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.

Refections

(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?”

“Plus?”

“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.

“Yes.”

“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.

YESTERDAY

(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–

Yesterday.

——————————-

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.

March, 2022.

The Retirement

After you retire it doesn’t matter who you were or what you did.

He talked with his wife when he first considered it.  She said that if they could manage financially and that was what he wanted, then she was fine with the idea.  But he also knew that she was at least a little concerned.  “Don’t worry, you won’t be a bag lady, if I die,” he joked. 

She gave him a serious look.  “After you retire, I plan to keep on working,” she said.

“That’s good,” he replied.  “You should continue to have something of your own.  And you can tell people you are the sole breadwinner of the household.  Also, we’ll need to give each other a little space until we get used to the change.” 

During his last six months of work, he faithfully went to all of the pre-retirement counseling sessions.  He discussed with the business office the disposition of his 401K and, since he was one of the few remaining old timers who still qualified for one, the pension that he would receive.  During the months before his retirement date, he felt himself gradually estranged from the discussions and speculations about the company’s operation and future.  He had declined to be an ex officio member of the search committee for his successor so that there would be no hint of undue influence.  But he was happy when the committee decided to select internally and picked the person from his—correction—the department that he had considered best suited.  Still, he felt as if he were gradually turning into a ghost, just an increasingly wispy presence, floating through the corridors he thought or, less morbidly and harking back to when he had run track in high school, like running the third leg of a relay.  Now the baton was in another runner’s hand and, while he watched with continued great interest, there was nothing more he could do or contribute to the result of the race.  So while he was proud that he was a part of the company and wished it well in the future, for he had been there for half of his working life, enjoying it the most of any of his jobs and doing it well, it was now someone else’s responsibility.  The refrain of an old country song came to mind, “And there’s nothing I can do about it now.”  

After all, he thought, it was my choice.  I could have kept working; I didn’t have to retire.  But it’s better to pass on the torch than to have it snatched out of my hand.  Like his boss, five years older than him, the CEO who had appointed him department head, and recently “retired.”   The one who had turned around the company fortunes by his calm and conciliatory temperament at a time of internal turmoil and fierce external competition but had been increasingly seen more recently by the Board as too cautious.  Following a mild heart attack it was “suggested” that now was time to “smell the roses—or pikakes.” 

So when at last the November night of his retirement party came around, he listened, with his wife and two children, to the compliments, laughed like a good sport during the roast, and shared reminiscences with those few who had been around as long as he.  Almost everyone in his department attended.  What used to be his department, he corrected himself.  If he heard it once that night, he heard it twenty times, “You’re way too young to retire.”  But he had also heard the whispers, and knew that there were those in the organization who considered him a dinosaur and thought that his retirement was overdue.  Yeah, it was time, he thought.  What was that song? “You’ve got to know when to fold them.”

“What are you going to do with all the time you’ll have?  You’re so lucky you won’t have to face the morning commute any more,” and “Lucky you, no more meetings,” were the other frequent comments.  After shaking the last hand, sharing the last hug, and hearing the last, “We’ll miss you; come back and visit once in a while,” he and his wife waited, the leis heavy around his neck, for their car outside the hotel, with their daughter, who had flown in from New York the day before just for the party, and their son and his wife.  

“Are you okay to drive home after all the drinks and toasts tonight?” his wife asked as they held hands.

“I can drive,” offered his daughter.

“I’m fine.  I paced myself.”  He kissed his wife on the forehead.

  “And just what are you going to do with all your free time?”  She said it with a humorous touch; after all they had talked about it when he first brought up the idea of retirement, but he knew she was still worried about the new arrangement.  

He replied, “You know.  We talked about it.  First, I’m going to take off a few months to get my bearings and do some things around the house and yard that have needed doing.  And then I’ll decide; I’ve got some ideas.” 

“Well, I don’t want you turning the house upside down on me.  Promise?”

“You know I wouldn’t do that.”

“Oh, I don’t know, Dad,” laughed his daughter,  “Old habits are hard to break.  You’re used to doing things your way at work.”

“And Mom is used to doing things her way at home.  I’m no Sinatra.”

“At least they sent you off in style,” said their daughter-in-law.  “And well deserved.”

Their son and daughter-in-law’s car came first, which was good since they had to get home to relieve their baby sitter.  They all hugged one last time.  “Congratulations again, Dad.  They’ll have trouble replacing you at work.”

They all ready have, he thought.  “Yeah maybe.  I’ll call you about dinner tomorrow.  Before Sis has to head back to New York.  Good night.  Thanks for coming.”

