To see the complete Chapter 1, use the following link;https://catchafallingstarbook.net/2018/11/24/hidden-kingdom-chapter-1-complete/
Nocturne 8 – In Space, in an Egg…
The two escape pods pushed out of the back end of the Apatosaurus-shaped command starship both looked like extremely large dinosaur eggs. Two command-level officers were being marooned in space in each pod. Fortunately for those inside the space-dino eggs, Admiral Cloudstalker and Captain Black Fly in one, ADaB and PiP, the two Djinnistani Peris, in the other, they were still on the edge of the Don’t Go Here star system. They could communicate with Aerobase Frieda and be rescued within a couple of hours at sub-light speeds.
“Well, I guess I really blew that one,” Arkin Cloudstalker said, referring to the theft of their command vessel while they were making their initial inspection tour.
“You really can’t blame yourself for this one, sir,” Black Fly said sympathetically.
“What do you mean? Certainly, I can blame myself if I want to. It’s what good leaders do… take responsibility for failures, I mean.”
“You didn’t fail. You were taken prisoner in a very well-planned shipboard insurrection carried out by a group of religious fanatics, the very existence of which no one could’ve even predicted, much less defeated.”
“We were aware such a cult existed, weren’t we?”
“No. We were not. You can take my word for it as a top agent of the White Duke’s special intelligence forces. We knew there were scholars and zealots who followed the prophecies religiously, but no one knew they had leadership with Imperial Intelligence training and a gift for military plans just like the one we fell victim to. If you have to blame someone, blame me. I’m the one with the intelligence responsibilities and long years of training.”
“Well, I certainly don’t blame you. Tell me, since Black Fly is some kinda code name, do you even have a real name?”
“My name is legally now “the Black Fly,” my mother once called me Amanda… and you can too, if you like.”
Arkin nodded. He would certainly remember that name. He knew that he preferred it to her real name.
“Maybe we should put in a call to ADaB and PiP. They may have called Frieda already. I’m sure help is probably on the way.”
“It’s part of the genius of Lizard Lady’s plan that she kidnapped us, and waited until we were at the edge of the heliosphere before she set us adrift in space.”
“She knew that no one could blast her out of orbit with you still on board. You’re the Grand Admiral, after all.”
“Well, that’s something I will have a hard time living down with Tron Blastarr. I lost his brand-new starship design the very first time I was acting as the Grand Admiral.”
“He shouldn’t be that hard to handle. You’re his boss now, you know,” she answered.
“Yes, that’s true, isn’t it?”
Arkin reached over to the comm unit on the inside wall of the space egg. He punched in the code for the other egg.
“Um, Admiral… ah… um, ah, AH, AAAHHH!” said ADaB’s voice, cryptically.
“What’s happening, ADaB? Are you being murdered?”
“Um, ah… no, Admiral. It’s PiP. She says we have a couple of hours to kill. And, well… She’s very much a female you know.”
“Yes, I know.”
“And the average female Peri is taught many years’ worth of love-making skills on Djinnistan. And she’s… she’s… very GOOoooOOOoodddD! Um, gotta go now, boss…”
“Hmm. And here I thought the two of them didn’t really like each other very much.”
When Arkin looked at Black Fly Amanda, though, he noticed the evil sparkle in her eyes and the smirk on her face.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” Arkin asked.
“Well, those two little imps put some ideas in my head. And, anyway, you had to have noticed where it was always going to end up between the two of us. Am I right?”
Arkin Cloudstalker blushed furiously. He was a Space Knight, a hero in a white cowboy hat. He had worked with Lady Knights for years, and never once…
And then beautiful Amanda kissed him. He reached up and switched off the lights.
My wife is an immigrant from the Philippines, come to this country in 1993 to be a Texas public school teacher. Like the other members of the Filipino colonization of the United States, she came here with family. And more are coming every year. You go to a family gathering and meet cousins by the dozens, friends from this country, and friends from that country, and their relatives, and lots and lots of kids… that must belong to somebody somewhere.
