Browsing Category
Entertainment
Already Disappointed in 2020

Warning: Unlike every other article I’ve ever written in the past two months where seriously relaying well-documented fact was an explicit goal, this week’s essay is an attempt at humor and, like my father before me, I sometimes botch the punchline. Roll with it, okay?

Note: For those visiting for the first time, we don’t underline links here. If you see something in bold italic try clicking on it. Most of the time it will take you somewhere.

I woke up on Monday of this previous week not knowing what I was going to write. What I had on my calendar wasn’t going to happen because the research couldn’t be completed. Shove that one down a couple of weeks. I couldn’t really replace it with something scheduled for later because that research hadn’t been done, either. In my hour of need, I turned to Dave Barry.

For those who either are too young to know or too unenlightened (a long word that is meant to be insulting but you wouldn’t have known that had I not told you), Dave Barry is a humorist who wrote a syndicated column for the Miami Herald from 1983-2005. I read his column religiously through the 80s because one needed all the comic relief one could get to survive that decade. He “retired” when the McClatchey’s who own the Herald decided that there was no more news in Miami and started printing a daily comic book. Then came the 2016 election and you see where we are now. Everything is connected, primarily through secret tunnels under pizza chains. [That’s not true and you know it—satellites hovering over the pizza chains are what connects everything. That’s not true either, but someone will repeat it in a meme anyway.]

What inspired me to look into the future was a book Dave wrote some 22 years ago when, on the occasion of his fiftieth birthday, he looked into the past; specifically his past but in a more general tone that reflected on pop culture and the major events from 1947 forward that are largely responsible for contemporary society being as fucked up as it is. This book is considerably different from Dave’s new book, A Field Guide to the Jewish People, which he claims isn’t nearly as racist as the title sounds because it was co-written with two Jewish people, Alan Zweibel and Adam Mansbach, who presumably wrote everything except the title since Dave’s Presbyterian. I’d tell you the name of that other book, but I’d have to get up and get it from the bathroom which is where I’ve always read Dave Barry’s material. It’s cold this morning and if I get up from my warm seat and walk to the bathroom, I’ll inevitably be followed by one dog and at least three cats who want to know why you’re just sitting there rather than feeding them. 

Actually, if you have ever been a parent of a small child, you may already be familiar with Adam Mansbach’s work. If not, you need to acquaint yourself with the wonderfully appropriate children’s book, Go The Fuck To Sleep which feels as though its peering into every nursery in the world and delving into the mind of every exhausted parent of a toddler whose grandparents fed them 150 cookies and 12 cupcakes one hour before bedtime. You want to click that link, though, because the book is wonderfully narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, whose intonation of the word “fuck” has permeated our culture to the point that he is hardly known for anything else. 

Alan Zweibel has written some other stuff, too, but Samuel L. Jackson didn’t narrate any of his books so, meh. 

What struck me as I was reading through Dave’s 22-year-old book, is just how disappointed 2020 already is despite the fact that it’s not going to be here for at least another three weeks. If there’s a government shutdown on the 24th, who knows when 2020 will get here. We may be stuck on New Year’s Eve for a whole month or better, which might be a nice alternative to going into another presidential election year without the benefit of hip-waders. Hip-waders are one of the most underrated garments ever created, by the way. People who grew up in the country already know that because you’re issued your first pair of hip-waders along with a shovel and told to get to work in the barn about the time you first stand upright on your own. Country folk don’t waste time. The primary reason they have children is for cheap labor. [That’s not true. Country folk have children because the drug store won’t sell condoms without her Daddy’s permission. I wish that wasn’t true, either, but now that pharmacists are allowed to exercise their religious prerogative apparently the only place where condoms are plentiful is the District of Columbia where a case of Trojans is delivered to every new federal employee the moment they arrive.]

The fact is that movies from the 60s and 70s misled us into thinking that the human race was intelligent enough to advance to a point of impressive achievement with global peace, international cooperation, public space travel, and apparently no need to ever go to the restroom ever again. What those movies failed to get accurate is the fact that somewhere in 1980, the United States had a collective brain fart and thought that electing an overrated out-of-work actor as president was a good idea. We continued farting through the election of Newt Gingrich and his cache of demons, two Bushes over three terms, and whatever the fuck that thing is occupying the Oval Office currently. As a result, not only have we not progressed in the way those movies promised, we’ve regressed to the point people are actually arguing over whether or not Nazis are bad people. Didn’t our great-grandparents already fight that war? Oh, wait, we wouldn’t know because we’ve cut education funding to the point no school can afford history teachers anymore.

As we approach the end of this year and this decade, there is no reason to be happy and hopeful because we’ve already blown it. Instead, we should be angry because Tesla’s don’t fly, we’ve not eliminated hunger with little pills that taste like steak dinners, and we haven’t even started trying to cure diseases caused by contact with an alien race some 42 million lightyears away. In fact, there are a lot of reasons 2020 is doomed to be disappointing. Let’s me totally depress you with a few of the reasons why.

Missing The Boat On Transportation

For as long as I can remember, there has been a standing promise that at some point early in the 21st century we would have flying cars. Or cars driven by robots. Or possibly even cars driven by apes. The whole concept here was that this whole thing with traffic and slower-than-snails modes of transportation should have been gone by now. Sitting around at stoplights, putting on makeup and yelling at kids would be gone, not because we’d done away with makeup or kids (though we seem to be working on that last part), but because we should be zipping along through the atmosphere without such limitations. We should be flying!

This has been a prediction far too long for there to not be overwhelming disappointment with the fact that not only are we still bound to the ground, fussing over potholes and flat tires but that it still takes thirty minutes to get from one point in Indianapolis to another point just seven or eight miles away. Seriously, one could almost walk faster if there were actually enough sidewalks to facilitate walking without getting hit by all those land-bound cars. 

One of the earliest such predictions I could find in my deep and maddening research through the Google archives came from artist and science fiction writer Albert Robida in 1882. Yes, you read that correctly. There were people in the 19th century who had laughable faith in our ability to escape the bonds of fear, ignorance, and this silly thing called gravity so that we could go zipping around from place to place through the air. Of course, Robida was French and a contemporary of that Jules Verne guy, so what did either of them know? He also thought stereoscopic 3D imaging, which they actually did have back in 1884 and it was quite popular, would have been the norm for over a century by now. It wasn’t and we’re still arguing over how to do the whole digital 3D thing. 

There was also a prediction that if we couldn’t fly we’d at least be zipping around in giant pneumatic tubes. That prediction came as late as 1970 by David Rorvik. By that time, pneumatic tubes had been around for quite a while having been somewhat efficiently used by banks, factories, and department stores to whisk messages back and forth from one part of the building to another. I distinctly remember standing at a Sears checkout counter somewhere in the late 1960s, and watching with astonishment as the cashier put my father’s check into a metal container that was then whisked away to somewhere on the third floor of the building where it presumably bonked some poor accountant on the head as it came flying out the other end of the tube. The accountant approved the check and then put it back in the metal container, sent it back through a separate tube so it could bonk the cashier on the head. This is why no one uses checks anymore. The headaches were getting to be a bit much. 

Rorvik, who has since been all about cloning and more efficient ways of making babies for when we get tired of doing it the “old fashioned” way, envisioned a 21st century where we’d simply drive to the nearest pneumatic tube station, pick a tube, and be whisked to our next location. Sure, there are dozens of problems with that idea, but we can excuse Rorvik for getting this prediction wrong. After all, he was writing in Playboy magazine at the time and was likely distracted by all the breasts he wanted to clone or something like that.

The point is that we were supposed to be traveling much further much faster by this point in time and we are so much not doing anything close to that. In fact, we’re moving in exactly the opposite direction. In 2014, the Indiana State Legislature, being one of the most backward groups of people to have ever existed since the Neanderthal inbred themselves into extinction, banned anyone from even considering developing light rail in the state (source). Heaven forbid we zip across mile after mind-numbing mile of cornfields at 200 miles per hour or faster Indiana politicians want to keep everyone moving slowly in hopes that we can eventually turn back to a time where the state was among the leaders in producing multi-ton steel vehicles that were large enough to double as tiny homes. 

Not only were we supposed to be flying through the air in cars that would make George Jetson jealous by now, we were also supposed to have a helicopter in every garage, and jetpacks in place of those boring North Face backpacks that are only good for holding smelly gym clothes and those “extra” things one needs when they “unexpectedly” spend the night with a new friend they just met on the floor on this bar that had a special on bananafanabodana daiquiris. In short, by this point in human history, we were not supposed to be bound by those pesky laws of physics that keep our feet planted on the earth. We were supposed to be soaring into the heavens.

The reason we don’t have anything propelling us upward likely has to do with the fact that to do so safely and efficiently means using a fuel source other than anything petroleum-based. Why? Because fossil fuels have this nasty habit of doing unpleasant things such as polluting the earth and, oh yeah, blowing up unexpectedly. However, if we stop using fossil fuels, then all those big oil companies that so generously support environmental causes might go out of business. [I’ll pause here and drink a couple of cups of coffee while waiting for the laughter to die down from the absurdity of that statement.]

Seriously, though, why are we still using the exact same fuel source that we were when Mr. Ford first had underpaid workers push the Model T off the assembly line? Explain to me how that makes sense. Don’t try telling me that battery-powered electric cars are any better. Okay, they don’t use fossil fuels but where are we going to put all those used-up batteries in say 10 or 15 years? From where I’m sitting, that looks like exchanging one massive environmental disaster for another. 

Back in the 1950s, which was one of the few points in history when we silly people thought we could do anything if we just put our collective brains to the task, there was a guy heading up Ford Motor Company’s engineering and research department who was totally sold on the concept of flying cars. He was convinced that there was a way to use something called the “ground-cushion phenomenon” that would allow vehicles of his future, which was apparently remarkably different from the future the rest of us got stuck with, to essentially glide along on a cushion of air. Imagine that! Air! His concept made it as far as the Congressional Committee on Science and Astronautics, which is something the Congress no longer has because half the people there don’t believe in science or astronauts anymore owing to the fact that astronauts are not in the Bible. Eventually, however, someone brought up the fact that air is sort of free and if cars were flying around for free then how could anyone make an unreasonable four-gazillion percent profit? That killed the project and only crazy people have talked about flying cars since. [Like the two dudes who died after strapping airplane wings to a Ford Pinto. Seriously. They apparently didn’t believe in science too terribly much, either.]

My point is, we really should have taken off on this topic by now, meaning that we shouldn’t even be walking on the ground. Our shoes should have us hovering precariously so that we no longer have to worry about stepping on those damn Legos® that are seemingly invisible until one punctures the sole of their foot on one. Our concerted lack of effort and investment behind getting cars off the ground is one of the greatest disappointments of this century. We’ve let the entire 20th century down. They had faith in us. We blew it. Every engineer should go stand in a corner until they’re ready to solve this problem.

The Unending Bafflement of Technology

“Ooh, look! It’s another meme with that white cat slapping back at a lady who clearly forgot to use water-proof mascara and could possibly wreak havoc on the whole planet if that other lady wasn’t holding her back!”

This is the culmination of modern technology. We have the wealth of the world’s history and literature right here in the palm of our hands. Chances are you are using the palm of your hand to read this article. Okay, maybe not the actual palm of your hand but the device you’re holding might as well be considered part of your anatomy given how infrequently we set them down or stop looking at them. We have all this information readily available, so why aren’t we smarter, why isn’t technology making even larger advances and doing all the things that people a century or more ago were sure we’d be able to do by now?

Simple: it’s all Tim Berner Lee’s fault. He invented the Internet and ever since then we’ve been using this wonderful global technology to look at cat memes and naked boobs. That’s it. We’re totally distracted and not a damn thing has gotten accomplished in the field of technology that doesn’t involve making it easier to share cat memes and look at boobs. That’s it. That’s where technology has taken us. Mind you, this isn’t the fault of the technology. The technology itself is wonderful and still holds a tremendous amount of potential. The problem is that we would rather look at pictures of cats and boobs than actually doing anything that solves serious problems.

Oh, we also use the Internet to yell at each other. We like to yell at each other online because there’s no way in hell that we would ever be able to get away with it in person. Someone would punch us right smack in the face and we would probably deserve it for being so loud and inappropriate in the first place. Normal social rules don’t seem to apply to the Internet because we don’t want them to apply to the internet. Spelling rules don’t seem to apply, either, because the speed at which we can post something is more important, even if said message sits in someone’s inbox for three days before they reply. At least we got it there. Reading is the other person’s responsibility.

There are other aspects of technology that are disappointing as well. The fact that we require transportation to get us from one place to the other is on par with never having gotten the Superman pajamas that were in the Sears Christmas Catalog, despite repeatedly dog-earing that page and circling the product number for more years than I really should have been looking at that section of the Sears catalog. We all know the real action was over in the lingerie department where none of the women ever wore shirts. The lack of teleportation is a disappointment on that same level.

Michael J. O’Farrell, the founder of The Mobile Institute, is the one who got my expectations high. He was certain that by 2020 we’d be zapping things and people back and forth without having to spend thirty minutes looking for the car keys that either the cat knocked off the table or the toddler kindly placed in the trash that’s now sitting out by the curb. O’Farrell saw potential there in the technology that was available. He saw what we could do. He had a vision for how humanity could benefit by bouncing around from one place on the planet to the other without having to climb over ill-conceived walls or declaring 4,326 seashells when going through customs. We should have teleportation, but yet, to date, the only teleportation that has been achieved was with a laser beam and that was all the way back in 2002, down in Australia [source]. 

Oh, I almost forgot, there was that time Chinese scientist teleported a proton [source]. Now, I’ll admit, there are a lot of things and more than a few people that I would happily transport out to the middle of space and leave them there. I’m pretty sure there were some laws written by Gene Roddenberry (the creator of Star Trek and therefore the authority on teleportation) that prevent that manner of cruelty. There’s also the fact that people are composed of many parts larger than protons and we remember well that Bones’ objection to teleporting was he feared all his protons not being reassembled in the right order. Technology needs to get its act together and fix this problem. 

Guglielmo Marconi, the guy that invented the radio, ushering in the whole wireless technology thing, set some pretty high expectations when he predicted that wireless technology would make war “impossible” because it would be “ridiculous.” What Signor Marconi seems to have missed is the fact that politicians are “ridiculous” which makes the absence of war “impossible.” Instead, the Russians use the technology to troll and interfere with foreign elections and we let them get away with it because it lets the “ridiculous” people stay in charge. 

One place that it’s probably best for technology to fail is time travel. In 1994, this really bad movie TimeCop predicted we’d all be hopping back and forth through time by now. You and I both know that even if the technology worked for a moment, it would ultimately fail. Why? Because instead of using the technology to leap forward and advanced humanity at a faster rate, we’d go back to when we were kids and introduce cat memes which would distract everyone from ever becoming the scientists and engineers who solve the problems of time travel in the first place. 

Or maybe that’s exactly what happened …

Same-old Homes and Fashion

There are some other predictions that haven’t come true and probably shouldn’t. Thomas Edison famously predicted that everything, including houses and furniture, would be made out of steel by now. His concept was that we would be able to just hose down everything and keep it all sparkling clean. This brilliant concept coming from a guy who couldn’t get electricity right without stealing the technology. I have enough trouble finding a comfortable chair as it is. I can’t imagine that having them made of steel would achieve anything more than making the chair easier to fall off. I can’t imagine steel beds being all that comfy, either, though it might cut down on the non-sleeping shenanigans that occur in them.

What disappoints me, though, is that we don’t have houses that relocate themselves. Arthur C. Clarke, a British science-fiction writer/inventor/television host, came up with this idea back in 1968 in connection with improved energy sources. At the time, he said, “The house of the future would have no roots tying it to the ground. Gone would be water pipes, drains, powerlines; the autonomous home could therefore move, or be moved, to anywhere on earth at the owner’s whim.”

I know, the initial concern about such a contraption is that everyone would try to move their house to the same beachfront property in Florida, but that’s silly because Flordia is going to be completely underwater within the next 20 years so the enviable beach property is going to be somewhere just South of Atlanta, probably around Macon which isn’t currently doing anything else so it won’t be too upset to suddenly become a beach town. 

Clarke envisioned seasonal mass migrations where everyone would move their houses, in unison, to more temperate environments, leaving the cold harshness of winter an unpopulated wilderness. What he failed to realize is that there are a lot of people who would do exactly the opposite simply for the reason that they have a deeply held need to not go along with the status quo. These are the same people who dye their hair purple because blonde and brunette are so boring, or wear flannel shirts in the summer because sweating profusely is the sexiest thing ever. The same people grow hot and scratchy beards on their chins while delicately and precisely shaving the top of their heads because it seems foolish that one’s entire head stays warm through natural means when there are so many sock hats one could be wearing.

Speaking of what one could be wearing, we’re not wearing anything nearly as interesting as the multicolored jumpers that were supposed to be standard by now. We’re all familiar with the outfits proposed by every future-oriented sci-fi show and movie from the 50s forward, most notably those of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) in the 90s. 

The answer to this one is disappointing. I’ve seen the jumpers on the runway, but there are consistently two problems. One is that they’re boring as hell. The costumers at TNG were infinitely more creative than what I’ve seen on any runway or in any store. At least those on the TV show looked interesting. What has come down the runway is too often monochrome which is boring and unimaginative, too frequently made of Lurex or some metallic fabric so that it’s reminiscent of Barbarella, or so utilitarian that the wearer gives the impression that they’re about to go out to the garage and change the oil in the car that doesn’t fly. Your great-grandfather wore the same thing, in light blue, with a little belt around the waist that served absolutely no purpose at all because what he was really doing was slipping outside to have a smoke and a beer. 

More importantly, though, the reason we are not all wearing one-piece jumpers is that no one has yet solved the problem of how to go to the bathroom without completely undressing. I understand there are a handful of very attractive and overly-sexualized people who actually enjoy wriggling out of their clothes when they have to go poop, but that scenario doesn’t work so well for most of us, especially when the reason you’re in there in the first place is that you chased those 14 road-side tacos with seven shots of tequila and if you don’t get your ass over a toilet RIGHT NOW there’s going to be an embarrassing mess for someone to clean up. I especially fail to see the efficacy of creating a jumper that zips up the back so that you have to have assistance to get out of the damn things. No one wants to be manning your damn zipper when your bowels explode. 

I really had higher hopes for the fashion industry as a whole. There’s no good reason everything we wear isn’t sustainably sourced and easily recycled or repurposed. The technology has been there for at least ten years. There’s also no reason for women to still be forced to wear high heels. Those instruments of torture should have been outlawed by the 80s at the very latest. By 2020, we should have footwear readily accessible that is designed to fit the idiosyncrasies of our feet and we shouldn’t have to pay $350 for something made in horrible conditions by economic slaves in Southeast Asia. 

What and where we live should have been much more efficient and cool and cheaper than they are, although I’m very happy that our houses aren’t made of glass as Smith Rairdon of the Owens-Illinois Glass Company predicted in 1958. There are too many people I don’t enjoy seeing with their clothes on, I certainly don’t want to look across the street and see them in the shower. Which, now that I’ve mentioned it, why have we not solved the problem of having to get naked to do that? I fully expected we’d be able to walk into a chamber of some kind that would steam clean both us and our clothes at the same time. If it could restyle our hair while we’re in there, that would be great. 

So much of this is our own fault, though. The ideas are out there. Go to any home show in the US or particularly any London fashion show not given by someone with direct ties to the music industry and one sees fantastic ideas that never take off because we’re all still too stuck on looking like we live in the 19th century rather than the 21st. We could be living in incredibly modernized homes that not only check our heart rate and blood pressure when we walk through the door but mix and serve the appropriate cocktail to help combat both, prepare individualized meals based on our exact nutritional meals, and aren’t financially out of reach for 87 percent of Americans. Oh wait, that’s the next section. Scroll down.

Magic of Food, Health, and Welfare

2020 was supposed  to be better

Food, Health, and Welfare are lumped together here because one is totally dependent on the other two. What we eat affects our health and our ability to consume healthy foods is determined by our income which is likely to be lower if we’re too fat or get sick a lot. There have been so many predictions across these three areas that have not come true and these are some of the predictions I find most disappointing because they’re totally possible.

For example, remember that moment in Back To The Future II where Marty simply says “Fruit!” and a huge basket just lowers itself from the ceiling? Why do we not have this? How much healthier would we all be if fruits and vegetables were constantly available on demand? Okay, maybe not all fruits and vegetables should be available on demand. Brussel sprouts? I don’t think so. Stink fruit? Definitely not. They smell too much like ten-year-old boys. Still, there are plenty of choices that could be taking up some of that wasted attic space that we’re not using. 

I’m also a fan of Star Trek’s food replicator. Given the way we’re mistreating the planet, we need to pretty much give up on the concept of fresh food within the next 30 years anyway. If we’re going to have to get used to artificial alternatives, they might as well come piping hot out of a device capable of perfectly replicating an endless supply of mac-and-cheese and “chicken” nuggets.

Of course, our seeming inability to feed ourselves food that is actually good for us necessitates that if we have food replicators, they need to also come with the ability to deny our requests based on a quick health scan. If we can step up to the replicator and as for a double-stuffed pizza loaded with tacos, steak, and chocolate cake, the replicator needs the ability to respond, “Dude, your heart rate is 145, your blood pressure is 187/116, and your blood glucose level is approximately that of sugar cane. Here, have a listeria-free salad courtesy of your friends at Monsanto.”

Which reminds me, Monsanto was building sample houses of the future back in 1957 that were all elevated, presumably because even back then executives at the company knew we were going to ruin the planet and not be able to actually touch the surface. Besides, we were going to have flying cars, so the ground was irrelevant. 

A lot of sciency-type people predicted that we would be getting all our nutrition from specially-designed pills by now, which I’m surprised the people who run online fulfillment centers like Amazon haven’t invested in because it would mean the elimination of meal breaks and they could kill workers at an even faster rate than they do now. This would also solve the problem raised by the fact that no one under the age of 50 knows how to cook anymore. The dominant means of “preparing a meal” involves piecing together a GrubHub order so that they’re able to bring you food from five different fast food places without an extra charge. There are already children on this planet who are convinced that food just automatically appears at the front door every day at 6:00 and that the delivery driver may be their real dad. 

We don’t especially like taking pills, though, and “health food” stores have done a good job of convincing us that pills and powders don’t actually work but you won’t know that until you buy this $500 plan and let it sit in the deep, dark, cavernous spaces of your kitchen shelves for 18 months, at which point you go back and purchase $300 of different pills and powders to counteract the side effects of not taking the first set of pills and powders. 

The fact that our food is seriously lagging is a large part of the reason our health sucks. Of course, the fact that we in America have managed to reach the year 2020 without anything that remotely resembles a comprehensive healthcare plan doesn’t help, either. If the Netherlands, who still hasn’t figured out that shoes can be made of material other than wood, can figure out how to run a healthcare system, one might think we could do the same. Again, we’re totally blowing this 2020 thing.

Truly, predictions for healthcare from doctors in the 50s were aggressively positive. They were sure we’d have a vaccine for stupidity by now, for example. They also thought that we’d have rid the planet of bacteria-born diseases and that they’d be making house calls by having people stand in front of their television and sticking out their tongues. We have to understand that they were making these predictions from behind the fog of a five-pack-a-day cigarette habit that, they assured us, was just fine and would help us calm down a bit. Perhaps they didn’t have the best judgment. 

Where we’re really lagging, though is with nanobots that were supposed to be injected into our bloodstream and completely take over our biology. Ray Kurzweil made that prediction back in 2005 and practically nothing has happened in the field since. His take is that they would improve all our biological functions at the cellular level, eliminating diseases such as cancer and even changing the way we consume food and expel waste. We wouldn’t need doctors because the nanobots would be constantly assessing our health and making the necessary changes to accommodate. No word on whether they would actually give me those six-pack abs my body is incapable of achieving. For that matter, there’s nothing in his prediction about them building muscle tissue at all. I’m sure they’d have us all healthy and good looking within no time, right?

And being good looking is important because then we would all make more money, assuming we still need money. One of the predictions of the future that is prevalent in science fiction is that no one needs money anymore. I mean, look at those unitards, where would you even put a wallet, or car keys, or used tissue when you can’t find a trash can? Notice that there are no science fiction movies where anyone is carrying a purse. There aren’t a lot of details as to how this economic equality is achieved, we just never see anyone paying for anything. That leaves the whole matter open to a lot of speculation about implanted chips connected with some life account or other spooky scenarios where one’s value is calculated according to their contribution to society, which is really tough on babies whose nanobots haven’t figured out how to control the whole poop thing. 

Of course, financial equality also means the elimination of the super-rich and the much-desired occupation of coat-tail-hanger-onner. The only people who are likely to complain about that are the super-rich and 98 percent of people really don’t care about the opinions of the super-rich unless they’re fucking up our own lives in some manner. You know, like when Elon Musk makes some stupid statement about Mars that causes Neil Degrasse Tyson’s head to explode. 

One thing that is very specific, however, is that by 2020 we were supposed to have eliminated poverty. Fail. If anything, we’ve only made it worse, especially in urban areas [source]. Actually, what the government has tried to do is move the “poverty line” so that it looks like there are fewer people in poverty. Never mind those people living under the bridge over there, or all those school kids who can’t afford lunch. They don’t really exist because they don’t vote, or something like that. Our elected officials also refuse to raise the minimum wage because forcing people to work multiple jobs makes it look like the economy is doing great. Hey, unemployment is at an all-time low, unless you’ve been out of work more than six months at which point you cease to exist as a statistic because you would spoil the numbers. 

Seriously, shouldn’t the elimination of poverty have been more of a priority by now? Inventing flying cars is a lot more realistic when no one is having to worry about where their next meal is coming from or if they can pay the damn electric bill. This is the one area where there’s really no excuse. We have the means, we have the power, we have simply failed and I am, for one, disappointed at the entire country for not making this more of a priority in everything we do and especially the way in which we vote.

Bottom line: everyone’s lives were supposed to be so much easier and more fun and equal by 2020. Geeze, talking about letting the dream die! It’s as though the whole country has become disillusioned or something.

The Limits of Infinity and Beyond

Of course, no one back 100 years ago thought we’d still be hanging around this old planet by now. Everyone who was looking upward was sure that we were going to be racing around the stars and populating planets in a rush to see who could do the best Darth Vader impersonation. 

[Insert Maury Povich screaming, “You are NOT the father!”]

Where’s the warp speed? Where are the interplanetary colonies? Where is The Federation when you need them?

The reason we’re not seeing any o these great advances in space travel and exploration is because we’re still too busy paying $120,000 for a banana duct-taped to a wall [source]. Seriously? It’s probably a good thing we’re not interacting with any aliens because they’d quickly discover that we’re the stupid planet. Or maybe they already have.

Actually, there’s one person who’s trying to at least get us to Mars and that’s Elon Musk. Musk can afford to fund things like SpaceX because he has more money than the federal government thanks to those loopholes that don’t require him to pay any taxes. He’s all about getting a colony on Mars set up as soon as possible. Of course, as recently as Friday evening, Neil deGrasse Tyson was oh so gently reminding Elon that if we’re going to populate Mars and do all this running around that it might be helpful if he were to stop playing around with cars and trucks and invent warp drive. Subtle, Neil is.

Musk, the person not the scent, isn’t alone, though. An even richer billionaire, Jeff Bezos of Amazon infamy, is trying to do the whole space travel thing as well. Again, this is the advantage of having more money than god itself. Apparently, however, it takes more than money. While the two competing billionaires have enough cash between them to buy half the universe, money doesn’t necessarily buy brains and the brains they’re buying are having some difficulty overcoming annoying problems like physics. Newton must have been high on apple juice when he wrote those physics laws. They are real downers (look, it’s a bad physic joke; try to not groan).

Still, when it comes to the subject of space and interplanetary travel, we’re hitting 2020 well behind the curve that was imagined for us. As recently as 1997, which is plenty of time to have dome something constructive, Peter Leyden and Peter Schwartz predicted that we’d be on Mars by 2020. There were plenty of people before them who were sure we’d be there sooner. Yeah, it’s nice that Musk & Co. are working like gangbusters to get us there, but by his own admission Musk we’re still 7-10 years away, and that’s only if the windows on those space ships do better than the ones on that Tesla pickup (the “unbreakable” windows shattered; you can read the story here). Musk has a great and wild imagination, which is absolutely necessary for great and wonderful things to ever be done. I’m not sure I’d want to be the first person to take one of his spacesuits for a walk, though. Know what I mean?

Even if we’re not on Mars yet, we were supposed to have colonies on the moon by now. 2001: A Space Oddessy promised us that. Expectations were set! Music was composed! Computers were taught to talk! But once the Apollo program ended in 1972, the cool geeks at NASA decided that the moon wasn’t that big a deal and we needed to focus elsewhere. Even as recently as 2013, NASA’s chief was saying that any additional missions to the moon weren’t going to be made by the US [source]. 

That news didn’t sit well with anyone, including NASA, so now, since we’re all busy celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first two moon landings, NASA’s saying, “Haha, made you look! We’ll be back up there by 2024!” [source] Of course, that still doesn’t mean we’ll actually be setting up colonies on the moon as they did in Space Odessy. We are nothing if not abundantly cautious. We don’t want a repeat of Apollo 1, which killed the astronauts on the launch pad, or Space Shuttle Challenger, which killed a teacher, or Space Shuttle Columbia which pretty much killed the entire shuttle program. It’s one thing if there are a few bugs in the cars that we drive back and forth to our meaningless and demoralizing jobs every day—914 recalls effecting over 47.2 million vehicles in 2018. We feel much differently if our space exploration doesn’t work perfectly the first time every time. 

Getting space travel and exploration perfect is only going to get more difficult. While space is a vast and amazing place, we’re walling ourselves off from it. Amazon’s super-billionaire owner of everything Jeff Bezos is apparently concerned that if we colonize the moon he’ll have to figure out a way to deliver packages up there in 24 hours or less. So, he’s making that task a little more difficult by surrounding the planet with 3,200 satellites [source]. 

Okay, so Bezos says that all those satellites are so everyone can have Internet access all over the world, which means that Amazon will sell more wireless devices that need universal Internet access, such as the Nintendo Switch, a device that, according to my youngest son, should have come with its own Internet Hotspot. 3,200 satellites in low orbit are going to essentially create a satellite net, making it necessary for rockets traveling outside the net to “thread the needle” in order to get past them. We’re not making this whole space travel thing any easier for ourselves!

Personally, I think we’re putting all our development power in the wrong place. There were 150 gazillion new video games created in 2019 (okay, so the real number was closer to 9,050, but that’s still about 9,000 more than necessary). That’s a lot of creative computing power spent building fictional worlds in outer space that could have been put to work building real worlds in outer space with only a slightly larger chance that one would die before completing their mission. I don’t think we’re tapping all the creative and intelligent resources that are available to us. My son should be complaining that he’s not getting a signal on his Switch as we pass Venus, not while we’re loading groceries at Kroger. 

Being Satisfied With What We Have

is this 2020

My childhood was spent collecting these promises of something better. Now that I’m 12 months away from turning 60, I’m ready to start collecting on some of the investments made in those dreams. I fully expected us to be in a better place by now. I was looking forward to a George Jetson experience and am instead worried that my latter days are going to be more like the late actor William Holden, who was drunk, alone, and in Santa Monica when he tripped over the rug that held the room together. If we had anti-gravity shoes we wouldn’t be tripping over rugs like that. If we had homes that could move on their own, we wouldn’t be living in Santa Monica. 

That last sentence may not be true. Santa Monica has grown into a lovely place where even the cockroaches spend their days playing beach volleyball. I’m guessing people who like Tommy Hilfiger fashion shows might want to stick around. 

Perhaps what has happened is that the spread of zen Buddhism has tried to teach us to be satisfied with what we already have, to not constantly be wanting for something more or better. Of course, their teaching isn’t working given that we’re the most materialistic nation on the planet. Still, the concept has lodged in our brains so that we’re okay with our cars being stuck to the ground, not being able to teleport to the beach, homes that stay in one place, clothes that are boring, food that doesn’t come in pill form, and the worst healthcare system of any industrialized nation on the planet—you know, the one on which we’re still living rather than the moon. We’re comfortable not having to deal with advances in everything coming at us so fast that we need directions to know how to get out of the bed that’s floating on air every morning. 

I guess I can accept slower modifications to the status quo, as long as there’s no quid pro to my quo. Look! Who thought we’d still be throwing Latin phrases like that? Every other part of me is moving slower than I would like, anyway, there’s no reason for the rest of existence to not move slow as well. That’s why sloths have become such popular animals. I’m pretty sure these young kids in their 40s regard sloths as the ultimate example for how life should be lived and, you know, they’re doing a fantastic job of emulating those ugly-to-the-point-of-being-cute creatures with dangerous claws. 

I’m not kidding this time. Consider that sloths,

  1. Get stressed out easily
  2. Have a death stare that will freak you out
  3. Females scream when they’re ready for sex and the guys take for freaking ever to get there
  4. Get cold if the thermostat dips below 80
  5. Have a slow metabolism so there’s no way you’re making them move any faster
  6. Have razor-sharp claws that could kill you if the clean-up weren’t so much trouble.
[source] If that’s not practically every person under the age of 45 or so, I’ll eat the breakfast that I had to stop what I was doing and make for myself because there’s no device to which I can say, “I’ll have two Belgian waffles with strawberries and sugar-free whipped cream with a side of bacon, two eggs, and hashbrowns.” Oatmeal it is. Again. 

What disappoints me more than anything is that we’re hitting 2020 and we’re still as far away from Peace as we ever were. When I was a kid, I was pretty sure that we’d be able to put this whole war and racism and nationalism thing behind us. I really thought the world could live as one. Then, they killed John Lennon, on this very date, December 8, and it’s been downhill since 1980. All we’ve done since then is to increase the size of the military-industrial complex a trillion times, and no, I’m not kidding this time. Well, not by much. 

Maybe our inability to resolve the Peace issue first is why we are so embarrassingly lagging everywhere else. We can’t get along well enough to be flying our cars or living in space or moving our houses around. If we had flying cars, we’d likely be outfitting them with lasers and shooting each other out of the sky in fits of road rage. If we had colonies on the moon, we’d likely levy sanctions against them for not producing enough moon dust. If our houses were portable, there would be too many people who would relocate when it came time to pay local taxes or a person of color dropped their house next door. We’re that petty and racist and you know it. We elected an orange as president just to make sure we could keep our pettiness and racism alive. 

As long as Peace is not the primary focus and motivation behind everything we do, everything we invent, we’re going to end up with disappointing results. If our actions are not explicitly designed to unite us then they will more certainly divide us. If the things we invent do not result in a better life for everyone, we doom our entire species. 

So now, we look forward to 2050. That’s the year when climate change is supposed to either be fixed or leave our planet uninhabitable. Based on what we’ve achieved by the year 2020, you’ll forgive me if I’m not the most optimistic in my expectations. I suppose relocating to the moon might be an option, but if we’ve not taken concrete steps toward that goal in the past 50 years why would I think we’ll do any better over the course of the next 30?

I’m not making any big New Year’s Eve plans this year. I’m already disappointed even before the band doesn’t play my favorite song or miss kissing Kat at midnight. Maybe I’ll just stay home and read Dave Barry’s book about Jews. 

Thanks, Dave. 

Another Tuesday In Another Coffee Shop, Pt. 4

Editorial Note: I’ve reached a point where keeping the separate sections/chapters around 1,500 words is difficult and when those run long the whole post runs long. We’re at 11,332 words this week. All total, so far, we’re looking at roughly 42,000 or so words for the whole thing. If you’ve not yet started the story, you’ll want to go back and begin here.

Thank you for sticking with the story this far! We’ve not serialized anything like this ever before and it really puts the entire website in a different genre. I know anything over 1,000 words is considered a long read and each week we exceed that by ten times or more. Please, keep reading, and I really wouldn’t mind if you shared. Now, let’s see what’s going on down in that bunker, shall we?

Calculating The Risk

Calculating The Risk

Perry looked up at the gaping hole in his bunker, the place he had, until a few short minutes ago, considered impenetrable. He had even suggested that it might be a closer alternative to the NORAD facility inside Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado should the president ever need to be evacuated. After all, the bunker was only a 30-minute helicopter ride from the White House.

“Shit,” Perry thought out loud, “if things are this bad here, what’s going on at the White House?” He looked at his watch. 72 minutes had passed since the failed test. He had expected Special Agent Biscane to be back long before now, or to at least call. Obviously, he wasn’t back and cell phone communications weren’t possible. He worried whether the White House had been attacked in a similar fashion as the bunker. The White House was secure from minor weapons but bombs like the ones dropped here would completely decimate the historic structure and likely kill most of those inside. Still, he reasoned, there had been enough time before the attack for the Pentagon to have warned him had there been any previous incident. Now, there was no way to know.

Looking around, Perry knew the next question was how to get out of the bunker now that the entrance/exit shaft had been destroyed. All munitions were kept topside for safety reasons. Regulations prevented anyone from carrying a weapon into the bunker. Topside, however, was 150 feet up. He was going to need more than a ladder.

Perry wondered how many people topside were still alive. Col. Brinkman has estimated 30-40 Marines killed with more civilian casualties on top of that. Of those still living, how many were wounded and unable to help in any significant way? Without any form of communication, it was impossible to know what their options might be.

Looking over at those working on the shaft, he knew that would be the one safe way out if they could ever get it open, but at the moment, with massive pieces of concrete and steel lying on top of it, that didn’t seem like it would be available expeditiously. Not only was removing the rubble going to be difficult, but there were also bodies under there that needed to be treated with respect.

