For the Glory

This is my ninth story for the 12 stories in 12 months challenge. This month’s prompt was “For the glory,” and the word count was 1,250. As usual, I came in slightly below the word count, so I had to add some padding. Otherwise this month went pretty smoothly. Let me know what you think.

Aaron let himself into the studio. He hung his coat on the rack. There was one other coat there. He walked down the hall to the control room. When he opened the door, he saw a woman sitting at the mixing board facing the studio proper. “Desiree?”

She turned, “Oh, hey Aaron. How you doin’?”

“Fine,” he answered. “You?”

“Oh, you know. I’m always good.”

“I was hoping to find you here.”

“I’m always here,” she replied. “You know that cuz you always here, too. Chuck should charge us rent.”

“Are you by yourself?”

“Yeah. Chuck says he’ll be back in a couple a hours. What’d ya want to see me for?”

Aaron closed the door and sat in the chair next to Desiree. He looked nervous, a little sweaty even though it wasn’t warm. He took a folded-up piece of paper out of his back pocket. “I’ve got a song for you?”

“Since when I need songs from you? I write my own stuff.”

“I know. It’s just something I wrote. I don’t think I can do it, but I was hearing your voice as I wrote it.”

“Why can’t you do it?”

Aaron shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I’ve been listening to a ton of Rosetta Tharpe and sacred steel music lately. When I sat down to write, a gospel song came out.”

“So? You ain’t black enough ta sing it or somethin’?”

Aaron gave a nervous laugh. He scrunched up his face and said, “Kind of. But really it’s that I’m too Jewish.”

“Aww, that’s nonsense. If Neil Diamond can do a Christmas album, you can sing a gospel song.”

“It’s not that simple. What little success I’ve had has been because of my Jewishness. I’m popular with the bubbes and the zeydes in the congregations. If I do something that seems too Christian, I might as well throw a pig roast at Passover.”

Desiree took the paper from Aaron’s hand and unfolded it. She took a few seconds to scan it and said, “You trippin’. It’s all Old Testament stuff.”

“You mean the Bible?” Aaron asked.

“You know what I mean. You don’t even mention Jesus. This ain’t gospel.” She handed it back to him.

“It’s not klezmer.”

“Besides, I ain’t no gospel singer anyhow.”

“I know,” he said. “But there’s gospel in Americana. And I really think it would sound great with your voice.”

Desiree thought for a moment. “You s’posed to be a singer-songwriter. Don’t ya have ta sing what you write?”

Aaron laughed, “Someone gonna call the police on me?” Desiree laughed too. Aaron continued, “Come on. Just try it. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it.”

“You right about that. I don’t need to do nothin’ I don’t want.”

Aaron chuckled, “Preach, sister. No pressure. We know each other pretty well and I just think you’ll like it. It’s call and response. You sing lead and I’ll sing the response, for now at least.”

“I guess so, for now. If it’ll get you ta shut up for a while.”

Aaron grinned. “Cool.” He stood up and moved to the door on his left. Desiree followed him from the control room into the booth. It wasn’t a big room, but a five piece band could squeeze in there. Aaron sat down at the old Hammond organ. He smoothed the paper onto the stand and switched the organ on. Desiree stood behind him.

He pointed at the paper. “Basically, this part is yours and that part is mine.”

She nodded. Aaron started an upbeat walking bass line with his left hand. He then played a short melody with his right. “That’s your part on the first and last sections, when you ask the question. And this. . .” he played a slightly different, slightly longer melody, “is all the sections in the middle.”

He stopped playing and Desiree tried humming the two parts. Aaron said, “Perfect.”

Aaron started his left hand again and this time put syncopated chords on top with his right hand. After eight bars, he nodded at Desiree. She sang tentatively, “Why do I sing this?” and Aaron answered, “For the glory. . .” Desiree repeated her line and Aaron followed with his. She sang one more, “Why do I sing this?” and he answered with, “For the glory of God.”

