A Lethal Prompt

Well, here we are with story number six for my twelve stories in twelve months challenge. The prompt was “lethal” and the word count was 1,800. This is essentially a cop out. I couldn’t think of anything for lethal for the longest time, and when I finally did, it was way too short. So, I turned it into a story about a writer struggling with a prompt. Like I said, a cop out.

OK, lethal. What’ve we got for lethal? How about. . .

                “We are going to binge watch ‘Lethal Weapon!’”

                “What?”

                “You heard me. We’re going to binge watch ‘Lethal Weapon.’ You wanted a big weekend on the couch.”

                “The movies or the TV show?”

                “I was thinking the movies.”

                “I don’t know. Mel Gibson makes me uncomfortable ever since we learned what a freak he is.”

                “Come on, that’s Mel Gibson, not Martin Riggs.”

                “Sorry, but he’s not that good an actor.”

                That’s not gonna work. There’s no story there. Hmm. How else do we use lethal? Lethal dose? A mystery. . .

                They surveyed the scene. No signs of a struggle. No forced entry. Just a body in a perfectly ordinary apartment in a perfectly ordinary neighborhood. It was almost peaceful.

                “Why are we here? Was there even a crime?” Brady asked.

                “There was a body,” replied the super.

                “People die all the time. It doesn’t mean a crime was committed.”

                “I found a body, so I called the police. What do you expect me to do?”

                “You did the right thing, sir,” Jake said as he glared at Brady. Then he turned to a tech and said, “It doesn’t look like there’s much in the way of evidence but collect whatever you can. We’re going to see the medical examiner.”

                “And find out if there was a crime or not,” Brady added.

***

                “It was definitely a murder,” said the medical examiner.

                “How did he die?” Jake asked.

                “Poison. He was given a lethal dose of . . .

                Of what? Cyanide? Arsenic? Those seem too old timey. Old lace? Ha.

                . . .old lace.”

                “Did you say he was given a lethal dose of old lace?” Brady asked. “What does that even mean?”

                “Old lace is a new designer poison,” the medical examiner explained. “All the top hitmen are using it.”

                Jake laughed. “Top hitmen? How many contract killers do you know?”

                “What do the second rate hitmen use?” Brady asked.

                “I try to keep up with the literature. In the last six months. . .”

                “Are they all men?” Jake wondered aloud.

                “Who?”

                “The hitmen? Are there any hitwomen? How about a nonbinary contract killer?”

                “Uh oh. It’s a crisis worse than no women in STEM. We need diversity.”

                “Guys, we probably shouldn’t be talking about this. There’s nothing but dudes in our own story. . .”

                OK, that’s not happening. Probably not a good idea to write a mystery since I never read mystery. What else? What else? Maybe lethal injection. . .

                It was ten minutes to midnight. All the appeals were denied and it was unlikely there would be a pardon. She laughed to herself. They make such a big deal about the last meal, but she wasn’t even a little bit hungry. This was going to hurt. She wasn’t worried about dying, it was getting there. Lethal injection. It was going to hurt bad.

                Who’m I kidding? It’s too dark and I don’t know the first thing about it. No one’ll want to read that. Maybe the ethics of capital punishment? At least I know my way around ethics. . .

                “The method of killing is irrelevant. Even the most humane lethal injection is still unjustified. . .

                That’s not a story. It’s a lecture. It’s more likely to bore or annoy than entertain. Come on. There’s gotta be something. Anything. . .

                “That pitch was lethal.”

                “Lethal?”

                “Yeah. Isn’t that right?”

                “Do you mean like filthy or nasty?”

                “I mean like it was a good pitch.”

                “Right, filthy or nasty. I’ve never heard lethal before in that context.”

                “It’s not a baseball word?”

                “It’s not even a sports word that I’m aware of.”

                “It sounds like one, though.”

                “I guess. But why use it if it just means filthy?”

                “Maybe it doesn’t just mean filthy or nasty. Maybe it’s better than they are.”

                “Better?”

                “Yeah. Filthy and nasty are fine, but lethal is actually deadly, so it’s a step up.”

                “OK. It’s got to be an out pitch, then.”

                “So, if a really nasty pitch is thrown for the third strike, we can say it’s lethal?”

                “Works for me.”

                “Cool.”

                “Cool.”

                Ugh. That’s not a story either. It’d be cool if it catches on, though. Think. How else do we use lethal? I guess there could be lethal force. . .

                They needed to send in a strike force, and it had to be lethal. Any survivors would compromise the mission. Alan surveyed the area. If they entered from the loading dock, they could get in without being detected. It would be easier to work from the inside out. . .

                This is crazy. Is Alan the bad guy or the hero? If it’s from his point of view, he’ll feel like the hero. But why is he going to kill those people? What’s their mission?

                Alan didn’t like their mission. Why all the killing? This wasn’t a military target, and they weren’t at war. Lethal force wasn’t necessary. It felt like a setup or a test. He didn’t want to be anyone’s fall guy. And if it was a test, he didn’t know which decision would get a passing mark. . .

                Nope. Can’t do it. It’s not something I’d want to read. But, it is a story. How desperate am I? Think. Think. Maybe a different tack. I’m no good at death and destruction. What else can lethal mean? Nothing that I can think of. . .

                “You need to capture me a black phoenix.”

                “But they’re as lethal as they are beautiful.”

                “I know, but I can’t complete the spell without a tail feather plucked from a living specimen. Without that feather, your son will certainly die.”

                She asked, “How do I find one?”

                “There used to be a colony on the cliff face where the river spills from the forest. That will likely be your best starting point.”

                She had to get ready. Its touch was lethal. She would need tools. . .

Well, it is another story. But it’s terrible. Should I plow through? I’ll hate myself if I do. Come on. Lethal. Lethal. Bethal? Pethal? Zethal? Is it possible than nothing rhymes with lethal? Aethal, bethal, chethal, dethal, ethal, fethal, gethal, hethal, iethal, jethal, kethal, lethal, but that’s not a rhyme. That’s the word. Methal, nethal, oethal, pethal, quethal, rethal, sethal, tethal, uethal, vethal, wethal, xethal, yethal, zethal. Wow. Nothing. Shethal? Thethal? That’s crazy. Is there a story in that?

                Orange, Purple, and Lethal walked into a bar. It was early afternoon and the bar was virtually empty. They sat down and ordered a drink each.

                “Why the long faces?” the bartender asked.

                Lethal replied, “Nothing rhymes with us.”

                “So?”

                Purple snorted. Orange muttered, “Typical.” Lethal looked the bartender in the eye and said wearily, “There’s not even a good slant rhyme for us. No one will remember us in poems or songs. We have no legacy.”