Perry looked around at the carnage and felt a wretching deep in his stomach. 15 years of work. 15 years of relationships. All that he had done and it was gone in a matter of minutes. The experiment had not only failed but, from what he could tell, had brought catastrophic consequences to the entire country, if not the whole world. He had done this. HE was responsible even if nothing that had happened was intentional on his part. There would be no rectifying this. Too many lives were lost. His work had inadvertently changed the face of the world.

Standing in the midst of the rubble, he became aware of the smell surrounding him; a mixture of concrete dust, jet fuel, and charred human flesh. His stomach wretched. His dark suit that had been blue when he put it on that morning was now a pallid gray. In the air hung minuscule flakes of unrecognizable material, perhaps drywall, or paint, or pieces of human flesh, the remnants of those he had promised to keep safe.

Perhaps in a more private moment, he would shed multiple tears and grieve for what was lost but right now he still had a responsibility to those who survived, who were frightened and grieving on their own. He also had a responsibility to a traitor, the person who had sold them all out for reasons he didn’t yet understand. Perry knew that he alone would have to be the person to find that mole and believed to his core that the person wanted to be caught, wanted someone to step in and stop what was happening.

All the different thoughts flooding Perry’s brain at that moment were disturbed as a body harness secured to a rope nearly hit him in the head as it dropped into the cavern created by the explosion. Around the perimeter of the cavity, other harnesses fell. At the top stood a group of Marines in hastily assembled combat gear. They may not have known exactly what was happening or who was in charge, but they did know they had to take action and had secured the ropes to safely lift anyone who had survived.

Perry slipped into one of the harnesses, tightening it in all the places that, of necessity, make a harness uncomfortable. He tugged twice on the rope and felt the pull and momentary loss of control as his feet left the ground. His mind flashed back to basic training and Parris Island so many years ago. His body instinctively responded by gripping the rope hand over hand, leaning in and tucking his legs under him.

Riding up would be easy. Actually getting up, over the threshold would be the challenging part. There would be no way to know whether the material that had been at the top of the bunker was stable enough to hold his weight. The Marines pulling him up had stayed well away from the edge. As he reached the top, he grabbed hold of a piece of rebar extended from the concrete and pulled himself up onto the surface, lying still to see whether it was going to hold. Rising cautiously to his hands and knees, he crawled to the nearest Marine who helped him to his feet.

Once Perry was standing, the Marine took a step back and stood at attention. “Lieutenant Santino Rodriguez, sir, at your service.”

Perry dusted himself off then saluted, “Lieutenant Colonel Perry Hawkins. Are you the senior person up here?”

“No sir,” Lt. Rodriguez answered as he returned the salute. “Staff Sargeant is team lead and there are other officers back at base command. Someone said they saw Col. Brinkman down in the hole as well, sir”

Perry nodded. “I can confirm that,” he said as he looked around at the damage to what was supposed to have been a top secret base. Wreckage from the B-2 was still strewn across the field around him, pieces of debris still smoldering, small fires still burning around the torn trimming of the fuselage pieces surrounding him. Modern B-2s only required a two-person crew: a pilot and a mission commander. A high level of automation provided the pilot with near-real-time information and the target status. For a wreck like this to have been possible, either massive systems failure had occurred or the plain had been damaged. There was almost no way the crew could have taken all the systems offline manually without it being noticed wherever their control base was located.

“I assume there was no warning prior to the crash,” Perry said.

“No sir,” the lieutenant responded. “Our only warning was the second between the bombs dropping and the plane hitting the deck, sir. We had no warning nor response time.”

Looking down into the crater caused by the bomb, Perry was still surprised that more damage hadn’t been done. GBU-57As were designed to root out terrorists hiding deep in the caves of Afghanistan. The fact that anyone in that bunker had survived left him feeling uncomfortable for reasons he couldn’t yet explain. Not that anything about this entire situation made a lick of sense in the first place, but he had seen the full-scale damage one of those bombs could do and what lay below him was less than half the destruction there should have been. Something was off.

“Sir, do we need to send down rescue teams to evacuate survivors?” Lt. Rodriguez asked. His voice snapped Perry’s attention back to reality.

“Yes,” Perry answered. “There are four remaining in Lab B, 18 in Lab A, but they’re under orders to wait until I come and get them. They need to come up and remain housed as a single unit. I’m the only one who debriefs them on any level. No visitors and no one leaves. Understood, Lieutenant?”

Rodriguez confirmed, “Absolutely, sir. All together, total sequestration. Permission to assemble a team under your command, sir.”

Perry nodded. “Go. Bring me the best we have.”

“Sir, aye sir,” the Marine said as he saluted.

Perry returned the salute as the Marine ran off to assemble a team. He knew the young man would choose his buddies, people from his outfit that he trusted. Marine units are close-knit groups committed to having each other’s backs.

Protecting Holly and her team was paramount, but it still bothered Perry that he didn’t have any way of knowing whether the mole was in her team or one of the others. For all he knew, the mole might have been killed in the explosion. The uncertainty was troubling, though, and until he knew the threat had been eliminated there was no choice but to act as though someone was still trying to destroy them—and the entire United States.

A Bridge Over Troubled Waters

A Bridge Over Troubled Waters

They all might as well have been blind for all practical matters. As rain battered against the faces of the 13 who had left the coffee shop holding onto a makeshift raft, they were making their way more by feel than by sight. Even if they had been able to see it wouldn’t have helped much. The water was over four and a half feet deep now. Half the group was struggling to keep their heads above water. For the three women precariously perched on the shoulders and hunched over the heads of Reggie, Carlson, and D, every move by their host threatened to plunge them into the swift current of the flood water.

At the foot of the small bridge, Natalie was beginning to wonder if there was any chance of them all making it to her apartment. Until now, she had been ferociously guarding her hope for their survival, pushing back any thought of despair. Now, however, she realized for the first time that, slight as it might be, there was an arch to the bridge. Finding footing through the dark waters had been difficult coming across the sidewalk and onto the rapidly disintegrating street. Adding any degree of slope made the journey over the bridge treacherous.

Natalie tried wiping some of the water from her eyes as she looked for the lamp posts she knew were there. All she could see were blurred gray shadows she hoped were the street lamps. She looked over at Barry who was close enough to touch but whose features were still blurred by the rain. They nodded to each other and began to pull the raft forward.

For Barry, the danger of the bridge was not knowing whether the entire deck was still intact. Asphalt in the road was rapidly eroding against the relentless pressure of the water. In theory, he knew, the water level on the bridge should go down. Typically, there were over ten feet of space between the bottom of the bridge and the normally shallow creek beneath it. For all the years he had been using the Burns Coffee shop as a meeting place, he had never known it to be more than a couple of feet deep, and that had only been after the most severe of rains.

Today was different from anything Barry had ever experienced and as he struggled to gaze ahead he instinctively knew that the natural canyon carved by the creek was well beyond its boundaries. Were it not, the current would have rushed toward the recess. As it were, everything was flowing downstream, ignoring that there had ever been any creek there at all. As he felt the slope of the incline beneath his feet he worried. The bridge was made of concrete and steel but it was certainly not a recent construction. In fact, he tried to remember, was it last summer or the summer before when the bridge had been closed while repairs had been made? There could easily be a massive hole in the middle of the bridge and there would be no way to tell until they disappeared into it.

Ressie looked at Adam’s body being pelted by the rain. His body was soaked to the point now that his physical features were embarrassingly apparent. If he had indeed had a stroke or some other coma-inducing event, all this rain had to be making conditions worse. She wished she could have done more to protect him.

At the same time, the practical part of her brain wondered if she had done the right thing in attempting to save him. If in saving him, her brain reasoned, the rest of them perished in conditions they would not have otherwise known, had she possibly doomed them all? She hated ethical dilemmas like this for there were arguably no correct answers. In college, any situation her ethics professor had given them seemed to create more problems rather than solving anything. Doing the “right thing” was never clear cut nor without potentially deadly consequences. Reesie had long reasoned that it was best to do what was right at the moment because consequences would be waiting on the other side no matter what one did. Rarely had that reasoning been incorrect.

Hunkered down on the table next to Adam’s right leg, her face hidden from the rain that was beating fiercely on her small body, Amanda was thankful that, at the very least, none of the others could see her bawling. With every cell of her body, Amanda was regretting having ever left home this morning. She kept telling herself that she shouldn’t have been so aggressive in trying to grow her business. She had children. They had enough money already, they didn’t need her to make more. Her greed had pushed her out of the house, away from her husband, and her babies. She had been wrong, she knew, and she promised herself that if she made it out of this alive that she would stay home and never leave her babies with someone else again.

Four-year-old Devin was at the top of her mind. Elise and Alexander were at school. There would be people looking out for them and schools would be the first place rescue services would go. Plus, the school was built on a hill. They might not even have the flooding she was currently experiencing. Bruce would be okay. He worked on the 14th floor of a tall office building. Nothing would be able to get to him, but at the same time, he was as stranded up there as she was on the table. Devin, though, her baby, she had left with a sitter. Sure, Sarah seemed like a nice person and she knew she wouldn’t just abandon the baby and run away, but did she have the common sense necessary to keep them both alive under these conditions? Was the house flooded? Sure, they could go upstairs but there was no food upstairs and Devin could be annoyingly fussy when he was hungry. Leaving home this morning had been the most selfish thing she had ever done. Amanda was sure of it.

Carson struggled under the weight of the woman on his shoulders. He didn’t even know her name. He didn’t especially care that she had a name. More than once, every time her weight had made it difficult for him to find and keep his footing, he had considered lunging to one side or the other and letting her fall off. What did he care? None of them were likely to survive to wherever the hell that girl was taking them. This day was going to be the end of him, he was certain. It had started bad right from the moment he opened his eyes and there was little chance of it ending any better than it had started. He saw no reason to care about anything or anyone.

Yet, Carson knew there was someone he cared about. He had a wife, Carolyn. He had kids and yeah, they were both teenagers almost grown and anxious to get out of the house, but he still loved them. Their names were Carly and Bruce. As Carson tried in vain to see anything past the form of Reggie’s body in front of him, he wondered how they were, would they miss him, would his death even change their lives. He had life insurance that should pay off the mortgage at least. He could give them that. He certainly hadn’t given them much else.

Slowly, the group began inching their way up the subtle incline of the bridge. Any other time, under any other circumstances, most of them wouldn’t have felt any incline here at all, it was so slight. Now, though, it might as well have been a mountain, another obstacle in this constant challenge to survive through conditions none of them had ever imagined having to endure. The rain, the wind …

WHAM!

Out of nowhere, the entire bridge shook, having been hit on its North side. They all looked in the direction of the strike but could see nothing with the rain directly in their faces. They could feel the bridge move, though, as whatever had come into contact with the bridge had jarred it sufficiently to separate the steel undergirding from its center support structure.

Below the water, completely out of sight, a black SUV picked up and turned on its side by the flood had been swept from a nearby parking lot at a fast food joint, swept into the stream and held under by its own weight. Had the vehicle been upright, someone might have seen its roof as it bobbed in the water. If that roof had been what hit the bridge, its soft aluminum would likely have folded with the impact and done little damage, But none of that was what happened.

Instead, the vehicle had turned and swirled as it took on water until it was heading downstream wheels first. That meant it was the undercarriage, the only part of the vehicle where there was any form of rigid steel in its construction, that would hit the center support of the bridge with the full force of the rushing water behind it. The decorative stone on the outside of the support had provided little barrier in the collision. The SUV hit the first steel girder with enough force that two of the massive bolts securing it to the bridge snapped.

Engineers could not have anticipated the bridge having to endure conditions like this. On larger, more heavily traveled structures, there would have been additional safety mechanisms in place to make up for the loss of the two bolts. For a small urban bridge over a tiny creek that had never been known to leave its banks, however, those backups had seemed unnecessary and expensive. No one gave any thought to adding them to such an insignificant little bridge.

One opening was all the water needed. As the bridge deck lurched in the loss of support, a massive chunk of the roadway crumbled. Everyone reached to hold on to the table as well as they could.

Reggie failed. Before anyone’s brain could think fast enough to react, his feet were swept from under him and down he went, taking the woman on his shoulders with him. With all the commotion and focus on trying to keep themselves upright, by the time anyone realized that Reggie and his rider were gone, it was too late to help. Their bodies, struggling as they were to at least reach the surface and breathe, were dragged away quickly by the strong undercurrent that moved them downstream while holding them down as though they’d been chained.

As they passed under the table, Reggie had reached for the water bottles, hoping desperately to find something to which he could hold, but his hands had no time to find a grip. Instead, he felt his feet his something. At first, he thought perhaps it was the guardrail on the bridge, something, again, to which he could potentially grab hold, but it slipped away as well.

As the others were beginning to realize the horror of what had just happened, everyone was looking where Reggie had stood so no one saw Marti disappear when her feet were suddenly knocked out from under her. The movement had come so unexpectedly that by the time the girl’s brain communicated to her arm that it should reach for the table, she was already well out of reach.

“Mom!” cried the woman on Carson’s shoulders. The others looked at her, realizing they knew none of these women nor understood what this crisis meant to them.

Then, in the next second, Natalie realized there was a blank space between her and D. “Marti!” she yelled, looking hopelessly downstream.

Looking was all they could do. They didn’t dare let go of the table. Rescue was not a service they were in any position to provide. Tears merged with the rain on their face as they quickly tried to adjust and regain their balance. They needed to get off this bridge.

Magnitudes of Scale

Magnitudes of Scale

Roger wasted no time running through the maze of cubicles and offices in the West Wing of the White House, trying to get to the basement office area where Special Agent Biscane had allegedly been shot. Finding the correct spot hadn’t been difficult. The number of people through which he had to push was enough of a map to get him right to the spot. Secret Service officials were already there, doing their best to secure the crime scene while attempting to keep back the White House staffers without losing their temper. No one other than the agents seemed to understand how important it was that the area not be contaminated.

Roger recognized one of the agents as having previously been in rotation for guarding the president. “Kelly,” he yelled above the crowd, “what the hell happened.”

The agent stepped back and pulled the Chief of Staff through the crowd. “We’re still trying to get a handle on the details,” he said. “A member of the maintenance staff found him when they were looking for cleaning supplies.”

“Was he poisoned or did someone shoot him?” Roger asked, frustrated by the knowledge the agent wouldn’t be able to give him the answers he so desperately needed.

“He was definitely shot,” Agent Kelly told him. “One chest, one head. We’re looking for any shots that might have missed but I’m not expecting to find any. Judging by the wound, this appears to have been done with the same caliber weapon as is carried by all the federal officials in the building.”

“You’re saying one of our own did this?” Roger asked, his temper ramping up.

“I’m saying someone pretending to be one of our own did this,” Kelly replied. “No one I’ve talked to yet remembers hearing anything that sounded like a gunshot. That likely means some kind of silencer was used and he was shot at close range. No one on the federal payroll is allowed to carry that kind of equipment.”

Roger gave a long, heavy sigh. There was nothing about this day that wasn’t compounding one problem on top of another. “Okay,” he started. “I’ll have this corridor sealed for you. Take a good look and let me know what you find as soon as possible. We have to assume the shooter is still in the building and still armed, which means they could have more targets.”

Agent Kelly nodded. “I don’t suppose locking people in their offices is a possibility?”

Roger thought a minute. The lack of traffic running around the White House would make it easier to notice if the shooter were heading toward another target. “I think I can sequester everyone except senior staff, and I’m having them all in my office to figure out a way to address all these disasters.”

Roger was actively attempting to avoid asking himself whether this day could get any worse because he knew it could and he didn’t want to invite any more disasters than they already had. He also knew that people would be expecting the White House to respond and provide some answers. With digital and broadcast communications down, though, he wasn’t sure exactly how they were going to communicate with anyone. Even the country’s newspapers relied on satellite communications these days.

As he returned to the office area of the West Wing, Roger could see Terri waiting on him, as well as the Director of Communications, Wilson Niedermeir, standing near his office door, obviously waiting for him to return. Roger headed off their inevitable questions by speaking first as he walked through the outer door. “You’re just the people I need to see,” he told them, then to Tina he added, “Get me Rick, Karen, Marty, Will Tucker, and Ann Morrow. I need them in here immediately.”

Terri and Wilson looked at each other knowing that whatever was coming next had to be pretty serious. Roger had just instructed his secretary to bring in the directors of the offices of Public Affairs and Political Liason as well as the White House Council, head of national security, and the First Lady’s Chief of Staff. Rarely was there any reason to have those people in the same room and when there was it was never a happy occasion.

Following Roger into his office, Terri asked, “So it’s true, someone was shot right here in the White House?”

“Yeah,” Roger replied before hitting the intercom button on his phone. “Tina, send an urgent memo to all White House staff that everyone needs to return to their office or cubicle and stay there until further notice. No exceptions.”

The Chief of Staff turned back to Terri. “It was a professional hit using the same caliber weapon as our own people use, and they may have had a silencer. That means they’re probably still in the building, most likely have either Secret Service or FBI credentials, and may or may not have previously had access to the President.”

“Shit!” Wilson exclaimed. “So we’re on full lockdown?”

“You can bet on that,” Roger replied. “No one in or out until we have some answers and can be sure that everyone, especially the President, is safe. Meanwhile, I need as accurate a picture as possible of all the disasters that seem to be taking place across the country.”

“That’s going to be a long list,” Terri said. “And perhaps the biggest question at this moment is whether we’re the only ones attacked or not. Before everything went down, there seemed to be some indication that other countries were having problems as well.”

Wilson took a seat on the sofa sitting across from Roger’s desk. “If someone hacked the satellite grid, they could cause havoc for every country on the planet.”

Roger sat in his chair and pulled out a legal pad. “We have a responsibility to our own country first. We have to keep this president safe and we have to do the best we can to keep our people safe.”

Quickly, the office began to fill with the requested participants. The First Lady’s Chief of Staff was the last to arrive because she had to come from the opposite side of the building. The expression on her face wasn’t a pleasant one.

As the office door shut, Roger began talking. “Listen, what I’m about to say is effectually law until I say it’s not. We appear to have an active shooter in the building. We have no idea who this person is but given that only Secret Service and FBI are allowed to carry weapons in this building we have to assume that they are carrying those credentials. All meetings are canceled. I want everyone’s door shut. Established attack protocols are now in place. The First Family stays in the residence until all this is over. Only Senior Staff are allowed to enter and I’d like to keep that on a limited basis. Everyone has to come to see me first or they don’t get in.”

Ann Morrow, the First Lady’s Chief of Staff, was the first to respond. “Are we adding additional Secret Service within the residence?”

“They’re already up there,” answered Rick Angel, the president’s National Security advisor. “Their normal assignment plus an additional eight agents previously cleared for presidential detail. Nothing nor no one gets close to the first family without scrutiny, and that includes changes in personnel. I’m ordering the detail adjusted so that only those most trusted with previous experience are assigned.”

“Karen, what’s the mood over on the hill?” Roger asked.

Karen Ladovsteski was the president’s chief political liaison. “Fear more than anything,” she said. “With communications down, their having difficulty communicating with their home states and districts. Many of the younger members didn’t even have secure landlines in place. In that brief moment, before everything went dark, though, there was just enough information to scare the shit out of everyone. Planes falling from the sky. People experiencing random nose bleeds. The Midwest is apparently experiencing the broadest storm event ever with rain in excess of six inches an hour. Add to that uncertainty about the nation’s hydroelectric damns which may have lost power, causing them to fail.”

“They all have gasoline generated backups,” Rick said quickly. “Any interruptions would have kicked on the backups, allowing everything to be shut down safely. We shouldn’t have any compromise there.”

Karen nodded. “That’s good to know. What concerns me at this point, though, is that fear inevitably leads to anger and without the ability to leave town or even go home at this point, don’t be surprised if we see some knee-jerk legislation coming up later in the day.”

“Do you think leadership over there can keep a lid on the stupid at least until we have more concrete information?” Roger asked, knowing that Norma and Graham had their mind on other things.

“Today, yes,” Karen said. “Tomorrow, don’t bet on it. We need communications back up ASAP or people on the hill are going to try creating their own solutions without the benefit of any real information.”

“The rest of the nation is likely to be feeling the same,” added Marty Wilson, director of Public Affairs. “They’ve lost the ability to communicate with each other, including family. Panic sets in quickly and when that panic isn’t relieved anger is the next response.”

Roger looked up from the notes he was taking on the legal pad. “Rick, where are we on deploying the National Guard?”

“Initially, we were getting some resistance, especially from governors in the South,” the National Security Advisor said. “As conditions have worsened, though, I’m not expecting as much push back. I think they’re more likely to welcome the help and in those Midwestern states, they’re probably going to be asking for a lot of assistance. We’ll need the president to be quick about issuing disaster declarations when this is over.”

“So, we’re probably not looking at riots or anything?” Roger asked hopefully.

“Certainly not on a large scale,” Rick said. “From what little we know, every region seems to be dealing with its own set of disasters. We need communications back up, though, or we’re going to start seeing all that fear and anger begin to hit the streets.”

Roger sat back in his chair, thoughtfully. “I want us to have a prepared set of statements,” he said to no one in particular. “As things start coming back online, I want the first thing everyone sees to be some assurance that the president is aware of all the problems and that the White House, and make sure it’s worded that way, the White House is working to address all the problems as quickly as possible.”

“And how accurate is that?” asked Will Tucker, the White House Counsel.

“We’re working with everything we have under the conditions we’re faced with,” Roger said.

Will leaned in. “Yes, but how much does the president actually know?” He paused and took in the uncomfortable expressions around the room. “Look, we all know this president isn’t exactly a hands-on kind of guy. He’s a delegator and that’s fine as long as he knows who is being delegated to do what. The problems begin when we think we need to keep anything from him. What I’m asking is what does the president actually know?”

“He knows what he wants to know,” Roger said.

“And that’s what bothers me,” Will replied. “We already know that there are those in Congress who would be happy to see the president forced out of office. If he’s not being updated regularly on everything, for any reason, we could be looking at some serious vulnerabilities. Obstruction and lying to the American public would be the first volley. If he refuses updates, then we could be looking at a refusal to uphold his Constitutional responsibility.”

Roger tapped the tips of his fingers together. “Does the fact that we’re under martial law protect us to any degree?”

“Not really. If he’s not getting or accepting updates from General Lang then it’s just as bad,” Will said.

Roger glanced over at Terri who was furiously taking notes. “Okay, let’s do this then, Wilson, have someone create a written brief that can be given to the president. Update it every four hours. Make sure Lang has input and that his input is noted. That way, at the very least there’s a paper trail. We can say the president was informed. Let’s try and keep a tight lid on this one, okay? We don’t know when comms are going to come back but be sure when they do people are going to be glued to their televisions for at least 48 hours. We’ve got to make sure we’re not providing any ammo they didn’t already have. We’re good here. Thank you. Terri, hang back a minute, please.”

As the other senior staff members left the room, Terri kept her seat in a chair she had pulled in front of the door leading to the Oval Office. She waited until the room was clear and the door was shut then said, “What do you think? Do we have support to move forward?”

Roger drummed his fingers on his desk for a moment. “I’m not sure. I think we may still have to give the president a little latitude. What we’re seeing as incompetence isn’t something substantial enough to take public. There are good people in place who are doing their best to make up for the president’s fallibilities. I will say this, though, we want Will on our side if and when we do make any kind of move.”

“It sounded to me as though he’s already leaning that direction,” Terri said.

“Will Tucker holds no political allegiance to this president, the party, or any other political figure in this town. He’s the anomaly that has managed to endear himself to everyone while staying clear of their liabilities,” Roger said. “If there’s anyone who can definitely say the president is unfit for office it’s Will Tucker and everyone knows it.”

Out of the Frying Pan

Out of the Frying Pan

Holly and her team waited anxiously in their lab with no knowledge of what had happened. All they knew is that half their group from the other labs, including the other team leads, were dead. Nothing in their lab worked, not even the coffee pot. They’d been ordered to stay put until Perry personally came to move them but there was no indication as to how long that might take.

Holly looked around the room at her team. She could see the fear on their faces. It had only been the luck of the draw that had put any of them in that lab. All three teams had been equal, populated with specialists assigned to identical tasks. What was different about their assignments was the specific geography for which each team was responsible. Claire’s team was responsible for the United States communications network, which was arguably the largest in the world. Holly’s team was responsible for communications directly to US Embassies on foreign land and military units including all deployed naval vessels.

Kenneth’s team was responsible for satellite interface, making sure that everyone received the same message at the exact same time with minimal lag. The reasoning was that in the event of a genuine emergency, everyone needed to have the same information at the same time. “Trickle down” communications, a term that had elicited a number of bathroom-humor jokes were not an option. By making sure that everyone had the information simultaneously they had hoped to eliminate the possibility that a foreign power or greedy oligarch could take advantage of any lag that might occur.

From Holly’s perspective, Kenneth’s Blue team had been the target. Claire’s team were victims of being too close to the blast, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Eliminating satellite synchronization, creating the possibility that several minutes, even hours, could lapse between the information being received at the embassy in Germany and the embassy in Japan. It also increased, if not practically guaranteed, that any message could be interrupted and changed by an unfriendly power. Different people could get different messages at different time, creating a tremendous amount of confusion.

She couldn’t say any of that to her team, though. She knew they would each individually be debriefed as to precisely what part of the program each of them had a part in creating, whether they had been contacted at any part by a foreign player and whether they had knowingly mentioned their involvement with the program to anyone outside the three teams in the bunker. Her team had been through those interviews before and up until today, she had trusted them all completely. Now, however, with so many of her colleagues and friends dead, she was second guessing whether her trust was appropriate.

Shawn Begrebatti, a military protocol specialist critical to achieving properly-formatted military communications, walked over from his non-working station and asked Holly quietly, “How long are we supposed to stay down here by ourselves? Did Perry give you any sort of time table?”

Holly shook her head. “How could he? It hasn’t even been five minutes since a fucking hole was blown in what was supposed to be an impenetrable facility. He doesn’t know what’s going on any more than any other person in this hell. The only thing we know is that someone in one of these groups fucked up, said the wrong thing to the wrong person and now half our group is dead.”

Shawn backed away. Of the three team leads, Holly was normally the quiet, level-headed one. He hadn’t expected such an outburst. Neither had anyone else on the team. If Holly’s intention had been to scare the shit out of them all, she had succeeded. They had not considered that one of them might be responsible for whatever had happened. There was no way now that they could not look at each other without suspicion.

Holly walked around the perimeter of the room, taking in all the destruction. So much detailed work, work that could have set new standards for AI in systems all over the world, was now gone. Sure, there were tape backups stored somewhere in some off-site location, but she couldn’t assume those were any safer than what had existed here.

The lab door opened and Holly jumped, expecting to see that Perry had come to get them. Instead, it was Gary Chu, Claire’s assistant, along with the three other survivors of the Green team. “One of the military guys told us to stay here with you until they can get a team to get us out,” he said.

Holly looked at them and felt the tears coming to her eyes again. Their clothes were scorched and torn. They all had cuts, some of which were severe. They had obviously used their own clothes in an attempt to stop the worse of the bleeding. Her own dust-covered team looked pristine by comparison.

“Sure, come on in,” Holly said. She grabbed a vacant chair and pushed it toward him. “Here, have a seat. Tell us what you need. Clean bandages? Alcohol?”

Other members of the yellow team quickly gave up their seats as well for the wounded members of the green team. Only Holly had been outside the lab so this was their first exposure to just how bad the explosion had been.

“Thank you,” Gary said as he took the chair Holly had offered. “We did the best we could to stop the bleeding. Tia’s leg is probably the worst injury among us. It could definitely stand to be cleaned and rebandaged.”

Holly walked over to where the bespectacled Tia sat, obviously trying to not scream from the pain she was feeling in her left leg. The lower half of her slacks had been torn away, part of it used to make the tourniquet that was keeping her from bleeding out. The fabric was soaked in blood and Holly could only guess that an artery had been severed. Removing the tourniquet without the ability to immediately replace it could be dangerous.

“Sansibal,” Holly said, addressing one of the women on her team, “Run to the women’s restroom and grab me like three tampons and a roll of toilet paper.”

As the young woman ran to the restroom, Holly looked at Shawn and ordered, “There are sheets in the supply closet, along with a number of blankets. Take Lila and Chuck and grab all of them and bring them back. We’re going to need the sheets torn into 3-inch strips.”

Holly then took Tia’s hand and said softly, “We need to get you inverted. Your leg needs to be higher than your head. Let’s ease you down here onto the floor and put your foot in the chair. That should do the trick.”

By the time the remaining team members helped ease Tia to the floor, both Sansibal and Shawn had returned with their assigned supplies. Holly took the tampons first and opened the sterile packages, discarding the applicators. The women on her team looked horrified while the men were totally confused. “Government efficiency,” Holly explained. “The tampons are sterile and since they’re government issued we don’t have to worry about any perfumes or other chemicals that might introduce poisons to her bloodstream. They’re designed to do one thing: absorb.” She paused for a moment and looked at Shawn. “You have those strips ready?”

He passed her a neatly folded stack of hastily ripped sheets. Holly had to admit that she was impressed by his efficiency.

With the tampons and new bandages at the ready, she started to remove the bloody bandage but then stop. “Duct tape,” Holly said, seemingly randomly. “There’s a roll of duct tape in the supply room, second shelf on the left, third bin back. Someone get it.”

Shawn was immediately up and running, retrieving the duct tape in a matter of seconds.

Holly propped Tia’s head with one of the blankets and then began removing the bloody cloth. The instant the pressure was released, the blood flow grew to nearly a gush. Quickly, Holly placed the tampons inside the massive wound, then used the bandage strips to wrap the leg as tightly as possible. Finally, she used the duct tape over the strips to apply additional pressure that would hopefully stop the bleeding.

Tia’s body shuddered. Holly covered her with another of the blankets and instructed Sansibal to fill a water bottle and make sure Tia stayed hydrated.

Standing, Holly looked at the remaining members of the Green team. None of them looked great, but none of the other injuries appeared to be life-threatening at the moment.

The lab door opened again. There stood Perry, outfitted in a climbing harness. Behind him stood similarly-clad Marines. “Holly, give me a run down. Who can walk and who can’t?”

Holly looked at Tia and was about to suggest that she needed to be taken out first. Then, before she could speak, everything went dark.

The Evil Among Us

The Evil Among Us

Carson and D looked at each other, knowing that some adjustment would have to be made before they could continue. There was now a massive hole in the bridge where moments ago Reggie had stood. If Carson took another step forward, his fate and that of the woman on his shoulders would be the same as Reggie’s. The obvious solution seemed to be for Carson to move around the table to D’s position and for D to move up where Marti had been. The men nodded at each other and began the careful shuffle while Natalie, Barry, and Reesie struggled to hold the table in place. Just as there was the risk of the two men falling into the hole, the current was pulling back against the table. Considerable effort was necessary to prevent Reesie or Natalie from being dragged into the crevice from the other side.

Every moment felt like an eternity. Every decision beyond whether to breathe felt like a life or death matter. For all the altruism that might have existed between Reesie, Barry, and Natalie when they left the coffee shop, each felt now that their own survival was paramount to anything else. There was no guarantee of anyone making it to Natalie’s apartment building and even if they did make it that far there were still other threats that might keep anyone from seeing their families again. Without saying a word, they had each privately decided that if it came down to making a choice between themselves or anyone on the table, they would act to save themselves first.

Slowly, the men eased into their new positions around the table and the group began the precarious venture down the subtle incline of the bridge. Carson could feel the edge of the hole beneath his right foot. Only the young woman on his shoulders heard his whimper and she didn’t care. She had just watched her mother being swept into the flood, her grandmother lied motionless next to Adam on the table, both her hope and her will to live had vanished. She wondered if she would really be that upset if Carson was to stumble and dump her into the same muddy water that had claimed her mom. Carson, however, was determined to not let that happen. He had already decided that if he began to feel himself slipping he would intentionally lunge in whatever direction necessary to toss the girl onto the table. Maybe she’d make it, maybe she wouldn’t, but at least he would have tried.

Reesie couldn’t stop crying. Reggie had been her right hand at the coffee shop. He was the first person she hired on her own and he had volunteered countless hours to help with the restoration of the space. In some ways, she felt he was as responsible for the coffee shop’s success as she was and now, with no warning, with no chance of recovery, he was gone, swept away, without so much as a chance to call for help. The pain was almost too much to bear.

Natalie could hear Reesie’s sobbing over the rain pounding against her own head. She looked across the table at the woman she had begun to admire and knew that she could only imagine what she was feeling at the moment. Natalie had seen a lot of things in her career as a reporter, but she had largely been spared having to cover much that actually involved death. On the few occasions where it was necessary, the deceased was never anyone she had known at all. She was able to remain detached, a cool observer whose only job was to write about the tragedy, not join in it. Losing people with whom she had any kind of relationship was new. The fear of losing anyone left around the table was not something she wanted to consider.

When the group finally made it off the bridge to more level ground, they paused, wiped the water from their faces, and readjusted their positions around to table to keep it balanced. Reesie was now directly across from D. She noticed that the middle-aged woman on his shoulders hadn’t said a word through the entire process. Clinging desperately to the top of D’s head, her body seemed to affect him no more than would an oversized hat. Carson was alone with his rider at the back of the table, a position he didn’t necessarily enjoy. He feared he could slip into the water and those in front of him might not even notice.

The gray outline of Natalie’s apartment building was vaguely visible in front of them, She knew no one could hear her above the rain, but Natalie still caught everyone’s attention and pointed toward the large structure ahead so that even if something happened to her they would know where to go. They wouldn’t know what to do when they got there, but they would have a destination and that was better than nothing.

No one spoke the remainder of the trip. Seeing the apartment building gave them a sense of focus for something outside themselves. All they had to do was make it this last, short distance and they would be safe, or at least, safer than they were out here on the street.

Barry thought it a bit strange that they hadn’t seen anyone else outside in the rain. He knew that the houses crowding the popular neighborhood contained a mix of retired people and young families. As water filled their homes, he wondered why he didn’t see anyone climbing onto rooftops or into trees, the sights he remembered always seeing when the television news sent helicopters flying over flooded areas. Neither had they seen anyone in boats or canoes. Their solitude struck him as strange and unnatural. He kept his concerns to himself, though. They had enough trouble just trying to make it to safety. He had no business inviting more.

He wondered how they must look to anyone who might happen to see them navigating the makeshift raft down the middle of the road. They were the most unlikely grouping of strangers now dependent on each other for survival, so thoroughly soaked by the rain and beaten by the wind that their features were hardly distinguishable. The only thing, he told himself, was that while the rain had slimmed down everyone else to the point that they looked like sticks protruding from the water, he was still the fat one, a single bobber surrounded by four fishing poles. Barry hadn’t needed to exert this much physical effort at any point in his life. Breathing had quickly become difficult but at this point, even that challenge felt like something he had been doing for years. This trip was taking forever.

As they neared the apartment building, Natalie realized there was a new problem facing them: there was no way the table was going to fit through the stairwell. Sure, had it just been a piece of random furniture they could have gotten it up the stairs by turning it on end and twisting it around. This was no longer furniture, though. As a raft carrying three people, it needed to stay flat and in that position, it wasn’t going past the first landing.

Natalie looked back at the three people on the table. At least Amanda could walk up the stairs on her own. The older woman could probably make it with some assistance. Getting Adam upstairs was a problem, though. She and Reesie had struggled enough to get his coats off him back at the coffee shop. Now, he was thoroughly soaked, she guessed 300 pounds or more of dead weight. Even if everyone worked together, she wasn’t sure they could move him to safety. Had they really brought him all this way, endangering their own lives, for nothing?

Reesie and Barry soon realized the problem as well and everyone else caught on quickly. Amanda was now sitting up, anxious to get off the table. Only now did they realize that the older woman hadn’t moved for several minutes, either. Yet, her condition was secondary at the moment, even for her granddaughter who was clinging to Carson’s head.

When they reached the base of the stairwell, Natalie turned to the others, yelling above the rain, “Stay here, I’ll see if I can find some help. I know there have to be people at home.”

The others felt the table shift as Natalie released her grip and bounded up the stairs.

Carson started to ask what they would do if Natalie didn’t come back, but the wind blew water into his mouth, effectively keeping him quiet. The thought had gone through everyone else’s mind, though, and they waited nervously, hoping.

Natalie hoped that Darrell was still home. She couldn’t be sure. Hadn’t he said something about meeting someone for lunch? If he was gone, she had no way to get into the apartment. Her keys had been in the same bag as her laptop which was now likely underwater back at the coffee shop. She tried the door and was immediately thankful that it was unlocked. What she saw in her living room, however, was not what she had expected.

Darrell was not alone. Two very naked young women were sitting in towels on the couch. A third was approaching from the hallway, drying her hair with another towel, just as naked as the other two.

Hearing the door, Darrell moved quickly to see who was there and was genuinely surprised to see Natalie standing in the doorway. “I … I … It’s not what it looks like, I swear, it’s …”

Natalie rolled her eyes and motioned for him to be quiet. “No, I get it,” she said, then looking at the girls, she called each by name. “Miranda, Amber, and Gwen. Apartments 104, 107, and 106, all of which are flooded. We’re good. Did anyone think to check on Mrs. Applegate in 103?”

“I knocked but didn’t get any answer and the door was locked solid,” Darrell said. “Same for the other first floor apartments. They were the only ones at home.”

“Everyone else works day shift,” Natalie said. “Will and Caroline in 102 would have been the last to leave around 9:30.”

“It’s Tuesday, Mrs. Applegate is probably at the senior center over on Clermont,” Amber said as she finished drying her hair and sat the towel on the back of a kitchen chair. Her tall, tanned, and fit physique was the kind that made many women jealous. More than a few of the building’s residents referred to her as “The Amazon.” Natalie was one of the few people who had actually taken the time to get to know her, however, and knew that she held two masters degrees, one in physics and other in applied mathematics, and did competitive bodybuilding to counter the nerd stereotype she had battled in high school.

