KEEP ROLLING Writing By Robert Mitchell

This is the official home for writing by Robert Mitchell "Keep Rolling" comes from Bill Cardoso's statement to Hunter S. Thompson about Gonzo Journalism. The secondary title of this blog is "Horatio Alger Gone Mad" from the passage when HST first used the term "gonzo" The fictional stories on this blog are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

On The Eve Of A Peaceful Transition Of Power. Mr. Mitchell Goes To Washington Part One

2028

“Sides will not matter now matter makes no sense
How did a difference become a disease?” – Fugazi

As the word got out that I was planning to attend the 58th Inauguration Day of the United States of America, the official swearing-in of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President I began to field several texts, Facebook messages that all posed the same question. Why was I going? Why indeed.

I’m sure to some this made no sense, and perhaps it didn’t. I booked the trip at 2:30 in the morning in the midst of a fever. I also made the conscious choice to take Greyhound coach buses there and back and specifically through the Northern “Rustbelt” States, the “Blue Curtain” Pennsylvania, Ohio, Northern Indiana. Passing and stopping in towns, Youngstown, Gary, Pittsburgh, Cleveland many others. Dilapidated, shuttered homes and businesses on full display. The itinerary of this trip would see me on coach buses and layovers for over 60 hours. I wanted a trip that would cover as much ground as possible, I wanted to meet and talk to everybody I encountered along the way and one that would kick my ass. This trip would not disappoint on all accounts.

First and foremost I was going to bear witness. As much as I appreciate the sentiment and the cardboard signs and the hashtag #NotMyPresident, as of noon on January 20th, 2017 the man who should never have arrived at the White House would become our President representing all of us. This was the culmination of what I dubbed the “long, hot, angry, American summer”. I understood the boycotts, my friends who could not watch. For some it was a cause for celebration, for others it was horrible, it was an American tragedy that played for two years and ended with a man who had no experience, no diplomatic skills, a man who has consistently made this country less safe every time he opens his mouth, or fires off a tweet at 2AM. The “billionaire man-child”. A representation of a percentage of America’s dark ID, reactionary, dumb, fearful, spiteful, vengeful, angry. However large or small a representation is open to debate. As an immigrant to this great country I also wanted to stand at the Inauguration for my brethren of brothers and sisters who like me made the choice to leave everything behind and start anew in this country. Some unlike me who faced hardships I cannot possibly imagine. Fleeing a war zone,  years spent in refugee camps, extreme vetting, years of uncertainty. Many refugees do not make a choice of which country they will be resettled into. They are told where they will be placed.

I focused my efforts on obtaining an actual ticket for the searing-in ceremony on the U.S. Capitol Building grounds. I wanted to stand side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder in a forced intimacy with people of whom I 100% disagree with on this one major decision, the person who they voted for.

My research informed me that to obtain a ticket I should contact my Senators. On December 8th, I emailed Senators Joe Donnelly and Todd Young. I heard back immediately from Donnelly’s office. “Thank you for your interest in receiving Inauguration tickets through our office. We’d like to provide you with additional information on the ticketing process….All requests will be entered into a lottery, and we anticipate that we will begin notifying individuals who have received tickets the week of December 20, 2016.” On the 4th of January I got an email back from Mr. Donnelly’s office after the lottery, “Thank you for contacting our office regarding tickets to the 58th Presidential Inauguration. Due to high demand, we are unable to provide you with tickets at this time.” I had yet to receive any communication back from Todd Young’s office. The trip was long since booked so I was heading to D.C. one way or the other. I was disappointed.

