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Shiny & Blue

April 9, 2020

I live in the hills at the edge of Austin City Limits. We have no lawns where I live. My driveway is dirt. The post oaks in front of my house have been inching higher since the Civil War. But where I live is less country than when I moved in; the rolling ridge that shoulders the two-lane traffic from downtown past my small neighborhood has been framed by hundreds of new rooftops, the night’s dark sky isn’t as dark as it used to be, and the swoosh of tires across that ridge of pavement continues deep into the night. Austin has grown.

I bought my acre when that night road was silent. I chose this place because its small house sat on a cliff’s westerly edge that offered a 180-degree view — no houses in sight. It was located within minutes of an extraordinarily vibrant and off-beat city with a voice all its own. I could listen to the birds in the morning and the Blues at night, and in-between was silence.

The 5 Stages of Cool:

Stage 1: Artists discover a beautiful affordable town. They set up shop.

Stage 2. Trendsetters discover the hidden art community and christen it hip. Tourism follows.

Stage 3. Chic visitors become residents. Wannabees follow their lead. The town becomes a city.

Stage 4. Corporations follow the money because wannabes love nothing more than white chocolate mocha lattes. The city’s unique personality withers under the weight of international branding.

Stage 5. Demand pushes prices higher. Local artists and entrepreneurs are forced out.

And all that’s left in their mirrors is the fog of once cool.

Austin has thrived economically since the 1990s. The influx of tech and its money has made us shinier, sexier, cosmopolitan. New York. LA. Miami. Austin.

Our new chic has brought us dozens of rising skyscrapers along Lady Bird Lake, and their sparkling lights offer the facade of life. But those of us who lived here before their rise, those of us who knew Austin, recognize the city’s mortal coil is growing cold. Austin has become increasingly a destination and less a home. Out-of-staters have priced the people who shaped us — artisans, musicians, regular folks who could once afford to march to their own beat — out of their homes and away from our city. Imitation has replaced authenticity. Texas the brand has replaced Texas the place. Austin has become a grayer shade of blue.

Both my parents worked but were home by 5:30. We had four TV channels and a lot of lousy radio. The internet wasn’t a thing. Neither did we have the overly-scheduled lives that today’s children have. Our nights and weekends were our own. We rode bikes, played in our yards, found things to do with the clutter in our garage. Life was slow.

Last night, a man bored within a pandemic, I again found myself with time to burn. So I sat in my yard and listened. The two-laner between all those new rooftops — widened a few years back into a high-speed commute for the boom of newcomers who wanted a country existence within the shortest possible commute — was quiet like it used to be.

Friends of mine in Houston have made similar observations. Lives have, too, slowed around them. One wrote that for the first time since he moved into his neighborhood he saw the family across the street, parents and children, playing in their yard. I’ve read the same from strangers on social media. Soccer practices and high-dollar vacations have been canceled. Nights out with buddies have turned into evenings home with wives. The amplitude of our existence has been turned down. We are decelerating to our natural speed. The presence of death has offered us a remembrance of life.

The threat of the grave is everywhere now. We view everything with suspicion as if but for this virus our bodies would live eternal. But that, of course, is a lie. Death is always near: bullets, illness, weird accidents that would be funny except for the toll. The sheer variety of things which can kill us inoculates us to the truth that we’re not long for this world. A distracted driver could hit you three minutes from now.

…gone.

But succumbing to mortality is only one form of death. There are more subtle ways of dying than a final heartbeat. Do you sense them now that you’re still? They — as sure as a distracted driver, a stage-4 diagnosis, Big Macs — have been killing us for years. They are the quiet deaths that rob you no less than your conclusion: death of home, death of intimacy, the death of pieces of yourself. These are the deaths which no vaccine will cure.

Covid-19, like Austin, is the bright shiny object getting all our attention. But Covid can only end you, and surviving its passage won’t alone bring you life. Because life requires more than functioning lungs. Life requires wide eyes and open hearts that inhale the natural world around you and the love of your people. Life requires you to be present. It requires that you surrender your time today so that it may enrich the time you have left.

Covid-19 will pass. What will you do if you make it through? With the time that you’re offered between the black death and white sheet? What will you do with your mortal coil?