“We have a problem downstairs,” Natalie said. “I brought everyone from the coffee shop home with me and one, maybe two of them are unconscious. We’re going to need a lot of help getting them upstairs.”

“All of them?” Darrell asked. “The entire coffee shop? Like, how many people are we talking about?” He looked around the room wondering how many people they could possibly accommodate.

“We’ll deal with it,” Amber said, immediately taking charge. She looked around for something reasonably dry to wear and found a pair of Natalie’s stretch leggings. “You mind if I toss these on?” she asked. “I might stretch them a bit but I can buy you more later.”

Natalie laughed. “Go ahead, if you think you can fit into them.”

Everyone in the room giggled a little as Amber struggled to get the leggings up to her thighs and over her hips. Natalie reached over to the pile of clothes on the table and tossed leggings at Miranda and Gwen as well, both of whom were considerably smaller than Amber.

“Let’s go!” Amber said as she headed for the door.

“Uhm, don’t we like, need shirts or something?” Gwen asked. She was small, not much if any taller than Amanda and looked more like an elf than a human as she stood there covering her chest with her arms.

Amber laughed. “I don’t think anyone is really going to care at this point,” she said as she headed down the stairs.

Natalie looked around the room and tossed Gwen the first t-shirt she could find, one of Darrell’s old band shirts. He started to object but the look on Natalie’s face warned him against it. She grabbed another and offered it to Miranda, but the young woman everyone in the building regarded as a too quiet and stuck up waved it off and followed after Amber. The others quickly followed.

The group at the table looked up as the sound of footsteps running down the staircase made it feel as though the whole structure might fall on top of them. Their mouths involuntarily fell open as Amber was the first person they saw, her ample breast bouncing in an involuntarily seductive way as she bounded down the stairs. Amber was about to laugh at their reaction when she saw a face she recognized.

“You?” she asked credulously. “What the fuck are you doing here? You can get the fuck out right now!”

All eyes followed Amber’s stern gaze and quickly realized that it was D she was yelling at. Amber ran down the stairs, through the water, and quickly retrieved the woman from the top of his shoulders, putting her down safely on a step just as Natalie and the others were arriving, surprised by the commotion. Amber turned and looked at D again. “Djali, you fucking demon, what the fuck have you done to these people?” Without giving him a chance to respond, she turned to Natalie and asked forcefully, “How many people did you start with?”

Natalie had to stop and think for a second, counting in her head. “Uhm, 13, I think. We lost …”

“Three,” Amber interrupted. She looked at the table, “And he’s waiting on these two because five is his favorite number.”

All eyes were still on D. He grinned and took a step away from the table. “Hey, you wouldn’t expect me to miss an event like this, would you? And most of them made it here. It’s not like I’m completely barbaric or anything. They did lose one back at the coffee shop, though.”

Reesie spoke up, a look of complete bewilderment on her face. “I don’t understand. Is he like your ex or something?”

Amber looked around for something she could use as a weapon but there was nothing but water. “Oh, he’s something, alright,” she said. “Djali is a straight-up demon of death, the kind your Sunday School teacher warned you about. He’s part of Di Inferni, but this one is Albanian rather than Roman and has a thing for making accidents happen.”

The others exchanged looks and Carson carefully moved to the other side of the table.

Djali smiled broadly, baring his teeth, a look that felt sinister to everyone watching. “You give me undue credit, dear,” he said. “I don’t make those accidents happen. I merely take advantage of them when they do.”

Amber glared at the demon then looked at the group still standing in the water holding onto the table. The current had only eased slightly and the rain was still pounding. The roof over the stairwell offered some limited protection for those closest to it but Carson and the young woman he carried were still getting soaked. The tall woman stepped into the current and took the girl from Carson’s shoulders and then guided them both onto the staircase.

Amanda took that as her cue and climbed over Adam and onto the stairs, thankful to be on more solid footing, even if she still wasn’t sure this would be survival. This left Reesie and Barry struggling to hold onto the table, the strain evident in their faces.

Amber looked up the stairs at Darrell. “Why don’t you come down and help them hold on to this thing,” she said in a tone that gave Darrell no option but to comply. “Gwen, dear, why don’t you take the soaked ones upstairs. See if you can find more towels or something.”

“Second shelf of the hallway closet,” Natalie instructed. “There are clean sheets and blankets they can wrap in as well.”

Miranda eased her way down the staircase and saw the two remaining people lying on the table. “Are they … dead?” she asked nervously.

“No, not yet,” Amber said. “If they were Djali would have conveniently disappeared by now. He doesn’t like sticking around for the aftermath.”

“How can you tell?” Reesie asked. She had been wondering for some time whether both of the table’s occupants were still breathing.

Amber moved closer to the table. “This is Adam Hirschfeld, isn’t it?” she asked.

Reesie nodded, wondering how Amber knew his full name.

“I took care of his dear wife before she passed,” Amber said as though she anticipated Reesie’s questions. She leaned over the table and checked his pulse then opened an eyelid. “He’s in a coma from diabetic ketoacidosis. He’s in desperate need of fluids and insulin therapy, neither of which we’re adequately prepared to give him.” She looked across the table and glared at Djali who was still smiling.

Amber turned her attention to the older woman on the table. She checked for a pulse the checked the dilation of her eyes. “She’s suffering cardiac arrhythmia because of the exposure.” Amber picked up the frail woman and handed her to Miranda who was not quite ready to accept the weight. “Natalie, if you can help her up the stairs, get her into something dry, see if you can get her conscious enough to drink something warm, even if it’s just warm water from the tap.”

Natalie helped Miranda carry the woman up the stairs, looking back nervously at the three people remaining. Having come this far with Barry and Reesie, she worried about something happening, especially with Djali still standing there. She still didn’t understand who he was but there was little question that he was evil.

Amber looked at Barry, Darrell, and Natalie. “This isn’t going to be easy,” she warned. “He’s a big boy. The good news is that he’ll float a little. We’ll ease him off the raft and let the raft float away.”

Reesie looked at the table, the last remnant of her coffee shop. She hated to see it go but didn’t feel like there was any room to argue the matter.

“When we get him to the stairs,” Amber continued, “Barry, it is Barry isn’t it?”

Barry nodded.

“You get under his left shoulder, I’ll take the right,” Amber instructed. She then looked over at Reesie. “You’re Tinera’s wife, Shyreese, aren’t you?”

Reesie felt her mouth drop open again and quickly shut it. “Yes, how did you …”

“Griddleiscious is an addiction Adam and I share,” Amber said, “And your wife is extremely proud of you and baby Ravie.”

Reesie smiled. “I guess I get his feet?” she said.

“As best you can,” Amber replied. “His greater weight is in his hips and midsection. Lifting him is going to be awkward at best. Darrell, try to lift where you can between his knees and his hips.”

“Maybe if I move down a little I can help,” Barry said, using his size to his advantage. “I’m not overly strong but I should at least be able to help keep him up.”

Amber smiled. “You’re a lot stronger than you think,” she said.

Together, the quartet lifted Adam off the table and let it float away. Getting him over to the stairs was easy enough but lifting him up to the first landing was a struggle. Getting him up the remaining three flights of stairs without assistance was impossible.

“What do we do now,” Reesie asked as they propped Adam into a corner. “We can’t just leave him down here.”

“I can stay with him,” Barry offered.

Amber shook her head. “You three go upstairs. See if there’s still an available blanket or something I can use to cover him. I’ll say here and protect him from Djali.”

They looked back down the staircase expecting to see the black-clad demon standing there but he had disappeared.

“Oh good, he’s gone,” Reesie said. “That guy creeped me out the minute he walked into the shop.”

Amber took a few steps down the stairs into the water. “He’s not gone. He never leaves until his body count is complete and he’s still one person short. He’s just waiting for his moment.”

For Fear of a Dull Moment

For Fear of a Dull Moment

Rudy Blackstone paced in the living area of the residence on the third floor of the White House. Being without his staff or any other form of communication was driving him nuts. He was accustomed to there always being people at his beck and call. The expanded security detail meant there were plenty of people in the residence but none of them could tell him what was going on or how soon the problem was going to be fixed.

The president started walking toward a window and quickly a Secret Service agent blocked his way. “What the fuck, I can’t even look out the window now?” he asked angrily.

“I’m afraid not, sir,” the agent responded, his voice absent of any emotion.

Rudy growled. “I thought those windows were supposed to be bulletproof,” he said.

The agent broadened his stance. “It isn’t bullets we’re worried about at the moment,” he said. “Until we’ve identified and eliminated the threat, Mr. President, we’re taking no chances of any kind.”

The president stomped back toward the kitchen area. “Goddammit,” he mumbled under his breath. “What good is it to be president if you can’t even leave the residence?” He sat down at the small kitchen table and said, “Can someone at least get me a diet soda from the fridge? Can I have that? Can I have a diet soda?”

The other Secret Service agents looked at each other, fighting the urge to roll their eyes. One of them reached into the sparse refrigerator and pulled out a can of the president’s favorite diet soda. There wasn’t much else in the unit, just some of the president’s frequent snacks. All the real food was kept downstairs in the main kitchen. The agent took a clean glass from the cabinet and poured the contents of the can into the glass before handing it to the president.

“Thanks,” Rudy said condescendingly. “At least I don’t have to do everything for myself.”

A fourth agent appeared and whispered something into the ear of the agent who had served the president the soda. The agent nodded and then turned to the president. “Sir, General Lang is here to brief you on the situation.”

Rudy gulped down the soda and stood up. “Good, maybe we can finally get some answers.”

As General Lang entered the room, the president shook his hand and slapped him on the back of the shoulder, a move the general did not appreciate. He was not here to be the president’s best friend or fishing buddy. The matter was serious.

“So, Al, tell me what’s going on out there. We’ve got a handle on this, right?” the president asked.

General Lang summoned his most serious expression, the one that frightened the hell out of even his closest advisors. “No sir, we don’t even know what ‘this” is yet. What we do know is that the entire country has been attacked and some of our NATO allies as well.”

The president put his hands into his pants pockets and looked at the floor. “So, what you’re telling me is that we’re fucked.”

“For the moment, yes, sir,” Lang said. “That would seem to be the case.”

Rudy paused. “We need to find someone we can bomb.”

Another Tuesday In Another Coffee Shop, Pt. 2

Editorial Note: While this is not the first time that I’ve spread an article across two posts, I think this is the first time that I’ve serialized them across multiple weeks. If you’ve not yet read the first part of this story, you will want to click here and do so in order to make sense of what you’re reading today. Maybe.

This is also where I need to state that everything that follows is fictional. Any relationship between the story here and actual persons or events is not only coincidental but a little bit disturbing. There are no strange theories being developed here or any futuristic prognostication. This is fiction. Please respond appropriately. Now, let’s pick up where we left off.

Not The Average Tuesday

Not The Average Tuesday

Reesie looked across the coffee shop just as her watch beeped 10:00. The rain hadn’t started yet, though the clouds looked as ominous as ever. At the near table sat a large man looking very uncomfortable in a black sweater talking to a well-dressed diminutive woman. Something about an app. The girl in the front chair had her laptop open and seemed to be working, but looked as though she were about to cry. Carson was going off about some rental car problem, but Reggie was handling him sufficiently. Two young women who hadn’t seen each other in months were catching up at the high top, and the principals of the software company down the street were having their weekly meeting at the back table. And Adam was asleep on the couch. Again.

The bell at the front door rang and a late middle-aged gentleman, his hair nearly shining from the shade of silver, walked through the door. He pulled a worn wallet from the front pocket of his jeans and deposited $3 in the honor jar. Obviously, he’d been here before but Reesie didn’t recognize the face. He filled his cup from the carafe with the house blend and took a seat on the bench across from the counter. He looked at his watch, then at the door. She recognized that look. He was waiting for someone.

Reesie checked all the carafes and pulled the two that were nearly empty, then ground the coffee she would need to fill them. The morning was going smoothly.

Then, at precisely 10:15 AM, her cell phone rang. Never mind that it had been set to vibrate only all morning. The phone rang.

And so did every other cell phone in the coffee shop. Conversation stopped as everyone simultaneously stared at their phones. The rings were all identical, overriding the individualized settings that everyone had spent far too much time agonizing over when they first got their phones. They rang, an electronic impersonation of the old wall-mount phones now relegated to museum pieces.

A couple of seconds passed. Everyone in the coffee shop had the same reaction as Reesie. They first looked at their phones, then across the shop as they realized theirs wasn’t the only phone ringing. In the next second, everyone reached for their phones and answered. The phones didn’t have to be on speaker settings. Everyone was hearing exactly the same thing

“Greetings. This is …”

“Did it work?” asked a somewhat muffled voice in the background. “Did the alert go through?”

The dominant voice, a male baritone similar to that of an evening news presenter, sighed and tried again. “Greetings, this is …”

“Don’t tell them too much right now, you’ll scare everyone,” said the voice in the background.

“Sir, we have a script and a very limited amount of time. Please …” said a third male voice.

“Greetings, this is …”

Suddenly, the call was interrupted by a loud, piercing, digital squeal, first a long, single tone, then a punctuated warbling. Then, the call ended, disconnected on the other end.

Everyone looked up at the same time, unsure of how to respond. Ressie looked across the coffee shop. Uncertainty was on every face. What had they just heard? Who had sent that call? Was there an emergency? Did they need to take cover?

With near simultaneous precision, everyone picked up their phone and started calling someone. Natalie called Darrell. Ressie called Timora. Barry called his mom. Everyone had someone they needed to call, and when they answered, everyone asked the same question: “Did you just get a strange call?”

With the affirmation that yes, everyone has received the same odd call with the same piercing sound came expressions of worry and concern.

“Are you okay?” Bruce asked Amanda. “Do I need to come get you? Have you talked to the sitter?”

Amanda assured him she was okay and that the sitter would be the next call, then the school.

“Is anyone there panicking?” Timora asked Reesie. “Ravie seems unaffected, though he definitely heard that loud noise at the end.”

Reesie nervously replied, “Not sure yet. Everyone’s calling someone, just like us. I don’t think anyone knows exactly what’s going on.”

“Yes, mom, I’m safe,” Barry was saying. “No, I’m not home, but I’m safe. No, mom, we’re not being invaded.” He wasn’t sure whether or not he was lying on that last statement, but the last thing he wanted to do was upset his 83-year-old mother.

“I’m sure it’s no big thing,” Darrell told Natalie dismissively. “Sounded more like a glitch in the FCC’s emergency system to me.”
The FCC’s emergency system. Natalie remembered reading about the national system being established a couple of years ago. Theoretically, it was designed to send everyone a text message in the event of a national emergency. “I didn’t think that system had voice ability,” Natalie asked him.

“I dunno,” Darrell responded. “I’m re-thinking my lunch plans, though. Maybe you should come home.”

Natalie considered the request. “Maybe. Let me see if I can figure out what’s going on first.”

Carson was speaking softly into his phone but hadn’t left his seat at the counter. “I just wanted to know that you and the kids are okay. I’ll be home as soon. I’m sure this was nothing serious.”

In the back room of the coffee shop, Reggie whispered into his phone, “Look, man, you gotta go do you. This isn’t normal shit. Take care of whatever you need to take care of. You know I’m here, man. I love you.”

As Reesie finished her call to Tinora, she felt dampness under her nose. She reached for a nearby paper towel to wipe her nose, assuming that it was nothing more than normal nasal drainage. Seeing blood on the paper towel caused her heart to jump a beat yet again. She looked up to see Carson wiping the blood from his nose as well. From the back of the shop, she heard Reggie exclaim, “What the fuck?” She quickly realized that everyone was bleeding from the nose. She grabbed the paper towels and hurried from behind the counter to distribute them.

That’s when she noticed Adam. He wasn’t moving. If he had a cell phone, he hadn’t answered it. His head was still slumped against his chest as it always was when he was napping on the couch. Reesie set the paper towels on the table between Amanda and Barry and rushed over to him, expertly placing two fingers against his carotid artery, then down on his left wrist. She started looking for her phone and realized she’d left it on the counter. Then, she felt a hand on her shoulder.

Natalie had noticed Adam at almost the same as Reesie and was dialing 911.

“We’re sorry, all emergency networks are busy at this time. Please hold and we will do our best to answer your call in the order in which it was received.”

“Fuck,” Natalie said, placing the phone on the coffee table in front of the couch with the speaker on. “Is he breathing,” she asked Reesie.

“Just barely,” Reesie answered. “His pulse is really, really weak. I don’t know that much about him, but almost certainly seems to be in some form of cardiac distress. We need help!”

“ … all emergency networks are busy …” continued the recording on Natalie’s phone.

“Isn’t there a fire station just down the street like a block and a half? I can run down there and see if they can help,” Natalie offered.

Reesie thought for a second. She didn’t know who this white girl was nor if she’d come back, but her instinct said to trust her. “Sure. Want me to put your laptop behind the counter?”

Natalie handed her the computer. “Thanks. I’ll be right back. I promise.” She stood up, but never made it to the front door.

At that second, the power went out in the shop just as a torrent of rain harder than anyone had ever seen pounded against the front wall of the coffee shop. No one was going anywhere.

What No One Is Supposed To Know

What No One Is Supposed To Know

“Fuck! I’m not sure if we got anything out or not.” the man said as he pushed away from the desk. “Mr. President, with all due respect, your interruptions may have cost us the integrity of this entire program. People heard you. They’ll recognize your voice. When they do, the necessary secrecy of this operation will be compromised. If you were anyone else, I’d take you outside right now and shoot you!”

Special Agent Tony Biscane had been working on the new national communications project for 15 years across three different presidential administrations. All the previous presidents had been easy enough to work with once they were briefed on the critical nature of the program and why its existence could not be revealed to the public. Today was the first public test of that project but the president had practically ruined it because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut.

“You will NOT talk to the president of the United States like that!” Chief of Staff Roger Mukaski reprimanded the agent. “You will show some respect, especially in this office!”

Tony wasn’t having it. He turned and looked Mukaski in the eye. “I don’t care if he’s god incarnate. The fact is that your president likely just created a national incident and we’re going to have to do something to calm everyone down and that action is not going to be easy nor inexpensive.”

“Sir, we’ve got a massive problem,” a tall man in an Army uniform said as he burst into the Oval Office. “This went sideways in a hurry.”

“See? It didn’t take long,” Tony said, looking directly at Mukaski.
“What’s the problem, General Lang?” the president asked.

General Alonzo Lang stood tall above the president, and pretty much everyone else in the room. At 6’ 8”, he tended to be an imposing presence no matter where he was. The left breast of his dark green dress uniform was covered in ribbons and medals that almost distracted from the four stars on his lapel. He could have almost passed for a younger person than his 63 years of age were it not for the gray hairs starting to creep into his temples. That touch of gray just gave him that much more authority, especially in situations like this one.

“Mr. President,” he said, “That call, whatever it was, has invoked a full-scale, nationwide panic. We’re getting reports from everywhere of people running into the streets, distracted drivers causing accidents, critical hospital equipment malfunctioning … Mr. President, we weren’t ready for a response like this on even a small scale. We don’t have the resources to deal with this. No one does.”

The president looked at Tony. “I thought you said everyone was supposed to be calm and quiet at the end of this thing. I’m not taking the blame for this. Know that now. This was not my fault.”

Tony glanced at Mukaski before replying. “Mr. President, if you had not interrupted the broadcast, if we had been able to deliver the entire message, this would not have happened. I told you before we started, I told everyone before we started, that we had a 20-second window. That was it. Twenty fucking seconds. We’ve known this for over two years. We’ve gone over it. We’ve practiced it. But no, you just had to say something and when you did we weren’t able to read the entire message and the system didn’t hear the keywords so it glitched and now we have a massive problem”

President Rudolph Blackstone, whom everyone preferred to call Rootin-Tootin’ Rudy, stared angrily at the agent. “Why didn’t you just …” He stopped and turned to Mukaski, “I expect you to handle situations like this. If silence was so critical, why did we perform this test here in the oval office?”

Mukaski tried to not roll his eyes. “Remember, Mr. President, you requested the test to be held here. It was originally scheduled for the war room without anyone present but Agent Biscane and the Joint Chiefs. Is that not correct, General?”

“Yes sir, that is correct,” General Lang answered. “If you’ll recall, we even submitted a formal complaint to the test being moved.”

President Blackstone pounded his fist on the massive walnut desk in front of him. “Complaints. All anyone ever does around here is complain. I breathe and someone complains. I don’t need complaints right now, gentlemen. I need solutions. What are we going to do about this?”

“Mr. President, … I don’t think …” General Lang started only to be interrupted by an aide rushing in with an update pulled from a computer just outside the oval office. The general stared at the paper for a moment, then made his face resolute. “Mr. President, if we don’t impose martial law right now, this very second, we will lose the country before noon.”

Both Mukaski and Biscane looked at the general with their mouths open. Before noon? That was less than two hours away! What was going on out there?

The general read their expressions and continued. “The national 911 network is overloaded. People’s first response to the phone call was to call 911. Then, people started having a physical response to whatever that noise was at the end. Most people had nose bleeds, but anyone with any kind of medical implant device, especially pacemakers, experienced a malfunction. Panic is rampant. Police in every city are overwhelmed. Nationalize the National Guard and impose martial law so we can get them some help.”

“Fine,” the president said, tossing up his hands and turning to face the window looking out onto the White House lawn. The thick glass kept him from having a detailed view of anything out there, but he liked to pretend. “Roger, draw up the papers and I’ll sign them as soon as possible.”

“We’ll need to make a public statement when you do,” Mukaski said.

“That’s fine. I’ll just say …” the president started.

“You need to stick to the script on this one,” Mukaski warned. “There are strict legal guidelines in play here. Congress doesn’t even have to hold impeachment proceedings if you fuck this up.”
“Fine, whatever. I’ll play nice. Just make sure the teleprompter is large enough for me to read,” Rudy said. He sat in the large chair behind the desk. “I could use a soda. Someone get me a soda.”

Unintended Actions Still Have Consequences

Unintended Actions Still Have Consequences

“Goddammitmotherfuckingsonofabitch! What in the name of crazy moon monkeys just happened and why the fuck am I seeing fucking red lights everywhere I look?: Agent in Charge Perry Hawkins entire head had grown beat red and anyone who didn’t know him might think he was about to have a stroke or some other serious medical event. Those who knew him, however, and especially those who worked with him, knew this was a regular event any time Perry was upset—and Perry was often upset. Still, this rant was rather significant. Every piece of electronics in the room had just failed simultaneously.

“We’re working on it, sir,” responded Special Agent Claire Fielding. “At this particular moment, all I know is that something, somewhere, interrupted the signal between here and the White House.”

Perry grabbed the back of the chair in which Claire was sitting and pulled it back so he could bend down and look directly in the young woman’s face. “What do you mean something interrupted the signal? I didn’t think there was supposed to be anyway anything could interrupt that signal! My understanding, Miss Fielding, was that there was no known technology in the world that could interrupt that signal! Do you know how I came to that understanding, Miss Fielding?”

“Yes, sir,” Claire answered firmly. “I told you nothing could interrupt this signal. Obviously, I was wrong.”

Claire had grown rather accustomed to Perry’s attempts to intimidate her. When she had first taken the assignment in the Virginia bunker, he had been successful. Claire was no pushover, however. Her bantam height of 5’ 2” and meager build notwithstanding, Claire was one of the toughest agents, both physically and mentally, on the force. On days like today, her two-inch sensible pumps allowed her to meet Perry’s stern gaze at his own level, something not many people in the organization dared to do. Claire had figured out a long time ago that the way to beat a bully was to stand nose-to-nose with them until they backed down, and they always backed down.

Perry knew this wasn’t the time to mess with Claire. “Fuck. How fast can we track down those interruptions?”

Claire was busily banging at keys on a keyboard, frustrated that none of the monitors in front of her were responding. “I’ll run diagnostics as soon as I can find a machine that wasn’t fucking fried.”

Fried. That was not a good word to hear in what was supposed to be the nations most secret and most secure underground electronics facility. Just getting inside to go to work took 30 minutes. Getting out took even longer. “Do you mean to tell me that every piece of electronics in this room is no longer in working condition?”

Claire slammed her fist on the keyboard in front of her and slid her chair over to the next one. “I’m afraid it may be worse than that, sir,” she said as she started typing again, getting the same lack of response. You may want to check divisions Blue and Yellow, sir. I’m not getting a response from anything in the bunker.”

Moments like this made Perry wish there was something handy to throw, something that he wouldn’t immediately regret breaking into a thousand pieces. He could take pills to help him with the high blood pressure, but they hadn’t made one yet that could control his rage and right now every fiber of his being sense that he was being personally attacked and needed to fight back.

“Someone get me Blue team lead,” Perry yelled to no one in particular. He needn’t have bothered.
“I’m right here, Perry,” said Special Agent Kenneth Spaulding, the Blue team lead.

“And I’m right behind him,” quipped Special Agent Holiday Lightfoot. She preferred for people to call her Holly. Holly was the Yellow team lead.

The four agents looked at each other a moment before Perry spoke. “You’re telling me whatever interrupted that signal took out the entire Bunker?” His voice was softer. He was trying to regain some sense of control and composure, at least over himself if not the situation.

Kenneth spoke first. “I’m afraid it’s worse than that. We could be looking at a catastrophic event affecting government installations all over the US.”

“Make that the world,” Holly corrected. “As best as I can tell, both London and Munich are down as well.”

Perry inhaled deeply. “What about naval commands? Have we heard anything from them?”

“The McCain reported in two minutes ago. They’re operational but are having some issues with their navigational systems. They’re running diagnostics now,” Holly reported.

“Define ‘some issues,’ please,” Perry ordered.

Holly nodded. “Their satellite connections are glitching. They’ll show accurate coordinates one second and then something totally random the next. They’re not dead in the water but they’ve slowed to give technicians time to hopefully stabilize the system.”

“Assuming,” Kenneth added, “that the systems can be stabilized. Based on what I’m seeing, Perry, I’m wondering if the satellite grid might be part of the problem. We know damn good and well we tested against every known technology on this planet and even invented some of our own just to be sure. What if someone put something up there we don’t know about?”

Claire and Holly shared a sudden look of fear. The satellites were considered safe. If they had been hacked, there might not be anything they could do on earth to fix the problem.

Perry pushed his thick fingers across the top of his head as though he were trying to pull at hair that wasn’t there. “Do we at least have some outside communication? I mean, just how bad a situation are we looking at?”

A private dressed in Marine Corp street camo rushed into the room and handed Perry a piece of paper. “Sir, this message just arrived, sir,” the Marine said, and then he paused with his mouth open.

“Go ahead, boy, say it,” Perry commanded.

“Sir, it came in via teletype. We didn’t even know that machine was still hooked up and functioning, sir. Just all of a sudden it jolted and started clattering away. We thought it was about to explode or something,” the baby-faced Marine explained.

“That’s the only thing still working,” Claire whispered.

Perry looked at what was on the teletype printout and his hands began to tremble.

“Perry, how bad is it?” Claire asked quietly.

Perry walked over to the door and pushed buttons on the intercom system next to it. “Attention all stations. Attention all stations. This is Special Agent in Charge Perry Hawkins. I have just received direct orders from president Blackstone. Military protocol 579 M. 1483 is now in effect by order of the President of the United States. Repeat: Military protocol 579 M. 1483 is now in effect. Ladies and gentlemen, the United States of America is at war. Stand by for further instructions.”

At that moment, the only sound in the small room was intermittent beeping from various electronics still attempting to perform their assigned function. The four agents looked at each other. Technically, they were not part of the military, though they worked closely with them. No one was exactly sure what would happen next.

Perry turned and addressed the Marine. “Son, who is your commanding officer?”

“Sir, Colonel Brinkman, sir,” the Marine answered.

“And is Colonel Brinkman physically inside the bunker at this moment?” Perry asked.

The private trembled as he tried to answer, but no words came out.
“It’s okay, son. We’re all scared. Nothing like this has ever happened before. We’re going to get through this as best we can, but I need to talk to Col. Brinkman as fast as possible. He would seem to be everyone’s boss right now. Can you find him for me?” Perry did his best to keep his voice low and calm. Any hint of panic at this point could set off a chain reaction throughout the bunker.

The Marine nodded.

“Good. You’re dismissed.”

The Marine ran from the room as quickly as possible. Perry looked back at the three team leads, then gazed around the room at the remaining special agents. This was one of those moments Perry had never imagined would actually happen. Sure, somewhere in one of those boring classes they had all taken as part of their training, they had been told it was possible and what would happen if it did. The sum and substance were that the military took over. Everything. The only other time a President had invoked this order was in 1863 and even that was up for debate. This was new. This could only mean that the United States was under a direct attack by a foreign power. But who?

“Who here has a military background?” Perry asked. All three team leads and several others raised their hands. Perry nodded in acknowledgment. “Good. Those of you under the age of 45, which is most of you, can likely expect to be re-inducted into your respective branch of the military. At that time, you may or may not be assigned elsewhere. That decision is no longer up to me. I do know that circumstances topside must be pretty severe for the president to make that order. Be assured that when this action is over and this order is rescinded, you are all welcome to resume your positions here.”

“What about those of us recruited elsewhere?” asked an agent sitting in a darkened corner of the room.

Perry shook his head. “I’ve no idea. I assume Col. Brinkman is getting orders from the Pentagon as we speak. He may ask us to stay on as military consultants. He may ask us to be escorted from the bunker and sent home. The decision is totally up to them.”

“Can we be shot?” the same voice asked.

Light laughter rippled around the room and Perry managed a smile even though he had wondered the same thing himself. “No, no one is getting shot without sufficient reason. I’ll talk to the Colonel as soon as he can be found. Until then, let’s gather as much data about this disaster as we can, okay? Everyone continue working. We need to know what caused that interruption, its source, and how bad the damage is. Now.”

Special Agents Spaulding and Lightfoot left the room to return to their teams. Claire and her team returned their attention to the array of electronics that were still not responding. Perry slipped out of the room, leaned his back against the wall, and covered his face with his hands. He wanted to scream, but couldn’t. He wanted to run and hide as well, but that was not an option. He had a job to do.

What bothered Perry most was not being able to tell his team in advance that this could happen. He had been briefed by Special Agent Biscane two weeks ago on the matter. The window of operation was kept as small as possible to prevent any type of interference, but any number of variables could have left the nation’s entire communication system vulnerable. That information was classified, though. As far as he knew, only himself, Biscane, and the president’s Chief of Staff Roger Mukaski knew the risk going in. The military had been intentionally left out of the loop.

As Perry considered the situation and the role he had played, his stomach turned. He had told his agents a lie. Someone could get shot. Him.

Battle Against The Inevitable

Battle Against The Inevitable

Natalie looked at the door then back at Reesie, unsure exactly what to do next. The water was already forcing its way inside. Going to her car, let alone two blocks to the fire station, was impossible now.

Reesie ran over and locked the front door then turned around to address her customers. “I’m sorry everyone, but it looks like we’re gonna be family for a bit. Reggie, secure the back door, please. I’ll happily let folks in but no one’s going out until we’re sure it’s safe.”

She paused a second and looked over at Adam. “I don’t suppose anyone here is a doctor? Or a nurse? Or a girl scout?”

The customers looked at each other and shrugged. None of them had any medical training. Reesie and Natalie bent back over the older man. Reesie checked his pulse again.

“I’m not sure what to do,” Reesie said. “I mean, I have one of those defib kits back in the office, but I don’t know this is the situation to use it.”

Natalie rocked back on her heels for a moment, thinking. “Do you know anything about his medical history at all?” she asked. “I know that’s an odd question but he seems rather comfortable, coming in here and sleeping like this.”

Reesie chuckled. “It’s part of his daily routine. He comes in a little before 10, gets a cup of coffee, takes maybe three sips of it then falls asleep. He normally sleeps for about an hour, sometimes less if we’re busy, then throws his coffee away and goes home.”

Natalie couldn’t help chuckling at the quaintness of his story. It made her that much more determined to help him. “If we had power I could check online for some suggestions but without Internet I’m helpless. Do you have any idea how old he is?”

“Somewhere in his late 70s, I think,” Reesie answered. “We didn’t really have much chance to talk, what with him sleeping all the time. He would say hi, sometimes ask how the day was going. He’s been coming here a long time before I bought the place.”

Reggie had rummaged around in the back room and found long, red tapered candles left over from some holiday decorations. He lit the candles with his lighter and brought them around to the different tables, leaving two for Reesie and Natalie.

The wind blew hard, causing the front window to rumble as though it might break. Reesie and Natalie both jumped. The candle flames flickered.

There was still enough light to see inside the coffee shop. The patrons could easily get up, move around without being in danger of tripping over anything. Yet, they each stayed seated right where they were, pivoting between their now hushed conversations and watching the front window, fully expecting a deluge of water to come roaring in on them at any time.

Natalie found the whispering interesting, as though they were in a church. All the lively chatter than had previously filled the small space of the coffee shop hadn’t stopped, but everyone was whispering. Her curious nature had her wondering if the content of the conversation had changed at all.

Reesie walked over to the counter and began unwrapping the pastries that were sitting out. “Everyone feel free to help yourself to a pastry. I don’t think the power is going to come back any time soon and these pastries will ruin if left out. No need in them going to waste,” she announced to the group.

The four women who had been sitting at the back table seemed very pleased by this development and had just stood up when the wind rocked the coffee shop again. This time it did blow out the candles and the room instantly felt much darker than it actually was.

“No worries,” Reggie said. “Just sit still a moment and I’ll relight them.”

As Reggie worked his way around to the different tables, Reesie looked back toward the front door where water was beginning to pool. She had seen water flood the shop before, but this was coming in faster than previous incidents. Within a few minutes, the water would spread across the floor. She walked over to Natalie. “You might want to go ahead and unplug your laptop. I can put it up on a shelf if you’d like. We’re going to have water all over this floor in just a few minutes.”

Natalie looked first at the floor and then toward the door. She walked over and unplugged her laptop, placed it in her tote bag, then handed the whole thing to Reesie. “Here, put it where you think it’s safe.” She looked at the bag and then added, “I don’t think I’m going to make my deadline.”

Reesie looked at the bag then back at Natalie. “No, you probably won’t, but I’m glad you’re here. My name is Shyreese, by the way. You can call me Reesie.”

Natalie smiled. “I always did like Reesies.” She giggled. “I’m Natalie. Never Nat.”

Reesie nodded her acknowledgment. “Natalie it is then. Pleased to meet you.” She then walked over to a nearby wall and put the tote bag on a secure shelf higher than her own head. If water got that high, she reasoned, the laptop would be the least of anyone’s worries.

Carson started pounding his index finger on his phone. “Dammit, now I’ve lost all signal, too. Don’t tell me the whole cell network is down.”

Everyone in the shop immediately checked their own phone. Sure enough, no one had any cell service. A wave of panic swept over Amanda. She had gotten in touch with the babysitter, but she hadn’t reached the kids’ school. What if they tried calling? What if they needed to be picked up? Tears filled her eyes as she realized there was nothing she could do.

Barry cautiously reached over and touched Amanda’s forearm. He had attended more than enough classes to know he should ask permission before touching someone else, but this moment seemed to be a bit different. “I know, it’s scary,” he told her. “I think we all have someone we’re worried about. It’s going to be okay. Even if this place fills with water, it’s okay.”

Amanda choked back a sob. “How do you know that? How do we know anyone will survive? We don’t even really know what’s happening other than it’s raining so hard we can’t see the curb.”

“Easy,” Barry said, smiling. “I’m a natural flotation device. Just grab hold and I’ll float us all to safety.”

Amanda placed her hand over Barry’s and squeezed as she managed a small smile. Any other time, she would have laughed at his self-deprecating joke, but for the moment she was worried about her babies. Nothing could or would come before that. She needed to be with them. She needed to know they were all safe.

Reesie went to the back of the shop where all the “extra” items were stored. She never had really gone through everything in this closet. She had inherited its contents with the store, knowing that it had old tax records, among other things, if she ever needed such. Now, she was rummaging through the old lost-and-found items. She came up with a couple of long winter coats and brought them out to the shop. She tapped Natalie on the shoulder and said, “Help me a minute here, please.”

Natalie took one of the coats and followed Reesie over to the couch where Adam hadn’t moved. Reesie laid one coat over him like a blanket, then motioned for Natalie to put the one she was carrying on the coffee table. “Fold it up a little,” she instructed, and then help me put his feet up there.

The sight of the two women struggling to raise the old man’s feet made Carson chuckle.

“Hey man, not cool,” Reggie said in response. “They’re doing what we should have already done.”

Carson scoffed. “At least the old man is sleeping through the whole thing.” He looked over at the nameless man who had come in right before the storm hit. “What’s up with you over there?” he asked. “You’ve hardly moved through this whole ordeal.”

The man looked down into his coffee cup, then looked Carson in the eye and said, “When one attends the theatre, only the actors speak. It is the job of the audience to listen, not participate.”

Carson and Reggie looked at each other, bewildered, as the man leaned back against the wall and finished his coffee. He then walked past Natalie and Reesie to lean over Adam and pull back one of his eyelids.

Reesie reached over and pulled him back. “What the hell are you doing?” she insisted.

“His pupils are still active,” he said without looking away from Adam. “He’s not in any danger for the moment. Let him sleep.”

Reesie was indignant. “Wait, you’re a doctor and you didn’t say anything earlier?”

The man shook his head. “I’m not a doctor. Doctors know everything about life and saving it. I only know about death and when it is certain.” He paused. “He has nothing to worry about.”