5:13 PM on January 11th, 2017, just nine days prior to the Inauguration  I received an email from Senator Todd Young’s office. “I am pleased to let you know that Senator Todd Young has allocated 2 tickets for you and your guest to attend the 58th Presidential Inauguration on Friday, January 20, 2017 at 11:30am.  The ceremony will take place on the West Front of the United States Capitol.” It was on. However my itinerary would have me arrive in D.C. at 4:40AM on the 20th. The caveat was I had to be at the Senate offices by 4PM on the 19th or my ticket would be forfeit. Now I had to get to Washington a day early, by four and secure some sort of accommodation for the one night. My wife and I hit the travel websites. We found one Southwest flight that would arrive hours before the cutoff time to pick up my tickets. If the shortest point between two places is a straight line then that was the exact opposite of what I was doing. My flight would leave Indianapolis, land in Orlando, Florida. Florida, the home of the “hanging chad”. I would get on the next plane that would take me to Dulles International airport in Virginia. I was excited, I would cover even more ground on this trip. We also found a hostel seven blocks from the Capitol building for only sixty-two dollars. Amazing. I was still going to take the Greyhound back home. #MrMitchellGoesToWashington

The night before my journey began a friend of mine picked me up and I spent the night at their place because it was far closer to the airport than my town. They also took me out to great steak restaurant and we played a board game.  I have great friends.

The morning of the 19th began early for me. 4AM early. I got to the airport, printed out my boarding passes and went through security. I got a large coffee and waited to board the plane. The first flight was smooth and I got a picture of me with palm trees as my background. I boarded flight number two and watched out the window as flew along the Atlantic coast to Virginia.

I landed in Dulles and hit the ground running. I had less than three hours to get to the Russell Senate Office Building. I headed down the escalators to round level and put my name in at a shared airport shuttle. Dulles was an hour away from downtown D.C. I waited for twenty odd minutes and my name was called. I got into the van with five other people. I would be the last person dropped off downtown. I spoke to my driver. He was originally from Iraq and we spoke of Donald Trump’s promises on the campaign trail and what might or might not happen now that he was about to become the President. After near an hour after all the other people were dropped off we were near the Senate Office buildings but could not get right there because of street closures. We shook hands and wished each other luck.

As I was walking towards the Capitol building I heard singer Jackie Evancho practicing the National Anthem. On the ground in D.C. five minutes and a poignant beginning as the lyrics drifted through the air on a beautiful afternoon.The last time I was in the nation’s capitol was December of 2014. It was a cold night as I went to the National Mall and was greeted by the voices of “America’s Dad” Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson’s voices carrying through the night as they were practicing for the Christmas tree lighting ceremony the next night. Walking in the cold crisp air and making the pilgrimage to the Lincoln memorial, Washington felt inviting. I was wondering how it would feel on this trip.

Once at the Senate offices the lineup was extremely long and slow moving as people headed through the security check to enter the building. People were getting slightly annoyed. One U.S. Capitol officer kept coming out of the doors we were lined up at and telling us to go to one of the other doors. There were no lines at them he said. Nobody budged. I didn’t think anyone would leave this line for a chance at a slightly faster entrance. People so suspicious of their government are not going to be persuaded by one of their uniformed employees.

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The Navy officer in the photo spoke with the Capitol officer in the photo. The guy from the Navy and his wife left to go to another one of the entrances. I for some reason, even though I was that close to finally entering decided to join them. Somewhere I guess I thought the conversation was more important than finally getting in the building. I walked with him and his wife and spoke to him about life in the armed services. He informed me that he was going to have a meeting with a couple of his Senators. Once we got to the other side of the building the lineup was just as long. I then ran back to my original entrance in the hope of getting behind the people I had left. By the time I got back they were inside. I asked the couple behind me if I could get back in line behind them. They said no problem. They were from the Columbus, Ohio area. We spoke about Ohio. About ten minutes later I was emptying my pockets and taking off my belt to pass through the metal detector. Inside!

I looked at a video directory board looking for where I needed to go and then several young staffers passed me. I asked them where office B33 was. They said it was in the basement. Fitting for a newly elected Junior Senator from Indiana I thought to myself. They got in the elevator and I followed. We all exited at the basement level. I was tripping out seeing the the Senators names outside of the doors. I passed by the Senate library and took pictures. I got to Todd Young’s office and didn’t knock, just opened the door and walked in. Democracy baby, no closed doors! Several young staffers were sitting at laptops. I spoke with the one at the first desk that I was there to pick up my Inauguration tickets. He handed me an envelope that read: “United Sates Senate Official Business” and also a sticker attached “Mitchell 2 NORTH STANDING” He looked at my State photo I.D. and then looked for my name on a list of what looked to be only twenty names. He crossed my name off. The woman behind him handed me a piece of paper that was the maps and guidelines for the Inauguration swearing-in ceremony.