                “Legacy?” the bartender repeated. “Who gets a legacy?”

                “Almost everyone,” Purple snapped back.

                “Easy there. I’m just asking a question. Tryin’ to help.”

                “Sorry,” Orange said. “Purple had an audition and just got rejected for a new song. That’s why we came out.”

                Purple jumped in, “It’s crazy. Glove, Shove, and Dove all get accepted because they rhyme with Love. We’re better than them. It’s not about talent at all.”

                “Amen,” said Orange.

                “Maybe’s been riding Baby’s coattails for ages,” Lethal added. “So wishy-washy.” The three of them nodded together.

                “It can’t be that bad,” the bartender said. “You all get used plenty. I mean you, Orange, have a fruit and a juice named after you. And you get to be in the rainbow.”

                “I guess.”

                “And Purple, you’re a bunch of kids’ favorite color. That’s a legacy you can be proud of.”

                “Yeah, but it’s just kids. And Pink is more popular anyway. By the time they grow up, they’ve moved on to Red, Blue, Green, and Yellow.”

                “Lethal, you must be in a ton of mystery novels. That’s literature.”

                “I’m barely in them. I’m no more than a plot device, a glorified extra.”

                The bartender paused, then said, “You’re tough on yourselves.” There was another pause. “Wait a minute. Purple, you are in songs. ‘Purple People Eater.’”

                “Uh, a novelty song. Not a great legacy.”

                “Well, then, ‘Purple Rain.’”

                Purple smiled. “Those were the days. I miss Prince every day.”

                “That’s your legacy,” the bartender continued. “Wasn’t Prince’s whole thing purple?”

                Purple continued to smile. “That’s a good point,” Orange said. Lethal nodded.

                “I can live with that,” Purple said. “It’s a better legacy than most get. What about my friends here, though? They deserve better.”

                “Hmm,” the bartender thought. “Orange, you’re in pretty good shape. I still think the rainbow’s a pretty big deal. And you’re in that joke, ‘Orange ya glad I didn’t say banana?’”

                Orange laughed, “It makes me chuckle every time.”

                The bartender continued, “Come to think of it, you’ve got songs, too. ‘Orange Blossom Special’ and ‘Orange Crush.’” Johnny Cash and R.E.M. aren’t too shabby.”

                “You’re right,” said Orange. “My legacy isn’t about my last audition. It’s my whole body of work. Thank you.”

                Lethal looked at the ground. “Got anything for me?” he asked feebly.

                “I have to admit, you’re a bit tougher.”

                “It’s not just because I have no rhyme. I’m pretty negative. No one wants to work with Lethal.”

                “I’m sure that’s not true. You seem perfectly nice. And you have these two friends here.”

                “Yeah, but it’s not much of a legacy.”

                “Maybe you could make something,” the bartender suggested. “Make your own song or poem.”

                “It would have to be about death or dying. I’m not really versatile. I don’t have a lot of range.”

                “That’s nonsense. You know yourself better than anyone. There must be a positive way to present yourself.”

                Lethal thought for a moment. “I’ve always liked the idea of death as a gift.”

                “Go with it,” said Orange. Purple and the bartender nodded.

                “Maybe I can. I can create my own legacy. Would anyone really take Lethal as a positive?”

                “Of course,” answered the bartender. “Go with the Gift thing. You’ve got Shift and Lift for rhymes.”

                Orange and Purple chimed in, “We’ll help.”

                “It would be cool if the afterlife were Orange and Purple. OK. I’ll try it. I’ll write it so well, they’ll be trying to cast me in everything.” Lethal added to the bartender, “Thank you.”

                Purple and Orange added their thanks as well. The three of them paid for their drinks and left the bar, talking excitedly to each other.

The End

Well, it’s a story and it’s about lethal. I can live with that. Now how on Earth am I going to stretch it to eighteen-hundred words?

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Dr. John aka Mac Rebennack

Mac Rebennack, whose alter ego was the much more famous Dr. John, died today. I am a big fan of his music. True to form for me, I know virtually nothing about his life. Apparently he was 77 years old. That’s a little older than I would have guessed. So, I can’t say much about him, but the music he left us is incredible.

I first discovered Dr. John when I was in high school. His new album at the time was “In A Sentimental Mood.” It’s certainly not typical Dr. John. The title is apt. But it caught my teenage attention. There’s just something about him, I just knew he was the real deal. I suppose I had probably heard “Right Place, Wrong Time” before “In A Sentimental Mood,” it must have been his biggest hit, but “In A Sentimental Mood” was the first one I really listened to.

Not that there’s really any such thing as typical Dr. John. He played everything from blues to funk to jazz to big band to rock to R&B. Basically, if a music came out of New Orleans, Dr. John played it and played it better than most.

The album that solidified my love of Dr. John has to be “Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack.” It’s a solo piano album, and it’s incredible. He only sings on two of the tunes, but you don’t miss anything. It sounds as full as a big band. It was on “Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack” where I really discovered Dr. John’s left hand. I could listen to just his left hand all day. Whether the song was fast or slow, the boogie never quit.

I don’t have much more to say. He kept making beautiful new music into the current decade. I’m just sad that he’s gone. I’m going to spend the next few days listening and appreciating. And I’ll be thankful for every note he plays.

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A Conversation

Here is story number five in my 12 stories in 12 months challenge. For this one, the prompt was Rome and the word count was 1,200. To say the prompt left me cold is an understatement. I’ve never been to Rome and I only know the basics of its history and culture. So, I decided to challenge myself a little and just write a 1,200 word conversation, nothing but dialogue. You’ll have to decide how successful I was, and let me know (if you want).

“If you could go anywhere, where would you go?”

“Rome.”

“Why Rome?”

“Ever since I first took art history in college, I’ve wanted to see Italy.”

“So, go then.”

“I can’t.”

“You have to.”

“What do you mean I ‘have to’?”

“When was the last time you did anything for yourself that you actually wanted to do?”

“I do stuff all the time.”

“Yeah, you work. You come out for drinks with me because it’s what I want to do. You take care of all of us. It’s never about you.”

“I really can’t go, though.”

“Why not?”

“For starters, I don’t have a passport. Or money. Or time.”

“Screw that.”

“Easier said than done.”

“You can get a passport. Just go to the post office. You make money, and you never spend it on anything.”

“Yes I do. I pay rent and buy food and go out for drinks with you. Not to mention electricity, gas, my cell phone, and internet.”

“And you get vacation time.”

“You know I like to use that around the holidays.”

“Ugh. There’s always excuses. Just do it.”

