February, 2023. song.

Valentine’s Day is past, but we’re still in the same month. So it’s not to late for a love song, melody based on an old Country-Western song.


Melody “When I Dream” by Sandy Mason.  

Sung by Crystal Gayle, Willy Nelson and others

Once I dreamt of someone, whose face I could not see,

Hoping that a girl somewhere was waiting there for me.

For I was oh so young then, and yes so very green,

To think that I could meet someone whose face I’d never seen.

But when I dreamed it was of you,

Hoping someday that dream would come true.

When we met that summer, at first there were no sparks,

The kisses that we first exchanged, seemed no more than a lark.

But friendship grew, so that—by summers end,

It seemed we could be turning into, something more than friends.

Now when I dreamed I saw your face,

All my dreams had found their place.

But gifts that youth bestows upon us, age can take away,

The bright, blue skies of springtime, became December grey.

I loved you in the spring and summer and on into the fall,

That will never change, even as snow begins to fall.

Yet—when I dream it’s still of you,

You made my dreams, our whole life come true.

Yes when I dream it’s still of you,

You made my dreams, our whole life come true.

January 2023.

December came and went like a flash and I never did get around to even thinking about what to post what with family home for the first time in a year and all the Holiday activities.  And now it is January 2023,  the Year of the Rabbit by the Asian zodiac.  So no story but a series of happenings.

Insert Foot in Mouth and Bite Once Before Removing

On The Ground

“Well, why don’t you just look before you sit?” I said in response to my wife’s complaint after she sat down on the cold toilet bowl rim.  I leave it to your imagination about the “conversation” that followed, but thereafter, I always put the seat down after using the toilet.

I bought a car battery at the auto shop at Penney’s Kahala Mall.  (Yes, there once was a Penney’s where the theaters now are.)  Shortly afterwards, setting off to go to work and to take the kids to school, there was an immediate loud BOOM from the Karmann Ghia’s engine compartment when I turned on the ignition.  The battery had exploded.  

In the meantime Penney’s had closed their auto shop in the Kahala store.  So I drove out to their Pearlridge store the following Saturday and walked into the auto shop carrying the shattered battery in a cardboard box and plopped it on the counter.  The two girls silently looked at it as I explained what had happened.  One of the girls took it through a door to the back.  We heard a man exclaim, “Holy shit, annada one!”  The remaining girl looked off into space.  I took the replacement battery that the other girl brought out and left.

I was checking out at Longs when the young cashier said, handing me my receipt, “You have beautiful white hair.” I was startled.  No one had complemented me on my hair before, so I thanked her.  But then she went on to say, “But I guess I’ll have to wait sixty years for mine.”

“You’ve got that right,” I replied.

You have to know when you’ve said enough. 

In The Air

It was a UAL redeye to San Francisco, with an ETA of 0540.  There must have been a really strong tailwind and towards the end of the flight, the lead cabin attendant announced that we would be arriving thirty-five minutes early.  This meant that I would have a forty minute wait at the airport until my scheduled shuttle ride to Palo Alto arrived and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one with a pickup or transfer wait in an empty airport.  Instead of just stopping after making the announcement, the attendant went on to conclude, “So the next time you fly United and there’s a delay, just consider it a wash.”  

You have to know when you’ve said enough.

We were landing at Dresden in a Lufthansa Boeing 737.  It had been an uneventful flight, and I could see the runway coming up to meet us as we set down.  The engines suddenly roared and the plane lunged forward and began to climb rapidly until we leveled off again.  The pilot came on the intercom and gave a lengthy explanation in German.  He then said in English, “We had to go around again.”  Clearly something was lost in translation.

The end of the same trip.  We were returning to the States in a UAL Boeing 777, taking off from Heathrow.  At that time you could listen to the communications between pilot and tower on the seat audio system, and I often did so out of curiosity.  We were steadily climbing; below I could see the rooftops of London homes when there was a loud BOOM, the plane lurched to the left, and a whiff of smoke came into the cabin.  The lead cabin attendant was German and she immediately came on to say “Don’t worry, the captain has everything under control.”  But I could hear the pilot talking to the flight controllers, and while he wasn’t panicked, there was an urgency to his voice as he requested an immediate emergency return to the airport, explaining that the left engine had exploded.  This was granted, the runway designated.  We had now leveled off, and began a slow turn to return.  The captain came on the intercom, now sounding calm, and explained in the easy drawl that pilots sometimes affect, that the plane had an engine problem and he had shut down the left engine but the plane could easily fly on just one engine.  And by the way, that mist that we could see streaming past our windows wasn’t smoke, but fuel that was being dumped (over London!) to lighten the plane before landing.  There were very loud cheers as we touched down.

In the Office.

The man looked to be in his seventies when he brought a young boy in for a routine check.  They were new patients.  After I introduced myself and took a history, I complimented the man on being such a caring grandfather that he brought his grandson to the doctor.  “I’m his father,” the man said.  (Guess you could see that coming.)  “Oh, uh, well let’s go on with his exam.”