Aaron stopped playing. “Not bad,” he said.

“Nah, that was pretty weak,” Desiree responded.

“It was your first try. It was fine. Just project more. There’s nothing subtle about this song.” She nodded. He continued, “And don’t worry about the melody being exact. Variation is our friend.”

Aaron started playing again. In the second bar, Desiree started clapping. She continued for a few bars then stopped. Aaron stopped too.

Desiree said, “It needs somethin’. Hold on.” She went back into the control room and returned with a tambourine. “Ok, let’s try this again.”

The now familiar bass line started, followed by the chords. Desiree started waving the tambourine on the eighth notes and slapping it on the two and four. They both started bobbing their heads, clearly enjoying the groove.

When the progression came back to the top, Aaron nodded and Desiree sang out, much more confidently this time. Every line followed by Aaron’s response:

Why do I sing this?

                For the glory. . .

Why do I sing this?

                For the glory. . .

Why do I sing this?

                For the glory of God.

“Nice,” Aaron called. “Keep it going.” He waited for the chords and nodded again:

I sing about the creation

                For the glory. . .

I sing about the creation

                For the glory. . .

I sing about the creation

                For the glory of God.

Desiree’s tambourine got a bit more complicated. She started throwing in pauses and triplets. Aaron smiled, then nodded again:

I sing about the burning bush

                For the glory. . .

I sing about the burning bush

                For the glory. . .

I sing about the burning bush

                For the glory of God.

After singing his last line, Aaron started soloing. He stayed close to the melody, playing with the rhythms for eight bars. When he finished, he moved back to the chords and nodded:

I sing about the commandments

                For the glory. . .

I sing about the commandments

                For the glory. . .

I sing about the commandments

                For the glory of God.

This time, Desiree hummed a solo. Aaron let it go sixteen bars before nodding again:

I sing about Jerusalem

                For the glory. . .

I sing about Jerusalem

                For the glory. . .

I sing about Jerusalem

                For the glory of God.

“Bring it home,” Aaron shouted.

Why do I sing this?

                For the glory. . .

Why do I sing this?

                For the glory. . .

Why do I sing this?

Aaron slowed down. It took her two extra beats, but Desiree followed, and Aaron sang:

For the glory of God.

They both stopped playing. Aaron looked up questioningly at Desiree. She smiled and said, “That’s not half bad. I actually enjoyed myself.”

“So, you’ll do it?” he asked.

“Sure. I could be persuaded,” she answered.

Aaron asked, “You see what I mean, right? It just wouldn’t sound right with me singing.”

“I get it. I get it. I guess it is gospel.”

Aaron smiled, “As close as this white boy could get, anyway.”

Desiree laughed, “You funny. You could be a modern day Leiber and Stoller.”

“I’ll take that,” he answered.

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I Don’t Like Dogs

In November 2017, I was a guest on Chion Wolf’s Advice Show (now known as “Asking for a Friend”). We were asked to give advice for several different questions, but the one that I remember the best was the last one. The question basically went like this: You’re backing out of your driveway and you hit your neighbor’s dog, killing it. Do you tell your neighbor or not?

“No,” I said. “People are completely irrational about their dogs, and I’m not trying to take on all of the emotional nonsense that’ll be thrown my way if I admit to killing their dog.” The crowd literally booed that answer.

Now it’s possible that they were booing because I broke some sort of code about honesty and being-good-to-thy-neighbor or whatever, but it felt at the time that I was being booed because I really didn’t give a damn about the theoretical dog I accidentally hit. Honestly, I really don’t. A dog is a dog.

“You’d feel differently if you’d grown up around dogs,” you might say. But I did. Three in fact. When I lived in Hartford as a kid (and for a short time when we moved to Bloomfield), we had two Rottweilers, named Ra and Bo, and a black Labrador mutt creatively named Black. I didn’t like Bo at all, and Ra was kind of just there as far as I was concerned. But I loved Black. He was playful and loyal and loving, and he was the best dog my brothers and I could have hoped for.

