June 2021

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s—a Weather balloon?

“So what do you make of the Department of Defense report to Congress, Al?  It doesn’t say that there are alien UFO’s but it doesn’t say that there aren’t either.  It just says, ‘we don’t know what we’re seeing.’”

“Well Lin, it’s a start.  After all the years of denial, at least there’s an official statement now that there are things in the skies that cannot be explained as natural phenomena or of human manufacture.  Help yourself to a cold one and the chips.”

“Thanks, I will.  You always thought that UFO’s existed and that they were aliens and that the government knew more than it was letting on.  Sounds like you might have been right.  But why is all of this coming out now?”

“Maybe there was such an accumulation of credible witnesses and images that it had to come out—that further denial would be laughable.”

“Or do you think that this is the government’s way of priming us, so that there’ll be less shock and panic when a more definitive report comes out in the future saying that the aliens are here?”

“Now you’re beginning to sound like me with the conspiracy theories, Lin.”

“No, really.  I mean I don’t believe all that Area 51 or alien abduction stuff, but it’s clear now that there’s been an effort to hide information.”

“Since you’re going down the government coverup path Lin, think about why the government, if it did have physical evidence of alien craft, would continue to keep it at Area 51 where all the attention of UFOlogists are focused?  Wouldn’t it make sense to use Area 51 as a decoy while the actual material and studies are going on at some other site?”

“Interesting thought, Al.  Makes sense.  Where do you think?”

“I think if there were such a site, it could be almost anywhere except in a big city.  But not so remote that comings and goings would stand out and be noticed.”

“It’s a big country.  Lots of possibilities.”

“Yes.  Your guess is as good as mine.”

“Okay, Al.  Another question.  If there are aliens who have been watching us for what—at least seventy years—maybe more—why are they doing it?”

“Because we’re so damn interesting.  We’re like their ant farm.” 

“No. Seriously Al.”

“Well, I don’t think that they’re here to take over Earth or to steal our resources like some people worry.  If they have the science to travel between stars and maybe galaxies, they don’t need our planet for its natural resources.  And if they were going to invade us, why are they waiting to do so?”

“You still haven’t answered me.”

“Okay, Lin.  Maybe not exactly like their ant farm, but I think they are watching to keep track of our scientific progress.”

“Then why don’t they do a better job of staying concealed?”

“Perhaps they want us to know that they are here, watching, and that our technology doesn’t come close to doing anything about it.  I wonder if that’s why they engage our newest aircraft, to show that our best fighter jets can’t compare.”

“But why?”

“There was that part of the report that said that when the navy installed a new radar system on their jets there was a flurry of UFO activity where this happened.  Pilots were reporting radar contacts but couldn’t see anything visually.  Perhaps the UFOs were checking out the new technology that made them more detectable.”

“You think that they show enough of themselves so that our leaders realize we’re not alone, but not so much that everyone on earth believes it?”

“Something like that, Lin.  Like not hovering saucers over cities and towns all over the world.  That if it were that obvious that far-advanced aliens were here, it might destroy any motivation we humans have to make progress.”  

“Okay, so if they aren’t here to harm us, do you think they’re here to help—to keep us from wiping ourselves out or destroying the planet?  That if things go really bad, they’ll step in?   Or are they strictly observers?”

“Who knows, Lin.  Have another cold one and hope that the former’s the case.”

Deep under the ocean at their base, undetectable by human technology, two observers are communicating with each other.

“You’ve been here longer than I.  Do you ever feel disheartened by the humans?” asked ##&%.

“Sometimes.  But they seem to be making progress, albeit slowly.  No recent continents-wide conflicts as by the group called the Mongols or the ones called the Romans.  It is true that they have had two bloody so-called world wars with bursts of technology, but none for the past seventy-five of their years,” answered #&#%@.

“Their aggressive nature seems innate.  Even humans subjugated by ruling groups find other humans that they can in turn, dominate,” said ##&%

“We are bound by our code to never intervene in the societies that we encounter.  To nether help nor harm.  They no longer do ritual sacrifices of fellow humans although they still have executions and murders.  They hold some strange beliefs.  They make slow progress, but progress,” #&#%@ repeated.

“The ones—their leaders and scientists—who know of our presence, must surely have surmised that in order for us to visit their world, we have the means to travel between stars and galaxies beyond their understanding of physics and space-time,” stated ##&% 

“As you know, that is why we are here, ##&%,” said #&#%@.  “They are one of the more inventive and adventuresome peoples we have encountered and they are rapidly developing artificial intelligence and more advanced computation devices.  There is concern that if a prodigious savant such as the one who defined gravity or the one who gave them a theory of relativity—incomplete though it is—were to arrive and ask the right questions with a future far-advanced computation device, then that person could find the secret of piecing the fabric of space-time as we do, to travel among the stars and galaxies.  And given their present level of aggressiveness, we would have to intervene.  To have them running loose in the galaxy with their current mindset would be very troubling.”

“It’s disturbing that when their entertainment depicts alien contacts it always, with a very few exceptions, results in violence,”  said ##&%.

“I also find it strange—a blind spot in their thinking—that even scientists who are talking of traveling to the stars to find other worlds to colonize don’t ever say that such a world would most likely have beings living on it already.  Attempted colonization would repeat the colonization history of this planet where more aggressive and technologically advanced groups took the land of the peoples already living there,” replied #&#%@.  “Therefor until humans demonstrate that they have evolved into a more peaceful and collaborative race, we will monitor them to prevent them from acquiring the means to travel beyond their solar system.  If they do evolve, then we would welcome them and share our knowledge.”

“We might be watching them for a long time,” said ##&%.

May, 2021

Last Times

When was the last time– 

I had a malted milk?

I used to love them as a child–why did I stop?

Or a hot fudge sundae with lots of sauce?

Too many calories–or was I too cheap to buy?

The last time–

I told the kids or anyone that I loved them?

It’s sad that I can’t remember.

 Or made love with a full and passionate heart?

That, I will always remember.

The last time–

 I spoke with a friend,

To joke and remember times past?

When we shared beers and tales,

After the last ball was struck.

The last time–

I had a good rare steak with fries?

I should have ordered ribeye and not the sirloin.

And real Peking duck?

Oh–back in Beijing, so long ago.

The last time–

That I’ll take a breath—

 And have the last of a lifetime of heart beats?

The when and how is a question mark,

The present is still here to live in.

April 2020 — 2

The April “Squidzilla” posting was a mistake, intended for the serial story, “Squidzilla”, in pages. Here is the April story.

