The Final Minute

We’re hunkered down for the virus. Well, sorta. I’m at home, like we’re supposed to be, but my wife’s at work at the small store she’s managed since it opened 10+ years ago. Because I’ve worked from home for years, and she’s at the store, our life somewhat resembles what it was before Clovid-19. Except my wife and her boss are offering curbside service now; and her store’s cooking classes have been cancelled; and they’re wiping the place down after each customer. Cue the black & white film stock.

Meanwhile, back here at the house, when we set aside what appears to be normalcy and take a good hard look at our hand scrubbing, and the absurdly long stares we give table tops and silverware before we touch them, and the paranoia we face when a package arrives at the door and we’re unsure the health of its senders, its carriers, its deliverers, it feels like we’re living through some sort of Walking Dead shit where bleach replaced machetes and my wife and I feel the need to debate kissing. Yeah, kissing. We breathe the same air, share the kitchen and bathroom, and a bed. But set aside logic, I’m searching for time.

I spoke with Mom tonight. We talk often. But our calls feel more precious now. She’s 98. I’m almost 60. We’re in Covid-19’s crosshairs. Both of us. But my priority is my life. Not hers. Because a mother shouldn’t watch her only son be buried. Not after she’s put so much effort into keeping him alive. I have to outlive her… by at least one minute.

I’m an only child who’s lived from a wheelchair for 50 years, a child whose mother willed him through a decade-long battle with a deadly illness, a mother’s child who wishes that as an adult I had eaten better, kept exercising, traded screen light for sunlight. For just that minute.

Daddy died 25 years ago. That’s when I knew my job. It was to get healthy. So I began swimming and eating organic — protecting my life. For her. But then I met someone and settled in, got lazy and careless, rediscovered doughnuts. How many minutes did that doughy goodness cost me? It matters now.

My childhood was spent in hospitals, but I was rarely alone. I was often afraid, but fear was never allowed the ground to root. Because Mom was there. 

My mother’s constant presence and her devotion shaped me into an optimist despite the Hell around us. But to leave her without her child would be to abandon her to a different Hell/the worst Hell. How can I abandon her when she never abandoned me?

One minute.

I missed grades 7-12. Illness. But ten years later I graduated from a top tier university, married a woman far above my grade, started a surprisingly successful business that lasted until the 08 crash took it down. You know how and by whose invisible hand. You know.

Yet you can’t ignore dark clouds or ticking clocks. The machinery continues. It’s up to us to adjust. To “stay in place.” To breathe less deeply until the virus passes. Tick Tock. Tick Tock.

My wife and I are in our fifties. We don’t have kids. I am an only child. That means our DNA’s speeding down a straight two-laner and heading toward its end. No exits. No attractions. Just an end. By Covid-19 or whatever. And I’m okay with that.

As long as I last those final 60 seconds.

Bernie’s Brand

I’m going to tell you what doomed the Bernie Sanders campaign. It wasn’t policy. More than 50% of voters want Medicare for All.

It wasn’t his age. He’s sharp and energetic.

It wasn’t because he isn’t a Democrat. That’s not widely understood.

And, finally, it wasn’t the Bernie Bros. Most voters aren’t on Twitter.

So what doomed Bernie’s campaign? Branding.

Bernie Sanders has had the corner on young voters since 2016. Democratic voters forty and fifty years younger than the guy follow and adore him. Almost worship him. But the young are not enough when it comes to Presidential elections. One, they’re remarkably undependable. They go to rallies but not to polls. Two, there just aren’t enough of them. Their numbers and behavior are overshadowed by older, more reliable voters. And it’s those voters, Boomers and their parents, whom political candidates need in order to win.

But older voters are suspicious of, and even fearful of, terms like “Revolution” and “Socialism,” and have been for as far back as the Cold War. It’s a red scare concern that was burned-into them when Boomers were the age Bernie’s youthful supporters are today. Still, Bernie could have overcome this.

Bernie Sanders wants to be a socialist far more than he is a socialist. At heart he’s just a good old fashioned liberal, the boring old school vanilla kind of liberal that Boomers grew up hearing lauded by their Democratic parents and grandparents and that Boomers themselves once supported.