I had not seen her for a year when she brought her child in for an exam.  “Your son is so lucky to have a new brother or sister soon,” I commented.  “I’m not pregnant,” his mother replied.  I think I just went on with the exam—how do you get your foot out of your mouth after something like that?  Say sorry?  That could be interpreted as I’m sorry you’re not pregnant, or I’m sorry you’ve gained so much weight, or  I’m sorry I’m an ass for saying that.

And the diagnosis is Foot in Mouth Disease.

November 2022 short

November—fall’s end and winter’s entry.  And some years, election month.  It’s been particularly hard recently to remember that we are not the Blue-and-Red States of America, but the UNITED States of America.


The hills are green again,

After summer’s dry brown brittleness.

Rain soaks deep to the roots

Of dormant shrubs and grasses.

Roots swell, the grass sprouts green,

Sap flows upwards in trees, 

Pushing out tender new leaves on koa and keawe.

Winter in Hawaii.

In the Washington Cascades,

Green leaves turned yellow, then brown.

And fell away

From dark skeletal branches 

Bristling upward against a low gray sky.

The somber winter tones

Await their covering of white snow.

Only the warm touch of distant spring 

Will waken their color.

The same month– 

Yet in one place life quickens, 

While in the other it slows.

If a season can have several meanings

Can’t it be so with other things?

Sand Crabs

I’ve never seen a live one there.

Just holes they dig along the watermark.

Big holes with high heaps of sand piled seaward,

And small ones with sand out spread fan-shaped and low.

Do small hole-diggers ever get to pile up heaps?

And did the big ones ever spread their sand?

Why the different styles of digging?

It’s the same beach.

October 2022, story

The Old Man and the Van

Marco and BB first noticed the ancient blue Pontiac minivan parked by the vacant lot on their quiet street in mid-August.  Despite its age and dents, it was clean and seemed well maintained.  On some days the old man who owned it would drive off, but then would always come back to the same spot later in the day where it would remain parked through the night.  On other days he would unload an old black bicycle from the back of the van and leave it parked while he rode off on the bike, to return before dark. 

After a week, Marco and BB decided that the old man must be sleeping in the van.  Marco’s actual name was Marcus, but BB began to call him Marco after a game of Marco Polo, and the nickname stuck.  And BB’s name?  On the playground in fourth grade, Johnson called out to BB, real name Boswell Butte, ‘Hey Butte, you got a big butt,’ which got a big laugh.  But that also stuck, and although it was later shortened to BB, everyone knew what it stood for.  

Marco convinced BB to tell his dad of their suspicions since the Buttes lived on the street and Marco’s home was a street over.  The boys didn’t want the old man to be chased away; they were just curious about him, but were too shy to speak to him themselves.  So on a Friday after work, Mr. Butte walked over to the car, keeping a smile on his face as he approached it.  After all, these days with all the guns floating around and so many of the homeless—if indeed that was the case for the old man—with some sort of psychological problem, Mr. Butte did not want to come across as threatening.  The old man looked up as BB’s dad approached while BB watched from his front steps, but he could not hear what was being said.  After a while, the man got out of the van and stood leaning against it as they continued to talk; then they shook hands and BB’s dad waved goodbye as he walked home.

BB was all ears as his dad filled in BB’s mom and him about what he’d learned.  Yes, the old man—Carl Herman—was living in the van.  He’d lost his wife and then his home, had no immediate family, and was living on social security. He was 84 and no, he did not appear dangerous.  He seemed quite sane, just down on his luck.  Yes, the van, from what he could see, was pretty neat, Carl’s clothes looked clean, and no, he did not smell.  BB’s dad was for leaving him alone and letting him park there.  After all, he had to live somewhere and this street was a lot safer for an old guy then many other places.  And besides, he was quiet, wasn’t bothering anyone and wasn’t being a nuisance.  BB’s mom was dubious at first, but came around after BB’s dad said that he would talk to the other neighbors and let them know about Carl.  BB felt a little thrilled, to have an actual homeless person on their street.  Wait till I tell Marco.

The boys began to wave at Carl when they passed on their bikes and he waved back and, after a few days, BB felt bold enough to add hello to which Carl replied.  Carl was happy that the boys were curious and friendly.  He felt that it was a sign that he was at least tolerated on the street and that he most likely would not be reported to the police as a vagrant.  BB’s mom did caution the boys not to get too friendly with Mr. Herman and certainly not to get in his van if he offered them a ride, or to accept any food or drink from him. 

BB thought that living in a car must be kind of like camping out in a tent.  It must be fun in a way.  You could just go set up anywhere you wanted to.  He told Marco and Marco said why don’t we just ask him what it’s like.  They stopped by after school and found Carl sitting on a folding camp stool, the curb side of the van in the shade, peeling an apple.  No he said, he lived in the van because he had to.  He would much rather still be living in the small house that he used to have, but he’d lost it and the van was all he had left.  You just do what you have to do.  Carl offered them a slice of the apple and while BB, mindful of his mother’s words politely declined, Marco accepted.   The old man told them he was glad they stopped by to talk and to feel free to do so any time he was in.  He didn’t have too many social contacts and was happy that the boys felt comfortable with him, since he had no grandchildren or children of his own.