The Ant Tsar

Ronald could never have been mistaken for an extrovert, so when the order came to work from home he was more than happy to comply.  No more coffee break chatter or being interrupted when someone stopped by his desk?  No problem.  He would not miss the casual everyday interactions of a large busy office with the workers’ cubicles lined up row on row.  He didn’t have many personal friends anyway, at work or at play.  Nor would he miss the standing room only jostling, careful not to bump-into-anybody, crowded subway rides that started and ended his work day.  Especially now that the pandemic was burning through the city.  Every day there were counts of new infections and more bodies on the news and conflicting advice about what to do.  Ronald kept distanced, cleaned surfaces, used disposable gloves when he did go out, and though there was no directive to wear a mask, he did so anyway.  Later, when it was decided that wearing a mask was of critical importance, he felt a satisfying sense of having been right all along.

He settled easily into the new on-line work culture with an extra sixty minutes of free time each day, as he didn’t have to travel to the office.  Since he was at a lower management level, he had fewer zoom conferences than his supervisor did and that suited him fine.  The work came in and the work went out.  Day after day.  It wasn’t hard, especially since there were no side distractions as there were at the office.  There had been layoffs, but only a few in his department, and so he was careful to quickly handle the work that came to him and to actively take part in zoom conferences, politely of course.

Ronald’s parents lived half a continent away, and he established a regular weekly zoom hour with them. His brother Raymond was only 200 miles north, but with the travel restrictions it might as well have been two thousand miles.  They spoke less regularly but checked in on one another.  Unless there was an extraordinary change in the course of the pandemic, there’d be no whole family getaway in northern Michigan this summer.  Social contacts outside of the family were much more sporadic.  As noted, he did not have many acquaintances outside of work and when one or another of them did call, there wasn’t much to talk about now that wasn’t depressing.  Tastes in entertainment differed, politics was too hot a topic, there were no sports, and personal life was at a standstill.

He went out for food and supplies only once a week if he could help it and he was getting tired of frozen meals and his own cooking.   Meeting another apartment owner in the hallway resulted in a stilted acknowledgement and a crablike edging around each other.  The process of entering an elevator remained awkward.

Weeks passed into months, and what had once been a welcome and novel way to work was turning into an anchor dragging down his spirits.  He felt like a prisoner, confined by the pandemic that lurked outside waiting for him to make a slip.

“You really sound down,” said his brother Raymond on FaceTime.  “And you don’t look so hot either.”

“Tell me this isn’t getting to you too,” Ronald replied defensively.  “I’ve heard you vent about  Joannie and the kids.”

“Yeah, I’ve got Joannie and the kids and though we can grate on each other, especially since the kids are schooling from home now, we also lean on each other.   That’s a whole lot different from going through this alone like you are.”

“I never thought I’d miss the BS around the coffee urn,” Ronald said.  “I’m tired of binge watching shows.  I know the dialogue from ‘The Office’ by heart.”

They stared numbly at each other until Raymond asked at last.  “Have you ever considered getting a pet?”

  “God no.”

“Listen.  Maybe having something to care for, that cares for you too, would lift your mood.  A dog or a cat maybe.”

“No.  I couldn’t see walking it twice a day outside, under these circumstances?  Or taking care of a cat’s litter box?”

“How about a bird then?”

“No, Birds don’t appeal to me.  I hate pigeons.”

“Still, it’s something to think about.  Oh,oh, Joannie just signaled that dinner’s ready.  I better go.

But think about it, okay?”

“Yeah, I will.  See you next time.”

A pet, Ronald thought.  That’s all I need.  But the thought lingered.  Fish?  Messy tank cleaning and fin rot?  Memories of burying dead fish in the garden as a child.  Maybe not.  White rat?  City’s overrun with rats.  A pet one would be-—well—-weird.  Snake, Iguana?  He looked up care and food requirements.  Too exotic for me.  

Wait—he’d had an ant farm for a science project in fourth grade.  That was kind of fun, watching them so earnestly busy.  Minimal upkeep.  Pretty cheap.  And the ants did well until he forgot about them after school let out and they all died or disappeared.  He went on line.  Holy Smoke, they’re not so cheap anymore.  Formicarium?  Fancy name to justify a fancy price.  He thought about it some more.  Well, why not.  I don’t spend on anything fun right now, so why not a small indulgence.  Let’s see, I’ll need a farm that comes with ants.  A queen and her subjects.

The plastic ‘farm’ was delivered first and he impatiently awaited the separate arrival of the ants.

They looked lively enough.  He introduced them to their ‘farm’ and watched as they proceed to make it their new home.  Ronald thought about how he would answer if anyone ever asked if he had a pet. “Well I do keep a formicarium.”  Got to spring that on Raymond.  

He was diligent about following instructions, neither over nor under-feeding or watering them and the colony prospered as the queen produced more workers.  He had to admit that watching the ants, so busy and so task-focused, was fascinating.  They don’t seem to need to rest their tiny bodies.  If I could only have that much energy and strength.  The time Ronald spent binge-watching TV went down as did his survey of social media.  His job became a necessary interruption.  Observing how the ants disposed of their dead was much more interesting than listening to the daily mortality figures for the city and country.  Raymond finally told him, “Enough about the ants already!”   

He took to messing with them just to see what they would do.  Blocking a tunnel entrance with a small piece of gravel or, more destructively, collapsing a part of a tunnel.  The ants always solve the problem.  They don’t even know I’m here, he thought, or wonder why their tunnel collapsed.  It’s almost like I’m this unknowable force that alters their lives.  Do they see me or wonder how or why?  They’re totally dependent on me for their food, their water.  If I stop providing, they die.  The power of life and death.  Like I’m their god!  That’s too blasphemous—he recalled his Sunday School lessons.  More like their king.  They have their ant queen.  I’m their king.  No.  More than just a mere king—a Tsar with total power like those Russian Tsars of old.  Ronald the Great.  Life or death or the whim of a little sugary treat when I feel like giving it to them.  They continue to exist only because I permit it.  A puff of Raid, and they’d be annihilated.  Gone.

One day he found two worker ants on the outside of the enclosure, wandering and almost reaching the tabletop.  How’d they get out?  Trying to get away after all I do for you, he thought with anger and he squashed them against the hard plastic.  That’ll teach you.  Ronald checked the lid but it was still fit snugly.  Well if those two got out—I don’t know how—I’d better put in an extra barrier.  He read that a smear of vaseline around the base of the formicarium would turn back any wanderers and he did that.  Okay, if I have to be penned in, so do you. 