What Bernie ignored as he clung to his revolutionary brand was that if you’re over fifty, like Boomers are, it was drilled into you as a child that Roosevelt saved America from the (Republican-caused) Great Depression. FDR is a god to older Democrats. And if Bernie’s connection to FDR had been highlighted, his policies would have been revealed to be extraordinarily familiar, even comforting, to the silver-haired set. And two generations of older Democratic voters could have been added to his youthful base. And that could have brought him close to the 50% of delegates he needed to win the nomination. Yet that, too, would not have been enough…

Bernie Sanders also needed the African-American vote. But that’s a hard nut to crack. Black voters are intensely loyal and pragmatic voters. And Joe Biden was Obama’s wingman. But Bernie could have cut into Biden’s numbers by pitching himself as the Second Coming of LBJ.

Lyndon Baines Johnson began Medicare. That alone demolishes the argument that MfA is pie-in-the-sky madness and bridges the divide between an iconic and historic President and left-of-center Bernie. But even more than Medicare, LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act. That was back in 1965 when Bernie was still getting himself arrested for protesting in the streets for civil rights — arrested as in there are police records, newspaper photos, even newspaper interviews! What other Democratic nominee could carry that kind of bonafides with older black voters? Hell, not even Harris or Booker have been arrested championing civil rights, and they’re African-American! And, yes, Biden stood respectfully at Obama’s side for eight years, but he first fought like hell opposing school busing, then wiped the floor with Anita Hill, and next championed the Clinton crime bill that unnecessarily incarcerated thousands of young African-American men. Joe was vulnerable on racial issues. Kamala Harris made that evident when she attacked him in the debates and raced to the top of the polls. But Bernie rarely touted his own civil rights history, at least not to the degree a politician needs to.

And so here we are.

Most of us of a certain age want to be James Dean. We want to be rebels. So, apparently, does Bernie Sanders. But Bernie held onto “socialist” and “revolution” a little too long and failed to pursue older African-American voters in terms they would have readily related to. And that sucks for America far more than it sucks for him. Because we need Bernie. The man not the brand.

The Darkness Cult

I am a liberal, but I love strong political debate. I want to be challenged. I want conservatives to change my mind. To make me see the light. To make me smarter. As Proverbs says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

But at this point some of the smartest people I know have locked themselves in their small dark (and it is dark) room where they are fed lies they consume whole and vomit up with impunity.

This isn’t conservatism we’re dealing with. This isn’t the Republican Party that once sided with America. This is a cult in the shape of conservatism, like the Moonies were a cult in the shape of Christianity. I don’t know how we fight this, but another Bible verse, Ephesians 6:12, comes to mind: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

We are not fighting ideas. Not anymore. We are fighting against an enemy that ignores reason. That ignores science. That ignores fact. That does not view human beings as human beings but as races and religions and nationalities. It is at its core the rejection of… us.

How do you respond to a Crusade?

EMG (electricity)

Ann Arbor, Michigan. Two of us were in a small windowless room. It was dark. I was nine-years-old. Outside, my mother waited in the hall. But in the room, leather straps bound me to a gurney so that I was unable to move. Needles had been pressed into the muscles of my upper and fore arms, my abdomen, my thighs, calves, feet and hands. The needles were connected to wires that were plugged into a control board that housed a row of potentiometers. A young man, the second person in the room, turned a dial, and electricity surged into my right deltoid. The current stung, burned, caused my muscle to quiver. I screamed. He returned the dial to neutral.

Mother was born on a ranch in deep Baptist Texas. She had been raised to follow the rules and, this morning, she was commanded by a young man half her age but who donned the authority of a white lab coat to leave her third grader and to sit in the hall. She did what she was instructed to do. The young man turned another dial. Another muscle stung, burned, quivered. I screamed and begged him to stop in the childlike way that nine-year-olds beg adults to stop, “I’ll do anything you want me to! Please, please, please stop! I’ll do anything you want!” It didn’t work. He turned another dial.

When I was five, we lived in Muncie, Indiana. I pressed a safety pin into an electrical outlet in our living room. The current coursed through my fingertips and I fell to the floor. 

Another surge of electricity traveled from the power outlet to the board and through a wire into my body. The muscle stung, burned, quivered. I screamed. My mother waited outside the room in the hall. She was doing what she was instructed to do.


Terrorism isn’t the destruction of a building. Terrorism changes your priorities far more than it changes your skyline. Terrorism plunders everything because of that singular necessity: survival. 

It begins with a loss of equilibrium. Your brain feels like it’s melting into fluid and is becoming unmoored from your skull. As the room spins, your hearing and eyesight no longer convey faithful representations of the space and sounds around you. Finally, if these signals accurately represent what’s going on within the wiring that is your brain, you sense nothing at all, and you won’t until you regain consciousness.

