Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

PRUNING: Gentle Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Inc.

June 4, 2019

libertytallwd6.jpg

Illus: “CONSERVATIVE CONQUEST OF AMERICA” ©JLegry

Short Story – Approx. 2,500 wds

“January gives a man pause, doesn’t it, Bob?” Lowell W. Lucash Jr., President of the United States, asked. “Turn of the year, life shrouded in ice and snow, but still a time of renewing and all that crap.”
“Not so much,” Old Bob replied, never diverted by simple life.
Lucash stood at the windows of the Oval Office, staring out at the frosted White House grounds. The bare trees were thin sticks against a pale sky. A guard muffled in winter clothing, accompanied by a large breath-steaming police dog, crossed the snow-shrouded vista and went into the dormant Arbor. Lucash felt the cold despite warmth from his cheerful fireplace. He shivered.
His distinguished senior advisor, Robert “Old Bob” Archer, was seated in front of his desk, neat and meticulous, resolutely bald and shiny on top, with a thin signature file in his lap. Lucash had depended upon him from college into the White House, a legacy from Dad, now safely buried in New Jersey.
“Profits are up,” Lucash said. He sat at his desk, glancing at a crystal paperweight from Tiffany engraved with his name and the Presidential Seal– a gift from his wife, Marilyn, at his joyful first-term inaugural celebration.
“Buying power is down,” Old Bob replied.
Lucash smiled humorlessly. “We are committed?”
“Yes, Mr. President.”
“There are no alternatives?”
“No, Mr. President.”
“So, we are ready to ‘relieve the strained, overpopulated regions of earth,’” Lucash said uncomfortably. “Isn’t that what the agreement says?”
“Everything is prepared,” Old Bob replied. “We are ready for pruning.”
“‘Pruning,’” Lucash repeated. He ran a nervous hand through his famous luxuriant, color-enhanced hair. “I should never have allowed this.”
“We have no choice,” Old Bob replied. “The Developed Fossil-Fuel Nations, China, the Arab Oiligarchies and the Russian-Ukrainian Petroleum Alliance have already signed the secret accord. There is no going back now, Lowell. You must be resolute.”
“What is the full list?” Lucash asked, stalling. “How many continents and countries are we pruning? I can’t believe that I have to do this. Trump ignored the problem. Why me? This is hard. I need an assistant. I need more options.”
“There are no other options,” Old Bob said. “You can’t use an assistant. You are the president. You have to do it yourself. That makes it legal. No one likes this, but it is all that is left. If we wait any longer, we are lost, overwhelmed by starving, desperate people in a rising tide of garbage and toxic waste.”
“How did the world prune before it had me?” Lucash asked resentfully.
“The same sorts of things: famine, fire, war and pestilence, but considerably less well managed, more drawn out and agonized. We are not savages, Lowell. We do not want people to suffer. We are organized. Our pruning will be swift and merciful.”
“We’re the Gentle Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Incorporated.”
“It is self-defense, Lowell,” Old Bob sympathized. “As difficult as this is, you’ve seen the projections. Our way of life will be destroyed, if we don’t act.”
“There must be a way out,” Lucash said helplessly. “Trump’s ‘Take a Big Stick and Flail It Wildly’ Strategy was an utter failure.”
“It’s pointless to rehash the whole discussion,” Old Bob replied. “It is too late. Too much is at stake for last minute change of plan, or a time-wasting crisis of conscience. Sign the Executive Order, authorize the Third World Strike, suffer crippling angst later.” He opened the file, put papers and pen on Lucash’s desk.
“This is wrong,” Lucash said. “What about a total embargo?”
“Embargo what? The world’s resources are running out. A few years ago there was choice. Trump pissed it away. Today, billions are eating each other.”
“I thought they didn’t eat meat,” Lucash said. “Or, is that only Hindus?”
“It is getting worse,” Old Bob replied. “The good Lord provided necessary tactical devices, and it is up to us to use them to clean up our mess.”
“‘The good Lord provided necessary tactical devices,’” Lucash mocked.
“But we survive,” Old Bob argued. “Food and water are short, energy is giving out, food riots here at home, overflowing prisons, border fights with migratory gangs the size of military battles. We must control the situation. Do it quickly. Do your duty, sign the fucking accord.” Old Bob urged, not unkindly.
“It’s good we waited until after Christmas,” Lucash said bitterly, “because genocidal holocaust depresses sales. Not even Trump could think like this.”
Old Bob looked away in pain.
“I still need time to think,” Lucash said, avoiding the papers on his desk.
“There’s not much time.”
Lucash did not reply.
“Don’t agonize,” Old Bob said gently. “It will only consume you, Lowell.”
“I followed the rules,” Lucash said. “I did what I was supposed to do. I went along with the Trump Libertarian Me-First Agenda. But… I’m having trouble beating my conscience down on this. How do you do it, Bob? How do you stay so detached?”
“I approach it academically,” Old Bob said uneasily. “I try to keep my perspective.” His hands were atremble in his lap. Old Bob’s academic perspective was wearing thin. That still doesn’t stop him from being a bossy old murderous bastard, Lucash noted.
“Why don’t you go to hell?” Lucash asked with sudden anger. “Why don’t you do your damned hideous holocaust pruning without my signature? Get that frickin’ robber’s nest in the senate to sign it!”
“It’s your legal responsibility,” Old Bob insisted. “You make it official.”
“My signature makes it official to kill, how many, Bob, seven billion?”
“Five and a half, before they multiply to twenty and eat the planet.”

