Categories
fiction Science Fiction short stories

The Silver Sphere Part 4


If you haven’t been following “The Silver Sphere” or need a refresher, click here for part one and here for part two and here for part three.

A Pulsar From A Distant Star Destroys The Earth

I carried an expensive mahogany bar chair from Jeffrey’s den into the garage. My friend, Jeffrey, has a trust fund that allows him to pursue a career as a freelance photojournalist and writer. I have to admit the man has talent and good taste. And, despite all of our trash talk, Jeffrey has proven he’s a loyal friend with a generous heart. He shares his good fortune with close friends. That’s how this whole thing got started. Jeffrey lent me his posh beach house while he was away in Paris on assignment. One night, while walking on the beach among fingers of salt water waves, and lost in thoughts about endings for my latest mystery novel, I literally stumbled over Arcon.

As I walked back to the house to retrieve Arcon, I came to the conclusion that fate had placed me in this situation. Jeffrey might be writing this story as easily as me. It actually makes more sense for Jeffrey to be writing the story since he writes non-fiction articles instead of fiction novels like me. And, he lives year-round in his stunning, ultra-modern house fronting a lone stretch of Daytona Beach. (Except when he’s not off somewhere on an adventurous assignment).

Luxurious Beach House Den Overlooking The Ocean

I planned to take advantage of my good fortune, if I can call it that. I’d write a screenplay and a novel along with a factual account of my experiences with Arcon. With any luck, I’d be able to crawl back into the good graces of my agent and my publisher. Assuming, of course, Arcon and me and the rest of the world survived the next sixty hours.

I noticed Arcon had remained unusually quiet since the conclusion of our latest mind-boggling discussion in the kitchen. I sensed that my friend from the other side of the Milky Way was gathering his energy to restore my old car for our impending trip to One World Trade Center in New York City. I had read it was the tallest building in the United States, and we were headed to the very top of it. I figured if my interstellar friend had it in him to pull this off, it would be nothing short of a miracle, even for a super-intelligent fellow like Arcon.

One World Trade Center Building Standing In The Manhattan Skyline

After carefully carrying Arcon from the house to the garage, I placed him comfortably on the bar chair. A few feet away, my decrepit red Mazda Miata waited for whatever might happen next.

From what I casually refer to as an eye in the center of his sleek silver body, Arcon began scanning the car with a beam of pale blue light. Suddenly, the blue light bloomed into a cloud. It engulfed the entire car. Then, frenetic energy forms emerged from the cloud. For a few seconds, I was looking at an abstract light sculpture suspended above the car, until the forms shot off to do their jobs. Each glob of energy serviced a different part inside and outside of the car. Then, the blue energy globs congealed to create a throbbing blue blob surrounding the car.

Three Dimensional Abstract Moving Light Sculpture.

I expected to see my ancient sports car begin to morph into a new version of itself like a movie I had once seen. That’s not what happened. Arcon’s only predictable feature is that he’s always unpredictable. I kept my mouth shut. I knew instinctively that I’d be excoriated if I interrupted.

I heard grinding noises coming from underneath the sheath of blue energy. Then came screeching sounds of metal moving against metal, almost like the car was screaming in agony because Arcon had forgotten to administer an anesthetic before the operation. After several minutes of nerve-jangling scaping and crunching, the sounds became more subtle and less excruciating. I heard faint crackling noises. It sounded like Arcon was whipping up a huge batch of popcorn in an oven. Finally, I began to detect the pungent odor of paint thinner.

“I think you should leave now,” Arcon said to me telepathically in my native language of Serbian. “The fumes might make you sick.”

I wasn’t used to this kind of concern from Arcon. Maybe he’s starting to warm up to me, I thought.

Silver Sphere with Streamlined Sides and a Hole in the Middle.

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Arcon shot back. “We don’t have time for you to recover from a poisoning episode.”

“Right. I almost forgot. I’m just a means to an end.”

“Not quite. Now, what color would you like the car to be? Keep it conservative. We don’t want to attract attention.”

I settled on something called atomic silver, a glossy dark gray.

“Done. Now, be a good boy and wait in the kitchen. I’ll call you when it’s safe to come back.”

Following Arcon’s instructions, I returned to the kitchen and cracked another beer. I closed my eyes and thought about the ending of my novel again. The elusive ending finally dawned on me. The detective and the beautiful FBI agent realize they are both too strong-willed to commit to a long-term romantic relationship. To make matters worse, their next cases required them to work undercover in distant locations. ultimately, they come to a decision: to stay friends and perhaps occasional lovers if their paths cross again.