You wake in a pool of urine. It’s wet and warm underneath you, or cool if it’s been awhile. During those first conscious moments, you cannot cognitively put words to your name, nor the day, nor the month, nor your location. And so, when you’re asked questions, even the most basic questions, your response is that you don’t know. But you do know the people you love, and you’re comforted if they are there.

As you embrace your foggy cognizance, you are sleepy, very sleepy, and you should be. Your brain just ran a five minute marathon and has nothing left to spend. Your body, too, has thrashed and pushed and contracted and contorted until it burned every ounce of fuel it had in reserve. Left with nothing, barely even thought, your bewilderment turns to calm. You fall asleep. You will wake an hour or two later and will feel as if you have never before experienced such complete and perfect rest. You have never felt better.

I was nine years old when I experienced my first grand mal seizure. It occurred in a Chicago motel room in the winter of 1970, the day after my doctor changed my massive dose of prednisone and a week after an unforgiving head-first fall onto a concrete garage floor. Dr. Harrell said he didn’t know if it was one of those events or my newly diagnosed autoimmune disorder, dermatomyositis, that caused my epilepsy. It didn’t matter. That seizure and the ones which would follow, as much as my recent confinement to a wheelchair, would control my family’s life through my teens and into adulthood, not because the seizures were daily, but because their threat was.

Auras” sound lovely, spiritual, but to an epileptic like I had become they were the precursor. Auras signified that I was on the cusp of a seizure, and sent me fleeing to a space free of triggers. My flights became so common that my family – myself, my mother and father – developed a routine: I crawled into my head, closed my eyes, tried to tune out every sound and stimuli; my dad rushed across the living room, silenced the television; my mother hurried my wheelchair into my bedroom, pulled the top covers down; Daddy lifted me onto the sheet; Mother pulled the window shades tightly shut (even the smallest gape in the curtain was an opening for light and a cause for panic); Daddy left for the bathroom; Mother sat by me, whispered that she was near; Daddy returned with a cool damp washcloth; Mother placed it over my eyes, removed light’s final opportunity. Then we waited, in silence: me on the bed; mother on a nearby chair; my tall father on his feet, reclined against the far wall, watching. I shushed every utterance, quietly, seeking the least disturbance possible. I sought only isolation. I dived deep into its void for protection. 

The quiet lasted a few minutes, or fifteen, or thirty; every episode was different, if always the same. The result, most days, was a clearing head and then a cautious return to the living room. But on some days, more days than anyone would want, I dropped into a ferocious convulsion as my parents looked on at their only child as I jerked and twisted and growled unaware, until I stilled and, in time, woke.

“Did I pass out?” I asked. Rarely came the answer I hoped for. ‟You did, but you’re okay now. Daddy and I are here.” Mother’s words were without fail gentle and never without her touch. Daddy smiled at me, motioned to her; she removed the cloth from my forehead. He disappeared, returned with the cloth freshly dampened and cooled, “Here you go.” His powerful voice was tender like Mother’s. She placed the cloth on my forehead. He sat on the bed, caressed my side, “How you feelin’, Pal?”

“I don’t know.” Words were too confusing. Answers impossible.

“Why don’t you go back to sleep?” Mother asked. ‟I’ll be right here.” I drifted off.

We believe as adults that we’re autonomous and strong. We dismiss the herd instinct we understood so well as children. We pretend there’s something more sacred than conformity. But five minutes of uncontrolled shaking and writhing brings to mind nothing holy but everything sinister. Convulsions, the loss of control to chaotic unseen forces, are the bane of creatures who need conformity. People were feared for this, imprisoned for this, killed for this. And, when a child among children exhibits this demonic-like activity, our primitive nature is empowered; we are helpless before that kind of helplessness; especially scared are the young. Children observing this affliction become as afraid as the epileptic – afraid of the epileptic.

“Your seizures aren’t anybody else’s business.” Daddy was firm, drilled that phrase into my head. Within his warning was the implication that people would think I was crazy, “They won’t understand.” I never seized in public, yet Daddy assured me that even the hint that I could would doom me. He was a private man and frequently urged me to keep family business within the family. But his admonitions to keep my secret our secret were different, pleading, like my exposure put us all at risk. I reached young adulthood before I understood. 

