Tag Archives: United States

Visiting Old Friends

This past week, I started really editing Spree. To be clear, up to this point, about all I’d done was what had been recommended from reading it in writing group and not putting in any of my own edits. But, since I’ve been in something of a writing slump lately, I decided this was a prime time to edit the story, especially since I finished writing the thing last December.

It’s turned out to be like visiting old friends. Some of the stuff I’d thought I might cut is now called into question. Turns out I did a better job of sticking with plot on this book than I did with the original Pipeline, which tended to wander back and forth some. I still haven’t decided whether or not to try and market Spree first, but I might. I think it’s a fairly strong novel now, rather that the one-off, damn near throw away story I once thought it was. It sticks with the story line very well, and I think most of the major cuts will take place early in the book.

What I’ve enjoyed the most is rediscovering the characters. Yeah, they’re pretty dumb on the surface. I’ve jokingly called this book the Beavis and Butthead North American Tour because Steve and Eddie resemble Beavis and

The Beavis and Butt-head Experience

Butthead as well as Wayne and Garth from Wayne’s World. But that’s just their foundation. They’re definitely their own people, with distinct personalities. I admit that they weren’t fully formed when I started writing Spree, but I had an idea what I wanted to do with them. And by talking it over with a few trusted fellow writers, I was able to add plot elements that made it all the more interesting. The third character, Andrew, came along after a lot of browbeating and false starts, but he turned out to be as interesting in his own way as the other two, and served as something of an anchor for them.

So I started wondering: what’s happened to these guys since we last saw them? Or, more appropriately, since Ilast saw them, since the rest of you haven’t. (I’ll warn you right now, there will likely be some spoiler content here, so read at your own risk.) As luck would have it, they were here on a surprise visit back to the

Cover of "Wayne's World [Blu-ray]"

country and dropped by to chat with me for a bit. They were understandably in a hurry because…well, you’ll see.

“’Sup, dude,” Steve says as he sits down across from me. He’s cut his hair and wears nice clothes now, rather than the faux-surfer stuff he used to own, but he’s still Steve underneath. No doubt about that. His grin is infectious as always.

I tell him I’m okay.

“Awesome. Yo, Andrew, c’mon in here, Lil Homie. You gotta talk to this guy, too.”

Andrew comes in and, if anything, the change in him is bigger. He used to be a pudgy, pasty guy who spent too much time indoors. Now, he’s buff—something his loose, expensive clothes can’t hide—and has the kind of tan that you only get by spending a lot of time outdoors. I can’t help but ask him about it.

“I took up golf, for one,” he says, a sheepish grin on his face. He’ll probably never quite get rid of that last bit of shyness. “And I really like working out. Maria and I love to bike up in the mountains around town, too.”

So the thing with Maria’s still going good?

“Oh, yeah,” he says. “Matter of fact we’re married and she’s expecting in a few months.”

Wow. Talk about changes. And what about you, Steve?

“Oh, things are awesome.” He glances toward the window, and I ask him if he’d like me to close the curtains. It’s not like anybody can sneak up on us, I live so far back on the only road in, but I can tell he’s nervous. “Might be a good idea, dude. I mean, we’re probably cool, but Vinnie says we’re still wanted, and they know we’re in Rio, so they’d love to get us.”

Well, that makes sense. I decide not to ask them how they got into the country. Probably better if I don’t know. But what about Consuela and the little girl. What was her name?

“Lizabet,” Steve says with a big grin. His eyes shine with pride, and he digs for his wallet like any proud dad would do, even though the little girl isn’t his biologically. “Here, check it out. Talk about awesome.”

He’s right. Lizabet is as cute as I’d heard, maybe more so. Large, dark eyes that shine with happiness, brown skin and lustrous blue-black hair. Her teeth gleam in her smile. I hand the wallet back and tell Steve he’s a lucky man.