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I asked if the Senator was in. I was told he was not. I wanted to speak to him about the repeal of the Affordable Healthcare Act. I thanked the staffers for everything and left the office. I wandered through the halls of the Senate Office building taking pictures and soaking up the importance and history I was currently walking through. The pull of what I was potentially missing had me back into the late afternoon sun. The U.S. Capitol Building was very near and I naturally walked in that direction. The front was completely cordoned off for the ceremony tomorrow but the back was still open.

There were many groups of people wandering through the plaza. A lot of students standing together for a group photo. In the distance I spotted a Donald Trump impersonator surrounded by a camera crew and headed in the direction.

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Robert Mitchell                                                        Donald Trump

Suffice to say I caught up to him. There was a giant flatbed tractor trailer with several camera crews set up on it. They would be getting footage of Marine One taking off tomorrow. Having no goal or destination I was now free to wander as I desired and have always dug the fact the D.C. was such a great walking city. I wandered around the Capitol building and immediately spotted the “Don’s Johns” on the numerous port-a-potties lining the National Mall, my friends last night told me about at dinner. Seems someone felt the soon to be “Billionaire man-child” was so thin-skinned that they made the decision to cover up the companies name: “Don’s Johns”. Not only was the decision amusing but walking past the numerous port a potties and seeing the progression how the job to cover up the company name went was down right hysterical. First they used blue masking tape. However you could still see the name. Then they switched to a giant white sticker that not only covered up the name but also the phone number. So much for advertising. I also thought, once they remove that giant white sticker the owners company information is going to be covered in pieces of sticker.  So the original advertising will have to be replaced, hope they factored that into the costs of the rentals. Anyways, they clearly ran out of the giant white stickers as they went back to the blue sticker. The further one walked down the mall the sooner they ran out of materials to cover up “Don’s Johns” entirely. Sad.

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I began to see the merchandise vendors. The “Make America Great Again” red hat was in full force. There were also winter hats. When I saw the souvenirs with “45” on it my heart sank. Through the campaign, the debates, the transitions, the talk of the “emoluments clause” in the Constitution people were clinging to the hope that Trumpism would be stopped.  Here we were on the eve of his Presidency.

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I continued to walk along the Mall. I paused for this scene that played out before me.

I continued to walk. I was drawn to the new Trump hotel. The last time I was here it was still an empty post office. I was wondering if there were any protestors still out in front.

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The scene was quiet. There were onlookers, some police and guests of the hotel. I’m sure a better writer would have something profound to write about this, all I can say it felt like the quiet before the storm. I continued to walk towards the White House. Finally preparations for tomorrow’s parade were being finalized.

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As I neared the White House I came across this scene.

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This is one of my favorite photographs of the entire trip. Here the sun is literally setting on President Barack Obama’s Presidency. I teared up a little while taking this photograph. I continued to walk through The Ellipse. It was hard to see the White House. I saw this much of it.

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As the sun set on January 19th, 2017 I had this reflection, well progressive and liberal friends I have been in D.C. three hours wandering the national mall. I must say, it’s a heavy scene here. Trump flags, MAGA hats, now in white (fitting) and pink, you know for the ladies. The smell of cigar smoke is all around, amidst the ever present sirens of law enforcement and the roar of motorcycles ridden by “Bikers For Trump”. We definitely lost, and lost big.

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Looking at the above photo I did not notice that the second amendment hat had bullet holes in it. Damn son, that’s a bad scene. It was the Obama’s last night in the White House I decided to have dinner at the Potbellies sandwich shop beside the White House, the first thing I had eaten over twenty four hours. It was warm enough, for me anyways, to sit on the patio. I pulled out one of my portable chargers and got my cellphone charging. I saw several people come over to the patio to chill, they were carrying or wearing their signs thanking Barack and Michelle Obama. It made me a little sad but so thankful that when I moved to this country Barack Obama was my President. There a lot of people in this country that will never truly or fully understand what Mr. Obama meant to a large number of people. I recharged and so did my phone. I left the patio and kept walking. I wanted to cover as much ground as possible that my two legs could propel me through. Security was tight as anyone can imagine. Tomorrow was a peaceful transition of power but make no mistake this was also a show of force to the rest of the world.