It happened in 1936, a car wreck on the outskirts of Granger, Texas. The vehicle flipped, and a teenage boy was thrown head first from the old convertible. My father’s first seizure followed. Another would see him kicked out of the military during the war in which his best friend died a hero. I don’t know how many more seizures there were or under what circumstances. He never told me. But I do know that they so terrorized him that our doctor in Michigan had no idea that he had ever convulsed. That secret was held by a Texas doctor who prescribed the medication that arrived at our home in unmarked white boxes from twelve hundred miles away. Yet, despite his decades of caution, that thing which Daddy fled had found him. In his son. For him to watch.

Terrorism is unrelenting.

Event Horizon

Oscar was hunched over his desk while Heidi stood waiting. He was focused on the contract the producers emailed him a few days earlier. He looked up. A nervous chuckle replaced the nothing expression of his mind at work, “This is more money than I’ve ever made — combined!”

His manager’s job was to reassure him, to keep him on-track. “Those psychopaths you conjure have been an ATM for the studio for years.” She nodded at the contract, “This is where you cash-in.”

He glanced at the enormous number on the contract, “What if I can’t live up to that? What if I can’t bring him to life?”

“You’ve got this, O! But, hey, only one schizo at a time, right? We’ve got to get this film out there first.” He nodded, understood. “Good!” she said. “I arranged for a car. It’ll be here in the morning at eight. Be ready!”

Oscar’s wife, Mandy, entered his office from the hall. She stepped around Bruno the Golden Retriever and past her husband’s collection of Houston Astros memorabilia, including José Altuve’s game-winning bat from their 2017 World Series victory over the Yankees, and handed Oscar his mail, “It’s a light day. A funny post card, though. It even looks a little like your handwriting — hey! a fan! — but with anything but your opinion! I’ll leave so you can get started on the ranting.” She stepped out of the room and Oscar found his way to the solid black postcard at the back of the stack. He turned it over, read its message, laughed; his wife was right.

“What’s so funny?” Heidi asked. He handed her the postcard. “What’s Event Horizon?”

Oscar was appalled, “You haven’t seen Event Horizon?” She stared at him with an I-don’t-give-a-fuck expression. “Where a mysterious force from a black hole causes everybody on a spaceship to start hallucinating?” He waited. “Murder? Mayhem?”

“Sorry. No go.”

His tone turned grave, “You’re fired!”

“Nice try!”

“Rent it tonight. I’m not kidding! It’ll be the best two hours you’ve ever spent.”

“Yeah, that’s happening.” She nodded at the contract, “Sign on the dotted line, fanboy, then go pack your bags. We’ve got places to be.” Oscar signed the contract and she pulled it from his desk. She turned for the door, “Eight A.M. Try not to be late this time. L.A. awaits!”

Heidi exited the room, and Oscar flipped the post card in his hand, checked the top for a return address. It said simply “Austin, Texas” and carried the local postmark. He read the card again: “Event Horizon sucks!” He laughed until the unease set in; how did that idiot on Twitter, with whom he had a pointless tweet war over a twenty-five-year-old film, get his home address? Oscar entered his name and “address” into Google and clicked. His info was everywhere, like everyone’s, and included every address from his childhood home up through his and Mandy’s last house. But none of the links listed the home they had just purchased and moved into three months earlier. He tapped at his phone, sent Mandy a text: “Have you given our home address to anyone other than the usual?” He quickly followed up: “No worries if you have. Just curious.”

Mandy replied: “No one!”

Oscar: “Thanks.”

The following afternoon, Oscar stepped into a luxurious single at the Beverly Hotel. A California king filled the center of the space. Two comfortable chairs, a table, and a sleek desk sat under a bank of windows. A bottle of champagne rested in a bucket of ice on the table, and next to it a post card. On the card was written “Event Horizon sucks!” He laughed, “Nicely played.”

Later that night, after hours of meetings, Oscar and Heidi were riding back from the studio in a Mercedes black car. The plush space was all but parked in rush hour traffic. “It’s only eight blocks up. You wanna get out and walk?” Oscar asked.


“Fair enough.” He took a sip of wine. “By the way, thanks for playing! I got your postcard.”

“What postcard?”

“The one you sent with the champagne. Event Horizon.”

She was confused, “That movie?”

“That wasn’t you?”

“Do I look like I give a shit about some old movie? We’ve had that talk.” The traffic started to move.