“Yeah, that’s no shit.” He puts the wallet away and gets a thoughtful look. “Ya know, way back when me an’ Eddie” —his voice hitches a bit here—“um, when me an’ Eddie started out from LA, I never thought it’d end up like this, dude. But, hey, look at me. I’m runnin’ a big casino for Vinnie down in Rio—well, me an’ Little Buddy here—and I got a great family and lots of friends now. Hell, I’m thinkin’ of goin’ out on the golf course with Andrew before long. How weird is that?”

I wonder if he’ll make it to LA.

“I doubt it. I mean, it’d be cool and all, ya know? But, like, that’d be way too risky. I’m still way shocked we made it back in and they haven’t caught us. Feds want us bad.” He gets a wistful expression, staring up at the ceiling. “Wish I could go. Lil Homie’s never seen it, man. But, you do what you gotta. Rio’s way cool, and I don’t miss LA much. I mean, most of my life there I lived in the streets, so the way I live in Rio is way cooler. Naw, I don’t miss LA much.” Another pause. “I miss Eddie more.”

Even with how crazy he got there at the end?

“Yeah, even with that. He became the real Eddie again at the last minute, and that makes me miss him.”

What about Andrew? Does he miss Eddie?

“Some,” he admits, not looking right at me. “I mean, I didn’t trust him from the first. I think since I didn’t know him like Steve did, I saw the craziness right off the bat. But, like, what was I supposed to do? Being a criminal wasn’t what I thought it would be, but I love my life now, and I wouldn’t have it if it wasn’t for Eddie.” He shrugs. “Crazy as his reason was for going to Rio, I kinda wish he’d been able to do it. That would have been better then dying. Sorry, Steve.”

“It’s cool,” Steve says, but his voice is kinda flat.

I know what he’s thinking about. He had to kill Eddie there at the end. No help for it, but that wouldn’t change how he feels about it. I mutter an apology of my own, though I’m not sure why.

“It’s cool, dude,” he says, and puts on a brave smile. “Eddie said he woulda killed us anyway. He was getting way paranoid there at the end, ya know.”

That can’t make it any easier, though.

“It don’t. But I can’t change it, dude. Gotta learn to live with it. I think if me an’ Consuela ever have a boy, he’ll be named for Eddie.”

“I might get there first,” Andrew says with a smile.

You don’t know what the baby’s going to be?

“Nope,” he says. “We want it to be a surprise.”

That’s good. That kind of surprise can be a good thing.

“Yeah, that’s what we decided.”

Steve glances toward the window, then fidgets.

“Look, dude,” he says, looking back at me, “we probably should jet. I get nervous staying in one place too long here.”

But you only just got here.

“Yeah, I know. Sucks, huh? But that’s the life of a fun-lovin’ criminal, ya know?” He laughs, then gets up and holds out his hand. It seems a strange move from him, but I’m sure he’s changed in a lot of other ways in the last year or so. “Later, dude.”

Andrew and I shake too, and then they’re gone. I stand watching them drive away—they’re in a nondescript Camry, of all things—and feeling a little bit of a lump in my throat. It was good seeing them. But I have their phone numbers down in Rio now, and—

But, hell, they’re not real. Not outside my head, anyway. Still, it was nice to have a visit with them, catch up on old times. And who knows? They might make it back someday.



The Segregated South

I think I’ve mentioned from time to time that, because of an unfortunate string of factors, my main source of news is the local NPR station. I take most of it with a grain of salt, just as I would with Fox News: they’re polar opposites, as far as I’m concerned. The main difference is that, where folks on Fox like to give dirty looks and seem to think that volume equals correctness, the NPR people take the opposite tack: the best way to convince you of their viewpoint is to be calm and inclusive: low-key equals political correctness.

Of course, NPR and Fox are just samples. If there’s such a thing as unbiased news, I’d be surprised. In fact, thanks to things I’ve picked up in the last few years, I’m not sure if we’ve ever had unbiased news in this country. I’ve heard arguments to the effect that it’s better to have biased news. It’s been a while since I heard that one, so I don’t remember the man’s reasoning (I do remember that it was a man), except to say that, in a way, they made sense.