February 2022

Didn’t post anything in Dec. or Jan.  So here are two for February.

I first heard the word“tinkle” used in Boston for passing water with both children and by nurses with patients and always thought it was a cute term referencing the way it sounds.

The song came while sitting  on the pot feeling, as is said, ‘bound up,’ when the Otis Redding song came to mind.  Played with the words and it came to pass.  And yes, I do live overlooking a different Bay, just not in California.

Hearing Aid

“You have to do something about your hearing, Dad. We’re all tired of repeating ourselves and I think you’re missing out on a lot that goes on around you.”

The same conversation or variants of it had been going on for the past six or more months.  The man had been stubbornly resistant to the advice, but at last had to admit that he was indeed having trouble with his hearing when he found himself asking strangers like waitresses and sales clerks to repeat themselves and still had trouble understanding them.

“I guess you’re right, Charlie,” he sighed.

Charlie restrained himself from saying, ‘It’s about time.’ Instead he asked, “Do you want me to help make an appointment for you with an audiologist?”

“Thanks, no.  I can do that.  And besides I’d like to do a little research first on what’s available in the way of hearing aids.”

“Okay Dad, but please don’t procrastinate.”

“No, I promise I won’t.”  

He went on-line and found a confusing array of hearing devices.  Ever since the law requiring hearing aids to be professionally prescribed by licensed audiologists and doctors, had been changed to one that allowed the public to buy directly from manufacturers or retailers, the number of devices offered on-line had exploded and prices had plummeted, but there was little guidance to the public about types, appropriateness to their needs, and quality.  As a baseline, he had taken a hearing test with his health care provider and, armed with the information that his degree of deafness was “moderate,” he began his search.  He found the descriptions somewhat helpful since he could exclude all those that stated they were for persons with “mild to moderate hearing loss” as he felt that his hearing would only worsen over time.  This shrank the pool of devices to consider.  

The one that really intrigued him stated that although it was a newcomer to the field it had extensive experience in AI.  It offered a vast array of possible adjustments: programs for everyday situations to quiet nature walks to noisy restaurants and bars to music—with selections for pop, rock and classical.  And each choice could be further fine-tuned to individual taste.

Best of all, it purported to be suitable for persons with mild to severe hearing loss with a price in the middle of the range.  And it was made in Canada, which is close to being made in America, he thought.  This sounds too good to be true, but with a six month return policy, what do I have to lose?

His family was delighted that he was finally acting, but worried that he was buying from an unknown startup company.

“It’s just got way more ways than any other hearing aid to adjust them to fit me, and anyway I can return them anytime within six months,” he said.

“Yeah, if the company is still there in six months,” worried Charlie.

He placed his order and now that he had acted, waited impatiently.  A week later he saw a Fedex truck pull up (he barely heard it) and when he opened the door, was handed a white delivery envelop with a small box within.  The only instructions that came with the hearing aids was to go to the company web site for complete operational details, which he immediately did, avidly absorbing the video demo.

Now to try them out, he thought.  First I’ll go to the trails at the Reservoir and use the nature setting.  And then I’ll see if Charlie’s family wants to have dinner tomorrow at a really noisy restaurant—the “Choy Sum” should fill the bill.

He found that the devices performed in both situations admirably, in fact better than he had hoped.  On the trail, hearing bird calls clearly was a revelation that he had not realized he had been missing.   And the next night at the restaurant, he could actually hear what his family was saying despite the clatter and chatter all around them.

“Dad,” Charlie said, “It’s like a new world for you.  Aren’t you glad you finally got help?”

“Gotta admit you’re right,” he replied.

Over the next week he had fun trying out most of the special settings.  Finally deciding that for most situations, leaving it on automatic worked just fine.  He became more conscious of the world of sound around him.  The sound that a falling pencil makes, the squeak of his desk chair, the rustle of the leaves of the tree just outside his bedroom window, the tinkling sound of the sink faucet running.

And when I use the toilet, the falling ‘water’ sounds almost musical, he thought, it almost sounds like words sometimes.  And he did use the toilet frequently since he had the usual bladder problems of senior men.  He unconsciously began to pay more attention to those sounds since he noted that the flowing faucet or the shower did not have the same quality.  

Why that almost sounded like ‘military industrial,’ he thought one day.  Strange.  He followed up an hour later.  Nothing.  He had almost forgotten about it until the following week when, because of a deteriorating Near Eastern political situation, the price of major military aerospace stocks shot up.  Odd coincidence, he thought.     

‘Apple,’ the toilet seemed to gurgle one day.  The next week Apple announce a new introduction at a reduced price, and Apple’s price price leaped up, before settling back the following month.  But before that happened, he thought he heard ‘flush Apple.’

