Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Golden Lion, Chapter 3

Les rode on a blast of pure black speed for what seemed like forever, and yet like one impossibly suspended moment. Then there was a lightning crack, and with it the movement simply stopped. Les clamped his eyes shut against the gray light that was suddenly there. When he opened them, a little at a time, he saw that the couple with the baby was gone, and all the nearby seats were vacant.
"Hello?" he called out. The hollow silence supplied the answer he instinctively feared: he was alone. Did I black out? It didn't feel like he had passed out. He thought he remembered the whole thing: the burst of golden light, the sudden darkness, the directionless whoosh of acceleration. But where is everyone? He must've blacked out, he decided, at least part of the time. It was the only way to explain the absence of the other passengers.
"Hello," he called again and tried to stand. His seat belt, still fastened, yanked him down. Les felt for the buckle, found that it was jammed and wouldn't release. A small, electric spark of dread coursed through him. Was that why he been left behind? Because his seatbelt was stuck? Was anybody coming back for him? He couldn't believe they would just leave him all alone.
Les began to notice strange things about the plane. For one, the cabin was completely unlit, illuminated only by the dingy daylight coming through the windows. The light strips that bordered the aisle were out, as were all the ceiling lights. It was as if the plane's power had been cut off, yet the plane itself was perfectly intact. Then there was the undeniable tinge of gold. It was everywhere: the seats, the floor, the entire interior of the cabin. At first he wondered if perhaps the brilliant bombardment he had endured was having a lingering effect on his vision. But when he looked down at himself, his clothes were unaffected, and his own skin was its usual bronzy-brown. Confused, he looked to the window and was startled by another difference: the glass in his window was missing. He raised a finger, and slowly pushed it through the opening. "What the--" he mumbled. "The window's gone?" He twisted around, checking the others. All of them looked empty, as if someone had come along and collected all the glass. When could that have happened? he wondered. And why?
Les's stomach, which he had forgotten about, began to writhe again. With a low moan, he glanced outside. Only then did he notice they were not on an airport runway, or at an airport at all. Instead, it appeared that the plane was parked on gray rock, flat as concrete, spreading out in all directions. In the far distance Les could see a towering, arcing wall of sheer rock of the same gray color, its upper edge visible only when he cranked his head to one side and peered upward through the window. Where are we? He scanned along the base of the cliff, and finally found a solitary building, dwarfed beneath the high wall. Beyond that, he could find no other sign of life, not even a single shrub, or a blade of grass.
Must've had to make some kind of emergency landing, he surmised. But that still doesn't explain where everyone went, or why they left me here. He swallowed hard, blocking the rising terror at his throat. Wait, he told himself. Maybe everybody else is on the other side of the plane where I can't see them. Or maybe they're in that building. "If I could just get this stupid seatbelt off," he snarled. Grasping it with both hands, Les tried his best to force the buckle to open. He pulled until his arms began to tremble, and his strength gave out, but it still wouldn't budge. Then he tried to wriggle out from under the strap, but he couldn't move more than a few inches either way. Frustrated, Les threw himself back against the seat. His head struck a cushion that he knew was made of soft foam, but felt hard as steel. It clanged hollowly.
"Ow!" he cried, twisting back and giving his seat an evil look. "What is going on around here?"
He was still rubbing his head when movement outside the window caught his eye. A man was crossing the expanse between the plane and the building. Within a few minutes, he had drawn close enough that Les could see he was dressed in some kind of pale blue business suit. The bright yellow flash of his tie stood out, even at this distance. The man appeared to be quite large, though that was difficult to judge against the emptiness of the surroundings. He carried some kind of bag in one hand, and walked at a brisk pace. Les watched him, nervous but hopeful that he was coming to free him.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Golden Lion, Chapter 2