“Why is it so important to you?”

“Why isn’t it important to you?”

“I’m fine. I don’t need an expensive vacation. And that’s not an answer.”

“It’s important to me because it should be important to you. College was twenty years ago. You’ve been wanting to take this trip for twenty years. You need to do it.”

“You’re exaggerating. I’ve barely thought about it in the last twenty years.”

“That’s because you never think about yourself.”

“But I don’t speak any Italian.”

“So?”

“I wouldn’t be able to talk to anyone.”

“Screw that. Everyone speaks English.”

“That is kinda true.”

“It’s not ‘kinda’ true, it is true. You can go anywhere in the world and find people who speak English.”

“There’s something wrong with the world if everyone speaks English.”

“Blame the Brits. They conquered everything.”

“Not just them. Americans have done plenty, too.”

“It’s good for us, though. Don’t worry about it.”

“But isn’t traveling about immersing yourself in another culture?”

“That’s not how most people travel. Most people just want to see things and say they’ve been places.”

“That’s not how I like to travel. Not that I’ve ever traveled.”

 “Never?”

“Nope. I grew up here and never left. I’ve never even been to New York and that’s just a couple hours down fifteen.”

“You’ve never been to New York? Literally? Never?”

“Never.”

“Pay the check. We’re going now.”

“No, we’re not.”

“Like you said, it’s just a couple hours away.”

“I have to work in the morning. So do you. We’re not going.”

“You’re probably right.”

“I’m certainly right.”

“I guess. But we’re going to New York soon. Like this weekend.”

“We’ll see.”

“How have you never been to New York?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never had a reason to go.”

“You don’t need a reason.”

“I know. It just seems like such a hassle. And haven’t you ever met a New Yorker?”

“I can’t argue with that, but it’s not much of a hassle.”

“I hate driving.”

“So take the train.”

“It’s still a hassle. All traveling is. I don’t understand why everyone says they like traveling so much.”

“Because they like traveling?”

“I can’t believe everyone likes traveling. It’s a hassle and it’s expensive. I like home.”

“Don’t you want to see the world?”

“Eh. I wouldn’t complain, I guess. But I don’t have any real desire.”

“You said you want to see Rome.”

“It’s not Rome, exactly. I’d love to see the artwork and the architecture, but I don’t like cities.”

“How on Earth do you know that? You’ve never been to New York. Have you been to other cities?”

“Hartford.”

“That doesn’t count. Hartford isn’t Rome or New York.”

“It’s not like you’re a world traveler.”

“I’m better than you. I went to Hawaii on my honeymoon. I’ve been to New York and Boston tons of times. I even went to Montreal in high school.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. You didn’t need a passport back then.”

“What did you get out of all these travel experiences?”

“What do you mean?”

“What made them so great?”

“They were fun. I got to see things I don’t normally see. I got to talk to people I don’t normally talk to.”

“That’s it?”

“What more do you want?”

“I don’t know. Something deep. Did it change the way you see the world?”

“Nah. People are people.”

“If that’s true, I should be fine staying here. These people are as good as any other people.”

“Do you act this way all the time or just with me?”

“I think a little of both.”

“It can’t be both.”

“It’s not like I’m lying or anything, but I do like to give you a hard time.”

“Nice.”

“What? You’ve been giving me a hard time all night.”

“But that’s my thing. You can’t take my thing.”

“I do what I want.”

“No you don’t.”

“That’s why we’re besties. I can with you.”

“Awww.”

“Can you believe it’s been twenty years?”

“We’re not old enough for it to have been twenty years.”

“We are. We’re both still on our first drink.”

“You’re right. There may not even be a second one. I don’t want to wake up with a headache tomorrow. We are old.”

“We’re not that old. I actually like this age. Everything still works, but there’s a lot less pressure.”

“Less pressure? I work so hard to keep up with everything.”

“I no longer care about keeping up. It’s freeing.”

“I see where it would be.”

“Mmmm.”

“I can’t believe you’ve never gone anywhere. What’s the furthest you’ve been?”

“I’ve been to Mystic. Or maybe Sturbridge. I don’t know which is farther.”

“Not even Boston or Newport?”

“Nope.”

“That’s crazy. I’ll bet you could become a viral sensation with that. ‘The girl who’s never been anywhere.’”

“I can’t imagine that’s the kind of thing that would go viral.”

“You have to play it up. It could just be videos of you asking silly questions about famous places because you’ve never been to them.”

“I don’t know. Wikipedia is a thing, you know.”

“Then act like you never left here because it’s so amazing here. ‘Our pizza is better than New York’s. Our beignets are better that New Orleans’.’”

“Our pizza probably is. The pizza’s amazing around here. I’ve never had a beignet.”

“How is that possible?”

“I’ve never been to New Orleans.”

“Neither have I. You can get them outside of the city limits.”

“They’re basically donuts, aren’t they?”

“Well, yeah, but fancier and Frenchier.”

“I’m not a big fan of. . .”

“Don’t even say it.”

“Frenchie things.”

“I told you not to say it. Seriously, though, what are you doing this weekend.”

“No real plans. If the weather’s nice, some gardening and taking the dogs out.”

“No you’re not. I’m taking you to New York this weekend.”

“I can’t leave the dogs for a whole weekend.”

“Saturday, then.”

“Will I have fun?”

“I guarantee it.”

“What the heck. Let’s do it.”

“And do you know what we’re going to do on Sunday?”

“What?”

“We’re finding a travel site and booking your trip to Rome.”

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A Dance-tastic Weekend

My daughter and I had a super busy weekend, and it was all about dance. On Friday night, we went to see the Connecticut Ballet at the Bushnell. Pretty much all of Saturday was spent in dress rehearsal for Sunday’s big dance recital. My daughter was in four dances, plus the finale. And I made my dancing debut doing a father/daughter tap dance.

The ballet was excellent Friday night. They performed four pieces. One was a classic, “La Ventana Pas de Trois,” from 1854 by August Bournonville with music by Hans Christian Lumbye. In a lot of ways it was what you think of when you think of ballet, graceful and beautiful. The other three pieces were all world premiers (I guess technically they premiered a week earlier at the run’s first show, but you get it.). There was “In the Shadow of Women” by Marden Ramos with music by Kodomo, and “Trust Me If I Lie” by Aguibou Bougobali Sanou with music by Moussa Sanou, and “Now & Then” by Joseph Locarro and music by Bonnie Raitt. “In the Shadow of Women” was very modern, even futuristic. “Trust Me If I Lie” was very rhythmic. And “Now & Then” was just plain fun.