They get together and talk, tell jokes, eat, talk some more, sing karaoke, mostly off key, tell stories about the Philippines in English, and stories about the Philippines in Tagalog, and stories about the Philippines in Kapampangan, and even stories about the Philippines in Ilocano (but nobody listens to him anyway… He’s from the North) and sing more karaoke, and definitely take a group photo while eating and talking.
And one time at one of these family gatherings, while others were singing karaoke, somebody put a baby girl in my lap. She was Renfatootie Paffenboingey. (Obviously not her real name… even in Kapampangan.) She was the daughter of my wife’s cousin and her Greek husband. She was only about a month old then. My own daughter had not yet been born. She was, in fact, not even certain to be a daughter at that point in the pregnancy.
“You need to get used to holding one of those,” Renfatootie’s mother told me.
And then the sweet little thing looked at me and smiled (though she was not old enough to focus her eyes and what she did was probably more gas bubble than smile.) I am told that you are not supposed to fall in love with other people’s children, so I didn’t. Or I did and just lied about it afterwords.
There were several other times that baby Ren was put in my lap. I rocked her to sleep and sang softly to her more than once at family gatherings and picnics and barbecues and… they do a lot of eating in Filipino families.
As Ren got older they began to call her “Tweety” because of the big forehead and big eyes and the Tweety-bird grin she always wore. I didn’t see her often, and talked to her even less. I really thought she didn’t know who I was. She was not my kid. She smiled at me a lot, but she smiled at everybody.
Then one day we were at a picnic in New Braunfels where the families were all taking advantage of the cold spring water in the creek in the park on hot South Texas day. I was talked into putting on swim trunks and getting in the water with my kids and all the other kids. Renfatootie had a squirt gun. She was about ten then. And as malevolent as a ten-year-old is made by God to be. Every opportunity she found she used to squirt me directly in the face. And then she giggled and ducked the splashes of my weakly attempted revenge. It almost got to the point of being more irritating than cute.
Later I had put clothes back on and most everyone was settled into eating and talking and taking group photos while eating for the rest of the afternoon. Renfatootie “Tweety” Paffenboingey came after me soaking wet from her most recent dip in the cold water.
“Michael! Give me a hug!” she commanded, throwing her arms out wide for me. I took hold. And the wet little thing soaked my clothes in chilled water as she gave me such a squeeze that my eyes nearly popped out of my head.
“You did that just to get me wet again,” I said, with a smile rather than anger.
“Nah. You gotta love ’em while you got ’em. I don’t get to love you near enough.”
I was not the only one she pulled the wet-hug trick on that day. But she left me admiring her philosophy of life in a big way. I may not seize the opportunity as much as she does. But I have resolved to try.
It’s been a few years since I saw her last. She’s a big girl now. Graduated from high school and everything. But remembering her brings a smile to my face even now.
Here I am again, exhausted by battles with life and disease and uncertainty. I haven’t caught the Corona-virus, or anything so fatal. But I had to drive my number two son to work last night and bring him home this morning. He is working for the Dallas Sheriff’s Department and doing the night shift. The drive is about forty minutes each way in light traffic, and I suffer from arthritis and diabetes which both make driving that far a misery.
And driving that far, forty minutes alone with my own thoughts and worries, I was not only plagued by my aching rib cage and diabetic headaches, but my mind returned to that same dark, muddy wheel-rut that infects so much of my driving down novel-writing paths… In the Baby Werewolf, Sing Sad Songs, Fools and their Toys, and other stories as well. I can’t get out of that horrible trap I was in when I was ten and sexually assaulted.
You see, his brother gave me a warning, telling me about what had been done to him on a couple of occasions. But, stupid little me, I didn’t understand what he meant. I mean, I knew what testicles were, but I had not had the sex talk at that point to know anything at all that was true about the subject. I sorta liked girls, though I never admitted that to any of my girl-hating friends. And I knew sex was something that people did that would make me want to kiss a… (ergh) girl. But I had no idea how it worked or why you would do that. And I suspected what Lonny told me had something to do with sex, but I had no idea what the connection was.