He took good care of the ants and the colony grew.  It’s getting a little crowded in there.  Wonder what they’ll do with overpopulation?  Kind of like what we’ll be facing if we don’t change.  Maybe the queen will just shut down production.  Ant birth control.  Every so often he’d find another ant outside but he saw that the barrier of vaseline worked and he didn’t get upset as he did the first time and he saw that the ants found their way back in except for a few that became stuck in the vaseline.  Like a mini-LaBrea tar pit.  Serves you right.  He never did find how they were getting out.

Perhaps it was the population pressure that was the stimulus.  One night after he’d turned off the lights, a line of ants made their way out to the outer surface of their enclosure, each carrying a grain of dirt that they began to lay across the vaseline.  They continued, carrying, depositing, and returning to pick up another grain until they had bridged the vaseline.

The next morning, Ronald found the formicarium devoid of ants and the bridge of dirt that they had laid across the vaseline to obtain their freedom.  He raged against their ingratitude even as he admired their ingenuity.  Ingrates.  You never had it so good.  Now you’ve spoiled it.  But they got out, he thought sadly, and I’m still locked down and locked in.

squidzilla 31. April 20, 2021.

Squidzilla 31

Cecie Chao-Turner

“Michel, I can’t thank you enough for running and rerunning the squid videos,” said Cecie.

“With the computer, it’s not a problem,” Michel said.  “It’s not complicated to use it to look for reoccurring light patterns, select them out, and enumerate their frequency.  Take a look at this.  I did the same thing with the page of a short story by Poe, and you can see the word distribution pattern.  See the general similarity to the squid pattern?  Granted the story has more complexity than what you see with the squids’ lights.  But it looks like your idea about the squids communicating is a real possibility.”

“This is just great!  I’ve got to show this to Carlos and to my advisor,” Cecie said.  “You really ran with my idea.  If it ever comes to publication, you’ll be coauthor.” 

“Yeah.  Too bad there’s no squid Rosetta Stone,” Michel said. 

Cecie met with her advisor after showing the work to Jessie and Carlos who had both responded enthusiastically.

“So what do you think, Dr. Manta,” Cecie asked.

“Cecie, that’s fascinating.  I think you and your friend—what’s his name?—may really be on to something.,” said Dr. Manta.

“Michel.”

“French?”

“I think his father is.”

“You’ll need to find a key to what they may be signaling, and that’s going to be hard,” Dr. Manta said.

“Yeah, that’s what Michel said too,” Cecie said.  “If only there was a way to show them pictures of things in their world and see what the light signals for them were.”

“That would require a squid to be intelligent enough and curious enough to figure out what you were trying to do,” Doctor Manta replied.

“Still, I’d like to try to do it as my research project.”

“Ah the confidence and enthusiasm of youth,” Dr. Manta said.  “You are going straight for a Mars shot.”

“But you’ll still be my advisor, right?”

“Of course.  But you’ll need to generate grant money once you formulate your idea of how you’re going to approach this.  When the time comes, I’ll work with you on a grant proposal.”

BlueSeas Coalition Board Minutes

Rosen reported that the count of migrating Grey and humpback whales has been stable for the past three years even though predation by giant squids (“Squidzillas”) had continued to occur on both legs of the migrations.

Several members (Wong, Levine, Souza, and Drew) opined that though that might be the case, they would favor an active reduction of squids to allow the whale population to increase rather than just  remain status quo.t

Tata pointed out that squids had attacked the ships that had attacked them in the past.  She wondered if the consequences of action against squids had been considered?  Furthermore, the squids had learned to nullify the armed drones previously used by the Coalition by severing the control wire.

Costello then stated that he and a friend who works at Macrodata Industries had developed a self-guided aquatic drone with no control wires, largely using off-the-shelf components.  They had been running trials using other drones as targets. Although the effective range was only 600 yards, it had accurately homed in on its target 85 percent of the time.  

He was asked if it could carry a war head.  He answered probably.  He was asked about cost and Costello said that building it was actually cheaper than buying  the wire-guided drones.

After further discussion, a vote was taken to explore the use of Costello’s drone to attack squids that were targeting whales.  The result was fourteen yeas and one abstention. 

Clearance by the Coast Guard will be the next step.  

Cecie Chao-Turner

Cecie, Jessica, and Carlos celebrated the completion of Cecie’s first year at Stanford at The Balboan, a theater restaurant.  As they took their seats, the menu appeared in the table top before them with descriptions of how each entree was to be prepared, and its nutritional content.  After each person made their choice, the origin of each selection was supplied, wine pairings suggested, along with an estimated time of arrival at their table. 

“I thought given the way the menu was presented, we might be served by robots,” whispered Cecie to Jessica after their waiters left.

“That would certainly solve the question of tipping,” Jessica replied.

“I wonder if we could take a look into their kitchen and see who or what the chefs are.”

“The write-up I saw posted for this restaurant said that human chefs were assisted by robots,” said Carlos.

“Perhaps that’s why they don’t have an open kitchen,” said Jessie.  “Some guests might be turned off by the sight of machines doing the actual cooking.”

“Well, I’m looking forward to the after dinner show,” Carlos said.  The Tasty Quarks was my favorite band in high school during the rock revival, and I was so depressed after their fatal autocopter crash.  So to see them perform again after twenty-six years if only as holograms will be very special.”

“I’ve heard of them—sort of,” said Cecie.  “Don’t you play them?  Do you know how they got their funny name?”

“The story goes that they were four drop-out would-be physics majors who preferred making music,” Carlos said.  “Ah, the house lights are dimming.  Here’s the MC.  Now is he also a hologram?”

After the last clap and whoop had died away at show’s end, Cecie said, ”They were unbelievably real.  You could even see the sweat fly off them as they really got into it.”

“And they haven’t aged a day,” said Jessie, “While we have.  Oh to be a hologram.”

“I wonder,” said Cecie “Could holography work underwater?”

March 2021

Ah, Retirement

It’s been four months since I retired, he thought, as he watched his wife Ella get ready to go to work.  She’s got another two plus years to go and then maybe we can travel more.  Hope I last that long.

“It’s too bad your usual foursome isn’t available,” Ella said.  “Why don’t you go out by yourself? Get in some practice.”

“Not so much fun playing alone, especially in the rain,” he replied,  “And I doubt that I’m going to improve much even if I played everyday.”  Yeah, he thought, Tom’s sick with something, Dick’s gone to Vegas, and Harry’s still working—six years younger and he outdrives us by forty yards.”