Or…at least I think he was? I was young when Black was alive, and he died before I turned ten. As I try my best to remove the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia and childhood from my eyes, Black wasn’t around that often. He was what we called an “outdoor dog”- that is, he was almost never in the house. We’d open the door in the morning, and he went outside, and he’d come back home at night when it was time to eat and go to sleep. In Hartford, everyone knew Black, so it was no problem for him to wander around the neighborhood all day. It was a bit of an adjustment period when we moved to Bloomfield, but eventually the neighbors got with the program and stopped calling animal control every time they saw him roaming. That’s how he died. We let him out one day, and he never came back. Our school bus driver told us a few weeks later that he saw him lying on the side of the road.

All of that is to say that yes, I grew up with dogs. I even lived with a dog as an adult. One of my exes had a Shih-Tzu/Poodle mix, and she lived with me for three years. That dog was really like a more interesting cat than a dog though. She was very small, she never barked, she didn’t shed, she pooped in a little box like a cat, and was generally agreeable and inoffensive. If all dogs are like this, I thought, then I love dogs!

As you probably know, dear reader, all dogs are not like this.

I was rudely awakened to the true nature of canines last year, when I moved in with my current roommates. My roommate was caring for his niece’s Beagle, a dog known for a less-than-ideal disposition. Beagles are described as “…a merry, easy going dog that loves family, especially children, and is prone to moments of mischievous clowning. Curious, intelligent, and mildly stubborn, that Beagle is renowned for both its antics and its affection.” This dog embodies mischief and stubbornness to a T. ” Ah, a lovable rapscallion,” a dog person might say. But not being a dog person, I find all of these traits annoying at best.

Here’s what’s wrong with dogs in general: they’re two year olds who never grow up. They always have to be fed; they always have to be walked and cleaned up after; they always give you that dumb look where they act like they don’t know what you said but you know they do; they always cost money and can never earn any; they never get old enough to do chores and help run the household; they always stink and give you a hard time when it’s time for a bath. They grow from cute to annoying, but never grow from annoying to interesting like children do. They’re just dumb forever.

And then there’s the dog-specific behaviors. I don’t like barking. Don’t look at me when I’m eating food. Don’t lick me with your dirty ass tongue. Don’t jump onto my bed and shed. Don’t bother me to pet you or jump all over my friends when they visit. Just…stop being a dog.

Living with dogs as an adult has shown me that I don’t like anything that dogs actually do. That’s of course a set of personal preferences, but I felt compelled to write about it because of the almost cult-like obsession around dogs as companions. The dog memes were cute at first, but it started to seem like it was taboo or even frowned upon to say a bad thing about dogs. Well, no more. I’m taking a stand against the memes. Dogs suck. They’re just another bill. I have my needs for affection met by other humans. They invariably die before we do, and I’m not up for all the weeping and gnashing of teeth when that occurs. I’m glad you like your dog, but just know I do not feel the same way.

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A Spiritual Experience

My first science project in the fourth grade was a presentation on black holes. I had just read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, and although I didn’t understand about 97% of it, my imagination was lit ablaze by these mysterious objects that were so massive and so dense that they literally became invisible.

So when it was announced that scientists had finally managed to take a picture of a black hole for the very first time, I marked the big reveal on my calendar. I wanted to see it the moment they made the dramatic announcement. The picture (seen above) did not disappoint- a ring of fire burning infinitely in the depths of space.

That image has stayed with me. I’ll find myself daydreaming, and my mind wanders back to galaxy M87 and its supermassive black hole, consuming billions and billions of tons of matter every day. According to scientists, the black hole has a mass that is 6.5 billion times that of our sun. As I thought about all of that matter swirling around, a thought occurred to me: how could something that massive not be conscious?