I admit that I could not tell you the date that it happened. It was some time in October, I think, before the tornado tore apart Belmond, Iowa where both of my parents were working. I am pretty sure after the long night worrying about my parents, both, it turned out, helping with rescue and attending to injuries, I was so overwhelmed by the terrors of that month of my life that I intentionally buried what had happened to me in a lock box in an unused dark part of my memory, where it stayed until I opened it again when I was twenty-two.
Now, here is the part you may want to skip, the horrible secret I kept buried for twelve years and only talked about twice with one other person in the following twenty-nine years. He caught me when I was playing alone in my own back yard. He dragged me to the pile of used tractor tires in the neighbors’ yard. He pulled me into an alcove in the side of the tire-pile where nobody else could easily see. He roughly pulled down my pants. And what he did hurt so bad I saw stars. Who knew that you could twist part of another human being in a way that could cause that much pain? And that was not the worst of it. He warned me not to yell. “Nobody will hear you anyway. And you will just get hurt more. ” He showed me how much he enjoyed what he was doing to me. His enjoyment was large and scary to look at. And he got that way by causing me pain. He even told me that it was happening to me because I wanted it to happen. My head was too dead inside at that point to tell him that it wasn’t the truth.
I know that I probably should have told a teacher, or my parents, or the police. Believe me, a lot of years of regret and self-loathing happened because of that “should have.” But when I finally unlocked the repressed memory, my attacker was already married and a father. And I had never heard a report that he had done the same thing to anyone else. I could’ve destroyed his life by telling someone then. But would anyone have believed me? Especially if his record was clean otherwise? And how petty and evil would I have looked after keeping a terrible secret like that for twelve years? I made it my mission to learn everything I could about that kind of sexual assault. Was I a monster myself for having something like that happen to me? Especially for not telling? Cowardice can make a man a monster, can’t it?
John Wayne Gacy was arrested in December of 1978. My memories of the assault on me had come flooding back into my memory in April of that same year. Gacy had handcuffed, raped, and murdered over thirty young men and boys. And during the trial, it came out that he had himself been sexually abused as a child. That news stabbed me right in the heart. Was I destined to become that kind of creature of darkness? Was I a monster?
Simply put… I am not a monster.
And it was up to me to prove it. I like to think I did just that. As a teacher, especially when I was still single, I made a special effort to be a mentor and a protector to young middle-school and high-school boys. I did not rape and murder even one. I was dungeon master for endless Saturday role-playing games. I gave them a sympathetic ear to listen to the things they needed to talk about. I reported some abuse. I even fed a few of the hungry ones.
Judgmental old ladies noticed the time I spent with kids and took note of the fact that I was unmarried (though I had two different steady girlfriends they didn’t notice.) I got reported for their suspicions. But I had character references to help in that matter. I had game-mastered for the son of the County Sheriff and the son of the Baptist Minister, as well as the son of the high school Science teacher. I had already been thoroughly investigated at that point. And every boy they asked about me defended me. I felt that proved… at least a little bit, that I was not a monster.
I can’t say truthfully that I never had a moment of inappropriate lust in my life. But, not only was I not a rapist, molester, or murderer, I was not gay. And no girl was ever invited by me into my apartment. Only my girlfriend was responsible for inviting them and was always present when they visited. (Except for one girl who came with her older brother for role-playing games, and she was always chaperoned by her brother and one or two of his friends. And he brought her along without an invitation from me.) Truthfully, I never invited anybody to my apartment. The kids would ask for a role-playing game, and I would agree. Even my girlfriends weren’t invited by me. They just assumed they were welcome and came in anyway. I didn’t protest… most of the time.