“Well, I hope you don’t get bored.  Maybe you can go shopping.  Just don’t buy a whole new set of clubs.”

“You know what I think of shopping,” he said.

“Yes, I know,” she laughed.  “Well, I should be home the usual time. If you’re still planning to cook dinner, please don’t leave the kitchen a mess.”

He got up from his cereal and walked with her to the door to the garage, arm around her waist.  Too bad you have to go to work, he thought.  She turned to kiss him and he pulled her tight to him.

“Now stop that,” she said.  “We’ll see about tonight if you’re not all worn out by retirement, tiger.  And if you are going out you’d better wipe off that lipstick first.”

“Grrrrr,” he said and gave her one final squeeze, then watched her get into the car, back down the driveway, pause to check for traffic and head off with windshield wipers beating.  

No rush, no where to go.  Oh yeah, still have to shop for dinner fixings.  Later when the rain lets up.  Might as well have second cup of coffee.  It was lukewarm.  Microwave.  Check the news and the market.  It’s been crazy erratic lately.  Sit tight, that’s what Tom advised.  Don’t even think of day trading.    He walked into the living room, picked up the remote, and switched on the news and then the market report.  Politicians flaying each other.  Playing ‘gotcha.’  Hey—what about doing the people’s business for a change?  Market—up a couple hundred one day and down more the next.  Why?  He became bored with the churning and commentary—like weather forecasters—all over the place and they have short memories about what they said the week before.  Bahhh.

‘Nuff of that; let’s see what’s on the cooking channel.  He’d discovered the cooking channel during his first month at home and it had unearthed a previously buried desire to cook that surprised Ella and him.  It inspired him to Google recipes that he kept in a binder in his office space.  And tonight he was going to try out a new one—orange glazed pork roast with cranberries.   But first I’ll check out what the food pros are doing today.

There were no new inspirations and so he decided to stick with his original plan and he began to draw up a list of what he needed, first checking through the cabinets to see what they already had and what he needed to buy.  Because he was not familiar with how Ella had set up her kitchen and pantry, it took him a while to do.  It’s so disorganized, he thought.  Not sensibly laid out.  Why is sugar stored on a different shelf from honey?  Now curious, he looked more analytically at how the dishes and cookware were stored.  No logic either.  They could be stored by frequency or type of use or by size and weight or by meal.  Now they’re kind of random.

Oh well, fix myself some lunch first and then a little rest.  Might as well enjoy the perks of retirement.  And then to the market.

Lunch was leftover meatloaf in a sandwich.  Ella makes a great meatloaf.  Guess I’ll leave that to her to do.  Don’t try to compete with what’s done so well.  He made another pot of coffee to go with the sandwich.  Almost out of mustard.  Add to the list.

A short nap, to the sound of the rain dripping off the eaves.  I was going to put up gutters he thought before he fell asleep.  When he woke, it was still raining.  He decided not to wait but to shop anyway.  Armed with his list he set off.

Later that afternoon, he carefully laid out the cookware he would need, and then the ingredients for the glaze.  He washed and prepped the salad, covered the bowl with plastic wrap and stored it in the fridge.  One down.  The potatoes would go in before the pork, so he washed them and set them aside.  

Okay, I’ve got some time before I need to heat up the oven.  Let’s see if I can store the cookware in a more useful way.  Put all the frying pans together.  The heavy pots should go on the bottom shelf.  Aluminum and stainless steel?  Material doesn’t matter—store them by use.  Accompanied by a lot of clanging, he rearranged the shelves, happy with the thought that he was making things easier for Ella and himself by establishing a system.

He began to set the table and concluded that the dishes too needed a better storage system.  I can do that while the pork is roasting.  His timing was impeccable and he finished the job just before the roast and potatoes were due to come out.  All those dishes are heavy he thought; back’s a little sore.  But wait till Ella sees what I’ve done for her.  I won’t tell her, I’ll let it be  a surprise.

He heard the car tires squish up the driveway in the rain and went to open the door to the garage, greeting Ella with a hug and a long kiss.  “Dinners almost ready.  You’re just in time to wash up and eat.”

“That smells really good.  I am really hungry,” Ella said.  “And you didn’t left the sink area a mess!”

“Well I do try to remember what you tell me,” he said.

Ella came back after washing up and changing.  “Oh, wine too.  And not our box wine.  You have gone all out, Tommy.”

“Got to take good care of the breadwinner.”

“This is really delicious.  Roasted just right, tender with a little bit of pink.  Did you get the recipe from the cooking show?  You’ll have to do this again when we have friends over.”

“Sorry no dessert except for coffee and cookies.”

“That was so good.  You are definitely not worn out by retirement.  As you wash the pots and pans, I’ll dry and put them away

“You sure you don’t want to just rest?”

“No, you made dinner, I’ll help clean up.”

He waited for her reaction when she opened the cabinet.  She’ll be so surprised he thought happily as she pulled the door open.  

Silence.

“Surprise!” he said.  I arranged everything so that it’ll work better for you.” 

Silence.

“Well, what do you think?” he prompted.

“Thomas, I am counting from one to ten.  I don’t know whether to scream or cry or laugh. “

“You mean don’t like it?”

“Tommy, how could you do this without asking me?”

“It just came to me today as I was getting ready to do dinner.  I thought it would streamline your work.”

“Oh Tommy.  I guess you meant well, but you forgot to do what you did when you were working.  To always survey the consumers first to see what they really want.  That’s me!”

“I’m sorry.”

Ella began to smile and then laugh at how crestfallen he looked and sounded and the absurdity of it all, “Come on, I’ll clear the table and you load the dishwasher.  Then I’ll show you where to put things back to where I’m used to finding them.  You did fix a really nice dinner.  I’ll give you a hand.  Don’t want to wear you out, tiger.”

Feb. 2021Song

A Valentine Folk Song

(adapted from Foggy Foggy Dew)

When I was a bachelor,

I lived all alone, 

An apprentice to my tra-ade.

And the best thing I did at that time of my life,

Was to woo a fair young maid.

I wooed her in the summer time,

And through the winter to-o.

Until at last she told me that–

She truly loved me too.

Again I’m a bachelor,

I live by myself,

Retired from my tra-ade.

Each time I look into the eyes of my son,

He reminds me of that fair young maid.

I’m reminded of the summer times,

All of the winters to-o.

And the many many times I held her in my arms

All because our love was true.