Lucash studied his mentor and saw a tired frightened old man. It scared him. “I need more time,” he said. “Please ask Marilyn to see me on your way out.” He turned his profile to the right to close the meeting. He often turned that way for photographic effect. He did so now to hide his fear. Old Bob rose, said farewell and left. Lucash rose and went to the windows, looked out at the frozen day and shivered again. Moments later, his wife Marilyn entered, a slender dark-haired beauty, elegantly dressed as always. They were loyal to one another, publicly and privately, despite discrete dalliances on both sides.
“You sent for me, darling?” she asked.
“Oh, Mommy!” he cried, going to her.
She held him, soothing him and stroking his hair.
“Now, now,” she crooned, “it’s all right. Poor little Lowly. It will be all right. You didn’t think the Presidency was all golf, after dinner speeches and rallies, did you? Of course, you did. Remember your programming. It would make old Uncle Puti proud if he wasn’t down with stroke. Der Don would pop his buttons. You’re trained to pop buttons too, aren’t you? Don’t you carry a big flailing stick?” Lucash flinched and released her.
“Whose side are you on?” he asked in distress.
“I support you, Lowly, as always, but you must act soon. Do something.”
“What should I do?”
“Do what Old Bob wants. Don’t think and sweat. It’s bad for vid lights.”
He nodded grimly, staring at the documents on his desk.
“The hell with Bob,” he decided. “I’m going to the War Room.”
“‘Situation Room,’” she corrected. “They haven’t called it the War Room since FDR died. I don’t think they have wars anymore, just situations.”
“Whatever,” he replied and was soon the center of noise and activity: voices, phones, flickering screens. Hours passed, predictions piled up, scenario after scenario was analyzed. At last, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General McClean Benson, arrived with a small entourage to receive immediate private audience with the President.
“Every scenario runs the same, Mr. President,” Benson said. He put the summaries on Lucash’s desk. “Pruning is the only option.”

Lucash looked at him suspiciously.
“I’m not eager for this either, Mr. President,” Benson said defensively.
“The projections are totally unbiased?” Lucash asked.
“Totally unbiased, Mr. President.” I did not have to bias them, he thought.
“Not good enough!” Lucash yelled. “Run it again. Find something!” Upset by his own passion, he said, “Keep working, General, thank you. Carry on.”
Benson saluted stiffly and departed.
Hours later, with the early morning darkness still upon the city, Old Bob returned to the Oval Office to find Lucash hunched tiredly at his great desk.
“Come up with anything?” Old Bob asked, wanting to say, I told you so.
“There’s enough data to reflect every possible variable on the uncertain face of the whole planet. It all adds up the same, regardless of how arranged.”
“You admit that we have no other choice?”
Lucash abruptly picked up the pen Old Bob had provided hours earlier and signed the accord. He shoved the papers across to him.
“There are two more copies,” Old Bob said, pushing them back.
Lucash stared, then quickly signed the copies. He tossed the pen down.
“Souvenir, Bob. Put it in your breast pocket. It will eat a hole in your heart.”
“It already has, Mr. President,” Old Bob said. He picked up the documents, avoiding the pen, and advised, “Destroy it.”
“Pruning is set for seven-thirty a.m., EST,” Lucash said, glancing at his Rolex. “We’ve two hours, fly the damned pen to the closest target and nuke it.”
“I’ll have the Secret Service dispose of it,” Old Bob said. He picked the pen up with a tissue. “I…uh, must get the documents to the courier.” Lucash nodded and Old Bob left. Marilyn Lucash entered immediately. He looked at her bleakly.
“Are you all right?” she asked and was suddenly crying. He went to her.