Am I going nuts, he worried.  Still, he listened carefully each time he peed, feeling a bit batty that he would actually do that.  Finally he heard, amidst the water sounds, ‘St Claire.’  St. Claire?  What’s that?  Feeling foolish, he researched it and found that it was a small biotech company with one product.  And it was cheap on the Nasdaq, almost a penny stock.  He had a modest sum of cash, outside of his retirement accounts, that he had sometimes played the market with.  At that price, what’s a hundred shares if I lose it, he thought.  And he placed an order.  The following week, a large pharma company announced that they were buying St. Claire at a considerable premium, for its one product and its research pipeline.  Wow!  Too bad I only got a hundred shares.

Still, that’s just four times, he thought.  But every week or so, another name come through to him.  He continued to place small orders at first, but when the “advice” continued to prove true, he began to increase the size of his orders.  And so his pot of ‘play money’ became more than modest.  He decided that as a father he should share his information with Charlie, but not, of course, reveal his source.  When both he and Charlie shared in this string of success, Charlie began to press him about where he was getting this seemingly infallible advice from.  Of course I can’t tell Charlie, he thought, he’ll think I’m nuts—and maybe I am.  So he said that no, it wasn’t insider information for that would be illegal, but that he had been sworn to secrecy.

“Okay,” said Charlie.  “But this person has some crystal ball.”

More like a porcelain throne, he thought to himself. 

Six months after this began, he received an e-notice from the hearing aid company that his devices would be shortly receiving a software upgrade because of some complaints that the aids at times seemed to interject odd sounds.  This would all be done automatically and he did not have to do anything, send it back, or pay anything.  The company compared what it was doing to what car companies had done with their software updates.

  Oh no, he thought, what will that do to the ‘advice’ I’ve been getting.  He frantically contacted the company help number and of course received a recording to leave a phone number and a message and that a representative would contact him shortly.  He wanted to tell them that he was very happy, in fact delighted, at the performance of his hearing aids, and that he did not require or wish to have the upgrade.   Two days later, he was contacted by someone who spoke impeccable English but with a foreign accent.   He repeated his request to be left alone.

“Oh no sir, why would you not want an upgrade?  It will make your devices work so much better.  Please check our web site to see the additional features that have been added.”

“But I don’t want any of them.  I’m very happy with what I have.  Please leave my aids the way they are.”

“I’m afraid that is impossible, sir.  The upgrade was sent out automatically yesterday.  Please visit our web site to see all the improvements that have been made.”

“But I didn’t want any of them,” he said almost plaintively.  

“I think that you will be happy with the changes.  Now is there anything more I can do for you?  If not, good day, sir.  Thank you for using our product.”

Though he continued to listen carefully afterwards, he could never again make out any words.

“Dad, what happen to your advisor?” asked Charlie, after several months.

“I’m afraid he had a bad accident and can no longer speak.”

“Oh, sorry to hear that.  I hope he wasn’t a close friend and I hope he’ll recover.”

Alte Kaker Time

(thanks and apologies to Otis Redding)

I’m sittin’ on a pot by the Bay,

Waitin’ for some move-a-ment today.

Sittin’ on a pot by the Bay,

While the day just rolls away.

Just countin’ time.

Used to have eggs for breakfast,

Now it’s likely just a mess of prunes.

Hopin’ for some action, 

This mornin’ not this afternoon.

Oh it used to be so easy,

Now it’s fiber and more mineral oil.

What used to come so natural, 

Is becomin’ just a lot of toil.

I’m waitin’ here beside the Bay,

As the time just slips away.

What I used to take for granted,

Is a lot more like adobe clay.

So I’m sittin’ on a pot by the Bay,

Hopin’ to pass something more than time.

This is all I have to say,

Unless I get help with another rhyme.

Sittin’ on a pot by the Bay,

Passin’ time,

Jus’ countin’ time.

November 2021

We enter the rainy season in November.  November has always struck me as a grey and quiet month, a winding down month, more a time to look back over the past year than to look forward.  And yes, certainly a time for thanksgiving too, for blessings present and past.

Rain Song 

(Melody and mood—Paul Simon’s “Kathy’s Song”)

I hear the patter of the rain,

With memories of you it falls–

Leaves drops upon my window panes,

Those happy days with you recalled.

My thoughts keep circling back again,

Through all our times, now gone away.

They’re of you as I go asleep, 

And bless you when I start each day.

The murmur of the wind and rain,

Faint echo of our love’s refrain.

Where once two voices intertwined,

Now just a solo one remains.