January 2021

JOB 2020

There lived in the land of Uz a man of blameless and upright 

life named Job, who feared God and set his face against wrongdoing. —- The Book of Job

On a day that the Princes of Heaven and all the Saints took their places before God, Satan too was among them, for he was once one of the Heavenly Host, before being cast into Hell. 

And the Lord said unto Satan, “From whence comest thou?”

Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro in the earth and from walking up and down in it.”

And the Lord said unto Satan, “And in your wanderings, have you considered that most worthy and exalted nation, the United States of America, whose money bears the motto, ‘In God we trust,’ recognizing the Most High even in the midst of commerce?”

Satan replied, “And why should they not feel exalted and worthy?  You have endowed them with two deep oceans on their flanks for protection, broad fertile lands between the seas, majestic purple mountains, fine deep lakes of fresh water and, for their amusement, Sunday football and video recorders so that they may go to worship You and yet still follow their team.  If they were made to feel less exalted and favored, would they still be so worshipful or God-fearing?  I would wager not.”

And the Lord said, “You would wager with Me?  I believe in the faith of these Americans upon whom I have smiled.  Even were they to be tempted and tested severely by you, I believe they would not break.  Only, you may not wreak physical damage upon the land or its people.”  

Satan asked, “A 9.0 earthquake in Southern California?  They’ll think You were doing what You did to Sodom and Gomorrah.”

The Lord replied, “It may yet come to that, but no, not now and not of your doing.”

Then Satan asked, “Well what about several good category 5 hurricanes and maybe a tsunami or two?”

The Lord replied,  “Insurance companies have classified those as ‘Acts of God,’ not Satan.  Will you wager or not?”

And Satan said, “Okay, I’ll take the bet.  But to be fair, no peeking.  You’ll need to limit Your Omniscience so that You will not know what I plan and how it will affect the future.  You’ve done it before for humans with the question of their Free Will.

“Consider it done,” replied the Lord.  “Now take leave of Us.  Your sulfurous fumes are starting to discolor the Pearly Gates.”

And Satan bowed and took leave of the Lord, and descended to the smoky flames of Hell.  There, sitting on his glowing, red-hot iron throne, he summoned his Princes to his side.  They came to his call through the dim, sulfurous air.  Among them Beelzebub, second only to Satan, Apollyon, king of demons, and Baal, commander of the armies of Hell.  And Satan told them of his wager with God, and asked for their counsel.

“Sire,” ventured Beelzebub, “Was that perhaps unwise?  Remember how that wager over Job, the righteous one, turned out.”

“The Lord was lucky on that one,” Satan replied with irritation.  “Job was ready to declare God’s unjustness, when that buttinski Elihu spoke out.”

“Well, how about an asteroid hit on Washington, D.C.?” suggested Baal, every ready for direct action.

“No, the rules are that I can’t do anything physical to the land or its people.”

“Then, Sire, if you can do nothing physical, you must do something to subvert the minds of the American people,” Tiamanicus, Prince of Trickery and Lies hissed.

“What do you suggest?” Satan asked.

“Insure that their next leader will appeal to their basest appetites.  The present period of good feeling is only a veneer over their darker instincts,” said Tiamanicus.

“And do you have such a person in mind?

“Indeed I do, Sire.  One that I have cultivated for many of their years.”  And Tiamanicus smiled thinly.  “I will guarantee that he is elected president at their next election.”

And so it came to pass that the candidate under Tiamanicus’ tutelage blared a message of exclusion, suspicion, hate, and lies across the land.  And this found a receptive audience in hate groups of every stripe. 

Satan summoned Tiamanicus to report progress.

“Alas,” Tiamanicus said, “Although his words resonate strongly with those who already carry hatred and envy in their hearts, there are not enough of them to insure that he will be elected.”

“Ha!” exulted Leviathan, Prince of Envy .  “You dared to guarantee success and you failed.”

“You are saying that I will lose the wager?” Satan demanded angrily.

“Not at all Sire,” said Tiamanicus smoothly.  “For if we expand his appeal to more of the American people, he will win.  But in order to do that, your intervention is needed.”

“Tell me your plan,” Satan said, leaving forward on his throne.  “I will be the judge of its soundness.”

“We will need to recruit those who interpret God’s word to their followers, of which there are many, by convincing them that my candidate will be very beneficial to them.”

“And how will you do that, for from what I have seen, your pupil is antithetical to God’s teachings?” Satan asked.

“Let me have the aid of Lucifer, Prince of Pride.  He will appeal to the pride of the so-called spokesmen of God on earth, tell them that they alone know what is best for their followers.  And I will convince them that achieving their earthly goals are more important than preaching the Word of God to their following.  That their goals are so important that the end justifies the means, which in this case means advocating for my candidate even though he is a most imperfect tool, as judged by God’s Teaching.”

“Ah,” Lucifer said, “My greatest pleasure is in corrupting the spokesmen of the Lord.  I will be delighted to assist.”

Satan sat silent, pondering.  Then he smiled, “Brilliant, Tiamanicus.  Truly you are the Prince of Trickery and Lies.  To use the so-called spokesmen of the Lord to subvert His Will!”

And Lucifer and Tiamanicus left Hell to busy themselves on earth, and on election day it came to pass that Tiamanicus’ pupil was elected president.  

There was another day when the Court of Heaven assembled before the Lord. 

And Satan again moved among them.  

“Ah Satan,” said the Lord.  “Truly you have perpetuated a most devilish and foul scheme upon my favored people.”

“Thank you, I try,” replied Satan with an ironic bow.  “Are you ready to admit now that you have lost our wager?” 

“I think not, for your pawn is so flawed he will barely last the four years that are allotted to him,” the Lord said.  “Then the people will return to their rightful ways.”

“You broke your Word and peeked into the future!” accused Satan.

“How dare you accuse Me of cheating which is what you would do!” the Lord replied angrily.  “No, I have faith that the Americans will themselves correct their course in the future, whereas all you offer are lies and deceit.  Now leave my Presence.  Saint Peter will see you out the Pearly Gates.”

Satan descended to Hell and again summoned his princes to him.  “God predicted that your pupil will be gone in four years, Tiamanicus.  Even if he were to do our bidding for that time, his influence on the people will fade away afterwards and the Lord will win.  I cannot stand the thought of losing again!”

“Perhaps the Lord is wrong,” offered Tiamanicus soothingly.

“No, He is always right even if He did not peek,” said Satan.

“There must be a way to extend my protégée’s influence beyond four years,” Tiamanicus suggested.

“How?”