The wind blew again at the window and both Reesie and Natalie felt a chill down their spines.

He looked at the door, then looked at the chair where Natalie had been sitting earlier. “Perhaps we should move that chair in front of the door. It won’t stop what coming in through the cracks but it might keep the door from giving up completely.” Walking over, he moved the chair carefully in front of the door, wedging the back under the push bar located a little lower than most to accommodate the number of children who came and went.

Reesie looked at him again. “I’m sorry, but I can’t place where we’ve met. I’m Reesie. I own the place.”

The man nodded. “I used to be a regular back when you first started working here before they sold the place. I’ve been … out of town for a while.”

“Welcome back,” Reesie said.

The man smiled. “You may be the only one who would say that.”

Creating Chaos Out Of Order

Creating Chaos Out Of Order

Press Secretary Terri Baldwin slipped into the oval office where aides were going over the soon-to-be-televised speech with president Blackstone. As usual, he was questioning their word choice and many of his replacements altered the meaning of what he was saying. Finding an appropriate vocabulary for him was always a challenge. Terri walked around the perimeter of the room trying to avoid being noticed by the president. She gently touched the shoulder of the Chief of Staff and motioned with her head that she needed to speak with him in his office, adjacent to the president.

Mukaski nodded and followed her to his office, a rather small room filled with more books and papers than he could ever have time to read. He closed the door behind them and asked, “What’s up? I don’t like that look on your face.”

“We have more problems than I can count, Roger,” Terri said. “The FAA has just grounded every airplane in the United States and Canada and Mexico are doing the same. I’m not sure about the EU or any of the South American countries because no one can reach them. All international communications are down. Mount Vesuvius could be erupting again for all I know. Not all the governors have received the official message that the National Guard has been nationalized. Those that have are not happy about. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida are vowing to fight it. The 911 system is down pretty much nationwide. The nation’s semis are all having to pull over because the electronics in their truck are no longer working. And you know what else isn’t working, Roger?”

“I didn’t know there was anything left,” Roger deadpanned. “Tell me.”

“The communications systems that allow people to pay for things with their credit cards. They’re all down. People can’t buy food or gas or lottery tickets for Christ’ sake.”

Roger looked up at the young woman who was at least six inches taller than he was and didn’t blink. “So, what you’re telling me is that it’s a normal Tuesday.”

“Sure. And I don’t think the president should do a live address. I think we should tape it. If he goes off script he could make a bad situation worse,” she said.

“He won’t go off script,” Roger answered. “They’re going over everything with him now.”

“He’s balking at the word ‘martial,’ Roger,” Terri argued. “I heard what was going on in there, it’s the same thing that happens every time he goes to make a live address. He can’t pronounce anything that begins with OR. If a word has more than two syllables he trips and makes up something new. If he blows this, Roger, people, real people who vote, could get hurt!”

At that moment, Assistant Press Secretary knocked on Roger’s door. “What is it?” Roger yelled.

Carli opened the door and stuck her head into the room. “TV’s canceled. Can’t do it,” she said.

“What?” Terri exclaimed.

“Why the fuck not?” Roger asked. “This is a national emergency. The networks don’t get to decide whether or not they’re airing this announcement. THEY’RE AIRING THIS ANNOUNCEMENT!

Carli stepped all the way into the room, shutting the door behind her. “Their equipment is down. Desire or lack thereof has nothing to do with it. None of them are getting a signal. Every TV station in North America is off the air.”

Roger and Terri looked at each other in disbelief. Roger pushed a button on the phone sitting on his desk and called his secretary, Tina. “Tina, go into the Oval Office and tell them to hold up. We’ve hit a snag on the president’s statement.” He released the button and turned back to Carli. “What about radio, is that down, too?”

“I’m afraid so,” Carli answered. “The problem is consistent across the country. The only thing working for the moment are land-based phone lines. Newspapers and military installations that have teletype are receiving messages.”

“Teletype?” Roger asked incredulously. “Who the fuck still has teletype? Do we still have teletype?”

Carli looked at Terri for the answer.

“I believe so,” Terri said. “Down in the basement, next to the offices across from the boiler. It’s not been used in years, but assuming it doesn’t need to be oiled or anything it should still work. I think the Pentagon still has some as well.”

The phone on Roger’s desk buzzed. “Mr. Mukaski, the president would like to see you,” Tina’s voice said.

Roger sighed and looked at Terri. “You’re coming with me. He’s not going to understand why his television isn’t working.”

Terri followed Roger back into the Oval Office. The aides that had been helping with his speech were packing up their things to leave. The President saw Roger and Terri come in and stormed over to them. “What’s this about my speech being canceled? I thought I was the only one who could cancel my speech!”

“I’m sorry, Mr. President,” Terri said, deflecting the president away from his already over-stressed chief. “All cellular and satellite-based communications are down. There’s not a television station in North America that can air your speech right now.”

The president looked confused. “None of them? Not even if I was right there in the studio?”

Terri tried hard to not roll her eyes. “Correct, sir. Where you are isn’t the problem. They’ve lost the ability to broadcast anything. There’s nothing at all on television or radio at the moment.”

Blackstone dropped his head for a second, then asked, “So there’s no chance of me catching the Cubs game this afternoon, huh?”

Terri looked at Roger not certain whether the question was serious or rhetorical. Roger nodded for her to go ahead and answer. “No sir, you won’t be able to catch the Cubs game this afternoon. I think we’ll all probably be staying here in the West Wing trying to address the number of national issues that seem to be multiplying.”

Rudy looked at Terri, the expression on his face similar to that of a teenager who had just decided that it was time for them to rebel against their parents’ wishes. “Isn’t this why I have all these people in the White House?” he asked. “It’s not like I can solve every last problem on my own, you know. I expect the communications department to handle communication problems. I expect the Secretary of the Interior to handle all the Interior problems. You people are all here specifically to handle problems. I don’t have to do your jobs for you, do I? You do your jobs and I’ll take care of the big issues, like meeting with the new German Chancellor tomorrow afternoon. Understand?”

“Uh, Mr. President, the German Chancellor won’t be coming tomorrow,” Roger said, hoping to take some of the heat off Terri.

“Why not?” the president demanded. “He better not be standing me up. He doesn’t want to get on my bad side. That would be very bad for Germany. Very bad.”

Roger stifled the urge to slap the president upside the head. “No, Mr. President, he’s not standing you up. All air traffic has been grounded. He can’t get here.”

“Oh,” the president said reluctantly. “All the planes are grounded, huh?”
“Yes sir,” Roger said. “It isn’t safe for them to fly.”

“So, no golfing in the Keys this weekend?” the president asked.

Roger looked at Terri, still not believing what the president was saying. “No sir, there probably will be no golfing this weekend. We have to get these satellite and other issues are taken care of. Our nation is in crisis!”

The president nodded. “Okay, you and Terri go work on that television thing. Let me know when it’s up and running again.” He paused, then added, “That is all for now.”

Roger motioned for Terri to follow him back into his office. Once the door was closed, Roger pounded his fists on his desk. “Can you believe that reaction just now?” he half-screamed. “The nation is experiencing the biggest crisis we’ve had since the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the president is upset because he can’t go to a Cubs game or go golfing this weekend!”

“I know, sir,” Terri said, trying to remain calm. “The president’s behavior isn’t rational. We’ve talked about this before. I think we may not have any option but to look for other alternatives.”

Roger grimaced. “If you had said that for any reason prior to this morning, I’d fire you on the spot for insubordination. But I’m afraid this time you’re right. Call the Vice President and the Speaker of the House. Arrange a meeting. We can’t let this guy be in charge during martial law. Everyone will die.”

To Know Or Not To Know

To Know Or Not To Know

Perry Hawkins had been a young Lieutenant in the Marine Corp when the FBI first approached him about working for them. Back then, recruitment by both the FBI and the CIA tended to be a rather secretive affair, unlike the open applications both maintained on their website today. Someone with connections at Langley had seen something promising in Hawkins. They offered him an alternative for serving his country without the likely chance of having to be shipped overseas to get shot at. The FBI would let him get shot at right here at home.
What they saw in Perry was the ability to bring highly skilled people together and get a job done without a lot of internal chaos in the process. He had the right touch for bringing experts together and had done so with specific assignments addressing child porn and religious cults that had a habit of kidnapping their followers.

Then, 15 years ago the Deputy Director of Operations, Norman Levstein, came to Perry with the offer of a “permanent” assignment. One that was so secret even family members couldn’t know what he was doing. Perry was a perfect choice. His wife, Norma, had died from an aggressive form of breast cancer two years prior. They didn’t have any children and Perry had never been all that close with his brother, Tyler. In fact, they hadn’t spoken in over ten years. No one would particularly notice if Perry sort of “disappeared.”

The assignment had initially involved the establishment of a national emergency alert system. Even though the United States had not had a direct attack since 9/11, there was the constant and pervasive threat that a foreign power could use technology to attack in new and different ways that could be just as disruptive as bombs, or a distraction so that no one noticed the bombs until it was too late. The idea was to create a system that would in no way rely on the public communications system or the power grid. That way, if the obvious targets were somehow taken out, they could still communicate to people, advising them of the necessary actions to take.

The first step had been the ability to send a text message to every active cell phone licensed in the United States, regardless of where it was at the time of the emergency. That part had been in place for a few years now. They had made a big deal of having the president push a button that sent the first test message. Of course, they didn’t let him write the message, and the button he pushed was actually nothing more than decoration, but it made for good optics and the American people, by and large, bought into the concept. Everyone felt safer.

Shortly after that test, however, they realized there was a problem with a text-based system. While they had secured an agreement with all US carriers to not charge data or text rates for any federal emergency message because text messages normally do incur those rates, many people had them turned off or filtered so they could only get messages from select people. There was also the issue that the message had only been sent in English. There was no way to know whether the person receiving the message could read English or not, but there was neither any way to know which cell phone user spoke what language. Between the two issues, there were a significant number of people who either might not get the text message at all or would not know how to read it if they did. By some estimates, as many as 58 million people across the United States would still be at risk. Added to that was the fact that there was still five percent of the population, roughly 20 million people, who didn’t have a cell phone at all. In short, more than a quarter of the US population would remain at risk, a number far too high to be acceptable.

That had prompted the current project, one that worked off the cellular data compiled by the FBI and other national security sources. Essentially, Perry had argued, they didn’t need to know what people were saying on their phones, they simply needed to know what language they were speaking when they used them. That allowed them to then create a data-driven map that sent messages to a phone in their dominant language. Some had argued against the potential for privacy abuse, but Perry had talked them down with assurances that only language preference was being stored in their database, which was true.

When he hired Claire Fielding, however, she pointed out that the solution failed to address the full problem. Translating a text message into various languages still left at least 20 million people at risk and failed to consider the approximately 32 million adults in the United States who can’t read anything, no matter what language. Claire had been the one to suggest using artificial intelligence (AI), something in which she was a bit of an expert, to create voice calls that could be automated and distributed simultaneously. Then, to address those without phones, she suggested, it could be broadcast on television and radio simultaneously, just like the current severe weather system.

Selling her solution had been easy. Actually doing it, though, had presented more than a few challenges along the way. Additional staff had been added. Security had been tightened. Claire had expressed concerns more than once that they might have a leak within the group. Perry had ordered checks on everyone and not found anything out of the ordinary. Still, Claire was concerned. She was seeing pieces of code she had written pop up in public AI forums, code that was supposed to be top secret. No one had figured out how that code had gotten out.

Then, Kenneth and Holly found snippets of their code online as well. A special team was brought in to investigate. They found nothing.

Claire still had misgivings when the system was ready to test, but without any concrete evidence Perry couldn’t support any further delays. They had gone through all the issues with Tony Biscane, their liaison at Langley. Only the team leads had any lingering concerns. Perry was wishing right now that he had listened to them.

Perry looked up to see a man in uniform walking rapidly in his direction. He correctly assumed that the man was Col. Brinkman. He was correct.

The colonel started talking before he reached Perry. “Mr. Hawkins, I just got an order via teletype of all things telling me to take immediate command of this facility. Can you please tell me why that is?”

“The president has put the country under martial law, colonel. Civilian command is secondary for the moment,” Perry said, knowing full well the colonel was already aware of that information.

“Yes,” agreed a rather aggravated sounding colonel. “The problem with this order, Mr. Hawkins, is that my troops and I were stationed here for security purposes only, not operational. We’re to keep the bad guys away so your folks can get their work done. I have never been briefed on what is going on in this little establishment of yours, Mr. Hawkins. So if you don’t mind, I’d like an update, the elevator version if you don’t mind, along with an explanation of what, if anything, this operation has to do with the mess that’s taking place topside.”

Perry sighed heavily. All those days in boot camp all those years ago suddenly came rushing back to memory. He didn’t like being yelled at then and it wasn’t any easier to accept now. He decided to address the last request first.

“Colonel, in all likelihood, we caused that mess that’s taking place topside or, at the very least, facilitated it. Our team leads suspect a mole but NSA was here for six months and didn’t find anything. Our computers are fried, our agents are angry, and somewhere in the mix, Colonel, we have a spy.”

“Well fuck,” Col. Brinkman said with a long, slow southern drawl. “Looks like I just inherited a shithouse full of problems, haven’t I?” He took a good look at Perry. “You’re former military, aren’t you?”

Perry instinctively stood at attention. “Yes sir. I was recruited as a Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corp, sir.”

Col. Brinkman chuckled. “I knew it. Once a Marine, always a Marine. I can spot ‘em anywhere. Lieutenant Hawkins, I’m reactivating your enlistment right now and giving you a field promotion to Lieutenant Colonel. You handle the mess here, I’ll handle the bullshit coming at us from the Pentagon. Deal?”

Perry smiled at his new commanding officer and saluted. “Deal, sir.”

It Can Always Be Worse

It Can Always Be Worse

The backdoor was compromised first. First came a heavy gust of wind then what sounded like a small explosion outside. The door broke free of its hinges and floated toward the storage room swept along by a torrent of water that had been looking for somewhere to go. The water rushed from the back toward the front, quickly covering the entire shop in six inches of water with more coming in.

Reesie heard the front door squeak. Natalie, Reggie and Barry helped move the heavier furniture toward the door, stacking it on top of and around the chair that was already there. What none of them realized was that the door wasn’t the weakest point. With a crash of thunder, the giant display window fell and what had been six inches of water was now nearly three feet of water, which meant Adam, was floating, and he still hadn’t awakened.

Reesie and Reggie grabbed hold of Adam’s legs while everyone else started climbing onto table tops and the counter, looking for any safe space not covered in water. The four women at the back table were all crying now. The two at the bar top were standing in their chairs looking completely bewildered and helpless.

Reesie looked at Natalie and said, “I don’t suppose you’ve ever built a raft before, have you?”

Natalie smiled. Yes, actually, she had.

Another Day at Another Coffee Shop - Old Man Talking

Editorial note: I was meeting with a young friend earlier this week and we were talking about the importance of character development in a story. The exercise I recommended was one I had mentally performed just minutes earlier while waiting at the coffee shop. Look around the room at the different pairings of people, some in conversation, others staring at laptops, and one person dozing off and on peacefully from the sofa. For each person, create a backstory that ultimately leads to why they are at this coffee shop at this exact moment.

As a writing mechanism, this can be a fun one because one doesn’t have to be in a place long, eavesdrop on private conversations (though it’s fun when one can), or have anything more than visual clues as to who a person might be or what they might do. Many books have started from this very same exercise and developed into full-fledged novels as the cast ultimately confronts some manner of shared conflict.

Since I’ve already done the work and nothing else is really inspiring me at the moment, I thought I would take a leave from the normally serious tone we take and share the results of my exercise with you. Please remember, everything you are about to read is fiction. I asked no one their name and engaged in conversation with none of the people you are about to meet. Therefore, any parallels between the following story and any actual event are a coincidence—disturbingly creepy, but still coincidence.

Finding A Place To Be

Another Tuesday at the Coffee Shop

A dream ended, another one of those subconscious adventures that were lost as soon as Adam’s eyes eased open, the same way the did every morning. He no longer bothered setting an alarm clock. He had been waking up at the same time, 6:15 AM, since 1973. Starting his job at the GM stamping facility had been the anchor element of his life right up until they closed the plant 30 years later. The company bought out the remainder of his contract and he took early retirement. Seventeen years later, he still kept the same schedule: Bed at 9:45, up at 6:15. Both were ingrained to the point Adam couldn’t have changed had he wanted, but then, he had never wanted. He never even thought about it.

Sitting up slightly in bed, he looked at the gray clouds outside his bedroom window, the one facing the West. When Adam had first bought the house in 1975 he could have made either of the upstairs rooms the “master” bedroom—they were both the same size, after all, but he had insisted they take the one with the West-facing window, a decision with which his wife, Angela, had disagreed.

“I would much rather wake up each morning and see the sunrise out the window,” Angela told him. “It will get the day off to such a good start.”

Adam, however, was persistent and stubborn. “When I look out the window in the morning,” he said with no small amount of gruffness in his voice, “I don’t need to see the weather that has already passed us, I need to see what’s coming. Seeing sunshine in the East does us no good if there’s a storm brewing in the West.”

Angela thought Adam was being stubborn and belligerent and perhaps a bit petty. Adam thought Angela was frivolous and light headed. When they moved the furniture into the house, though, Adam put their bed in the room with the West-facing window and that had been the end of that discussion.

This morning, however, there were clouds no matter from which window one gazed. Spring was proving to be wetter than normal and Adam wondered to himself if he’d worn his rubber galoshes more in the past month than he had the entire year previous. He didn’t really like the galoshes. They were too big for his feet and there was a small hole in the left one so he inevitably ended up with one soggy foot encased in one soggy sock, both of which smelled like a high school gymnasium by the time he arrived at wherever he was going.

Adam’s solution was to keep an extra clean sock tucked away in the lining pocket of his jacket. At the first opportunity, he would slip into a men’s room and dry out the inside of the boot with paper towels before changing into the clean sock. The wet sock was placed in a plastic bag that took its place in the lining pocket until Adam returned home later in the day. At that point, he typically had two wet socks he would wash out and leave hanging to dry.

Angela had often asked him why he didn’t just get new galoshes. Adam’s response was that new galoshes were too expensive a solution for such an inconsequential problem.

Adam shifted in bed again, leaning slightly onto his right elbow. Murphturd, an overweight gray tabby, jumped onto the bed from his nightly perch on the nearby dresser, reminding Adam that no one had eaten yet that morning and the cat, for one, would appreciate that problem being rectified immediately. Adam stroked Murphturd gently and told him, “I’m afraid there’s no birding for you again today, Murph. It’s still raining. There’s probably some damn religious freak building a boat somewhere.”

Murphturd merped back and leaned into the man’s hands, his fingers smooth like worn leather. Adam allowed the cat a few more rubs before picking up the plump feline and swinging his feet over the side of the bed and into the waiting slippers. Every once in a while Adam missed the days where his slippers never stayed where he put them, but this was not one of those mornings. He pulled on his robe, carefully switching the cat from one arm to the other as he did so, and shuffled to the bathroom before heading downstairs to make coffee and toast.

Coffee and toast. Myriad memories swirled around those two simple elements that had been a part of Adam’s life since he was a little boy. He could still remember the smell of coffee that greeted him each morning as his mother hurried busily around the kitchen. The Army had managed to burn both without fail but the college cafeteria let him have as much of both as he wanted and that made up for the military’s culinary failings. Most mornings, Angela had them waiting for him by the time he made his way downstairs, dressed for work. After he retired, she wasn’t always quite as prompt but he never complained. For 42 years she had prepared them perfectly every morning. When he finally had to start making his own he realized he could never do it as well as she had.

Adam poured water into the drip coffee maker, the kind with the reusable filter, and turned it on before taking a scoop of food from the bag and putting it in Murphturd’s bowl. Murphturd rubbed against Adam’s leg as a way of saying, “took you long enough.” Adam then turned on the radio to a local country music station. He didn’t like country music all that much but even the “classic” rock station was playing music he couldn’t understand and all the news/talk stations made his blood pressure soar. At least the country station occasionally played something he recognized or thought he recognized. The only thing that had remained the same over the years was the old vacuum tube radio he had bought when he was first released from the Army. Back in 1968, WNAP had played his favorite music. There had been so many changes to the station, though, both in terms of call letters and music formats, Adam hadn’t set the dial to 93.1 FM in over 20 years. Country music would have to do.

Similarly, the rest of his morning was largely routine. He would shower, dress in an old pair of dungarees and a t-shirt, then layer additional clothes based on the weather. Adam was not a small man, standing about 6’ 2” when he bothered to stand upright, weigh around 350 pounds, something his doctor didn’t especially like. Adam didn’t really care. He added a second t-shirt this morning to accommodate the cooler temperature then grabbed a grey and blue-checked jacket. A few steps out the door, though, he realized the air was cooler than he anticipated, and rain felt imminent. He went back inside and took his heavy coat off its peg, tucking it under his arm, just in case.

Adam’s first stop every morning was Griddleiscious, a small breakfast-oriented restaurant owned by a family of Mexican immigrants who had moved to the city over 30 years ago. Adam had only started making the cafe part of his morning routine eight years ago but it had long been a favorite because of its close proximity to his house. Any time Angela had not felt like cooking, Griddleiscious is where they went. Now, it was breakfast. Every morning.

“Hola, Adam,” Tinera said as he pushed his way through the door. Tinera was the third generation of the Gonzalez family to work in the cafe and could have spoken English as well as anyone, but it was part of the expectation of being Latina. Guests expected her to speak Spanish, so she did.

“Mornin’ Tinera,” Adam said as he took a seat at his usual stool in front of the counter.

Tinera set a cup of coffee in a white porcelain mug on the counter. “Your eggs and bacon will be up in just a minute,” she said, smiling. She knew Adam’s order never changed. Even back when he would pretend to look at a menu, it was two eggs over easy with bacon and toast every morning. Most mornings, she would have it ready for him within seconds of his arrival. He was that predictable and that reliable.

Adam never said much, never tried to converse with any of the other customers, though he knew most of them. He’d say hi, maybe comment about the weather, then went back to his food. When he was done, he’d leave a $10 bill by his plate to cover the food and the tip. He didn’t know that the cost of the food had risen so that the tip was now less than a dollar, but Tinera wouldn’t say anything.

Finishing breakfast, Adam would walk through the neighborhood, watch the schoolchildren getting off the buses, glance at the windows of stores he would never enter though he thought one day he might, and smile and nod at the same faces he met in the same places on his walk every morning.

This was his life now. No one needed him at work. No one needed him at home. No one needed him. Adam tried hard to be okay with that. He didn’t want to feel angry about being left alone as he grew older. He didn’t want to feel depressed, either. So, he followed his routine. He made sure he had a different place to be every hour of the day, something to do, a place to go.

By ten he had walked through the area and around to Burns Coffee Shop. Adam liked the coffee shop because it felt comfortable. This wasn’t one of those new places that had popped up in response to one of the national chains. Burns had been here before coffee shops were popular. The proof was in the honor jar that still sat on the counter. Adam put three one dollar bills in the jar, put a protective cardboard sleeve on the cup, and filled it with a free-trade coffee from Guatemala. He waved at the owner who was busy with another customer. She waved back. He took his normal seat on the couch toward the front of the shop, set his cup on the table in front of him, then leaned back and closed his eyes.

Always Another Deadline

Another Day at Another Coffee Shop - Old Man Talking

“Yes, I need to know the specific source of that quote, including day, time, and place if possible,” Natalie said into the phone as she tried balancing the device between her shoulder and cheek. She had seen her mother perform this trick with a landline phone when she was small but it didn’t work as well with the super-thin cell phone she carried. “No, ballpark isn’t good enough. I need precision or I can’t use it. Try to have something back to me by ten this morning, okay?”

She pressed the button to end the phone call and proceeded to fold the stack of laundry in front of her. “Darrell, have you seen my new pair of black leggings? They don’t seem to be in the laundry,” she called in the general direction of the bedroom.

“Which pair of black leggings?” a male voice responded. “You only have a thousand.”

Natalie rolled her eyes. “Men,” she thought. “Why can’t they ever have a clue?” Then she called back, “The new ones with the rubber studs on the sides!”

“Haven’t seen them!” Darrell answered. “Did you look in the laundry?”

“Fucking asshole,” Natalie said in a half whisper she half-wished Darrel had heard. “Never mind, I’ll find them later.” She folded another t-shirt and then pulled a different set of black leggings from another stack on the table. She shimmied into them then tossed the nearest sweater over her head. One of the nice things about her work is that she could wear whatever she wanted on writing days. Interview days were all business, of course, but writing days were hers. She could sit at home bare ass naked if she wanted. That was a thought, but if Darrell was going to hang around all day being naked would present a distraction.

“Are you home all day,” Natalie called to the still unseen Darrell.

There was a shuffling and stumbling from the bedroom before he answered. “Yeah, for the most part. I may have lunch with a couple of the guys, but then I’ll be back home. I need to finish like 1200 lines of code at some point today.” Darrell finally emerged from the bedroom, dressed only in an old, well-wrinkled t-shirt, plaid boxer shorts, and white crew socks whose elastic had decided to not stick around. He shuffled into the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee left over from the previous night.

“Damn,” she thought. She’d have to go out if she was going to get any work done. Across the room, Natalie slipped her laptop into a Mother Earth canvas tote bag along with three well-worn notebooks and her wallet. “I’m heading to Burns to work on this article,” she said. “I’ll be back sometime around noon.”

Darrell sipped from his coffee. “Okay, sounds good,” and shuffled back toward the bedroom.

Natalie rolled her eyes again before grabbing her tote bag and walking out the door. “Yeah, this relationship is going places,” she thought as she grabbed her keys.

Natalie Kirshner and Darrell Lingenfelter had moved into the new apartment together just days after the new building had opened. They had only known each other a few months but during that time had become almost inseparable. Moving in together had seemed like a logical choice. Now, she wasn’t so sure. They had become too comfortable too quickly, reminding her of her parent’s emotionless relationship. They existed within the same space, but there was little emotional interaction between them. Ever. Physical interaction, yes, but it was all physical, nothing deeper.

Still, it was nice having an extra person around the apartment. If nothing else, he was an impressively large presence on those nights when the words, “I have a boyfriend” came out of her mouth more times than she liked. At 6’3” Darrell was also a good snuggle on those nights Natalie was feeling insecure and those nights had been coming more frequently of late. The relationship might not be going anywhere, and would almost certainly be ending within the next few months, but she wasn’t in any hurry to push Darrell out of her life. Not right now.

Grabbing her keys and the tote bag, Natalie looked out the kitchen window. Rain seemed eminent so she grabbed a bright yellow poncho from the peg near the door and shoved it into the tote, just in case. The rain didn’t really bother her all the much. She almost liked walking in it, except for that part where being wet results in being cold. Cold wasn’t fun.

Natalie’s thin 5’ 8” frame was a familiar figure along the neighborhood sidewalks. She liked being out, talking with people, being a part of what was going on. Her outgoing personality made it easy to make new friends and most people found it quite easy to talk to her, something that came in handy given her profession as a journalist. More than a few times, she had walked up on a crime scene and had witnesses inadvertently give her more information than they had given the police. Natalie always shared the information, of course, but it was her likable nature that allowed her to get the stories other people missed.

Being reasonably attractive didn’t hurt, either. While she never considered herself beauty pageant material and bristled at the idea of women being objectified in those programs, having an attractive look and a quick smile made people more willing to engage with her. Women would see her as a potential friend. Men would see her as a potentially good time. She didn’t care for that last part be Natalie had learned how to manipulate that dense base desire to get the information she needed.

The challenge was staying employed. As newspaper circulation had declined Natalie had found herself without a permanent employer but still managed to stay reasonably busy by contracting with different online media outlets. The inevitable challenge was she was constantly trying to juggle different deadlines. Each outlet had a different editorial style, different sets of rules for sources and different sets of expectations for accuracy. Keeping everything straight strained her organizational abilities and were her most common source of stress.

Walking to the coffee shop could have been a moment of respite if only her cell phone would stop ringing. There was always someone wanting her attention, some piece of minutia that needed to be addressed immediately. Today was no different. Three steps out the door and her phone was ringing—another editor.

“Hey, what’s up,” Natalie said as she answered the phone.

“Hey, do you think you can add like 300 words to that piece on chemical runoff by noon?”

“By noon? Today?” Natale asked, feeling her face flush with anger. Every editor knew she had other assignments but they inevitably treated her as though she only worked for them.

“Yeah, the EPA is announcing an investigation into the company at 1 and I want to put this at the top of the page but it’s a tad short.”

Natalie gulped hard. She had talked to the EPA and they assured her they had no plans to move on the problem. “I’ll see what I can do. Who at the EPA called the press conference?”

There was a momentary pause on the other end of the call, then the response, “Regina Bagley? That’s the contact name on the alert at least. Need her number?”

“No, I’ve got it. 300 words by noon. I’ll get it to you ASAP.”

“Thanks, Nat. You’re a lifesaver.”

Natalie ended the call without replying. She hated being called Nat. To her, it was the same as calling her a gnat, that small, insignificant but annoying little bug that ruins outdoor activities. She walked into the coffee shop and was pleased that there was no one at the counter. “A large soy mocha latte, please,” she said. When the drink was ready, she took it to a nearby overstuffed chair, sat down, pulled out her laptop and checked her email. There was a new message from her doctor’s office. She clicked to open it.

“Dear Natalie, we regret to inform you that your insurance company has denied coverage for your full oncology treatment plan. Please call our office at your earliest convenience.”

A lump formed in her throat. Her eyes blurred as she fought back tears. She was in public. She had just sat down. She couldn’t cry.

“Click. Open the next email,” she commanded herself. “I’ve got 300 words to write. There’s no time for this.”

“Dear Ms. Kirshner: Your application for internship has been denied …”

“Dear Natalie Kirshner: Your student loan is now past due. Your current payment is …”

“Hey Nat, I’m going to have to cancel that contract we sent last week. The steam under that story has faded …”

Natalie sat back in the chair and took a sip of her latte. She had a deadline. 300 words. They were going to be epic.

Suffering Under the Weight

Another Day at Another Coffee Shop - Old Man Talking

Barry Willard looked at the clock on his desk. 7:30 AM. He had done it again, stayed up all night working on this pet project that stood a good chance of never getting off the ground. He mentally kicked himself for not getting any sleep. This morning’s meeting was too important to walk in looking like death.

He picked up his coffee mug and realized it was empty. But hadn’t he just made a fresh pot? No, that had happened a little after 2:00. He had drunk the whole thing. And consumed a bag of chips. And two sandwiches. Barry looked at the graveyard of snack remnants littering his workspace. This broke a basic rule of working with computers. Drinks could spill. Crumbs were death to keyboards. He picked up the trash, dumped the plates in the sink, and started more coffee.

What time was that meeting? Oh yeah, 10:00. He couldn’t be late. The contract he was proposing wasn’t all that big, only $2,000, but he needed the money. If he could build the app he was proposing, and he knew he could, then he would have something he could sell to others as well. $2,000 could turn into $2 million. At least, that’s how it worked in his dreams. Others had done that, why couldn’t Barry Willard?

As the coffee dripped into the carafe, Barry turned and opened the refrigerator door. He didn’t really need anything. He wasn’t remotely hungry.  The refrigerator was his go-to space when he wasn’t sure what to do next. He made himself close the door.

Shower. That was what he needed. He sniffed his underarm to confirm. Yes, he definitely needed a shower. When was the last time he had actually been outside his apartment, three days ago? Practically all of Barry’s communication happened online. He rarely needed to go out. Food could be delivered. Payments were transferred electronically. He had never had much interest in sports, never cared that much for beer, and all his friends were just as socially awkward. The idea of meeting up and hanging out in person gave all of them panic attacks.

Shower. Barry had to tell himself to actually go take one rather than standing there thinking about it. More than once he had done that very thing, letting his mind take him from one topic to another until he had completely forgotten what it was he needed to do in the first place.

He walked toward the bathroom, pausing on the way to get a clean towel. He opened the closet door. No clean towels. When was the last time he had done laundry? Monday? Two weeks ago? Barry padded barefoot back to the laundry room just off the kitchen. Dirty clothes were stacked next to the washing machine. Clean clothes were stacked on top of the drier. He shuffled through the stack of clean items and eventually unearthed one towel, and then a second. He put them over his arm and walked back toward the bathroom.

Two towels. They didn’t make towels big enough for him to only use one. Sure, in theory, he could buy nothing but beach towels and use those, but beach towels tended to be cheap and thin, lacking the absorbance of a bath towel. “Bath sheets” was the term stores used for their larger bath towels. They were big enough to wrap around the average body a couple of times. For Barry, though, they didn’t make it halfway. Two towels had been necessary since he was a teenager, something his mom had used to shame him along with the XXXL clothing he had to wear.

Turning on the shower, Barry began the process of undressing. He wondered if “normal” people had as much difficulty getting a t-shirt over their head. He struggled. This was never easy, which was one of the reasons he only showered on days he was actually going outside. He couldn’t smell himself anyway, so why did it matter?

Immediately, he remembered the words of his doctor, “Barry, you have to be careful with your personal hygiene. What may not seem like a big deal to others is for you. Moisture gets trapped in the folds of your skin and that invites bacteria to form. Bad things, really, really bad things can happen if you don’t keep yourself clean.”

He was 46, though, and nothing bad had happened yet. Nothing especially good had happened, either, but as long as the really, really bad things were staying away, Barry felt he had no reason to worry.

Barry pushed back the sliding glass door and carefully maneuvered his way into the shower. Showers and bathtubs were not made for people Barry’s size. He barely fit within the tightly enclosed space at all. There was little room to move. Washing required working in sections, a quarter of his body at a time. He would wash the part nearest the shower head, what was actually getting wet, then have to shift and move to get to the next part and repeat the process. By the time he was fully bathed, he had done two complete and wholly uncomfortable rotations. The water was cold as he rinsed the last of the shampoo from his hair. 45 minutes had passed.

Stepping out of the shower, Barry began the process of drying himself. Again, he had to work in sections, being careful to dry everywhere, leaving no fold or wrinkle damp. Not that he ever stayed dry all that long. Even in the dead of winter perspiration was a constant problem. There were no environmental conditions possible in which he would not sweat.

All these were part of normal life for Barry, though. A doctor had first diagnosed him with Hypothyroidism when he was 14 years old. He started taking medicine which at least kept his weight and size under some control while he was in high school. Even then, he had been deemed too big to play football his senior year. The problem wasn’t a matter of finding a uniform large enough, but the fact that the strenuous exercise put him at risk of a premature heart attack caused by high blood pressure.

Then, in his sophomore year in college, the medicines stopped working. No one could adequately explain why. There were multiple blood tests, surgery, more tests, and then a second surgery. There would seem to be some improvement for a few months, then it would stop. His blood pressure would climb and Barry would have difficulty breathing. Doctor after doctor tried something different but nothing proved effective long-term.

Barry stayed in school as long as he could. The academic environment was relatively safe even if there was still a large amount of fat shaming, especially when he ate at the cafeteria or food court. As long as he was in school, there were laws requiring that the university accommodate his size. Eventually, however, with a Ph.D. in computer engineering, there were no more classes 7to take.

Moving into the real world hadn’t been easy. Weighing a hefty 365 pounds made it difficult to get past the first interview for any job. Employing Barry meant buying special equipment such as larger office chairs and specially-designed cubicle space among other accommodations. Potential employers looked at him and saw increased expenses over potential productivity. Finally, he had secured a job with a tech company that allowed him to primarily work from home, only occasionally having to come in for group meetings. Even that came with another challenge, though. The insurance company refused to cover Barry, saying that his Hypothyroidism was an extreme pre-existing condition.

That job had lasted 15 years until the company had been bought out. The new company said Barry’s position was “redundant.” After dozens of failed interviews, Barry decided to contract on a project-by-project basis was his best option. Most the time, that worked well for him. He would work on a project for six to eight months then move onto something else that was new and exciting. At the moment, though, the options were slim. He was learning a new programming language that was in heavy demand but had yet to produce something that could demonstrate his proficiency. He was working on a new app he was sure would make every tech company in the world want him, but in the meantime, he still needed to eat.

Barry chose the clothes he felt made him look the most professional: black slacks and a black cable knit sweater. The sweater would be a little warm but the morning’s temperatures were on the cooler side and rain was in the forecast. He would endure a slight discomfort for the duration of the meeting.

Finding a parking spot less than half a block from Burns Coffee was exciting. Long walks mean increased perspiration. The last thing Barry wanted to do was arrive red-faced and sweaty just from walking. He went into the coffee shop and ordered a small coffee, chose a seat at the nearest table, one that was open enough to not make his size an issue, and waited. This contract would pay his rent one more month. Without it, he was 30 days away from homelessness.

Searching For Autonomous Creativity

Another Day at Another Coffee Shop - Old Man Talking

Amanda Grace Hadley-Byrnes walked across the living room picking up the torn pieces of paper left behind by her four-year-old. Where he had gotten the paper or why he had torn it to shred and left it all over the place were questions to which she did not know the answer. This was a common, occurrence, though. She rarely knew the answers for why her children did anything.

At 36, most people would look at Amanda and think she had every reason to be satisfied with her life. There were the kids, Devin, the four-year-old, Elise, who had just turned seven, and Alexander who was ten going on 30. Her husband of twelve years, Bruce Byrnes, was an upper-level executive at a major pharmaceutical company, making more than enough money for them to live comfortably, which they did. The last insurance appraisal on their suburban home put its value at $1.3 million. Both Bruce and Amanda drove two-year-old vehicles that carried the “luxury” reputation. Twice a year Amanda flew to New York to shop for the upcoming season. Amanda was in the enviable position of not having to do anything she didn’t want to do. Life was comfortable.