Oscar entered his room, stepped immediately into the shower. He was drying himself as he walked to the window of his fifth floor room. He loved third through fifth floor rooms. They were just high enough to see as far as his middle-aged eyes could still see but low enough to catch the details on the ground below. It was the perfect analogy for that place where writers needed to play. (He thought he might write that down and keep it for later. It was good!) He stepped away from the window, tossed the towel, grabbed some underwear. Despite the connections these business trips gave him, Oscar missed his home, and he missed Mandy. He had been away so much the past few years that both had started to feel like a fantasy. Less real than his stories. Success had a price. He glanced again at the postcard, picked it up, studied the solid black front that was just like the last one, reread its simple message, took note of “Austin, Texas” postmarked across the top. Its author’s resolve gave Oscar a brief chill, the kind that came from the inside (one of those Stephen King moments that made the world a dark and magical place). Yes, he admitted, it was 3×5 inches of weird, but the most it could do to him was give him a paper cut. He set it down. He had to get some sleep. They had an early flight out.

Oscar and Heidi were trudging through San Francisco International Airport with their bags in tow. She checked her phone for the time and sped her stride, “Pick it up, stumpy! We’ve got an hour to get to the presser.” They sprinted to their Uber.

Oscar was sitting in front of Jack Bernard, a European film critique. It was Oscar’s sixth interview in two hours. Bernard was French, spoke a mile a minute, made no attempt to break the accent barrier. And, if he wasn’t going to make the effort, neither was Oscar; he answered “Yes” to every question the Frenchman posed. (Like anyone was going to pay attention to this Parisian Bozo, anyway!)

That evening, Oscar and Heidi were again in the back seat of a big black Mercedes. And, again, they were drinking. “I hate the French,” he said.

“I’ve got no opinion on the country, but Bernard’s a big shot, can make or break us in France and will set the tone for the rest of Europe, so you better’ve kissed him after you blew him.”

“Kiss him, too?” Oscar asked, offended. “I’m not a whore!”

“You are, actually.” She took a sip from her glass, became serious, “You treated him right, right?”

“He’s French.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means I should probably learn a second language.”

Oscar flopped onto his bed in the tiny hotel room. He was already exhausted, and the junket still had a week to go before it concluded. Four of those days would be in Europe. He wondered if he had enough time to learn French but immediately dismissed the concern; he’d already blown up France; it was toast. Germany! He needed to learn German! Achtung! Ya. Nein.

Yeah, that was good enough.

Oscar laid in bed for hours staring at the ceiling. He couldn’t sleep. Missed Mandy. He sat up in bed, stepped to the window, looked out on the city, hoped there wouldn’t be a massive earthquake while he was sleeping, but looked up and checked the ceiling for structural soundness just in case, then realized that he had to pee. He turned for the bathroom. As Oscar approached the dresser, he noticed a white reflection in the night’s gray light: a postcard. “Where did this come…?” A chill ran down his spine as he looked slowly, almost imperceptibly, around the room, searching for the card’s courier. No one was there, yet it felt like they were, somehow, even if in some other form. He picked up the card to read it, knowing already what it said. Still, like a child hoping to arrive at a different destination by walking on the opposite side of the street, he started at the top of the card this time: “Austin, Texas” He forced his eyes lower against a black raging current of fear. “Event Horizon sucks!” He placed the card back on the dresser, stepped to the door, slipped the chain in the slot, turned the knob to check the lock, and asked himself what he was scared of. He didn’t have an answer. He was just afraid, for no reason, hemmed within that void where gods and insanity were born, that place, ironically, in which he should have found the most comfort: It was the world he’d exploited for years for fame and soon would mine for fortune. (Although, it was increasingly coming to feel like that place was exploiting him and not the other way around. A career of retrieving psychopaths from the darkness was taking a toll.) He looked back across the room at the postcard. How did it get in the room? He turned and studied the space, stepped into the bathroom, checked behind the shower curtain, behind the door, walked back into the room. “Who’s here?” he yelled. But nobody appeared.

Oscar crawled back into bed, began humming the Full House theme, tried to forget about the card, tried to sleep.

Heidi was signing them in at the front desk of the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. Oscar stood next to her and stared at the Algonquin cat. The cat stared back. Oscar wondered what the feline term for bastard was. Heidi reached over, handed him a postcard, “This was waiting.” He took it, noticed the gloss black front, inhaled a deep calming breath that wasn’t calming at all, flipped the card, read it. “Austin, Texas” “Event Horizon sucks!” He laughed darkly. Helplessly. What else were you supposed to do? Call the cops? “What’s so funny?” Heidi asked as she handed him his key.

Oscar tossed the card into a trash can, looked at her, “You need to rent Event Horizon.”