Les finally reached the gate near the end of the terminal. The waiting area was already crowded. After searching briefly, he was able to find a single empty seat overlooking the tarmac through a high window wall. With a sigh of relief, he slumped into the chair. His stomach was aching badly, and his legs were still a little weak. He wiped a film of sweat from his face with a corner of his shirt. Navigating through the airport had turned out to be an even worse experience than he imagined.
It started off well enough. The lady at the check-in counter had been kind. When she saw that he was traveling by himself, she gave him a map of the airport, circling in red both the security checkpoint and the gate. As she did so, she instructed him to tell the gate attendants that he was something called an ‘unaccompanied minor,’ which should allow him to board the plane early. She even offered to have someone escort him from the security checkpoint to the gate. Les politely refused, thinking it would look pretty stupid to be walking around with an airline employee like he was a lost child. Still, he appreciated her concern, even as he resented himself. He was pretty sure she had only been so considerate because she saw how nervous he was.
Getting through security was a very different matter. First, there was the line. When Les saw it, snaking back and forth through a cordoned maze of black straps and chrome posts, he immediately began to worry. With a groan, he traced the line backwards, and took his place at the end. The people were bunched so tightly that Les couldn’t even be sure how many times the line folded back on itself. All he could do was wait, watching for the periodic spurts of movement, each of which traveled down the line like a slow-moving millipede. When the ripple reached him, Les shuffled forward a few feet, then stopped. This is going to take forever, he moaned to himself. I’m gonna miss my flight.
At each turn in the line, Les would try to look ahead, and see how far he was from the checkpoint. It was during one of these moments that he happened to lock eyes with one of the security agents. Les’ heart spiked, and he quickly looked away. After that, he couldn’t shake the feeling that the man was tracking him, though he was very careful not to look directly at him again. Stop being so nervous, Les told himself savagely. They might think I’m a terrorist or something. You don’t want to end up in a very small room with a very large man wearing latex gloves, do you?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Pat Tillman Does Not Belong in the NFL Hall of Fame

It's been twelve years now since ol' number 42 (40) died.  This past Friday, on the anniversary (funny word for marking the passage of time for a death, isn't it?) of Pat Tillman's passing,  NFL commentator Chris Collinsworth tweeted the following:

 "If it were my decision Pat Tillman would have been a 1st ballot Hall Of Famer."

It was a gracious thing to say, a gesture of remembrance and respect.

Peter King: It's my football, and
don't you forget it.
Peter King, the venerable columnist for Sports Illustrated, responded to the tweet by saying,

 "Not mine."

He then went on, apparently forgetting that brevity is the soul of wit, (not to mention the soul of Twitter):

"IMO: Silly to confuse patriotism with athletic greatness. Some will disagree with me. That’s fine. It’s a free country."

Predictably, his open invitation to disagree with him ignited a Twitter brush fire that he then spent the remainder of the day trying to fight, basically by saying the same thing over and over:

"Football players should be judged for the Hall of Fame based on their football credentials. Nothing else."

"My feelings about this, as a voter for the Hall, is players should be judged for football only. Nothing else."