The thought of unhappy endings generated images of something much worse. I saw the deadly pulsar emerge from a wormhole and slam into Mother Earth. A few hours after the Earth exploded into a blinding fireball, there was nothing left but stardust. All the hopes, all the dreams, all the achievements, all the moments of joy and sorrow, all the beauty and all the ugliness—all gone in a heart-beat. It was not science fiction. It was a reality hurtling towards us–getting closer every second.

A Pulsar From A Distant Star Destroys The Earth

“Come, Joseph,” I heard Arcon say inside my head.

A few minutes later, I stood before a glossy new 2012 MX-5 Mazda Miata. I noticed Arcon had made it a convertible.

“Looks even sportier with the hood added.”

“I thought you might like it,” Arcon replied proudly.

“Is there any chance we can take turns driving to New York?”

“Get real, Joseph. Hurry and pack your things. We’ll only have time for a few cat naps and bathroom breaks on the way. Our window of opportunity is shrinking as we speak.”

Apparently, Arcon was picking up our vernacular with each conversation we had. I did not relish the thought of the journey to New York. I’m sure Arcon didn’t have to read my mind to know this. My expression had to be a dead give-away.

I thought I heard Arcon heave a sigh.

“Don’t just stand there, my boy. It’s time to rock and roll !!!”

To Be Continued…

Categories
fiction Science Fiction short stories

The Silver Sphere


Man Walking On A Moonlit Beach

I am writing this story at the behest of a super-intelligent synthetic being from a distant star system in our galaxy. If you missed part one, click on “story”.

I’m not entirely sure why I’m writing this, aside from the urgent request, but I feel strongly I’ll have at least an inkling by the time I finish. I’m assuming a cataclysmic event will not intervene to prevent me from finishing. As they say; nothing ventured nothing gained.

My name is Joseph Aleksov. When I first stumbled upon an odd-looking shape on a moonlit beach, it had little patience with me. It called itself Arcon to facilitate communication with my simple human brain. I thought of the thing as a “he,” but Arcon isn’t really a he or she. He’s not even an it. Arcon is pure consciousness of an artificial variety. That’s the best description I can offer. I originally described Arcon’s physical features as follows:

“It was a shiny silver sphere punctuated by streamlined indentations on its sides. It had a hole in the center which, in the moonlight, revealed nothing but bottomless darkness. Hardly an eye, at least not a human one. I couldn’t look at it for too long. It pulsed every few minutes, as if it were breathing at impossible intervals. And then it started flashing.”

Silver Sphere with Streamlined Sides and a Hole in the Middle.

After Arcon convinced me to take him home to my friend’s plush split-level house on Daytona Beach, he finally stopped his irritating and painful-to-my-eyes strobing. I was able to look him straight in the eye, man to man, so to speak.

I had driven Arcon to the beach house in the back seat of my decrepit Mazda Miata. Arcon reclined there regally, like the CEO of a large corporation, ignoring my attempts at conversation. Occasionally, he flashed, vibrated, and made annoying electronic clicking sounds. Clearly something was up, but Arcon refused to let me in on the secret.

As we walked up the stone steps to the sculpted front door, I kept an eye peeled for voyeurs. My womanizing friend, Jeffrey, had commissioned a local artist to carve a seductive female nymph into the oaken door panel. Jeffrey’s amorous adventures were the talk of the town. Frustrated husbands in the neighborhood were known to point telescopes at Jeffrey’s door to catch a glimpse of his latest conquest. I shrewdly camouflaged Arcon with the light coat I had been wearing to protect me from the evening chill. I did not want to be caught smuggling a super-intelligent piece of alien hardware into the house.

When we arrived safely inside, I unwrapped Arcon and perched him atop a glass kitchen table. I took a seat opposite him and asked: “Why did you find it necessary to nearly blind me with pencil bolts of lightning shooting out of your eye.”

Arcon replied telepathically in my native Serbian tongue: “I needed to get someone’s attention, and I was thinking about my mission. Then you happened along, and a strategy fell into place.”

“Please let me in on it”

“Are you certain your friend won’t be returning any time soon to reclaim his house?”

“He’ll be in Paris for the next two weeks writing for a fashion magazine.”

Arcon’s silver sides glistened. “Good. Let’s get down to business. And don’t interrupt me unless you have a highly intelligent question to ask.”

I made every effort not to be insulted by Arcon’s cavalier attitude. I had gleaned from our discussions at the beach that the fate of the world was at stake. If that were true, I had to put my petty feelings aside.