Yet, there were things she wanted to do and there always seemed to be another obstacle in her way. This morning, that obstacle was child care. An outbreak of measles had forced the preschool Devin attended to close until they could be sure no other children were infected. This presented a challenge as Amanda’s day was already full of meetings, none of which were appropriate for Devin and canceling any of them could mean a significant loss of opportunity. Already, she had sent messages to four potential babysitters. Two had already declined. Amanda was trying to be patient and wait until 8:00 before sending another message.

In the meantime, she had to get Elise and Alexander off to school and shove Bruce out the door to work. No part of Amanda’s morning was ever easy. While Elise was perfectly happy having cereal for breakfast, Alexander was constantly changing his mind as to what was appropriate for his “dietary needs.” This week, he had settled on whole wheat toast, lightly buttered with exactly one-half teaspoon of strawberry preserves, not jelly or jam, spread evenly across the surface. Every time Alexander changed his menu Amanda questioned whether she was coddling him too much. At the same time, though, none of his requests so far were all that outlandish compared to the fit he would throw if she ignored what he wanted. Should she give him grape jelly instead of the strawberry preserves, for example, he would sit there stoically, refusing to eat, until her back was turned. Then, he would fling the toast across the kitchen and stomp out of the room. That was the mild reaction. If she completely ignored him and set a bowl of cereal in his place, Alexander would yell, scream obscenities, dump the bowl on the floor, and tear his clothes. The medication helped keep the effects of his autism muted while he was at school but mornings could be rough. It was easier for everyone to give him what he wanted.

“Have you heard from a sitter yet,” Bruce asked as he came into the kitchen looking, in Amanda’s opinion, as though he’d stepped from the pages of GQ magazine.

“Not yet,” she answered. “I was waiting until 8 before giving anyone a call, at least give them time to wake up.”

Bruce took two mugs from the shelf and poured a cup of coffee and handed the first one to his wife before pouring the second for himself. “I’d go ahead and call, I think. Yes, it’s early, but that communicates the urgency of the matter. Isn’t this morning you have the meeting with that tech guy?”

Amanda took a slow sip from the mug before answering. “Barry? Yes, I’m meeting him in town at ten at Burns Coffee. I’m really hoping he can do what I’m needing.”

“His credentials are pretty impressive and Phil Watson in IT said he did a fantastic job helping with their analytics software,” Bruce said. “How much are you offering him?”

“Two K,” Amanda replied.

Bruce took a slice of toast from the toaster and took a bite. “I hope that’s not too small a project for him.”

Amanda threw a dish towel at Bruce. “Did you have to take that piece of toast? Now I’ll have to fix two more. You know how Alex is if they don’t match.” She removed the remaining piece of toast, took a bite, then dropped two more pieces of bread into the waiting slots. “I’m hoping that he’ll look at this as a challenge. I’m not aware of anyone else who has an app like this. Maybe it could be something he can market or sell.”

“You’re not keeping the rights?” Bruce questioned.

“I don’t think so,” she said. “It’s not like I want to get into the software business. I just need something to help with retention and repeat business and there’s nothing in the market that does that for photographers. Everything’s either inadequate to the need or complete overkill.”

Bruce shrugged. “Sounds like you’re handing him quite an opportunity.”

Amanda had started taking pictures of Alexander when he was still a baby and found that she had a natural gift for creating interesting and compelling scenes for her young son. When friends started asking her to take pictures of their kids as well, she had decided to take a couple of classes at the community college and bought a “real” camera. Working with children and taking creative portraits had brought her more joy than she ever expected and after Elise turned two when Amanda thought she was done having children, she turned her hobby into an official business.

Then, much to both her and Bruce’s surprise, along came Devin, just as Amanda was starting to build a regular clientele. She had worked almost up to the day the baby had been born, but when she decided to take two years off to take care of him she returned to find all her customers had found new photographers. She had to start all over again. Amanda was hoping that a specialized phone app might be just the competitive advantage she needed to get her business booming again.

“Mom, this ponytail is being impossible. Can you help?”

Amanda looked down to find Elise standing there with a ponytail holder in one hand and a brush in the other.

“I tried, but it keeps getting all lopsided and makes my head look funny,” the girl said.

Amanda took the brush and easily put her daughter’s hair in a proper ponytail. “There, perfectly balanced. Not lopsided at all,” she told her.

Elise trotted off to the kitchen table where her bowl of cereal was waiting. Amanda finished preparing Alexander’s toast just as he slid into the kitchen in his sock feet. He looked at the toast, gave his mom a thumbs up and skated over to the table. Amanda set his morning medicine in front of him and he gulped the pill down between bites.

“Dinner at Riley’s tonight?” Bruce asked. “Since your day is looking rather full. No need to worry about cooking dinner.”

“Sure, sounds good,” Amanda responded. At the same time, her cell phone buzzed with a notification. She looked at the phone and smiled. “Sarah’s available. She’ll be here in about 30 minutes.”

Bruce looked up from his own phone. “Good, Devin loves Sarah and maybe that will give you time to reconsider your wardrobe for the day.”

Amanda looked down and realized the t-shirt she was wearing had a massive hole under the left arm and the old tights she had tossed on were practically transparent. “I guess this is a little less than professional,” she laughed.

Elise piped up, “You’re a professional mom, you always look professional.”

“She just says that because she wants desert tonight,” Alexander added.

Amanda kissed the top of both their heads. “Either way, it was sweet and I appreciate it.”

Thirty minutes flew by. Bruce took Elise and Alexander to the bus stop while Amanda woke Devin and got him dressed for the day. He was just finishing breakfast when Sarah rang the doorbell. Amanda answered the door with Devin in her arms.

“My, he’s almost as big as Mommy!” Sarah teased.

Devil smiled and reached for the sitter.

“Tell me about it,” Amanda replied. “Alexander will be as tall as I am within the next year.”

Sarah laughed. “That’s what you get for marrying a guy more than a foot taller than you.”

Amanda shut the door then caught Devin as he lunged back her direction. She set him down and he ran off toward his room. “Do you mind watching him while I finish getting ready? I’ve not had a minute to myself this morning.”

“Sure, I think I can keep him entertained for a few hours,” the sitter replied. “Mind if I take him out in the backyard?”

“That’s fine. I think his jacket is in the front closet or maybe in his room,” Amanda called as she trotted up the stairs. She slipped into the master bath and turned on the shower, making sure the door was locked before taking off her clothes. Even with a sitter in the house, kids have a way of showing up at the least convenient moments.

Amanda looks at herself in the mirror. She didn’t think she looked all that bad for the mother of three. Sure, her breasts sagged a bit more than they once did and there was a bit of pooch to her belly that would probably never go completely away, but for 5’2” Amanda thought she looked pretty hot. It was an opinion Bruce shared and made sure she heard it. She ran her fingers through her short blonde hair. “Yeah, I still got it,” she said out loud to herself.

Shower time was brief, makeup time was not, but Amanda still managed to be in the car and on the way to Burns Coffee within an hour. She felt strong and independent. This meeting could be the start of something big. She could take her creativity to new heights, completely autonomous, not reliant on Bruce’s money at all, which was important.

She was getting a bit tired of him.

Bumped And Cancelled

Another Day at Another Coffee Shop - Old Man Talking

Carson Fenton Asherwalt III walked into Burns Coffee and half screamed at the barista, “Large-cap, double shot.” He had the look of someone in charge, his pressed blue and white striped dress shirt was the background for the bright red tie and dark dress slacks. His salt-and-pepper hair was cut close and combed back. If ever anyone looked like an executive, Carson did.

He took a seat on a stool at the counter and started talking. “I’ve been flying all over the planet for nearly 40 years and I always use the same car rental company. Yesterday, I walk up to the rental counter at the Milwaukee airport, show them my member’s card, and they tell me they don’t have a car for me! I asked the girl if she had my reservation and she did but said they were out of cars. It’s absolutely ridiculous. I asked if she had something in a smaller size. I had meetings that I needed to get to and didn’t really have time to mess with a cab. They never take the shortest way. No, they had no cars at all. No cars at all! How does that happen to a major car rental company when you made the reservation two weeks in advance? And in Milwaukee, of all places. It’s not like there are thousands of people rushing to get there.”

The barista nodded and set a glass of water in front of Carson.

Carson glanced quickly around the coffee shop before continuing. “The girl at the counter says there’s nothing she can do. She gave me a card and said I’d need to call customer service. So, I call customer service and get some guy in France. Fucking France! What is customer service doing in France? I mean, I get outsourcing some functions, we do it ourselves, but goddammit how is some geek in France going to help me get a car in Milwaukee when he doesn’t even know where Wisconsin is? And you know what? He didn’t. He said there was only one car available and it was reserved. I asked who it was reserved for and he said he couldn’t tell me. Privacy shit and all.”

The barista set the cappuccino in front of him. Carson paused long enough to take a long drink, consuming half the cup in one gulp.

“I hang up with the customer service guy and go back to the counter. I ask if my membership gave me the ability to perhaps get the same price from another provider. Of course, it doesn’t. I’m really starting to wonder what the point is to having the damn membership in the first place. If I can have a reservation for two weeks and they still not have a car for me when I arrive, what’s the point? Everyone else seemed to have cars! Why does the second largest provider in the country not have cars at the Milwaukee airport? I ask her what time the person who had the reservation for the one car was supposed to show up, she said he was supposed to be on the 1:15 flight but hadn’t shown up yet. I asked how long they would hold the car before releasing it. Two hours.”

He took another sip of the cappuccino and drummed his thick fingers on the counter. The barista tried to act interested without actually committing to the conversation. After all, what could he say? The man had obviously made it back home safely. Certainly, there were other transportation options.

Carson caught his breath and continued. “I call my contact in Milwaukee and explain to them what happened. They said they could have someone out there to pick me up in an hour and a half. Why it took so damn long to get someone out there, I don’t know. Their office is only 30 minutes from the airport. Still, they said they’d send someone if I couldn’t get a car in that length of time. Fine.”

“So there I am, just hanging around the rental counter, waiting to see if the person who reserved this one car, the last car in the entire car rental universe, comes to pick it up. When he’s not there at 2:15, an hour after his flight landed, the girl at the rental counter pages him.

‘Mr. Carson Walt, Mr. Carson A. Walt, please check in at the car rental counter. Mr. Carson Walt.’

“Of course, I’m both perplexed and excited. I rush over to the counter and ask, “Do you mean Carson Asherwalt? That’s me! I’m Carson Asherwalt! That’s my car! That’s the car I’ve been asking for this whole time!’”

“The clerk looks at her screen and asks to see my membership card again. The poor child is obviously confused. The membership number on the reservation is MY NUMBER but whatever fucking piece of shit entered it into their reservation software apparently thought Carson Asherwalt was three separate names, that Asher was my middle name or something. They put A as the middle initial and Walt as the last name. Why? I don’t know. Maybe they were thinking of Disney.”

“Anyway, I tell her again, ‘That’s my car! Please let me have my car!’ and she has the fucking audacity to say, ‘I’m sorry, but there’s been some mistake. The name doesn’t match the member number. I need to call our home office and figure out what to do.’”

“I’m like, ‘Don’t you have a supervisor here you can call? Why do you have to call France?’ but sure enough, she calls France and gets THE EXACT SAME PERSON I TALKED TO IN CUSTOMER SERVICE. And you know what? He refuses to release the car. Since the name and the member number don’t match, he doesn’t know who actually made the reservation. He’s confused. She’s confused. I’m livid …”

At that moment Carson’s phone rang. He looked down and saw it was from his boss, Greg Abbott. Carson put his credit card on the counter and told the barista, “Start me another cap, double shot. I have to take this and I’m sure I’ll need it.”

Carson answered the phone as he walked toward the back door of the coffee shop. “Hey Greg, I’m grabbing some coffee and I’ll be in …”

“Don’t bother,” said the voice on the other end. “Carson, you and I have been friends for a long time, we’ve gone fishing together, we’ve gone to strip clubs together, we’ve been through a lot, but what you did at the airport in Milwaukee yesterday was over the line. Kostenrawski doesn’t even want you back in the building. He’s disabled your key card. They’re sending your things to your house. I’m sorry.”

“Wait, what do you mean? I’m fired? I don’t get to tell my side of the story?” Carson objected. “This isn’t right, Greg, and you know it. Kostenrawki has to let me defend myself. He has to. I’m not going to just roll over and play dead. They were the ones in the wrong, not me!”

Greg sighed. “Carson, you broke the girl’s nose! She has cuts all over her face! She’s still in the hospital! Both she and the rental agency are talking about suing us and Milwaukee police are getting the FBI involved because you fled the state! We can’t sweep this one under the rug, man! We can’t let your temper take down the entire company.”

“I’ll sue,” Carson threatened. “I’ll sue Kostenrawki for wrongful termination, I’ll sue that bitch at the airport for defamation of character, and I’ll sue the fucking rental agency for breach of contract. You just wait and see!”

“Do what you think is appropriate,” Greg said. “Rember, though, that’s a company phone you’re on. We’re going to need that back.”

Carson snapped. “Yeah, come pick up the pieces.” He threw the cell phone as hard as he could onto the concrete wall of the coffee shop, causing it to break into multiple pieces. He then went over and stomped on those pieces, breaking them even more. Finally, he reached down and picked up the SIM card and slipped it into his shirt pocket.

Returning to the coffee shop, Carson returned to the counter where his credit card and the cappuccino were waiting. He nodded at the barista who smiled and nodded back. He slipped the card back into the wallet. He was surprised the charge for the coffee had gone through. The company owned the credit card, too. He took a sip from the coffee and wondered how long it would take the FBI to find him if he didn’t return home.

Another Cup Of Coffee

Another Day at Another Coffee Shop - Old Man Talking

Shyreese slipped her long legs from underneath the sheets while trying carefully to not wake the three-year-old sleeping next to her. Mornings were challenging enough without having a fussy preschooler on her hands. She looked at the clock on the antique end table next to the bed. 2:59. She reached over and turned off the alarm set to go off at 3:00, smiling that she had once again managed to beat it. There was an internal satisfaction in winning this contest every morning. She didn’t like to lose at anything.

Slipping her feet into the house shoes at the side of the bed, Shyreese, or Reesie as her friends called her, slipped on a light robe and then quietly made her way from the bedroom to the kitchen. For all the coffee she made during the day, the first cup was just for her, blended with a touch of chicory, reminding her of growing up in New Orleans. Breakfast this morning was a day-old blueberry muffin, a massive piece of sweetened cake that would be the only non-vegan thing she would eat today. At least, that was the plan.

After the coffee and muffin came a quick shower, slipping into her typical work uniform of tight jeans, the kind that complimented her ass, and a loose t-shirt with the sleeves cut out. Sleeves just got in the way, no matter what the temperature might be outside. Reesie worked too hard to deal with that little bit of extra body heat. She could tell a difference. She didn’t need anything holding her back.

Shyreese Nichole Appatone was the definition of a strong, independent woman. Having grown up in New Orleans, raised by a single mother who had four other mouths to feed, Reesie had learned quickly how to take care of herself both at home and on the streets. The last thing she wanted to do was be a burden to her mother, so she worked hard at school, ran track and won, got good grades, and held down a part-time job. Everything was a competition for her. Get the best grades. Run the best time. Sell the most moisturizer. Dodge the most bullets.

Liking girls was never something she questioned. Reesie’s brothers like girls, so why couldn’t she? Reesie’s boss dated girls, so why couldn’t she? The matter was never a question for her until the day she kissed her girlfriend outside the door of the restaurant she worked in. Someone whistled. Someone else called them a name. Her boss told her to never do that in front of the restaurant again. Reesie immediately saw the topic as something else to win, but this one wouldn’t be so easy. The day someone threw a brick through her mother’s bedroom window, Reesie knew she’d have to leave.

Moving to the Midwest may not have seemed like the most intelligent move. Bigotry and hate were as rampant here as any other place in the United States, possibly more. The difference was that here no one knew her. She could just work and hide her relationship. Even when the law changed allowing Reesie and her partner, Timora, to marry, she kept the wedding small, told only the tightest circle of friends. She had decided that the only way to win this contest was through stealth.

Reesie’s competitive spirit never ended, though, and when the owner of the coffee shop where she was employed decided it was time to sell the business and retire, Reesie was the first person to make him a serious offer. Getting the financing had been tough, but she stayed at it until all the pieces were in place. Now, Burns Coffee was hers. She got to be the boss. She relished the change to prove she could win.

At almost exactly the same time, Reesie and Tinera had decided to adopt an eight-month-old Korean boy they decided to name Ravie. Ravie had a cleft palate, no vision in his left eye, and severe neurological disorders. At first, the adoption agency was hesitant about even taking an application from a lesbian couple, but Reesie’s determination and mild intimidation tactics had convinced them to go ahead. Once counselors and social workers saw the compassionate nature of the two women, they decided the baby was a perfect fit for the couple. Again, Reesie kept the event quiet. She knew not everyone would understand. There would be battles to be fought, but she would fight them on her terms when she was ready.

Today, though, the only battle would be the impending rain. Rainy days brought mixed emotions. On one hand, the weather would increase traffic during the non-peak periods of the day. More people were likely to slip into a coffee shop to escape the rain while they were shopping or whatever. Rain during a peak rush hour was a curse, though. Burns didn’t have a drive-through window. There wasn’t room. Customers had to find a parking space and come inside. If it was raining, many would decide that coffee could wait. She would lure them in with heavily discounted specials on lattes, where her margins were high enough to absorb the loss and still turn a profit.

Reesie returned to the bedroom and kissed Tinera and Ravi each on the cheek. She looked at them lying there and thought how blessed and wonderful her life was. She was winning and doing it all on her own terms. Her mother would be proud.

The opening routine at the coffee shop was straight forward. Reesie arrived at 4:00, sharp. Unlocked the back door, turned off the alarm, turned on the back lights, and made a quick walk through to make sure there were no surprises that had popped up overnight. There was a popular bar directly across the street and while the patrons rarely caused any trouble, they would often leave empty bottles and other debris in front of the coffee shop. On one occasion, someone had busted the glass in the front door, but most nights it wasn’t a problem.

Reesie was assembling the cappuccino machine when Reggie, her morning barista arrived. Reggie was 15 years younger than Reesie, immaculately groomed, his plaid shirts perfectly pressed, the one-inch cuff on his jeans sharp and precise. Fully tattooed arms extending from beneath his shirt sleeves excited the single girls who frequented the shop and Reggie was good at providing just the right amount of flirt without going too far. He could read a patron like a book and often knew what they were going to order before they even spoke. He put people at ease and kept the shop running smoothly while Reesie handled the back end. They were a good team.

This morning, Reggie came in and grabbed a hose from the storage room. “Puke by the front door,” he explained before Reesie had a chance to ask. “Don’t worry, I’m on it.”

Reese smiled. Sure, there were always competitive challenges to this business. Coffee prices fluctuated daily. The big national coffee chain down the street had a better location. The mom-and-pop stores around her didn’t always provide much in the way of foot traffic. She made it work, though, enough to see profits increase by 35% the first year, 65% the second. This year looked to beat anything in the shop’s history.

Coffee carafes were full, creamer containers were fresh, and the morning’s danish delivery was set out and looking very tempting. Shyreese unlocked the front door, set the large sandwich board on the sidewalk, and looked toward the sky. Yeah, it was going to rain. The ink of her own tattoos itched on days like this and no amount of lotion could stop it. She’d have Reggie go ahead and put “Caution: wet floor” tents by each door for when they were needed.

As was the routine, officer Karen McDougal was her first customer. “Good morning, Karen,” Reesie said with a smile. “What’s the outlook for the day?”

“Curious,” Karen said. “We have a mandatory meeting at 10:00 this morning. We typically only have those on days when the president or some other goofball is in town messing up our traffic. He’s in Germany today, though, so I’m not sure what’s going on.”

Reesie handed the officer her 12-ounce Guatemalan Fair Trade coffee and a cheese danish. “Maybe they’re going to try a different approach to all the shootings around town,” she suggested. “The current plan doesn’t seem to be working.”

Karen shook her head. “Two more last night. What gets me is that it’s all stupid shit. Someone doesn’t like the brand of beer someone else brought to a party so they pull out a gun. Who the fuck cares? It’s beer. Not worth dying over. I’ll never understand that.”

“You’re kidding me, over beer?” Reesie asked.

“Yeah, beer, pizza, the color of onesie Aunt Lizzie gave the baby—it’s all stupid shit. Sure, we have the occasional drug deal gone bad and if it’s South of Tenth and East of Delphi we know its gang-related, but that’s the minority of what we get. Grandpa leaving the gun out and the six-year-old thinking it’s a toy or boyfriend and girlfriend arguing because his lazy ass hasn’t paid his share of the rent in three months, the stupid shit, is 70 percent of the gun violence in the city. If you have any idea on how to combat stupid, I’m all ears.” The officer unwrapped the cheese danish and took a bite. “You know, you keep giving me these and I’m not going to pass my PT test next month.”

Reesie laughed. “Come over and chase Ravi around the park for an hour. That’ll keep you in shape.”

Karen shook her head. “White cop chasing Asian baby. I don’t need those optics. I’ll hit the gym a little harder.”

Reesie slipped a blueberry muffin across the counter. “Here, take this for after your meeting. You may need it.”

Karen nodded as she took another bite of the danish. “Definitely,” she finally said as she took the muffin and headed toward the front door. “Call if you need me. You’ve got my number.”

Reesie laughed. She had almost asked Karen out before she met Tinera. Her number was still on speed dial, but Reesie had never called.

Not The Average Tuesday

Another Day at Another Coffee Shop - Old Man Talking

Reesie looked across the coffee shop just as her watch beeped 10:00. The rain hadn’t started yet, though the clouds looked as ominous as ever. At the near table sat a large man looking very uncomfortable in a black sweater talking to a well-dressed diminutive woman. Something about an app. The girl in the front chair had her laptop open and seemed to be working, but looked as though she were about to cry. Carson was going off about some rental car problem, but Reggie was handling him sufficiently. Two young women who hadn’t seen each other in months were catching up at the high top, and the principals of the software company down the street were having their weekly meeting at the back table. And Adam was asleep on the couch. Again.

The bell at the front door rang and a late middle-aged gentleman, his hair nearly shining from the shade of silver, walked through the door. He pulled a worn wallet from the front pocket of his jeans and deposited $3 in the honor jar. Obviously, he’d been here before but Reesie didn’t recognize the face. He filled his cup from the carafe with the house blend and took a seat on the bench across from the counter. He looked at his watch, then at the door. She recognized that look. He was waiting for someone.

Reesie checked all the carafes and pulled the two that were nearly empty, then ground the coffee she would need to fill them. The morning was going smoothly.

Then, at precisely 10:15 AM, her cell phone rang. Never mind that it had been set to vibrate only all morning. The phone rang.

And so did every other cell phone in the coffee shop. Conversation stopped as everyone simultaneously stared at their phones.

Grammy Reviews, Old Man Talking

Here we are, once again, at that time of year when attention starts to turn toward music and the impending Grammy Awards occurring next week. In previous years, we’ve tried letting the kids make predictions, looking only at new artists, and other versions of attempting to select winners. None of them have been remotely accurate.

Having come to the conclusion that those in the recording academy who cast votes for these entries are most likely certifiably insane, I want to spend my Grammy review time this year taking a more serious look at what was nominated. Many of these nominations are deserving of an award. Others, as always, are clueless and insulting.

There are 84 categories of Grammy awards and it would take more time than I have in my schedule to cover even half of those, especially when a large chunk of the awards don’t go to individual songs but entire albums of work. I’m not sure who exactly gets paid to sit around and critically listen to all that music, but it’s not me.

What I’ve done is limit myself to the single tracks nominated in the seven areas I feel most comfortable discussing. Those are:

  • Pop
  • Rock
  • Country
  • American Roots
  • R&B
  • Gospel/CCM
  • General Field

Just to be clear, “General Field” is how the academy describes that overall set of awards such as Record of the Year and Song of the Year. For those who’ve been asleep for a while, one might also note that the Recording Academy no longer separates categories by gender. There is no “best male/female vocalist” in any genre.

For most the genres, we limited our reviews to Best Solo Performance, Best Duo/Group Performance, and in some categories, Best Song. Even with those limitations, we still have a rather lengthy list. If one is bound and determined to listen to every second of every song, be prepared to spend the better part of the day with headphones stuck on your head.

As we go, clicking on the title of each song links to it on Spotify. I’ve composed all our reviewed songs in a single playlist that we’ll include at the end of the article. Any title marked with an * is nominated in more than one category.

There’s a lot to discuss and to hear, so let’s get started on this task quickly.

Pop

2019 Grammys, Old Man Talking

Pop is the broadest and most inclusive genre, encompassing most anything that one might find on the Billboard Top 100 list. Anyone who listens to an adult contemporary or top 40 radio station is likely to be familiar with these songs. Still, there are a couple of outliers that don’t quite seem to fit and seem to skew the categories. This is also a genre where songs that are public favorites don’t always win. Let’s look at the songs.

Colors – Beck

Wait, Beck’s still relevant? I honestly thought they’d disbanded or something. Apparently not. This song is evident that the group is somehow stuck in the 90s and managing through time travel to send their music into the future.The clap track on this song kills me and the pan flute is one of the most pretentious things heard in this year’s nominees. I would like to believe that most of the music-listening world has evolved beyond finding this enjoyable. Yet, would the song be here if it didn’t have fans? This is a disappointing song that time hopefully forgets quickly.

Havana – Camila Cabello

When even grade school kids know all the words to the song and can dance to it, we know the song has achieved a high level of penetration. This is a powerful and memorable performance of a song that uses Latin rhythms and tempos to capture an image of a fantasized society where everyone is beautiful and everyone knows how to tango. The Pentatonix cover of the song only helped fuel the song’s popularity. The live recording is the version nominated and well worth the listen. Just be prepared to dance wherever you are.

God Is A Woman – Ariana Grande

Be aware: This song comes with an “explicit” tag attached. This song generated plenty of controversy when it was released last year, but in an interesting and ironic turn, Grande’s feminist anthem actually mentions God more often than do the majority of the songs nominated in the Gospel/CCM category. I wish I was kidding. Ariana is riding a popularity wave and her millions of fans are very vocal in their support for the singer, especially when she broke up with her boyfriend. I might worry that the Recording Academy could come under attack is Ms. Grande doesn’t win something. Is the song any good, though? It’s listenable and its message resonates with women. Personally, I don’t think it’s her best option and the recent release of Seven Rings may prove distracting.

Joanne – Lady Gaga

Everyone is so focused on “Shallow” that it is easy to overlook Gaga’s other nominated work. Joanne, which is her given name, is an acoustic song with more of a folk feel to it than what we would generally consider pop. When the strings enter about half-way through, they feel a bit forced, as though someone at the record label decided that, “Wait! We’ve not spent enough money on this song. Let’s add strings!” Gaga doesn’t need any help here. In fact, there are moments throughout the song when it feels as though she’s channeling Joan Baez. Joanne is a wonderful contrast to the heavily-produced “Shallow” and does much more to show off Gaga’s voice.

Fall In Line – Christina Aguilera with Demi Lovato

Christina Aguilera knows how to do a big, powerful anthem and this is yet another in the long list of anthems that punctuate her career. There are plenty of pro-feminist songs with overtones of the #MeToo movement nominated this year and this is the loudest, most likely to slap someone in the face of all those songs. There’s little doubt by the end of the first verse that Xtina is fed up with all the bullshit and is ready to kick some ass. Then, as she is prone to do on these big songs, she enlists some help from a friend. This time, it’s Demi Lovato who matches Christina’s level of angry quite well. The Academy should be warned: upset Christina and she just might bitch slap a presenter.

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart – Backstreet Boys

Again, here we go back to the 90s. At least this time around the song itself is a little more contemporary but the synth drums and a cappella break at the bridge are classic Backstreet maneuvers sufficient to give one whiplash from the force of the throwback. While I’m sure that those original Backstreet fans that have never been able to completely adapt and move on with their lives are excited that the boys are nominated again. Coping with the progress of time doesn’t come easily for everyone. The sound is ultimately dated and the song isn’t enough to justify a comeback from a group that most of the world didn’t miss in the first place.

“S Wonderful – Tony Bennett & Diana Krall

Tony Bennett is 92 years old, still recording, still performing, and still being nominated for Grammy awards. In my opinion, they should give him his own category and just mail him the trophy. The man has no peers—they’re all dead. Putting him in a contest with anyone else is inherently unfair. Over the past several years, we’ve seen the crooner do duets with several people, some of which haven’t worked especially well. Diana Krall’s more mature and professionally developed voice is the best match yet. Her rich vocal tones blend nicely with Tony’s voice, even if he is starting to crack around the edges a bit too often. I wish they had done this album say ten years ago when Bennett was still able to match pitch without having to slide into every note. Even now, though, there’s no one in Tony’s league. That doesn’t mean he’ll win in such a broad category, but the man deserves a trophy.

Girls Like You – Maroon 5 with Cardi B.

This is classic Maroon 5 with plenty of rhythm and Adam Levine singing notes too high for human ears to hear. Every dog in the room perks up with this song comes on, though. Maroon 5 has a predictable formula for their hits and this song follows that pattern so well that if one is listening and not watching the video they might become distracted. The break with Cardi B. jolts one’s attention back to the song because her hard-hitting rap style is so diametrically opposed to the smoothness of Adam’s voice that one might think their device has jumped tracks or had an emotional breakdown. This is meant to be a song that is supportive of the women in one’s life and there’s no question that there’s an “awww” moment at the end of the video where Levine is standing with his wife and baby. Lovely picture. If one is just listening to the song, though, it comes off like most men’s response to the #MeToo movement: hollow and short of any real content.

Say Something – Justin Timberlake & Chris Stapleton

I have a feeling that, at this point in his career, Timberlake is trying to make sure he has enough Grammy-nominated tracks to complete a “Best of …” box set. That seems to be the only reason for this song to even exist. Sure, having Chris Stapleton sing along gives Timberlake some crossover airplay, which probably adds nicely to the bank account. Musically, though, this song is nothing special compared to anything else for which Timberlake’s been nominated. In fact, I’m a little surprised this one made it onto the Grammy list at all. Halfway through the song, I left to go refill my coffee cup. I didn’t feel as though I’d missed anything when I returned.

My Way – Willie Nelson

This is the one exception I’m making to the rule about albums. The song itself isn’t nominated and the song from the album that is nominated is in the American Roots genre. More on that later. I’m including this song, though, because it adequately represents the entire album. Willie is 85 years old and one has to wonder if there’s any chance he’ll make it as long as Tony Bennett. Listening to this song, and the accompanying album, one gets the feeling that Willie doesn’t expect to make it as long as Tony Bennett. There’s a melancholy feel here, not the triumphant success that we get from Sinatra or Elvis. Willie actually makes the song feel sad, as though it’s the last song he sings before hanging up his guitar and bandana for good. My god, we hope that’s not what’s happening. I will say, he makes one feel all the feels here. Those above a certain age might want to have a tissue handy.

Rock

Grammys Review, Old Man Talking

One sure way to feel old is to consider oneself fairly well versed in the rock music genre and then realize that one knows absolutely nothing about any of the nominees except that one was dead before the song was ever released. Ouch. I had to listen to a lot more than just the nominated songs before I felt comfortable commenting intelligently. The good news is that I came away with a couple of new bands that I really enjoy hearing. The bad news is that, once again, there a couple of nominees that cause me to question the Recording Academy’s sanity. What seems obvious is that no matter who wins there will be plenty of fans who think their favorite band was robbed, and they may very well be correct. The Academy doesn’t exactly have a strong record of “nailing it” in this category so we’ll have to see what happens.

Four Out Of Five – Arctic Monkeys

At first listen, this appears to be another one of those rock songs with drug-induced lyrics that make absolutely no sense. That’s not necessarily unheard of in this category. There were plenty of hits in the 1970s that made no sense at all. What the song addresses, however, is the online society that reviews everything. Yes, we’re looking at you, Yelp. The lyrics are the type of statements one makes when leaving an online review. The title, “Four Out Of Five” refers to the number of stars one might leave for a product or service.  If the lyrics sound like nonsense, that’s probably intentional. Most reviews are absolutely nonsense. The strong part of the song is the incredible harmonies, especially in the bridge, that remind one of the more important bands of the 70s. This is a band worth getting to know. There’s a skill level I hope we see continue.

When Bad Does Good – Chris Cornell

If sentimentality counts for votes, and it often does, then this song is a sure winner. After all, who wants to deny a dead man his last award? There’s an eerie feeling, though, that sends a few shivers up my spine while listening. When the song opens with the line, “Standing beside an open grave … your life decided … “ it is difficult to not read some serious foreshadowing into it. One of a group of songs Cornell had recorded but not released prior to his death in 2017, one might consider us fortunate to have ever heard this song at all. Fortunately, Chris’ widow, Vicky, found the tapes and made sure they received the proper treatment. We are fortunate to hear Cornell’s soaring vocals one more time. This song is a rare and final treat. Still, it feels jarring when the song abruptly ends, like the jerk on the end of a rope. My stomach wrenched at the thought. We lose too many brilliant musicians to mental illness. Perhaps this song can be a reminder that people who appear strong often need help, too.

Made An America – Fever 333

Gun violence gets the attention in this guitar-heavy rock tome trying to bring its cause to our attention. If the number of gun-related deaths is any indication, however, we’re not listening. Part of the problem here is that the lyrics alone are not strong enough for the song to stand out. The hard driving rhythm and screaming guitars, both of which are admittedly well done, sound like so many other angry songs of the 2000’s that it is too easy to reach over and turn down the volume. Before the lyrics have a chance to really click in one’s ears they’ve likely already decided that they’ve heard this song before and hit the “skip” button. This is the challenge with songs in support of a cause: if the music is not enough to slap one in the face repeatedly, few are likely to actually hear the words.

Highway Tune – Greta Van Fleet

Nostalgia is big when creatives in a field have difficulty coming up with something original. I won’t say that is necessarily the case with the band Greta Van Fleet, but the 70s throwback is so strong they should all be wearing paisley shirts with bell bottom jeans and rope sandals. The band has a couple of other nominations so I came to like them by the time I was done. Unfortunately, this particular song picks up on the mommy issues that were so prevalent among bands in the 70s and it’s not especially attractive. “Momma” this, “Momma” that … is anyone’s mother evening listening? Juxtaposed against all the feminist-leaning songs this year, this comes across woefully out of touch and in need of therapy.

Uncomfortable – Halestorm

This band based on the brother/sister duo of Lzzy (no i) and Arejay Hale is at times reminiscent of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and at other time the drum-driven sound of an 80s hair band. Lzzy’s vocals are pretty impressive and at times threaten to overshadow the band. When we get close to that point, though, Arejay’s drums come bursting through and the instruments take the spotlight. I have a feeling that I would totally enjoy seeing Halestorm in concert somewhere. This is the kind of music that is best experienced live. Unfortunately, that means it doesn’t transition well to recorded play where it feels as though we’ve heard this all before. Nostalgia sounds are not always the good thing we want them to be, even when they’re done well.

Black Smoke Rising – Greta Van Fleet

This is more what I expect from a rock song in 2019. The 20-second intro is a nice hook that keeps repeating throughout and easily incites movement even when the lyrics are lacking. This is a song with which one can connect and simply enjoy for the next four minutes without feeling that they have to leave immediately to rush out and save the world. If the old American Bandstand were still around, the song would rate well for being “easy to dance to.” Bonus points: the bridge is such a throwback to The Doors but it’s well done, not heavy handed enough to make the transition back feel awkward. This is the song that left me liking the band. I can handle more of this.

Jumpsuit – Twenty One Pilots

Why is this band still getting nominated for Grammys? This song is so commercial that it should only be 30 seconds long. Unfortunately, the intro alone is 38 seconds and reminiscent of a whiskey ad. That whiskey is cheap and tastes like the stuff dripping from underneath a 1984 Buick. The song can’t seem to decide what it wants to be. The bridge gets all soft and pretty with a Hammond organ taking off so much of the rock edge that this begins to sound like a pop song. Which direction are we going with this? I’m baffled that this is nominated for Best Rock Song. Perhaps someone at the Academy owes Tyler Joseph their life or something. Music quality is not why this song is on the list.

Mantra – Bring Me The Horizon

There are times when one can easily ignore the “explicit” tag next to a song title. Don’t make that mistake with this song. Small children do not need to be in the room when it is playing. That being said, I’m still trying to figure out what the song’s title has to do with the rest of the song. Okay, the name gets yelled out twice during the song. There’s still no obvious correlation and, if anything, the scream interrupts the flow of the music. Not that anyone is likely to mind the interruption. I’m guessing the sole purpose for this song existing is someone’s inherent need to do a bit of head banging and it delivers from the start with a 30-second intro that sends one’s neck into auto-response mode. You’re going to at least nod your head a little. I’m over the whole dual vocals an octave apart, though. That technique is SO 20 years ago. Please don’t make me yawn so hard, it hurts when my head is bobbing.

Masseduction – St. Vincent

Writers Jack Antonoff and Annie Clark have created the perfect song for the media-addicted generation that cannot seem to put their phones down. St. Vincent provides the perfect voice to drive the point home. This is how rock in 2019 should sound. I had heard the full version a couple of times before and definitely agree with its nomination for Best Rock Song. However, if one really likes this song, they’ll want to listen to the piano-only version with no background vocals. St. Vincent’s voice is mesmerizing and the musicality of the composition is crystal clear. St. Vincent is one of the few rock acts I would consider paying outrageous ticket prices to see—not that I’d actually go because I’m a cheap old man on a budget—but I’d at least consider it. If the Academy would let me vote, this one would get my pick. They won’t let me vote.