From the time I learned in Belmond Junior High what being a virgin meant, I never considered myself to be one. But that was because of the horrible secret. My sex-life and love-life were extremely quiet and eunuch-like until I got married at the age of 38 (girlfriend number three, and the second teacher-girlfriend). My sex-life was negatively affected by the horrible secret. My chance to become a practicing nudist was also stifled by the horrible secret. I still suffer from the after-effects of what he did to me. Especially when my illnesses and a long drive make me feel bad and a bit down. But I am not a monster. And that one resolve has kept me from ever being one.
After trying to hash out a truce with hard-headed hardware, I finally got my scanner working again, despite an unruly and uncooperative keyboard that puts in the wrong command even as I am trying to type this.
Once harnessed to the wagon again, the scanner must now pull more than its own weight as I attempt to create illustrations for my book of essays.
I am working on scanning and converting things to all black and white. So, all of these Art Day illustrations are pulling towards that goal. And much of what I will show you is newly scanned, or re-scanned, or black-and-white.
I live mostly in my memory nowadays, so you will have to forgive me for not doing everything in time order. Today I have chosen to use the time machine in my head to go back to the years 1965 through 1968 so that I can tell you a true-ish story about the Other Mike.
This is mostly important to where some of the things I put into my novels come from. Mike Bridger and I were alike in many ways. He was also a skinny kid from Iowa who was obsessed with comic books and monster movies. He was also immensely creative, especially about ways to get our gang of friends into trouble. He was likable, good-hearted, and enthusiastic about learning, especially about things the teacher didn’t really want him to know about. He was a year older than me, born in 1955 to my 1956. We were both the oldest child. He had two brothers. I had two sisters and one little brother. And he was both my enemy and my good friend. We both knew that purple was the color of real magic. And we were both Mike B. So, when we were in the same grade-school classroom, Miss Mennenga taught third and fourth graders together in the same classroom, just as Miss Rietz taught fifth and sixth graders together. So, one of us had to be the “Other Mike.”
In Miss Mennenga’s classroom, I was the student who excelled at reading aloud. So, I was the Literary Mike, the Story Mike. But when he brought the frog to school so that we could dissect it alive and see the heart beating (Miss M used a scalpel to pierce the little froggy-brain so the frog wouldn’t feel pain. This she learned how to do from a book about teaching science, and convinced me that knowledge treasures were inevitably in books.) he was forever after the Mr. Science Mike. He liked me enough to invite me to Science Frog’s funeral. He delivered the eulogy. The preacher’s kid and I dug the hole and buried the froggy corpse.
When we plotted how we were going to eventually get to the moon, the plans always came from the Other Mike’s evil little brain.We talked a lot about astronauts. We watched a lot of Walter Cronkite narrating Mercury and Gemini launches. And the two-person Gemini capsules led to a lot of space walks and really neat stuff like that. We talked about Alan Shepherd and Guss Grissom. We both knew about John Glenn’s amazing feat of orbiting the earth. We both knew about the first space walk by Ed White, and we were both devastated by the fire aboard Apollo 1 that caused the deaths of Grissom, White, and Chaffee. I built a model of the Apollo command module and the LEM ( Lunar Expeditionary Module), and the Other Mike broke the landing pad off of one of the LEM’s feet. We went through celebration and tragedy together several times. He moved away from Rowan in the Summer of 1969, so we never actually got to talk about the moon landing by Apollo 11.
And we both loved monster movies, which I wasn’t allowed to watch. He didn’t have a bedtime and could stay up to watch “Gravesend Manor,” the midnight monster-movie show on Saturday nights. I had to get my monster-movie fix each week from him. Second-hand narration was better than nothing, and because we both had vivid imaginations, it was probably scarier than watching the actual movie. I remember how he recounted Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man, blow by blow, death by death. The recounting of what happened to Larry Talbot as he changed under the full moon not only gave me nightmares, it chilled him in the telling of it, and he was actually shaking in parts.