My daughter couldn’t decide if her favorite was “In the Shadow of Women” or “Now & Then.” She was totally blown away by the dancing in “In the Shadow of Women,” but she thought “Now & Then” was really funny. I was torn between the other two. We couldn’t have asked for a better night.

Our only complaint about the performance was that the audience was really small. I can’t figure out why. It is a bit pricey for a night out, but it’s only once a year. I’m surprised every parent of the hundreds of little girls taking ballet in the greater Hartford area didn’t want to go. If you’ve never been to the ballet before, it’s kind of like Cirque du Solei, except much more entertaining. The good news is that the Connecticut Ballet will be back in the Hartford area doing a free show in Elizabeth Park in the middle of July. I’d like to see a big crowd there.

Saturday was a long, but satisfying day. I only had one number to rehearse, but I volunteered to help set up. It started at 9:00 in the morning. The recital happens at a local high school, but the school’s facilities aren’t nearly big enough to accommodate the number of kids and their costume changes. So we converted the cafeteria into a giant dressing room. We hung paper over all the windows to give the kids some privacy, put a bunch of signs up, then worked on the stage from sweeping to taping. I ran home for a quick lunch, then came back for the rehearsal itself.

I was a little worried at the rehearsal. It was the first time the dads would be dancing outside of the studio. I was afraid without all of my usual visual cues, I would forget the dance. But my fears were unfounded and we got through our routine. I also got to watch the whole show, which was great because I missed most of the first act on the actual performance day.

Sunday was the big day. I was anxious all morning. My daughter was just excited. The dads all helped with taking tickets and handing out programs and things like that. That’s when I started to get really nervous. I’ve performed in front of people plenty of times, but up until now, it had always been playing a musical instrument. I always had a certain amount of confidence that I knew the instrument and I knew the music, so I never got very nervous. Sunday was dancing though. I’d never danced before in my life prior to the six months of lessons leading up to this. I was terrified. Dancing is way harder than music. As I got into my costume, all I could think about was all the ways it could go wrong. I was sweating like crazy. But, we went out there and we all remembered the routine. We mostly stayed with the music. No one fell down. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but I don’t think we embarrassed ourselves or, more importantly, our daughters. The biggest mishap was that the dad next to me had his flower fall off during the dance. There was a nice sense of relief after it was over. All the dads agreed that if our daughters will have us, we’ll do it again next year.

I was able to watch the rest of the show. My daughter did great in all of her dances. Actually all of the kids did a great job. The audience was good and supportive. All in all, it was a success.

Before I had a daughter, I never dreamed that I would have a weekend full of dancing. If you asked me then about a weekend full of dancing, I would have thought you were describing some sort of nightmare. But it was a really good weekend. I’m already looking forward to next year.

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Chewbacca

I heard the news earlier today that Peter Mayhew, the actor who played Chewbacca, died. When I first saw Star Wars, forty-ish years ago, I left that theater thinking that Chewbacca was the single coolest thing ever. That first impression never really changed. It might have been George Lucas who created the character, but it was Peter Mayhew who brought him to life. For that, I will be forever grateful.

I know next to nothing about Peter Mayhew outside of Chewbacca. I’m not the type of fan to follow the behind the scenes stuff or read celebrity news. I know he was very tall. 7’3″ according to Wikipedia. I once heard that a third of all seven footers play in the NBA. I don’t know if that’s true, but outside of Peter Mayhew, all the seven footers I can name played in the NBA. I generally feel bad for any seven footer who doesn’t play in the NBA. It must be rough being too big for everything. But Peter Mayhew got to be Chewbacca. That’s gotta be better than being a professional basketball player any day of the week.

I think I’m going to re-watch the original trilogy this weekend to honor the man who gave us Chewbacca. Whether he was beating on the door of a trash compactor, carrying a disassembled C-3PO on his back, or swinging onto the top of an AT-ST, he was always the coolest. We should all take a few moments to remember that.

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A Friendly Game

This is story #4 for my 12 stories in 12 months challenge. I’m not at all thrilled with this one. The prompt was “cut-throat” and the word count was 750. It was fairly easy to write, I can toss off 750 words in my sleep. But the prompt left me cold. I’m pretty sure the only time I’ve ever used the expression cut-throat is playing cards. So that’s what you get, a conversation among four friends as they play cards.

“Okay, we’re playing cut-throat tonight. No teams. If you’re set, you lose points and money. You can only score what you bid. A dollar a point and a twenty-dollar ante,” said Carol.

Jim replied, “Twenty bucks? I don’t have twenty bucks on me.” Everyone else groaned.

“You need to get a real job, man,” said Dave.

“Well, you just got a real job a month ago. You know where I am. You’ll have to spot me the ante. I’ll pay you back when I win.”

“Like you’re gonna win.”

“I might. Besides, if I don’t play, there’s only three of you. The game’ll take ages and Jack’ll get all whiney.”

“He’s right,” Jack said.

Carol added, “Just spot him the money, Dave.”

“Fine, Jimbo.” Dave took a twenty out of his wallet and flicked it across the table. “Next time, bring some money with you.”

“Remember when we used to play for m&m’s?” Jim asked.

Jack shuffled the cards and said, “That wasn’t as interesting.” He dealt.

“That’s cause you were the first to leave. This used to be a work game, remember?”

Carol said, “Pass. That job sucked.”

“Of course it sucks. All jobs suck, but I’m still there,” Jim answered. “I’ll bid three.”

“You’re brave with other people’s money. I pass,” said Dave. Jack passed, too.

Jim tossed the queen of diamonds down. “Admit it,” he said, “none of you like your ‘real’ jobs.”

Carol shrugged. Dave said, “I don’t hate it, yet.”

Jack said, “As long as it pays.”

Jim won the trick. He put down the king of diamonds. “That’s no way to live. Thanks for the ten, Carol.” She saluted Jim as he picked up the cards. This time he led with the ace of diamonds.

“Who shuffled?” Dave asked.

“It’s skill,” Jim answered.

Dave said, “Jack’s right. At least we get paid. Your job sucks and you’re barely making more than minimum wage.”

“Teach me to major in something interesting.” Jim collected the cards. Only Jack had trump left. There hadn’t been a jack or a two yet. Jim debated whether to throw another trump before settling on the seven of diamonds.

“What did you major in?” Carol asked.

“Philosophy.”

“Jeesh,” she said. “I though you said ‘interesting.’”

Jack was out of trump, so Jim took the cards. He had his three, but they played the last two tricks as a formality. Jim won one and Jack won the last.

“I told you I was gonna win,” Jack said as he wrote down a three next to his name. “It’s more interesting than communications. Or the business degrees these bozos have.”

