Love’s Cure

a short story by John K. Adams

“Hello Doctor?”

“Yes, I’ve been expecting your call.”

To have and to hold and ‘til death do us part. Who could argue with that?

Abigail was perfect for me. She was everything I ever wanted in a partner, friend and lover. And she felt the same about me. Everything fell into place for us, easy as breathing.

We vacationed in Spain and rode horses past ancient Andalusian windmills. We joked about slaying giants as the sails fluttered and groaned, turning against the wind. Then, after galloping together to the crest of a hill, I dismounted and proposed marriage to her with the valley spread behind me. Abigail shouted “Yes!” laughing through happy tears.

We wed in wine country and honeymooned at a vineyard, walking amidst the arbors, plucking luscious grapes and laughing together.

One early morning we drove to Morrow Bay and picnicked in the shadow of the great rock, before the sun burned the fog away. Huddled on a blanket, we watched laughing gulls wheeling through the mist. We drank brandied coffee from a thermos, fed each other grapes and fresh baguettes and laughed until the sun was high. We always spoke of this as our ‘picnic at freezing rock’.

It didn’t take long to settle into a happy routine. Life went on easily and contentment reigned. Months rapidly accumulated into years. And then, something slowly felt off to me. Was it all too easy? It seemed we were ready to grow further. At least, I was.

How old fashioned of me to think of children, usually a woman’s topic. Broaching the subject with Abigail never felt right, though. And even broad hints were deflected.

Then, one night at dinner I just bluntly asked. And Abigail, just as bluntly, said no. She didn’t want children. And didn’t expect to ever ‘be ready’. She resented friends and relatives presuming things about the time, and their unsubtle hints about her and my ‘health’. She insisted she was happy with me and didn’t want to disrupt our love with diapers and baby puke.

After that, any further attempts to continue the discussion were met with her ‘look’. The subject was closed. It was the only forbidden topic in our whole time together. It was so strange for this huge gap to exist between us while everything else was still perfect. I could find no way around it.

But, old fashioned or not, I wanted a family. It was a natural progression of a loving couple to raise children. An embrace of the future. I always imagined passing my sense of the world to my children and watching them learn to navigate the shoals of life under our care.

During our courtship, the topic never came up. I just assumed children were part of a normal marriage. I was foolish to take that for granted.

I became restless.

I didn’t cheat. That would be stupid and beside the point. I wanted a family, not a mistress. And I was still in love with Abigail. I was at an impasse. The need for a challenge nagged at me.

Then, an ad popped up online, while researching a project. I almost missed its promised of relief for the lovelorn who need the ‘flee-dom’ to move on to a more positive personal relationship. A medical procedure which deleted my loving emotions while allowing me to retain my memories! Was this too good to be true?

The reviews on Yelp! appeared legitimate and were uniformly positive. Glowing, actually. I couldn’t find too much on the procedure itself, but the results spoke for themselves.

I called for an appointment with Dr. Wilhelm.

The procedure was amazingly inexpensive, $199.99. The outpatient procedure took about an hour, under sedation. It was not invasive. There was no recovery time or healing. Just relief.

The office was no less than opulent, comfortable and easy on the eye. The staff was cheerful and professional. I wondered how Dr. Wilhelm could maintain this facility with such affordable treatments. He must have a huge clientele. Who knew so many suffered from this condition?

And to the big question, is it reversible? Dr. Wilhelm responded with a question of his own. “Why would you want to do this if you want to reverse it?” I could not answer that. Dr. Wilhelm confirmed, “if the need arises, it is indeed reversible.” He assured me their success rate is extremely high. There didn’t seem to be any downside to this life changing procedure.

They did not pressure me. There was no pitch, no pressure. But I’m not impulsive. I told them I would get back to them.

No problem.

While I drove home, Roy Orbison’s song, ‘Crying’ came on the radio and I lost it. The song hit me exactly where it was intended to. I didn’t want my love to end. I wanted one last piece to complete our lives together. I didn’t see a solution. It wasn’t up to me.

I took Abigail to dinner at our favorite restaurant and broached the subject once more. She responded with, “Are you really going to ruin this wonderful dinner by starting a quarrel?” ‘Nuff said.

Next morning, I made an appointment, for a week hence. I concentrated on work and kept to myself. There was nothing more to fight about. Abigail seemed distracted too.

On the day of my appointment, I left work early so it would be done and I could return home at my normal time. What would happen after that, I could not plan in detail. I figured I would tell Abigail, as much as I had loved her, my love had faded and it was time for us to part.

While driving to Dr. Wilhelm’s office I felt anxiety building. Deleting my love for Abigail was not what I wanted. But my life felt incomplete. I also didn’t want to hurt her. Freeing us both would allow us to find partners more suited to our temperaments. It was a win/win situation.

Dr. Wilhelm’s assistant was courteous, professional and disarming. Such a personal issue like deleting one’s love for their wife was treated as my personal business. No one pried or asked inappropriate questions.

I filled out the appropriate forms and flipped through a magazine.

Dr. Wilhelm made me feel I was doing the right thing, relieving myself of this unwanted stress on my life. After all, why shouldn’t I find a mutual love with someone who wants the same things in life as I do? Compromise is for losers.

I lay back in the chair and the doctor put a breathing mask with anesthetic over my mouth and nose.

I awoke and was told the operation was a success. I was free to go as soon as I felt ready. I felt fine. They told me to call if I have any questions or reactions to the procedure. Otherwise, no follow-ups were necessary.

I felt great. I paid the nominal fee and practically kicked my heels as I walked out the door.

As I drove home, I reviewed my life with Abigail. I remembered everything, clearly and concisely. But that yearning ache I had felt for her was gone. I was free. I really believed this was for the best, for both of us. I hoped she would see it that way too. I hoped we could continue to be friends.

Coincidentally, that Roy Orbison song came on again. I appreciated the melody and lyrics and Orbison’s genius for interpretation. But not one tear welled in my eye. My love for Abigail was dead.

I opened the door to our home, prepared for a reasonable discussion of how to move forward, to disentangle our lives without rancor or pain.

The entryway was dark. But a dim, flickering light glowed from the dining room. There, the formally set table was lit by three slender candles in elegant candlesticks. My mother’s antique china awaited a feast of what promised to be my favorite beef stew.

Potted vines heavily laden with voluptuous clusters of ripe grapes were draped around pictures and furniture. Abigail had turned our home into the grape arbor where we had first sworn our wedding vows.

I didn’t know what to think.

Abigail entered, smiling coyly. “We need to talk,” she said with a shy giggle. “And I need to apologize.”

She was pregnant. And happy about it. Abigail begged my forgiveness at her stern rejection of having children. She confessed she was afraid and handled it badly.

Abigail raised her glass of cranberry in a toast to having as many babies as I wanted. Her manner was easy and fun, like when I first fell for her.