Nobody wants a pandemic. But nobody says we can’t learn from one.

Use its time wisely.

Life

Terrorism

April 29, 2019

Terrorism is bigger than the destruction of a building. Terrorism changes your priorities far more than it changes your skyline. Terrorism plunders everything in service to that singular necessity: survival. 

It begins with the loss of equilibrium. Your brain feels like it’s unmooring from your skull, melting into fluid, as the room spins around you. Your hearing, too, struggles to keep its grip on reality. If these signals accurately represent the short-circuiting that’s going on in the wiring that is your brain, you then 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 these 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. It 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 wake an hour or two later feeling as if you have never before experienced such complete and perfect rest. You have never felt better.

I was nine-years-old when I had my first grand mal seizure. It was Chicago, 1970, at a Holiday Inn. My last memories are of a hamburger delivered by room service, the desk mirror mounted on the wall before me, and the feel of the biting winter air brushing against my skin as my parents unloaded the car.

Darkness.

I awoke in an ambulance. My mother was crouching beside me. She held my hand as the sirens wailed and I heard my detached voice screaming, “Am I in Hell?! Is this Hell?!”

Sleep.

The seizure followed a day after my doctor changed my massive dose of prednisone and a week after my weakened body stumbled and slammed my head against a garage’s unforgiving concrete floor. My doctor said he didn’t know if it was one of those two events or my newly diagnosed autoimmune disorder, dermatomyositis, that caused my epilepsy. It didn’t matter. That seizure and the ones that followed, as much as my soon-to-be confinement to a wheelchair, would control my family’s life through my teens into early adulthood, not because the seizures were daily, but because their threat was.

Auras” sound 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 they sent me fleeing to a space free of triggers. My flights became so common that we – my mother, my father, myself – developed an order: I closed my eyes and crawled into my head, attempted to tune out every stimuli; Daddy silenced the TV; Mother rushed my wheelchair into my bedroom.

Mother pulled the top covers down; Daddy lifted me onto the sheet; she pulled the window shades tightly shut (even the smallest gape in the curtain was an opening for light and a cause for panic); he left for the bathroom; she sat by my side and whispered that she was near; he returned with a cool damp washcloth that she placed over my eyes to remove light’s final opportunity. Then we waited.

I was on the bed. Mother sat on a chair beside me. Daddy remained on his feet, reclined against a wall, watching. I shushed every utterance as I dived deep into the protective void of isolation.

The quiet lasted a few minutes, or fifteen, or thirty; every episode was different, but it was always the same. The result, most days, was a clear head and a cautious return to the living room. But other days my parents watched their only child convulse and jerk and twist and growl, unaware, until I stilled.

I awoke.

Groggily, “Did I pass out?” Rarely came the answer I hoped for. ‟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 and motioned to her. She removed the cloth from my forehead and he disappeared from the room. He returned, handed Mother the cloth freshly cooled with water, and sat on the bed. His powerful voice was tender like Mother’s, “How you feelin’, Pal?”

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

“Why don’t you go back to sleep?” Mother said. ‟I’ll be 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 and 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 unseen chaotic forces, are the bane of creatures who require 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.

“People won’t understand,” Daddy said firmly. Though I never seized in public, there was within the urgency of his tone a warning: Even a hint that I might pass out would doom me. My father was a private man who frequently urged me to keep our family business within the family. But his admonitions to keep my secret our secret were different, almost pleading, like my exposure put us all at risk. I was a young adult before I understood why. 

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 soon followed. Another would see him kicked out of the military during the war within which his best friend, my namesake, died. I don’t know how many more seizures there were or under what circumstances. He never told me. But I do know that their possibility so terrorized him that our doctor in Michigan had no idea that he had ever convulsed. That secret was held exclusively by the Texas doctor who prescribed the medication that arrived in unmarked white boxes from twelve hundred miles away. Yet, despite decades of caution, that thing which Daddy fled still found him. In his son. For him to watch.

Terrorism is unrelenting.

Fiction

Event Horizon

April 10, 2019

Oscar was hunched over his desk while Heidi stood waiting. He was focused on the contract the film 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 up have been an ATM for the studio for years.” She nodded at the contract, “This is where you cash-in.”