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I began to head to the Lincoln memorial. My goal was to spend the last moments of the sunset inside the memorial. The further I walked down 17th street it dawned on me that the concert with a lineup of shitty musicians was happening. As I got to Constitution avenue I heard Three Doors Down “Here Without You”, full disclosure, I would listen to this song when my wife and I were separated while I was going through the immigration process to move to the United States. To hear this song tonight would change my memory of it. The closer I got and saw all the fencing I realized that I would not be able to actually get into the Lincoln memorial. The stage featuring all of these shitty bands was set up right in front. Have we not all done enough to Abraham Lincoln’s legacy? The sun was almost set and Three Doors Down finished their big hit. Then some twangy country music began with a giant shout to the United States of America! I spoke to a Secret Service agent inquiring if the Lincoln Memorial was open, he confirmed what I already surmised, one could not enter the memorial. He said he might be open tomorrow night. I kept walking along Constitution avenue and saw more souvenir sellers.

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The T-shirt sellers hawking their wares were shouting out. “Hillary sucks! But not like Monica” and “Bitch I’m The President!” “Trump That Bitch!”

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The second time the guy shouted out, “Hillary sucks but not like Monica!”, several little kids walked passed. America man. Intense. I thought that these guys selling and saying all this shit would have a bunch of pink shirts emblazoned with women empowering slogans on Saturday during the Women’s March. Having not been able to visit the Lincoln memorial I opted to walk pass the Washington memorial. The sounds of country music and the chatter and cheer of Trump supporters in the air.

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I walked pass the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Much like the Trump hotel it was also not here the last time I was in D.C. the building is absolutely beautiful.

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Just beyond the museum there was another guy selling shirts. As I walked pass I joked, “You couldn’t give me money to buy one of those shirts.” He laughed. We started talking. I introduced myself, he told me his name was Larry. He told me he was only selling the T-shirts to make money and he did not support Trump. We spoke of politics, I mentioned that I was from Indiana and Mike Pence was not a good guy and we, at least my friends and I no way in hell want to see him become President. I said that we were currently between a rock and a hard place. I also mentioned I thought that Trump’s ego might act as a check and balance. Maybe. He was surprised that I was not on board with Pence. Larry mentioned that when Sarah Palin arrived on the scene nobody knew who she was. I said, yeah who follows Alaskan politics here. I surmise not a lot of people were paying to Indiana politics as well, not until Pence signed the Religious Freedom Act at least. We kept chatting. I wished him well and best of luck. He wished me the same. I kept walking back through Pennsylvania avenue. The small amount of people tapered off as I walked passed the museums. A guy beside me lit a cigarette. I said hi. We began talking. His name was Frank and is a pipe fitter from Las Vegas who was currently laid off. He told me he was in D.C. with his wife who was here on a contract job so he was enjoying his first time in D.C. and  the inauguration festivities. Frank told me he voted for Trump and he thought it would be fifty/fifty if it blew up in all our faces. I told him that I was gambling man it I placed it more at ninety-eight percent. We chatted a bit more and drifted off into the night. Now I had all of Pennsylvania avenue to myself. It was wonderful and surreal. The lights of the Capitol building far away in the distance.

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As I walked around the Capitol building I thought of the history I walking by. The beautiful dome was only beginning to be built while Abraham Lincoln was President and during the civil war. It was a humbling and overwhelming feeling.

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I began to wander through the neighborhoods near the hostel I was staying. What I saw lifted my spirits.

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Those were only a small amount of the signs I passed by. I neared my hostel and checked in. I asked the guy working the desk if it were possible if I could keep my backpack in a locker tomorrow even though I was checking out in the morning. I mentioned I was attending the inauguration tomorrow and I would not be allowed to take it. He said no problem but he said guests should use locks. I said I did not have one but if someone wanted to steal my backpack all they would be getting is a some clothes and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. The couple of guys sitting on the futon in the checkout area laughed.