The boys began to stop by regularly when they didn’t have other things to do; baseball practice didn’t start till after the new year.  They were curious about his life and Carl was quite happy to answer their questions.  It felt good that some people actually wanted to hear about him.  Had he been in the Great War that they were studying in history class?  No he was too young for that war, but he’d been in the Korean War but never actually fought because he was in the quartermasters, which he had to explain.  After the war he worked in mostly sales jobs, the last being with a Pontiac dealer (he had to explain about Pontiacs) until the company went out of business and no one would hire him because he was too old.  Yes, he and his wife wanted children, but couldn’t.  And then she died and then he lost their house when the landlord raised the rent.  And so now he was their neighbor.  Carl was quite open to questions such as about his meals—some prepared at the beach park, some fast foods; about where he bathed—at the beach showers, and he used restrooms that were open to the public.  All this information BB and Marco repeated to their families.  BB’s mom became less concerned about Carl and perhaps even began to worry a little about him.  She began to send BB over with left overs on paper plates after dinner sometimes.

When October arrived, BB told Carl that the houses on the street usually decorated for Halloween and excitedly described what decorations the Buttes were planning.  Carl thought about what he should do.  He didn’t want to be empty handed if any trick or treaters knocked on his windshield—after all, he didn’t need any tricks played on him.  So he bought a bag of miniature candies just in case.  And a light-up plastic jack o’lantern that he thought would look fitting on his roof.  On Halloween, he watched the parents with younger children go by without approaching his van.  Guess the parents are being careful about me, he thought, feeling a bit sad that he was still not totally trusted.  But later as the evening got darker, the older kids began making their rounds.  BB and Marco had told their friends about Mr. Herman, and so some of them approached yelling trick or treat.  He had his bag of candy ready to dole out.  They said they liked his jack o’ lantern.  He recognized BB and Marco because they had mentioned how they would be costumed.  “Wait,” he said, “I’ve saved these for you” and he handed them each a supersized candy bar.  Big score!

At Thanksgiving, BB’s mom gave BB a paper tray of turkey, stuffing, yams, and a slice of pumpkin pie to bring to Carl before they sat down to their own dinner.  Carl was touched to the point of tears when BB said he couldn’t stay and talk because they hadn’t had their dinner yet.  He wasn’t getting leftovers, he was being given the first serving!  

To show his gratitude for their kindness, Carl bought a small pot of poinsettias for Christmas and walked over and left it on the Butte’s steps with a note of thanks.  Later, BB’s father walked back with BB and thanked Carl for his thoughtfulness but assured him that he really didn’t need to do that, that they were happy to share what they had with him.  After all, though he didn’t say it to avoid embarrassing Carl, social security payments were not that generous.

It was in January that Carl rode off on his bicycle one morning but did not return.  Nor did he return the next day.  BB pressed his father to find out what had happened to him.  But calls to the police produced no information because BB’s father was not a relative.  There was a short item in the paper that an elderly man on a bicycle had been struck by a car and taken in serious condition to the county hospital.  But again, hospital policy prevented the release of any information except to relatives.  Finally there was short news item weeks later that the old man, now identified as Carl Herman had died of his injuries and efforts were being made to contact any relatives.  BB and Marco were saddened when Mr. Butte told them the news.  They asked what would happen to him because he didn’t have any relatives.  None that we know of replied Mr. Butte, but maybe they will be able to find one he didn’t tell you about.  But what will they do if they don’t find anyone?  Then the city will bury his ashes in a field where there are other unclaimed bodies.  That made BB feel even worse.

The van sat in its usual spot getting more dusty until one afternoon a tow truck arrived to take it away.  The boys asked where the truck was going.  The city holds auto auctions for abandoned cars and if no one buys them  then they are sold for scrap metal.  That seemed the final sad finale.

Baseball season arrived and the boys got busy with that but still remembered their elderly lost friend.  He told us he’d come to our games, BB said to Marco wistfully.  Summer was followed by fall and October.  Marco told BB that he wasn’t going to trick-or-treat on Halloween this year.  That they were now teens—though barely—and it was time to drop the kid stuff.  Why don’t we just make this our last year, replied BB.  Marco agreed.  Okay, one last time.  But we won’t really costume up—just a mask or bandana with regular shirts.

On Halloween night, they began their rounds as they usually did in the more distant areas of their neighborhood, to finish at BB’s home where they would sort their loot.  More than one household commented on their lack of costume effort and implied that they were just big kids cashing in on free candy.  True.

Later that night when they arrived back at BB’s, the boys were startled to see a Pontiac SUV parked in Mr. Herman’s spot.  It was hard to tell the color in the dark.  “You told me he died,” said Marco.  “And we saw his car towed away.”

“That’s why my dad said he saw in the news.  Maybe the van was bought by someone who brought it here,” replied BB.  “Just a coincidence.”

“Look, it even has a jack o’ lantern on its roof just like Carl had,” Marco pointed out.  “You wanna go see?”

“Sure,” said BB with more confidence than he felt.

The boys could see a figure behind the steering wheel, but couldn’t make out its face and they slowed up, then stopped.  A familiar voice softly called out, “Happy Halloween, BB and Marco.  Come on over.”  They were ready to bolt, but Carl said again, “Don’t be scared, I’m quite harmless.  Come over.”