He glanced again at the enormous number on the contract and felt panic rise from depths he didn’t even know existed, “What if I can’t live up to this? What if I can’t bring him to life?”

“You’ve got this, O. But, hey, only one schizo at a time, right? That Jekyll and Hyde creep you’re working on can wait til this one’s filled our bank accounts.” He nodded, understood. “Good,” she said. “I arranged for a car. It’ll be here at eight sharp. Be ready! You’ve got the itinerary?”

“The Algonquin, Paris Vendome, Holiday Inn Berlin, yada, yada, yada.” He tapped his noggin, “A steel trap. Nothing gets out.”

“And that’s where the demons are born…”

“Damned skippy!”

Mandy, Oscar’s wife, entered his office from the hall, stepped around Bruno the golden retriever, and squeezed past her husband’s collection of Houston Astros memorabilia, including the prized José Altuve’s game-winning bat from the 2017 ALCS Game 6 trouncing of the Yankees. She handed Oscar his mail. “It’s a light day. Funny post card, though. Even looks like your handwriting — hey! a fan! — but with anything but your opinion,” she laughed darkly. “I’m leaving before you vent your rage on the innocent.” She stepped from the room with a grin and he found his way to the solid black postcard at the back of the stack. He turned it over, read its message, and laughed; his wife had been 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 her 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! The best two hours you’ll ever spend.”

“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.”

“Like the Stockholm Hilton and Piazza Navona Roma,” he said proudly as he signed the contract.

She pulled the paper from his desk and turned for the door, “Eight A.M. Try not to be late. L.A. awaits.”

Heidi exited the room and Oscar flipped the post card in his hand and checked the top for a return address. It read simply “Austin, Texas” and carried a local postmark. He glanced at the message again. “Event Horizon sucks!” He considered its likely source: an idiot on Twitter with whom he recently engaged in a tweet war over the twenty-five-year-old film. The effort was flattering, until the unease set in; how did a random guy on Twitter 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 at which he had lived, from childhood through his and Mandy’s last house. But none of the websites listed the home they moved into just three months earlier. He sent Mandy a text: “Have you given our home address to anybody other than the usual?” A few beats. “No worries. Just curious.”

Mandy replied: “No one.”

Oscar: “Thx.”

Twenty-four hours later. Oscar stepped into a luxurious single at the Beverly Hotel in Los Angeles. 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, Heidi was the best. “Nicely played.”

That night. Oscar and Heidi were returning from the studio in a large black car. Their plush ride was parked in rush hour traffic. “It’s only two blocks up. You wanna get out and walk?” Oscar asked.

“Nope!”

“Fair enough.” He took a sip of wine, “I got the postcard. You watch it yet?”

“What postcard? Watch what?”

Event Horizon. The card you sent with the champagne.” She flashed him a scoffing side-eye. “That wasn’t you?”

“Do I look like I give a shit about some old sci-fi flick? We’ve had that talk.”

“Horror not Sci-Fi,” he mumbled. Traffic started to move.

Oscar parted with Heidi in the hotel lobby and was soon stepping fresh from his hotel shower. He walked to the windows of his fifth floor room and looked down on a crowd of partygoers walking drunkenly from the hotel. Oscar loved fourth and fifth floor rooms. They were high enough to catch a glimpse over the horizon and yet low enough for his middle-aged eyes to capture details on the ground. It was the perfect analogy for that place where writers were required to play. He tossed his towel on the bed, grabbed a pair of worn red briefs from his suitcase, and slipped them over his short chubby legs as he stared blankly out the window.

Oscar missed his home. And Mandy. He had been traveling so much the past few years that both were coming to feel less real than his stories. Success had a price. He picked up the postcard, studied the solid black front that was identical to the last one, reread its simple message, and again took note of the “Austin, Texas” return and postmark. With intent, he pushed the discomfort from his mind. Yes, this was 4×6 inches of weird, uncomfortable weird — the best kind of weird, he mused — but its only threat was a paper cut, and it was time for sleep; they had an early flight out. He dropped the card on the dresser and fell into bed.

Oscar and Heidi were trudging through San Francisco International Airport with their bags in tow. She checked her phone and increased her stride, “Pick it up, stumpy! We’ve only got an hour!”