“It’s done,” he said, hugging her close. “Please, be still.”
“How bad will it be?” she asked, wiping her cheeks with her palm.
“’If everyone holds to the accord,’ he cited the official Trumped Scenario, “‘and if we contain effects, according to projection, we guarantee safety for the civilized world: North America, Europe, Russia, Japan.’ Unfortunately, Australia may suffer due to wind, or ocean currents, but that is part of the ‘necessary cost to succeed.’” She stared at him. He took a deep breath and released her.
“What about China and Korea?” she asked.
“Whatever must be done, will be done. This is no time for mourning.”
“We must be brave,” she agreed, drying her eyes. “You look so tired.”
Thirty-eight hours later, a haggard Lowell W. Lucash Jr. stood at a microphone, looking at a largely uniformed crowd of men and women cramped into Command Shelter Number One. Their families were in equally crowded adjoining quarters linked by a brightly-lighted tunnel network. Built for ten thousand, the bunker accommodated sixteen-thousand-five-hundred for the “duration of the emergency.”

Lucash saw Marilyn with the White House staff group. She smiled bravely at him and he smiled back uneasily.
“Your attention,” Lucash called, stilling excited voices. “Pruning is over. We think it is. Nothing has been released, or detonated for an hour. I regret that everyone exceeded pruning level by, uh, 32%. Is that right, General Benson?”
“That may be conservative, sir,” Benson replied. “We matched ’em release for release. Some analysts say fifty, but, damage assessment isn’t complete.”
Lucash nodded. The world felt upside down.
“Your prepared remarks,” Old Bob urged.
“In a short while,” Lucash read, feeling disconnected, as if in a dream, “we will return to the surface, hopefully. Thank each of you for your dedication and loyalty. The real task lies ahead: building a strong new America and a brave new world order.” There was scattered applause. “I know that you are up to the challenge. Our goal is worth sacrifice. Our country began nearly three hundred years ago and it is up to us to see that it lasts for a thousand more. Our brave new world order will be finer, better and safer than ever. As Tiny Tim once said, ‘God bless us every one!’” There were patriotic tears in many eyes as he finished. The crowd applauded and cheered, full of hope, glad the speech was over, their optimistic echoes springing back from the high-vaulted thick concrete ceiling.
“Can we trust the Chinese and Koreans, sir?” General Benson asked.
“Trust has to begin somewhere,” Lucash replied. “I’d rather not spend the rest of my life cooped up down here, would you, General?”
“What if they are waiting for us to come out so they can finish us off right now?” Benson warned. “We should hit ’em first. Pre-emptive strike.”
“General, everyone is horrified,” Lucash said. “I even heard it in Imam Fuad’s voice when he agreed to cease fire and he thought it was a holy war.”
“I wouldn’t mention that publicly,” Old Bob cautioned.
“It’s all my fault,” Lucash said sorrowfully.
“Stop that,” Old Bob scolded. “Be strong.”
Lucash looked at the people waiting to return to their normal topside world. The great concrete walls curved over their heads into black darkness and they instinctively moved closer, seeking comfort in proximity. Lucash wanted to console and wish each one well, and then lead them straight up out of that claustrophobic over-filled chamber.
A military attaché arrived with a message for Lucash. Lucash was shocked at what he read. He handed the message to Old Bob, whose face went white.
“The surface is contaminated beyond habitability,” Lucash told the crowd.
A moan went up.
“Damned Korean overkill!” General Benson shouted angrily.
People wept.
Lucash signed to Marilyn who quickly joined him. They hugged as when flashbulbs exploded and the Party Convention rocked with cheers short years before. Such pride. This time, shame almost overwhelmed Lowell W. Lucash Jr.
“We must…we must somehow live with this,” he told the crowd. Amid a common agonized murmur, an Air Force general went to his knees on cold concrete and began to pray. Others followed. A droning wail went up as echoes.
“My God,” Old Bob said at Lucash’s side, assessing the bunker’s long-term livability, “this is like being buried alive.”
“There are other bunkers all the way to California,” General Benson advised. “They were doing okay until communication went out. If they survived, they will be loyal to us.”
“If they survived, they are in the same mess,” Lucash said. “Cut off.”
“Meantime,” Old Bob said, “we must survive underground and there isn’t much room.” People looked at Lucash in horror. His flesh crawled.
“The Great Pruner!” an enraged technician screamed, pointing an accusing finger. “The bloody-handed Great Pruner!”
There were angry shouts, more weeping, more hostile eyes, more people screaming at Lucash. Marilyn’s arms tightened around his waist.
“O, Lowly, what do we do?” she whispered.
“This is a nightmare, Mr. President,” Old Bob said, taking Lucash’s arm.
“I wish to God it was, Bob,” Lucash said, trembling.
“Get behind me, Mr. President,” General Benson ordered, drawing his service weapon, as the angry crowd surged toward the Presidential party.