Scared?  No they weren’t scared, so they slowly approached and then were overjoyed to see that it was Carl in the car.  “Carl, we heard you were dead,” BB exclaimed.

“As you can see, here I am,” Carl replied.  “Don’t believe everything you hear.”

“And your car was towed away,” Marco added.

“And yet, here we both are,” Carl replied with a large smile.  “How have you boys been?”

“Me and Marco are fine, but are you okay now?”

“Never felt better.  But tell me about yourselves.”

So they did.  It was getting late and finally they told Carl that they had to go in since tomorrow was a school day; that they were so happy that he wasn’t dead and had come back.

“Here boys, it was great to see you again,” and he handed them each a super-sized candy bar.  “Happy Halloween.”

They went into BB’s home to sort the candy as they usually did, and excitedly told his parents that Mr. Herman was back.  Mr. Butte went to the front door to see for himself.  “The van’s gone,” he said on returning.

“He probably went somewhere else,” said BB, still going through his candy.  BB’s father and mother looked at each other.  After Marco left, BB put the sack of candy on his dresser, washed, then brushed his teeth, and changed for bed.  In the morning he checked his candies again before going to school.  But the super-sized candy bar was gone.

September story, 2022.

It’s Just A Job

The crowd mingled and chatted or stood around quietly while waiting.

“You got your next assignment?’ asked the fireman, the one with a yellow, walrus mustache, to the sailor standing next to him.

“Yeah,” replied the sailor, dressed in a white tee shirt with an oil stain in front and faded cut-off jeans, “Just a short one, crewing a yacht in a hurricane.  You?”

“Pretty standard fire rescue.  One curve ball though, it switches from a house fire to a forest fire before it’s done.  Gets pretty intense.”

“Hey guys,” said the hooker, coming up to join them, ”How’s it going?  Know where you’ll be tonight?”

“Well, we know where you’ll be,” said the sailor, smiling and eyeing her black micro dress, red high, high heels, and billowing red hair.

“Yeah, just the street corners and the johns change,” she replied.  “You lucky guys get all the variety.  And here comes the machete guy.  What’s up, slasher?”

The slasher, face hidden by a smiling Halloween clown mask and holding a blood-stained machete, said, “Getting lots of work this week.  Three, sometimes four jobs a night.  The calls pick up every time a dice-em-up movie comes out.”

“Kids mostly?” asked the fireman.  “And girls?”

“Yeah, but you’d be surprised by how many guys in their twenties too.”

The woman pedestrian one stood by and was joined by the old subway rider ten, holding a folded newspaper.  Indian eleven and posse rider four stood in the back of the group along with GIs fourteen and seventy.  They waited patiently not bothering to converse. 

The storm troopers one through eight waited in their own little cluster.  Not getting that much work now, between sequels, and when they did work, were usually quickly eliminated.

“AARRGH,” roared the huge, deep red boogie monster by way of a greeting, baring its green tinged fangs, as it shambled up to the waiting group.

“Hello boog,” said the fireman, reaching out to rub its head.  The monster wagged its naked forked tail in pleasure.

“I’m curious.  Everybody here got night work this shift?”  asked the fireman, pausing his petting.

“Nah,” said the sailor in disgust.  “I got a day one.  That’s why mine is so short.  Power nap.”

“Yeah, the worst,” agreed the slasher.  “Lucky there are less day jobs compared to night work.”

“Okay everybody, listen up,” Dispatcher shouted, from the stage. “You all got your assignments so let’s get to them.  Make it a good one and see you back here after you’re done.  We’ve got to clear this place out now so the next shift can come in.

Do you ever wonder where the people in your dreams come from?  Not the family and friends that show up at the familiar locations that you know well, but the people that you don’t know, have never seen before, who you meet and talk to in your dreams and then cannot remember what they looked or sounded like after you wake up?  The “extras” in your nightly dramas.  Do they leak out of your id, come from the Sandman, of Gaiman’s modern mythology for the millennial generations, or….?

Now some people will tell you that they never dream, but they do–they just don’t remember after waking, because almost everyone undergoes REM sleep which is when dreams occur.   

Well, this is how it happens. 

August, 2022, songs

August is my wife’s birth month.  We met as students working one summer long-ago in the dining room of a small Jewish hotel in the Catskills, when the Catskills was a prime resort area for Jews from New York City, before travel to Florida became easy.  Chinese  at a Jewish resort?  Soy sauce with your gefilte fish?  And so, two songs for her birthday. 

That Summer

(Song—“The Rose” by Amanda McBroom)

sung by Bette Midler and others


Our lives were joined before I knew you, by the bonds of fate unseen.

I could not know when I first saw you, what you would come to mean.

One quiet girl who waited table, working hard beside the guys.

I did not see what stood before me, for I was slow, not very wise.


But when we talked, I heard your stories, of the burdens that you bore,

Lost your mother, then a sister, had to flee a civil war.

Sixteen alone—you sailed from Asia, for a far and foreign place.

Such strength, such courage and persistence, facing life with grit and grace.


September came, it was the season for us to go our separate ways.

But that kiss, you gave at parting, mystifies me still today.