Carol collected the cards and shuffled. “I hated my intro to philosophy class.” She dealt, “Besides it couldn’t get any less practical.”

“Pass,” Jim said. “We use it all the time. There just aren’t any jobs in the field unless you have a PhD.”

“Which you don’t have. I’ll bid two,” Dave said.

“Three,” answered Jack.

Dave said, “Someone’s gettin’ set.”

Carol said, “It’s yours,” to Jack. “Like I said, not practical,” to everyone.

Jack led with the ace of clubs. Everyone followed suit without face cards.

“I’m better able than most to make excuses for my lack of material success,” Jim said.

“Real practical,” said Jack as he put down the two of hearts. Carol followed with the ten of hearts.

Jim put the two of clubs down and Dave followed with the ten of clubs. “You’re done,” he said to Jack as he collected the cards and threw down the king of clubs. “This was the suit I was going in.”

Jim said, “Look, it’s not my fault the economy’s been bad since we were in high school. A degree like philosophy used to be more than enough for most jobs.”

“Whatever,” said Dave as he gathered the trick. He led the next round with the queen of diamonds.

Jack said, “I really am set,” as he trumped in with the jack. “I’m only getting two. Anyone have trump left?” Everyone shook their heads and threw their cards into the middle of the table. “I only got high and jack. Dave got low and game.”

Jim wrote a negative three next to Jack’s name. “You didn’t play that right,” he said as he took the cards and started shuffling. “I don’t need to make more money if this is the best you’ve got.”

“Dude, you gotta get a real job,” Jack said.

Carol interrupted, “Can we please talk about something else?”

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Some Ranting

I haven’t written anything in a little bit now. Part of that has been that I’ve been busy with work and general life stuff, but part has been that all of the topics that have been presenting themselves lately have been really annoying, or at least annoying to me. I just don’t want to annoy myself with my writing. Although, the topics have me annoyed anyway and I haven’t been writing, so I thought I’d take a moment to vent about some of these topics and maybe get it out of my system.

Genre Labels Are Racist

Billboard magazine recently decided that “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X couldn’t be on their country charts. Anyway you look at it, it was a racist decision. Billboard is apparently just that racist. I know they can point to Ray Charles, Charlie Pride and Hootie and say, “Look, we have black friends,” but that only reinforces their racism. I’ve been talking about racist genre labels for more than 20 years now. The system is set up so there’s white music and non-white music. If a white artist wants to try their hand at some non-white music, they can be quite successful. But if a non-white artist encroaches on white music, organizations like Billboard have to put a stop to it. The few examples we do have of people of color crossing over is tokenism at its finest. Besides, not that I know what makes a country song country, this song is easily as country as plenty of other hit country songs.

Two of the Reactions to the Notre Dame Fire

Notre Dame is an old cathedral in Paris. I’ve never been to France, so I’ve never seen it, but I believe the countless people who have described it as an amazing feat of architecture and a wonderful piece of art. Therefore, it made me sad to hear of the fire that nearly destroyed the cathedral. What other reaction is there to the loss of a great work of art? I’d be equally sad if the Sphinx or the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall were similarly damaged. I would argue that sadness is the proper reaction. But I’ve seen two reactions that are basically chastising people for feeling sad. One reaction I’ve seen a bunch is along the lines of don’t repair or rebuild Notre Dame, spend that money on curbing global warming or feeding the hungry or something. This reaction is making a couple mistakes. First, charitable giving is not a zero sum game. Notre Dame can be rebuilt and we can also work to mitigate climate change. Second, it misunderstands how people work. There is always a rise in charitable giving after a specific tragedy because most people need to feel a personal connection in order to be moved to give. It’s sad to say, but things like hunger are constants and people get numb to them. No one is taking money that they would have given to hunger and sending it to Notre Dame. The choice is not between competing charities, at this moment for most people, it’s Notre Dame or nothing. It certainly wouldn’t meet the approval of the Effective Altruists (I have major problems with the Effective Altruists, maybe I’ll write about that sometime), but on a very basic level, some charity is better than no charity, so let people donate to a cause that they feel connected to.

The other reaction is basically saying that France is an evil, imperial power and deserves any bad thing that happens there. It’s crazy to think that everyone who has ever appreciated Notre Dame is equally guilty of France’s historical sins. It’s also crazy to think that a society’s sins can invalidate every other thing that society has done. It leads to nihilism. If the only art that it’s right to appreciate has to come from a blameless society, then there’s no art left to appreciate. Whatever you think of France, don’t criticize people who have been moved by a work of art that happens to be French. Now, I hang out in some pretty far left areas of the internet, which is where I’m seeing these reactions. They bug me because of their basic wrongheadedness, but they also bug me because they are why people dislike the left. If the lefties would just keep their mouths shut in times of tragedy, maybe they could win an election.

Star Wars: Episode IX

The trailer for the last Star Wars movie of the third trilogy dropped. Everything about it annoyed me. The name of the movie is “The Rise of Skywalker.” That’s a really dumb name. It could have been the name of Episode IV, or the entire original trilogy, but the last movie of a trilogy that barely even features anyone named Skywalker and turned the one Skywalker it does have into a sulky coward is just weird. Either Luke is going to rise again, which will totally undercut his death in the last movie (not that his death really landed, but if it did, this would ruin it). Or it will turn out Rey is really a Skywalker even though they specifically said she is not in the last movie (and if it turns out she is a Skywalker, wasn’t “Force Awakens” the actual rise of Skywalker?). Or they could say Kylo Ren is actually a Skywalker on his mother’s side, but that would give this movie almost the same exact plot as Episode VI. Or I suppose they could introduce an entirely new Skywalker, but I don’t think I even need to explain how stupid that would be.

Aside from that, I hate, hate, hate two uses of slow motion in the trailer. One is where Rey is doing a backflip as a speeder chases her and the other is as Kylo stabs someone. It’s like they don’t understand the aesthetic of Star Wars at all. That’s The Matrix, not Star Wars. Hopefully it will just be in the trailer, not the movie. And possibly the worst thing of all, there’s the line, “No one’s ever really gone,” followed by Emperor Palpatine’s laugh. It’s like they’re trying to retcon the original trilogy out of existence. Not the prequels, mind you, but the original Star Wars. The idea of Palpatine being involved in any way with anything that happened after “Return of the Jedi” might actually be the stupidest idea ever.

Impeachment

Since the release of the Mueller Report, the younger segment of the Democrats (and Elizabeth Warren) have started loudly calling for Trump’s impeachment. I think that’s crazy. The Republicans control the Senate. If Trump survived an impeachment, it would make everything far worse. He would basically be untouchable. I like most of these new congresspeople. But they’re wrong about this. The only circumstance under which Trump should be impeached is if there is absolute certainty that the Senate will convict.