“To put it bluntly,” Arcon began, “your world will be destroyed by a pulsar from a neutron star that exploded two hundred and fifty light years away.”

“What?”

Arcon seemed to pause for dramatic effect. “Unless we do something about it.”

I was too startled to respond, which seemed to please Arcon.

“As your people are fond of saying; ‘time marches on.’ In this case, time not only marches, it is taking a shortcut through a wormhole. The pulsar has heretofore been disguised by the wormhole. It will reappear fifty thousand miles beyond the outer reaches of your solar system. Think of it as a traveler walking to Orlando, and then deciding to hop on a supersonic bullet train to save time and sneaker soles. By the time the pulsar appears, it will be too late. We have seventy-two hours to save your planet.”

Neutron Star Supernova

I thought: This must be an elaborate ruse my trust fund friend is playing on me. What are the odds of something like this happening?

“Did you come here to share a bottle of twenty-year-old single malt scotch to enjoy what is left of our lives?”

“If I was capable of laughing, I wouldn’t.”

I stared back at Arcon wondering: How can a super sophisticated being like Arcon not be capable of laughter?

“I wasn’t created to laugh. It’s a waste of time and energy. Instead, I’ve used the time remaining to arrive at a solution to your problem. I must warn you that it’s not guaranteed to work. It all depends on you following my instructions perfectly.”

I closed my eyes thinking; Okay, I’ll play along.

“Why me?” I asked with faked timidity.

“You tripped over me.”

I sighed. “You win, great wizard of the universe. Where do we begin?”

Arcon vibrated and made clicking sounds, as if he were annoyed with me. “Stop thinking this is some kind of foolish joke. I’m not a cosmic comedian.”

“Okay. Okay. Don’t get more bent out of shape than you already are. What now?”

“You take me to New York City,” Arcon answered crisply. “To the top floor of the One World Trade Center building.

(To Be Continued)

Categories
fiction humor life short stories

Tips for Staying Sane Now and Forever


Gravel splashing from stock car drifting on dirt track.

Is the car running away from something? Is it running towards something? Or is it just some dumb kid with a lead foot accelerating off of a dirt shoulder? If you picked option three, you get an all expenses paid free night at a Comfort Inn in Sawdust, Idaho. Here’s a more detailed description of what happened.

The cop who gave the kid a speeding ticket has left the scene. The kid is angry. He’s also trying to impress his sixteen-year-old girlfriend sitting next to him in the bucket seat of a restored 1971 Pontiac GTO.

The kid is basically a nobody, despite his ability to restore vintage cars, who is trying to prove he’s a somebody. It doesn’t help that he’s preternaturally short and stubby for a seventeen-year-old. It does help that he’s been blessed with freakish good looks. And, he’s never had a bad case of acne. His girlfriend, Luisa, is an average-looking teenager who started wearing braces later in life than most of her peers. Fortunately for Luisa, a company called Invisalign has invented a unique clear plastic brace that doesn’t look as bad as metal braces. These braces aren’t even called braces. They are called “clear aligners.” Isn’t that clever?

(Please note: I had never heard of Invisalign before I wrote this post. I was vaguely aware that something like clear braces exist, so I Googled “Clear Braces.” Invisalign came up. For all I know, the claims the company makes are pure poppycock).

To be perfectly honest, Luisa’s good fortune regarding her braces is completely beside the point. The big question is, as I’m sure you are wondering by now, why does Luisa hang around with the kid? There is no cut and dried answer, as is the case with many things in life. It may be that she is a good listener. The kid does most of the talking in the relationship, and, as far as Louisa can determine, she is the only person around who takes an interest in what the kid has to say. Another factor is that nobody besides the kid is beating a path to Luisa’s door. So, a bird in the hand applies.

There are other subtler reasons to account for the kid’s presence in Luisa’s life. We don’t have time to get into all of them. Mainly, and to her surprise, Louisa has admitted to herself that she likes the kid. A little. Upon further examination, she has realized it’s impossible not to form a connection with someone you spend regular time with, unless that person turns out to be a serial killer.

I’ve been remiss in mentioning the kid’s name. It is Elmore. The name is another cross the kid has to bear. His father was an avid fan of the writer, Elmore Leonard. Hence the  first name. Shit happens.

Elmore likes to impress anyone who will listen with his knowledge of fast cars. He likes to put adults on the spot by asking them questions like, “Do you know what the letters GTO stand for?” Occasionally, an elder will know the answer, but most of them say, Grand Touring…Uhh.