For in that instant you claimed and bound me. This would be no last goodbye.

From that moment I was certain, that we would meet another day.


(Song—“Once Upon A Time” by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams) 

sung by Frank Sinatra and others


Once upon a time, when the world was bright and new.

We kissed beside the shore, beneath a starry sky.

But that was once upon a time, when our years were just a few.


Once upon a time, New York was all aglow.

You answered all my dreams,  when you said you loved me too.

But that was once upon a time, many Christmases ago.


When we were young, the highway had no end,

We thought that there was something new, waiting ‘round each bend.

There was work to do, a family to raise,

How could we know—that—


Journeys have an end.  That the piper wants his fee.

That even love cannot—change our destiny.

But all our once upon a times, live on in memory (x2)

July, 2022 Story

Hell Is Where The Heart Is

The senior executives who had been the object of Peter Pecker’s wrath agreed afterwards that it had been a most spectacular way to go.  One instant angrier then they had ever seen him, spewing vitriol and profanities, eyes popping, face turning redder and redder, neck veins bulging, the next instant crashing face down on the dark oak conference table that he had just been pounding.  Despite attempted CPR and the arrival of an EMT team that had to ride an elevator up eighty stories to where the corporate office penthouse was, his brain had been fried by a massive stroke, brought on by underlying high blood pressure, poorly controlled, and further elevated by the surge of his rage.


So what happened, where am I, Peter wondered as he looked around a large minimalist room, no furniture, with grey-white walls that seemed to almost glow.  The hospital?  And where is the staff?  Shouldn’t there be staff to take care of me if I’m at the hospital?

A figure appeared at the far end of the room and walked towards him, male, medium hight, forty-fiftish?, dressed in a summer weight blue sport jacket, soft grey pants, open collared pink shirt, well trimmed greying beard, carrying what looked like a laptop under his left arm.  “Hello Peter Pecker,” he said as he came to a stop.

“Are you the doctor?  What happened to me?  I just remember chewing out those idiots who work for me and then I wake up here,” said Peter.

“You’re a realist so I’ll give it to you straight.  You died of a stroke and so here you are,” the man replied.  “Take some time to let that sink in,” he added as he watched the expression on Peter’s face.

“So there really is an afterlife,” Peter said slowly.  “I was always an agnostic.”

“No, you were really an atheist,” corrected the man.  “You can’t change your bet after peeking at the hole card.”

“And there really is an afterlife,” Peter repeated in wonder.

“But.” said the man cheerfully, “If you were right, as an atheist, then this could all be a hallucination of your dying brain cells that will shortly end.”

“Is it?”

“No, you were right the first time.  I’m just yanking your chain a little.”

“Then who are you?  Are you Saint Peter?  Am I at the pearly gates?” asked Peter.

“Depending on the culture and religion I’ve been called many things.  Saint Peter, Anubis to the Egyptians, Qin Guang Wong to the Chinese, Minos to the Greeks.  But my purpose is the same.  To examine a person’s life with him or her and direct that person to the appropriate afterlife,” said the man.  “If it will make you more comfortable, you may call me ‘St. Pete.’”

“So these are the pearly gates?  I would have thought something grander.  And where is the book where you look up our lives?” asked Peter.

“The physical appearance and surroundings are tailored to the experience and the expectations of the humans of that period.  For the Greeks there was a river with a boatman to ferry them over from life,” replied Saint Pete.  “For your time, I come attired in business casual, use a laptop instead of a book, and dispense with the gates.  Shall we get started?”  He waved his right hand and a chrome and glass table materialized on which he placed the laptop, then opened it.  As he touched the keys, there appeared, projected on the facing wall, the words, “THIS IS YOUR LIFE, PETER PECKER.”  “If you’re wondering,” said St. Pete, “In Biblical time I would have used flaming letters in the night sky.”

“So here’s the setup,” he continued.  This will be like your standard business powerpoint presentation, except that you will see vignettes of your life at various stages.  We will look at them together, and make a determination about each one to score as a plus or a minus in your life.  There will be no excuses.  You will give an honest answer after each.  Do you have any questions?”

Peter said nothing, just slowly shaking his head from side to side.

“All right,” said St. Pete.  “Here’s the first one.”  

“Why that’s me at four,” said Peter.

“Yes, and you are trying to smother your baby sister in her crib with your teddy bear, but your mother walks in and stops you.  You tell your mother that you are just trying to share your teddy.  Tell me your real thoughts at the time.”

“I don’t remember.”

“Come now Peter.  In your present state, all your memories and emotions are available to you.  Answer now.  There are no lies here.”

“I was jealous of all the attention that she was receiving,” Peter said reluctantly.  “I was used to being the focus of the family and so I tried to get rid of her.”

“Very good Peter.  That wasn’t so hard, was it?  Now shall we count that as a plus or a minus?”

“I guess I’d have to count that as a minus,” Peter said slowly. 

The scene shifted and Peter is a ten year old, extorting the lunch money of a six year old first grader on the school playground who is left crying.

“So Peter, plus or minus?”

“Yeah—-a minus.  But aren’t you going to show any of the positive things that I did?” he objected.  “How about in high school when I helped Clarence pass his AP physics class so he wouldn’t flunk?”