NPR’s particular bias of political correctness simply means they are with what appears to be the majority these days. We scream about our 1st Amendment rights—until someone else’s free speech contradicts ours. For instance, the issue of nativity scenes on public property. Let some town display one on their square or common and the ACLU (American Communist Lawyer’s Union; they’ll probably sue me for that now) will swarm into town—whether anyone there has complained or not—and treat the city council as if they’ve been feeding Jews to the ovens. Or worse. (No, I’m not making fun of the Holocaust.) As I heard one pundit say, members of the ACLU lay awake at night worrying that someone, somewhere, might actually be thinking about God.

OMG! (In ACLU PCness, that would be Oh, my goodness. Or would it be gosh? Goodness is such a judgmental statement, after all.)

And yet, a few years back, some California public schools were putting their elementary students through a “cultural awareness” course in which they were to role-play being traditional Muslim families—including making the girls subject themselves to the boys’ authority. Hmm. And yet, if an American man does anything that meets the ever-changing standards of the feminist movement, we’re castigated and ostracized, accused of being misogynistic.

I could go on for hours, but I’ll spare you.

What’s got me going this week, though, is that I just finished listening to the Sunday broadcast of Weekend All Things Considered, the afternoon news show on NPR. The Saturday and Sunday broadcasts are designated with the Weekend qualifier because, well, they’re on weekends and they’re shorter. On our local station (KUAF 93.1 FM), weekday ATC—as the anchors love to call it—is about three hours long, though the last hour is a rebroadcast of the first one. Does that make sense? In essence, I’m guessing that since the show runs from 3 to 6 PM, the first hour is rebroadcast for those who are still at work during the hour between 3 and 4. Meanwhile, the weekend version is only an hour long.

Anyway, I will have to say that, for the most part, calling it All Things Considered is fairly accurate, for they do stories on things that I doubt Fox would touch. In some cases, there’s a good reason for this.

Regardless, this weekend, ATC broadcast, by my informal count, no less than three stories where they made sure to remind everyone of the segregation of the South, from the cover story about the GOP candidates campaigning in Mississippi and Alabama, to the possibility that the Southern Baptist Convention might elect its first black president, to covering the release of a book that details a program put on by the founder of Sears, Roebuck and his friend Booker T. Washington’s plan that built 5,000 schoolhouses for blacks across the—are you ready for it?—segregated South in the early 1900s.

Now, I have to be honest, or maybe I should say this is full disclosure, when I say that part of the story about the Republican hopefuls had to do with how the party can gain Hispanic votes. Oh, wait, I’m sorry. That’s Latino votes. My bad. But they made sure to fit in the unthinkable possibility Southern voters will vote for a white Mormon before they’ll vote for a black man.

Maybe. I don’t know. Since Obama’s blackness or lack thereof made no difference to me on how I voted, I’m not a fair judge. I’m much more concerned with his socialist leanings than I am his skin color.

Besides, I hope I don’t have to listen to that mealy-mouthed guy say um every third or fourth word for the next four years. The liberals are so afraid they’ll offend someone that they have trouble putting together coherent, firm-sounding sentences.

Anyway, the point of what I’m saying is this: why are Southerners still getting beat over the head for slavery/segregation? Yes, I was alive when MLK was making his case for civil rights, but seeing as how I was born in 1965, somehow I doubt my opinion counted for much during that era. And since slavery ended over 150 years ago—despite what rabble-rousers like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would have you believe—I don’t think I need to pay “restitution” for it to blacks who weren’t alive then, either.

It’s funny how nobody mentions the separate water fountains in northern states. Or that they were the ones who imported slaves and sold them to the South until the profits ran out. Then they decided to exhibit some moral outrage.

I have to side with a Mississippi woman they interviewed Saturday on NPR: she said that every election cycle, the news media troops to places like her home state and acts shocked that the citizens are actually wearing shoes. We get that a lot in Arkansas, too. When the media remembers we’re part of the nation, that is.