***

So there are some of my rants. Sorry. Hopefully I’ll write something more interesting in the near future.

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How Do We Get Nia Long Into Star Trek?

I recently finished Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery, and while I would like to write a review of the season, I realize that not everyone may have watched the season finale from Thursday night yet. So while I sit on my overall thoughts for the time being, I do want to write about an “episode” which kicked off Season 2 last fall.

The producers of Discovery decided to do four short episodes called “Short Treks.” These episodes were 10-15 minutes long, and promised to offer the
“opportunity for deeper storytelling and exploration of key characters and themes which fit into Star Trek: Discovery and the expanding Star Trek universe.”

One of the Short Treks was an episode called “Calypso.” The main character of the episode, a man named Craft, is rescued by the U.S.S. Discovery 1,000 years in the future. The ship has been abandoned by the crew, and over the course of 1,000 years, the ship develops its own intelligence and personality.

Craft interacts with Discovery’s personality, a woman named Zoe. The two talk and watch movies together until they fall in love, but Craft decides he must leave. He still has a wife and child waiting for him on his home planet. He and Zoe say a pained goodbye, and at the end of the episode, he departs, heading back home and leaving Zoe alone again.

I like many of the ideas in this episode. It’s fascinating to move Star Trek 1,000 years into the future. I like the idea that, given enough time, a system as complex as a starship, with access to nearly unlimited information, would develop sentience and intelligence (Star Trek: The Next Generation did something similar with the episode “Emergence”). I even like the idea that a person can fall in love with a machine, because as computers get more sophisticated, we may be dealing with those kinds of situations sooner than we think.

But I didn’t like the episode because of the execution. Discovery, in the personage of Zoe, has chosen to model its speech patterns, attitude and overall personality on Audrey Hepburn. In fact, Zoe’s favorite movie, which she watches with Craft, is Funny Face, a movie starring Hepburn and Fred Astaire. In the climax of the episode, Zoe uses holograms to project an image of herself so that she and Craft can share a dance. As you might have guessed, Zoe projects herself to look as much like Hepburn as possible.

Source:
http://www.womenatwarp.com/short-treks-recap-calypso/

I want to sidestep the “man falling in love with a computer” critique of this episode, as many other writers have pointed it out (just check the link below the image for an example). My biggest problem with this episode is this: the U.S.S. Discovery has access to information about hundreds of species, stretching back thousands of years. It has had ten centuries to search its own database and develop an idea of who it wants to be. And with all that information and time, the most interesting personality to Discovery was Jo Stockton, the main character of Funny Face? Let’s not even get into why the ship didn’t have a Klingon personality, or a Vulcan one. There are thousands of contemporary and historical cultures right here on Earth that Discovery could have chosen from. Yet I was reminded that Discovery did not in fact choose its personality. A writer did.

That writer is Michael Chabon. He is an accomplished writer of novels, stories and screenplays. He is also a 55 year old white man, born in the year 1963. Funny Face was released six years before he was born. Hepburn dominated the movies around his birth, appearing in 14 movies from 1956-1967. Hepburn continued to dominate the social and cultural landscape far after that- even as late as 2007, Newsweek featured an article about Hepburn (written by, it should be noted, another white man who came of age during Hepburn’s era). She’s been held up for the last 50 years as an idealized version of a beautiful woman- to a particular kind of audience. The kind of audience that Michael Chabon belongs to. So I get why he would choose her as the model for Craft’s future ship wife.

While I may get it, I disagree with the choice. Hepburn is pretty, but I’ve never seen any of her movies. Not Funny Face, not Breakfast at Tiffany’s, not Charade. They didn’t seem interesting to me, and Hepburn isn’t pretty enough to me to hold my attention by simply looking at her. If I was the writer for “Calypso,” and confined to the same plot, I would have chosen a very different woman to model. I would have chosen Nia Long.

Friday was released in 1995, when I was nine years old. I didn’t see it in theaters, but it was only a couple of years before it started showing up on cable TV. That was also the time when I started to really like girls. I had my little crushes here and there, but puberty had kicked in by the time I saw Friday, and I was in love with Nia Long.

*faints*

If I was writing a story about an idealized woman from a movie who also happens to be a spaceship, then my ideal woman would be Debbie. My computer would sound like Debbie. Her and Craft would watch Friday. At the end of the episode, she would project herself and they would dance to the timeless classic “Hoochiemama.”

I’m not faulting Chabon for choosing Hepburn as his model. Loving her from a distance is his experience. But it’s not mine, and I’m super bored by it. Like I said, I’ve never seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but I have the imagery burned into my imagination by countless references, homages and recreations of that movie across media. I get it, they all like Catherine Hepburn. A lot. I’ve loved Nia Long from a distance though, and I would like to see a story where a woman like Debbie is held up as the idealized version of beauty and grace one thousand years in the future.

Michael Chabon probably can’t write that story, which is why it’s important to have different writers. Different writers have different experiences, across time, race, gender, sexuality, everything. I don’t need to relate to every story I’m seeing (which I think is too much of a focus of the diverse books movement, but that’s another essay), but different perspectives are interesting and fun. I don’t think I can listen to another computer voice that has that weird, Golden Era white woman haughtiness. My dream computer is Debbie, but it doesn’t even have to be her. Let it be a Pakistani woman, or an Ebo man. Just let it be something different, because one of the most disappointing things about Star Trek’s future is how frequently it resembles a very familiar past.

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A Long Morning

This is story #3 from my 12 stories in 12 months challenge. I honestly don’t know what to think of it. The prompt was “Tag” and the word count was 2500. It was a bit of a struggle to write as it is not typical of my stories. There’s a lot more description than I usually have and a lot less dialogue. It’s also not exactly plotted, it is more trying to create a mood. Strangely, Hemingway’s “Big Two Hearted River” (one of my favorite short stories) was my inspiration even though there is very little similarity between the two pieces.

Jim hated mid-morning appointments. He could sleep in a little bit. He could, but he couldn’t. It was too big. He’d been unemployed for too long. Besides, if he started the day lazy, it might show in the interview. It was a second interview which only made him more nervous. Better to get up early. Better to be in mid-morning form by mid-morning rather than bleary.

He pulled the covers off of himself hoping the cold would help him get up. It wasn’t pleasant, but it worked. He sat up and let his feet dangle over the edge of the bed. He rubbed his beard. He wasn’t sure what to do. If he ate too early, he might be hungry during the interview. A rumbly tummy would be embarrassing. If he showered, he’d have to wait to get dressed. Can’t risk the clothes getting wrinkled or dirty.