Elmore stands there smugly and says,  “It stands for Gran Turismo Olomongato.”

A pregnant pause normally follows. Elmore proceeds to explain that Gran Turismo Olomongato is an Italian phrase denoting a race car that is officially sanctioned for grand tour racing competition. Upon hearing this, Elmore’s audiences generally find an excuse to peel off in another direction, leaving Elmore to ponder why such a phenomenon happens with maddening regularity. He then consoles himself with the thought that most people beyond the age of twenty-one have become passionless souls obsessed with boring careers.

I’ll have to end here, because I know that people don’t like to read long blogs. I started writing this by randomly downloading the picture at the top. I recommend it as a fun exercise if you have no clue what to write about. If I had something socially redeemable to write about, I would. If you are looking for a theme to this blog, try this: To Stay Sane in the Midst of a Worldwide Pandemic, Sometimes It Helps to Write About Nonsense. This is probably a good practice any old time.

Questions abound as to what will happen to Elmore and Luisa. How will they grow as characters? Will they fall in love? Who besides these two will enter the story? What is the central conflict. And who is the antagonist? If you have any interest, let me know and I’ll continue the saga. And, if you have any story ideas, don’t be shy to suggest them. Your thoughts are welcome.

Categories
current events Essays humor inspiration

Jet Propelled


Stylized Boeing Jet Engine

I downloaded this image randomly because I had no idea what to write about. Let’s see if we can have some fun with wordplay.

Airplanes have always interested me. They still do, as long as I don’t have to ride in coach. I used to make model planes as a kid. I only made the plastic variety, because the technique for making paper and balsa wood models always eluded me. They made it look so easy. And the finished product looked beautiful. Expert model plane makers painted them in custom colors. I never met anyone who could make one. You must possess a god-given talent to do it. You have be an artist, in the model plane sense. Chalk it up to an early encounter with limitations.

Talking about limitations, they didn’t bother me as a kid. Like most kids, I just went on to the next thing. No big deal.

Later in life, limitations became a big deal. It hurt to bump up against them. It hurt to see my dreams go down in flames. I had to learn to accept my limitations. Accepting limitations is a wise thing to do, but it’s definitely not fun. That’s why god gave us imaginations.

Q: Without imagination, where would I be?

A: I’d be Stuck in a cramped, bad news, and boring world. (There is only one event that can make the news worse these days: Nuclear War).

If I imagine ten things and can only make one of them happen, I’m better off.

If I imagine a better world for me, automatically the world around me changes for the better.

Okay, back to jet propulsion….My mind won’t let go of this imagination thing. No one, except myself, can stop me from having a jet-propelled imagination. People can laugh at me, including my wife, but I don’t care. I’ve pretty much lived in an imaginary world up to this advanced stage of life. I’m still here. I will not try to fix it if it ain’t broke. As you can imagine, living eighty percent of your life in an imaginary world has it’s advantages. It also has it’s disadvantages. And so on. 

If I don’t do a better job of sticking to the topic, I’ll have to change the title of this post to “The Benefits of Using Your Imagination,” or something self-helpy like that.

Jet propelled. Hmmm….Who am I? Well, certainly not jet propelled. That narrows it down a bit. I can list all of the things I do and who I am in relationship to others, but I don’t want to bore you.

So, Who am I? Really?

I’ve learned that I’m essentially consciousness experiencing itself. I understand the concept, but the experience, the reality of it on a consistent basis, stubbornly refuses to ground itself in me. Another one of those limitations? Not really. I’m infinite and limited simultaneously. I believe it, even though it isn’t my everyday experience. I know people who experience it daily. It’s amazing that I even know them. There aren’t many people walking around who can honestly make this claim. Not that I’m special or anything. I’m just crazy enough to hang around with this tribe.

Okay, so I’ve successfully (for the most part) avoided the subject of “jet propelled.” I’m still going to leave the title as such, because most people will not be interested in the other stuff I’ve talked about.

If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading.  May all (or most) of your dreams come true.

Jet Plane Taking Off at Sunset

Categories
Essays humor issues musings Politics

A License to Steal


LICENSE TO STEAL007 has a license to kill.  Insurance companies have a license to steal.  Here’s a typical example.

My mother suffers from back pain mostly due to her advanced age.  Her doctor prescribed lidocaine patches for the pain.  The patches are expensive, almost five hundred dollars per box.  My mother’s Blue Cross Blue Shield supplemental insurance declined to cover the patches.  Why?  According to BCBS, the FDA says the proper diagnosis for prescribing this patch is diabetes.  What?  Did BCBS make that up?  Sounds like it.