The victors write the history. That means that Southerners are still portrayed as racist, bigoted rednecks who see blacks as less than human and still treat them like property. Meanwhile, we have to put up with the vocal ones who report us as being just that if they decide we looked at them the wrong way. All a black has to do is holler the word prejudice and there’s not a thing we can do. We’re guilty of it just because we’re white.

And, like my daughter said, we—and here I means whites in general—have to put up with Affirmative Action, which isn’t about equal rights at all. It’s about special rights. If I apply for a job or admission to a college and it comes down to me and a black, who do you think’s gonna get it? Ain’t gonna be me, that’s for sure.

I understand why Affirmative Action started, but it’s outdated now. Just as is the law that says Southern states have to get federal approval to make any change in their voting laws. The law says that any state that ever exhibited segregationist tendencies had to do that. What about all those Northern states that did it? Why aren’t they covered?

I’ll tell you why. Because they didn’t dare to tell Washington, DC that they were tired of being told how to live their lives and broke off to form their own country. The Confederacy was a separate nation when Lincoln sent the Union Army to invade it, and after the war, Congress forced those same states to ratify the 14th Amendment (if I don’t have my amendments mixed up) before they could be readmitted to the Union as a state.

Think about that for a moment. Because the thirteen states of the Confederacy weren’t even considered part of the US by Congress, there should have been no legal way for them to ratify an amendment to the US Constitution. And yet, that’s exactly what they were expected to do to gain readmission into the US. Do you see what I’m saying? Congress told them they couldn’t be states until they ratified a new law that applied to the states of the US, and yet they weren’t states of the US when they ratified it.

And you thought our modern congress does some boneheaded stuff.

But, see the North won the war. They can, and do, frame the history of that time any way they want, including emphasizing the South’s role in slavery while omitting their own. Then, after spending 100+ years treating the South as a beaten, subjugated country—which we are—they expect us to be accommodating to their reason for invading our sovereign country, meanwhile neglecting to inform history students that each and every one of the original 13 Colonies reserved the right to secede from the union if it decided this new united States thing wasn’t gonna work out (no, that’s not a typo. That’s how it was originally written, back when we had a weak central government that didn’t micromanage our lives).

See, the original idea for the united States was sorta the same thing as the European Union is now: a union of separate countries. That’s what the word state means in this context: a country that is separate from other countries. And the only reason the original Colonies ratified the Constitution was because they were allowed the secession option and because states’ rights were supposed to be superior to federal rights. The Constitution isn’t a document that has the government granting rights to its citizens. It is the citizens defining a strict set of rules that the government can operate under. See the 9th and 10th Amendments if you don’t believe me.

It was because of this that the Southern states seceded from the Union—not because we wanted to keep owning slaves. Slave owners made up 6% of the Southern population, and you can bet those slave owners were damned rare in the Confederate Army.

In essence, the South is like that kid the bully always picks on: he’s down on the ground, face in the dirt, hollering “Uncle!” and the bully isn’t listening. He’s just grinding the poor guy deeper in the dirt.

Folks, it’s 2012, no 1812. Let us up already.



Everybody’s Wrong But Me

I’m going to deviate from the main topic this week, so if you don’t like rants, go read Hints from Heloise.

 Unless you’ve been hiding under an extremely large, remote rock on the dark side of the moon, you know about the dog-and-pony show Congress has been putting on lately. And it’s not a particularly good dog-and-pony show. In fact, I’d say it gets an emphatic thumbs-down.

It looks more like pro wrestling than democracy. And don’t even get me started on what I think of democracy. I’ll just sum it up in two words: mob rules.

Apparently, in order to get elected, you need to do two things: abandon any principles you might have (which are probably few) and learn how to point at everybody else. Everything else is just window dressing for that.

If you think we have a government of the people, that white stuff you put on your cereal every morning may not be sugar. Want proof? If the debt ceiling hadn’t been raised (according to numerous experts, anyway), two groups of people right at the top of the list not to be paid were those on Social Security and the military.