THE END: JL:Portland: 05-19
© JLegry

HELP SAVE LIFE ON EARTH CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY www.biologicaldiversity.org

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PEOPLE POWERED PROGRESS www.moveon.org

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EUGENE ON THE GREYHOUND

February 11, 2013

Hacienda

Excerpt, COMMON LIVES, an unpublished novel.

There was a clean Latino man in the seat beside Eugene on the Greyhound bus, who alternately dozed, or read from Antoine Saint Exupéry’s Wind, Sand and Stars.  His clothes were clean: dark new Levis and a good blue cotton denim shirt.  He also had a clean white straw cowboy hat with a sedate blue and white band.  Tucked under his elbow, between his body and the window wall of the bus was a new black leather jacket – not the kind bikers wore, but a skirted coat a gentleman might wear to take a lady out.  He also had a small brown paper bag with food for the trip – sausage and cheese, baguette of French bread, small condiments, crackers, fruits and vegetables in sealed plastic sacks.

Eugene met him when their bus driver narrowly avoided collision with a highballing semi-trailer headed north in a hurry.  Eugene banged into his seatmate as the bus made a wild swing onto and off the shoulder of the road.

“Sorry!” Eugene yelped, more frightened than he wanted to be.

“No problem!” the man said, clinging to the seat in front of them with one strong brown hand.  Saint-Exupéry was clutched securely in the other.

“Some drivers,” Eugene said as their driver regained control.

“Guess he has to make some time.”

“Eugene Formsby,” Eugene introduced himself on impulse, holding out his hand.

“Armand Garcia,” Armand said, shaking Eugene’s hand.

“Headed for Portland?” Eugene asked.  Armand’s hand was hard as horn.

“Wilsonville,” Armand replied.  “I follow the crops.”

“You’re a migrant worker?” Eugene asked in disbelief.  Armand fit none of the stereotypes.  He was clean and neat.  He wasn’t traveling in a caravan of scruffy dirty brown men.  He wasn’t drunk.

“Somebody’s gotta do it,” Armand said reasonably.  He smiled.  He had even white teeth, obviously well-cared-for beneficiaries of good professional dental attention.  “It’s a good livin’, if you don’t blow it all on booze and women.  A lotta the guys do that: make a little money and piss it all away.  They’re stupid.  Sure, it’s a little bit of money here, but it’s a lot where I come from.  I send my money home.  I got a wife and kids in Mexico.”

“Did I see you reading Saint Exupéry?” Eugene asked, fascinated.  He was meeting an industrious Mexican migrant farm worker – a clean one with a sense of responsibility.  The world was truly a marvelous place.

“Yes,” Armand said promptly.  “Would you like to hear a passage?”