The bathroom was as good a place to start as any. Get those teeth brushed and that bladder emptied. He walked down the hall to take care of things. When he was finished, Jim walked back to his bedroom and unplugged his phone. He stared at it without seeing for a moment then headed towards the kitchen.

Jim’s roommate was in the kitchen eating breakfast. “You’re up early,” he said.

“Yeah. I’ve got an interview in a little while.”

“Nice. Confident?”

“As confident as I get,” Jim answered, not very confidently.

“Well, confidence is the most important thing. If you’re positive you’re the best for the job, they’ll believe you. Oh, I gotta get to work.” Jim’s roommate got up, put his bowl in the sink and headed towards the front door. “Good luck,” he said.

“Thanks.”

Jim was alone again. Waiting sucked. But he was alone. He decided he could shower without any pressure to get dressed right away.

He walked to the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror. The beard was a little shaggy, best do something about it. He liked it shaggy, the longer the better, but it’s not the look for a job interview. He walked back to his bedroom and opened the top drawer of his dresser. He pulled out clippers and the shortest comb, attached the comb to the top of the clippers, closed the drawer and walked back to the bathroom. Jim plugged in the clippers and picked up the trash can. He stood over the sink, looking in the mirror, holding the trash can under his chin. The clippers started buzzing as he turned them on. First, he dragged the clippers over his beard going down, with the hair. After that pass, he made another but this time going up, against the hair. Then, he shook the clippers into the trash can and put them into the same hand that was holding the can. He rubbed his free hand around his face feeling for any uneven spots. He always missed some, but this felt pretty good. Jim put the clippers back in his other hand and dragged it all over his face again. Better safe than sorry.

When he was satisfied, Jim turned off the clippers. He put the trash can down on the edge of the sink and took the comb off the clippers. He shook them into the trash can again. Then, he used the combless clippers to try to even out the lines on his cheeks and neck. They looked okay, but they could have been crisper. He unplugged the clippers and shook them over the trash again. He wiped them with his fingers and blew into the blades. Then, he took a piece of toilette paper and wiped the whole thing down again before putting the toilette paper in the trash can.

Jim put the trash can back on the floor and brought the clippers back to his room. When he returned to the bathroom, he looked in the mirror again. It could definitely be better. To his right, he saw his roommate’s razor and shaving cream on the shelf. He wouldn’t mind. Jim turned the tap on hot. When it got hot enough, he splashed water on his face and rubbed it around. After turning off the tap, he took the shaving cream down, sprayed some on his left fingers, and spread it on his cheeks and neck. Then he returned the shaving cream and picked up the razor. Hope it’s sharp. He scraped the razor, using short strokes, around the edge of his beard, pausing every couple of strokes to rinse the razor in hot water. Once the outline was complete, Jim rinsed and shook out the razor before placing it back on the shelf. He looked closely in the mirror. Probably should have gone to a barber, but it looked pretty good.

He let out a sigh and took off his shirt and shorts. Then he turned on the shower, a little hotter than usual, and got in. Aside from the regular bathing, he had to make sure he rinsed off any stray bits of hair or shaving cream. When he finished, he turned off the water. He opened the curtain and looked around the bathroom. “Ugh, the towel,” he mumbled under his breath.

Nothing to do but make a run for it. A wave of cold air hit him as he opened the door. He dashed down the hall to his bedroom, took the towel off the hook on his closet door and dashed back to the bathroom. Annoying but invigorating. Jim stood on the bathmat as he dried himself. Then he used the towel to wipe down the sink and get rid of any stray trimmings. He picked up his clothes and brought them back to his bedroom. Jim put the towel and dirty clothes in his hamper, put on a pair of underwear and a white T-shirt and walked back to the kitchen.

Breakfast time, but what to eat? They say you perform better after a good breakfast, so he decided on a fried egg on an English muffin with cheese. It took a few minutes to make it, then he sat at the kitchen table with his sandwich and a glass of water and stared blankly at the wall. He ate mechanically without really noticing the food. It should keep him until lunch. He looked around at the clock as he drank his water. He had half an hour to kill before he needed to get dressed and go.

He got up and put his plate and glass in the sink next to his roommate’s bowl. He was tempted to wash the dishes now to waste some time but decided against it. They weren’t going anywhere, and he wasn’t in the mood. Not that he was ever in the mood to do dishes, but he was even less in the mood at that moment.

Jim wandered back to his bedroom. He put some deodorant on, sat on the bed and picked up his phone. His brother had texted him the night before asking for the name of a song. He started to reply but didn’t want to get into a conversation this close to the interview. It would freak him out if his phone kept buzzing while he was there. Instead he closed the app and opened his email. Just the usual junk. He deleted the emails and closed that app. He turned the ringer off, put the phone on the nightstand and just sat on the bed staring off into space.

After a few minutes, he roused himself. Might as well get dressed. He stood and opened the closet. His suit was on the left. It was his only suit, dark blue with pin stripes. It was meant to be appropriate for weddings, funerals and everything in between, including job interviews. He lifted the hanger and placed the suit on his bed. Then, he went back to the closet and found his brand new, never worn, light blue shirt and matching tie. Jim had bought them when he got asked back for the second interview. It was bad enough he would be wearing the same suit to both interviews, he couldn’t wear the same shirt and tie as well. His other dress shirt was white, and his other tie was red. He hoped this would be a different enough look. He put the shirt and tie on the bed next to the suit, turned to the dresser and removed a pair of black socks. His black belt was on top of the dresser and his black shoes were by the door.

He started with the socks. Then the suit pants, then the belt, then the light blue shirt. He had to unbuckle the belt and unbutton the pants to tuck the shirt in and fasten them all up after he had tucked. He tugged the shirt a few times around the waist to blouse it out a little. He had no idea if he was supposed to do that, but he felt it looked more natural.

Next, he lifted the tie off the bed and walked to the bathroom. He stood in front of the mirror, buttoned the top button on his shirt and flipped the collar up. As he raised the tie, he noticed the price tag still hanging from it. That would be embarrassing. Jim left the bathroom and walked to the kitchen. He took a paring knife from a drawer and cut the tag off. He replaced the knife in the drawer, put the tag in the trash and returned to the bathroom.

This time he lifted the tie over his head and put it on the back of his neck, fat side on the left, skinny on the right. This was way harder than it ought to be. Nothing like tying a tie to make him feel like a child. He pulled the fat side down to make it longer. Then he looped the fat side around the skinny side, flipped it over the back and through the front. When he tightened it, the fat side was only about half as long as the skinny side. He undid it and tried again. This time the fat side was too long. Overcompensating. Finally, on the third try, it looked about right. He folded the collar back down and looked in the mirror. His mom would say he looked handsome. He didn’t see it.