Despite our constant celebration of our own uniqueness, humans are made up of the exact same materials as everything else in the universe. Atoms of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and other elements do their magical dance, and somehow the aggregate of enough little atoms forms what we call life and consciousness. Our humanity is the outgrowth of chemical processes that are found everywhere else in the universe, and the attributes of our species that we think are unique really aren’t- even trees are social beings. Our inability to conceptualize or understand the consciousness of non-human lifeforms doesn’t mean their consciousness doesn’t exist.

So if consciousness flows from the collection of atoms, how could something with 6.5 billion times the number of atoms our sun has (which itself has billions times more atoms than we have ourselves) not have some form of consciousness that we simply cannot perceive? After all, those atoms aren’t just neutral non-divisible pieces of matter. They have their own experiences too. I’m not suggesting that atoms are alive themselves, but they are the carriers of memories, information and experience. All the stuff that makes us feel: dopamine, serotonin, testosterone, estrogen; all of our memories; electrical impulses in our brains to laugh, cry or be angry; it’s all atoms scurrying about and bumping into each other. When we die, those atoms endure and make other things around us.

Does the atom that carried part of the signal to make us feel good when someone hugs us maintain that information? According to physicists, it must. When that atom becomes part of a tree later, and then part of a table, what does that mean for the table? What does it mean that all of the objects around us are the aggregate of thousands, millions or even billions of years of experience and information rearranged over and over and over?

Suppose my atoms don’t become a tree though. Instead they get ejected into space and make the 55 million light-year journey to M87, and down the chute I go into the maw of the black hole. Does that black hole now have that information? That tiny piece of a part of a hug that made me feel good?

There’s no way to know the answers to that question now, but it made me think about how interconnected everything is. I could be completely wrong about mass leading to consciousness, or inanimate objects (as we understand them) having some form of consciousness. But I will die someday, and while Jamil will cease to exist, the parts that made Jamil will be chopped up and reorganized into the next thing. The vastness of the universe exists in me, and someday I’ll return to it and become something new.

Staring into the black hole showed me that life may end, but existence is infinite. Consciousness and understanding probably take forms we can’t imagine. For these one hundred years or so, the atoms that make me will exist as a human being. Then maybe as a blade of grass, a cloud, a gamma ray or a neutron star. I find something spiritual in the interconnectedness of existence.

The next major scientific discovery that I’m waiting for is the discovery of life, as we understand and define it, somewhere else in the universe. I’m certain that discovery will happen in my lifetime, and I’m ready for my next spiritual experience on that day.

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God Is Not a Monster

There is something that has been bothering me for quite a while now. It is when people claim to be religious and then suggest or imply that God is some kind of monster in order to justify their deeply immoral beliefs. Unfortunately, it is a common phenomenon throughout history. One of the most obvious examples is the Salem Witch Trials. A more modern example is any of the jihadist terrorist attacks. If God is good, he doesn’t sanction such behavior. If he did sanction such behavior, as the perpetrators claim, then God would be a monster.

I first had this basic thought when I read Dante’s Divine Comedy many years ago. In the fourth Canto, as Dante and Virgil enter the first circle of Hell, I ran across this passage:

There, as it seemed from listening,

Were lamentations none, but only sighs,

That tremble made the everlasting air.

And this arose from sorrow without torment,

Which the crowds had, that many were great,

Of infants and of women and of men.

It was the word infants that caught me. This, of course, is Limbo. It is the place in Hell where people who were never baptized, but were otherwise blameless, are sent. Think about that for a minute. According to Dante, there is literally a special place in Hell reserved for stillborn babies. While it is true that they are not tormented, Dante says that they are, “. . .punished,/That without hope [they] live on in desire.” I couldn’t help but ask myself what kind of God would allow innocent babies to spend eternity in “sorrow” and “without hope.” The only answer I could come up with was a monstrous, immoral God. Dante implied that God was a monster. I was forced to reject Dante’s view.