“I’ll get back to you on that soon.”  Tiamanicus thought and remembered how the crowds flocked to the rallies, wearing their red caps as tribal identification, and how they cheered his every exaggeration and lie.  He returned to Satan and said, “I have a plan.  He will continue to whip up fervor by holding continuous rallies as long as he is president.  No one has done this before.  And he will continue to lie, the bigger the better, and paint the news media as his enemies, until his followers can no longer distinguish fact from fiction and will come to believe only what he tells them.  And he will cultivate and defend the hate groups so that they will coalesce around him.”

“A cult of personality.  The indispensable leader,” said Satan.  “Well, it did work well for Hitler and Mao.  But in America with its tradition of individual worth and freedom?”

“Ah,” said Tiamanicus, “That will be his message.  That the government is planning to take away their individual freedoms and that he alone can prevent this.  And he will pound this message over and over and over.”

The strategy was working.  The wealthy and near-wealthy prospered greatly but workers were barely keeping pace.  And Satan was greatly pleased that, despite the prediction of God, the president seemed on his way to another four years.   

But then a virus came out of the East and rapidly spread over the world.

“This is not of my or God’s doing,” said Satan.  “But it is a chance for your protégée to cement his hold on his followers and perhaps win new ones if he acts with great leadership to contain the pandemic.  Why is he not doing so?”

“Sadly he is headstrong and vain and believes his own lies.  I have tried mightily to have him follow the lead of his most knowledgeable advisors, but he prefers instead to listen to the flatterers and to follow his instincts that are often wrong.  Unfortunately, the Free Will Rule also applies to what we can do with humans,” said Tiamanicus. 

“Does he not care that his people are sickening and dying?” asked Satan.

“He cares only for himself and his reelection.  I have tried to show him that his actions will cause him to lose, but his vanity prevents him from saying that he was previously in error.”

“Am I again to lose my wager?” asked Satan.

“Not necessarily,” Tiamanicus said.  “He has repeated his message of hate and lies so often that many Americans have come to accept them as their truth rather than believe reality.  He may lose, but he has sown enough discord that his message may outlive the messenger.  Given time, you may yet win.”

On yet another day that the Princes of Heaven and all the Saints took their places before God, Satan too was among them.

And the Lord said onto Satan, “You have seen that my favored people, the Americans, have voted your pawn out after four years as I trusted them to do.  It seems that you have lost our wager.”

Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “I choose not to concede so quickly.  For the affairs of men are measured in days and years, whereas the affairs of Hell and Heaven span eons and eternity.  There is yet time for the message of my pawn to persist and spread among the American people though he may be gone.  Let us wait and see.”

And so the contest continues with the outcome still very much in doubt.

December 2020

you gonna do it?

Hello.

Good morning, Dad.  How are you?

Oh hi Jennie.  You’re calling earlier than usual.  Everything okay?

Yes.  I just was eating breakfast and watching the news.  You gonna do it?

Do what?

You know, take the shot, the vaccine.  It’s out and they’re starting to give it today you know.

Yeah I know.  You think I don’t follow the news?

So?

So what Jennie?  

Well I was hoping you changed your mind about the vaccine.

Nope.  Why should I?   I don’t know anyone who’s caught the virus.

What do you mean you don’t know anyone who’s caught it?  What about Charlie Yost?

I don’t know Charlie.  He’s Al’s brother and not really my friend.  And besides he didn’t get that sick.  Only six days in the hospital and now he’s home according to Al and he’s doing fine.

Dad.  You’re in a high risk group whether you want to admit it or not.  You’re 76, overweight, your blood pressure’s not that great, and the doctor said you got to be watched for diabetes.  You  really need the shot when they say it’s your turn.

It’s not going to be my turn for maybe three maybe more months. So why are you being so pushy now?

Because I want to be sure you’ll take it when it is your turn.

How do you know the vaccine is really gonna work?  That there’s not gonna be all kinds of bad effects they don’t know about?  I mean they really rushed to get it out.  How do we know they didn’t take too many shortcuts?

Because there are a lot of experts who say that they did not.  They tested it on what?  Thirty or forty thousand?

Experts!  That Fauci said at first, no masks, and then he changed his mind and pushed masks.  I heard on Brickbats that they doctored the test results to hide the problems.

Dad, Brickbats is just full of baloney.  And Fauci changed his recommendations when more facts came in.  He kept an open mind which is what I hope you’ll do.  

Brickbats just tells it like they see it.  You go ahead and watch CNN.  You think they don’t put in their slant on the news?  Brickbats is beholden to no one except their listeners.  And I watched Hannah Holmes last night and she said that she wouldn’t trust the vaccine.  Said a lot of the financing was done by the Chinese who’ll make a fortune after giving us the virus in the first place.  In fact she said it was probably deliberately spread just so they could profit from it.

Where does she get this stuff?  Dad, this vaccine was developed by American scientists at Stanford University and most of the money was from the US government.

Yeah, but she said two of the scientists were Chinese. 

So what?  Dad, they’re working in the USA, not in Wuhan.

And then my buddy sent me some info he got that said the vaccine has microchips that will be implanted in you so the government can keep track of you.  Said Bill Gates is masterminding it.

Oh come on Dad!  Gates is working on vaccine development to benefit Third World countries.  He’s a good guy who’s using his money to help others.

Yeah.  And ain’t that the perfect cover.  Hannah’s gotten a lotta things right.  Like the fraud business.

I’m not even gonna go there with you on that one.  You know how I feel.  Dad, I know you and some of your buddies get together to watch the games and have a few cold ones, and do not follow the guidelines.  All the more reason to get the shot if you’re not gonna to follow the rules.  I bet you don’t even mask when you go out.

We got our own little bubble.  There’s just the five of us, that’s all.  And no one’s gotten sick. 

But each of you gets exposed to other people when you go home.  Your bubble’s got a lot of leaks.

Look—what about your pal Al.  His brother had it.

They don’t live together.  So, so what if his brother had it?  Al never got it.

As far as you know.  A lot of the cases don’t have symptoms.  

Well, if Al got it and gave it to all of us, then we’re the lucky ones who never had symptoms.  And yes, when I go out, I wear a mask if the store insists.  I’m not like those hardasses who gets in fights with store personnel by refusing to wear one.  I think masking’s a lot of BS, but I don’t need a hassle.  

Do you wear it properly and do you wash your mask after using?

What is this, a quiz show?  No, I take it off as soon as I’m outside.  The stores may require a mask inside.    But there’s no law that says you have to wear it outside.  And they don’t say that you got to wash it.