“That might merit a plus, except that you violated the school honor code by helping him cheat.  So, a plus or a minus?”

“Can I at least get a plus/minus?”

“All right, let’s go with a plus/minus,” agreed St. Pete.

More episodes from life followed and despite his objections, the minuses were adding up.

His admission to a “highly selective” college was eased by a significant gift to the school by his father; attempted sexual assault of a college date was only averted because he was too drunk to continue and fell asleep; and later—infidelity? certainly; cheating his first business partner?—settled legally to his benefit; illegally dumping toxic waste from one of his factories into the Missouri River.

“Well what about the charitable foundation I set up?” Peter asked.

“To which you contributed 0.01% of your profits each year for five years, after which your contributions became more irregular,” replied St. Pete.  “Tell me why you decided to start the foundation.”

“Well—it was to help society.”

“Sure.  Now the full reason.  You must be completely truthful.”

“Okay.  I must.  So it was a structured pay out of hush money to a mistress so that she wouldn’t sell her story about our kinky relationship to a trashy magazine.  But that was a just part of the money that was dispensed.”

“True, sixty percent each year went to her and forty percent went to legitimate charities.  And when the five years of payments to her were done, the amount you contributed and distributed each year shrank considerably,” said St. Pete.  “You thought you were being clever when you put her payouts under the category of ‘rehabilitation of sex workers.’  So, plus or minus?”


“Consider your primary motive again.  Take some time to think.  If it were a business rival, would you conclude a plus?”

“Damn!—er, darn you.  Minus.”

“Good Peter.  You were contributing 0.01% each year.  For contrast, now let’s show one of your workers Anna Smart, who worried that she could not tithe to her church and charities last year because you squeeze wages to the minimum that you can get away with without unionization.  

“Look St. Pete, this is taking up a lot of your time.  Don’t you have other souls to—ah—interview?”

“Your human scientists are trying to grapple with the paradoxes of how something can be infinitely large and infinitely small simultaneously, how time can be finite and infinite at the same time. or how some thing can arise out of nothing.  So I have all the time that is needed for all the souls.  To continue.”  

Peter’s life review went on for what seemed like hours if not days and when it was finally done, the tally showed a few pluses and plus/minuses amidst a sea of minuses.

“Peter, you have participated in reviewing your life and in the assessment of its various circumstances.  It is time to assign you to your destination.  I ask you, do you believe your life qualifies you for what most religions designate as some sort of heaven?  You know now you can only be truthful.”

“St. Pete, I can only say that no, I do not qualify to enter heaven.  That means I must be  condemned to hell,” said Peter calmly, now scoured free of excuses and objections.”

“Peter, you are right, you are assigned to hell,” St. Pete said.  “You will be returned to from whence you came, not as a privileged tycoon, but as an ordinary soul.”

‘From whence I came?”

“Sorry, I sometimes mix up the phrasing of different eras,” said St. Pete. 

“I wasn’t surprised by your speech, but did you mean a return to earth?” asked Peter, incredulously.


“But how, but why ….?” 

“You and other humans have turned earth into hell.  You took Eden and made it a place of fire and flood, disease and famine, unrelenting war, filled with hatred and distrust, growing ever hotter, the air near unbreathable, the waters polluted.  It is only fitting that you return there to be tormented by what you have wrought— sorry, done.”

“Tormented.  Like by Satan?” asked Peter.

“Yes, by the Satan that each of you carried within you and that you nourished each day by the things that you did or did not do.  Your vision is now clear and unsparing and you will be forever tormented by guilt and remorse.  Now it is time for you to go.”  

And with that St. Pete returned Peter to hell on earth.

June 2022 story

Look Over Your Shoulder

News:  Musk presses ahead with his dream of travel to Mars.  He speculates that eventually one million humans could be sent to colonize the Red Planet.  Scientists have commented that even if it were possible  to transport that number of people to Mars, the number would be too low to be self-sustaining in today’s technologic society.

In the meantime, Bezos has announced full bookings for his suborbital rocket tours for the next year.


In their undetectable undersea station, two alien beings are communicating.  One, #&%, the station senior, has been orienting the newly arrived observer, #&#%@.  

As #&% finishes, #&#%@ says, “I did receive the standard briefing when I was selected to come, but there are some questions that remain.  May I ask them of you?”

“Of course,” said #&%.

“The first is of a personal nature.  If I am being too intrusive, please tell me to stop.  We have to work together and I don’t want to be viewed by you as obnoxious.”

“I’ll certainly not hesitate to tell you if you are being too rude, replied #&%.

“All right.  Would you please tell me the reason you chose to remain on this orb for so long?  You are almost a legend in the Observer Corp to have volunteered to remain here for tours that cover the span of the humans’ history for ten thousand of their years.”

“That’s true,” replied #&%.  “But not continuously, I do take home orb leave on schedule, and for my rejuvenations.”

“But then you always return to this station.  Do you find these humans that interesting?”

“The short answer is yes.  But let me explain.  When I first arrived, they were still barely more than the animals that they ate.  Still using stone implements.  Before I had completed my first tour, they had begun to settle into communities and had discovered the use of metal for tools.  Progressing more rapidly than most other beings we had observed.  As an exo-anthropologist, it was fascinating.  So I volunteered to return here to see what they would next do.”