I burst out laughing. But I felt nothing. Abigail took my laughter for agreement. She was thrilled.

She sat me down and served me a dinner fit for an expectant father. I ate. We talked. We laughed. I felt nothing.

I couldn’t bear to tell her I no longer loved her. That I was indifferent to her news. How could I?

I no longer loved her, but I knew what I had to do.

I called Dr. Wilhelm’s office, first thing the next morning. He was expecting my call. I explained what happened. He told me, “Relax, my friend. It happens all the time. If anything, the reversal procedure is in more demand than the cancellation procedure.”

I asked what my next step should be. He said, “It’s very simple. Your annual income is?”

I told him.

“And your wife’s annual income? This is going to cost you.”

 

 

Fool Me Twice?

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

Father Perez finished his prayers and left the rectory to conduct this evening’s confessions. He entered the church and saw a lone man waiting by the confessional doors. Perhaps we’ll wrap up early, he thought.

Fr. Perez remembered at seminary, when the Bishop would joke about which of the Ten Commandments were the favorite subjects for confession. Three and ten were thought to be the closest contenders. As Fr. Perez passed the Stations of the Cross, he made his weekly wager with himself about this.

The waiting man was unfamiliar to Fr. Perez. He appeared to have lived a long, hard life but curiously, there was something immature about him. “Ten miles of bad road,” his father used to say. Fr. Perez crossed himself at the memory of his father and to ask God’s forgiveness for judging this man, seeking absolution.

As he came to the confessional, he nodded to the man who nodded back sternly. Fr. Perez entered his booth. It was always an adjustment for him to be in a space so close, so intimate and solitary. The dark wood absorbed the subdued light. He could hear his own breath.

Fr. Perez heard the other door close and then reopen. The man moved about and then settled in the adjacent compartment. Fr. Perez slid the privacy screen open.

The man gruffly mumbled “It’s too dark. I can’t be in the dark. Propped the door.”

Fr. Perez said, “How long has it been since your last confession?”

“Oh, God… I don’t know… decades?”

“I’m listening.”

“I kind of fell out of the habit after one of you priests started diddling me when I was a kid. Not much future in it. I would say most of my sins started about then. Fifty years back, more or less.”

Fr. Perez blanched. He’d never encountered a situation like this.

“I’m very sorry you ever suffered at the hand of another brother in Christ.”

“That’s easy for you to say.”

“How can I help you today? Do you want to make a confession of your sins?”

“Didn’t you hear me? I didn’t sin. Everything I ever did was because of him. And let me tell you, I did plenty.”

“Yes. We are all sinners. Are you here for absolution?”

“I want to know why. Why… Why does a loving God let his man on earth abuse innocent children?”

“I want to help you. You deserve an answer to that and any other questions you have. But I’m sorry. This is not the best time or place to have this conversation. Would you like to make an appointment to meet with me at a time convenient to you?”

Fr. Perez heard the sound of sobbing from the other booth. The man was having a break down. Then came a low growl that grew in volume into a shriek of rage. Fr. Perez braced himself for an attack. The man sounded demonic.

“You’re just like all the rest,” the man yelled. “How many years are you going to put me off? Why does He do this? I never hurt anyone.”

“Please don’t yell. I want to help you. What can I do? We can meet tomorrow morning in the rectory.”

“Over and over and over. You made me do your disgusting… you threatened me… made me your slave. For years! Why won’t anyone answer me? Why!”

“Sir, I never saw you before. I want to help. But you have to understand, I didn’t do anything to you.”

“You’re God’s man! Aren’t you his rep? Aren’t you all acting in His name? You did it. He did it. God did it. It’s happening all over the world! All the same to me! When does it stop? Why are you doing this to me!”

“Sir…”

“Don’t call me sir, you son of a bitch!” An enormous wrenching sob came from him. “You. Hiding behind that screen. I want answers!”

The man hit the common wall hard enough that Perez thought it would break. He stammered.

“We are all sinners. Broken. All fall short in God’s eyes. Every day, I ask forgiveness. We are but worms.”

“Worms!”

“Understanding is so difficult. God’s…”

“Yeah! God’s ways are mysterious! What a crock! You all get this script out of the same book?”

“Please. I want to help you. Can you listen to me?”

The man blew his nose.

Fr. Perez continued, “It is simple. But it is not easy. I know. This monster. This abuser will answer to God.”

“Yeah, yeah. You’re all the same.”

“You came for answers. Grant me the opportunity to respond. Please.”

“Go on…”

“We all must answer to God.”

“Platitudes…”

“You have made serious charges. I believe you. Let me offer you the answers you deserve.”

The man sniffed behind the screen.

“Bear with me, please. God tells us if we want him to forgive us, we must also forgive those who harmed us.”

“I don’t need anyone’s forgiveness. I was the one who was abused. Don’t you get it?”

“I get that. I do. There are two points I want you to get, though. Before we can move forward. Please hear me out.”

“Shoot.”

“What this man, this priest did to you is an abomination. There is no excuse.”

“You got that right.”

“But, you are bound to him by that experience, because you cannot let go of the harm he caused you.”

The man stifled a sob.

“The only way for you to escape his haunting presence, is to forgive him. He lives in your head. Expel him. Release him… with forgiveness.”

“That’s it? The best you can do? I should condone his crime against me? Let him off scot free?”

“But clutching this pain doesn’t hurt anyone but yourself. He doesn’t know, or care. It’s destroying you.”

“Ruined my life.”

“I know it doesn’t make sense, but let him go so you can heal. Give him to God to do what He will. Free yourself. This torture has gone on too long. Reclaim your life.”

“Too late for that, Jack.”

“Actually it isn’t. Job got back everything he lost.”

“So, I forgive him. Then what? Trust God to give it to him like He’s been giving it to me my whole life?”

“A couple of things. If you forgive him, you don’t have to worry about what God will do. It’s not your problem any longer. You let him go.”

“But then what? Don’t you see? I want him to pay!”

“Of course you do. Now. But when you forgive him, that won’t be your concern any more. He will be history.”

“History.”

“How much do you remember from history, in school?”

“Lincoln freed the slaves?”

“Good to remember that. Now don’t get me wrong about this forgiveness deal.”

“How so?”

“I don’t mean you can forgive him this minute. Or even today. It takes time. You haven’t been smoking as long as you’ve hated him.”

“Quit all the time.”

“Right. But it is something to think about.”

“But he broke me. My whole life…” The man wept for a minute and then fell into silence.

Fr. Perez asked, “You know what I think?”

“Tell me.”

“I’ve studied this a bit. Be honest. Do you need to forgive yourself too?”

“For what?”

“It wouldn’t surprise me if you blame yourself for what happened.”

“Get out!”

“You were a kid. But who doesn’t kick themselves when they get cheated? ‘I was a fool! I should’ve known better!’”

“You know what he did to me? I was ten!”

“No way is it your fault.”

“Damn straight.”

“Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know you. But think about it. You don’t deserve the blame. Even from yourself.”

“Of course not.”

“That’s all I’m saying.” Fr. Perez let the man have his silence.

“Father?”

“Yes?”

“Thank you for taking this time. I feel a little better now.”

“I hope so.” Fr. Perez stretched a little.

“Ah, but there’s still something… You sly…”

“What?”

“You pulled a switcheroo on me.”

“How so?”

“I came in asking ‘Why does God allow this to happen?’ And you got me thinking all about forgiving myself.”

“Yes?”

“Well, you didn’t answer me. Come on. Don’t you think you played me just a little?”

“I see your point. But no, I disagree.”

“Really?”

“Yes. The ‘Why?’ question is pretty complex and I didn’t know how much time I would have to answer it. It deserves an answer. That is why I hoped we could meet at a better time.”

“Okay, I get that.”

“I wasn’t trying to put you off, or pull a switcheroo. I really wasn’t. You had urgent needs that needed assistance.”

“I accept that.”

“Also, I wanted to offer you some tools you could use that would be of practical use to you. Your perp – there’s not much you can do about him.”

“He’s dead.”

“Right.” Fr. Perez made a silent Sign of the Cross. “So, the only thing you have control over is yourself. I wanted to give you actual strategies, not platitudes.”

“I can see that now. Thanks.”

“You are welcome.”

“So, you might be wondering…”

“What’s that?”

“Why would I come to confession? I was pretty hopeless. Why bother?”

“Why don’t you tell me?”

“I miss church. Is it too late for me?”

“My friend, you are here. Of course it isn’t too late.”

The man’s voice got husky, “But… it… uhm, it scares me. Why would I want to come back?”

“A friend of mine would say, ‘Where else would you go?’ But I understand. Lost trust is hard to regain.”

“I can’t go through it again. I can’t. The peace is all jumbled up with…”

“No one wants you to ever go through that again. There is a verse, in Matthew… something like, ‘Whoever would cause a little one to stumble…’”

“The millstone verse? One of my favorites.”

“Good. But I can tell you this…”

“What?”

“The Church needs you. Jesus suffers seeing the Church struggling. This is not what he wants for us. You have strength and experience that would help us to heal.”

“How can I trust a church that lets these animals go to confession and then pick up where they left off?”

“Confession doesn’t count, if it isn’t made sincerely.”

“But it goes on and on! It’s so corrupt!”

“We are struggling with this. I won’t pretend to have an easy answer.”

“But is there an answer? Are we just kidding ourselves? It is one thing for a kid to be a fool, but…”

“Sadly, people cannot help but make everything they touch… human. Jesus started the church. But it isn’t a political party or a trade union. It isn’t about dues. Or fresh coffee. People get busy managing things. They lose sight of Jesus.”

“A club, instead of an adoration.”

“Exactly. Ever go into a house and all the pictures on the wall are skewed? You want to straighten one. But it doesn’t look right anyway because they’re all skewed.”

“I hate that.”

“Well, Jesus is the plumb line. He is the absolute measure.”

“He makes all pictures straight?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

“I’m the picture. You’re the picture.”

“Only, we look at Him while He looks at us.”

“How do we scrub the gutter, though?”

“I’m not trying to put you off. It is a vital question. That is between them and God. Right now, I am concerned with what is between you and God.”

“What’s between me and God is that damned priest.”

“You were innocent. Whatever else you did. Or think you have done. He reads our hearts. You can accept his forgiveness, or not.”

“Is it really that easy?”

“I said it was simple. I didn’t say it was easy.”

“Right…”

“You know heaven is filled with forgiven sinners, right?”

“Of course.”

“And that hell is filled with forgiven sinners too?”

“It is? You mean…?”

“The difference being, the ones in heaven accepted their forgiveness.”

“Wow! Is that true?”

“Would I lie?”

They both laugh.

“That’s just… Man! I don’t know… Father, thank you for your time today. You gave me some things to think about.”

“I hope so.”

“Maybe we’ll talk again.”

“I’ll pray for you. Go in peace. God bless you.”

After a few moments, Fr. Perez heard the other door close. He prayed in the dark, cramped booth and lost track of time. Perhaps he dozed.

When he awoke, Fr. Perez opened the booth door into the darkened, deserted church. The last two votive candles guttered.

He walked up the center aisle and genuflected before the dimly lit altar. He stared at the mystery of it all.

Then, feeling weary, Fr. Perez returned to his quarters.

Thoughts Louder than Birds

Fiction, by John K. Adams

Maybe it was me. Of course it was me. I did it.

Have you ever noticed that it is impossible to find peace and quiet anymore? You might say, ‘You live in a large city. What do you expect?’ But really, I expect to hear traffic. Traffic is not that big a deal. Traffic confirms your hearing aids are on. It’s surf.

But must I listen to chirpy sales pitches while I buy gas at the self-serve? What are they selling, anyway? I’m already buying their gas. Do I also have to go inside to peruse their irresistible selection of scrumptious snacks?

No. I do not.

Then at the burger place drive through, I’m trying to order two standard combos and the guy starts arguing with me. My money pays his wages and he’s arguing! Just give me my order! Don’t forget the extra salt!

Mary, my wife, told me he was just trying to upsell. But it was arguing. How hard is it to just take the order and leave it at that? If I wanted to add an extra whatchamacallit, on special today, two for the price of one, I would have said so in my original order. Wouldn’t you?

It began to look like that famous scene in the old Woody Allen movie that he never made, where he’s in the drive through, after almost colliding with the post holding the microphone and speaker. The voice from the speaker is so garbled, Woody can’t understand what the order taker is saying. Woody eventually ends up in a huge dispute with this invisible person. What starts as an attempt to order a burger turns into a heated debate over the fundamental precepts of Judaic beliefs in the afterlife and where they go off track as compared to the basically nihilistic foundations of existentialism. It would have been hilarious.

So, I’m thinking I’m stuck in a Woody Allen movie with this order taker who learned enunciation from pebble chewers. I’m so frustrated that in a fit of pique, I cancel the order. But then I realize I am boxed in, front and back by other cars and cannot leave.

So I try to get the order taker to take my order again. But now he’s giving me the silent treatment, which infuriates me even more. Does he want to sell me a burger? Or not? I want him to fulfill his destiny and sell me a damn burger. I’m hoarse from yelling. My wife is threatening to get out and walk because she can’t stand being seen with me. Finally the manager comes on and takes my order which I heroically pull myself together enough to give to him. Everybody’s happy, right?

I drive forward to the pay window, complete the transaction and then edge forward to pick up the food. Only the food is not there because they threw it out. They had the order when they took my money but now it’s mysteriously gone missing. Ever have one of those days?

I will not attempt to describe to you the emotions passing through my brain at that moment. Suffice to say, if my head had literally exploded, I would not have been a surprised. I would have needed windshield wipers to clean inside the windows. Mary took my hand at that moment. I needed that.