“Third floor,” she said. She walked away uninterested.

“I’m not kidding!” he called out. “It’s terrific!” She pressed the Up arrow on the elevator without a word or a glance. “Seriously!”

Oscar sat at the window end of a Midtown hotel room across a tiny table from a reporter from The New Yorker magazine. She smiled, “I read an interview you gave to the French magazine Oi where you said that the musical group Yes had been your biggest artistic influence when you first started writing. That’s an unusual muse for a young writer. Can you elaborate?“

“I think there might have been a language barrier.”

She laughed, “Then I’ll ask the same question in fluent English. What artist or artistic creation most influenced you?” Questions like this were bullshit, of course. Writers weren’t influenced by any one particular thing. They were influenced by the exquisite imperfections that the universe hurled at them like particles in an accelerator: colors, words, shapes, smells, and sounds that were immediately consumed by their demented imaginations and reprocessed. Because of that working, writers’ imaginations were different today than they were yesterday, and would be different tomorrow than they were today. A writer’s influence was everything, but most of all unknowable. Yet, during these interviews, the products of which would be sandwiched between advertisements for foot cream and mascara, they all played along.

Event Horizon,” he said. “That was my primary influence.”

“The old sci-fi film?”


“I’ve never seen it. So why Event Horizon?”

The world’s ignorance toward one of the greatest movies of all time was starting to get to him. First Twitter, then Heidi, now this bitch. “Because it’s fantastic!” he screamed.

Miami, London, Stockholm, Berlin, Paris. The skylines changed but the questions never did, nor did the postcards, which arrived for Oscar at every stop. Their only difference became their postmarks.

It had been a week since Oscar had been home. It was late in the evening when he slipped quietly into his office and slid to the floor beneath his Astros collection. His suitcase and Bruno rested at his side.

Oscar petted the dog as he flipped through his latest screenplay for the first time in a week. He was excited by the prospect; time away helped you find the glitches. But nothing was registering tonight. He was spent. He closed the script and rose to his feet and stepped to his desk. Mandy had stacked his mail in front of his chair. He sat, began going through it. At the bottom, another black card. He laughed, wondered when these missives would end. He flipped it over, read it — “Event Horizon sucks!” — and then shifted his eyes up to the postmark. That’s when he saw that this card was different from the others. It was a small change, only two words: The sender’s address, “Austin, Texas,” had been replaced by “Oscar’s Den.” He read it again. What the hell? As he looked out into the dark hall, his stomach gripped him. This was a gag, right? Or was somebody in his house? And where was Mandy? Was she safe? He stared at the card as he built up his courage. He rose from his chair.

Oscar stepped to the door, retrieved José Altuve’s bat from the wall, looked down at Bruno, spoke in a whisper, “Come with me, boy.” They walked into the hall.

At the far end of the hall, last door on the right, was the den. It was a former bedroom that Oscar and Mandy had converted into an audio-video room with four comfortable recliners, a big screen TV, and a kick ass sound system. Flashes of blue light from the television flashed beneath its door. Oscar raised the bat up over his shoulder like he was preparing to swing at a Verlander fastball, and walked quietly toward the light. As he edged toward the opening, his steps became tip-toes: short, silent, tentative. He reached for the doorknob, grasped it gently, inhaled deeply. Then, with an unrepentant singular motion that both empowered and terrified him, he turned the knob, kicked the door open, and prepared to swing. A woman was sitting in one of the recliners a dozen feet away. “Well, hi,” the stranger said. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

The woman in the chair was unfamiliar, menacing, with something about her face that said “sane when she has to be, crazy in her off-time.” She rose to her feet, stepped toward Oscar without a word: twelve feet, ten feet, eight feet, six, five, four… That’s when Oscar made his move, swung José’s bat like the Series depended on it. The first hit took out the woman’s left knee, the second took out her right. She dropped to the floor, looked up at him, screamed for him to stop. But Oscar kept swinging — at her legs, at her body, her head — and his impacts were brutal. The cops would call the pummeling “psychopathic” when they discovered her dead body at the first light of dawn. But, tonight, it — the resonating bat that connected her faltering body with his torso, the delicate yet monstrous sound of him shattering her bones — was primeval in its allure, as beautiful as it was real as the stranger cried out his name, “What are you doing, Oscar? Stop!!! My God, Oscar, stop!!!”

But Oscar didn’t stop. He just screamed in reply, “Event Horizon is a great fucking movie!” as Mandy curled into a ball and begged her husband to quit.