Jim walked back to the bedroom. He stopped at the door and put his shoes on. While down there, he rubbed the dust off the shoes with his thumb. He should probably polish them, but he didn’t have the right supplies. He stood up, walked to the bed and put the suit jacket on. He picked his phone up off the nightstand. No new texts or emails. He still had a few minutes to kill or he’d be too early. Early is fine, but too early looks desperate. He checked that the ringer was off and put the phone in his pants’ pocket.

Better use the bathroom now. When he was finished, he washed and dried his hands, then re-bloused his shirt. One more look in the mirror. He figured he looked as good as he could. He walked back to the bedroom and put his keys and wallet into his pockets. Then he picked up a legal pad and pen from the desk. Someone told him once that it looked good if you take notes during an interview. He wasn’t much of a note-taker, but anything that might help. He took a deep breath and headed to the front door.

It was a bright and sunny day, which he found annoying. At least it was relatively warm. He didn’t own a jacket he could wear over a suit. He locked the door and walked down to his car. He took his phone out of his pocket as he got in. There was a wire coming out of the tape deck, and Jim plugged it into the phone. He turned on the car, then pressed play on his phone. “Idiot Wind” started from the speakers. That’s a bad omen. He skipped it. June Carter Cash’s “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” started. Probably not a good omen, but too good a song to skip. He put the car in reverse and backed out of the driveway.

The drive took about fifteen minutes. It would be an easy commute if he got the job. He was zoned out for most of the drive, to the point where he was actually surprised when he turned into the parking lot. It’s a miracle more people don’t die on the road. He found an open spot and parked. He was twenty minutes early and decided that fifteen was a better number, so he sat in the car listening to Mississippi John Hurt sing “Coffee Blues.” When the song ended, he turned off the car, picked up the pen and pad and unplugged his phone.

When he got out of the car, he checked to make sure his phone was on silent, put it in his pocket and walked to the front door. He approached the front desk, “Hi. I’m Jim Martin. I have an interview. . .”

The woman looked at her computer screen, “Yes. You’re a little bit early. Follow me.”

She stood and walked further into the building. Jim followed. There were fifteen or twenty cubicles with four enclosed rooms, one in each corner. They walked toward the closer office on the left. There were three chairs next to the door. “You can sit here. She’ll be with you shortly.”

Jim sat in the chair on the left and watched the woman walk back to the front desk. He was trying to be calm, but his right leg was bouncing uncontrollably. He shifted in the chair and crossed his legs. Then he bounced his shoulders and tilted his head back and forth. He stopped suddenly as he felt something scratch his shoulder. He reached up and felt the spot. The tag. He had forgotten to cut the tag off of the new shirt. His face flushed and he could feel sweat pricking his skin. He uncrossed his legs and the right one started bouncing madly again. He thought of running out to the car and ripping it off but didn’t want to have to explain himself to the woman at the desk. He looked around for a restroom. Of course it was on the far wall. He had five minutes, that should be enough time.

Just as he started to stand, the door to the office opened. A woman stuck her head out and said, “Jim?”

“Yes,” he replied. Too late.

She opened the door the rest of the way. “I’m Ruth.” They shook hands. “Come on in.”

Jim followed her into the office.

“You look nervous,” she said.

“A little.”

“Don’t be. The second interview is just a formality.”

Jim smiled for the first time that morning.

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Why is There 18th Century Literature on a Nursing Test?

Source:
http://medievaljourney.com/tutorials/making-a-feather-quill-step-by-step-tutorial

The Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) is an exam which students entering the health field take, typically those entering nursing. According to the ATI Testing website,

“The ATI TEAS (Test of Essential Academic Skills) is designed specifically to assess a student’s preparedness entering the health science fields. Most likely, you’ve been asked to take the TEAS as part of your basic admissions requirements for nursing or allied health school. That’s because studies show a consistent link between a student’s performance on the TEAS and future academic success.”

Cool! I just have one question: which medical skill does interpreting 18th century text evaluate? For example, the following is a question from the TEAS practice test (which can be found here):

Maybe (and it’s a BIG maybe) it might be good for students entering nursing school to understand some 18th century texts, such as the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, in the same way that it would be good if everyone here knew the foundations of American government. But this isn’t some timeless document or world-historic piece of writing. This is an excerpt from Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address, and it’s not even the most important part of that speech.

Reading comprehension and interpretation are important skills, but no one writes or speaks like this anymore. Medical information is not written like this. Patients don’t describe symptoms or ask questions like this. Insurance claims documentation is not written like this. There are very few places in the modern world where understanding literature from hundreds of years ago is a skill.

So why is this question included on a test for nurses? The Nerdy Nurse offers a potential explanation under the aptly headed, “Why is the TEAS Exam Hard?”:


“Some people find the TEAS exam to be difficult because they struggle to perform well on standardized tests. Others have difficulty with the breadth of the subject matter. In general, the TEAS test is difficult because nursing school is competitive. The difficulty of the tests allows schools to select students to have the best chances to succeed academically. Nursing school is hard. This test is one of the first steps of the nursing school process, so it’s no surprise that it would be one of the many difficult hoops that future nurses will have to jump through to secure their place as healthcare professionals.”

While the Nerdy Nurse is not affiliated with ATI or TEAS, it’s refreshing to see someone say what many people who have taken this test (and many standardized tests like it) already know- the test is designed more to weed students out than to ensure that they possess the necessary skills and intelligence to perform well in their programs

The predictable result is that students fail the test, sometimes multiple times. At $50-$80 a session, those costs can add up. That doesn’t include the cost of study materials (which, naturally, are provided by the same people who make the test) or private tutoring. I tutored a student who was studying for the TEAS test. The student spent $100 on those tutoring sessions, and at the end we both agreed that the was ready to take the test. In fact, we were both so confident, we canceled the rest of our sessions- no point in the student spending more money.

The student failed the test.

My student paid me to help them prepare, and I did not help the student succeed. I’m responsible for that failure. But I’m frustrated by the absurdity of reading Jefferson on a nursing test just because it’s hard. In practice, it means that people are denied the opportunity to make more money to take care of themselves and their families. And it’s not because they don’t know what they need to know; it’s because they don’t know what they don’t need to know. If you’re not a historian, you don’t need to read Jefferson’s inaugural address or understand the needlessly complicated way politicians in the 18th century spoke. Denying access to education based on questions like the one above feels like a flimsy pretext to exclude people.

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