Mike Bridger (not his real name, though close because the Other Mike thing was real) became the character Milt Morgan in my hometown novels, Superchicken, The Baby Werewolf, The Boy… Forever, and his character arc will be complete when I finish the book, The Wizard in his Keep.
But as a boy, from ages 9 to 13, I know now things about the Other Mike that I didn’t know then.
I knew he was constantly bruised on his arms and legs. I knew he had cold sores more often than any of us. His hair was always kept closer cropped than mine, and I was known to have a lot of butch-cuts and flat-tops. I became aware that he was often plagued by fleas. I didn’t know his father was an alcoholic. And he never said a word about being abused. But the adults in my life were keener in discerning the truth. And now I regret every argument I had with him. I even regret the fistfight with his younger brother Danny. I got my first and only black eye from that fight. Boy! Do I ever regret that now, looking back at from years in future beyond that point. That hurt in more ways than one.
So, it’s safe to say that Milt Morgan is a me-character. I and the Other Mike are both the same person in a lot of ways. And I know how he feels about practically everything in life, because the Other Mike and I know each other really well. And we both had enough empathy to know what it was like to be the Other Mike. Not actually the same person, but close enough to know what it’s like to be the other person, to feel like the other person, the Other Mike.
I write novels that I think of as being basically humorous. But I have had readers ask of me after reading them, “What the hell makes you think these stories are funny?”
And besides the fact that they are invoking the name of the Norse goddess of the underworld, they do have a point.
My stories have unsavory things in them. I have stories where the plot is driven by the conflicts caused by physical and emotional child abuse, a pornographer who becomes a murderer when denied the opportunity to make kiddie porn, a father abandoning his wife and daughter through suicide, fools causing others to freeze to death in a blizzard, murderous robot hit-men, space pirates that kill a quarter of the population of a high-population planet, and lizard people from outer space that eat human flesh and each other. (Of course, one could argue the last few things are dark humor created by gross exaggeration and random bizarre details.)
But not everything in a comedy is a laugh line. I would argue that a perfect example of a comic novel with dark things in it is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. That novel begins with a slave running away from a kind mistress because he is to be sold away from his family., and a boy who narrowly escapes death by the rages of his drunken father and runs away to protect not only himself, but the kind widow who took him in after the events of the previous novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
In the course of the novel Huck sees his young friend, Buck Grangerford, killed during a pointless family feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons. He comes upon the body lying in a creek, and no laughter is generated by the scene.
Further, two snaky old con men, the King and the Duke, try to steal away everything from three girls, newly orphaned, by posing as two uncles come to take them back home to England. Huck is forced to aid them as his friend Jim is held hostage and threatened with a return to slavery. There is plenty to laugh at, but not until Huck manages to do the right thing and commit the King and the Duke to their well-earned tar and feathers.
Comedies, I would argue, have to have conflict, and some of the best comedies have terrible things in them that the characters you learn to love and laugh with have to overcome. It is in overcoming hard things with love and laughter that a comedy is made different than a tragedy. The comedy does not depend on the laugh lines. In fact, some of the hardest-hitting tragedies have laughter scattered throughout.
I am not trying to educate you. I am merely offering excuses for why I call my stories humor when they often horrify and upset readers. (How dare he write about naked people!!!) But if you learned something, I won’t be terribly disappointed.
I have been working on compiling good essays from this blog into book form. It is becoming a sort of obsession. The problem is, I am likely running out of time. My health is getting worse in the middle of a pandemic that is killing thousands of people just like me. I have been having problems with passing out during the midmornings repeatedly for several days in a row. I fear I may be headed towards heart failure or a stroke. And if it comes down to an ambulance ride, I can’t afford it, and I will not economically survive it. And all the intensive care units around here in North Texas are swamped with COVID patients. It is important for me to finish and publish this book of essays. It is part of me as a writer that I simply must leave behind.