I watch the rain fall from the sky,

Flow down the gutters by the curb.

I could have fallen like the rain,  

There—but for your love—go I 

I would have fallen like the rain, 

There—but for your love—go I.

October, 2021

The Siren

It was nearing closing, the lounge was emptying out.  

“Look,” said the bartender, “I can’t pour you another one.  You don’t look like you’re in any shape to drive.  You want me to call you Uber?’

He reached into his right hip pocket, extracted his wallet and fumbling a little, pulled a fifty from it and slapped it onto the dark wood of the counter, drawing a quick sideways glance from the only other man seated at the bar.  “That’s for one for the road,” he said, glaring at the bartender, and challenging him to pick it up.

The bartender looked at the bill laying in front of him, shrugged his shoulders, pocketed the bill, and poured out another shot of scotch.  “But that’s it,” he said.

“Thanks,” he grunted.  Who elected you to be my keeper?   As bad as the bitch.   Well the hell with her.  To hell with all of them.  “Walking out on me,” he mumbled. “Shit!” more loudly.

“What’d you say?”  asked the bartender.

No reply.  He drained his shot, got up from the stool, tossed another fifty on the counter and turned to go.

“Let me call Uber for you,” the bartender said.  “And some advice.  For you own good, don’t keep flashing those big ones.  You never know who’s watching.”

He kept walking.  The bartender watched his back briefly, thinking okay—hope you make it home,  before turning his attention back to wiping down the bar.

He waited a bit unsteadily as the valet got his car, a black Porsche.  “Nice set of wheels, the valet said, holding the door open for him.  He handed the kid another fifty and headed down the short inclined driveway, into Kalakaua.  Steady as a rock behind the wheel, he thought.

On an impulse he decided to head home to Lanikai driving the long way around past Koko Head and Sandy Beach.  The moon was full and there was little traffic at this hour and it was a beautiful night.  Less chance to run into a police roadblock too, he thought.  He opened the roof to let the cool night breeze clear his head a little.  Around Diamond Head and then through Kahala, roaring around and passing the hotel shuttle that flashed its high beams after him in his rear view mirror.  Screw you buddy.  Screw her too.  Walking out on me.  Me!  Bitch!  

He left the Kahala neighborhood of ultra-pricey mansions and joined the six lane divided highway that linked all the small suburban communities making up East Oahu. The highway speed limit was thirty-five, but almost no one complied, and he drove along comfortably with the few other cars at forty-five plus.  

As he neared the Aina Haina fire station, he saw, far back in his rearview mirror, the flashing red light of an ambulance, still too far away to hear the siren.  No problem to keep ahead of it till it turned off at wherever it was headed.  He picked up speed, and the Porsche responded effortlessly.  Still, the flashing red drew closer and now he could hear the faint wail of the siren.  Okay, goose it a little more, up it to fifty plus.  Stay in front of it.  

By now Hawaii Kai was coming up ahead.  The light at Hawaii Kai Drive was just turning red when he flashed through at sixty. The ambulance followed.  Damn, where’s it going?  He quickly came up to the last set of traffic lights in Hawaii Kai.  Damn ambulance has got to turn off here.  The lights were just turning from yellow to red as he sped through.  The ambulance followed, lights flashing, siren wailing.  Can’t be a beach accident at this hour.  Must be a traffic accident.  Probably all backed up and I’ll be stuck.  Should have gone home by the Pali. 

Up the long uphill at sixty-five and still the ambulance paced him.  Then down, through two sharp turns, first left then right, tires squealing.  And still the red light and siren wail followed, closer.  Got a Porsche—but damn, that ambulance driver’s good.  A section of winding road above sea cliffs, and the ambulance followed, just three car lengths behind now, pushing him, the siren filling his ears.  Past Halona Blow Hole with a long straight stretch of road ahead.

Slow white pickup truck ahead and an oncoming car.  He gunned it and squeezed through at seventy, hearing the horns blare, fading behind him.  Hah!  That’ll slow up that bastard.  He checked his rear view mirror just in time to see the ambulance pass right through the pickup truck.  What!?  The cold sweat of fear began to trickle down from his arm pits.  And now the ambulance was right on his rear end.  Got to get away!  

He downshifted and floored it, blasting uphill towards Makapuu.  The siren shriek drowned out the roar of the motor, filled his ears, reverberated inside his skull, jamming his mind.  Red light flooded the cabin—flash-flash-flash-flash—blinding his eyes.  Going flat out to the top of the hill—and straight out into the void over the cliff at Makapuu.  Damn bitch he screamed in triumph as the Porsche began its arcing fall.

The siren wails for thee.