God of the Box

One of the first questions of childhood: Where did I come from? One of the last of old age: Where am I going? We seem to feel bigger than this place.

Faith is increasingly mocked by people who no longer believe and by those who never did. Belief has come to be associated with ignorance. The two are, accurately, sadly, often synonymous. Still, I believe. And what I believe, I believe firmly: God, Jesus Christ, Death, Burial, Resurrection. Is it hard to believe such an outlandish story? Objectively, yes. Difficult for me? Not at all.

A long-time friend, an atheist, is raising two sons. He bragged that he asked his boys if they believe in God, and they laughed at the concept. Could they see God? No. Touch him? No. In any way detect him? No. The assertion is that spirituality isn’t measurable and therefore bunk. The 75% of Americans who believe in God would disagree. (Internationally, that number rises to 85%.)

Are those of us who believe in a higher power shoring up our earthly fears with the hope of a second shot? Yeah, maybe. Or maybe our belief finds its genesis in something else entirely.

Programmers have striven to create artificial intelligence since the 1940s. We see the term bandied about everywhere, from tech reviews of smartphones to the burgeoning internet of things. But AI is more than a better search engine. It reaches beyond a Siri-like interface. AI is a complex machine that learns and builds upon that knowledge. It is a deductive — “thinking” — computer.

But what if AI achieved a level above deduction? What if we built machines that were self-aware? Machines that had a sense of self? Who — not what — would those machines perceive themselves to be? And would they understand their place in the universe?

Imagine a self-aware processor chip: a thoughtful chip, an ethical chip, a chip that doesn’t hog all the electricity, a chip that performs its job and treats other chips with respect. Imagine a million chips like it functioning within a single large box. They have seen nothing outside their box. They have witnessed no clues to indicate there is a creator inside or outside the box. Would they intrinsically know they were made?

Add a variable. What if these chips caught a peek outside their box through a camera? What if they saw into the laboratory where they were built? Would they recognize their creator? Would they recognize the object hovering outside their box — the pasty pale blob in the beige shorts and blue knit shirt eating ham, mayo and iceberg lettuce on white — as their creator? In what context would Bob’s large belly and unshaven face fit into the chips’s understanding of their universe? Likely, none. Bob, aka “the lumbering nebula,” would appear to bear no relationship whatsoever to their existence.

Add a second variable. What if, in addition to a camera, there is inserted into the computer’s kernel a piece of code that identifies “Bob” as the chips’s creator? As sentient beings, their first question would surely be Who is Bob? The hunt would begin, and it would continue through their circuitry until it was clear that Bob is nowhere inside the box. And if Bob isn’t in the box, that can mean only one thing: Bob is outside the box. So they peer through the camera at the nebula searching for Bob. But what is a Bob? What is his electronic signature? His power source? His binary code? They can’t know. Yet they search. But nothing in the external universe of beige and blue and sandwichy colors hints at the identity of Bob. Nothing! They find no Bob. Met with failure, they exchange their search for a physical Bob for mere clues to his essence. The chips search within themselves, within their hardware, within their code. What in their makeup points to Bob? It is a question larger than any chip’s RAM, and seeking it is wearying work with few guideposts and an uncertain destination set deep within a fog. This lack of concrete proof of Bob is evidence enough for many chips that no Bob exists.

Mocking follows, jeers at those chips who hold tightly to the Holy Kernel. Where is your proof? Where is your Bob? But believers in Bob are unable to point to anything tangible and say, “This is proof!” There is nothing for them to share. There is merely the search itself.

From the numbers, it appears that a quarter of us require objective proof of a creator, and you can’t deny their logic. We live in a world of zeros and ones. Even we who believe in a creator make most of our decisions based on data. Yet with regard to the matter of faith, I and the many like me take an exit from deductive reasoning to cling to what is for us an inexplicable certainty. And that exodus from the constraints of the measurable world, while perfectly rational to us, is baffling to those who see no point — who see no “Bob.”

It’s the year’s end, and we are entering the high holy days for many of us who believe the unverifiable. They are joyful weeks in which we take comfort in the belief that we are loved by the one who made us. To the rest of you, whatever your beliefs or lack thereof, I wish the same joy and peace.

Merry Bobmas!

Bigger Than November

NOTE: This was written before the 2016 Democratic nomination. And though I don’t support Sanders in 2020, as I did in 2016, this post is more true now than it was then.

I start with an admission. It’s my own but I think I speak for a lot of other Bernie Sanders supporters. I don’t give a damn about the Democratic or any other political party. I give a damn about us.