“Why are essays important?” you may ask. And here’s where I would normally insert a joke answer. I try hard not to take myself too seriously. It is the only way I can deal with what has been a very serious life. And at the point in my essay book where I will insert this essay, I will not need to review what those things are that are so serious. (Being a teacher and shaping young minds. Being a sexual assault survivor. Helping teenagers to live through suicidal depressions. I know, I know, I should’ve resisted the urge to list them.)
But I have spent a lifetime teaching kids to write four-and-five-paragraph essays. And I am also a serious reader of essays. I have read and thoroughly studied Loren Eiseley’s The Invisible Pyramid, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Collected Essays by H.L. Mencken, selected essays by James Thurber, Life as I Find It: A Treasury of Mark Twain, Charles Lamb’s Essays of Elia, and parts of John Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice. I also thoroughly loved and used as a teacher All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. So, I do not claim without reason that I do know something about how to write an essay. (Although you are welcome to disagree based on numerous bits of evidence in this goofy blog,)
At this point I am obligated to define for you what I believe an essay should be and what its potential uses are. An essay, simply put, is a pile of a fool’s best thinking put down on paper in prose rather than being distilled down into lines of poetry or embroidered and expanded with lies to make it into fiction. At its best it can open reader’s mental eyes and change societies, if not the entire world. At its worst it can incite violence, stir hatreds, and generally muck everything up. My essays land somewhere between, in the realm of mildly-amusing purple paisley prose that can really waste your time.
An essay, because it is based on truthful observations, can rip away the costumes and masks that authors put on to write fiction and make that educated fool of an author metaphorically naked in front of the reader. After blogging like this since 2013, I admit to having no real secrets left that I have not at least mentioned in my blog somewhere. I am less naked when being a sometime-nudist than I am in the sentences and paragraphs of these essays.
Now that I have thoroughly convinced you that you made a big mistake by reading this far through my essay compilation, I will reveal the fact that I have put this essay somewhere closer to the end of the book rather than near the beginning. Like all essayists, I am a fool (hopefully in the Shakespearean wise-fool sense), but I am not stupid. So I won’t laugh at you for falling for my tricks, but I can’t promise not to be at least a little bit amused. But time is short. So, on to the next essay!
Canto 107 – A Group of Space Goons is Called a Goon-o-plex
The situation on Rimbaud Memorial Outstation began with a single Space Goon, as they all almost always do. Infestations, I mean. Space Goons reproduce asexually like microscopic amoebas do, by splitting into three parts after eating something. And then each part split off from the original grows into a new Goon. First you have one. It eats a cat. Then you have three. They eat another cat, a plate of unattended Italian meatballs, and a decorative plant. Then you have nine. Six of those get into the food pantry. One finds the last living cat on the outstation. And two more eat a small gambler who lost everything playing deep-space poker and drank himself into a coma with gargleblasters. Then you quickly reach eighty-one. You get the alarming idea, right?
“Mon dieu!” cried Banzai. “They will consume everything edible on my entire station! Please, friends, you must help me round them up and herd them out an airlock.”
“But isn’t that too cruel to do to a sentient creature?” asked Dana Cole, still shivering and naked at Trav’s command.
“They are not even as smart as Goofy Dalgoda,” said Ham Aero.
“That’s right!” cried Trav “Goofy” Dalgoda. “We must space them because they are too stupid to live.”
“No, they are able to live fine in space without space suits,” I told them all, calling upon my scientific acumen and nearly omniscient memory. “They will just float happily out there with nothing to eat, at least until they collide with a planet or asteroid, or some other place with gravity.”
“Do I recall correctly when I remember that in a feeding frenzy, a hundred Space Goons start eating people… at least those made of flesh and blood?” asked Duke Ferrari, showing something more than just mild concern.
“Naw, I think that’s just a spacer myth told because Space Goons come from unknown space and not enough is known about them,” suggested Ham.