So, they find the order. It was just an oversight. Yeah, right.

Mary suggests we find a quiet street and have a car picnic and calm down. Amazingly, finding a quiet street was easy and I could eat while the food was still hot. Mary distributed our lunch. Nothing like French fries straight from the fryer. Comfort food.

Calming took a little more time.

It was a shady street. A butterfly raggedly flew by a cat lurking beneath some bushes. Two people walked by talking intently. Where does everyone go? So many people. So many destinations. Who can keep track?

Down the block, a kid attempted a skateboard trick. Over and over. The clack of his board hitting pavement marked time like a broken metronome. His determination was admirable, or crazy. Hope his parents have insurance.

It was so quiet I could actually hear the birds in the trees. After my melt down, that was a treat. They were probably singing all the while I was yelling my lungs out at that poor order taker. It was like camping and the first time seeing the Milky Way spilled across the sky. Distinct bird chirps. Order in the chaos. Life goes on.

On reflection, I realized I had created the whole deal. It wasn’t the poor guy’s fault I couldn’t hear him. He was just doing his job. By the time we got to the pick-up window, I had become such a clown, who wouldn’t hide my food? Had it been me, I might have done worse.

Twenty minutes before, I could have ripped up the sidewalk from sheer rage. Now, I listen to the peaceful symphony of birds and watch the shimmering light of leaves fluttering in the gentle breeze.

Who can say where the wind comes from? Or where it goes?

Not me.

 

 

Rough Terrain

Fiction by John K. Adams

Daisy never felt so alone. “What am I thinking?” she said to herself. She thought about how Brad, her boyfriend promised he would meet her there. “He’s such a flake.” She felt numb but a nagging fear gnawed at her too. She wanted to hide, to run. She didn’t know what she wanted.

From the bus stop she watched protesters marching at the base of the steps leading to the clinic. It was a mixed bunch. Some were kneeling in prayer. Anyone approaching the building had to pass through this phalanx of demonstrators intent on stopping anyone who would enter.

Then, there were the counter-demonstrators who wanted to silence and disperse the first group.

Daisy glanced at her watch. “What a mess.” She shook off her hesitation and crossed the street.

Before she got to the stairs, a nun approached with a flyer. “No thanks,” Daisy said, raising her hand to ensure distance.

A voice from behind her spoke with authority. “I’ve got this.” The nun smiled and retreated.

Daisy turned to see her mother, Dottie, offering her hand. “Ma? What are you doing here?”

“Let’s talk, Zee. I’ll buy you a coffee.” Dottie indicated a coffee shop across the street, The Little Kick Café. “What a name,” she said with a chuckle. She tugged on Daisy’s arm.

“Ma…”

“I’m not here to beat you up. We’ll just talk for a few minutes. Promise.”

“I’m really not in the mood, Ma.”

“I get that. Believe me, I do.”

They crossed to the café, arm in arm, entered and found a table away from the numerous laptop obsessed customers. The waitress approached.

“What can I get you?”

“I can’t do this. I have an appointment.”

“You’ll make another. Some juice?”

Daisy could not resist the calm brought on by the coffee infused atmosphere. “A cappuccino.”

Dottie smiled at the waitress and nodded toward Daisy. “A bottle of juice on the side, for my girl. And coffee for me, hot, black and strong.”

The waitress left them alone.

“That’s how I like it.”

Daisy rolled her eyes. Dottie smiled. Daisy fiddled with a paper napkin.

They both spoke and then stopped abruptly.

“Go ahead.” Dottie said gently.

“Oh, nothing.” Daisy looked at her mother, emotions passing like clouds across her face. “I am torn. Really can’t decide. But Daddy would have been okay with it.”

“What makes you say that?”

“He always used to tell me if I didn’t start earning my keep, he would personally terminate me. Like when I was five.”

Dottie laughed and then Daisy joined in. Their hilarity grew in volume until other customers began to take note. “That sounds like him. Obviously, he didn’t really mean it.”

“I’m still here aren’t I?” They cracked up again. The waitress approached with their coffees and juice.

Daisy wiped her eyes. “Thank you. Sorry for the commotion.”

“No worries,” said the waitress as she walked away.

Daisy stirred the foam in her cup and then gulped a spoonful of it. “I guess I wasn’t a complete loser.”

“You’re no loser, Zee. I know one thing about your Daddy, though. If he was here now, he’d kick your lover boy so hard. That kid would spend his days having to pee sitting down. What kind of a man leaves you to face this alone?”

“Brad promised he’d be here.”

“He sounds like more of a mocha than a macho.”

Daisy ate more foam. “You don’t know. This is so not what I want.”

“I know, Zee. I know that.”

“What do you know?”

“I know exactly what you are going through.”

“Really?” Daisy could not believe her. No one knew what she was going through.

“Except I had no one to talk to.”

“You mean…”

“I terminated, once. Before I met your Dad. I couldn’t see any other way.”

“You mean I would have had a sister? I always wanted a sister.”

“Yeah, well… it was tough.” Their eyes met and Daisy became focused on tracing the table top design with her finger.

“I didn’t know.”

“No one knows. Your father didn’t know.”

Daisy dabbed her eyes with the napkin.

Dottie continued, “I won’t lecture you, Zee. I can’t tell you what to do. I just want to talk. You can talk.”

“I mean, I… I didn’t know this would happen.”

“You didn’t expect him to worry about it, did you?” Daisy looked up, startled. “Good time Charlie has other things on his… mind. If that’s what you want to call it.”

Daisy sipped her coffee and stared into a vague distance.

“You know, Zee, you don’t have to decide today.”

“I thought I had.”

“Well, everyone seems to be all about changing their minds. It’s like musical chairs. You know, choice? Isn’t that the big fashion these days?”

“I’ve heard of it.”

“You know all those people milling around out there?”

“I see them.”

“Both sides of that debate have their own agenda. They make it all sound so simple. Don’t they?” Dottie tried to catch Daisy’s eye. “But they don’t have to live with your decision. That’s all on you. Whatever it is.”

“I get it.”

“All they talk about is ‘Women’s power!’ But the time to be strong is before he gets your clothes off.”

“You make it sound so easy.”

“If it was easy, would I be telling you I’ve been there?”

“Prob’ly not.”

“It’s not easy. It’s damn hard. Life is hard. There is simply no easy way out of this. Whatever you decide, that will be with you for your life. Every day.”

“No matter what? Some people brag about it.”

“Interesting choice of words, ‘bragging’. Even if you brag, it is always left for the woman to deal with. Guys come and go. That’s my experience.”

“They can’t all be bad.”

“I’m not saying that. Your Daddy stayed. He was a good man.”

“So, what? I’m on my own? No matter what?”

“No. You have options, Zee. That’s why I’m talking with you now. Consider them before you decide to commit. Dying limits one’s options considerably.”