What’s the real reason for squirming out the responsibility to cover the patch?  Answer: it’s too damn expensive.  So let’s find a reason not to cover it.

According to AARP, 200 million insurance claims are rejected every year.  Insurance companies try to spread their risk and keep as much money in their organization for as long as possible as they “adjudicate a claim.”  They use auditing software to sift through millions of submitted claims.  These programs are often referred to as “denial engines” because their intent is to lower the amount of claims paid out.

Can we chalk this thievery up to rising medical costs?  No.  Insurance companies pay only a fraction of what doctors and hospitals charge.  I can hear the insurance company executives laughing in their Dayton, Ohio offices (which are located a long way from my little Starbucks table in Aventura, Florida.)

We need insurance reform badly.  I’m not talking about Obamacare. To facilitate their criminal activities, insurance companies hire supermen lobbyists with some of the money they should be paying out in claims.  They buy yachts, homes, Bentleys, commercial real estate, investment securities and commodities with the rest of their profits. They win. We lose.

It’s time for the public to start suing insurance companies en masse. My daughter is preparing to become a prosecutor. When she reaches the Federal level, watch out Aetna, Blue Cross, and all you other bums!

Categories
Essays humor issues life musings

Gas TV


Thank you gas stations across America for invading  one of the last bastions of peace and quiet I have (had).  I can no longer pump gas with only my thoughts to keep me company. Now I must listen to a moronic advertisement and a news sound bite repeated endlessly and finally an admonition at the end to like Gas TV on Facebook and Twitter. This request is the ultimate example of adding insult to injury.

Gas TV is a new phenomenon, yet I already yearn for the days when I could quietly observe the random mixture of people crossing paths at the gas station and wonder about their lives.

Are you happy? Are you sad? Are you stressed out?  What are you heatedly saying into your cell phone while making those intense gestures? Who is on the other end? What is your relationship?  Are you always enmeshed in some daily drama of one kind or another? Are you well-to-do or have you spent your last dime to impress me with that Mercedes 550e?

I miss the opportunity a gas station stop provided to take inventory of my day’s to-do list.  Gas TV has also stolen the precious minutes I had to re-assess my existential situation.

Gas TV is some asshole’s greedy idea to make money any way possible without regard to my peace of mind.  It is another idiot’s stupid decision to buy it.

Let’s take a poll. Who thinks we need Gas TV? Please raise your hand.

If your hand is not in the air, complain to the gas station manager.

Thank you. Enjoy the rest of your day.

Categories
current events Economy Essays humor international musings reflections

The Problems of This World Including Coffee Machines


coffee machineMy coffee maker died yesterday. It was six months old. It died of the mechanical equivalent of a grand mal seizure or a massive heart attack, I’m not exactly sure which applies. One thing is certain; the death was premature.

For the past two years, I’ve been trying to find an upscale coffee maker to replace my old, reliable, cheap Mr. Coffee. I am in search of a more aesthetically pleasing machine that makes better coffee. I’m not talking about a ridiculously priced espresso machine. I’m talking about a good-looking machine in the neighborhood of seventy-five dollars including tax that makes yummy coffee. I don’t think that’s asking too much, especially considering the premium coffee I use. If there’s anything my daughter and I agree upon, it’s the importance of good coffee in large quantities to start the day. For the record, my wife does not drink coffee.

There are not many coffee maker brands available in retail stores.  Besides Mr. Coffee, there are only three or four other major brands on sale in major retail chains When my search began, I thought these brands represented the “best of the best” using the theory of Darwinian Economics. So far, I’ve chosen two of these brands to try with disappointing results.

I bought a sixty-nine dollar Cuisinart with high hopes. Unfortunately, I chose the color white, which turned out to be a bitch to clean. Within a few months, I grew weary of the futile struggle to keep the Cuisinart free of ugly coffee stains. Two months later, the clock broke. I was actually happy this happened. It gave me an excuse to buy another coffee maker.

I bought another Cuisinart, this time in black. It broke down nine months later. To add insult to injury, I did not notice any real difference in the quality of the coffee it made, except when I replaced the charcoal filter. The better taste lasted two or three weeks, then it went back to “ho-hum” quality. I will never again buy anything made by Cuisinart.

Due to my stubborn preference for cone-shaped filters, I was left with only one viable alternative in my price and shape range. I bought a sexy-looking Krups coffee maker. I expected the German reputation for precision and quality products to hold true for their coffee machines. As reported above, my Krups machine expired after six months. I’m sure the damn thing was made by a tragically underpaid worker half a world away from Germany. What is this world coming to?