At that same moment, a Space Nudist serving girl disappeared in a goon-o-plex of a hundred and three Goons. Muffled cries were heard, followed by munching sounds, and then no more serving girl was to be seen.
“How do we get them off the outstation?” asked Banzai.
“I has some middlin’ experience with Space Goon cat-nip recipes, I has,” volunteered Sinbadh, offering his cooking skills.
“What did he say?” asked Banzai.
“He says he’ll cook up some Goon-bait to put in the airlock,” I translated. “If the smell is right, they will all follow the bait out into space and reproduce out there.”
“But Oi will needs sum special Goon grub to make it with!” announced Sinbadh.
“What do you need?” Banzai was desperate.
“Ol’ shoe-leather, some turpentine, Samothracian onions, a dash o’ me own special sauce, and all the bar soap you can muster from every fresher on the whole outstation, me buck-o!”
Swiftly the star-dog cook got to his business. Banzai kept the ravenous Space goons, now over a thousand strong, occupied by throwing them a few non-paying customers and one or two of his ugliest serving girls.
Then Sinbadh returned from the kitchen with a pot of extremely smelly stew. He ran past the Space Goons to an emergency airlock, grabbed hold of a support beam with one hand, opened the air lock with his foot, and while Space Goons, outstation staff, and customers alike were sucked out into space, threw the pot of smelly goo out too. All of the Space Goons followed it out. As Sinbadh closed the airlock again, we could see that only about fifty percent of the people in the area the Space Goons had infested were lost to the void. None of those who were in our party failed to secure themselves against being sucked out of the station into space. So, the ploy was at least slightly successful.
“How did you fools manage to survive this?” cried Sorcerer 15, standing near the concourse doorway with an angry look on his white, Synthezoid face.
“You again?” Trav cried, pulling out of his hidden super-pocket that held items in an interdimensional bubble, his latest acquisition, a brand-new super-illegal Skortch ray gun.
“I’m ready for you this time Dalgoda!” said Sorcerer, pulling out a mirror-shield.
Trav shot Sorcerer 15 in the feet. As his artificial feet disintegrated, he dropped and broke the mirror-shield.
Trav then shot him in the torso and disintegrated the rest of him.
“I hate to admit it, Trav, but your obsessions prove useful at times,” Ham said.
“You will now politely give me the illegal weapon,” said Banzai Joe. “Be careful not to accidentally put a hole in the outstation that will kill us all…”
Trav grinned. First, he pointed the weapon at Banzai’s midsection. Then he handed it carefully to the outstation’s manager. “Of course. I will get it back before I leave, though. That weapon of massive destruction belongs to me. And you owe it to me to give it back. After all, I heroically saved your entire station.”
“Yes, yes… But only when you leave. I actually owe the star-dog much, much more.”
That little soiree was not the first time I had nearly lost my life to a Space Goon infestation. And it wouldn’t be the last. But it was easily one of the fastest and most ironically amusing.
You should never try to measure anything by using a yardstick that changes it size and dimensions at random. There is no way to tell if you are growing or shrinking if the recorded six inches on Wednesday is the same thing you measured at ten inches on Tuesday, but it’s a wrench that’s been in your tool box for twenty years and you know danged well that it hasn’t changed size. You realize that there is no empirical data to be had on anything if you keep using a fourth-dimensional yardstick whose flux capacitor is out of adjustment.
Human beans, however, tend to foolishly always measure with their fourth-dimensional yardsticks. The way Texas measures children’s educational development, with a new and harder test every single year. No matter that everyone knows the yardstick is broken.
During the COVID 19 pandemic, I have had a lot of time to evaluate myself and my life’s work. But it is important to find the proper yardstick. I don’t need a broken one. I need a solid, unchangeable one.