Rats – Ghost

Remember, those of you over the age of 50, those 70s bands that would don face paint and invoke satanic imagery that made your parents uncomfortable? Remember how we all thought we’d left that behind? Guess what, the band Ghost has brought it back with a spooky apocalyptic song threatening death and destruction at the hands, or teeth, of a massive plague of rodents. If the visuals are not enough to give one nightmares, you should probably be in therapy. Often. The strong point of this song are the incredible harmonies with bonus points for the harpsichord. We’re definitely feeling some throwback vibes here and to some extent we don’t mind all that much. Still, the constant repetition of the word “rats,” especially toward the end, is more than a touch  creepy and should never be the last song one hears before going to bed in downtown New York.

Country

Grammys Review, Old Man Talking

Know this before I even start: it’s been 30+ years since I’ve liked anything about contemporary country music. I grew up with my parents listening to it all the time. If we were in the car, the radio was on a station such as KFDI in Wichita or KVOO in Tulsa. Both were only AM stations back then, but their reach was broad and their sound was pure country: Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Bill Monroe, Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn. Country music sounds nothing like that now and if anyone does sound like those legends, the idiots at the Recording Academy put them down in the American Roots categories competing with Blues and Folk artists, which does no one any good. There are two bright spots among this years nominees. The rest … well, don’t expect any roses from me.

Wouldn’t It Be Great – Loretta Lynn

I’m still trying to figure out how it is that Loretta Lynn has a song in the Country category but Willie Nelson and John Prine get sent to the purgatory of American Roots. I’m glad she’s here, and will be more than a bit upset if she doesn’t get the award, but my expectations are low since the Recording Academy clearly doesn’t know what it’s doing with Country music. Loretta’s song feels the divide between old and new as well, not to mention the divisiveness across the country. Hers is another in the list of songs looking for hope and healing, bringing people together. She does so with a classic country sound that hides the fact she’s old enough to be the grandmother of most the other artists nominated. It is good to hear her voice again. Let’s hope people who matter pay attention.

Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters – Maren Morris

Somewhere in Nashville, a record producer apparently decided what folks there were writing wasn’t good enough and went searching for something different. What they found were some early recordings by Elton John of songs he wrote with Bernie Taupin. The songs are some of Elton’s favorites and include hits such as Rocket Man, Honky Cat, and The Bitch Is Back. Someone handed Sir Elton a big ol’ royalty check and he gave them permission to do a compilation album, country style. Just go ahead and say yuck now. Maren Morris gets Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, from Elton’s 1972 album, Honky Chateau. Understand, back in the early 70s, recording executives didn’t know what to make of Elton so they tried, laughably, to make him country by putting fiddles, pedal steel, and mandolin in the instrumentation. The sound isn’t country, but at least they tried. Ms. Morris’ cover doesn’t even try and comes out sounding more Pop than the original. They even dropped the mandolin. This song, and the whole project, is a disaster.

Butterflies – Kacey Musgraves

Ms. Musgraves has been touted by some as the new Taylor Swift of Country music. For those too young to remember, the Pop superstar got her start in Country music before transitioning to where she belonged in the first place. Arguably, Ms. Musgraves seems to be on a similar path. If this song is any indication, she’s ready to make that crossover now. Without question, te song has a lot of appeal in both genres and Musgraves’ fan base hits that same teen female demographic as Swift’s. If it weren’t for the pedal steel in the band it would be difficult to call this Country music at all. I think this song proves she can compete in the Pop category. Her record producers might do well to help her make that jump now while there’s time. Once she turns 40 the Recording Academy may try putting her under the American Roots label as well.

Millionaire – Chris Stapleton

Country music’s core demographic never has been an especially prosperous one. By and large, they are hard-working, blue collar men and women who often live in rural or agricentric areas and frequently struggle to make ends meet. These are the folks often referred to as “salt of the earth.” Millionaire hits those dear folks right where their heart is with themes such as the value of a “good woman,” beat up cars, and the importance of love above everything else. Chris is blessed with a strong country twang to his voice so it’s difficult to put him anywhere else even when he’s singing with Justin TImberlake. Here, there’s plenty of acoustic guitar playing rhythm under that electric lead that could stand to be turned down a touch and enough sentiment to serve as a dipping sauce at a backyard barbeque. One still gets the feeling Stapleton is trying to not sound as country as he is. Go ahead, son, pull those boots on and wear that cowboy hat proudly.

Parallel Line – Keith Urban

No. I never have bought into the idea of Keith Urban as Australia’s version of Country and this song is the perfect reason why. Okay, it’s nice that Nicole let’s him keep his music career as a hobby, but her Oscar and 94 other awards far outweighs his four Grammys and CMA awards. What’s important to realize is that Urban’s awards were gender-specific in years where, let’s be honest, the competition was pretty weak. This year’s nomination feels more like a courtesy nod than a serious entry. The song is far from being the strongest of the nominations and just barely has enough bent tones and hints of twang to sound remotely Country. This is middle-of-the-road pablum. The nomination pads his resumé a bit and he can go back to judging singers who are, far too often, better than him.

Shoot Me Straight – Brothers Osborne

THIS IS NOT A COUNTRY SONG! Sure, the boys have a decent country twang to their voices but that’s not enough to get past the fact that every other element of this song is one hundred percent rock-and-roll and rightly deserves to be in that category. The hard bass line and screaming guitars are so far past the country music line as to make the vocals irrelevant. In fact, strip the song down to the lengthy instrumental break (cut way back for radio play) and this song is so rock as to make Jimi Hendrix fans jealous. Well, maybe.Calling this a country song is like calling Cher a lounge singer. Actually, now that I think about it, Cher does country better than this.

*Tequila – Dan & Shay

I’m sitting here listening, and listening, and listening, waiting for the moment this turns and decides to be a country song. That turn never happens. Instead, yet again, we have another Pop song too weak to actually make it in that category, so hey, might as well try Country. Production kills this song, over reaching from the single piano at the start to the not-so-subtle strings and background vocals on the last verse. Play this song without announcing the artist and no one is likely to put it in the country genre, which is an ongoing problem with this entire category. The song is nominated multiple times within the genre but there’s no way it’s strong enough to deserve a win.

*When Someone Stops Loving You – Little Big Town

LIttle Big Town is known for its harmonies as much as anything and those play heavily into making this song appealing, right after the fact that almost everyone can identify with the emotion of the song. Country music loves talking about love, either having it or losing it and losing it tends to create the bigger hits. This time, the group pierces the heart with lyrics one might group in with “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” only slightly less heart breaking. Slightly. The lyrics are strong enough that one doesn’t really care if the verses sometimes sound a little too Pop. It’s a rare person who doesn’t understand the feeling of losing love like this. Grab a tissue and have yourself a dirty cry. You won’t be the only one.

* Dear Hate – Maren Morris with Vince Gill

One sees this duo listing in the nominations and has to wonder if the young Ms. Morris can come close to matching the seasoned Vince Gill. The verdict is: sort of. The harmonies between them work well enough because Vince has been down this road before, is an amazingly talented musician, and knows how to blend with just about anyone. However, when Gill takes the second verse solo, this becomes a different song. For those few seconds, the song really sounds Country and when Ms. Morris comes back in for the chorus it’s like being slapped in the face with your dad’s aftershave. The message here is similar to that of Loretta Lynn’s and is likely the reason Gill agreed to do the song. .

Meant To Be – Bebe Rexha with Florida Georgia Line

This song is confusing. Since when do Country songs come with a digital click track? Oh, wait, Ms. Rexha isn’t Country, is she? In fact, when one looks at the other matchups on the album on which this song appears, one sees names like Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane, and 2 Chainz. Florida Georgia Line is so out of their element on this one it isn’t even funny. One has to really stretch to nominate this song in any category and I can only think that it’s nominated for Best Country Duo/Group because all the other options sucked really, really badly. The one good thing about this song is that it’s short. The impossible contrast between vocal tones only hurts for three minutes.

Break Up In The End – Cole Swindell

Meh, I guess I can let this one slide. As a composition, which is where it’s nominated, it hits the Country market with all the big issues, especially a futile love and alcoholism. One could reasonably question whether this is about an actual relationship or some poor guy’s excuse for not starting one, but that’s ultimately irrelevant. Emotion runs deep with this song and that’s what ultimately matters with a good country song. I do wish it wasn’t so damn heavy on the production. This is one of those songs that would play better stripped bare with a guitar and maybe a stand-up bass. The music should be as raw as the lyrics and the heavy-handed kitchen sink production ruins that.

I Lived It – Blake Shelton

Another songwriting entry, let’s count down all the country clichés the song hits in the first verse: Daddy, Granny, screen door, church, Momma, trucks, getting drunk … And that’s just the start of this song that seems to pit country veteran against the rookies. The song gets to the crux of many of Country music’s problems: living the life versus just singing the songs. Oklahoma-raised Shelton was the perfect person to voice this song. He still owns and regularly visits a home in Southwestern Oklahoma despite spending a great deal of time in LA and Nashville. Shelton also gives the song a lot of country “street cred,” which never hurts this time of year. While the song hits all the typical topics, though, it’s a bit too smooth and a bit too gentle to get a person’s attention. This easily becomes background music where the message becomes lost. A more driving tempo would make a lot of difference here.

Space Cowboy – Kacey Musgraves

Do not confuse this with the song of the same name performed by the Steve Miller Band. This song isn’t nearly that good. Yet another song about lost love and breaking up leaves one with the opinion that country music writers must be a lonely bunch of people. Granted, there are numerous references to horses and cowboys and barn doors and gates, all part of an extended metaphor for leaving a relationship. But once again, between Musgraves’ Pop voice and a truck load of production the song didn’t need what we end up with is a Pop song with country references. For all the songs this year about love lost, this one leaves its listener feeling lonely, and possibly in search of a new radio station.

American Roots

Grammy Awards, Old Man Talking

I strongly dislike this category and remain quite upset at the Recording Academy for trying to lump traditional Blues, Folk, Bluegrass, and traditional Country all in the same bucket to compete with each other. This category is a disservice and disrespectful of all the songs nominated. They are all too different and cover too broad a spectrum of music to consider any one of them better than the other. While far from being a new category, it’s one of the most stupid moves the Recording Academy has ever made and there’s no damn good reason for it to continue. As a result, I’m a little more sympathetic toward the songs that got stuck here. They all deserve better.

Kick Rocks – Sean Ardoin

This is a big, hard-driving blues anthem that is best served by a big New Orleans-style band complete with harmonica and accordion in heavy doses. Fast-tempo’d from the very start, this song doesn’t take a break or even slow down until everyone in the band has had their say. One can easily imagine that in a concert setting this is the song that sets up a 20-minute jam session with everyone in the neighborhood sitting in on the fun. Sure, there are some lyrics here, and the whole idea of telling someone to “kick rocks” is as brash and defiant as the music itself. The lyrics are almost irrelevant, though,

Saint James Infirmary Blues – Jon Batiste

Over the past few years I’ve come to deeply appreciate the massive talent abiding in the body of Jon Batiste. This young man can run with the big dogs in any genre tossed at him and the fact that he’s been doing just that since he was a teenager speaks to how deeply and personally he understands music as an entity. Jazz is where he’s most at home, though, and what he does with this old standard is heart-stopping. In most every other cover of this song, especially Van Morrison’s, the dirge is treated with lush orchestration, a heavy, mournful introduction, to help set the mood. Jon doesn’t need any of that. He jumps right in with nothing but his piano, slowly adds some mournful background vocals, and eventually a single trumpet. As a result, this may be the most emotional rendition of this song yet. One probably wants a stiff drink nearby when listening to this one because it’s going to hit all the feels.

All On My Mind – Anderson East

It is the fully orchestrated version of this blues piece that is nominated and it’s easy to understand why it’s nominated. The song powerfully packs a lot of emotion into 3:44. Equally as compelling is the stripped-back “acoustic” (not really) version. Here, East’s heartfelt vocals shine more than in the full version where they sometimes get overshadowed a bit. This is one of those rare songs that works well late on a Saturday night, a snifter of brandy in hand, maybe a good cigar, while contemplating all the worries of the world and deciding that none of it really matters all that much. If one can time the brandy and cigar to end at the same time as the song, you’re ready to go to bed and sleep well. A song like this is the heart and soul of blues and deserves to be in a blues-only category.

Last Man Standing – Willie Nelson

It’s not fair to Willie or anyone else that this song is included in this category. This is pure honky-tonk country, the kind of music that country music embraced until it up and decided it needed to feel more stadium worthy instead of the corner of a backstreet bar. This is what Willie does best and he does it with a touch of his trademark humor. “I don’t want to be the last man standing,” he sings, referring to the fact that all his peers are gone. Then, one can almost hear that grin spread across his face when he adds, “Well wait, maybe I do.” Unlike the severe sadness of his “My Way” cover, Willie takes his role as the oldest man on the stage with a quick tempo and a sense of humor in this song that does its best to keep listeners from feeling too down about the fact he’s the only Outlaw left standing.

All The Trouble – Lee Ann Womack

This song feels older than it is. In fact, when I first heard it my instant response was to check to see who else had covered it. The answer is: no one. Womack perfectly captures the smoky tone we’ve heard previously in artists such as Bonnie Raitt. Ms. Womack’s not that little girl on the big ol’ stage anymore. She is her own defining presence and this song takes advantage of that maturity. If it has some trouble finding a radio home it might be because it could easily be dropped into just about any playlist and work, from country to blues to pop. Womack can handle the rough-edged tone and pull emotion from every note.The line “even Cinderella had to find her own way home,” resonates and I won’t be surprised if there aren’t at least a half-dozen covers this next year. I don’t see anyone topping Womack’s version any time soon, though. This is gold.

Build A Bridge – Mavis Staples

Many throughout the music world are keenly aware of how divided the United States is right now and the Grammy nominations have plenty of songs written to address that issue, offering hope, encouraging healing. At 79, Ms. Staples understands this issue better than most because she’s suffered through the racism and division at its worst. A respected member of both the Rock-and Roll and Blues Halls of Fame, Staples gives us the kind of action that invokes action. “I’m gonna build a bridge” flies directly in the face of the chants to build a wall. Mavis knows that walls are not the answer. The song is powerful, but ultimately one has to ask whether any of these songs are doing any good? Perhaps radio stations need to start putting the bulk of them on high rotation, let that message sink in a bit more.

Knockin’ On Your Screen Door – John Prine

This two-time Grammy winner is another country legend the Academy is afraid to let in the country category because he’d steal all the awards from the young folks who’ve taken over that genre. Prine flexes his country muscle with a rough-voiced song that everyone else wishes they could record but can’t. One has to have lived through some deep shit and clawed their way out to give this song the raw kick needs to resonate. That experience is obvious from the first note and is a large part of what makes this song work for him. I’m not sure anyone younger than 60 could even come close.

Summer’s End – John Prine

Having multiple nominations in the same category is not unheard of for an artist, but for the 72-year-old Prine it is an example of how flexible and varied his style is. Summer’s End is a more full-toned ballad inviting a lost love to “come on home.” Know that there’s a heart-wrenching backstory to this song that becomes more evident when one sees the video. This may be the only nominated song that hits hard at the opiate epidemic and the video gives Prine’s words extra meaning. This is John’s first original material in 13 years and there are places where his age shows, his words slurring on occasion and his voice trailing off the end of phrases. Summer’s End is a special song that deserves a lot of airplay and all the attention it can get.

R&B

Grammys Review, Old Man Talking

R&B has long been my choice for chill. Anytime I need to calm down and get over myself, R&B is where I turn and it rarely lets me down. The very nature of the genre, however, requires it to be constantly evolving and this year we see some especially significant changes starting with The Carters releasing their first album together, bringing two powerhouse talents to bear in a field that seems ready-made for them. At the same time, there are some “old school” voices in the mix that remind us how beautiful a seasoned voice is. If the rest of the nominations get one worked up, this is where we go to settle back down.

*Long As I Live – Toni Braxton

Long As I Live is Old School R&B. Ms. Braxton’s voice has only grown more smokey and sultry with time, making her distinguishing vocals all the more appealing. If her music was your groove “way back when,” then this song is going to feel as comfortable as your favorite pair of pajamas. When the song talks about “I’ll never get old,” we feel the richness of Ms. Braxton’s voice and are thankful that she’s still recording, still performing, and likely to keep doing so for quite some time. Equally impressive, though, is the size of Ms. Braxton’s more youthful fan base, Millennials who either weren’t around or were too young to care when she took home her first Grammy. Hers is a voice one cannot help but love and this song promises there’s going to be plenty to love for a long time.

Summer – The Carters

They finally did it. Jay-Z and Beyoncé brought their real-life hookup into the studio and the results were everything we hoped. Well, perhaps everything I hoped. The blending of hip hop and pop into a smooth R&B sound didn’t exactly please fans on the outer edges of the other genres. Those fans will have to get over their disappointment, though,because this album significantly changes the course of R&B in its brilliant merging of two of music’s biggest talents. Summer employs a traditional R&B band, complete with Hammond organ and a jazz flute. Carefully layered on top of that sound are Beyoncé’s smooth vocals. This song would have garnered a nomination if the accolades ended there. What puts the song over the top, though, is Jay-Z’s break that layers his contemporary sound over the old-school tracks. We may well be witnessing a historic moment for the R&B genre. Everyone else should take note.

Y O Y – Lalah Hathaway

My how Donny Hathaway’s little girl has grown! Nominated multiple times this year, Lalah makes a strong return this year with a dark, smooth sound that keeps the strong harmonies of her 90s recordings with a more contemporary instrumentation. I swear that’s a sitar I’m hearing in this song. Her voice has matured quite a bit from those early recordings and she seems ready to take her place in the current R&B market. She’s still a bit of an outlier in the genre, though, the influence of her daddy’s music still present. Y O Y isn’t edgy, which is not a bad thing but definitely separates her from the other nominees. This is a good song with a good sound, though, and Lalah makes her presence known all across the Grammys this year. It’s going to be interesting to see where she goes next.

Best Part – H.E.R with Daniel Caesar

Best Part is almost perfect. The acoustic start is one of the most beautiful openings of any song nominated this year. If only the producers would have stayed acoustic all the way through. Unfortunately, as the song goes and and gradually adds a distracting warbly synthesized sound, the whole tone becomes a meddled mess that distracts from the quality of the vocals. I looked for an acoustic version and couldn’t find one, which makes me sad. H.E.R. has a great sound and the vocals deserve a lot more attention than they are given in this recording. There’s no way for me to know whose idea the synth was, but perhaps next time they’re in the studio H.E.R. would do better to just unplug the electronics and stick with a natural sound.

First Began – PJ Morton

PJ stands out from the other Best R&B Performance nominees in a couple of ways. First, he’s the only solo male voice in this female-dominated category. Second, First Began is the only song nominated with a tempo marking faster than snooze. Add in some soaring strings toward the end and his is a very different take on R&B from what everyone else in the category is offering. In fact, one might argue that this song might do better were it in the Traditional R&B Performance category. After all, PJ’s sound does have a little more old school swing to it. He’s not afraid to take this inherently laid-back attitude and make it move a little bit. Perhaps it says something about our collective mood that we’ve leaned so heavily into the slow songs this past year. First Began is a nice break that, if nothing else, keeps us from falling asleep in our easy chair.

Bet Ain’t Worth The Hand – Leon Bridges

A high, sustained violin line with harp and glockenspiel has one half-expecting Nat “King” Cole’s smooth vocal to gently walk into the song. Leon Bridges’ amazing tenor isn’t quite the same tone as Coles but fits this song well and defines what makes the Traditional R&B category different from the regular R&B category. One can almost feel Bridges standing on the stage of the Apollo Theater dressed in a sharp suit in front of a full orchestra. The biggest problem I have with this song is that it’s barely three minutes long. One hardly has time to settle into the soft groove before the song is over, leaving one’s ears longing for more.

Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight – Bettye LaVette

Ms. LaVette’s cover of this Bob Dylan song has some challenges. First, it not only has to overcome the expectation one might have from Dylan’s recording, but Aaron Neville’s well-known cover also. Those are some mighty big musical shoes to fill and not just any voice can step there. To some degree, Ms. LaVette’s voice has a touch of that grit one hears in Dylan, though hers is one developed through years of living rather than the natural tone Dylan possesses. She’s nowhere close to being as smooth as Aaron, but she does come closer to his tempo, shortening the song considerably from Dylan’s six-minute marathon. LaVette puts a little more “mean” in her streets and more emotion in the urgency of her voice. It’s nice to get a woman’s take on this song. One might want to listen two or three times before moving on.

Honest – Major

There’s something about starting a song whose entire focus is honesty by singing the verses in falsetto. Granted, Major’s falsetto is on point and well tuned. We don’t hear him struggling to reach the notes as is often the case with other vocalists. Still, one has to question whether the move was really in the best interest of the song. When he drops into his full voice, the song is stronger, its message more clear and earnest. In moving back and forth one gets the impression that he might be afraid of his natural voice the way someone with anorexia is afraid of eating too much. Yet, the more he makes that transition the more one wishes he’d honestly stay with his natural tone.

How Deep Is Your Love – PJ Morton with YEBBA

Who the fuck thought up this disaster on vinyl? First, covering the Bee Gees and calling is Traditional R&B is just wrong on every conceivable level. Second, even adding YEEBA’s soulful voice is not enough to yank this song out of the disco mire. No matter what one does, there’s still a mirror ball and backlight dance floor and some fool strutting around in a white suit everytime this song is played anywhere on the planet. To call this traditional R&B is an insult to everyone else nominated and to the entire R&B genre. Moreover, recording this song was a slap in the face of everyone who enjoys R&B. I’ll allow that the song might be fun to perform in concert, but this is disco, man, any way one slices it.

Made For Love – Charlie Wilson with Lalah Hathaway

R&B loves a good duet and Ms. Hathaway’s voice is a nice match for Wilson, allowing him to relax a bit so that his vocals don’t always feel quite so forced as they do when he’s in his upper register. Still, Charlie has to put a lot of effort into staying on top of the sound. I’m not suggesting anything’s going on other than Wilson’s not as young as he once was and that’s starting to show a bit. This is still a great song that I’m enjoying listening to. Added note: Charlie’s currently on tour. He’ll be at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on March 15. Those who have expendable cash would likely enjoy the experience. It’s nice to know that Oklahoma can produce something other than country musicians.

Come Through And Chill – Miguel, J. Cole

Come Through and Chill is one of the more contemporary sounds in the R&B categories and, like a lot of people, I’m still wondering if the original title might have been Netflix and Chill because this is exactly that kind of song. I can see the streaming service not approving of the reference, though. The instrumentation here is rather thin compared to others in the category but the touch fits the song. What doesn’t fit as well is the rapped bridge or the rather creepy idea that it takes three guys to convince someone to come over and hang out. I mean, those other two guys aren’t staying, are they? Or is Miguel only trolling for kinky mates? Not that it matters, I suppose, but it just seems a bit heavy-handed, dude.

Feels Like Summer – Childish Gambino

Can an R&B song be too smooth for its own good? Feels Like Summer pushes that envelope a little harder than necessary. This is one of those songs that is so consistent in rhythm and dynamics that it can sit in the background and no one notice. Seriously, the needles on the mixing board couldn’t have moved the entire song to get a sound this consistent. I’m not saying the song is boring, mind you. Feels Like Summer is a cool song and deserves a spot on everyone’s summer playlist. We need songs like this. Do we need them winning Grammy awards, though? Probably not. Were this to become a trend, we’d all be falling asleep in places where we don’t need to be falling asleep.

Focus – H.E.R

Oh, wait, everything I just said about Feels Like Summer? Copy and paste that here as well. The deathblow for this song is the harp on hyper reverb. Listening to that, all brain function shuts down and one immediately enters a comatose state. This song is so smooth and so pretty that one has to focus, and focus hard, to make it all the way to the end. There’s not even enough coffee at Starbucks to help. Next time you have insomnia, give this a try; it’s safer than watching CSPAN.

Gospel/CCM

Grammy Review, Old Man Talking

Being raised in church and having played so much gospel music over the eons one might think that the Gospel/Contemporary Christian Music genre would be my favorite. It’s not. It used to be, back some 40 years ago, but I don’t even recognize this flaming pile of horse manure. Out of everything we listened to here, only two dared to mention God and only one directly referenced scripture (totally out of context). What these categories have become is little more than subpar R&B songs that were too weak to run in a regular category. These are songs designed for the megachurch, for people who want to be seen going to church but don’t want the burden of having to actually believe anything. I had to listen to two hours of hymns after I finished this category. B. B. McKinney has to be rolling in his grave.

You Will Win – Jekalyn Carr

This feel-good pseudo-Christian garbage is yet another in a too-long line of megachurch anthems that has no depth or spiritual meaning to it at all. If one is looking for any mention of God they’re not going to find it here. Why? Because God would just get in the way of You. This is a bastardization of the gospel that encourages people to focus on what they can do, not what Jesus can do through them. The line “Lay hands on your money” sent me straight to the nearest trash can so I could vomit. I’m willing to give contemporary gospel songs a little leeway, but this is so far over the line that one has to say “enough” and turn off the nonsense. I’d rather listen to Stryper.

Won’t He Do It – Koryn Hawthorne

Unlike the other songs in this category, Won’t He Do It wasn’t actually recorded for church so, in a way, it’s unfair to hold it to those standards. Won’t He Do It is from the soundtrack to the television series Greenleaf, which is all about the dark underside of a Memphis-based megachurch in trouble with the IRS, the FBI, and a whole list of other folks. One has to guess they’re not sitting in much favor with God, either. Of course, TV church is nothing like real church, even though the average megachurch does its best to present that level of production every Sunday. This song is heavily produced in a way that strips it of any form of sincerity. The R&B feel is too easily adaptable for mainstream audiences and has no real message to it. Perhaps it was popular with fans of the series, but it is not a seriously Christian song.

Never Alone – Tori Kelly with Kirk Franklin

Kirk Franklin has had a strong influence on gospel music for several years so it’s not the least bit surprising to see this song on the list of nominees simply on the power of his presence alone. While Franklin does get writing credit on the song as well, though, his actual participation is limited to about five seconds worth of an excerpt from a sermon. That’s it. Five seconds. The rest of the song is solid R&B. Ms. Kelly has a pleasant-enough voice and the song doesn’t make any critical errors. As an R&B song, it’s rather nice, though probably not a Grammy nominee. What this song is not is Gospel. Five seconds of Kirk doesn’t cut it. Insert eye roll here.

Cycles – Jonathan McReynolds with DOE

Recorded live, Cycles brings the sounds of church to the background of this song almost like orchestrated vocals. We hear the audience when the engineer decides we need to hear the audience, punctuating McReynolds’ vocals. In one sense, this song distinguishes itself within the category by actually mentioning “the devil.” Nowever, none of that does enough to keep this from sounding like the anthem for an overly-enthusiastic twelve-step group. If anything, the song is dismissive and disrespectful of mental illness, which is a problem the contemporary church has failed to address adequately. Too much of the song wastes time suggesting that one’s faith is a cure for depression. No. Do not listen to that tripe. Get yourself to a professional and get some real help. If one really needs help breaking the cycles of mental illness and destructive behavior, see a therapist.

A Great Work – Brian Courtney Wilson

A Great Work is the only song in the gospel category that is actually based on scripture: Philippians 1:6. The verse reads thus:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

There is a temptation here to think, “Finally, a gospel song that dares to quote the Bible!” Unfortunately, that excitement wanes as one listens to the song and gets the impression that everyone is little more than God’s Home Improvement Project and that once  he’s done with you he’s going to set you on a shelf with his other pretty little projects. The song takes the scripture completely out of context (not the first time that’s happened). I’m sure it’s another song that’s fun to perform in front of an enthusiastic audience and I know from experience how easily one can mistake the thrill of that excitement for something it absolutely is not: the presence of deity. Health and prosperity is not the gospel of Jesus and, regrettably, that’s where this song goes, right down the trash chute.

Reckless Love – Cory Asbury

One has to be theologically brain dead to even pen the words “reckless love of God.” How is it remotely possible for God to be reckless about anything? Are we saying that our relationship with God is haphazard, accidental, and left to chance, for that’s certainly what “reckless” infers. If that’s what one believes, I would dearly love to see the scripture they interpret as supporting that theory. This is feel-good pablum that tries to make God relatable by bringing him down to a human level when there’s zero biblical authority for doing so. God cannot be reckless about anything and still be God. If one is confused about the love of God, let me suggest one take a listen to this or this or even this. God’s love is a lot of things but reckless is not on that list.

You Say – Lauren Daigle

Lauren Daigle, Jason Ingram and Paul Mabury have written a very nice pop song with only the most distant of religious inferences.Unfortunately, the song doesn’t have any edge to it so to put it in the Pop category means it would be completely ignored. It’s totally inappropriate for CCM, though. Let’s stop playing with meaningless inferences that one has to struggle to understand. Gospel music needs to take to heart the words of the apostle Paul at the beginning of his letter to the Romans: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ…” I am rapidly growing tired of repeating myself in this category.

Joy – For King & Country

Are megachurches doing Vegas-style production numbers now? That’s exactly what this song feels like. Drop down the mirror ball and turn on the lasers. The music itself is dance worthy and the oft-repeated line of “let him move you” is just the sort of phrase to get a pentecostal congregation on its feet. I can see this being really popular with those dear souls who show up for church on Sunday still half-lot from Saturday night. Turn up the volume and everybody bust a move. Perhaps next they’ll install a full-service bar in place of the communion table. I’m sure that will really help attendance. You do know I’m being sarcastic, right? Please nod your head in rhythm if you understand.

Grace Got You – Mercy Me

Another dance song? I know it has been a minute since I darkened the door of a church, but the line, “You just got away with somethin’” doesn’t seem to fly with the basic tenets of Christianity. If anything, this sounds more like someone added a few extra voices to the hook of a hip-hop song. Using the word “grace” doesn’t make the song Christian any more than cracking one egg on a sidewalk makes an omelette.

Known – Tauren Wells

Known is a very pleasant pop love song. Sing it to your significant other on Valentine’s Day, it’s perfect for that. Actually, this cliché ridden song is more appropriate for a 14-year-old audience that still has fantasies about perfect love and hasn’t been jaded by being dumped via Facebook. What’s Christian about the song? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I’m done.

General Field

Grammys Review, Old Man Talking

Finally, and thank you for sticking in there this long, are the awards that are televised, the ones that everyone cares most about. Sure, getting any Grammy is a career booster, but getting Song of the year or Record of the year is bankable in terms of negotiating deals with record labels. It’s reasonably safe to say that all these songs have already received a great deal of airplay, have had their spot on the Billboard charts, and sold hundreds of thousands if not millions of units. Winning in one of these categories typically means another bump in sales and can help boost a winter tour. These are biggest awards on the list so let’s see what we’ve got.

I Like It – Cardi B. et, al

Cardi B has been immensely popular this year, even putting herself in the middle of some political conversations. All of her non-musical activities translates to huge sales of her songs. What’s interesting about her nomination this year is that the song isn’t an original. Instead, it’s a cover of Pete Rodriguez’s 1967 Boobaloo hit, I LIke It Like That. The original was extremely important to New York’s Latino community and the revival of the song has brought some of that excitement back, even though all the “guest” artists Cardi piles on is perhaps a bit excessive. The song is so popular that there’s even a four-second clip, and a brightly smiling Cardi, in Pepsi’s lead Superbowl ad. However, interestingly enough, it is the only nominee in the Best Record category that isn’t nominated elsewhere. That could be a sign that it doesn’t quite have what it takes to win this year.

*The Joke – Brandi Carlile

I’m still trying to figure out how this song, released in November of 2017, qualifies for this year’s awards. The song, part of a massive undertaking by Carlile and Nashville producer Dave Cobb, was the first release from the album, By The Way, I Forgive You. The rock-country aria is dedicated to those trying desperately to survive “The Joke” of American politics. The late Paul Buckmaster provides a rich string arrangement to go with the warm piano and some pretty impressive drums. The song has been out long enough that some of its original lustre may have waned but the fact that it is nominated in multiple categories all over the list is testament to how delightfully written the song is. This is a massive song with plenty of emotion and heart. There are likely to be multiple gramophones in Carlile’s hands before the night’s over.

*This Is America – Childish Gambino

This has been Donald Glover’s year in a number of different ways. After premiering the song on Saturday Night Live, views for the video shot through the roof, instantly catapulting the song up the charts. Some have called the song frightening while others call it genius. The video is loaded with metaphors and symbolism related to race and gun violence in the US, making it one of the most important records to permeate American society this year. The challenge is whether the Recording Academy as a hole is ready to give the Best Record award to a rap song. Historically, the Academy has a thing for sentimental ballads that are easily remembered and sung by a large number of people. This Is America hardly fits that requirement. This one is unique to Glover and it’s difficult to image anyone else even attempting the song. It’s downfall may be the fact that it’s too unique.

*God’s Plan – Drake

Is Drake as popular as Childish Gambino? Does it really matter? Both musicians have some rabid fans but Drake hasn’t spilled over into the mainstream this past year in the way Donald Glover has and God’s Plan isn’t as powerful a song as This Is America. In fact, the song has some significant problems. Someone set the autotune on high for this one right from the start to the point it becomes annoying after about four seconds. Add in the fact that, like many of Drake’s songs, this one is repetitive and void of any kind of melody and it’s difficult for this song to grab hold outside its base audience. Old ears like mine have difficulty with songs like this, though. When I have difficulty identifying a melody my mind shuts off rather quickly. The song may win in another category but probably not this one.

*Shallow – Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga

No song on the list has received as much hype as has Shallow. The song from A Star Is Born has already won the Golden Globe for best song and the popularity has only grown. When Gaga called Cooper onstage to sing the song with her at a recent concert, the moment instantly went viral. That creates a problem for the Academy, though. Are they voting for the song itself or for all the public sentiment and popularity it has? To some degree, they need to consider both and no one will be terribly surprised if it wins. At the same time, though, The Joke is easily the stronger composition and this wouldn’t be the first time the Academy ignored other wins to go with a better song. This one could honestly go either way.

All The Stars – Kendrick Lamar with SZA

I’m not sure why this song was nominated. I’ve listened to it enough times to think that perhaps, just maybe, it’s SZA’s presence on the song that saved it from complete Grammy obscurity. Lamar’s parts are so heavily autotuned that one might wonder if the producer needed him in the studio at all. I’m more likely to believe that it is the song’s presence on the Black Panther soundtrack that provided the nomination for the song. Were this song to come along on its own, there’s no way it would be on this list.

Rockstar – Post Malone, 21 Savages

For old ears like mine, Post Malone’s Rockstar is difficult to hear. There are a couple of four-measure hooks that are repeated ad nauseum for a little over three and a half minutes. Add to that the fact that, at least from where I’m sitting, the song glorifies the very kind of toxic masculinity that we’re trying to remove from our society. With lyrics about “fuckin’ hoes and popin’ pillies,” this hardly seems like a song that sets a good example. I’m holding out for someone to give me an explanation of how the most offensive lyrics are somehow metaphors for something remotely redeemable. Anyone? Bueller? The comments are open below. Educate me.

*The Middle – Zedd, Maren Morris, & Grey

The Middle is a unique song in that one probably wouldn’t expect German producer Zedd to pair with a Country artist like Maren Morris. Trade rumors tell that Zedd went through twelve other people before settling on Maren. The song had a long road before its eventual release but all the careful attention to detail pays off with a song that has a light Pop feel to it that’s not too fast but not the typical ballad, either. This is an easy love song, the type of tune that might be playing on the radio when a young couple falls in love. As such, it’s well within the Academy’s standard modus operandi that the song could stand a chance of winning. However, given that it was released all the way back in January of last year and didn’t quite receive the same level of attention as The Joke, there’s some question as to whether enough Academy voters actually remember it.

*Boo’d Up – Ella Mai

In case you weren’t paying attention, Boo’d up was the romantic love song for the summer of 2018. There’s no way to count how many wedding receptions had this song on the playlist or how many relationships were brought together. The “different” song on Ella Mai’s EP Ready, even Mai wasn’t expecting the song to receive the response it has. Now she finds the easy R&B song nominated in multiple categories in addition to Song of the Year, something that hasn’t happened to a pure R&B ballad in more years than I can remember. Why the song is such a hit seems to baffle record producers but I am pretty certain it’s proof that solid song writing that pays attention to a singable melody can be a hit in any genre.

In My Blood – Shawn Mendez

In My Blood is one of those songs made for karaoke night when you’ve had a bad day and don’t care that you can’t actually sing. Generally speaking, I doubt there’s a Millennial in the US that can’t relate to this song on one level or another. In fact, that relatability is likely why it has done so well. There are emotions and experiences here that resonate with this generation of young adults more than any other song this season. Whether the song wins or loses the Grammy, it is still likely looking at a very long life on the karaoke circuit. What better way is there to address one’s miseries than by singing them out? Songs like this don’t always hit the very tops of the charts. With so much emotion and honesty present, it’s the kind of song one remembers throughout their life.

There you have it. I’ve done all my brain will allow me to do. The entire playlist of all the songs we’ve reviewed is below. We hope this has been enjoyable.


If you enjoyed this article and would like to see more like it, please consider donating now. Every little bit helps.

Old Man Talking

Awards season is here. While the Golden Globes are already passed, we still have to suffer through the Critic’s Choice Awards tonight (the 13th), the Screen Actors Guild Awards January 27, the Directors Guild Awards February 2, the GRAMMY Awards February 10, the British Academy Film Awards February 20, the Writers Guild Awards February 17, the Independent Spirit Awards February 23, and then the Academy Awards February 24. The entertainment world in general and Americans especially not only has a thing for handing out trophies but making sure everyone’s project has a chance to be recognized.