It occurs to me that we are faced with much larger problems than poorly made coffee makers. I would gladly buy a coffee maker every six months if it helped to solve the problems in Ukraine and Iraq, for starters.

Photo: http://www.nextnature.net

Categories
Essays humor issues life reflections

Weight Loss the Easy Way


Weight Loss the Easy WayThis blog started out as an imaginary discussion I had with a friend this morning while brushing my teeth.  My jovial friend, let’s call him Alfred, works out at the same gym as me.  He is about my age and, like me, is on a constant diet and exercise program.  I have noticed that neither of us has lost an ounce on this program, and I have known Alfred for more than a year.

Alfred has recently added a personal trainer to his regimen to help him lose the forty pounds of gut hanging from his waist.  I am not in such desperate shape, pun intended. I need to lose somewhere between ten and twenty pounds to look vaguely in shape again. To be REALLY in shape, as in when I met my wife more than twenty-five years ago, I’d have to lose forty pounds. Let’s not go there.

Like most diet and exercise enthusiasts, Alfred and I have managed to gain and lose the same three pounds every week. We are treading water, kidding ourselves, and persisting in our habits of eating more food than our bodies need to exist. On weekends we cheat with alcohol and sweets.

Yesterday, Alfred walks up to me while I’m peddling away on my stationary bike and says, “You need to pedal faster.  You aren’t working hard enough.”

I say: “I burn a hundred and sixty calories in a half hour.  That’s not too bad.”

Alfred says: “What if you burned three hundred calories in the same time.”

I say: “I don’t have to lose as much weight as you.”

Back to this morning.  I’m thinking about this real-life conversation and this revolutionary idea strikes me right in the kisser: “Weight Loss the Easy Way” based on personal experience.

The real-life conversation I had with Alfred changes to something like this:

Alfred, peddling twice as fast beside me on the stationary bike says:

“I’m tired of working this hard and getting nowhere.”

Before we go any further, it is important to note that Alfred always seems happy. He constantly makes jokes while pontificating about one thing or another.

“You know what your problem is,” I respond. “You’re way too happy.”

Alfred laughs, then turns serious. “You’re jealous of me. Admit it.”

“Let’s not make this personal,” I say. “I’m not thinking in small terms here. This is big. It hit me this morning. The easiest, maybe the most effective way to lose weight in a relatively short period.”

“I’ve tried those quick weight loss programs.” Alfred says. “Most of them turn out to be fake or use drugs that can kill you.”

“This is completely natural,” I say with a mysterious smile.

Alfred peddles furiously for a few minutes. I know he doesn’t want to give me the satisfaction of asking about my big idea. Finally, his curiosity overhauls his ego. “Okay, tell me about this easy weight loss idea of yours.”

“It’s really simple. Nothing works better than depression.* I lost twenty pounds in a few months. I had no appetite. It was easy.”

“You really should leave the jokes up to me,” Alfred says.

“It’s no joke. I never want to go back there, but I think depression in bite size doses can really work for people who’ve tried everything short of lap band surgery.”

“Depression is no joke, moron. Be sure not to advertise this idea of yours outside of this circle.” Alfred points to me and back to himself.

“I’m not talking about major depression, Alfie. I’m saying, like, maybe for a week every once in a while.”

“Some people eat when they get depressed.”

“Okay, so this is not for them. That can be one of the disclaimers.”

“What if you’re not good at getting depressed, like me ?”

“Think of all the things you don’t have and wish you did, like the opportunity to have sex with any woman you see as often as you’d like.  Think of every single character defect you have.  Think about having to go work for a living again.  Realize every breath you take brings you closer to death.  Stuff like that.”

Alfred’s perpetual smile turns down slightly at the corners.  “I see what you mean.”

So what do you think, man.  Is it worth trying for a week? Take a break from working so hard to be happy, or whatever it is you work at.”

“Losing weight,” Alfred reminds me.

“I think I’ll write a book titled ‘Lose Twenty Pounds the Easy Way and Have Fun Gaining It Back.’ What do you think?

“I think you’re an idiot,” Alfred says with a pat on my shoulder.  “But I still like you.”

*DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. Depression is a serious illness. If your depression persists, or you have thoughts of suicide, seek help from a licensed psychotherapist.