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Golden Lion, Chapter 1

“Nervous?” Lisa said, casting a glance at Les’ rapidly jiggling leg.
“No,” Les replied. His leg stilled.
“So, how was it staying at nana’s and tata’s? How’s La Jolla?” she asked.
Les shrugged. “Okay.”
“Did nana make her green chile?” Les didn’t respond. Lisa gave him a prolonged glance. “Talkative today, aren’t we?” she said archly.
Les said nothing, just stared straight out the windshield as they raced along the freeway.
As she drove, Lisa’s eyes flitted between the road and her brother. “You’re nervous about flying by yourself, aren’t you?”
“No I’m not,” he answered curtly. In fact, Les was nervous about the flight to Seattle, and growing more so by the minute. But he knew better than to admit it to his older sister. Years of bitter experience had taught him that.
“So what’s bothering you?”
“I’m fine, Lisa. Just drop it.”
Lisa was silent for a few moments. “Les, it’s okay,” she said, her voice assuming a softer, lulling quality that Les knew all too well. Here it comes. The heartfelt invitation to spill my guts. How many times have I fallen for that one? It was her one of her most effective tactics, and it always began the same way: she would ply him relentlessly with sincere, sisterly overtures to confidence. He could tell her anything, she would say. She would listen to him without judging, no matter what it was. Mom and dad would never find out. And she sounded so authentic, so convincing, that, even though he knew she was lying, she would still somehow persuade him into believing her. He would reveal whatever dark, horrible secret he was hiding, or the embarrassing incident at school, or the lamest, most stupid little thing; it didn’t seem to matter how big or small it was. It only mattered that she could get it out of him. Well, not this time, sister.
Les leaned back, looked sideways out the door window. The city of San Diego sparkled in the bright blue sunshine, the towers and skyscrapers stark and straight and proper against the ocean. Behind them, the graceful curve of the Coronado Bridge rose and dipped.
“So, how’dja do in your games?” she asked after a time.
Oh, like I don’t know this one, Les thought. Change subjects, get me to lower my guard, and then come back in for the kill. You’re being way too obvious, Leese. Hardly one semester away from home, and you’re losing your touch. “We went one-and-two,” he said finally, in answer to her question.
“Oh,” she said. “Not so good, huh? What happened?”
Les shrugged as if it wasn’t important.
“So what team are you on this year? JV?”
Les nodded once. If she was set on dragging something out of him, he was going to make her work as hard he could.
“Well, that’s good,” Lisa replied, undeterred. “I mean, at least you’re not on that freshman team you hated so much last year.”
Les stared down at the floorboards. “Yeah, well, that really wasn’t an option, since I’m a sophomore now,” he said acidly.
“I know that. I just meant, well, I mean, you made the cut, right? Plus, now you get to be on the same team with your bestie, so life’s a beach, no?”
Les turned from the window, leveled his eyes coldly at his sister. “Yeah, it’s a real beach.”
She looked at him, perplexed, until she had deciphered his response. “What, Omar made Varsity?”
“Of course he did,” Les said, “because that’s how things always work for me.” He paused, and then groaned loudly. “No, that’s not fair,” he said. “I mean, he totally deserves it. He led JV in scoring last year. Offensive rebounds. Steals. He was their best player, hands down. ‘Course it didn’t hurt that he grew five inches in the last twelve months.”
“Really?” Lisa said, evidently surprised. “So what is he now?”
“Six-one-and-a-half,” Les said. “He said his doctor told him he probably had four or five more inches left to grow.”
“Omar?” Lisa said, surprised. “In eighth grade, you two were the almost the same height.”
“Thanks for the reminder,” Les said icily. Then, sensing an opportunity to take a shot of his own, added, “Besides, you haven’t been around in forever. If you had, you would’ve seen him.”

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Remembering a Fallen Nemesis: The Columbia House Record Club

Welp, the time has come to bid farewell to another great institution of the lost American cultural landscape.

Yes, it’s time to say goodbye to the Columbia House Record Club.

Actually, Columbia House Record Club ceased to exist ten years ago, when it merged with BMG. And they stopped selling mail-order music in 2009, so the ‘Record’ part of the club has been gone for some six years now.

Still, the announcement earlier this month made me wistful.

How I wish I could go back to a time when I could buy my record albums through the mail. You know, wait for one of those bimonthly club catalogs to come, make my selection, buy a stamp, send the order back, and then pay fifteen bucks for the privilege of waiting three weeks for the record to arrive. So much better than the way things are now, when you have to go online, choose your album from Amazon, pay for it with one click, and listen to it now.

Actually, I learned a lot from The Columbia House Record Club. A lot about business. A lot about life.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Repaying the Debt #4: David Letterman

So tomorrow is David Letterman’s last show. It’s a remarkable thing. Some call it the end of an era. For me, the era of which Dave was part has been over for awhile now. But then again, I don’t even feel like I’m a part of the era in which I find myself.