Yes, even in entertainment, we want everyone to have a chance to get a trophy.

Trophies are nice when we’re in junior high or maybe even high school. They provide a sense of accomplishment and encouragement to keep moving forward. Parents like it when their children receive trophies because it gives them the hope that perhaps, someday, their child might make something of themselves and move out of the basement.

For most people, we stop chasing trophies as adults. Sure, there are professional awards and some of those can significantly boost one’s career. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t hope each year that a project I was on might win an ADDY or CLIO award. My reasons, however, were not so much for the accolades as for the pay bump that inevitably came along with such success. Having a little trophy to take up room and collect dust didn’t then and doesn’t now have much appeal.

In the entertainment industry, though, the number of trophies one has makes a huge difference in how much one earns for subsequent projects. Women, especially, who have traditionally been severely underpaid in Hollywood, need the recognition that any one of the long list of awards can deliver. An Oscar is worth millions for many actors and actresses. One of the reasons there are so many entertainment awards is because they can have such a dramatic impact on a winner’s career.

Awards are so heavily valued in the entertainment industry because producers and studio heads are of the opinion that the buying public are more likely to spend money on well-known award winners than they are unknowns. Winning awards creates a level of fame th at results in greater box office returns and higher record sales. So, winning any one of those awards we’ve listed really matters, right?

Well, not always. Sure, there’s the short-term bump that comes from winning an award, but over time the fame that comes from winning an award fades if one doesn’t follow with yet another award of some kind. Having that bright light shining on one can also reveal some aspects of one’s life that are less than appropriate. Ultimately, in as little as one generation, chances are not high that one’s name is fondly remembered.

Time Is The Enemy Of Fame

Old Man Talking

The temporary nature of fame becomes evident every time I try talking to my 20-year-old about anything that predates his period of entertainment consciousness, which apparently didn’t kick in until somewhere around 2007. Any time I make a reference before that, with the exception of Veggie Tales or Dora the Explorer, I get back this clueless look that questions whether I’m just making up names out of thin air.

If we’re honest, though, those of us who are not true cinephiles or trivida geeks don’t relate to anyone whose career existed prior to our own period of “awakening,” whether that came with the onset of puberty or some traumatic event that found us seeking solace in a song. All those “old” movies and television shows are for the benefit of our parents, who remember when those shows and movies were new. While a handful are strong enough to survive into the contemporary lexicon, such as I Love Lucy, most programming prior to the 1990s is now locked away in a vault somewhere, waiting for a wave of nostalgia to bring them back. Even the TV Land cable network, which placate those just older than myself with multiple reruns of Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and Andy Griffith back-to-back during the morning, fill their primetime schedule with shows that, for my generation, still feel recent: King of Queens, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Two And A Half Men.

Perhaps no better example exists than going through the list of people who won Oscars for Best Actor/Actress in a Supporting Role. Without going back into “ancient history” (the 60s), consider whether you recognize any of these names:

  • Lee Grant
  • Beatrice Straight
  • Melvyn Douglas
  • Lina Hart
  • Harry S. Niger
  • Peggy Ashcroft
  • Dianne Wiest
  • Mercedes Ruehl
  • Geoffrey Rush
  • Roberto Benigni
  • Benicio Del Toro
  • Marcia Gay Harden
  • Jim Broadbent

Chances are very high that if one is under the age of 40 that none of those names mean anything. There are even two names in that list who won for leading roles but are not actively remembered outside the narrow community of those committed to such trivia.

For those who do genuinely remember some of those names, the list is somewhat tragic. There are actors and actresses that were really big deals back in their heyday but didn’t receive their Oscar until shortly before their deaths. Others represent once-bright flames that never managed to reach their perceived potential for whatever reason.

Our point is that fame is a very momentary experience that simply doesn’t last for the majority of those who achieve it. One can spend a lifetime chasing after a trophy but within a decade after their passing their name, and achievements, are all but forgotten.

This brings us to a critical life question: if what we’re doing isn’t going to last, then why are we doing it?

Let’s take a look at three times when entertainment awards didn’t do much to help anyone’s long-term popularity at all, then we will examine what is a better personal goal than trying to become famous.   

A Vanishing Legacy

Old Man Talking

When one looks at the list of primetime Emmy winners in the comedy category, one sees some pretty impressive names: Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore, Jean Stapleton, Valerie Harper and Bea Arthur. Sandwiched in between Lucy’s and Jean’s wins, though, is the name Hope Lange. If that name doesn’t immediately  ring a bell, you’re not alone. One would have to be of “the greatest generation,” or somewhere close to that, to remember the actress who won the award for Best Actress in a Comedy both in 1969 and 1970. The show ran for two seasons on NBC and one on ABC before being completely cancelled.

Ms. Lange’s career spanned from 1942 to 1998. It was movies that first made her famous. When she was cast in Bus Stop with Marilyn Monroe, the famous blonde was so jealous of Lange that she pressured the film’s producer to have Lange’s blonde hair dyed a light brown. That still didn’t keep Lange from walking away with and marrying the film’s leading man, Don Murray.

In fact, Ms. Lange was considered a bit of a bombshell on her own during her youth. Many thought it downright scandalous when she was cast in the 1957 movie Peyton Place, which was considered so risqué at the time that many theatres refused to show it. She dropped Murray for an affair with actor Glenn Ford, her co-star in Pocketful Of Miracles, then married producer Alan Pakula who she later divorced so she could date Frank Sinatra, who was later replaced by novelist John Cheever. She so often played the sultry sexpot in films that she became typecast to that kind of role, which might explain why her television career in more tame roles tended to struggle.

Even though she won the Emmy in her category two years in a row, her performance was not enough to save a show that came of mild up against My Three Sons and The Lawrence Welk Show while on NBC. When the series moved to ABC, it had the bad luck of being on against Family Affair, [No, if you’re under the age of 40 you’ve likely never heard of any of those shows. Trust me, they were big at the time.] What’s worth noting there is a sad reality of television preferences in the 70s. Each of those shows beating Ms. Lange in the ratings was male-dominated programs that fed into the long-standing patriarchal view that was at times rather heavy-handed. It would take Mary Tyler Moore, whose show started in 1970 on a different network, to prove that women could handle a primetime series on their own (Lucille Ball was considered an anomaly that couldn’t be duplicated).

By the time Ms. Lange was cast in her final roles in Message from Nam and Clear and Present Danger, she was already seen as “that old actress whose face you sort-of recognize but can’t remember from where.” Her final appearance was at the 40th anniversary celebration of Peyton Place in 1998. When she died in 2003, hardly anyone outside the industry bothered to notice.

Lange’s fading fame is a perfect example of how quickly and easily history ignores those whose legacy is thin. Contemporaries who tended to put Ms. Lange and Ms. Monroe in the same basket have wondered if the latter’s continued legend might have suffered a fate similar to Lange’s had she not died when she did. Would we still remember Marilyn Monroe if she had filled the late 60s and 70s with projects that never captured the public’s enthusiasm as the star grew older? Hollywood has never been kind to aging actresses and it has only been through the persistent insistence of people such as Glenn Close and Dame Maggie Smith that women have secured notable roles and awards past the age of 40.

With more new programming being produced now than ever in the history of visual entertainment, the opportunity for momentary fame is within the reach of more people than ever and millions of people are grasping for that brass ring. Sadly, that most likely means there will be millions more people winning awards whose names are quickly forgotten.

A Bright Light Slowly Dimmed.

Old Man Talking

Anyone who was alive in the United States in 1977 likely remembers the song You Light Up My Life. Winning both the Golden Globe and Academy Award for best original song, it broke records at the time, staying at number one on the Billboard charts for an unprecedented ten weeks, more than the Beatles’ Hey Jude. Even after slipping from the number one position, the song remained on the charts seemingly forever. By the time it disappeared, radio DJs were so tired of playing the song that many broke their copy and vowed to never play it again.

And they didn’t.

If ever there was a song that represents famed denied, this is it. On one hand, Debby Boone, the daughter of squeaky-clean singer Pat Boone (you know, the guy with the white loafers) shot from complete obscurity to instant stardom only to fall back into obscurity. For the better part of a year, Ms. Boone was everywhere, on all the important talk shows, on variety shows and television specials, and in all the music-related magazines.

The song was trouble from the start, though, and that trouble continues to haunt the legacy not only of Ms. Boone but two other people closely connected to the song.

You see, Debby Boone was not supposed to be the person who recorded the hit. In fact, if one watches the movie of the same name, for which the song was written, it is not Ms. Boone’s voice they hear, but that of Ukrainian coloratura Kasey Cisyk. When writer Joseph Brookes hired Ms. Cisyk to record the song, he told her that her version would be released as the single. By all rights, it should have been Ms. Cisyk, not Ms. Boone, that shot to fame with the song.

Brookes changed his mind, however, and decided to re-record the song with Ms. Boone, who was carefully coached to specifically imitate every detail of Ms. Cisyk’s version, right down to where and how she breathed. Only in the movie’s credits is Ms. Cisyk given any recognition. Even on the Original Soundtrack recording, the song is credited to “Original Cast,” not Ms. Cisyk. Ms. Cisyk continued recording jingles such as “You deserve a break today,” and “Have you driven a Ford lately,” before dying of breast cancer the day before her 45th birthday in 1998.

Joe Brookes, who wrote the song and the movie script as well as directed the movie may have thought he’d win by double-crossing Ms. Cisyk, but life didn’t turn out so well for him, either. The movie itself, starring Didi Conn in the lead role, bombed. By the time the song fell off the charts, not only were people tired of hearing about it but the industry was tired of Brooke’s overbearing and blatant self-promotion. He fell into the same obscurity as his song.

That didn’t stop Brookes from trying to play himself off as a top Hollywood director, though, and in 2009 he was indicted for multiple “casting couch” rapes. He was, in contemporary terms, the precursor to the #MeToo movement. Brookes never came to trial, however, choosing to hang himself while still in jail in 2011. Only the jailer and Brookes’ victims noticed.

Life hasn’t necessarily been all bad for Debby Boone. If one pays attention to certain sub-genres of Christian music they’ve likely seen some of her occasional projects popping up there from time to time. She also married one of the sons of Rosemary Clooney (George’s aunt), who was herself a major musical powerhouse of the post-war era. After Ms. Clooney passed in 2003, Ms. Boone recorded a tribute album in 2005, covering some of her late mother-in-law’s hits. The album met with marginal success among Ms. Clooney’s fans in the soft jazz community. She has, at the very least, managed to stay busy even if she’s nowhere near the limelight she was in 1977.

You Light Up My Life proves that fame can be manufactured for a moment but the level of manipulation and deception required to make that happen is unsustainable and ultimately leaves everyone associated with it in relative obscurity, hiding from the very thing that put the light on them in the first place.

When The Laughter Stopped

Old Man Talking

More recently, the star of Monique Angela Imes, known professionally as Mo’Nique, is one that seemed poised to shine among the brightest of the bright. After winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2009 for her role in the movie Precious, she was given her own late night talk show on the BET network. In 2015, she received an Emmy Award nomination for her role as Ma Rainey in the HBO film Bessie. Everything seemed to be going well.

Then, it all stopped.

When something like this happens the rumors start flying and it would be inappropriate for me to repeat those here. For her part, Mo’Nique has publicly stated that she blames Lee Daniels, Tyler Perry, and Oprah Winfrey, all important figures in black entertainment, for blackballing her. While such a move does not seem characteristic of any of those people without sufficient reason, they have not responded publicly to the claim so we’ll just have to let that go.

One criticism that has been documented is that Mo’Nique refused to participate in some of the publicity effort around the movie Precious. We all know how that works: weeks before a movie hits theaters, stars are assigned to do interviews on various talk shows and other media outlets as part of the publicity for the film. For the vast majority of actors, even major names, participating in such efforts is in their contract with the studio. Refusing to participate in publicity is certainly something that would give a studio pause before hiring a person again.

Another significant possibility, though, is that Mo’Nique’s brand of comedy did not change as the attitude of the country did. We’ve seen this happen with other comedians whose careers on the backside of the #MeToo movement are taking a rapid nosedive.

Earlier in her career Mo’Nique was known for saying”White and black people, we’re just mad at each other, we don’t know why we’re mad at each other. We’re not each other’s enemy. We’re not the enemy. It’s the Chinese people we need to watch out for.” Where jokes like that drew applause back in 2000, by the middle of President Obama’s second term it was becoming increasingly obvious that a disturbing number of people do look at people of color as the enemy. The old jokes stopped being funny.

Mo’Nique has not been off the main stage all that long so I was surprised that when I asked ten people over the age of 25 if they remembered her, it was only the white comedian who did. Her fame among mass audiences has disappeared. That’s not to say she still couldn’t make a comeback. Mo’Nique is a strong and courageous woman for whom anything is possible, but her path back is going to be more difficult than it was the first time.

The Futility of Chasing A Prize

Old Man Talking

There are a lot of awards and prizes that are given to people outside the entertainment industry, but few others have the ability to bestow any significant level of fame outside one’s own industry. Getting one of those shiny trophies, at least in certain categories, pretty much guarantees one a spot on the talk show circuit for the next fifteen minutes or so and a host of new project offers with enticing salaries attached. When entertainment contracts can be worth several million dollars, going after that trophy can seem like a worthwhile effort.

For most people, however, chasing after a trophy or some other prize often ends up rather futile. Perhaps the greatest prize in the United States is that of President. Surely, if there is anything capable of cementing a person’s legacy, winning the presidency would do it. Rutherford B. Hayes might argue with that supposition, however.

As nasty and partisan as contemporary elections have become, we’ve yet to come close to the nastiness of the 1876 campaign that elected Hayes as the 19th president. With the South still in turmoil and the political process largely handled by corrupt state-level poll bosses, the election was so contentious it was not finalized until an act of Congress recognized Hayes as the winner a mere two days prior to the March 4 inauguration.

As part of the deal made in Congress, however, Reconstruction policies in the South ended immediately and with it any chance former slaves had of achieving any of the civil rights they had been promised by President Grant’s administration. Policies toward native peoples suffered as well. In the end, most historians consider Hayes one of the most ineffective and unimportant presidents to ever hold the office. Hence, the reason many people don’t even know his name. Winning the prize is futile when one doesn’t do anything worthwhile in the aftermath.

Fame is a right now, in the moment type of recognition. Once the moment is gone, so is the attention that comes with it. While an elite few are expert enough it chaining together one moment after another, the vast majority fall short even though they may possess superior talent and skill.

When we allow winning the prize to become our primary focus and goal, we place ourselves on a merry-go-round that gives one no opportunity but perpetuates a cycle of chasing the next, bigger, louder, brighter, better-paying moment in hopes of winning the next statue or trophy. When life ultimately tosses one off that merry-go-round, often aggressively, one often finds themselves wandering in random circles on a downward spiral into oblivion.

Defining Success On More Intelligent Terms

Old Man Talking

When we win awards in junior high and high school, they’re meant to be motivational; they encourage us to achieve and do well and for a lot of people that motivation has worked as long as they were in high school. Beyond that, however, the method tends to break down. Life and work are not the structured environment we have in school. School makes it safe for us to focus on something without the worry of paying bills or feeding a family (in most cases). Unfortunately, as much as that might help one learn necessary skills or information, it does little to prepare us for the harsh realities of life.

Outside of the educational system, awards and their associated fame are not so much motivational as they are distracting rabbit holes. Sure, everyone likes winning an award, but in the real life those trophies and any resulting fame have to be secondary goals to prevent one’s career from flaming out unnoticed.

Perhaps we would do better to define success not by what awards and trophies we’ve won but by the happiness we generate in our own lives and the differences we make in the lives of others. I am convinced that people who are not happy with themselves first are unable to be a positive influence for change on anything outside themselves.

While we can sit and argue all day over what constitutes happiness in anyone’s life, there are some characteristics that are commonplace no matter what it ultimately is that makes one happy.

  • The ability to do something well.
  • Enjoying doing that thing we do well.
  • We are not overwhelmed by what we do
  • We can momentarily set aside that thing we do to enjoy other things
  • We are not jealous of nor threatened by others who do the same thing well.

For some people, finding that thing we do well comes naturally, a talent or skill with which we seem born. Others struggle to figure out what that thing is, trying first one item and then another. There are a couple of important considerations when looking for that thing one does well. 1. What we do may be something quite simple, such as mowing the lawn or folding laundry. The level of complication in what we do in no way diminishes the importance of what we do. 2. What we do well may change. We are not stuck being the same people our entire lives. If we are 68 years old and discover something new that we do well, there’s no reason to not change up and do that thing.

One also needs to realize that some things we do well we may not enjoy doing. Inversely, things we do enjoy are not necessarily things we do well. Let’s take music as an example. I have a bachelors degree in piano. Playing piano is something I do well, but I do not enjoy practicing enough for it to be the center of my happiness. While I enjoy playing occasionally, it is one of the other things I do, not the main thing. At the same time, I love singing. Unfortunately, I’m not especially good at it. If I were good at it I would consider letting that be my main thing but even the dogs leave the room when I sing. I do better to put my focus on photography, which, for me, meets both goals.

When those five elements come together in harmony, then we have found our secret to being happy. Not someone else’s secret, mind you, because, as we’ve said often before, what works for someone else does not necessarily work for us. Our happiness lies first within ourselves and what we do.

I Want To Dance With Somebody

Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson is often quoted as defining success as follows:

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate the beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch Or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.

While we might, in contemporary terms, question whether one needs respect from anyone outside themselves or whether honest critics actually exist, Emerson’s last line is where the gold is found: “to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.”

There you go, that’s the ultimate award, knowing that at least one life has had some moment of relief, had an opportunity to breathe, because you were there. Winning this award doesn’t necessarily require one to climb mountains or weigh a certain amount or look a certain way or love specific people. Winning at life is not about accumulating a wall full of trophies or the largest bank account or taking the most exotic vacation. Winning at life is about holding a child’s hand as they walk into a new school for the first time. Winning at life is when we look at the server who spilled the soup and smile, then add an extra ten percent to our tip. Winning at life is when we hire the felon who no one wants to give a chance because, once upon a time, he sold pot.

We misunderstand success if we, for even a moment, think that it is about us and our happiness. Success is when we take that thing we do well and love and use that thing to better the lives of other people.

Across his many books, the late philosopher Alan Watts warned that we err when we look at life as a journey with a starting point, an ending point, and a prize at the end. Instead, he insisted, we must realize that life is the dance that is happening right now, that both future and past are illusions. In his opinion, we waste time and effort when we overthink and overanalyze. “Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes,” he said. “Zen … is just to peel the potatoes.”

When we look at life as a dance, a moment to experience and share rather than a line of goals to be met, we put ourselves in a position to help that one life breathe easier. The best dances are not those we dance alone but those we share with others. Dancing together, we have no need for awards or trophies or fame, we only have need of what we can share with each other right now.

As you go through the coming week, I challenge you to consider how we are approaching our lives. Do we live for the awards shows, the red carpets, and the shiny trophies, or do we live for the dance, sharing our happiness with a goal of making a difference in the lives of others?

You must choose for you. As for me, I want to dance with somebody.

A Dog Story

I will admit to not always being the nicest person in the world. As I get older, and older, I no longer feel constantly compelled to go out of my way for other people, especially if those people are ones I find generally annoying.

So it is in this story, which I’ll tell quickly rather than dragging it out for 5,000 words [trust me, I could do that]. Anyone who has been to our house in the past two years has met our dogs. One doesn’t get a choice. While it’s possible to miss a cat or two, depending on the time and how long one stays, no one misses the dogs. They won’t let themselves be missed.

They’re good boys, both of them. One’s a hound, the kind one might take hunting if one were of the mind to do so. He’s an endurance animal who can run forever. The other is a pit/lab mix. He’s more of a sprinter who looks fierce as hell but actually is the biggest snuggle bug in the house. He’s convinced he’s supposed to live in someone’s lap.

A Dog Story
Belvedere and Hamilton

Because our dogs like to run and bark at anything, I rarely pay too much attention to the noise they’re making outside. Unless I hear the shouts of a human in the mix, I assume that they’re just issuing warnings to anyone, or anything, they think might try to invade their yard, especially squirrels. 

On Fridays, the garbage trucks run through our neighborhood in multiples. The dogs tend to be vocal at trucks of any kind, but the sanitation workers riding the back of the trucks talk back to the dogs so they’re especially loud when those trucks come through. We’ve grown used to it and rather ignore the noise the dogs make on Fridays. As long as the dogs are secured inside the fence, everything’s cool.

The dogs have also enjoyed the cooler weather this week. There have been days when they only came inside to eat then wanted right back out. I don’t mind too much. When they’re outside, one can safely sit on the sofa without risking 70 pounds of wiggle jumping into your lap. 

This afternoon, they had been lying around outside, enjoying the weather, when something grabbed their attention. First it was the mail carrier, who they always “talk” with in a loud and obnoxious manner. Then, it was a neighbor walking his little morsel of a dog on the other side of the street. There were enough people coming and going, along with the garbage trucks, that I tuned out all their barking.

However, around 2:30 I became aware that the guys had been barking non-stop for several minutes. What was more strange is that they weren’t barking at the same thing. Belvedere was at the front of the house and Hamilton was at the side gate. Both were running back and forth along the fence line, making sure whatever was out there knew that the border was not to be breached.

Then, in a most uncharacteristic move, I heard Hamilton move to the front of the house, right next to the front door. Typically, the dogs stay right at the fence. They don’t back down. Hamilton had moved and his bark now had a bit of a growl to it, indicating he was upset by something. Perhaps it was time I took a look.

At first I didn’t see the cause of the problem. Hamilton had taken off around the side of the house again, out of view and, to make the story bizarre, Belvedere was barking at a young man standing at the front gate with a fishing pole. There is not a fishable body of water anywhere near us so I can understand why the dog was confused.

While I can see out the windows, however, seeing in, especially from the street, is almost impossible during the day. When a neighbor across the street came out to see what the commotion was about, the young man asked her if anyone here was home. She replied that she wasn’t sure, but warned the young man to not mess with the dogs. 

I’m sitting here giggling. At this point, I still don’t know why the young man with the fishing pole is at our gate. Obviously, he feels some need to come inside the fence but the dogs are making sure that he’s not going to get the chance.

A Dog Story
Outside, on patrol

I get up and walk to the kitchen to refill my coffee. That’s when I see the second young man, a little heavier and with large knit cap on his head, the point of the cap sticking up in such a way I’m reminded of the Coneheads skits from Saturday Night Live

Now I’m laughing. This is the most entertainment I’ve seen outside in quite a while. I told you, I’m not always nice. I could see no good reason for the young men to come into our yards and the dogs were doing exactly what they’re supposed to do. Why would I disturb that?

When I returned to the front window, though, I finally saw what had the young men so concerned about getting into the yard. There, in the grass, was a small drone. Not the expensive commercial kind, mind you. One that they had probably picked up at Target or some similar place for $30 or so. It’s batteries had failed, right over our yard. The fishing equipment was an unsuccessful attempt to snag the drone without having to physically cross the fence.

By now, the boys had a look of desperation on their face. Between barks, I could hear them contemplating whether to just leave the drone and come back when they saw a vehicle in the driveway. Understandably, they were a bit worried that the dogs might destroy the drone in their absence. 

I took a giant sip of the coffee and decided to go save the drone before the young men took a risk they might regret. The look of relief on their faces was priceless and they were exuberant in expressing their thanks. They promised to make sure the drone would never land in our yard again and headed back toward their home.

Hamilton chased the young men around the fence to make sure they were actually leaving while Belvedere looked up with an expression that seemed to ask, “But what am I supposed to play with now?” Both dogs followed me back inside, promptly jumping on the couch so they could both try to fit into my lap. 

Dogs are so much fun and the older I get the more entertained I am by just how fearful people are by these two snuggle butts. Granted, I’ve little doubt that they would not be kind to anyone who did dare to cross the fence without Kat or I out there. They are extremely protective, especially when the kids are present. Still, they’re not the ferocious beasts our neighbors seem to think.

I’m the only one here who’s mean.

A Dog Story

Old Man Talking

Grammy® Award nominees represent the best of the previous year’s music but the Old Man found he recognized few of them. So, experts were called in to help.

January is here which means that awards season is upon us. 2017 saw a lot of artistic offerings across all the major forms of media, but when it comes to individually evaluating those choices only one area is really practical: music.

Sure, I would love to have the time to watch every movie or television program nominated for an award and heaven would be the ability to see every Broadway production so as to make intelligent Tony award predictions. No one is paying me for any of that, however, and the lights don’t stay on by themselves. Music is the only one where we can listen to the nominated songs and make reasonable predictions as to which might win, or which should win.

Pulling up the list of this year’s Grammy nominees, however, I discovered that I had a significant problem: I don’t know who any of these people are! What is a SZA? Why doesn’t Childish Gambino grow up? Why did someone write a song about a very specific time (4:44) and did we really need another song about a phone number (1-800-273-8255) when I still have 867-5349 stuck in my head from 30+ years ago?

That was when I realized that I have a fundamental flaw hampering my ability to judge the quality of music fairly: I’m old. My ears are no longer well-tuned to the sounds and nuances of contemporary music. I expect a discernible melody somewhere in the song. I expect a song to be about something, anything, even if it’s a duck. And, silly me, I really would like it if the people performing the music demonstrated some relationship to humanity.

Obviously, I need some help, an assistant who is younger, more in tune with today’s sounds. Someone who enjoys music and isn’t jaded by what seems to be a descent into a non-melodic hell. Yes, I realize that in typing that statement I sound exactly like my parents did in the 70s.

Fortunately, we have two such beings attached to our family and, on a particular day, we chose to listen to the nominees, an extra being filling the age gap between the first two. Since this is the Internet and not everyone reading can be trusted, we’ll refer to them as Li’l G, age 9, Tipster, age 7, and Extra Kid, age 8. The only question is whether I could get them to listen to music objectively for hours on end?

Knowing children as I do, I only had to say the magic word: party! They were all three instantly ready and eager to participate. Whether they would be able to endure through the duration of the project was uncertain but they were my best shot at getting a reasonably objective opinion even if we couldn’t reach a consensus on which songs are best.

Obviously, I didn’t subject the children to every category that the Grammy’s list. After all, there are 84 categories with five nominees per category. That makes for something in the neighborhood of 420 songs.  We would be here for days, especially considering that a hefty number of those are album categories. We just don’t have that kind of time. I also eliminated categories where the nominated songs were heavily laced with profanity (inappropriate for children) and instrumental genres that would be likely to put the kids to sleep. I also eliminated a couple of categories I knew would leave me heaving into a trash can.

Our end result isn’t necessarily a straightforward prediction of who will win and more of an opinion as to who should win. I tried talking with my young cohorts about the music and sometimes they gave me decent and surprising answers but other times there were rather ambivalent, especially with genres where the music tends to be slower and less enthusiastic. Children don’t chill. Ever.

I’ll add more analysis toward the end, but for now, let’s focus on the nominations and the various choices.

[siteorigin_widget class=”WP_Widget_Custom_HTML”][/siteorigin_widget]
[siteorigin_widget class=”WP_Widget_Media_Image”][/siteorigin_widget]

Record of the Year

This is where we started, which sounds like it would be a strong beginning. It wasn’t. The nominees are:

  • Redbone

     Childish Gambino

  • Despacito

     Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber

  • The Story Of O.J.

     JAY-Z

  • HUMBLE.

     Kendrick Lamar

  • 24K Magic

     Bruno Mars

The kids thought Redbone was creepy and didn’t understand the point of The Story of O.J. so, those two were out of the running from the beginning. Despacito, not surprisingly, all three knew and could sing along with in Spanish. The Extra Kid has Hispanic roots so she was especially fond of this one. The Tipster liked HUMBLE at first but then changed her vote to 24K Magic along with Li’l G. They both love Bruno Mars and the fact they can dance to his music is a large part of the reason why. In fact, there’s a bit of “American Bandstand” philosophy to their entire approach. If they can’t dance to a song they’re not as likely to enjoy it.

Personally, I fully expect Despacito to win this one if none of the others for which it is nominated. The song dominated airplay a majority of the year and even if we’re a bit sick of hearing it now that doesn’t diminish the way in which it impacted the entire music scene for 2017.

Song of the Year

Curious about the difference between the Record of the Year and Song of the Year? Easy: Song of the Year is the songwriter’s award while Record of the Year is directed more toward the artist (though producers and engineers get trophies for that one as well). Not that the kids cared, especially when there were duplicate nominees. The choices are:

  • Despacito

     Ramon Ayala Rodriguez, Justin Bieber, Jason Boyd, Erika Ender, Luis Fonsi & Marty James Garton Jr, songwriters (Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber)

  • 4:44

     Shawn Carter & Dion Wilson, songwriters (JAY-Z)

  • Issues

     Benny Blanco, Mikkel Storleer Eriksen, Tor Erik Hermansen, Julia Michaels & Justin Drew Tranter, songwriters (Julia Michaels)

  • 1-800-273-8255

     Alessia Caracciolo, Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, Arjun Ivatury, Khalid Robinson & Andrew Taggart, songwriters (Logic Featuring Alessia Cara & Khalid)

  • That’s What I Like

     Christopher Brody Brown, James Fauntleroy, Philip Lawrence, Bruno Mars, Ray Charles McCullough II, Jeremy Reeves, Ray Romulus & Jonathan Yip, songwriters (Bruno Mars)

All three kids went with That’s What I Like. Two primary factors dominated here: 1) they already knew the song well, and 2) they could dance all over the room. For them, this was an easy decision. 4:44 was too confusing and convoluted for them and while they appreciated what 1-800-273-8255 tries to say the serious tone ends up being a real downer for them. They didn’t like how they felt after listening to it. Issues was pretty much a “meh” from them. That’s What I Like had them on their feet, which was welcome after the other four songs. These kids don’t like music that brings them down.

My take, however, is that 1-800-273-8255 is the right song for the right time. My concern is that I’ve not heard it before this listening, which means it probably hasn’t dominated airplay enough to win the Grammy. Suicide is a huge issue, though, and while these kids may not be dealing with the issue yet, there are plenty of teens and young adults who are.

Best Pop Solo Performance

Pop is the genre kids hear the most. They’re teachers play it at school and they stream it on their devices. They knew both the songs and the artists before we started listening so this is probably their most objective choice. The nominees are:

  • Love So Soft

     Kelly Clarkson

  • Praying

     Kesha

  • Million Reasons

     Lady Gaga

  • What About Us

     Pink

  • Shape Of You

     Ed Sheeran

What immediately caught the kids’ attention is that this is the only category that isn’t dominated by male artists. This is a problem for the industry. When even little ones notice that women are not represented as much as men record labels, music promoters, and radio execs should probably take notice. This isn’t the place to get neck-deep into the issue but women need to be more present in this field. After saying all that, though, all three kids voted for Shape Of You. They love the song and, quite honestly, it probably is more the song than who sings it that matters to them. Sorry, Ed.

For my money, though, Pink’s What About Us strikes me as the strongest of the nominees and all five nominated songs are pretty strong. All are going to have plenty of support, but Pink probably comes closest to capturing the emotion most of the nation is currently feeling.

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

There was a lot of talk about this category as, again, the kids were up dancing pretty much through the entire set. They wavered back and forth quite a bit before making a decision. The nominees are:

  • Something Just Like This

     The Chainsmokers & Coldplay

  • Despacito

     Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber

  • Thunder

     Imagine Dragons

  • Feel It Still

     Portugal. The Man

  • Stay

     Zedd & Alessia Cara

Of the group, only Stay had the kids yawning. The girls went with Something Just Like This. They were singing along while dancing their little hearts out. Li’l G, though, preferred the rhythmic Thunder. He said he liked being able to “feel” the music. Feel It Still probably came in a hard second place for them though there were moments they stopped dancing and asked, “huh? What’s that talking about?” Well … uhm … let’s just say “big kid stuff” for now.

I’m going with Li’l G on this one. Imagine Dragons has a song here that makes it almost impossible to sit still. Perhaps even more important is that one doesn’t quickly get the urge to strangle someone after hearing it three or four times in a row. The race is likely to be tight but I think they can come out on top to take home the Grammy.

[siteorigin_widget class=”WP_Widget_Media_Image”][/siteorigin_widget]
[siteorigin_widget class=”WP_Widget_Media_Image”][/siteorigin_widget]

Best Rock Performance

Rock is a more adult-oriented genre so I wasn’t sure how well the kids would handle the categories. All three kids live in homes where rock is a regular part of the household playlists, though, so they did better than I expected. The nominees are:

  • You Want It Darker

     Leonard Cohen

  • The Promise

     Chris Cornell

  • Run

     Foo Fighters

  • No Good

     Kaleo

  • Go To War

     Nothing More

I understand why the late Leonard Cohen is on this list. You Want It Darker is a moving summation of his life and career. I get it. The kids, however, were begging me to turn it off. They weren’t impressed and found the song depressing. They liked the other four songs from a music perspective but thought No Good and Go To War were too negative. They were unanimous in their choice of Run for this category. I’m not sure they understood the song so much as they liked the concept of movement. They liked moving to Run.

Foo Fighters have had a strong year so it won’t surprise me if they take home the Grammy on this one. Don’t count Chris Cornell out, though. The Promise is strong, it just doesn’t carry the PR punch.

Best Rock Song

There are duplicates from the previous category here and the kids don’t like choosing the same song twice (they don’t think it’s fair). For them, there were really only three choices. The nominees are:

  • Atlas, Rise!

     James Hetfield & Lars Ulrich, songwriters (Metallica)

  • Blood In The Cut

     JT Daly & Kristine Flaherty, songwriters (K.Flay)

  • Go To War

     Ben Anderson, Jonny Hawkins, Will Hoffman, Daniel Oliver, David Pramik & Mark Vollelunga, songwriters (Nothing More)

  • Run

     Foo Fighters, songwriters (Foo Fighters)

  • The Stage

     Zachary Baker, Brian Haner, Matthew Sanders, Jonathan Seward & Brooks Wackerman, songwriters (Avenged Sevenfold)

Since the kids aren’t connected to the 70s like I am, they were completely unimpressed by Metallica’s presence on this list. None. I was rather disappointed as well. This seems like a nomination for nostalgia’s sake, not because the music was especially good. Blood in the Cut fared a little better but once again the kids found the message to deep and too depressing. The girls liked that there’s a female artist on this list but not enough to vote for her. The Stage was their unanimous choice.

I think there’s a very good chance Foo Fighters could take this Grammy as well if nostalgia doesn’t take over and give Metallica one last award. The Stage is good but I think Run has enough popularity going for it to get the trophy.

Best R&B Song

Time became a factor here and if I had it to do over I might have selected Best R&B Performance or even Best Traditional R&B Performance over this category. I wasn’t sure how the kids would respond to R&B so I went with what I thought they would appreciate most. Judging from their later response to the Gospel category, traditional R&B might have been more to their liking. Still, they didn’t fuss about this category, either. The nominees are:

  • First Began

     PJ Morton, songwriter (PJ Morton)

  • Location

     Alfredo Gonzalez, Olatunji Ige, Samuel David Jiminez, Christopher McClenney, Khalid Robinson & Joshua Scruggs, songwriters (Khalid)

  • Redbone

     Donald Glover & Ludwig Goransson, songwriters (Childish Gambino)

  • Supermodel

     Tyran Donaldson, Terrence Henderson, Greg Landfair Jr., Carter Lang & Solana Rowe, songwriters (SZA)

  • That’s What I Like

     Christopher Brody Brown, James Fauntleroy, Philip Lawrence, Bruno Mars, Ray Charles McCullough II, Jeremy Reeves, Ray Romulus & Jonathan Yip, songwriters (Bruno Mars)

Two songs dropped from consideration immediately. First Began was too mellow for their liking and Redbone can’t get out of the creepy box. Location was a bit tough for them to follow, though they liked the melody, and of course, they loved That’s What I Like. Surprisingly, though, they were unanimous on Supermodel. They liked that it was a female artist and all three really liked the song and were singing along by the end.

If SZA doesn’t get the Grammy for this one, which is probably my choice as well, Khalid delivers Location for its songwriters. Both are strong songs so it’s going to be a matter of the mood Grammy voters were in when they cast their ballots. This is a tough choice. The industry and the genre both need a female to take home this hardware. There needs to be a message that women’s voices are important and viable. At the same time, though, Khalid holds a lot of influence over the industry and has a lot of friends. Neither artist winning surprises me.

Best Country Song

Can city kids appreciate country music? Apparently better than I anticipated. Given their strong response to the R&B category, I was ready for complaints when we started this one, but those complaints never came. Who knew the kids could be so broad-minded? The nominees are

  • Better Man

     Taylor Swift, songwriter (Little Big Town)

  • Body Like A Back Road

     Zach Crowell, Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally & Josh Osborne, songwriters (Sam Hunt)

  • Broken Halos

     Mike Henderson & Chris Stapleton, songwriters (Chris Stapleton)

  • Drinkin’ Problem

     Jess Carson, Cameron Duddy, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne & Mark Wystrach, songwriters (Midland)

  • Tin Man

     Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert & Jon Randall, songwriters (Miranda Lambert)

I didn’t tell the kids that Taylor Swift wrote Better Man. I was afraid that might sway their opinion too heavily. I needn’t have bothered, though. Both girls loved the song anyway. I have to wonder, though, if the fact that neither of the girls’ birth fathers is part of their lives influenced their decision. Li’l G, on the other hand, went with Sam Hunt’s Body Like A Back Road. He wasn’t so impressed by the song’s lyrics, though, as he just really liked the tune and the tempo.