Oh Dad, it’s just that I worry about you.  Will you please think hard about getting the shot?  I definitely will.

And when people who get the shot start turning into zombies like I heard could happen, don’t say I didn’t warn you.  If a virus can make you a zombie, who says a virus vaccine can’t? 

Okay Dad.  We got time to see what happens to the first people who get it.  But I’ll bet you the vaccine will be safe and effective.

Yeah, and if it is effective maybe I won’t need to take it at all if that herd immunity works.

Dad, you can’t take that chance.  Promise me you’ll at least think about getting it and not just close your mind.  I’ll call you again later on like usual.  Okay?

Okay.  You’re a good kid, Jeannie.  Thanks for worrying.

And don’t believe everything on Brickbats or what that Hanna Holmes says.

You believe your news Jeannie and I’ll believe mine.  Take care.

Take care Dad.  I love you.

Thanks Jeannie.

Novenber 2020

November Rambles

Between the golden rays of October’s late afternoons and the cold dark days of December, there is grey November.  Halloween, on the last day of October, when kids young and old delight in costuming, gather in groups and troop from house to house calling out “trick or treat,” brings a joyful end to fall.

At least every other November  Election Day arrives on the first Tuesday with the thrill of victory for the winners and the agony of defeat for the losers who, in past years, accepted the decision of their peers with some modicum of grace.

The first Sunday of November may precede but often follows Election Day, with the end of Daylight Savings Time, marking the start of a more somber but thoughtful season.  

On the eleventh,Veteran’s Day, we honor our military veterans and pause to remember those who did not make it home.  November eleventh originally celebrated the Armistice that stopped the fighting during the First World War and as such was a day of joy mixed with remembrance for the fallen soldiers.  “In Flanders field the poppies blow between the crosses, row on row…” a poem we learned in elementary school, memorialized the soldiers killed in one particularly bloody battle in Belgium.  I remember that people used to wear red paper poppies on the eleventh and I think they still do at least in Canada and Europe, but it’s a tradition that has fallen away in the United States.  World War I was called “the war to end all wars,” but that proved a futile dream and further wars followed, the largest being World War II that began only twenty years after the Armistice. Wars continue to this day, and so the United States changed “Armistice Day” to “Veterans Day” to remember the veterans of all wars, past, present, and perhaps future.  To remember and to give thanks for their service and sacrifice.  Memorial Day in May also began as a day to decorate military graves, originally associated with the Civil War dead.  It has developed a more general meaning now as a day to remember and visit the graves of all our loved ones.

About two weeks after Veterans Day, on the fourth Thursday, Thanksgiving, the most uniquely American celebration arrives, tracing back to the founding days of the English colonies in Massachusetts and Virginia.  Though originally with religious roots, one does not have to belong to an organized religion to take the time to think about gratitude and thankfulness.  For as John Donne wrote 400 years ago, “No man is an island, entire of itself.”  Others helped or shaped and guided us along the way.  Experiences good and bad that we learned from.  It is the greatest conceit to think that any success or good fortune we encounter is due solely to our own effort or character.  Thanksgiving is a day to remember the past with gratitude and give thanks for any current good fortune.

Still, there are those whose lives are so bleak and awful that they may not be able to find anything positive to be thankful for.  We who are in better circumstances can try to help by ‘paying it forward” however we can and in doing so, recognize in a way, the ones who helped us.

It feels right that Thanksgiving is a day for family gatherings, for dining together with those with  whom we share a past, rather than a raucous party day—though of course there is football.  A more quiet time before the overwhelming rush of the Christmas season that arrives impatiently the day after Thanksgiving on Black Friday.  Now it’s as if there’s no time to be lost once gratitude is out of the way to proceed to the business of Christmas.  But first, before the harried shopping and spending, I am glad there is a time to remember and to give thanks.

October 2020

Best Seller

It was the nineteenth or was it the twenty-third rejection slip?  Wilber Wilco had lost count.  He used to file them away, kind of like Purple Heart medals in his mind, each one representing a wound to his ego.  But today, he just crumpled the postcard and tossed it into the rubbish can under his desk with a sigh.  C’mon there’s a market for this.  I just know there is.  Why can’t these agents see that?

He’d gone away to writer’s conferences, when there were such physically held.  And more recently, attended virtual ones.  He reread and reedited his opus after each rejection, hoping that each repolishing would be the one that would catch the next agent’s or publisher’s eye.  But as time passed, it became harder and harder to continue feeling hopeful.

“Why don’t you go with self-publishing if it bugs you so much?” his friend Laurel suggested.  “You’ll at least have the satisfaction of holding it in your hands as a real book, with a Library of Congress number and everything.  Remember that guy who had a best seller about an astronaut stranded on Mars?  He started his story on the web for fun.”  

But Wilber had too much pride for that.  “No, I want it to make it the legit way, to have my novel picked up and marketed by a regular press.” 

“Well, you’re lucky that you have to work from home now,’ Laurel said.  “You’ve got more time to spend on your writing.”  Maybe too much time, she thought.

Wilber found a writing group online. He participated irregularly, submitting some of his rewrites for feedback.  Much of the time he disagreed with the comments that he received.  Some members revel in being caustic he thought.  Pearls cast before swine.  A few, who were always there when he attended, were more encouraging and sympathetic when he told of his most recent agent or publisher rejection.  He thought Nicholas especially was more helpful than hurtful, more encouraging than critical.  If the times were normal, he thought, Nicholas is a guy I would enjoy meeting in a bar, to talk about writing over a few beers.  He seems to really know his stuff.  Nicholas came across on Zoom as a rather dashing, tall, slim figure, with a well trimmed black goatee, perhaps fortyish.  Although almost everyone else favored wearing tee shirts or sweats at the meetings, he was always impeccably dressed in unwrinkled long-sleeved shirts.  Are they silk? wondered Wilber.  He must be doing well, whatever he does outside of writing.

And so one day as the meeting was breaking up, he commiserated with Nicholas about how discouraged he was feeling, how perhaps he should just give up the whole idea of being an author.  “Maybe my friend Laurel is right,” he said glumly.  “Maybe the only way I’ll see my book in print is to self-publish it.”

“Try not to be so hard on yourself,” Nicholas said.  “I think it shows real promise.  Perhaps just a little editing, that’s all.  Someone will pick it up.”

“The way I feel now, I’d sell my soul to have it published and become a best seller,” Wilber said. 