I first met Dave sometime in 1984. I was fifteen or so, and I had recently talked my parents into letting me have a TV in my room under the pretext that I needed one for my TI-994A (if you don’t know what that is, google it). The TV was a little 13” black and white job. Offbrand, of course. Paid for it with my paper route money, or maybe I had started working at Lionel Playworld by then. The thing was, I was only supposed to use the TV as a monitor. And for the most part, I abided by my parents’ wishes. But late one night, I dared to turn it on. In the course of flipping through the six or seven available channels, I suddenly found myself confronted by the image of a pudgy, bespectacled man. His odd, distorted face completely filled the screen. I don’t remember what he was doing, or why he was so close to the camera. It didn’t matter. All I knew was that on my television was a man who looked like a Gary Larson cartoon come to life. It’s all I needed to see. I was hooked.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Brain Drool

Work continues apace on the novel (that pace being glacial (and not of the global warming variety, but of the older, proverbial kind)). In addition to consuming vast quantities of time, it is also absorbing nearly all my mental energy (you try drinking orange juice in your coffee instead of milk!). All I have room for anymore are the occasional oddball thoughts that will manifest in my brain, and then melt away through the voluminous gaps (the human brain is, after all, 90% air*). For some reason, today I have a few still clinging to my gray matter. I'm going to share them, if only so I can clear space for still more thoughts on Greek mythology, the many intractable problems of narrative writing, and how many ways I can come up with to describe rocks.

Parenthood: that glorious state of existence where the days pass like weeks, and the years pass like months.

Conventional wisdom isn't just an oxymoron; it's an impossibility.

Does this happen to anyone else? Listening to John Lennon's Imagine, and he sings the line: Imagine all the people/Livin' for today... I always have the same reaction. What is he thinking? Six billion people living for today? That's my definition of a nightmare. Knowing that we all have to come back again tomorrow is the only thing that keeps the social order going. Without it, we'd have sheer chaos. I think I must be missing the point...



* I have no idea if that is true.




Sunday, December 21, 2014

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Real Story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer



The Real Story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
Yes, kids, that’s how the old song starts. Of course, we all know that Rudolph had (and continues to have) a red nose, but most people don’t how just how shiny it really was.

And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows
You could say it glows. You could also say that a searchlight glows, or a five-alarm fire glows, or the sun glows. Take it from me, kids, glows doesn’t begin to cover it.

All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names
I’m sorry to say, things did come to a point where most of the other reindeer teased him mercilessly. But the truth is, Rudolph’s nose shone so brightly that it was physically difficult to be around the little guy. His nose wasn’t just a nuisance to the other reindeer, it was downright hazardous. Why, his own mother and father had to wear welding masks just to put him to bed at night. The others couldn’t even get close enough to talk to him without risking permanent damage to their eyes. No one could understand how a reindeer’s nose could be so infernally bright, and some of them thought it was just plain unnatural. A few were afraid of him.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Come Dancing

Most days, I listen to Van Halen, Foo Fighters, or Green Day to help me through my “Thirty Minutes of Hell” workout, you know, something high energy and especially loud, which helps drown out the sounds of me panting and the occasional groan. Today, though, their brand of accompaniment doesn’t strike me right, and so I go with something else: The Kinks’ Live - The Road. As the title suggests, it is a mostly live album, a collection of songs recorded in concert by that most English of English bands circa 1987.

It seems an unlikely choice, I know, but it works surprisingly well. The Kinks happen to be my all-time favorite band, and they flat out know how to rock in concert. I crank through the first three songs, and before I know it, I’ve already whittled twelve minutes off today’s timed descent into suffering. The fourth song begins. It’s “Come Dancing.”

If you were around in the eighties, you might remember “Come Dancing.” It was the last big hit The Kinks ever had. It’s a bright, breezy song with a wistful, melancholy message, the kind that Ray Davies is so adept at writing. It’s the kind of song that seems crafted specifically to be remembered fondly. It’s the kind of song that you could easily imagine being sung in an English pub during the wee hours of the morning a hundred and fifty years from now.