“Well…?”

And suddenly,” Armand read, “I had a vision of the face of destiny.  Old bureaucrat, my comrade, it is not you who are to blame.  No one ever helped you to escape.  You, like a termite, built your peace by locking up with cement every chink and cranny through which light might pierce.  You rolled yourself up into a ball in your genteel security, in routine, in the stifling conversations of provincial life, raising a modest rampart against the winds and the tides and the stars.  You have chosen not to be perturbed by great problems, having trouble enough to forget your own fate as a man.  You are not the dweller upon an errant planet, and do not ask yourself questions to which there are no answers.  You are a petty bourgeois to Toulouse.  Nobody grasped you by the shoulder while there was still time.  Now the clay from which you were shaped has hardened, and naught in you will ever awaken the sleeping musician, the poet, the astronomer that possibly inhabited you in the beginning.’

“Good stuff, ain’t it?” Armand asked, smiling.

“It’s uncanny,” Eugene replied, nonplused.  Did someone send you here to read that to me?  He wondered, imagining all sorts of divine interventions and messages from Beyond.

“I’m tryin’ to improve my mind,” Armand said amiably.  “I don’t always wanna be pickin’ crops.  That’s stupid.  Gonna kill my back one day and then I won’t be able to do it anymore.  I’m thinkin’ of studyin’ book-keepin’.  What do you think?”

“Well, book-keeping is a reliable occupation,” Eugene said seriously, dismayed that the reader of Saint Exupéry was going to intentionally crash land in the desert.

“I was thinkin’ more along the line of tax preparation, ya’ know?”

“Uh-ha,” Eugene replied, nodding. 

“You’ve got a family?” Armand asked politely.

“No.”

“You should have a wife and children,” Armand said reasonably.  “They make your life mean something.  A lot of those guys I work with, they don’t know that.  They don’t work for the family.  They come up here and get drunk and wild and land in jail, or get run outta the country by the INS.  Stupid sonsabitches.”

“INS,” Eugene said, “that’s Immigration Naturalization Service?”

“That’s them.  They’re not too bad if you don’t get stupid.”

“You get hassled?”

“Sometimes, but I travel by bus and keep pretty much to myself.  Some of those other guys all chip in, ya’ know?  Buy an old junker car.  They get a little drunked up and ride along about a hundred miles an hour and get busted by a local cop.  Man, that’s stupid!  Local cops can be real mean.”

“I didn’t know migrant workers came all the way up to Oregon.”

“Sure, all the time.  We follow the crop right up into Canada.  We’re chasing the harvests, don’t ya’ know?”

“Well, yeah, sure, I know that.  That’s what migrants do.”  Eugene felt stupid.

Sometime around noon, the bus broke down.

“I always bite off a hard chunk,” Armand said as they stood by the side of the road.  The bus was disabled, its rear hatch open, smoky steam clouding up into the cool Oregon air in thin wet tendrils.  Passengers stood straggled along the roadway, or seated on their luggage, which had been removed in preparation for a relief bus, which was expected “momentarily” for the past two hours and twenty-three minutes.  Passing motorists speeding by on their way north glanced curiously at the stranded bus riders.  No highway patrolman appeared.  The driver smoked cigarettes, paced and scowled, stopping periodically to deal with impatient frustrated passengers.

“A hard chunk?” Eugene asked disinterestedly, holding Armand’s dog-eared Saint-Exupéry, which he’d asked to see.  He longed for the relief bus.  He leaned into its vision, hoping that it would soon put an end to his seemingly endless return to Portland.  Perhaps the fates were trying to tell him something – like, maybe, you’re a loser, go no farther.

“If it’s hard to chew,” Armand continued, “I try to spit it out.  If it don’t spit out, I have to tough my way through.  Life is like that; you don’t get to spit the damn thing out, until you croak.”

Reassuring, Eugene thought.

“I been thinkin’ lately on how man is an animal,” Armand said seriously.  “Unlike the other animals, he’s the only one who gets to remember much of anythin’ – includin’ hates and discontents – and the only one who knows he’s gonna die.  Pretty depressin’.  It’s also the human condition which everybody reads about – which some people think died out with those Frenchmen, sittin’ in Paris cafes, stickin’ knives in their hands to make a point durin’ the Nazi occupation; or walkin’ the beaches in self-exile in plague-ridden Morocco.  Camus had it bad.  Malraux and Sartre, all those thoughtful Frenchmen.  All life’s absurd.  It’s the human condition.  Man’s fate.  It all comes home.”