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I was showed up to my room which consisted of seven bunks and were full. I had a top bunk. Another guy was currently in the room. I began talking to him and introduced myself. He said his name was Brett and he was from Perth, Australia and was nearing the end of a month long trip through the United States. He said the inauguration brought him to D.C. and he had been trying to obtain a ticket for the U.S. Capitol grounds but getting a ticket for a foreigner was not easy. I told him I had an extra ticket and I would give it to him. He was elated and was knocked back by my generosity. Brett said he would take me out to dinner. I said that would be great that I had not eaten much as I was traveling and then walking all day. We went to a bar down the street. It was super crowded but Brett got us two seats at a table that two other people were sitting at. We had a couple of beers and he told me he was a pilot. He was able to get a month off and had never been to America before. I asked him what his favorite part of traveling here was and he told me about visiting the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Brett was able to talk to several of the rocket scientist who actually worked and built the space rockets. He excitedly showed me pictures of them on his phone. We spoke a lot of politics given the city and the event that was happening tomorrow. He told me he could care less who was President, it was not going to affect him but he did want to witness the inauguration. I finished eating and we walked back to the hostel. We passed by some Trump supporters. I took their picture. The guy wearing the Trump flag yelled “I hope you put that on Instagram.” I shouted back, “I already did. Hashtag, Fuck Trump!” One of the others shouted, “You want to see the Trump tattoo on my ass?” I responded, “That’s too much man! You went all in!”

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Once back at the hostel I spoke with my wife and then climbed the top bunk to try and get a little sleep. The sounds of the constant sirens and helicopters lulling me to sleep. I had no idea what tomorrow would bring. None of us did.

You Voted For Trump, Would You Like Cranberry Sauce With That.

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11/30/16

Dear You Voted For Trump,

During our recent conversation at Thanksgiving you expressed to me a hope that I would return to a more thoughtful, articulate Bobby. Yes indeed during the night of the election a lot of my statements were less nuanced and subtle than usual. These words were typed in anger at the direction 62, 418, 820 people decided was great for this country. This election result will test this country, the constitution, the American people, and will also have many consequences for the entire world.

My knowledge that you decided to cast a vote for Donald J. Trump for President of the United States of America is a choice that deeply disappoints me.

For eighteen months we have all seen what this person has said and done on the campaign trail. His campaign was fueled by hate. Never once during the campaign did Mr. Trump speak out against the racism and the violence at his rallies. No, in fact Mr. Trump did the opposite. He encouraged it. One time shouting out to the crowd, “I’ll pay your legal bills.” His supporters attacked people with opposing views. Mr. Trump’s supporters hit people who were African-Americans in plain view of this Presidential candidate. Mr. Trump never denounced these acts.

As a man who has a daughter it frankly disgusts me that you voted for a man who said in dealing with women, “I just grab them by the pussy.” Let me repeat that. Donald J. Trump said, “I just grab them by the pussy.” As I have stated before and will reiterate here, my wife’s happiness, health and well-being is my number one priority in my life. As of November 9th, 2016 this country is less safe for women. The President-elect helped to bolster and embolden misogynists through his disgusting and reprehensible  attitude towards women of which he casually dismissed as “locker room” talk. Soon “locker room” talk shall become “White House” talk.

As a man who purports to have compassion for his fellow humans you have also voted for a man who adamantly made fun of a reporter who had disabilities.

As a man of religion your laissez-faire attitude of the purposed Muslim ban and registration deeply disturbs me. Freedom of religion. All religion is a tenet of this country. It seems to me that because it is not your religion that you are fine with this. Saying to me, “That hopefully something good will come of it.” This registration has happened in human history before. All we have to do is look at Germany in the 1930s. We all have knowledge of what happened there.

Last summer when we spoke about fundraising  you expressed to your daughter and I, that you did not feel right in asking for money when so many people need help. On that day you mentioned Syrian refugees. Well your vote for a Trump, Pence ticket was in direct opposition to that. Mr. Pence Governor of Indiana proposed to ban Syrian refugees from settling here in Indiana. These are refugees that have been legally admitted to live here in the United States. Refugees that many in the faith community had been working for years to help escape a war and live somewhere more peaceful. Now that Mr. Pence is going to be Vice-President of this country in several weeks it does not take a whole lot to extrapolate what this administration will do in regards to people trying to flee war torn countries.