One of the most prominent current examples of people depicting God as a monster is people who claim that God hates LGBTQ+ people. The Westboro Baptist Church is probably the most obvious example of this view. They are a hate group whose slogan is, “God hates ____,” where that space is filled with a slur that I’m not willing to use, but it means that God hates LGBTQ+ people. They got famous some years ago for picketing military funerals and claiming that the soldiers’ deaths are God’s punishment for the U.S. advancing a gay agenda. Normally I would link to websites and news articles for support, but this group is so disgusting that I don’t want to encourage any spread of their message. You can do a simple internet search if you need confirmation.

Unfortunately, this view is not confined to the fringes. The sitting Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, as well as many in the Republican party are proud homophobes. They don’t typically use the extreme language of the Westboro Baptist Church, they are too political to use slurs in public, but they don’t believe that LGBTQ+ people deserve the same rights as other people. This hatred of the LGBTQ+ community is virtually always rooted in the homophobe’s faith. In other words, the homophobes claim that homophobia is what God wants.

Homophobia, however, cannot be God’s will because that would make God a monster. There is no other way to look at the idea that God makes a group of people just so he can hate that group of people. The homophobes may counter that it is a function of free will, God does not make anyone LGBTQ+. That goes against the testimony of all the LGBTQ+ people who say that it is not a choice like what to have for breakfast, but rather it is at the core of who they are as people. But that can be set aside. God would still be a monster for hating LGBTQ+ people even if it is a completely free choice on their part.

It is a simple bit of reasoning to get to the idea that God does not hate LGBTQ+ people. Start with the fact that a person being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, or asexual does not cause any harm. It is simply a fact about a person, like having brown hair or being taller than average. It could not possibly cause harm. Next is the fact that God would not brand something that is harmless as a sin. It would be obvious that something was wrong if having brown hair were considered sinful. Having brown hair causes no harm. It doesn’t even matter if a person’s hair is brown naturally or if it is dyed. It doesn’t affect anyone else in any way. The same is true for being LGBTQ+. It doesn’t affect anyone else. If God were offended by harmless traits in people, that would make God a bigot which is a pretty monstrous thing to be.

Throughout this piece, I have been simply asserting that God is not a monster. I’m working under the assumption that God is good since that is the thing everyone says about him. I do have to recognize the fact that I could be wrong. I’m not a prophet, I have no special insight into the nature of God. Maybe God is a monster. Maybe he is bigoted, mean, selfish, and cruel. It does not change my main point. If God really is a monster, it would still be wrong for people to use God as an excuse for holding immoral beliefs or doing immoral actions. God’s opinion has no bearing on whether something is good or bad, right or wrong. If the Westboro Baptist Church is accurate in their picture of God, all it means is that God is bad. That’s no excuse for the rest of us to be bad as well.

Another way to think of it is that if God is not good, God is pointless. I know that people tend to be wary of a pragmatic view of truth. However, the best defense of religion I’ve ever read is by William James, a pragmatist, and when there is no direct evidence to consult (which there isn’t when it comes to God), pragmatism is used by everyone, including scientists, to arrive at reasoned conclusions. God’s only real reason for being is his goodness. He can serve as an example of how we should live our lives. He can be a beacon of justice in the world. Everything else attributed to him, whether ultimately true or not, is a waste as it doesn’t impact us in any way.

I will stick to my belief that God is good. None of us have any control over God, but we do control ourselves. We can, and should, choose to be good regardless of God’s opinions or wishes. The world is a better place if God is good. I wish Mike Pence and his ilk would stop suggesting otherwise. It is also nice to think that the immoral people who justify their immorality with God will learn their error and feel some remorse. I don’t believe that they will, or should, be tortured for their beliefs, though. Because God is not a monster.

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The Fourth First Day of School

My daughter started third grade today. I have a tradition here of writing a post about the first day of school each year. I don’t want to break tradition, so here goes.

The first thing I’d like to report is that I’m getting a little better at this first day of school thing. I actually took a picture of my daughter in her back-to-school outfit before we left this morning. It’s the first time in four years I’ve done anything to mark the occasion. Of course, the only reason I took the picture is because my mom texted me and asked for a picture this year. But, it’s still an improvement.