Eugene stared at Armand.

“Hey, who are those guys?” Armand asked with sudden concern.

Eugene looked around.  There were about a dozen, furtive men trying to slip into the small crowd of stranded bus riders.  The men fit Eugene’s stereotype: dirty, rough-looking Latino laborers, wearing faded jeans, straw hats, black mustaches, flannel shirts and heavy, thick-soled shoes.

“Shit,” Armand said furiously.  “Fuckin’ wetbacks ruin it for everybody!  Stupid motherfuckers!”

“What are they doing here?” Eugene asked nervously.

“I don’t know,” Armand replied angrily.  “Catchin’ the bus, I guess!  The stupid mother fuckers are gettin’ tickets from the mother fuckin’ driver!”

Sure enough, Eugene saw the newcomers line up, clutching their money in grimed hands, pressing it on the surly Greyhound bus representative in his surly-gray bus driver’s suit.  As he watched, a trio of official white sedans pulled off onto the shoulder of the road behind the bus.  A second trio of sedans and a large white van pulled up in front.

The next few moments were bedlam.

The laborers began running in all directions.  To Eugene’s horror, Armand went with them.  Men in dark blue bulletproof vests and matching ball caps ran past Eugene in hot pursuit.  The pursuers wore badges and the large letters INS were stenciled across their backs.  They were armed with batons and carried side arms at their belts.  Within minutes, the laborers returned, singly and in pairs, their hands handcuffed behind them, escorted by officers into the back of the white van.  Eugene saw Armand among the last herded up to captivity.  Armand did not see him.  The van was sealed, the officers returned to their vehicles, got in and drove away, leaving a gaping busload of passengers still stranded at the side of the road.

The surly Greyhound bus driver looked furtively at all the ticket money he’d just collected and pocketed it.  He glanced nervously at the passengers and smiled at a nearby older woman, who looked at him disapprovingly, thinking his unctuous smile the most terrible anomaly thus far in a terrible trip.

My God! Eugene thought. Armand is a wetback!  A goddamned literate wetback! How do I meet these guys?  Why do I meet these guys? What the hell?

The relief bus arrived almost immediately thereafter and Eugene climbed aboard gratefully, still carrying Armand’s copy of Saint-Exupéry.  He sat down with the book in his lap.  Armand would stay on his mind for a long time, maybe for life; he had only touched the surface.   He wished him well, commending him to his Catholic or Indian gods, or Sir Isaac Newton, perhaps.  Impossibly, he hoped he would meet him again.  He looked down at Saint-Exupéry and opened it to the part Armand had marked.  He read:

“No one ever helped you to escape.  You, like a termite, built your peace by locking up with cement every chink and cranny through which light might pierce.  You rolled yourself up into a ball in your genteel security, in routine, in the stifling conversations of provincial life, raising a modest rampart against the winds and the tides and the stars.  You have chosen not to be perturbed by great problems, having trouble enough to forget your own fate as a man.” 

Eugene turned to the first page and began to read.

UNITED FARM WORKERS :

To provide farm workers and other working people with the inspiration and tools to share in society’s bounty

http://www.ufw.org/

Friend of the Poor

SNEAKY PEOPLE

May 11, 2011
The Poet Dines Alone
The Poet Dines Alone

Excerpt: SNEAKY PEOPLE, unpublished novella.

Okay, this is a story about me.  It’s my diary, so I can write about anything I want – even things I wouldn’t tell other people (especially other men).  I’m a sneaky person.  I come from a long line of sneaky people – really sneaky people.  We’re part of the anonymous swarm that comes out like rats – day or night – picking off top or bottom of the midden heap (depending upon status in the pack) – seeking sustenance while awaiting the ever-approaching End of the World.