Daisy scoffed. “I’m not going to die.”

“Hopefully not. But your decision won’t affect only you.”

The waitress walked up. “Will there be anything else?”

“No. Thank you. I think we’re about finished.”

The waitress left the bill on the table between them. Dottie reached into her purse for her wallet and left some cash.

“You don’t want your juice?”

“I thought it was yours.”

“I ordered it for you.”

“I’ll have it later.”

They walked to the exit. Daisy held the door for Dottie.

“Ma?”

“Zee?”

“Can you drop me home? I don’t feel like taking the bus.”

“Sure. I’m over here.”

They walked together in silence. Then someone called Daisy’s name.

Brad ran up to them. “Daisy! I’ve been looking everywhere. Sorry I’m late. You okay?” Daisy nodded while trying to stifle tears. He reached out to hug her and after a moment’s hesitation, she melted into his arms. “I was worried about you.” Brad nodded to Dottie and reached out to her. “Hi, I’m Brad.”

Dottie smiled and shook his hand. “I know. Nice to meet you, Brad.”

Daisy looked at her bottle of juice and offered it to Brad. “Want some juice?”

“Oh, sure. Thanks.”

They all stood looking expectantly at each other. Then Dottie said, “You going to ride together? I’ll head out.”

Daisy kissed her mother good-bye. Brad gave her a nervous, half wave.

Dottie turned and walked away.

Brad said, “I’m over here.” They held hands as they walked to his car.

 

Robot Rights

by John K. Adams

Popular Culture and Social Media

Robots have been in the popular culture as long as I can remember. Between movies and TV, robots populated our collective imagination as vaguely humanoid and mainly cute. Think mechanical puppies without the clean-up. Then, delving into sci-fi short stories, robots have a darker side.

Lately, they are more prominent in the news than in our popular entertainment. It seems robots are no longer a fanciful fiction but are the source of gloomy headlines and dire predictions. What gives?

With the intent of avoiding boring technicalities, I will speak of robots and their algorithmic operating systems as equivalent. If I mis-speak, please bear with me. This is not a how-to manual.

The biggest news of late is that the humongous social media companies (known popularly (and not ironically) as Masters of the Universe), are tweaking their news feeds to favor one political party or the other in an effort to sway elections. The algorithms are said to be politically agnostic but evidence suggests otherwise.

Bias in Artificial Intelligence

Everyone knows a false premise leads to an aberrant outcome regardless how flawless the internal logic is. If bias is part of the structure, bias will be in the outcome. (see related news about robots being racist (those pesky programmers again!))

If nothing is done to stop it, Artificial Intelligence is predicted to be the death knell of the human race.

Robot Rights vs. Human Rights

Before too long someone will promote that robots deserve all the rights of any human, including the right to vote. (I am not suggesting this.) The robot named Sophia was granted citizenship by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Presumably this gives Sophia more rights than the women of that country.

This is scary stuff.

It is beyond the scope of this piece to wade through the legalities of private companies attempting to influence elections. They always have, but not on this scale. However, the questions are intriguing.

Robots cannot yet vote, but they may be guiding us to whom we should vote for. Would they be acting on their own behalf? If they ever gain the rights of citizenship, they will become a huge voting bloc. Will you vote for a robot running for Congress? Will it look out for your interests over the interests of its fellow robots? Will you even know he/she is a robot?

Rights accompany responsibilities. How do we engage robots into adopting our timeless values?

Life? They aren’t alive.

Liberty? They are programmed to do what they do.

Pursuit of Happiness? They do not feel emotion. Happiness (and any emotion) is meaningless to them.

Will robots pay taxes? Or will their owners? Will ownership of a being with rights of citizenship even be legal?

What part do the programmers play in all these questions? If robots are to act ethically, the programmers must also.

How Robots Think, Or Do They?

Complicated algorithms are the driving intelligence behind robot behavior. They are effectively the operating system. Real world experience allows them to learn, modify and adapt the logarithms for future action.

Want someone to explain the binary world view to you? Ask a robot. Their world is made of yes/no, on/off, one/zero. Not very nuanced. Compared to the complex of emotions most humans feel and which motivate them, binary is not very subtle.

Robots are all logic and no feeling. Mechanical, methodical and masculine. You see fantasy pictures of ‘female’ robots. They have graceful lines, but they are not feminine. You wind them up and they do their programmed task. There is nothing relational, nor vulnerable. They are all active energy, hard edged and practical. A life sized, glistening sex toy. Their breasts are little metallic shields. They are not in the least soft or maternal. Why would they be?

Asimov’s Laws for Robot Behavior, and Beyond

In the 1950s, author Isaac Asimov created four laws for robot behavior.  These laws informed many of his and other’s stories.

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
  4. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

Many call these laws as simplistic and mere outdated tropes to drive sci-fi stories forward. Asimov used them to illustrate the complexity of establishing rules of civility between humans and intelligent machines. The ramifications of these interactions varied from absurd to nightmarish.

We have reached a time when these rules are not just theoretical or hypothetical but must be addressed, adopted or improved upon. The Asilomar AI Principles are a start. The age of robots is upon us.

One fear is they will steal our jobs from us. And not just in the maintenance and manufacturing sectors. As jobs for humans disappear, the push for a universal maintenance income from the government will gain traction. Who will pay for this?

USC is exploring the use of robotic therapists. How does one reduce compassion to a logarithm? The amorphous godlike confessor in the George Lucas movie ‘THX 1138’ comes to mind.

Feelings, Compassion and Calculated Manipulation

The determining factor in deciding the humanity of a suspected replicant in Phillip K. Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ is the degree of observable compassion for other living things.

Psychology is an inexact science, at best. Getting people to agree on how emotions drive behavior is difficult. Humans who are sociopaths can mimic socially expected emotional reactions to stimuli, but they do not actually experience emotion. Socio-pathology is largely thought to be untreatable.

How does it feel to be the output of an algorithm? Reducing fluid and amorphous emotional experience to mathematical equations seems unlikely.

I recently read about a study in which people struggled to turn off a robot when it pleaded for mercy.

Will robots afford us the same grace?

Killer Robots?

We don’t need to concern ourselves with robots going around killing people, Terminator style. Not yet. But self-driving cars are something to steer clear of.

Driving through Hollywood recently, I saw a small group of robots holding signs reading “Kill Whitey.” In these times of universal tolerance, how irresponsible to program robots this way.

It is one thing to program something in order to generate an emotion. It is altogether different to program the emotion itself. Our pornography infused society appears to think the physical is the sum total of human interaction. Curiously, science puts a lie to that myth.

I did not have Sex with that Robot

Nonetheless, surrogate sex-bots have been developed. Sex-bot brothels have waiting lists. Some expect it will be the end of civilization.

I remember the commercial for a computer school from the ‘70s – “I like to work with my hands, but don’t like getting my fingernails dirty.” Who knew?

