Monday, October 25, 2010

He Kept His Secret in the Toolbox (Fiction)

It was a cloudy day, unusual this time of year in the Caribbean. It was just me and the bartender, but then again, it was 10 AM. He asked how I ended up on the island.

“How did I get here? Let me tell you a story.”

***

Cleaning out my parent's house was the hardest thing I have done in my life. We moved to that house in 1968, when I was 12, six doors down from the apartment building we lived in for the previous twelve years. I had a lot of emotion tied up in that street.

My mom and dad passed away within two years of each other. After my dad died, my mom was never healthy. After she died, it was up to my brother and I to search through the house. See, my parents came from the generation that hid cash in radiator pipes, jewelry in the freezer or buried in craft junk in the basement. We had to look through everything.

My father had many admirable qualities, but he was not a handyman. He had a toolbox, sparsely filled with a hammer, two screwdrivers, and one adjustable wrench - or so we thought.

On a gray, damp October day in Chicago, my brother Greg and I were sifting through stuff in the basement. He came across the toolbox.

"I guess we should look through this too," Greg said.

"Can't imagine there's much in it. Can't remember the last time I saw Dad with it," I replied.

Greg opened the toolbox and rummaged through it.

"What's this?" He was holding a little black box, about the size of a deck of cards. In the center of one side of the box was a red button and a little LED light. The black matte surface had no other markings, no brand name, no model number - nothing.

"It looks like a garage door opener, doesn't it?" I looked at it closer. "There's no brand name and it feels really heavy. Who would build a garage door opener out of such heavy metal?"

Greg pushed the button. The LED lit. We both turned to the back of the house and looked out the small, thin basement window, which faced the garage. He pressed it again.

"I don't see the light go on. It must not be to our garage. I need some air. I’ll take this trash out back."

Greg went up the stairs and out the back door. I continued going through boxes in the basement – pawing through Christmas ornaments and craft supplies looking for rolled up cash or jewelry.

“KEV – LOOK AT THE GARAGE!” Greg yelled from the yard. I glanced back at the basement window and saw a blue light showing through the glass brick windows of the garage.

I ran up the basement stairs, grabbed the garage key off the hook on the wall and dashed through the backyard to the garage. I unlocked the door and stepped in.

“What the heck is that?” The concrete floor of the garage had an opening in it. Part of the concrete had popped above the floor and slid back, revealing stairs and a room at the bottom bathed in blue light. Greg and I walked down the stairs. Directly in front of us was a long desk with 4 computer monitors and three telephones and a single sheet of paper. The view to our left was far more interesting – shelves of bundled cash and gold bars. I walked over to the desk and read the sheet of paper.

“Is that an AK-47?” Greg asked.

“How the hell should I know? Holy crap – listen to this,” I said.

Kids,

If you’re reading this, I must be dead. I know this is quite a shock to you. You remember all those times I went out “to get a paper”? You kids and your mother thought I was at Peterson’s Tavern all that time, but I really just drove around the block, parked on Francisco and snuck back down here to do my other job. I was a good salesman and it turned out there was a lot more money selling arms to third world countries than cardboard boxes.

Obviously, the less the government knows about this, the better. Call Mr. Manny Ramirez at 001-345-555-1029 and he can help you with arrangements.

Love,

Dad

PS – if you aren’t one of my children, don’t bother calling Mr. Ramirez – it won’t work out well for you.

***

“So, that’s how all of us ended up here in the Caymans. We miss the United States once in a while, but it turns out island living suits us. How about another rum and coke?”

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Reform Congress – or We’re Doomed

As many of us do, I get a lot of political e-mails from friends. Some are wacky, but this one I received recently made a lot of sense to me. It was titled the Congressional Reform Act of 2011. Hyperbole aside, I think these changes make a lot of sense:

  • Term Limits: 12 years only - total between service in the Senate or the House of Representatives.
  • No Pension: A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.
  • All members of Congress (past, present & future) participate in Social Security. All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people.
  • Congress can purchase their own retirement plan (IRA, 401K), just as all Americans can.
  • Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise.  Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.
  • Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.
  • Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.
  • All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/11.

The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen.  Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career.  The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators. Serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Alternative Energy

I read today that the U.S. Military is accelerating their research into alternative energy, mostly due to the recent attacks on oil tankers in Pakistan. They see their dependence on oil as a threat to national security. Why don’t the rest of us?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Time

“Time waits for no one…” - Rolling Stones

My father warned me: time will go faster as you get older. He was right. It seems I took the tarps off my porch furniture a few weeks ago and now the leave are turning. Where did the summer go? I still have mini-golf coupons I meant to use – now expired. I thought I had plenty of time.

Why is time moving faster? I recall Einstein had something to say about time. I’m not a physicist, but I don’t think he’s going to be any help. It’s in my head.

Time hasn’t changed; it’s not really accelerating. My perception of time has changed. Is it because every day feels the same? Have I been in my routines so long that every day just melds into the next? I can do things in the same exact pattern every week, and that makes every week the same. Is the similarity and lack of novelty making time seem faster?

It does scare me. It goes too fast now. At this rate, in just a few months of perceived-time I’ll be really old, slower, and less capable.

“Hours are like diamonds, don’t let them waste…” - Rolling Stones

What to do? How do I slow it down?

Time goes quicker when I’m “in the zone” – writing a story, figuring out a challenging coding problem, or yoga class (sometimes). I’m happy when I’m zoning, but time moves even faster.

I really dislike flying. When I’m aloft, time crawls. Perhaps that’s the secret – just make yourself miserable and time will slow down. That doesn’t seem like a good idea either though.

Is the problem due to the lost hours? Hours drugged out on TV or the internet (billions of website and not one interesting thing to read)? Time has a way of getting away from you during the lost hours. It doesn’t go fast, but it disappears just the same. I finally turn the device off and wonder what happened to the last few hours.

I’m not sure if I can change any of this, but a few things seem clear. If it’s going to go fast anyway, I might as well spend as much time as I can zoning – at least that feeling of engagement with life is satisfying. I should minimize the number of lost hours. I should interrupt my routines more often to make the weeks different – cause some days or weeks to stand out more.

In the end, I just have to accept it – and do my best to enjoy what little perceived-time may be left.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Uh-oh – I go to Yoga Class – I’m Doomed

I read this article on Yahoo today. Apparently some Christian leaders think, and I quote from the article, that “practicing yoga is incompatible with the teachings of Jesus”. Wow.

These people slay me. Many of these folks are rock-solid certain that God hates homosexuals, that God is concerned about what we eat on Fridays, that God created all we see in 7 days around 6000 years ago, and now – that God disapproves of my yoga class. Yet, ask these same folks the big questions: Why is there evil? Why does a loving God allow genocide, the holocaust, child molestation, and natural disaster that kill hundreds of thousands? The answer you get is “It’s God’s will”. We’re told that we mere humans cannot begin to fathom God’s plan.

Why is God so transparent about petty, stupid stuff – but so vague, mysterious, even clueless about the truly important things?