“Well, according to my implanted human history, they soon discovered that metal could be used for more than cultivation and hunting instruments, and they began using it to kill one other,” commented #&#%@.  “And their aggression and intolerance of one other only became worse over their history.”

“But they do make progress, slowly as judged by their life spans, rapidly by ours.  For example, they no longer eat one another and they no longer do ritual sacrificial killings.”

“Their laws do permit judicial killings however,” countered #&#%@.  And their continued wars kill still far more of their fellows.  Isn’t this discouraging to see?  From what you’ve observed, do you believe that they will ever become less aggressive and warlike?”

“A good question that I ask myself.  Will the pace of their progress towards becoming civilized as we define it, overcome their seemingly innate tendency towards selfishness, aggression, and fighting?” replied #&%.  “That’s part of the fascination.”

“But their progress is so uneven.  Some humans are exploring their orb’s near space with crude rockets and orbiters, looking into deep space and time with orbiting long visioners, and some are still happy living in hunting-gathering groups like the ones you first encountered,” said #&#%@

“True, But at least the more technology-advance humans are no longer exterminating the non-technology ones as they used to do,” replied #&%.

“Granted.  That is progress.  Another question.  They seem so individualistic, pursuing their own desires without regard for others.  There seems to be a giant gap between those who have amassed great wealth as they define it and those who have not.  Their news reports that one man is planning travel to the fourth orb and is himself funding the means to do so.  And yet untold numbers of his own clan—I guess they call them nations—are wanting basic needs.  And that human is only one of many with wealth who lack any concern for doing something to help their others.  Do you worry that this lack of empathy will prevent them from ever becoming civilized?” 

“As long as they stay within their own solar system we will continue to just observe them.  As difficult as it is for us to watch what they do to one another, we do not intervene.  It is a basic principle of the Observer Corp, that each race must be allowed to pursue their own destiny.  As you know, some races have destroyed themselves and their orbs,” said #&%.

“And what of this one?”

“You and the rest of us are here at this station to see how they answer that question.  They are doing a bad job of maintaining the health of their orb.  It may soon become minimally habitable if they do not change their direction.  And of course there is ever the possibility that one of their wars might result in the use of nuclear arms which would be catastrophic for them.”

“I find it incredible that while they are doing little to nothing to maintain their home orb, they speak of colonizing their sole satellite and even the fourth orb,” said #&#%@.  “It’s as if they are looking for new worlds to despoil and that wrecking their own is not enough.”

#&% said nothing but nodded.  

“And a final question I have about them is about their guiding ethos,” said #&#%@.  “For the humans, these are most commonly expressed in their spiritual beliefs.  Two of their major belief systems do or have condoned the validity of wars and massacres to promote the spread of their beliefs.  To forcibly convert those who they see as non-believers.  If they continue to hold these types of beliefs, I cannot imagine them loose in the galaxy.” 

“And that is the one instance where we would intervene in their affairs,” answered #&%  “If through the use of supercomputers and a spark of genius, they discover the secret of how we manipulate the fabric of space-time to travel between the stars, while still at their current level of ethical thinking and behavior, we would have to show ourselves and stop them.  My hope is that they will mature before that happens and we could then welcome them as fellow galactic beings.”  

May 2022

John Denver sang a lovely song in praise of “today.”

Today lasts 24 hours before it becomes one of many yesterdays that persist for a lifetime.


(Melody— “Today” sung by John Denver and others)  

Once, we smelled blossoms that clung to the vine,

I dined at your table and drank your best wine.

The flowers of summer have faded away,

But I’ll always remember the love that we shared–



You were a young rover,

Who sailed the seas over,

But I knew who you were by the song that you sang.

Enthralled by your singing

As by the Sirens of Homer,

I dreamt what our future might bring.


Once—glittering stars filled 

Deep, dark summer nights.
There were big city Christmases sparkling bright.

We had children—they grew,

Then went off in the world.

And we found we had suddenly grown old.


Yes, there were flowers that grew on a vine,

I remember the taste of strawberries and wine.

But all our tomorrows became yesterdays.

And my dear rover is home from her journey–

To stay.

And my dear rover is home from her journey to stay.

April, 2022

May is graduation month at many schools and alums often return to renew old ties and memories.

What Ever Happened To….?

“Did you ever wonder what happened to someone you used to know and lost track of?” asked Wendall.  Wendall had recently attended his twenty-fifth college class reunion and had renewed acquaintances with many classmates whom he hadn’t seen since graduation.  The reunion newsletter also had listed a surprising number of names asking for information about their whereabouts.  “I mean I actually didn’t know any of them well, but I still wondered about where their lives had taken them.”

“Sounds like your school needs to do a better job of tracking their alums to be able to hit them up for donations,” answered Mike.  “But to answer your question, yes I have.”

“You graduated fifteen years before me so I would guess that in the years since graduation and  with job changes and moves and all, you would have had more people lost to followup,” said Wendall.

“Actually my school does a surprisingly good job of keeping tabs.  They send me reminders every year to donate.”