When I look at this category I see a lot of sexism in the songs. Better Man puts all the blame for a failed relationship with the guy; he just wasn’t good enough–he should have been better. Meanwhile, Body Like A Back Road objectifies women in a way that’s painfully stereotypical of country music. The genre and society don’t really need either song. Tin Man and Broken Hearts are only marginally better. The whole “broken heart” scene felt really shallow. That leaves Drinkin’ Problem, which, again, is a bit stereotypical but at least doesn’t degrade and insult someone in order to feel good. Midland’s a strong band so they could carry this song for a Grammy win.

Old Man, Talking Merch

[siteorigin_widget class=”WP_Widget_Media_Image”][/siteorigin_widget]

Best American Roots Performance

Wow, the kids really caught me off guard on this one. They were plugged in from the very beginning and stayed in there through all five songs, which was saying something by this point in the process. The nominees are:

  • Killer Diller Blues

     Alabama Shakes

  • Let My Mother Live

     Blind Boys Of Alabama

  • Arkansas Farmboy

     Glen Campbell

  • Steer Your Way

     Leonard Cohen

  • I Never Cared For You

     Alison Krauss

Okay, so they still weren’t terribly enthused by Leonard Cohen. They did admit that he fits better here than in the Rock category. They really got down with Alabama Shakes and the Blind Boys of Alabama, though, and swayed along with Glen Campbell’s final song. Their unanimous choice, however, was Alison Krauss’ I Never Cared For You. They liked the full sound and the clarity of Krauss’ voice even though the song wasn’t as upbeat as some of the others.

Can Krauss win the Grammy for this one? I’m not sure. There’s a lot of sentimentality with the Blind Boys of Alabama, Glen Campbell, and Leonard Cohen on the list. Krauss has the stronger performance of the five but the tendency to give trophies to dead people is strong. Don’t be surprised if Glen Campbell steals this one from the grave.

Best American Roots Song

This is a strange category. Songs get dumped here when they don’t really fit anywhere else. This makes for rather diverse listening. The nominees are:

  • Cumberland Gap

     David Rawlings & Gillian Welch, songwriters (David Rawlings)

  • I Wish You Well

     Raul Malo & Alan Miller, songwriters (The Mavericks)

  • If We Were Vampires

     Jason Isbell, songwriter (Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit)

  • It Ain’t Over Yet

     Rodney Crowell, songwriter (Rodney Crowell Featuring Rosanne Cash & John Paul White)

  • My Only True Friend

     Gregg Allman & Scott Sharrard, songwriters (Gregg Allman)

By this point in the day the kids’ ears were getting tired and their bodies were getting restless. If a song didn’t catch their attention within the first ten bars or so they pretty much checked out for the duration. We were about half-way through It Ain’t Over Yet when one of the girls said, “These old guys are just depressing.”  and it’s a sentiment that has some merit. That may explain why Li’l G and the Tipster went with If We Were Vampires while the Extra Kid preferred Cumberland Gap. Both of those songs have a younger appeal and don’t get caught up in that one-foot-in-the-grave feeling of wishing one had lived their life differently.

I’m hoping David Rawlings takes home the Grammy on this one. Would I have liked for Gregg Allman to get one last award in? Yes, but the song nominated just didn’t cut the mustard. I think If We Were Vampires is out of place for this genre. Rawlings gives us a song with a historical feel to it that is encouraging. He deserves the award.

Best Music Video

Videos! Yay! Who doesn’t like music videos, right? Music videos are an art unto themselves and song doesn’t necessarily need to be that strong for the video to score points. The nominees are:

  • Up All Night

     Beck

     CANADA, video director; Alba Barneda, Laura Serra Estorch & Oscar Romagosa, video producers

  • Makeba

     Jain

     Lionel Hirle & Gregory Ohrel, video directors; Yodelice, video producer

  • The Story Of O.J.

     JAY-Z

     Shawn Carter & Mark Romanek, video directors; Daniel Midgley, Elizabeth Newman & Chaka Pilgrim, video producers

  • Humble.

     Kendrick Lamar

     The Little Homies & Dave Meyers, video directors; Jason Baum, Dave Free, Jamie Rabineau, Nathan K. Scherrer & Anthony Tiffith, video producers

  • 1-800-273-8255

     Logic Featuring Alessia Cara & Khalid

     Andy Hines, video director; Brandon Bonfiglio, Mildred Delamota, Andrew Lerios, Luga Podesta & Alex Randall, video producers

A video makes a lot of difference in how one perceives a song and that came out in Li’l G’s vote for The Story Of O.J. He said that he still didn’t like Jay-Z’s frequent use of the N-word but that the video helps explain what the song is about. The girls were not so convinced, though, and enthusiastically went with Makeba. They loved the rhythm and tempo of the song as well as the bright colors and constant movement of the video.

There are reasonable arguments to be made for all the nominees in this category so I’m not sure who might actually win. I’m still rather partial to Logic’s 1-800-273-8255. As strong as the song is, the video drives the message home even stronger. Show this as a PSA, please. Often. Humble and The Story of O.J. serve specific audiences and are too non-inclusive. Makeba is cute and fun but lacks substance. And lord knows what Beck was thinking. 1-800-273-8255 does a beautiful job of approaching a very challenging subject. Give them the Grammy, man.

Best Gospel Performance/Song

I saved this for last because I figured after everything else they’d heard all day the kids could use a little church if you know what I mean. There are some super-serious and often downright depressing songs among this year’s nominees and while they may be appropriate and reflective of society we still need someone, somewhere, coming at us with something positive. The nominees are:

  • Too Hard Not To

     Tina Campbell; Tina Campbell & Warryn Campbell, songwriters

  • You Deserve It

     JJ Hairston & Youthful Praise Featuring Bishop Cortez Vaughn; David Bloom, JJ Hairston, Phontane Demond Reed & Cortez Vaughn, songwriters

  • Better Days

     Le’Andria

  • My Life

     The Walls Group; Warryn Campbell, Eric Dawkins, Damien Farmer, Damon Thomas, Ahjah Walls & Darrel Walls, songwriters

  • Never Have To Be Alone

     CeCe Winans; Dwan Hill & Alvin Love III, songwriters

Again, I was concerned that the genre might be too laid back for the kids to pay attention, but I was wrong. Even with the softness of Too Hard Not To the kids were zeroed in, swaying with the music. You Deserve It had them up and singing along by the second verse. It was My Life, though, that received their unanimous vote and their reasoning is something that not only resonates for Gospel music but is a heads up for Christianity in general: don’t hit me over the head with God. My Life only mentions the deity once, preferring to use the pronoun Him instead. For the kids, that made the song more relevant.

Now, who’s going to actually take home the Grammy? I’m expecting CeCe Winans scores another one here. Of the group, hers is the most traditional gospel with very straight-forward religious lyrics and an encouraging message. Too Hard Not To and Better Days are both nice, melodic songs, but they both could almost be ballads in the Soul category if only the Grammys had a Soul category. You Deserve It got the kids’ attention but it’s more of the shallow, meaningless worship drivel that has made too many churches more of a feel-good experience than anything spiritual. Never Have To Be Alone carries a message on a beautiful voice, and CeCe is well respected in the Gospel community.

Summing Things Up

This isn’t the strongest Grammy awards we’ve ever seen but there’s a good reason for that: We were either too depressed or too angry or too frightened over the past year and the music we embraced is reflective of that. We don’t have songs that make us feel good because we didn’t feel good about our lives, our country, nor our future. 2017 was a rough year and our music shows that.

Unfortunately, the music also shows just how dominating men are in the music industry. On one hand, I’m a little surprised we’ve not seen more sexual abuse/assault allegations in the music industry, but then, considering what Kesha went through with Dr. Luke (which is reflected in her nominated song) who can blame women in music for being reluctant to step forward? Men have an iron grip on every aspect of this industry, one that’s not going to loosen just because Russell Simmons and Benny Medina are accused of rape. Industry execs will happily throw both producers under the tour bus in order to maintain their dominance.  

We need more women in music and we need them having better songs so that lists of future nominees don’t limit women to the pop categories. We also need more women in the production booth and running the labels. The music industry is still trying to figure out the whole digital thing and the men that have been in charge for eons are blowing it. Time to let the women grab the reins.

The Grammys also don’t reflect how people have turned away from mainstream genres in favor of more regionally-focused independent bands. Here, the music industry needs to start paying attention. Local bands don’t charge thousands of dollars for front row tickets. Local bands have better music that isn’t over-produced. Fans feel a stronger connection with local bands and their loyalty is more fierce.

In many ways, this year’s Grammy nominations show us where the music industry is failing. Consider the songs the kids preferred; upbeat, danceable, positive messages that don’t preach an agenda. They don’t care if you lost your boyfriend. They don’t care if you feel cheated. Those are your feelings and they don’t want them. The kids prefer music that ignites their imaginations and gives them a reason to dance.

As an industry, the music business has gotten so bogged down in whether labels are getting paid enough and whether they’re addressing the “issues” that they’ve forgotten the overwhelming reason people listen to music is so they’ll feel better.  Too many of this year’s nominees don’t do that.

But then, what do I know? When we began this quest I didn’t even know who SZA is. She’s a beautiful person with a killer voice. I learned a lot listening to these nominees so we can’t justly say that it was all a disaster. There is some very good music on this list. In fact, you can listen to all 51 of the songs on our list over on my YouTube channel. Listen for yourself and let us know whether you agree with our choices.

Of course, we’ll find out who really wins on 28 January. I doubt I’ll actually be watching live, given that I rather detest awards shows, but I’ll be paying attention the next morning, for sure. We’ll see if the list of winners warrants a follow-up.

This was an interesting experience with the kids. Remind me to do it again next year. Maybe we’ll even invite you next time.

 

Abide in Peace,
-The Old Man

[siteorigin_widget class=”Give_Forms_Widget”][/siteorigin_widget]
[siteorigin_widget class=”Wunderground_Forecast_Widget”][/siteorigin_widget]

Navigating Holiday Party

Hopefully, we respect ourselves enough to know that we are dynamic people who can’t be described adequately in one sentence. —

You’ve been in this situation before: Someone you don’t want to disappoint has invited you to a holiday party full of people you don’t know and aren’t totally convinced that you want to know. Sure, you’re going to go but you’re dreading the moment someone walks up to you and asks some inane question such as, “Hey, how’s it going?” or even worse, “Cool party, isn’t it?” People who have social anxiety hate those questions. We hate small talk in general. If we don’t know the person talking to us, we aren’t especially inclined to stand there chatting about things that don’t matter.  

Some of us meet these situations and the ridiculously mind-numbing questions with a touch of orneriness. Ask me how it’s going and I may just come back with an answer such as, “Everything’s fine until my medication wears off. Hope you’re not put off by random fits of screaming.” Ask me if I think the party is cool and my pat answer is, “Yeah, I’m just sizing people up for the orgy later.” Both those answers do a wonderful job of making sure the conversation ends right there.

Occasionally, though, you don’t want to say anything that might embarrass the person who invited you, especially if the party is connected to their employment in some way. Behaving in a way that could get someone else fired is not cool. What do we do in those situations? How do we cope being around people with whom we may share absolutely no interests?

Fortunately, Darrah Brustein at Forbes magazine has come up with a list of 55 questions one can use to help navigate the social terrors of holiday parties or any other social events that force us to interact with strange people. Ms. Brustein is something of an expert in the field of networking and writes frequently on that and other topics as she goes jet-setting around the globe—thanks to her network. While her life may sound glamorous, however, many of us would be just as happy making it through a single company holiday party without having a panic attack. This is where her 55 questions come in. Asking these questions avoids the stupidity triggers and replaces them with a better opportunity to meet people we might actually end up not hating.

Ms. Brustein’s approach isn’t exactly new. Dale Carnegie taught that asking questions was not only a good way to meet people but that asking the right question and actively listening to the answer is critical to making new friends. The concept was apparently pretty radical when Carnegie introduced it in the 1930s, but his method has been so watered down with time and social changes that it has dissolved into the mindless drivel we now dread. Ms. Brustein’s questions give us a chance to fix that problem.

There’s a catch, though. When we ask a question, we have to be prepared to answer the same question should it be turned back on us. While our hope is that the person’s answer to the question launches us into a full conversation, that doesn’t always happen. A person whose anxiety and/or boredom is equal to our own might answer the most carefully constructed question with an answer that goes nowhere. When that happens, they inevitably turn the question around with a deft, “What about you?” Then, you’re stuck. You’re the one who has to talk now. You have to be witty, or at least mildly interesting, or you look lame. Preparing your own answers in advance helps solve that problem.

Ms. Brustein divided her questions into three groups, depending on the type of situation and the environment of the party. Sometimes we can ask really deep questions quickly. Other times we need to stay superficial. My advice is to pick two or three from each group and run with those. Practice both asking and answering the questions. Yes, your mind is going to go blank in the moment you actually have to speak, but once one starts talking what you’ve rehearsed is likely to make its way back into your consciousness and hopefully, most the words come out in the correct order.

What follows is not only a recapitulation of Ms. Brustein’s 55 questions but answers I’ve prepared just in case I’m not the only one reading Forbes this week. Funny how many people end up reading the same articles in a magazine. I’m including the answers as a guide for helping you shape your own response. Use your experience, your life, and your interests in answering the questions. Write them down, even. Prepare now and the chances of embarrassing yourself at a holiday party are instantly reduced by at least 3.25 percent, more if you can speak more than five seconds without passing out.

[siteorigin_widget class=”WP_Widget_Media_Image”][/siteorigin_widget]

The Mild Set

Any upcoming travel plans?

Yes, I’m planning on going home for the holidays just as soon as I can pry (whoever I’m with) away from the punch bowl. Home is typically my favorite travel destination. I go there often.

What brought you here?

Someone else’s car. I was going to come in a one-horse open sleigh but these roads are so horrible! I bent a runner on a pothole and the blacksmith is all backed up with seasonal work.

How do you two know each other?

We sleep together on occasion. Sometimes we’re even in the same bed. 

When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your time?

Sleeping currently takes up the majority of my non-working hours. My life is a mess if I don’t get in my 16 hours a day.

What are you reading currently?

Your thoughts. Have you ever considered therapy? I know a guy …

What’s the first concert you attended?

My mother took me to see Elvis a week before I was born. I came out of the womb with sideburns and a lip curl. The lip curl was fixed with surgery.

Where do you most hope to visit?

New Jersey. I’d like to see what hell is like before I’m doomed to spend eternity there.

What’s your favorite book?

You know, I’m actually writing a new book. This angel came down and gave me a pair of golden spectacles that allowed me to see things no one else can see and it really gave me a new insight into life. I’m thinking it would make a good companion to the Bible.

What’s your favorite 90’s show?

3rd Rock From The Sun. They didn’t get everything right about my species, of course, but you have to give Hollywood some room for interpretation. Most people can’t handle knowing how powerful we really are.

What’s the best Halloween costume you’ve ever had?

The year I went as myself. I didn’t even know they were having a contest until someone handed me the trophy.

What’s your dream job?

I’ve heard the position of President of the United States could be opening up soon.

What’s your favorite word?

Fuck, apparently. At least, that’s the one I use the most often.

What was your first job?

Pulling up Christmas trees with my bare hands. No, I’m not kidding.

What’s one thing you’re excited about that’s coming up in 2018?

Impeachment trials, I hope. I’ve already started stocking popcorn.

What was the worst job you’ve ever had?

Pulling up Christmas trees with my bare hands.

What is your most-used emoji?

I don’t. It’s been centuries since the Egyptians stopped using cuneiform and I don’t see any reason to reinvent a dead language.

If you could win an Olympic medal for any sport, real or fake, what would it be?

Avoiding giving serious answers to someone else’s questions.

If you could change your name, what would it be?

Almighty Thunderous Megabolt.  Or Fred.

What movie or TV show title best describes your week?

Psycho up to this point but we could be looking at How to Get Away With Murder before the week’s out.

What was your favorite subject in school?

Anything that would make me look smarter than everyone else.

What’s your hidden talent?

I have a unique ability to make people disappear; one quick conversation and I never see them again.

If you had to eat one thing for every meal going forward, what would you eat?

Sugar-free chocolate; it’s not really as bad as it sounds

If someone were to play you in a movie, who would you want it to be?

Paddington Bear. I think he could capture the essence of my bearing.

[siteorigin_widget class=”WP_Widget_Media_Image”][/siteorigin_widget]

Moderate

If you could spend a day in someone else’s shoes, whose would they be? Why?

Niel DeGrasse Tyson, because being an intelligent person of color is pretty much the exact opposite of my own existence.

What’s one thing your mother/father taught you that completely changed your life?

Never turn down free food, which is a large part of the reason I’m at this holiday party

What’s been on your mind lately?

This pesky tumor that causes me to say really strange and random things.

What’s the first career you dreamed of having as a kid?

Was thoroughly convinced I was going to wake up the next morning and be the world’s youngest superhero. There are days I still think of that dream.

What’s the last text you sent?

Clean the toilet. You’d be surprised how often I send that text.

What’s one of your favorite memories?

The one where I save the world. Oh wait, that hasn’t happened yet, has it?

What’s one thing about you that surprises people?

The level of sacrifice I’d be willing to make for a good sugar-free donut.

Who, or what, was your biggest teacher?

Probably Mrs. Little, my first-grade teacher. Her name was the antithesis of who she was. Nothing about her was little.

What was something you’ve done that made you feel extreme happiness?

Being a superhero and saving the world. Oh, wait … yeah, about that …

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Don’t spend the money on the super suit until you actually have the superpowers. I’m still waiting.

If you could instantly become an expert in something, what would it be?

Convincing people that public sex has social benefits. No one’s buying that argument yet.

What does success mean to you?

Making it through the day without anyone actually killing me.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

“Whatever you do, don’t embarrass yourself in front of the President.”  Unfortunately, I did not take that advice.

Where is your happy place?

Anywhere that is not a holiday party. And Bali when the volcano isn’t so active.

If you could invite 3 people, dead or alive, to a dinner party, who would they be, and why?

Plato, Abraham Lincoln, and Donald Trump. If the first two met the latter they’d totally re-think the concept of democracy and the presidency.

How can someone win a gold star with you?

Bring gold body paint and get naked.

What energizes you and brings you excitement?

Accidentally grabbing hold of an electric fence.

What qualities do you value in the people with whom you spend time?

Breathing is probably the most important one. I’ve hung out with people who weren’t breathing and the conversation was very one-sided.

For what would you be famous?

Being the world’s youngest superhero. That whole reverse-aging thing would clinch it.

What does your dream day look like?

Something directed by Stephen Spielberg but with better sex scenes.

If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?

Go ahead and sleep anyway. The world can’t handle me 24/7.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Who said I was guilty? No one can prove anything! That chocolate was sugar-free!

At what job would you be terrible?

Anything that required actually working.

If you had to choose only 3 adjectives to describe yourself, which would you choose?

Other, human, and unintentional. I think those pretty well sum up who I am.

[siteorigin_widget class=”WP_Widget_Media_Image”][/siteorigin_widget]

Holiday Hard Core

What do you give a damn about?

Survival of the species. Given the past year, I’m gravely concerned about our continued existence.

What is a dream you have that you’ve yet to achieve?

Becoming the world’s youngest superhero. That whole reverse-aging thing is throwing me off.

What’s something you say you’ll do, but never will?

Becoming the world’s youngest superhero. That whole reverse-aging thing is throwing me off.

What did you have to give up to achieve your current level of success?

Every other level of success.

Has anything ever happened to you that you could not, and cannot, explain?

Whatever they used to spike the holiday punch.

Do you ever find there are things about you that people misunderstand? What are they?

Simple things like why I still exist, how did I survive the ice age, and why I think everyone should pose nude at least once in their life.

For what are you most grateful today?

Not being dead …. yet.

If you could have one ‘do over’ in your life, what would you do differently?

Maybe not depend so much on being the world’s youngest superhero.

Of what are you most afraid?

Holiday parties where they only serve fruit cake and unspiked eggnog.

Thinking Before We Speak

Planning and trying to remember questions we can ask at a holiday party is one thing. Actually pulling them off at the right time so that we don’t sound creepy is an entirely different situation. For any of these questions to be effective, even the mild ones, we have to be paying attention to other people, what they’re doing, to whom else they are talking, whether they’re in the process of leaving the party, and other little details. Asking the wrong question at the wrong time can take a difficult holiday party right into the awkward zone. 

Brustein and Carnegie both emphasize that one needs to actually listen to the answers people give to our questions. Understand this before opening your mouth. Ask a question and someone is probably going to answer it. That means listening, running the risk that the person standing in front of you is as boring as dirt with nothing of interest to say no matter what question you ask. In fact, the less interesting the person, the more likely their answer is long and involved and not something we’re remotely interested in hearing. We have to be prepared to at least pretend to listen. Nod your head. Say things like, “Oh, really?” and “That makes sense (even if it doesn’t).” We can’t just wander off and get another drink.

There’s also the off chance that the person to whom one is asking the question doesn’t answer the question at all. They may not even acknowledge your existence. Those are the people who have their heads stuck so far up their own ass that they think they’re the center of the universe. That’s okay. They have a right to their universe. If they don’t answer, walk away and amuse yourself with how entertaining it would be if they backed into the holiday candles. 

One also needs to stop asking questions of anyone after the second drink. You’re in no condition to converse with anyone when you’re drunk. The words don’t come out in the right order and your breath makes people’s eyes water. Find a seat and try to not fall out of it until the person who made the mistake of bringing you to the party decides to take you home. And hope they don’t forget you’re there and leave without you.

Holiday parties are full of angst and worry and social expectations we’re sure we’re going to mess up long before we ever get dressed for the party. People with social anxieties don’t party well but sometimes we have to be there. Arm yourself with some questions and try to have fun with it. 

And before you leave, invite your hosts to come dance naked around the bonfire with you at your Winter Solstice celebration. If you go to their party, they have to come to yours. This is what holiday traditions are all about.

Abide In Peace,
The Old Man

[siteorigin_widget class=”Give_Forms_Widget”][/siteorigin_widget]
[siteorigin_widget class=”WP_Widget_Media_Image”][/siteorigin_widget]
New bill introduced, president to resign

NOTICE: THIS IS SATIRE, NOT THE NEWS

We know the headline grabbed your attention but we want to be extremely clear: what follows is satire, not the news. We want you to share the article, but please make sure everyone knows this is satire, not the news. There is enough of a problem with fake news without anyone adding to it. Nothing that follows is real, at least not when we wrote it. We do not have any control over what may or may not happen in the future. Thank you for reading and sharing.

[siteorigin_widget class=”WP_Widget_Media_Image”][/siteorigin_widget]

THE WHITE HOUSE
WASHINGTON

OFFICE OF COMMUNICATIONS
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
21 NOVEMBER 2017

(WASHINGTON) The White House announced this morning that it is backing a bill introduced to both the House of Representatives and the Senate known as the Anti-Sexual Assault Surveillance Bill of 2017. The bill is co-sponsored in the House by the female members of the Congressional Victim’s Rights Caucus, and the Congressional Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus. The Senate version of the bill, which contains nearly identical wording, is co-sponsored by Senator Jeanne Shaheed, representing the Senate Ethics Committee, and Senators Shelly Moore Capito and Amy Klobuchar, representing the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration. The bills were introduced under special rules that allow them to be passed without the vote or participation of any male members of Congress.

The 237-page bill, initially distributed only to female members of the White House Press Corp,  details a system wherein all U.S. citizens receive and must wear at all times video cameras attached to the forehead. Cameras are inherently in the “on” position and can only be turned off in the event of the death of the citizen. Cameras would utilize a proposed national Internet wi-fi system to live stream the activities of the wearers wherever in the nation they might be. Additionally, cameras would be required of foreign guests, including visiting heads of state, for the duration of their visit to the United States. Live streams would be monitored and police would be immediately dispatched at any moment any form of sexual assault or unwanted sexual advance was detected. Perpetrators would then be detained and tried by an all-female court. Punishments established by the bill would range from fines of $500 for the first offense committed by someone under the age of 18, to life in prison for a two-time offender over the age of 25, or a three-time offender between the ages of 18-25.

“We are obviously doing our best to deal with an epidemic of sexual assault,” explained Victim’s Rights Caucus staff member Melanie Horrorwitz. “Studies by the women on these committees and caucuses have determined that one hundred percent of men over the age of 35 are sexual predators. Some have been sly enough to prevent any of their victims from actually remembering their crimes, but we are as sure that all men are guilty just as we are certain that all women are victims of male sexual assault, domination, and oppression, regardless of their age. This is the first serious step toward preventing any other women from becoming victims and re-educating the entire male gender of the population to respect women and keep their distance unless specifically beckoned.”

Senate Ethics Committee staffer, Stephanie Richmond, added, “Women across the United States have sent a very loud and clear message that they’re fed up with the continued litany of sexual harassment and the difficulty of bringing charges against those who perpetrate such crimes. The Anti-Sexual Assault Surveillance Bill provides hard evidence and allows anyone watching a live stream to serve the interest of justice by registering as a witness to the crime. The testimony of those witnesses then corroborates the victim’s account of the situation, providing for quick and certain justice. Our hope is that once this system is fully operational, courts can move quickly and achieve justice within 48 hours of the commission of a sexual assault crime.”

While none of the Members of Congress were immediately available at the White House press briefing, staff members for Senators Kamala D. Harris and Patty Murray of the Senate Budget Committee confirmed that the measure would be funded by removing funds currently earmarked for items such as 3D-printed pizza for Congressional staff birthday parties, surveillance droids still searching for former-President Obama’s real birth certificate, the remote-controlled flying pigs project, and slashing by as much as two-thirds President Trump’s self-tanning allotment. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the budget revisions could free up as much as fifteen billion dollars from the self-tanning allotment alone.

Ms. Horrorwitz denied that the bill is inherently “anti-men,” stating, “We’ve looked at the numbers and realize that there are some predatory women out there who are going to be caught in this net, and that’s as it should be. Sexually predatory activity has to end regardless of how it is being wielded or who is wielding it. We’eve existed too long on this planet being treated as objects of possession. This bill gives women the opportunity to take back their lives, to find respect as a human being.”

Ms. Richmond added, “Not all men are monsters, but men are a minefield. Not every inch has the power to devastate but devastation lies hidden everywhere. We’re willing to give up a little privacy in order to turn the tables on this long-standing ‘good ol boys’ network of power and corruption. We are fairly certain that the world is going to be a better place once this bill becomes law. No one should have to wear a mask of complicity as a survival tactic.”

White House To Lead Implementation

White House head intern Janna Mueller confirmed that the bill has the full support of the Trump administration and that the White House plans to lead by example. “Cameras have already been secured and labeled and are ready to be distributed to all White House staff members, including the White House Press Corp, just as soon as the bill is passed. We appreciate the efforts of special envoys Jessica Drake, Karena Virginia, Cathy Heller, Summer Zervos, Kristin Anderson, and Jessica Leeds, among others, who helped convince the President and his administration to participate in this vital program. The program enjoys especially strong support from the First Lady who has said that she will personally help fit the President with his camera.”

“The President was a little reluctant at first,” added Terri Scott, spokeswoman for the First Lady. “Terms like ‘witch hunt’ and ‘all Obama’s fault’ were thrown around for a while, but once the First Lady put his cell phone in a place where the President isn’t allowed to grab he came around and agreed that this really is the best thing for everyone. This bill is a giant step toward making America great. We all believe that.”

According to the terms outlined in the bill, once the White House staff has been fitted with cameras, Members of Congress and their staffs, as well as the Justices of the Supreme Court and their staffs are next. From there, implementation is based upon a hierarchy of historical abuse with Hollywood producers, musicians, fashion photographers and editors, comedians, and light-night television hosts being among the first non-elected citizen groups to receive the video cameras. 

While the majority of Americans should receive their cameras within the first six months after the bill’s signing, there is some concern that citizens in more rural areas of the United States, specifically places currently without Internet, cable news, or easy access to newspapers, may receive their cameras in the mail without understanding their purpose or how to use them. The Congressional Budget Office report estimates that as many a 1, 397 people could be affected. Ms. Richmond downplayed that number, however, stating that special agents would be dispatched to these areas to help people fit the cameras to their foreheads and teach them how to use the viral network. 

[siteorigin_widget class=”SiteOrigin_Widget_Image_Widget”][/siteorigin_widget]

Voyeurism Key To Program's Success

Critical to the success of the program is the assumption that Americans cannot resist the opportunity to spy on the lives of other people, especially those they don’t like or they feel have wronged them in any way. As the images are streamed live across the Internet and accessible on all Internet-capable devices, Americans whose cameras are also online and registered will have the ability to watch any feed and vote on the “C-Factor” of each particular feed. The “C” stands for “Creepiness,” a subjective level of predatory activity that causes the viewer to feel uncomfortable or that persons involved in the interaction might potentially be in danger.

“Actually, we got the idea from an episode of “The Orville” on Fox,” Ms. Mueller explained. “Since what is or isn’t creepy differs from person to person, we decided it would be best if everyone viewing a stream was allowed to weigh in as to whether the activities of the person they’re watching warrant intervention by law enforcement. The whole process is very democratic. If the majority of people viewing feel that a person’s actions are out of line, the system automatically notifies local authorities and that person is immediately picked up and their trial scheduled. We don’t want perpetrators on the street any longer than necessary, but at the same time, we want to give everyone a fair shake. Letting viewers from all over the country watch each other is probably one of the most democratic actions Americans have ever undertaken.”

Adding to the incentive of camera use is the ability for people to make money according to the number of viewers watching their live streams. “We understand that in live streaming one’s entire life that we are giving up a certain amount of privacy,” Ms. Richmond explained. “We compensate people for giving up that privacy by paying them $100 a day for every 10,000 viewers they have watching their feed. So, people whose feeds are likely to be popular, such as Katy Perry or Lady Gaga, could easily earn several thousand dollars a day from the program. At the same time, we hope that it leads people to think about engaging in more interesting activities so that other people have a reason to watch. No one is going to want to watch you eating a plate of nachos or reading a blog on how to boil water. They are much more likely to be interested in those accounts that involve some level of action, such as snow skiing, playing sports, or masturbating in front of a mirror.”

The bill immediately came under fire, however, from diverse groups such as the Catholic church, the American Psychological Association, and the American Bar Association. Robert Mugambo of the American Bar Association expressed alarm at the implications for invasion of privacy. “This absolutely strips away any hint of attorney/client privilege. No one is going to be free to talk with their attorney in an open and honest manner if they know that everything they say is being broadcast across the Internet. “

Gary Kakaramen of the American Psychological Association expressed similar concerns. “The bond between a therapist and their clients is sacred. The information shared in therapy sessions is not something to be voted on or subject to public discourse,” he said. “The last thing we need is a couple hundred thousand amateur psychologists sitting at home watching these sessions and passing judgment on people who are simply trying to put their lives back together. When someone goes to their therapist and admits they have a problem, they need compassion and understanding as they work through that issue, not a thumbs up or thumbs down vote.”

Especially vulnerable is the Rite of Confession, something considered necessary for forgiveness within the Catholic church. “I can’t imagine any priest being able to hear confession under these circumstances,” said Cardinal John Paul George Ringo of the Liverpool diocese. “The confession is sacred and must be held to the utmost secrecy. Priests are forbidden from ever revealing what is told to them in the confession. Allowing live streaming of those confessions is absolutely not possible.”

Ms. Richmond challenged those assertions, however. “Consider who it is complaining,” she said. “Lawyers, so-called therapists, and a group of clergy with a long-running record of pedophilia they’ve been trying to hide for centuries. Why would we want to allow them to continue practicing in secret when we already know that the secrecy is being used to prevent women from talking about these long-standing patterns of abuse? These are exactly the types of people this program is designed to expose.”

 Ms. Mueller added, “This is just part of tearing down the misogynistic infrastructure of power that has dominated lives and abused women for centuries. I think the key is a zero-tolerance policy and that is what this program provides. Too many people grew up thinking that the scenes in movies like Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds, and Porky’s are the correct way to treat women. Those people need to be removed from society and re-educated, introduced to movies such as Raise the Red Lantern, The Color Purple, An Angel at My Table, and Meek’s Cutoff. People are slowly waking up to the fact that a woman’s positive demeanor is often hiding fear, confusion, disgust, or misplaced shame. The days when men in power could ride roughshod over women are no more. This bill ends the nonsense.”

President To Appoint New VP Before Resigning

In a separate statement, White House Communications Director Hope Hicks announced that President Trump, Vice President Pence, Chief of Staff John Kelly, and all male members of the President’s Cabinet will resign in the interim between the bill’s passage by Congress, making way for a new President, likely the country’s first female President, to sign the important bill on her first day in office. “Circumstances being what they are, the President and other male members of his administration see no way that they can effectively govern without the inherent misogyny that brought them to power,” she said as she read from a prepared statement. “The President has consulted his closest advisors and we think the plan being introduced today does a good job of transitioning power to more intelligent and level-headed people capable of governing from a position of compassion while maintaining the agenda set by the current administration.”

According to the agenda distributed to the White House Press Corp, Vice President Mike Pence will resign first, most likely within an hour of the passage of the bill in the Senate. At that time, President Trump will send the Senate his nomination for a new Vice President. While no one was willing to speak on the record as to who that nominee might be, speculation runs high that the President will nominate his daughter, Ivanka.

An anonymous White House source, known by the code name “first daughter,” told gathered members of the press, “I think the President would have liked to nominate his wife, Melania, so he could at least continue living in the White House but apparently, there’s some silly clause in the Constitution about having to be a natural-born citizen to be President and, at the moment, there really isn’t time to change the Constitution. So, the President’s next choice is likely to be one of his daughters and we all know that Tiffany just doesn’t have what it takes to run a country. I mean, she has trouble picking out a decent ensemble for going to the gym. Ivanka really is the President’s only other choice.”

Once Congress has approved a new Vice President, then President Trump and members of his staff and Cabinet will resign, making way for the new Vice President to become President, something that has not happened since Gerald Ford took office after the resignation of scandal-ridden Richard Nixon. According to sources close to the situation, the elder Trump would then be referred to as Trump I while Ivanka would officially take the title of President Trump 2.0. 

When asked whether she would keep the existing female members of the Cabinet, Ivanka stated that Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao was likely to be the only Cabinet member that would maintain her position. “She’s so cute and has such an infectious smile, there’s no way I could let Secretary Chao go,” Ivanka whispered through a keyhole in her White House office door. Other Cabinet members would not be so fortunate, however. “DeVos might as well pack and leave with the guys,” Ivanka said. “She reeks of old lady soap and whoever is doing her makeup needs to go back to beauty school. I might keep Elaine Duke at the Department of Homeland Security, but only if she can change the codes on the nuclear football so that my dad can’t play with them.”

Ms. Richmond said all male members of Congress were expected to resign as well, though no timetable has been established for that to happen. “There is some question as to whether we need to first wait for male Governors to be replaced so that we have reliable, compassionate people in place to appoint new Members of Congress,” she stated. “In most cases, I think the Governor’s wives are likely to take their places, ensuring that general political agendas continue and the partisan imbalance of power is maintained going into the 2018 general elections. What we don’t want to risk is another massive foul-up like that whole Roy Moore debacle in Alabama. That kind of nonsense is exactly what we’re trying to eliminate from Capitol Hill.”

Once the new Congress was in place, then male members of the Supreme Court would likely resign, though, being in place for life, they are under no obligation to do so. “I think the cameras will help determine whether further resignations are necessary,” Richmond said. “No one has really had any clue what goes on in the judges’ chambers before now and I’m sure there will be plenty of people watching those live streams to see what exactly takes place. Should any justices commit an act of sexual assault, they would, of course, be subject to the same arrest and re-education as anyone else, which would likely force them to resign. We are already concerned about Justice Thomas, given his personal history.”

Ms. Hicks stated, “I heard someone on television say that this is a moment that demands a frank and honest assessment about where we stand and more generally the safety of women. There is no excuse for the behavior that we have tolerated and are just now giving a voice. We cannot walk back from where we are. We cannot allow men to continue to dominate and ruin lives. The cameras are the only way to stop this infection. No longer is it going to be my word against his. No longer is a perpetrator going to shame his victim. Never again will any accusation be doubted or belittled. This situation is systemic and pervasive and this bill is the first step toward ending this horrible problem that men do their best to ignore.”

When asked what additional steps might be taken following the passage of the bill, Ms. Richmond said that no firm plans have been made yet. “I think we have to do something about changing some basic laws, but I don’t think there have been any firm conversations as to how to make that happen. I do know that I, as an attractive young woman, want the freedom to be able to walk stark naked down the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue if I want without feeling any fear, or threatened by any catcalls, or shamed for that pudge I get after eating a whole plate of cheese fries the night before. Free the Nipple should be more than just a slogan. That’s a goal, but we’ve not really discussed how to get there from a practical perspective. And that’s really just a warm-weather activity. My skin dries out below 65 degrees. We’ll just have to see.”

Some of the statements in this article were borrowed, revised, or summarized from the Twitter accounts of @stannieholt, @ClaraJeffery, @MonicaHesse and @NorahODonnell. Under no circumstances is any endorsement implied in either direction, though we’re sure they’re all wonderful and compassionate people who are fed up with men behaving like jackasses.

Disclaimer

We again want to emphasize that THIS IS SATIRE! Nothing in the article above is real. Should you choose to share this article on social media, which we encourage, it is up to you to present it as SATIRE. Help fight against fake news by clearly labeling this material as satire, no matter how much you might wish we were being serious. 

Abide in Peace,
The Old Man

[siteorigin_widget class=”Give_Forms_Widget”][/siteorigin_widget]
[siteorigin_widget class=”WP_Widget_Media_Image”][/siteorigin_widget]
Page 1 of 212