I worked for thirty-one years in Texas education, grades six through twelve, seven years teaching English as a second language to Spanish speakers, Vietnamese speakers, Chinese speakers, Lebanese speakers, Portuguese speakers, Egyptian speakers, speakers of that language used in Eritrea that I can’t even pronounce, much less spell, and speakers of multiple languages from India. I earned a pension voted into being in the 90’s and I was grandfathered past the legislation that gutted pensions for teachers in the 2000’s. Of course, pensions for teachers are like treaties with Native Americans. They disappear over time and are never spoken about again by people whose voices can actually be heard.
So, wealth is not a yardstick I can measure with. I am in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy from medical bills already, having only been six years retired. And, since I can’t afford further medical debt, the next heart problem, cancer problem, stroke, or other fatal illness will have to be the death of me. I can’t afford a cure at today’s prices. (I have health insurance, but they pay for diddly-nada. You only have health insurance so you can pay premiums to rich people, not to cover any expenses.)
Accomplishments are not a workable yardstick either. I was never a teacher of the year (or even employed in a district that gave out such an award.) I never walked on the Moon or Mars, like I wanted to do as a kid. I never starred in a movie, or directed one, or wrote the screenplay for one, as I hoped to do as a college freshman. But such things are daydreams and pixie dust anyway. No more real than a fourth-dimensional yardstick.
When I was ten years old, though, an older boy sexually assaulted me. Not merely molested me, but tortured me, caused me physical pain, from which he derived sexual pleasure. I was fortunate that he didn’t kill me, as that kind of sexual predator is known to have done. But he lived out his life quietly and died of heart attack a few years ago. He never assaulted anybody else that I or the authorities ever found out about. So, I actually forgave him after he was dead. And what he did to me made me vow to myself that I would fight against that kind of predatory behavior for the rest of my life. I would go on to be a teacher who became a mentor to lonely and fatherless boys, not to prey upon them, but to protect them from the wicked wolves of evil appetite. I did not do the same thing for girls because I knew that certain temptations might be too much for me. I am not, after all, gay even though my first sexual experience was a same-sex nightmare. And I did like beautiful women and girls. Maybe that part of my life is a gold star in the book rather than a black mark.
And I am a story-teller. I have now published sixteen novels, and I have two more cooking in the old black kettle of imagination along with a book of essays drawn from this goofy little blog. Whether that is a yardstick by which to measure or not, is entirely up to readers. Some have told me that my stories are well-written and the characters are realistic and engaging. Some have told me that putting mentions of pornography and sexual assault into my novels is too much, and that my depictions of nudists I have known and loved is inappropriate, but that too is a matter of opinion. I don’t believe I have done any of that gratuitously. And I firmly believe young adult readers want and need stories about unwanted pregnancies, being victimized, and suicidal depression. I know that when I faced those things in my real life, I benefited from the things I had read about those very things. It’s not like I was promoting anything bad.
But measuring yourself is hard. Especially if all rulers and yardsticks are of the growing-and-shrinking-randomly variety.
I woke up this morning feeling about as bad as ever I have on a morning when I wasn’t already suffering from flu or bronchitis or other illnesses. So, my first thought… those maskless mooks at Walmart. But, testing myself for fever and lung problems as quickly as possible, I discovered I was normal, and it was more a matter of nighttime arthritis pain than infection. Once I got up and moving, had breakfast and given time to my saliva and other juices to thin out and flow once more, I was feeling like I was still among the living, though plagued with illness due to joint pain and headache.
Nothing comes easily anymore. It has been over a decade since the last time I felt completely well. I fully expected that the current pandemic would be the death of me well before now. But it seems that I may have time to complete more projects. I am staying mostly alive and out of harm’s way most of the time. I continue to survive and to write. Of course, nothing comes easily. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune have made of me a virtual pincushion full of little stings and piercing, small pains.
There are still villains to be thwarted out there somewhere. My heroes and space cowboys are lined up and ready to do it. But not much will happen today. I am pretty much tied to my bed and Netflix. Fortunately, the new season of Umbrella Academy is here. That is a real hoot.
Tomorrow I will get back on track. More will get written then. And hopefully it will make more sense than it did today.