excuse me?” I tried to push the sleep out of my voice. “We got in late last night.”

“I suggest you get out of bed and turn on the TV. “

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Charleston had gotten lucky. Floyd had stalled, strengthened to a category four and turned north. He was headed right at us.

No one in his right mind stays for a four, but you can’t just walk away. For the next two hours, George and I scrambled. We boarded up the windows and doors on the waterside. We brought in the outdoor furniture that hurricane winds would turn into unguided missiles. We pulled our boats out of the water, and filled them with water from the hose, so they wouldn’t blow away. (Small boats) By the time we finished, it was too late to leave.

Thanks to ground still saturated from Dennis, flooding had already begun. The roads north and west of us were underwater and impassable. The TV had not yet gone out, and we watched weather radar of tornadoes dancing back and forth across the road leading south. On the east was the Atlantic and the approaching Floyd. That moment we decided to move. Not right away – we were going downstairs to hunker down, but when it was over and the floodwaters had receded.

Bio

Patricia Dusenbury was one of those children who snuck a flashlight into bed and read mystery stories under the covers ‘til the wee small hours.  After a career as an economist, she has returned to her mysteries, now writing as well as reading. Uncial Press e-published A Perfect Victim in 2013 and Secrets, Lies & Homicide in 2014. A House of Her Own is scheduled for release on October 16, 2015, The heroine of these books rehabs old houses, something Pat learned about as she and her husband rehabbed a series of houses – while living in them. This blog is a true story about the nicest house they ever owned – and why they moved away.  patriciadusenbury.com

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Why us? by Stuart Carruthers

Why Us?

Dragging his feet in the dry desert sand, he had almost finished his lifetime’s work. In one thousand mile high letters spanning the width of the United States of America, the last piece of the dot of the question mark was finished. Exhausted and beaten by the last eighty years he collapsed, kneeled down and closed his eyes.

“WHY?! YOU DARE TO ASK WHY?!” A booming voice from high above his head, echoed through the empty landscape.

The man looked up, confused by this first voice he’d heard in so many years.

“I ask, yes I ask,” he stuttered in reply before lifting his head and sitting down with his legs folded.

“YOU FUCKED UP THAT”S WHY!”

“Are you who I think you are?”

“THAT DEPENDS WHO YOU THINK I AM.”

“Errr, God?”

“I HAVE MANY NAMES; THAT IS ONE I HAVE BEEN CALLED. BUT I PREFER BOB.”

“So God, I mean Bob. Why didn’t you save us?”

“SAVE YOU? SAVE YOU? WHY DIDN’T YOU TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR ACTIONS? YOU WERE GIVEN A PLANET AND LIFE, AND YOU UNGRATEFUL WRETCHES RUINED IT.”

But you could have intervened, we prayed, oh how we prayed. But our prayers went unanswered.”

YOU FOOLS HAVE BEEN PRAYING FOR MILLENIA, EVER SINCE SOME IDIOT DECIDED, IN HIS HUBRIS, THAT MEN ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN NATURE! BEFORE THEN, WHEN MEN LOOKED AFTER THE PLANET AND PRAYED TO THE SUN AND THE MOON AND THE SEASONS EVERYTHING WENT TICKETTY BOO.”

“But you’re the creator, you gave us life, you gave us prophets to spread your word.”

BULLSHIT! WE KICKSTARTED THE WHOLE SHEBANG, WE SIMPLY PUT THE PLANETS IN THE RIGHT PLACE TO GIVE LIFE TO THIS ROCK, AND OVER TIME YOU LOT EVOLVED FROM SINGLE CELLS INTO BILLIONS OF SPECIES AND THEN WHEN HUMANS ROSE TO THE TOP OF THE FOOD CHAIN YOU SYSTEMATICALLY SET ABOUT DESTROYING EVERYTHING.”

“We? You said we. There is only one God!”

“WHERE DID YOU GET THAT NONSENSE? OH I KNOW, YOUR HOLY MEN. POWER CRAZED HUBRIS RIDDEN SOCIOPATHS MOST OF THEM.  WE HAD A GOOD LAUGH WHEN WE BOTHERED READING THE BOOKS THEY SPOUT FROM. THERE ARE MILLIONS OF PLANETS WITH LIFE ON THEM. DO YOU REALLY THINK THAT ONE POWERFUL BEING COULD DO IT ALL OR THAT YOUR PATHETIC PLANET IS THE ONLY ONE?”