As a man with grandchildren your vote for people who deny climate change is disappointing. 99% of the world’s scientists agree that climate change is real, the planet is warming up, the ice caps are melting at accelerated rates. Just yesterday it was announced about two-thirds of the 430-mile shallow-water coral reef off the coast of Australia is dead. Coral reefs are extremely important to the overall health of the planet. They support more species per unit area than any other marine environment, including 4000 species of fish, 800 species of hard coral and hundreds of other species. Coral reefs buffer adjacent shorelines from wave action and erosion, property damage and loss of life. Globally half a billion people are estimated to live within 62 miles of coral reefs. As coastlines around the world disappear under water the cost of human, animal and environmental suffering will be catastrophic. We will see unprecedented migration for higher ground, food, and resources we have never as a species seen before. We are supposed to be caretakers of this planet.

“The three general principles of a Christian environmental ethic have practical implications for the role of people as caretakers or managers of the environment. The Bible teaches that as caretakers or managers of the environment, people are to practice good stewardship. The word “steward” and “stewardship” is used throughout the Old and New Testaments of the Bible (Gen. 15:2; 44:1; 1 Chron. 28:1; Matt. 20:8; 1 Cor. 4:2; Luke 12:42; 16:1-2). The word used for steward in the Bible can also be interpreted as manager or servant.

When the word for steward is used in the Bible, it refers to a person who is put in charge of taking care of something that does not belong to him or her. This meaning is consistent with the Webster’s Dictionary definition of a steward as “one employed in a large household or estate to manage domestic concerns.” As stewards of nature, people have been appointed by God to manage the “domestic environmental concerns” of our planet earth home.

According to the Bible, general characteristics and responsibilities of a steward include being faithful, wise and responsible. The steward should be concerned with meeting daily needs and is not to abuse or waste what he or she has been put in charge of managing. The steward is to maintain self-control (not overindulging), be a “problem-solver,” and follow the household or estate owner’s wishes and instructions with respect to use and management of what has been entrusted to his or her care (Luke 12:42-46; 16:1-9).

How are stewards held accountable according to the Bible? Proper management actions are rewarded with “true riches” (spiritual riches). Improper actions are punished (something is taken away). Stewards over more are held more accountable, especially if they do wrong when they know better (Luke 12:47-48; 16:10-12).” — From pathos.com

I do not know what your position on climate change is nor is that a concern because working towards more sustainable energy is good for the planet and good for jobs.

Here I shall quote Arnold Schwarzenegger: “I want you to know that I hear you. Even those of you who say renewable energy is a conspiracy. Even those who say climate change is a hoax.

 Even those of you who use four letter words. I’ve heard all of your questions, and now I have three questions for you. Let’s put climate change aside for a minute. In fact, let’s assume you’re right.

 First – do you believe it is acceptable that 7 million people die every year from pollution? That’s more than murders, suicides, and car accidents – combined.

 Every day, 19,000 people die from pollution from fossil fuels. Do you accept those deaths? Do you accept that children all over the world have to grow up breathing with inhalers?

 Now, my second question: do you believe coal and oil will be the fuels of the future?

 Besides the fact that fossil fuels destroy our lungs, everyone agrees that eventually they will run out. What’s your plan then?

 I, personally, want a plan. I don’t want to be like the last horse and buggy salesman who was holding out as cars took over the roads. I don’t want to be the last investor in Blockbuster as Netflix emerged. That’s exactly what is going to happen to fossil fuels.

 A clean energy future is a wise investment, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either wrong, or lying. Either way, I wouldn’t take their investment advice.

Renewable energy is great for the economy, and you don’t have to take my word for it. California has some of the most revolutionary environmental laws in the United States, we get 40% of our power from renewables, and we are 40% more energy efficient than the rest of the country. We were an early-adopter of a clean energy future.

 Our economy has not suffered. In fact, our economy in California is growing faster than the U.S. economy. We lead the nation in manufacturing, agriculture, tourism, entertainment, high tech, biotech, and, of course, green tech.