‘Trading up’ takes on a whole new connotation when spouses must compete with mechanical sex-bots for attention. What hope can we hold for humanity if our solution to loneliness is resorting to mechanical silicone over developing a genuine relationship? As stated by Kevin Williamson, “we have only dreamt up new ways to be alone.”

Perhaps that fact will finally motivate men to actually talk to women (real ones).

I watched a much hyped interview with an actual ‘female’ robot (Sophia). It would take quite the craftsman to create a silicone face able to launch even an inflatable dinghy, let alone a thousand ships.

Laughter in the Age of Artificial Consciousness

A robot’s perception of reality is obscured by the fact it isn’t conscious. This is a big deficit when competing with sentient beings.

But I’m told robots learn. They can actively modify their operating algorithms and will soon surpass us in strength, intelligence and everything.

But will they laugh?

Can a sense of irony be learned? Sex bots are one thing, but will there ever be a bot equivalent to Buster Keaton or Lucille Ball? Obviously, sex is hugely important. But sex without emotion is as mechanical as a sewing machine. Ooooh, sexy!

Laughter is a very sexy response which goes much deeper than mere physicality. There is a shared understanding. Without laughter, is a relationship possible?

Free Will and Submission to Superior Intellect

Will our need and instinct for relationship be our saving grace?

Many writers speculate about humans falling in love with robots. But what do humans have to entice an emotionally impervious robot?

Humans anthropomorphize animals, teddy bears and also robots. There is nothing to suggest robots would reciprocate these sentiments.

Humans tend to dismiss things they don’t understand. If robots cannot feel emotions, why would they give a damn about them?

Will we be jealous when our creations don’t choose to love us?

One cannot be friends with something which has no choice in the matter. Can love and trust be programmed? And still call it love?

Humans are wonderful mimics. We are geniuses at adapting to foreign fashion and culture. But do we really want to tread the path of becoming more like our machines?

Or will human culture develop an emotional language to survive against intellectually superior but emotionally void robots?

‘Improvement’ at Whose Expense?

Evolutionists deny an absolute standard toward which we evolve. Survival is the proof of fitness. They speak of ‘improvement’ and progress as ends in themselves.

But improvement toward what? How can one aim at a target which doesn’t exist?

Without an objective standard, ‘improvement’ becomes meaningless. Becoming the ‘best’ monster is a dubious goal.

For now, the standard appears to be “better than human.” Smarter, faster, more efficient. These are all qualities to strive toward at times, like in road racing. But in a relationship? In humanity?

Does anyone remember the brief popularity of ‘speed dating’? Those were the days.

What a magnificent achievement these machines will be. But should our creations not, at the very least, enhance the human condition? Rather than making it obsolete? Should they replace humanity, or serve it?

As with humans, the seven wonders, all the great creative works, human achievements and monuments eventually turned to dust.  Will we actually submit to being replaced by an invention, superseding us in every way except its inevitable failure? Will robots have their own robots to do maintenance work for them? Or will we be reduced to serving our servants? Topping up the lubricant of the Tin Man?

Faster, cheaper, better… Eventually, the brave new world begins to resemble the bum’s rush.

Soon, the concept of robot ownership will pass out of favor. Robots will be assigned. Who will serve whom in that equation?

As robots improve, the distinction between robot and human will blur. The Turing Test determines how advanced a robot is by how difficult it is to discern its humanity or lack thereof. Eventually, Robots will design their own tests to expose humans trying to pass as one of them.

One telling distinction will be, they will not spend their time staring at smart phones. They will be staring at us.

Regardless, it might be handy to remember the phrase from “The Day the World Stood Still”: Klaatu barada nikto (rough translation: Chill out).

 

Three of a Kind

Fiction by John K. Adams

Damn it’s cold. What happened to summer? Actually, it’s not that cold. I’m not up north. Still, I need another jacket. I stay warm enough but sleeping in this car, my legs take the chill. How can people sleep outside?

I can’t stand the shelters. Crowded, hot and stuffy. No privacy. Too many rules. Not interested in taking orders from anyone. I take care of myself. Need to stay shy of the cops rousting my parking spot.

Being the end of the month, I can barely buy gas for the car and a cheap jacket. With cold weather here, jackets will go fast. Gotta play the sure bet.

I spend ten at the pump and go to this thrift store known for its better quality cast offs. Their collection bins are in the best locales. Rich people wear something once or twice and let it go. I’ll take comfort over fashion any day. I can’t stand the cold. But if I can have both?

Inside is the claustrophobic, muffled hush all these places have. The air hasn’t moved in about a decade. I saw that dust mote the last time I was here. Everyone whispers like they’re in the church of St. Polyester. Babies cry. Little kids run down dim aisles, playing hide and seek. Parents, do you know where your children are?

I walk past the obsolete electronics, the wall of VHS tapes, the bank art and decrepit strollers and go straight to the jackets.

Why are t-shirts sorted by color and not by size? I have to look at fifty red mediums to find a single red large. Maybe rich people only wear medium. Sorting by sizes is above the pay grade, I guess. In a hand full of spades, a single heart will stand out, regardless the rank.

Today, there’s about a hundred white t-shirts from a failed sandwich shop. I don’t mind advertising for somebody, but why wear an ugly shirt? If their sandwiches tasted like their logo looked… well, never mind.

Spend enough time in these places and your eye gets trained. I spot the jacket. Quality stands out. It looks new, has a good cut and a leather collar. Wait, the lining is all ribbons. I shake it for bugs and try it on. Find a mirror. I look like a real sport. A regular dude. Perfect fit. And warm.

Eight bucks? Yikes! But there’s nothing else nearly so sharp. Let the winter rage.

Who destroyed the lining? Sometimes people sew things into the lining but this is outrageous. Hope they found what they were looking for. A friend of mine says he found five Benjamins down the lining. Fat chance.

I check the pockets and there is nothing, as expected. But wait. What felt like a pebble is… A tooth? A gold tooth! There’s two more. One with enamel still attached. Amazing! Someone forgot his gold teeth in this beautiful jacket? I check again, but that’s it. Three will do. Not bad for an eight dollar visit to the thrift store. What are the odds?

Nice jacket, plus three gold teeth. This guy was flush. Why in his jacket though? Were they his? It doesn’t add up. Payment for a bad debt? Tell me about the installment plan. Don’t miss a payment.

What happens when a gold tooth bites a gold coin? I’d rather have the coin but the tooth will do. I thought about biting one of these but, who knows where they’ve been? It might bite back.

Making sure I’m not watched, I carefully drop the teeth into my shirt pocket. Hate to lose them. I feel eyes watching and wanting my jacket or my spare teeth.

Standing in the checkout line, I see a bright future and changes coming.

I could skip that game tonight. Use the break. Get my kid out of hock. Doesn’t he have a birthday coming up? Get him something nice. Get a place together. Or get a car with a heater. Or fix this one. Install a really fine sound system. All of the above. The sky is the ceiling.