The only thing that really struck me this morning is how normal the morning felt. My daughter was in camps all summer. So, we’ve been waking up at the same time and I’ve been making lunches all summer. It almost felt like last school year never ended. That’s really sad if you stop and think about it, so I tried my best not to think about it.

Otherwise, there’s really nothing to report. I guess that’s also an improvement. She handles it every year like a champ, and it’s become part of my routine.

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I’m Looking For Someone

I need the internet’s help. I was on vacation in Vermont last week with my family. On Sunday, 8/18/19 (Unless it was Saturday, 8/17. The days run together when you’re on vacation. But, I’m pretty sure it was Sunday.), we went to the Creemee Stand in Wilmington for ice cream. There’s nothing unusual about that. Our family vacations kind of revolve around ice cream. But it was raining really hard that night. There was thunder and lightning and just buckets of rain. The Creemee Stand isn’t a sit down ice cream parlor. It’s more like a stationary food truck with a few picnic tables nearby. Any sane family would have said, “We probably don’t need ice cream tonight. Let’s go back to the house where it’s warm and dry.” But, we firmly believe it’s not a vacation if you don’t get ice cream every day, so we braved the torrents and stood outside to get ice cream.

Surprisingly, we weren’t the only people getting ice cream. There was a woman who got in line behind us. Someone else was crazy enough to wait out in the crazy thunderstorm for ice cream. I wasn’t able to talk to her what with the storm and being on umbrella duty trying to keep my family as dry as possible. But, I’m completely intrigued by her. I want to know who she is and why she was willing to get completely soaked at an ice cream stand.

I’m not saying I’m going to marry her or anything. This isn’t Cinderella. Mostly because I’m assuming she’s an autonomous person for whom I cannot make decisions. But also because I really don’t know anything about her. All I know for sure is that she has dark hair, is quite a bit shorter than I, and that she was out getting ice cream in the pouring rain.

In my perfect world, she was getting ice cream because she also believes that a vacation is not a vacation without getting ice cream every day. And that she was vacationing in Vermont from the Hartford area. And, while we’re at it, that she knows that the proper response to the title of this piece is, “Looking? Found someone you have I would say.” And that she thinks it’s cool that I brought a Toni Morrison novel for my vacation read. And that she’s single and thought I was cute standing out in the rain at the Creemee Stand.

None of that is very likely, though. So, I’ll just be content to find out who she is and why she was at the Creemee Stand in the rain that night. Or, at least content to know that I tried.

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Phones

I got a new phone today. I have officially joined the iPhone/Android duopoly. My old phone was a Windows phone. I really liked it. I would have happily bought a new one, but they don’t make it anymore. That’s actually why I had to get a new phone. Since they don’t make it anymore, it had been months since my phone got an update and the apps were no longer supported, so they were dying off.

Aside from the fact that my Windows phone could do everything an iPhone or an Android can do (and could actually do it before the other phones caught up), the thing I probably liked best about it was that it wasn’t an iPhone or an Android. Having only two companies control the entire phone market is a bad thing for us all. It’s a shame that so few of us seem to realize that anymore.

Picking a new phone was actually kind of tricky since I only had two options, but I really wanted a third or fourth or fifth. I wound up with an iPhone. On balance, Apple seems to be a little less evil than Google. That doesn’t seem like a stellar way to have to pick, but it’s all I had. I just hope the new phone is shiny enough and fancy enough to distract me from feeling like a complete sellout.

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Air Conditioning

I don’t use air conditioning in my house. The only time in my life I air conditioned my home was while I was married. It wasn’t really my choice. I didn’t have air conditioning as a kid, in college, or when I moved out on my own. And since my divorce, I have not used air conditioning.

I wish I could say that it was just because I like the heat, but I cannot. I hate the heat. Summer is the worst. But, as much as I hate it, and I really, really hate it, it doesn’t get me to use air conditioning.