 I have a final question, and it will take some imagination.

There are two doors. Behind Door Number One is a completely sealed room, with a regular, gasoline-fueled car. Behind Door Number Two is an identical, completely sealed room, with an electric car. Both engines are running full blast.

 I want you to pick a door to open, and enter the room and shut the door behind you. You have to stay in the room you choose for one hour. You cannot turn off the engine. You do not get a gas mask.

I’m guessing you chose the Door Number Two, with the electric car, right? Door number one is a fatal choice – who would ever want to breathe those fumes?

 This is the choice the world is making right now.

 To use one of the four-letter words all of you commenters love, I don’t give a damn if you believe in climate change. I couldn’t care less if you’re concerned about temperatures rising or melting glaciers. It doesn’t matter to me which of us is right about the science.

 I just hope that you’ll join me in opening Door Number Two, to a smarter, cleaner, healthier, more profitable energy future.”

As a man with a child who has dedicated their entire life to education and is about to enter the job market this incoming administration has also begun to let it’s cards be shown by nominating Betsy DeVos who much like the President-elect has absolutely no experience in public education. Besty DeVos is a strong advocate of Charter Schools. We will see a systematic attack on education in this country. This is from a Washington Post article from May 20th, 2014 entitled: “A Dozen Problems With Charter Schools”

“1. Most are not helping kids. Rep. Roebuck’s new report shows that for the 2012-23 academic year, “the average SPP [School Performance Profile] score for traditional public schools was 77.1,” but for charter schools it was 66.4, and cyber-charter schools came in at a low 46.8. What’s more, “none of the 14 cyber charter schools had SPP scores over 70, considered the minimal level of academic success and 8 cyber charter schools had SPP scores below 50.” [Charter and Cyber Charter School Reform Update, April 2014] The latest national research found that charter students in Pennsylvania cover 29 fewer days of reading material on average, and 50 fewer days of math than traditional public schools. That puts us in the bottom three states in the country. [Stanford CREDO, National Charter School Study 2013] If we’re going to have charter schools, shouldn’t they be helping students?