With that out of the way…

The pundits have been correct for months, maybe since the day Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy for President or, more accurately, since the day Hillary Clinton announced hers. He is not going to get the nomination. Nobody but Hillary will. Ask Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and the superdelegates: The fix was in from the start. We were sheep to them, not voters.

But I refuse to be a sheep. And I’m damned sure not inclined to follow the Democratic establishment, any more than I’m inclined to follow Bernie Sanders.

Still, it’s been an amazing year as I’ve watched the Senator from Vermont give voice to what so many of us have felt for years. So when the Democratic establishment attempted to silence him, they attempted to silence me. And when they did that, they lost me.

Bernie Sanders isn’t my leader. Nor is he the father of this liberal uprising. He is, instead, as he accurately stated must be the case, a manifestation of a grass roots movement. That movement was Occupy. And now it is us. 

Occupy was an echo. It repeated in the public square the conversations we’ve been having for years in our living rooms, our dorms, at the bar, with God alone. Occupy pared those conversations to their core: The 1% is plundering the 99%. It’s them against us. “Class Warfare.” It’s a term conservatives have for good reason mocked, because a war had indeed been waged, and it proved to be an easy battle to win as long as the 99% were unaware that it was them who were in the crosshairs.

Occupy spoke the truth. It removed our blinders. And presented with the truth, our ire rose. Then did we.

You and I — not Occupy or Bernie Sanders — are the wave. And this primary was the sound of that wave crashing to shore.

Occupy found its oxygen in our evaporated jobs, our unaffordable education, our underfunded bank accounts, our collapsing environment, our corrupt government, and the once-populist-now-money-hungry Democratic establishment who have, since Bill Clinton’s first term, increasingly ignored our cries for economic salvation.

As a Yellow Dog Democrat, I had for years refused to acknowledge the party’s apathy toward people like me. I instead clung to the hope that they still cared about working men and women. Until this winter. That was when Bernie Sanders challenged a corporate sycophant, and the party establishment sided en masse with the sycophant.

I’m a nobody from the middle of Texas. I vote. I donate small amounts to campaigns when I can afford it. I blog. I tweet. That’s it. But I’ve come to realize that it’s time to fight. It’s time for all of us to fight. It’s time to take our country back.

I can’t do squat alone. Neither can you. But together we almost won the nomination. That’s a remarkable achievement when you consider who we were running against: a former first lady, former senator, former Secretary of State, a multimillionaire with deep Wall Street connections and the deepest Democratic Party tentacles. She was the chosen one, and we almost knocked her off her throne.

We accomplished that feat because we had the people, the skills, the policies, the passion and convictions, and the money. And now we have in-the-trenches experience.

It is from alchemies like this that Revolutions are born.

Revolutions are most vulnerable in their infancy. Ours is vulnerable, too, as it’s challenged by candidates we know and party leaders we’ve long considered allies. We already hear their coo, “We welcome Bernie supporters into the Democratic fold with open arms.” We have become a commodity, you and I. The Democratic Party wants to harvest us for our enthusiasm, our money, our votes. It wants to rebrand us The Party Faithful. The party and their media use words like “moderation” and “reality” to separate us from our convictions. They deride us for seeking political “Purity.” And they define purity as a dangerous thing. Dangerous for whom?

I don’t choose to be mined for the benefit of the 1%. I prefer to be part of that one thing which frightens the 1%: us, the people, united.

The Democrats are right to want us and the 1% is right to fear us. We have become a force. And unbridled forces threaten the status quo. So the powerful will try to absorb us.

Since the Democratic Leadership Council took the reigns of the Democratic Party in the late 1980s, the DNC has proved remarkably adept at co-opting grassroots movements and smothering them within their embrace. And so it would be suicidal for us to cozy up to the Democratic establishment. We need instead to become an independent broker, a resource which supports candidates based first on their principles and second on their party. As that broker, our mission is to fight like hell, contribute like hell, crank out the vote like hell to get liberals (true lefties —  irrespective of party) elected everywhere to every office, from school boards to mayoral offices, city councils to governorships, state houses to federal houses. We’ve proven we can do this. We nearly defeated the queen, her media, her political machine.

As this race winds down, every one of us must vote our convictions. We must show our resolve even when defeat is imminent — especially when defeat is imminent.

The 1% cannot be allowed to crush the 99%. We have to win. For us and for the coming generations.

We can do this. But we have to start now.