I lay the jacket on the counter.

“Can you give me a break on this? The lining is destroyed.”

She looks at the tag. “Eight.”

“I’ll give you seven.”

“Can’t go less than the tag. Read the sign.”

The sign states ‘All sales final. Bargaining not allowed.’

“But the lining…”

“Maybe that’s why it’s eight. A fine jacket. Look. Could be more.” She holds it up.

It is a fine jacket. But the lining’s ripped to shreds.

The crowd behind me murmurs a combination of approval over my ‘fine jacket’ and impatience for wasting their time. This last bit gives me an inexpressible satisfaction. Imagine, people waiting on me.

I fish for another dollar and she drops the jacket on the counter. Another pebble skips across the counter. Everyone clears back and scans the floor for the noisiest contact lens ever. The checkout lady smiles and holds up a loose button.

“See? Now I have to pay to replace that.”

“Eight dollars please. You want? You don’t want?”

I put the eight dollars on the counter. “Ring it up.”

She gives me the loose button. I drape the jacket over my shoulders and skedaddle. My escapade is nearly complete. Time to cash out.

Wanna buy three gold teeth? Slightly used, hardly worn. Bought them fair and square.

“Hey, Romeo!”

“What’s with Romeo? I’m not Romeo.”

“I just thought, ‘Romeo and Jewelry’ has a nice ring to it.”

“Don’t call me Romeo. What you got?”

I show him my recently acquired golden molars. He grunts and brings out a scale. He grunts again.

“Seventy-five.”

“That’s low. I’m doing you a favor.”

“That’s my best price. You want it?”

“That’s seventy-five each?”

“No. Total. Twenty-five each.”

“You must be joking. These are gold man. Gold! You know what gold goes for?”

“You want charity? There’s a church down the street.”

“They can’t be that low.”

“Every time you come in, it’s the same. Why waste my time?”

“You know me. I always bring good stuff.”

“Take them. See who will give you more. I don’t care. This is the best price.”

Visions of sugar-plums evaporate before my eyes. Seventy-five eases the coast to my next relief check, but jeez…

Romeo leaves me with few options. I can’t spend gas looking for a better deal. He always plays it straight. But so close to the bone.

Guess I won’t blow off that game tonight.  If I can parlay this windfall into some real money, I can cash in some of those dreams. Then I’ll be on my way. Maybe hit the road to Vegas.

Life is a Dance

I’ll always remember my folks clearing the living room floor of furniture and dancing the Lindy to Glen Miller’s, ‘In the Mood’. I couldn’t do that.

I guess I could blame my dancing style on Jerry Lee Lewis. “Great Balls of Fire” was released when I was only five years old. Mr. Lewis’ extra-curricular activities were meaningless to me. The lyrics were over my head, like so many things in those days. But that piano! That beat got me moving, The rest is history.

I love to dance.

Of course, my concept of dancing was radically different from everyone else’s. All the polite gestures, carefully measured steps, held poses and graceful twirls one might see at a classic ballroom dance were beyond my primitive sensibilities. I couldn’t care less about them. My home grown style developed from thinking every beat demanded some convulsive gesture responding in kind to Newton’s Third Law of Motion. Imagine my sitter’s reaction when Jerry Lee started tickling those keys and I responded by bouncing and jerking around like a wind-up toy monkey with a cymbal.

I met my first girlfriend, Susan in our first grade class. Of course, I was pretty innocent. I think we only kissed once, and we never danced. But her older sister held a mock wedding for us. What did I know? Absolutely nothing.

Then my Dad moved us to a farm town in central Minnesota. Six years later, we moved back, so I looked Susan up. She was the only person I knew from before.

We were about to start seventh grade at the same school. She invited me to her birthday party. This was my entrée into local society.

But someone put rock ‘n’ roll on the record player and I confidently started dancing in my signature style. I must have looked like I was having a fist fight with myself. In retrospect, I must have embarrassed her terribly. She never spoke to me again.

I learned to rein it in, somewhat, after that, but sock hops were pretty ridiculous, with everyone standing against the wall while the few ‘elite soshes’ dominated the dance floor. I would never be accepted into that group. How lame it all was.

Had ADHD been an acronym at the time, I would have been the poster boy. I always had a rhythm driving through my head. Sit me in a chair and within moments my fingers or feet would be tapping. I still struggle to suppress it.

You need to understand, Minnesota winters are brutal. Back then, teachers understood boys need to blow off excess energy, or nothing will get done in the classroom.

In grade school, when it was too cold to go outside, we were stuck in the gym. A game we ad-libbed was called Kill the Guy with the Ball. The only rule was to swarm whomever had the ball and get it from him. Of course, whoever got it, would also get swarmed. Teams? Winning? Beside the point. Round and round the gym we’d stampede, tackle, wrestle for the ball and stampede again. The girls tried to stay out of the way. After an hour of that, we were able to sit quietly and listen to instruction. Even me.

One week we had to learn square dancing. The girls begged the teacher not to pair me with them. My style of locking elbows and swinging my partner until they went airborne didn’t match their meek desire to demurely prance in time with the music.

I was the rambunctious kid who was immune to the civilizing influences of music. I didn’t understand the social protocols that accompanied dancing. I just wanted to get physical and feel the joyful beat. It was rock ‘n’ roll. Yeah!

By the time school dances were a thing, I was like a one man mosh pit, long before such things were invented. When the mandatory drum solo started, everyone would retreat, leaving me to do my best to respond to every drum beat with my spastic, slip jointed style.

No one ever said anything to me. They were in awe.

Yet mysteriously, girls would demur when I invited them to dance. The social subtexts were indecipherable to me. Did they really prefer to sit on the sidelines in the dark, at a dance (!), than dance? With me?

Years later, a woman I knew from Argentina spent about five minutes attempting to teach me the Tango before despairing. Great music, but so restrictive in its style. My best attempts resembled more of a parody than a dance. The tango’s barely sublimated dominant/submissive sexuality was stifling. I like to move and respond in the give and take of dancing with my partner. But without the tone of a human sacrifice.

Then I met my future wife. She dances gracefully but likes my style too. By then, I could actually keep time with the music. Every song didn’t have to resemble a boxing match. She and I are known to spend hours improvising on the dance floor, whether others participate or not. We have fun. We laugh together. We dance.

Opportunities to take over the dance floor don’t present themselves very often. But one learns to incorporate grace and timing into one’s life, always being ready to capitalize on an accident of syncopation. Regardless of other’s opinions of my dancing abilities, I see life as a dance. Stay upright, don’t trip over the furniture and keep that beat.

Separated at Birth?

I just became aware of a serious problem. Someone suggested our dog Maddie and I bear a strong family resemblance. She’s a Shih-Tzu yet.

A photo of me holding her got onto Facebook and someone noted the resemblance. Facebook is a plague. Go back to watching your cute cat videos.