“Really?  You feel that strongly?  Well, that just shows that you’re a real author.  A mere dabbler wouldn’t feel that committed,”  Nicholas said.  “But would you really do it if given the chance?”

“You mean to sell my soul?  Well, I mean it’s just a figure of speech,” Wilbur said.  “I mean, who really believes in stuff like that today?  Souls and heaven and hell?”             

“Just suppose you actually were given the choice.  Hypothetically of course.  Would you?”

“Yeah, the way I feel now, I would.  Hypothetically of course”

“You would?”  Nicholas paused.  “Well, I do know some people in the industry.  And as I said earlier, I think your novel shows real promise.  Maybe I can help.  Here’s a name and number to call, and when they answer and ask what your call is all about, just say Nicholas referred you because he thinks you have a manuscript that is very promising.”

Wilbur looked at the name and number that Nicholas was holding to the screen.  “Wait a minute.  I know that name.  They rejected my manuscript once before without even a comment.”

“Well, that was before,” said Nicholas.  “And this is now.  Are you willing to give success a try?  Shall we Zoom-shake on the hypothetical?  Deal?”

Nicholas extended his right hand towards the screen.  Wilber, after the slightest hesitation, also extended his right hand, saying, “Why not?  Deal.”  And they Zoom-shook hands up and down.    

“Well that was sort of weird.  And we shook on a deal?  What deal?” said Wilber as he stared at the now-dark screen.  “Should I even bother to call this number tomorrow?  But I really don’t know what Nicholas does.  Maybe he does have an in with the publisher.”

The next day, feeling that he had nothing to lose, Wilber dialed the number and followed Nicholas’ instructions about what to say when his call was answered by a secretary.  To his surprise, he was immediately transferred to a senior editor.  

“Well, if Nicholas thinks your manuscript has merit that’s high praise.  Please send it to me immediately and I will be happy to take a look.  You haven’t recently shown it to anyone else, have you?  No?  Good.   Now here’s what you do to get it to me.”

Wilber couldn’t quite believe that this was really happening.  Wow, at last, he thought.  I’m actually getting a serious look by a publisher.  I guess Nicholas really does have clout.  And we haven’t even met in person.  He sent off his manuscript as directed.  Within a few days, a contract arrived from the publisher that he promptly signed and returned, feeling giddy about how rapidly things were developing.

Wilber shared the good news with Laurel.  “Did Nicholas mention what his agent’s fee was?” she asked.

“He never did say he was acting as my agent  Just gave me a referral.  And I really don’t know if that’s his business.”

“Well it must be.  How else could he get you a look and a contract?  You definitely should ask him what his fee is and get it in writing.  If your novel really takes off, you’ll want to know if he takes a percentage.”

“I’m not sure what he does,” said Wilber.  “I’ve Googled him and there’s almost no information available.”

And Wilber’s novel, after a slow start, did take off, arriving on the Times best seller list at number twenty-five, and then rapidly ascending the chart.  His book was reviewed.  He carefully clipped or printed out each review and filed it away.  Many were laudatory, expressing surprise that a first-time author had written the must-read book of the season.  Some were more like the less generous members of his writing group:  “I cannot recall reading a more disjointed novel.  It harkens back to Naked Came the Manatee.  The author is either a superb and clever satirist, or else he has foisted a huge literary con job on the reading public.  I am inclined to the latter view.”  You know where to stick your view, Wilber thought.  How’s that saying go?  Them’s that can, write, and them’s that can’t become critics.

He was besieged for virtual interviews and consulted Nicholas.  “I wouldn’t know what to say,” he said.

“Just be mysterious,” Nicholas said.  “Tell them that you want each reader to make up his or her own mind and you don’t want to say anything that would color their personal interpretation of your writing.  And if you use your apartment garage as the site of the interview, it will add to your mystique.”

After four weeks at number one, Nicholas said, “I think a celebration is in order.  Let’s have a small get-together with some other well known writers.”

“An in-person party?  Will that be safe?” asked Wilber. 

“I can guarantee you that no one will have the virus, so you’ll be safe,” Nicholas said.  “It’ll be fun.  Are you game?”

“I guess so,” said Wilber.  “But when and where?”  With other famous writers, he thought with a thrill.  I’ve really made it.  And all thanks to Nicholas.

“Just take Uber to the front entrance of Frumpy Towers.  I’ll meet you there next Sunday at 11:00 PM,” Nicholas instructed.

“Eleven PM?  Won’t it be closed then?  And isn’t that day Halloween?”

“I have an arrangement with the owners,” Nicholas said.  “And I enjoy parties on Halloween, don’t you?”

On Sunday night, Wilber arrived at the front entrance to Frumpy Tower as instructed, got out of the car and looked around as the car drove off.  The entrance was dark as were all of the windows.  Just as he was beginning to wonder if he’d made a mistake about the date and time, Nicholas stepped out of the shadows, dressed all in black.  “Well, we meet in person at last, Nicholas,” he said, smiling in relief and extending his right hand which Nicholas took and shook vigorously.

“Yes, we meet at last in person,” he replied with a broad smile.

“I’ve told you this before, but I owe everything to you.  I can’t thank…”

“Don’t worry about that,” Nicholas interrupted.  “It’s really all my pleasure.  Now shall we join the party?”  

The tall bronze doors to the lobby slid open at his gesture, their foot steps echoing in the vast empty darkness, as they crossed to the far bank of elevators where one was waiting with door open.  “After you,” Nicholas said with a sweeping gesture of his right arm.  The door slid shut, and the car began its descent.

“We’re going down?” asked Wilber in surprise.  “I thought we might be going up.”

“Did I mention I have a deal with the owners?” Nicholas replied.

At last the car stopped, the door silently opened, and they stepped out into a dimly lit room of indeterminate size.

Nicholas snapped his fingers and the room quieted as everyone looked their way.  “I want to introduce our newest arrival, Wilber Wilco, the best selling author.”  There was polite applause.

“You didn’t tell me it was going to be a costume party, Nicholas,” said Wilber.  “There’s a Hitler, and there’s a Mao, and a Mussolini too.*  The costumes are so good.  This will be such fun.” 

“Oh, they’re not in costume,” said Nicholas with an even broader smile.  “I kept my end of the deal, and now you are keeping yours.” 

This morning the body of the bestselling author, Wilber Wilco was found in an elevator at Frumpy Towers.  Foul play is not suspected, and the cause of death is under investigation.

*Publications:  Hitler: Mein Kempf;  Mao: The Little Red Book;  Mussolini: The Fascist Manifesto