The ones who’ve already served their country or are currently doing so.

Nobody said a thing about Obama and Congress not getting paid.

Not that it would matter, since they’re all independently wealthy aristocracy, the only people who can afford to run for office these days. Want another smidgen of proof? Obama made $400,000 last year as president—and something like $5 or $6 million off a book he purportedly didn’t even write. I say we take away his presidential salary. What’s he need it for? It just puts him in a higher tax bracket.

And Congress? I’m not current on their average pay, but keep in mind that, as long as they serve for one day, they’re set for life. They get that pension forever more. Pretty good scam—er, job, if you can get it. Heck, if that was true in the private sector, I wouldn’t be writing this damn blog and trying to get published. I’ve had enough jobs, including in the military, that I’d have pensions coming in left and right.

But, see, a private corporation can’t afford to do something like that. Only the government can, because they can just steal it from Social Security and the military salaries. No problem.

What we have not isn’t democracy, and it’s certainly not representative. Consider: on the left, you have the Democrats, who can’t be swayed from their socialist agenda. We need a nanny-state government, and we need it now. Let the government deficit go higher and higher as we take care of you from cradle to grave, all the while telling you what’s correct and how you should conduct your life.

What was that noise? Oh, it was Jefferson rolling over in his grave. Sorry for the interruption.

Then there’s the Republicans: steering us in the direction of the mega-corporation imagined in so many science fiction stories, and they’ve got their feet on the accelerator, pressing it to the floor. The corporation is God and we must bow down to its greed and corruption. All hail the Profit!

Was that Franklin I just heard stirring around?

And, last but most certainly least, there’s the middle: small, ineffectual, jumping at its own shadow. Should it be politically correct? Should it grant concessions to Wall Street? Maybe Obamacare ain’t so bad, even if no one can figure out just what it says in its 2,000 pages (Nancy Pelosi: We have to pass this so you can see what’s in it. Huh? Aren’t we supposed to see it before it becomes law? Seems a bit bass-ackwards to me, but I’m just a private citizen, apparently too stupid to know what I need.)

Now they’re all rolling around in their moldy coffins.

And we have each and every one of these people pointing at the Outsiders (i.e., those not in my party) pointing and saying, “It’s their fault! If they’d just quit being so stubborn about holding onto what they want (which is entirely wrong, by the way), then we could solve all the country’s problems. It’s those pesky Democrats/Republicans/Independents/TEA Party members!”


Pardon my American.

But see, here’s the thing: we can only blame ourselves. We elected this pack of idiots, from the Big Kahuna on down, and ain’t one of ’em cares about anything except crafting enough lies to get (re)elected. And blaming it on the other guy.

Obama points at Congress. Congress points at the president. Dems point at Republicans, Republicans point at Dems, and they both blame the independents, the TEA Party and the populace as a whole.

Meanwhile, I may have to go on blood pressure medicine. We all might. Our so-called government is ignoring us, all while proclaiming they were elected to achieve their pet goals. Has it ever occurred any of them that the houses of Congress are balanced because we may not want them to achieve anything? Or, conversely, we don’t want it to be all one agenda or the other. We want some social programs, but we want corporations to shoulder some more of the burden of paying for these things (for example. I don’t know if that would work or not).

Consider this: the Dems want to remove the subsidies paid to oil companies because they’re making “obscene profits.” They ignore two things (and probably more): 1) the oil companies like their current level of profit. If they don’t get it from subsidies, they’ll just raise the price at the pump to make up for the shortfall; and 2), oil companies make less than fifty cents a gallon from gas. The rest is made up of federal/state/local taxes that go to pay Congressional salaries. And build bridges to nowhere. And protect five salamanders somewhere, whose contribution to the environment is “irreplaceable.”

Emerson, Lake and Palmer have an old song, the title of which escapes me right now, that begins with the line Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends. Or something like that.

So welcome back. It’s just getting started. Sit back, do nothing, we’ll take care of it for you, and take your money while we’re at it. It’s what you elected us to do, after all.