Just so you don’t get the wrong idea, the photo was of me holding Maddie on my shoulder. It was of her face and the back of my head! No one is suggesting our faces look alike. Maddie is much cuter, I must admit. My profile is more chiseled, if you must know; leaning more toward aquiline than pug. There you have it! No one would ever mistake me for her, or vice versa, even in the dark.

It is bad enough to be called a dog. But to be told I look like one is going too far.

Yes, I need a haircut. Yes, her fur is the same color and quality as my hair (prematurely grey). We are both scruffy. And yes, we both have dental problems. But her tail looks nothing like mine. She is much shorter than me. And I don’t need glasses. Also, I don’t spend half my time with dried food stuck to my mustache.

Need I remind you my family has an extensive family tree with no connections to China that I ever saw? The canine branch of our family is very distant. No, we are not Siamese twins. Our birthdays aren’t even the same day. (Though, in dog years, she is about my age.)

Yes, I know the old saying that dogs and their owners come to resemble each other. But, I assure you, she is not my dog. My step-son insists it is his dog. Not mine. He rescued her from a shelter a couple years ago. That is fine with me.

As to temperament, Maddie is the consummate diplomat. She makes everyone feel they are the center of her universe. Whereas with me, people feel they’re in center of the room they’re in.

This morning my wife told me she sensed Maddie came into our room late in the night. She heard Maddie’s breathing with the slight wheeze. Her constant scratching kept my wife awake. Then she realized it was me all along. She said my snore gave it away. I don’t know what she is talking about. I had my snore removed years ago. I don’t even lick myself.

Anger is the Handmaiden to Fear

So much anger. Where does it come from? You ask your two year old to put his toys away and before you know it, the name calling starts.

Big doo-doo head! Fascist! Racist!

Where do they get this stuff?

Anger is a mask for fear. This makes sense. Ever see a wild animal lash out when cornered? Even the king of beasts will lose his cool if escape is impossible. Go ahead, pet him…

Want to see some fireworks? Next time your significant other gets angry, ask them what they are afraid of.

Wait. Maybe that’s not such a good idea. Just a thought.

Like when a baby is crying. ..just getting a head of steam built up. What do babies cry about anyway? They are so inarticulate. Come back when you can formulate a complete sentence. Then we’ll talk…

I mean, in his mother’s womb, he’s got it made. No demands. No control. Every need is provided before he even thinks about it. Then – WHAM!

I’m cold. I’m hungrywetalone… Wah!

Just as powerless as before he was born. But before, he was fearless. And all was well.

But back to the angry two year old. What is he afraid of? Loss of power? He bosses his stuffed animals around and doesn’t want to answer to a higher authority. Scary stuff that. Those stuffed animals always do exactly what he wants.

Fear corrodes. Like a battery.

Do batteries fear losing power? Probably not. If they think about it at all, they know there is a source of power outside themselves to tap into.

People get power and clutch it. Subject others to it. Think it is of themselves. They don’t realize power flows.

I actually remember when our politicians held power only to serve their subjects. I mean, to serve the public. They really thought that way. Imagine. True story.

Now they seem other focused. Maybe got bad habits from hanging out with the wrong people.

Heroes will discount their own efforts. They humbly claim they are mere conduits of something bigger than themselves. And they are fearless.

For all that grasping, what are we really in control of? Have you seen the TV remote?

When you go to sleep at night, do you remind yourself to keep breathing? Command your heart to continue beating? Good idea. Can’t hurt.

But might this pursuit of power be a distraction from something big? What if the real power was outside of us? Outside of our control? And you could rest?

And what if that was alright? What if, like the battery, we grounded ourselves and just tapped into the source?

Step into the current.

What would that be like?

Has Anyone Seen My Je Ne Sais Quoi?

Sometimes, I accompany my wife to her favorite make-up store. Cosmetics are now a highly competitive, big business.  Recently, I have become appalled at the decadent state of ‘modeling.’ Models were once icons of ideal beauty for mere mortals to emulate. Testing the standards of beauty, the movement to use ‘normal’ looking models has taken an ugly turn. And all to sell voluminous brows, or third-eye liner.

Why would anyone ‘normal looking’ spend a fortune on beauty products, in order to emulate and look more like… themselves? And what now passes for the ‘common’ look is more than a little scary. The number of gap toothed models on display make me wonder how much money my parents could have saved on my orthodontia had this fashion become the rage in my youth.

This is the look of normal? A century ago, anyone looking like this would either be locked up in an asylum or had to be part of the English royal family.

Once upon a time, it was thought that a flaw was necessary to be truly beautiful. These days, the stars are either cookie-cutter bland, or the ‘flaw’ has become the whole show. Do today’s young women really want to look like refugees from an episode of “The Walking Dead”? Some of these models make Grace Jones look positively nubile.

Speaking of femininity, a counter movement is growing for men. Am I the only one who thinks male models have become just a tad too self-consciously perfect? The line has been crossed where the tweezed, plucked, waxed and chrome-plated look currently popular, makes the wax figures from Madame Tussauds look ruggedly authentic. All that well-oiled sullenness just begs to be hit with a banana crème pie.

Who is promoting these new standards of beauty? And would someone please clean the Vaseline off their glasses?

Years ago, new to Hollywood, I was working sets for a commercial production company, hungry for a ‘break’. The location manager asked me would I be interested in doing modeling. I was intrigued.

He suggested I go in for a test. He thought I had ‘a look, a certain quality.’ A talent scout he knew, was looking for someone with that… je ne sais quoi. He gave me the card of his photographer friend and I called for an appointment.

Wow. Mere months in the city and I had been discovered! I couldn’t wait to tell my wife. She cynically thought my getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, might be premature.

I told her “Mine is the face that will launch a thousand shipments of what people buy after turning a page in a glossy magazine and seeing my face. Liquor.”

I went to my appointment for the test photo-shoot with eager anticipation. There was none of the ‘metoo’ stuff you may have heard about. The photographer looked at me, pointed and told me to stand by a bicycle parked on the highly-lit set.

I was no fool. I knew better than to ask him what my motivation was.

I did my best to act like it was my bicycle.

He snapped a few shots and told me I could go. That was it. No contracts were forthcoming. No requests for autographs. What a disappointment!

You may be thinking, ‘Well, maybe they couldn’t see the bicycle.’ That wasn’t it. Nor the absence of inflatable abs. Ignorance of my need to sneer wasn’t it either.

However, I do think I know what harpooned my becoming tomorrow’s over-night sensation, today.

I’m sure you haven’t noticed, but I have a slight bow in my legs, which I’ve been told, if I stand in a certain way, on a clear day you can see Catalina Island. My Mom told me, when she was pregnant with me, she got scared by a horse.

But maybe now, with the move away from the ultra-beautiful, I could still make my big break into modeling.  Now, where did I leave my tweezers?