Jean Bernard (French, film critic) was Oscar’s sixth interviewer in two hours and the final of the presser. The Frenchman spoke a mile a minute with no effort to break the accent barrier. And if this pretentious French fuck wasn’t going to make the effort, then neither was Oscar, who answered “Yes” to every question the Frenchman posed. (Like anyone this side of the Atlantic was going to pay attention to this Parisian Bozo!)

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

“I’ve got no opinion of the country, but Bernard can make or break us there, and that’ll set the tone for the rest of Europe. So I hope you kissed him after you blew him.”

“Kiss him, too? I’m not a whore!”

“You are, actually.” She grew serious, “You treated him right, right?”

“He’s French.”

“What’s that mean?”

He shrugged and stared out the window.

Oscar stepped into his dark tiny hotel room, kicked off his shoes, and flopped onto the bed. He was already tired of this trip. Too bad! The junket had two more weeks before it concluded. And one of those weeks would be spent in Europe. (He wondered if he had time to learn French but immediately dismissed the prospect. He’d blown up — if not blown — France; la République was toast.) “Fuck!”

Maybe it was the potential loss of Europe, or maybe it was the stress of knowing that he had become a big fucking deal shouldering massive expectations of a script that wasn’t even finished yet. (How did a writer improve on Robert Louis Stevenson? What the fuck he was thinking? And what was Heidi thinking?! She had cranked the P.R. up to eleven on the upcoming project, and now the whole fucking film industry was buzzing about his fresh take on a hundred-year-old classic.) “I’m so fucking screwed,” he whined.

He missed Mandy.

He had to pee.

Oscar turned for the bathroom, glanced at the dresser, noticed a white rectangular reflection beneath the night’s gray light. “Where did this…?” He spun a slow, nearly imperceptible turn as he searched for the familiar card’s courier. But no one was there. And yet he could feel that they were. Somehow. Somewhere. He picked up the card, and yet he knew what it would say. He began at the top with the postmark and return address — “Austin, Texas” — and forced his eyes down through a thick current of fear. “Event Horizon sucks!” He placed the card back on the dresser and stepped to the door, where he slipped the chain in the slot, turned the knob, and checked the deadbolt. “What are you afraid of?” he whispered as he held tightly to the knob, but he couldn’t answer. He didn’t know. He simply knew that he was now hemmed within that void where gods and insanity were born. It was a world in which he should have found the most comfort — the place he had exploited for years that had rewarded him with fame and, soon, fortune. But tonight he was no longer its master. He glanced back across the room at the postcard. How had it gotten there?

Oscar stormed into the bathroom and ripped the shower curtain aside. Nothing. He yanked the door quickly from the wall. Nothing. He walked angrily back into the room. “Who’s here?!” he screamed. Nobody.

No body.

Oscar crawled into bed, pulled the covers tight to his chin, stared coldly at the ceiling, began humming the Full House theme at concert level volume. He squeezed his eyes shut and sang-screamed, “What ever happened to predictability?!”

Heidi was signing them in at the front desk of New York’s Algonquin Hotel while Oscar stood glaring at the hotel cat. The cat glared back. “What’s the feline equivalent of bastard?” Oscar asked.

She wasn’t in the mood, “What?”

“Nothing.”

The clerk gave Heidi the keys and she gave one to Oscar. “Hold up!” the young man said. “I forgot!” He handed her a postcard.

She presented the black card to Oscar, “Here.” He stared at the card in her hand as he inhaled a deep calming breath that wasn’t calming at all. She jabbed it at him, “Well?” He took the card, flipped it over, stared at the Austin return. And then he just laughed. “What’s so funny?” Heidi asked.

“You need to rent Event Horizon,” he said. She angrily walked away.

She entered the elevator, “You’re on the third floor. You coming?”

He stood firm, “I’m not kidding. It’s terrific!” She pressed the elevator’s Up arrow without a word. “Seriously!” The doors closed between them.

Oscar sat at the window end of a Midtown hotel room across from a reporter from The New Yorker magazine. “I read in an interview that you gave to the French magazine Oi that the musical group Yes had been one of your biggest early influences,” she said. “That’s an unusual muse for a young writer. Can you elaborate?“

“There might have been a language barrier,” Oscar mumbled.