Which is pretty much occurring every day.  The End of the World is both cumulative and individual specific.  On the upper end of the End of the World Scale is Climate Change, which promises wholesale extinction (and, some bitch winters and summers between now and then); and, on the other is the latest starving Somali, homeless person, or helpless geriatric.  Somebody’s pretty much meeting the End of the World every single second.

I was born in San Francisco a bit before the mid-point of the Twentieth Century.  My parents were apprehensive about the spreading World War of that time and, I believe, my arrival was an oasis of joy for them – odd as that seems to me now.  My birth was an opportunity for them to hold the rest of the insane world temporarily at bay, basking in the momentary glow of life’s continuity.  Like all young people, they huddled secretly under the covers with their arms around each other, whispering about futures and possibilities – hopes.

My presence – miniscule and infantile – was accepted as God’s reassurance that all of us – each one: Dad, Mom, and Jr. – would come out all right.  In the end, the enemy would be defeated and the world brought majestically into the bright, painless peace of Forever After and the New Deal (which sounds like a rock group and if someone cops the name, I’ll sue).

However, my parents honestly felt that they were finishing the “undone business of World War I” – there were still German vermin to exterminate and, unexpectedly, the sudden need to fumigate Italy and delouse Japan.

Shortly after I was born, father was sent to the war by our beleaguered government and mother moved in with his mother – grandma – and three maiden aunts who were all destined to have affairs with transient servicemen who “might be killed in a matter of weeks,” and were.  None of my aunts’ fellahs made it back.  One aunt went bonkers, one married a dull-witted postman, and the third wed a fat automobile dealer and got a divorce from the rest of us.

Anyway, we waited at grandma’s for dad to come home.

He arrived late at night three years later.  He was flown into San Francisco International and taxied seventeen miles to his mother’s Oceanside home – to his wife and growing son.  I looked up at him as he stood over my bed.

“Did you fly home?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said with a pleased laugh.  “Do you remember me?”

“I have your picture,” I replied, pointing to his image on my dresser.

He looked at himself in the photograph for a long time, silent and withdrawn.  The day the photo had been taken, he had been a young soldier, vibrant, self-assured, and alive.  His face now was subtly different from the one in the photograph mounted between fifty-caliber machinegun rounds.  In the picture he was young and proud with new sergeant’s stripes on his Eighth Army Air Force uniform.  Standing there looking at himself, he was weary and grim.  A trace of the young man remained – a hint of optimism, which fired his eyes.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said at last, hardly believing that this would and could be so, that the bombs were left far behind, and gratefully forgetful that half the world’s population was still awakening in a world of ruins – picking hungrily through the rubble, hunting rats for nourishment.

I learned that he’d been in photo reconnaissance.  I liked the sound.  The French word “reconnaissance” had a lean mean underground battlefield resonance.  I was a romantic kid.  (That drove Dad nuts – among other things).  I learned, too, one evening when he was drinking, something he did more and more, that he had helped empty a rocket-hit orphanage one night in downtown London, carrying out its dead and dying children and their bloody parts.

He saw and lived with death as a routine for three years.  His photograph war souvenir album had pictures of massive bombers dumping lethal rain on Dresden, Berlin, German gun emplacements in Normandy, French coastal towns, war ships and hospitals, trains, cars, horses, wagons, canals and villages.  Now, home, he attacked normal civilian life as if it was the new enemy.  He had lost time to make up, things to do, family to feed and a top to possibly find.

In his free time, he watched boxing on the new-fangled television, tense with pleasure waiting for the knockouts, heavy K. O. punches, and T. K. O. s swimming in blood.  He watched the gymnastic exhibitions of professional wrestling until he realized that the mayhem wasn’t real.  He watched John Wayne repeatedly and successfully storm Iwo Jima.  He saw Errol Flynn shoot his way single-handedly through the entire Japanese Army in Burma.  He observed as Jeff Chandler really died of pleurisy while filming a mediocre account of Merrill’s Marauders on location in Imperial Indochina.  Pa’s latent violence had to translate into real life.

He punched Ma.  He punched me.  He drank himself finally and completely to death.  In his scarred wake, he left two sons, one daughter, and his frightened, yet indefatigable wife.  He also left behind the lingering echoes of Henry David Thoreau, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Father was a desperate man.