“Well yes. Of course we did. You’re omnipotent and omnipresent. You know everything you can do everything and created us in your image.”

A great laugh rolled around the skies shaking mountains and tumbling rocks.

“YOU IDIOTS SAY THE MOST STUPID THINGS.  SHALL I EXPLAIN TO YOU HOW IT WORKS? DID YOU EVER SEE AN AQUARIUM?”

“I’ve seen them in books.”

“IN AN AQUARIUM THERE ARE LOTS OF CREATURES, REPTILES, FISH, PLANTS, INSECTS, BUGS, ETC. WE HAVE MANY, MANY AQUARIA WITH DIFFERENT CREATURES IN THEM. EARTH IS JUST ONE OF THESE. WE DON’T WATCH THEM ALL THE TIME AND NEVER INTERVENE IN ANYTHING THAT’S GOING ON. WE WANT TO OBSERVE YOU TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS DURING EVOLUTION IN YOUR CONDITIONS.YOU SEE, IT VARIES DEPENDING ON THE PLANET AND WHERE IT IS.”

“So, why are you contacting me now?”

“I SAW YOUR MESSAGE AND YOU NEEDED AN ANSWER.”

“And now; what happens now?”

“I DON’T KNOW, BUT I SUSPECT YOU’LL DIE AND THE REST OF THE PLANET WILL CARRY ON WITHOUT YOU. THAT’S WHAT USUALLY HAPPENS. NOW I MUST GO, I HAVE THINGS TO DO. NICE CHATTING; GOODBYE.”

“Wait that”s it, all there is?”

“WHAT MORE DO WANT?”

“I don’t know. I want… I want to know what happens at the end?”

“I HAVE NO IDEA. I SUSPECT YOU JUST CEASE TO BE. BUT WE STOPPED THINKING ABOUT THAT NONSENSE LONG AGO. IT CAUSED TOO MANY PROBLEMS.”

“Well then, who created you?”

“WE DON?T KNOW. ANOTHER BIGGER SPIRIT PERHAPS? MAYBE WE TOO ARE IN AN AQUARIUM? BUT YOU SEE WE’RE WISER; NONE OF US CLAIMS TO KNOW. WE KEEP OUR THOUGHTS TO OURSELVES. IT MAKES THINGS MUCH QUIETER. SIMPLER. NOW, I REALLY MUST BE GOING. I HAVE DATE WITH THE WIFE TONIGHT AND SHE’LL GO SPARE IF I’M LATE. GOODBYE.”

“Bob…Bob.” There was no response. “Bye, Bob.”

Stuart Carruthers, is a writer of speculative adult fiction and children’s books. He lives in Taiwan with his wife and kids.

http://www.scribd.com/stuart_carruthers_1

 

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Caribbean Time Capsule By Eduardo Cervino

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Nothing lends a movie historical perspective like vehicles strewn along the street. An elegant horse-drawn carriage, a western stagecoach, or a few iconic American cars traveling across the screen allows our minds to time-travel.

When tourists land in Cuba, they enter a pictorial time capsule, where life has stood still for fifty years.

Havana is a living car museum. A 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air rolls by, followed by a 1957 Cadillac convertible, or a 1950 Mercury. Much older cars still roll the streets of Havana. Any of them might be freshly painted and flashy, like those in American collections. Others can barely hold their own weight. All still faithfully serve their owners’ needs due to inexhaustible Cuban ingenuity.

The streets are almost empty by American standards. Gone are the traffic jams that Cubans like me remember from the pre-Revolutionary 1950s decade.

A time capsule is buried so future generations can peek into the past and gain insight as they admire the official documents, coins, newspapers, and the like preserved inside. Havana is a different type of time capsule, a gigantic one you do not open. Instead, you enter it and observe people moving about you, like actors in a tropical adaptation of the German movie, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligary.

How charming! Tourists might say.

And there they go in one of those classic vehicles now serving as a taxi to visit the Cathedral Plaza, the first one built on the American continent, or eat in restaurants that a majority of Cubans can’t afford.

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They might stay in the mostly European-built new hotels or in old ones from the era of Meyer Lansky and his crime syndicate. Bed-and-breakfasts now flourish around the city, maintained by Cuban families desperate to earn dollars, the only currency with real value on the island. The Cuban peso has become valueless.

If the tourist is a man alone, chances are he is coming to enjoy the darker aspect of Havana. Prostitution is once again rampant for the same reasons that at the end of WWII, women and young men in Italy and Berlin traded sex for chocolates

City streets around the world are movie sets. They reflect the country’s history and folklore, while behind the façades each dweller is the star of their own distinctive play.