“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 shit out as “art.” A writer’s imagination was different today than it was yesterday and would be different tomorrow than it was today. A writer’s influence was everything, but most of all unknowable. And yet during these interviews, the products of which would be sandwiched between advertisements for foot cream and mascara, writers played along.

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

“The old sci-fi film?”

“Horror. It’s horror. Yes.”

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

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

Miami, London, Stockholm, Berlin, Paris. Fuck, Paris. The skylines changed but the questions did not. Neither did the postcards, which arrived for Oscar at every stop through the end of the tour.

It was approaching midnight when Oscar stepped quietly into his office and slipped down the wall to the floor beneath his Astros collection. Bruno rested his head on his master’s lap. Oscar petted him. Bruno wagged. Oscar opened his new screenplay.

Home had come to feel both familiar and foreign as Oscar flipped through his new story for the first time in two weeks. He was excited by the prospect of fresh eyes; time away helped you recognize the glitches in a creation that you knew as well as the back of your hand. But as he scanned the white pages nothing was registering. His fuel was spent. He looked up from his script. “Come on, boy.”

Oscar rose to his feet and stepped to his desk, where he dropped into his chair and rifled through the mail Mandy had piled neatly by his lamp. At the bottom of the stack was another black card. He laughed, accepted the weirdness, wondered if it would ever end. He flipped the card over — “Event Horizon sucks!” — and shifted his eyes to the return. That was when he saw it. It was a small change, just two words in the reply-to line, but it robbed him of his breath; “Austin, Texas” had been changed to “Oscar’s Den.” He looked into the darkness of the unlit hall. His stomach tightened. This was a gag, right? Or was somebody in his house? And where was Mandy? He dropped the card to the desk and rose to his feet and retrieved José Altuve’s bat from the wall. “Follow me,” he said quietly to Bruno. Oscar stepped gently into the hall.

At the far end of the hall, last door on the right, was a former bedroom that Oscar and Mandy had converted into a home theater with six comfortable recliners, a big screen TV, and a kick ass sound system. Flashes of blue light — flickers from the TV — flashed beneath its door as Oscar raised the bat like he was preparing for a Verlander fastball. As he edged toward the opening, his light steps became tip-toes — short, silent, tentative — until he arrived at the door.

He took a breath and gently grasped the doorknob.

Then, with an unrepentant and 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. “I didn’t hear you come in,” she said cooly.

The stranger’s face screamed “Sane when she has to be, crazy in her off-time” as she rose fearlessly to her feet. She stepped toward him.

“Stop!” he yelled.

“What?” she laughed, and she kept walking — 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 her right, and she dropped to the floor, looked up at him, and begged him to stop. But Oscar kept swinging — at her legs, at her body, at her head. 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 feel of the bat reverberating up Oscar’s arms as it connected with her increasingly broken body, the delicate yet monstrous sound of it 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 did not stop. Event Horizon is a great fucking movie!!!” he screamed as Mandy curled into a ball and begged her husband to stop killing her… until she begged no more.

Fiction

God of the Box

December 12, 2016

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!

2016 Primary, Fighting Back

Bigger Than November

May 29, 2016

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 four years ago.

I start with an admission. It’s my own but I think I speak for a lot of 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 and 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, I’ve reveled 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 tried to silence him, they were attempting to silence me. And that’s when 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 in the public square of the conversations we’ve been having for years in our living rooms, our dorms, at the bar, in our churches. It 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 was indeed waged, quietly, under the radar, and it proved to be an easy battle to win as long as the 99% were unaware that they had been placed in the crosshairs.

But Occupy spoke the truth. It removed our blinders. And presented with the truth, our ire rose. Then, so 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, and the greed of the once-populist-now-money-hungry Democratic establishment which has, since Bill Clinton’s first term, 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 policies, the passion and conviction, almost all the grassroots 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, because it will be 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.” They frame purity as a dangerous thing. But 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 reins of the Democratic Party in the late 1980s, it has proved remarkably adept at co-opting grassroots movements and smothering them within their embrace. It would be suicidal for us to cozy up to the Democratic establishment. We must, instead, 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, to contribute cash like there is no tomorrow, and to crank out the vote like we have never done before to get liberals (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, we have to vote our convictions. We have to 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.