“But did you ever personally know a lost classmate who you wondered about?”

“Yes, I read the obits in every alumni bulletin, so I found out that someone I knew fairly well died, but I’ve always wondered what led up to his death.”

“Okay, so what was the mystery?”

“I don’t want to bore you, so stop me if I do.  In school, Raymond and I were in the same dorm, and I knew him well enough to sit and talk with him in the cafeteria.  He was pre-law, a gov major, and I was a chem major, so we didn’t share any classes or extracurricular interests or go to the same parties, but he was a friendly guy and interesting to talk to.  Especially since I didn’t know much about politics and he had some definite ideas.  Kind of liberal.  After graduation, he went on to law school and I went to grad school, and we didn’t see each other again until our twenty-fifth reunion.”

“Just like me and my classmates,” said Wendall.  “But no mystery so far.”  

“Wait.  So at the reunion, I was about to sit down with some guys I had known well, and up walked Raymond with a big smile.  ‘Hey Mike,’ he said.  I didn’t recognize him at first because he’d had this big shock of blond hair in college and now he was totally bald.  But I recognized his voice since he had a thick Boston accent.  He sat with us and I introduced him to Joanie, and we got caught up.  

He’d gone on to practice law in Florida, and did a lot of public defender and pro-bono work.  Like I said, he was kind of liberal and socially conscious.  Anyway, we exchanged our contact information and said we’d stay in touch after the reunion.  Did that with others too, but he was one of the few who actually wrote at Christmas.  So we began to exchange Christmas messages regularly.”

“Still no mystery,”  Wendall said.  

“No, the mystery began about twelve years later.  During that time, I left the company I was with and joined ours.  And in that time, Raymond had semi-retired from practicing law since he had to move back to Massachusetts from Florida to take care of his mother, and he began to try his hand at writing to keep from being bored.  He said that he hated the New England winters and really missed Florida and his friends there and that he hoped to go back when he could.”

“Weren’t there any other sibs that could help take care of his mother?”

“Had a younger sister but she lived in Vermont and had a young family.  And since he had no family of his own, it fell to him.”

“So what did he write about?  Was he any good?”

“Funniest thing, he wrote, as he put it, ‘exotic erotica,’ and he even managed to get a couple novels published.

“You mean porn!” Wendall laughed. “ You ever read them?”

“Yeah, I picked one up and it was pretty kinky.  I let Joanie read it and she was shocked.  ‘But he seemed so nice at the reunion,’ she said.  Anyway he wrote one Christmas that his mother had died, and that he was able to at last move back to Florida.  She left him a small inheritance and he had contacted some friends in Florida, and said that by the next time he wrote, he would be in the Keys.  And this is where the mystery begins.”

“At last.”

“Told you to stop me if you got bored.  Anyway, the phone rang about seven on a Saturday morning and Joanie picked it up, then handed it to me.  “He said he was Raymond,” she said.

It was.  He sounded very agitated, “Mike, I’m in real, deep trouble.  Please, could you possibly send me a hundred and fifty dollars by Western Union right now.*  Here’s their number.  Please, I’m scared.”  

“Wait, wait.  What’s this all  about,” I asked.

“I just trusted the wrong people and now I’ve got to get away from here.  I just hope you can help me out because I don’t know what will happen to me if you don’t.”

“I’ve got to think.”  I had him on speaker phone and Joanie could hear the whole thing.  I could tell by the look on her face that she was concerned.  “Let me talk it over with Joanie first.  What’s your number”

“Call me right back if you can do it.  Please hurry.  I’m at a pay phone.  This is the number.”

I hung up and turned to Joanie.

“He sounded like he is really scared,” she said.  “I think we should do it.”

“But we don’t know what kind of a mess he’s in.  It could be something really illegal.”

“He’s your old classmate and friend.  I think you’ve got to help him.”

I called back and Raymond picked it right up.  “Okay Raymond, I’ll send it by Western Union as soon as the one here opens.  But later you’ve got to tell me what’s going on.”

“Thank you.  You’re really being a life saver, literally.”

Our nearest Western Union office—actually it was in the local supermarket—didn’t open till nine.

In the meantime, Raymond called back again to ask whether I was going to send the money and I told him I would as soon as the office opened which would be at two PM his time.  He thanked me again.

And that was the last time I ever heard from him until I read his obit which didn’t say much.

“He never called or wrote to thank you or to tell you what trouble he was in?” asked Wendall.

“No,” Mike said.  “But he made it out of Florida all right because his obit in the alum bulletin  five years later said that he’d died in Vermont and not much else.  I’d guess that he was living near or with his sister.”

“So you never found out.”

“No.  Joanie and I speculated. But whatever trouble he was in, I think he was just too ashamed to contact me again.”

“Do you think it was all a scam?”

“No.  Back then there weren’t the scams that are going on now.  I think it was for real.  I later talked to a mutual acquaintance and asked him if Raymond had phoned him around that time, and he said no.  So it’ll stay a mystery.” 

“I guess he trusted you to help him out,” Wendall said.

“I guess.”

* Note:  Western Union closed up for good in 2006, but before then it was common to send money by telegraph.