When people ask why, I kind of reflexively say that it’s too expensive. That was probably true when I was a kid. It was certainly true during college and for the decade after college. But I can afford it now. It’s not because I’m cheap that I don’t have air conditioning.

It is true that I’m not a fan of air conditioning, at least the window units that I would have to use. They’re loud. I prefer fresh air. And did I mention that they’re loud? But my dislike of the air conditioners isn’t nearly as strong as my hatred for the heat. So, that’s not the real reason.

I could say that I don’t use it because of environmental concerns, but that would only be partly true. I am environmentally conscious. I’m a stickler for turning off lights; maximizing mileage; and reducing, reusing, and recycling. I walk when I can. According to the power company, I consume significantly less energy than my efficient neighbors. But I’m not a fanatic. I live a normal life. If my lack of air conditioning were simply due to environmental concerns, I’d have to give up TV, my car, and a bunch of other things I’m not willing to give up.

I think the real reason I don’t have air conditioning is the knowledge that air conditioning contributes a great deal to making the world warmer. I know that sounds like environmentalism, but it isn’t. Something that is designed to make my house cooler and more comfortable makes the world warmer and more uncomfortable. That’s too much irony for me. I can’t live that way. I’m not an ironic person. It makes me uncomfortable.

I can drive my car even though I know it contributes to the warming of the planet. There’s no irony there. The point of a car is to get me from place to place, not to cool me off. It’s not that I don’t worry or feel guilty about driving. I sometimes do. But when it’s a choice between keeping my job or quitting driving, I can get myself to drive. I can’t do the same with air conditioning. As long as I know that the thing whose purpose is to cool me is making me hotter, I can’t do it. Looks like I’ll have to live without it until I can afford a geothermal system or my electricity is 100% renewable. For now, I’ll just keep being hot and hating it.

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A Negotiation

Time for my seventh entry in the 12 stories in 12 months writing challenge. This month the prompt was “Men and Women.” That’s an easy one. Probably more than 95% of all the stories ever written are about men and women. But the word count was 300. That’s hard. I’m a fan of short, the shorter the better, but 300 words is really short. I wanted to avoid any kind of love story because it seemed too obvious for the prompt. I decided to go with a big theme so I wouldn’t have to waste any space with setup. The original draft was still quite a bit too long. I cut a lot to get it to 300. Let me know what you think.

                Women said, “OK, enough is enough. We’ve been going like this forever. We need a change.”

                “Don’t be silly,” men replied.

                “We’ll strike without change.”

                “Perhaps we can negotiate. What are your demands?”

“We demand the opportunity to work in the same jobs as men,” women answered.

                “We can arrange that. At least for most jobs,” replied Men.

                “All jobs.”

                “Not right away,” Men protested. “You have to prove you can do all the jobs.”

                “Good. We will. We also demand that women’s work be respected and done by men as well.”

                “Wait a minute. We can’t force anyone to respect something. That’s not how respect works. Nor can we force people to take jobs they don’t want.”

                “But it’s only fair. . .”

                Men interrupted, “Life isn’t fair. If any men want to be nurses or secretaries or do housework, we won’t stop them, but that’s the best we can do.”

                Women asked, “Who will do all of the women’s work?”

                “Women will. You can’t just stop doing the work you’ve always done. It will take time to transition. Society will break down otherwise.”

                “But how can we do men’s jobs if we keep doing women’s jobs?”

                “You’re the ones who wanted to do our jobs,” Men answered. “You’ll have to figure that out.”

                “Then you’ll have to compensate us if we’re doing both.”

                “That’s just absurd. Teachers and nurses already get paid. We can’t pay you for housework or child rearing, they don’t generate any revenue.”

                Women said, “So, you’ll allow us to work in men’s jobs, if we can prove we’re qualified. But you won’t do women’s work, or respect it, or compensate it. Is that the best we can get?”

                “It is.”

                “I guess we’ll have to take it,” Women said.

                “We think that went well.”

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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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