 

 

 

Categories
Essays humor inspiration life reflections short stories

American Airlines Odyssey


Grok in Fullness
Grok in Fullness

I arrived at Chicago O’Hare International Airport feeling relaxed and in good spirits after a weekend seminar held in the small town of Elburn, Illinois. In light, mid-morning traffic, I had negotiated the trip from Elburn to O’Hare without making one wrong turn, thanks to my able navigator, Siri.

I strode across the Avis parking lot reflecting on what I had learned at the Human Sun Institute seminar.  I looked forward to a few hours of reading, novel editing, and eating a leisurely lunch before my plane took off. All I had to do was walk up to the ticket counter to collect my boarding pass.

When purchasing my airline tickets online, I could not resist the option of upgrading my return flight to first class for only $149.00. In addition to the enjoyable routine I planned before boarding, I had the comfort and luxury of a non-stop, first class flight back to Fort Lauderdale to contemplate as well.

Upon entering the American Airlines terminal, I noticed immediately how tired the ticket counter attendant looked. I figured she had begun her workday at some obscene, early morning hour. I was determined to treat her nicely. I made a few cheerful comments, gave her my flight information, and presented my ID. Her fingers flew across the keyboard. I stood there smiling, radiating all sorts of peace and joy.

The attendant looked up from her keyboard and said calmly, “I’m sorry, Mr. Gittlin, your flight has been cancelled.”

NBA sportscaster Jeff Van Gundy uses a phrase that I love. He did not coin the phrase, but Jeff has a unique way of saying it that never fails to amuse me.

Standing at the American Airlines ticket counter, I suddenly became Jeff Van Gundy reacting to the bad foul call of a referee.

“Are you kidding me,” I said to the attendant.

With my reservation, I had given my email address and cell phone number to the American Airlines computer. The computer, in response, did not email, text, or call me about the flight cancellation. Instead, it booked me on a non-stop coach flight back to Fort Lauderdale scheduled for takeoff seven hours later.

When I asked the ticket attendant for a refund on the first class part of my ticket, she informed me there was no refund since I had upgraded the return flight from an economy fare on the first half of my trip.

“But I bought trip insurance,” I said.

“We have nothing to do with that,” she replied. “You’ll have to go to the web site of the trip insurance provider to see if they will give you a refund.”

Thanks mainly to the peace circulating in my body from the weekend seminar I did not hate the ticket attendant. I did not scream or berate the poor woman. She was only doing her job. She had no control over how badly her job was screwing me.

After a minute of researching alternative flights, we settled on a flight to Fort Lauderdale with a stop in Dallas. I would arrive in Fort Lauderdale two hours earlier but three hours later than the cancelled flight. Whoopee! The attendant upgraded the flight from Dallas to first class, although the airline was not required technically to do so. Thank heaven for small favors.

I felt relieved until I learned the flight to Dallas was boarding in ten minutes. I had all of ten minutes to go through TSA and find my gate in another terminal.

While going through the TSA ordeal, I began to wonder about the cosmic significance of this abrupt change in flight plans. Surely, I was meant to deliver or receive some important message from a fellow passenger.

Encouraged by this thought, I went to pick up my carry-on bag. A TSA officer grabbed it and informed me he had to search it. This had never happened to me in forty years of infrequent flying.

I feared the search had something to do with the raft of prescription drugs I was carrying. It turned out to be a problem with my shaving cream and hair gel. I have never been busted before for these items in my carry-on, but whatever, at least I wasn’t going to jail.

With bags re-packed, I set out in search of terminal “C.” Following the signs, I found the Sky Lift to the terminal. I noticed the steps on the escalator were frozen. The elevator wasn’t working too well either. I’m not making this up, people. All of this stuff happened. It all had to be part of a grand plan for my betterment and the betterment of Mankind. I believed in this deeply.

I struggled up the frozen escalator steps lugging my laptop and carry-on bag. The woman in front of me was breathing so hard I thought she was having a heart attack. Somehow, we both made it to the top without passing out.

After boarding the flight to Dallas, I settled into the very last seat in the bowels of the coach cabin. The guy next to me looked just like a Waking Down in Mutuality mentor I had met in February at a seminar in Atlanta. I made this comment to him. He politely confirmed he was not the person I had in mind. I used the opening to talk about doppelgängers and the seminar I had just attended. My fellow passenger showed zero interest, again politely, plugged his iPhone earplugs in, and settled back to listen to music for the rest of the trip.

Okay, so nothing momentous happened on the first leg of the trip. The cosmic implications of these highly unusual events would surely kick in on the second leg of the journey.