I’ve thought since that he was born in belief, raised in faith, condemned to hell, pardoned to purgatory, and eventually dispatched to…wherever he went.

Mother always said, “The War changed him.”  This is certainly so – I’ve seen other young men come back from Korea and Viet Nam.  They all have Dad’s eyes.  The men who fought at Salamis probably looked that way too.  Bloody fields and death process slowly.

Because of all this, justifications of violence appall me.  Its price is too high.  Brought home in the eyes of our young men, violence compounds as it seeks its vent.  Within the peacetime marketplace it ripples out on a high, spreading across the schoolyards, streaming into ghetto back alleys, finding its way into the boardroom.  Man against man, clan against clan.  So it goes, as Vonnegut says, and I?  I go on, watching to left and right, mindful of the dangers on the street, wary in my sleep – as restless as I was at the mouth of my cave one million years ago.

The history of mankind is a dry narration of famous battles, famous generals and famous kings, interspersed with profiles of failed political, social, economic and religious systems, which all rose and fell on the profit line.  The chronicle of anything else is incidental, a coffee table book.  Art, music, literature, dance, theater, magic are a sideshow to the main show.  Those things are the province of dreamers, romantics and fools.  For, if anyone is able to live a placid life, outside the maniacal slashing and hacking of whole peoples intent on the obliteration of other whole peoples, then one is, indeed, fortunate.

Life is a series of accidents.  Chance, not choice, governs (although, why we are in one spot at a particular time and not in another may be divinely inspired).  However, I doubt there is a Master Plan.  Master plans and master crimes require cumbersome plotting.  One can, or should be able to see their patterns, but impulse fires most of us.  We deal with consequences afterward, which is when they should properly be dealt with, I guess.

I’d like to do something to help my fellow human beings, but I don’t know what.  Everybody’s fighting and clawing, biting and scratching.  I’m hiding.  Scared to death.  Who wants to attract attention?  The threat to life may be worldwide conflagration, or in the mouth of some filthy city alley, with a knife wielding, coked-up assailant standing over one’s punctured corpse.  “Neither a peacekeeper, nor a lender be.” It’s too painful, too expensive, and too dangerous.  Experience is a great teacher; if we survive the lesson, but we’re still not gonna get out of this alive.

I wish I could stop the clock.  Turn back time until I’m just short of the primordial ooze – watch by degrees the slow progression of life.  See just how long it takes to make a human being out of all that gloop.  Think about just how quickly that complex organism can cancel itself out with a single bullet.

The universe is infinite.  I don’t really understand what that means, and it’s expanding, but into what?  It’s cosmic and vast and when you think about it, without the artificial augmentation of religious zealotry, perhaps meaningless.  Even so, this ship was pilotless before we knew that it had no pilot and continues so and nothing changes that.  Either way, I don’t expect the Creator to wash my dirty laundry or lift my heavy load.  It’s clear I gotta hoe my own corn.

I am alive, well, and living past the immoral end of the Twentieth Century and on the ignorant cusp of the early Twenty-first – unhappily still under threat of the nuclear-bomb, dismayed by Russians and Chinese, the System and the decay of the World, as ever.  “Is it just for the moment we live?”  You betcha.  What’s it all about, Alfie?  The End of the World is only a heartbeat away.  Whether one is one of a half million blown away at Hiroshima, drowning alone in the pool of a cliffside villa in Monterey, or choking in the arms of a lover on a sunny Egyptian Sunday.

Well, Diary, that’s my Summer Vacation.  I’m going home now.  Wonder what I’ll find?  It’s still the End of the World and Sissy Wagner doesn’t love me anymore.  Who’s going to do my laundry?

— JL:PDX, 8-09

Little Brown Bat with White-nose disease.

IMPORTANT LINK: Bats are present throughout most of the world and perform vital ecological roles such as pollinating flowers and dispersing fruit seeds. Many tropical plant species depend entirely on bats for the distribution of their seeds.

Bats are on a clear trajectory toward oblivion.  The Center for Biological Diversity has warned that the bat crisis is dire while calling for more funding to try to determine what, exactly, is killing America’s bats — and how the disease can be stopped.

http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/bat_crisis_the_white-nose_syndrome/index.html

Little Brown Bat with White-nose disease.