In Cuba, as in most countries under dictatorial control, the drama inside each home is the same: constant worry about survival, lack of food, and mistrust of one another. Despair about the future and lack of conveniences we, the Cubans outside the island, take for granted.

Families are stuck in the 1950s. Their refrigerators are falling apart, their furniture is old. Their houses’ interiors are dilapidated, unpainted for years, moldy. What is worse, roofs are in danger of collapsing on their heads.

The exceptions, of course, are those families of politically connected individuals, whose remuneration is not measured in terms of productivity to society but political loyalty. They have been allowed to confiscate the furnished mansions or ranches the old aristocracy left behind.

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In recent months, a great portion of the city became inundated. Water rose to waist height. Fourteen hundred buildings were terribly damaged and a few of them collapsed. For the unlucky residents, life took a turn for the worse. Repairing those homes in today’s Cuban workers’ paradise, with its systemic lack of construction materials, would be like a fairytale coming true.

These floods are a relatively new development in Havana; the enormous area in question includes the large neighborhoods of Old Town Havana, El Cerro, and Centro Havana. The residents had never seen this climate-related phenomenon before.

To Cubans, “climate change” is a reality, not a political football.

The city’s infrastructure, mostly abandoned by the government for the last fifty years, is a disaster. To repair it would cost billions of dollars. Until recently, electricity was constantly failing, and blackouts were a normal occurrence. This problem has been alleviated somewhat.

The potable water system is so old that neighborhoods like the one where I used to live receive water for a few hours during the night and people must store it for daytime use. Contamination is a continuous worry. A very small percentage of the people have access to the Internet.

Havana is a shadow of its former glory. The island population has more than doubled since 1959, while the nation’s mismanaged resources have dwindled. The only prosperous institution is the military.

Cubans are resourceful by nature. They make jokes out of tragedy and laugh when others would be crying. However, these survival strategies mask a sad existence tourists do not see, and the taxi driver will not show them. Why spoil a vacation?

Some tourists come to Havana imbued by romantic leftist political beliefs, and they will not submit to the stress of analyzing their cognitive dissonance.

To those I offer the following to consider. One third of the world population lives in extreme poverty, as defined by an income of less that $2 a day for a 20-day work month.

The United States has a monthly average of $3,200. The rest of the industrialized countries’ incomes vary. Some are higher, some are lower but all are at least 100 times the average Cuban income of  $20, yes, twenty dollars per month. A medical doctor in Havana makes $25. I know this firsthand, as some dear relatives of mine are medical doctors.

When I was a student of architecture in 1950s Havana, my salary as a draftsman was $160, at the time a respectable income. So, Cuba has marched backwards to the alluring rhythms of military anthems, noisy workers May First parades, obligatory attendance at public assemblies, and the wooing of platonic political speeches.

America’s newly developing policy toward Cuba is both welcomed and reviled by Cubans in the US and a large portion of American citizens as well.

Since the policy was made public, Cubans’ attempts to cross the shark-infested Florida Strait have increased by over 100%. By chancing the perilous sea voyage, those Cubans express their lack of confidence about future improvements in their daily lives.

They also are fearful of the US revoking the “wet feet dry feet” benefit only Cubans enjoy, thereby sealing the hole in the imaginary sugar cane curtain surrounding the island.

I predict that once the dust settles, nothing will have changed for the islanders, as long as the geriatric ruling class of the Castro brothers and their sycophants breathe under the majestic swaying royal palms.

Under President Obama’s version of the Cuba detente plan, the only beneficiaries on the island would be the political elite able to suck at the teat of the capitalist cow ninety miles to the north.

In the US, American CEO’s would have another money source to keep filling their already overflowing money pits. Caught in the middle as usual, the Cuban people would continue to live in a Caribbean enactment of George Orwell’s dystopian novella, Animal Farm.

 

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Born in Havana, Cuba, Eduardo Cervino (AKA E.C. Brierfield) lived through General Batista’s dictatorship, Fidel Castro’s revolution, and the period after the revolution from 1959 to 1967. Several attempts to leave Cuba during those eight years failed. In 1967, he moved to Europe and eventually came to the US. His last novel, Crocodile Island, is the story of one such effort. Eduardo is also the author of several other novels and numerous short stories. Please visit www.ecbrierfield.com

 

 

 

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