While waiting at the gate for the flight to Fort Lauderdale, I noticed someone who looked like Lexi Thompson. Lexi is 18 years old and one of the best women golfers in the world. She lives in Florida. The woman sitting nearby looked exactly like her mother. I had seen a close up of Lexi’s mother and father on TV. Then, a slim man in his early thirties sat next to the mother. I recognized him as Lexi’s older brother Nicholas, a PGA professional golfer. This confirmed the presence of the famous Thompson clan.

I had to figure out what having Lexi Thompson and family on my flight meant—in the cosmic sense, of course. Okay, I thought, they’ll be travelling in first class like me. I’ll more than likely be sitting next to one of them.  I will have an auspicious conversation with one of them.

Instead of the famous Thompsons, I sat next to a rotund Wal-Mart salesperson from Arkansas. She showed little interest in conversing with me, preferring instead to commune with her iPad and iPhone on the journey home.

Desperate for answers, I asked the steward if American cancelled flights regularly. I had not flown American in ages. This was the first time I had ever had a flight cancelled.

The steward informed me that flights can be cancelled if there is not enough freight in the cargo hold to make the flight profitable. He defined freight as bodies in caskets, mail, or any commercial product paid for by a vendor. He explained that American had lost its contract with the US Mail. This had put a large dent in American’s freight profit center.

The steward then revealed this startling fact: The amount of commercial freight on board a commercial jetliner determines the profitability of a flight. Passengers do not determine profitability. We exist to absorb the cost of overhead including fuel and payroll.

I thanked the steward for the wisdom he had generously imparted. I proceeded to contemplate the Parable of the Airline Freight for several minutes.

In a flash of enlightenment, the purpose of my American Airlines Odyssey struck me.

OMG!!!

The events of the trip suddenly made perfect sense. I groked in fullness the hidden meaning:

I am not as important as I think I am.

Categories
Essays humor issues life musings reflections

The Price of Printing or Planned Disappearance


Stairway to Printer Heaven
Stairway to Printer Heaven

My printer passed away last night. The print head had a massive heart attack. I performed several emergency medical procedures prescribed by my HP Solutions Center–all to no avail. Funeral services will be announced.

A helpful store clerk at Office Depot informed me that print heads often break within two to three years. “It costs nearly as much to repair them as it does to buy a new printer,” he added, smiling. I did not argue with the man. Some critical part of every printer I have ever owned has broken down within this time-frame, and it never makes economic sense to replace the part.

Yet, I continue to buy HP printers, despite their limited life-span and the outrageous prices of the ink they voraciously consume. HP is a market leader, and I follow the herd because I shudder to think what catastrophes await the buyers of lesser brands.

Most printers displayed on major retail shelves are made in horrid factories by underpaid workers somewhere in China. I tell myself the HP factories are less horrid and produce better products than the others. At least I know what I’m getting when I buy an HP printer: a short but trouble free life span and high quality inks at unconscionable prices.

My new printer cost $329.00  and the new ink cartridges cost $109.99. My old printer expired with about $50 worth of unused ink. Naturally, the old ink cartridges are not transferable. This brings the total cost of my new printer to $$38.99, not including sales tax.

As we all know, it’s not the cost of the printer that hurts. It’s the cost of the inks. I find that my color ink cartridges last about three months each, and the double size black cartridge lasts about six months. I am convinced the life span of HP ink is controlled by a secret technology kept ingeniously under wraps by the manufacturer.

My cartridges need frequent replacement regardless of the steps I take to economize on ink. If I avoid printing in color, my color cartridges still need to be replaced. The only explanation I have for this is that the secret HP technology enables the color cartridges to combine mysteriously to print in black.

My New Printer
My New Printer

If I cut down on using my printer, it makes no difference. In this case, the secret technology causes the ink in the cartridges to evaporate at a predetermined rate, thereby ensuring a three-month replacement cycle.

Adding to my consternation, it took me three hours to set up the new printer. It used to be easy to set up a printer. There was basically one way to install the damned thing, and it was easy to follow the idiot-proof instructions. Now, there are several options at every step of the process requiring an advanced degree in engineering to decipher. On one of the setup screens, none of the options fit my setup criteria. I finally decided to go on to the next step without checking any of the boxes. I expected to see an error message pop up, but lo and behold, nothing happened. I had made the right choice, that is–no choice. I had guessed right, but I ask you, doesn’t that sound a bit counter-intuitive?

At some point, we will no longer need printers, paper, or ink.  Documents and images will fly through the air directly into our heads. Until that time comes, however, I could use a little advice on the subject.

“Stairway to Heaven” image by Sigurd Decroos / www.cobrasoft.be