  1. Some are actually hurting kids. In a new report out last week, Gordon Lafer, a political economist at the University of Oregon, reviewed the growing low-budget-charter sector in Milwaukee, which has the oldest charter system in the country, and found startling results with national implications. Cost-cutting charters such as the Rocketship chain offer a narrow curriculum focused on little more than reading and math test prep, inexperienced teachers with high turnover, and “blended learning” products designed to enrich charter school board members’ investment portfolios. Lafer “questions why an educational model deemed substandard for more privileged suburban children is being so vigorously promoted—perhaps even forced—on poor children…” [Economic Policy Institute, 4-24-14] Others have pointed out significant problems with zero-tolerance, strict discipline charters made famous by the “no excuses” KIPP chain of schools. [EdWeek, 2-20-13]
  2. Far too many are cash cows. When Pennsylvania is seen by hedge fund managers as prime ground for “investment opportunities” in charter schools, you know something is terribly wrong. And when four of the top political campaign donors in the entire state are connected to charter schools, you have to start asking why. [See “Charters are Cash Cows”] Publicly funded schools should not be serving to line the pockets of private companies and individuals.
  3. The industry is rife with fraud and corruption. Who can forget the scheme by PA Cyber Charter founder Nicholas Trombetta, right here in Beaver County, to steal $1 million in public dollars? Federal investigators filed 11 fraud and tax conspiracy charges against him and indicted others in the case. [Post-Gazette, 8-24-13] And then there is the Urban Pathways Charter School in downtown Pittsburgh under FBI scrutiny for trying to spend Pennsylvania taxpayer money to build a school in Ohio. A related investigation by the state auditor general revealed a history of expensive restaurant meals, a posh staff retreat at Nemacolin Woodlands resort, and payments for mobile phones belonging to the spouses of board members. [Trib, 11-11-13] Not to be left out, Philadelphia just had its eighth charter school official plead guilty to federal fraud charges. [Philly.com, 2-10-14]
  4. Lack of transparency and accountability. Charter schools are publicly funded, but often act like private entities. Here in Pennsylvania, the largest charter school operator has been fighting a right-to-know request for years in the courts so that he doesn’t have to reveal his publicly funded salary (data that is publicly available for traditional public schools). In 2012, Gov. Corbett and the Republican controlled legislature tried to introduce a bill that would have exempted all charters from the state’s sunshine laws. [See “Where are the Real Republicans?”] In California, charter school operators have even argued in court that they are a private entity and should not be treated as a public institution. [Ed Week, 10-7-13] We desperately need charter reform legislation that emphasizes accountability and transparency, just as we demand from traditional public schools. [See the top 5 reasons the current proposed legislation fails to do both.]
  5. Skimming and weed-out strategies. Dr. Kevin Welner, professor of education policy at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has found that charter schools “can shape their student enrollment in surprising ways.” He has identified a “Dirty Dozen” methods used by charter schools “that often decrease the likelihood of students enrolling with a disfavored set of characteristics, such as students with special needs, those with low test scores, English learners, or students in poverty.” [NEPC Brief, 5-5-13] Think it’s not happening in Pennsylvania? Consider the Green Woods charter school in Philadelphia that made its application available to prospective families only one day per year, in hard copy form only, at a suburban country club not accessible by public transportation. [Newsworks, 9-12-12] When charter schools overtly, or even unconsciously, urge students to leave – for instance, by not offering services for special education students or English language learners – they send those students back to traditional public schools.
  6. Contribute to the re-segregation of U.S. education. For a number of years, researchers have noted the trend towards re-segregation in public education and the role that charters may be playing in that process. A recent report warns, “the proliferation of charter schools risks increasing current levels of segregation based on race, ethnicity, and income.” [Phi Delta Kappan, 2-2014] Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig, of University of Texas at Austin, writes about some charter schools that claim they would like to be more diverse, but that it’s “hard to do.” He explains, “Charters have a choice whether they want to be racially and economically diverse schools that serve ELL, Special Education and low-SES kids. Based on the various admissions and management policies … charters choose their students, rather than families choosing their schools— in essence, school choice is charter schools choose.” [Cloaking Inequality, 11-11-13]

A pointed article in the Jacobin last summer took liberals to task for supporting charter schools while failing to fight underlying racism embedded in education: “Advocating charter schools to boost academic outcomes for poor, minority kids presumes that we can provide equal educational opportunity and simultaneously maintain a status quo of segregated housing and schooling. If you are unwilling to wage the unpopular fight for residential and school integration and equalized (and adequate) school funding, charter schools can seem a “good enough” compromise.” [Jacobin, 7-31-13]

  1. Drain resources from struggling districts. Charter tuition payments are causing a huge financial drain for many districts – $53 million in Pittsburgh this academic year alone. With the state’s massive defunding of public schools, Governor Tom Corbett slashed reimbursement to districts for charter school tuition payments: that cost Pittsburgh $14.8 million in 2012 and continues to cause mounting financial harm. [See “Charter Reform Now”] And remember, when a couple students leave a classroom to attend a charter school, that classroom still has to keep the lights on, and pay the teacher and the heating bill: the math is not a simple moving of dollars from one place to another. What’s more, there is evidence that charters, especially cyber charters, are enrolling more students who were previously home-schooled, thus increasing costs for school districts. [NCSPE Brief on Cyber and Home School Charter Schools]
  1. Closing traditional public schools. Some of the biggest charter school supporters are simultaneously working to close traditional public schools. For instance, a New York Times article this week on the Walton Family Foundation reported that it “gave $478,380 to a fund affiliated with the Chicago public schools to help officials conduct community meetings to discuss their plan to close more than 50 schools at a time when charters were expanding in the city.” [New York Times, 4-26-14] In Philadelphia, charter school proponents have succeeded in getting new charter schools opened while waves of traditional public schools have closed. This year, parents in some schools are being forced to choose between conversion to a charter school, with additional resources for their kids, or staying a traditional public school and losing resources. [Philly.com, 3-13-14]

While Pittsburgh has resisted any large scale opening of new charter schools, the state is now forcing the district to approve new charters, even as it is slashing the budget and promising more school closures. [See “When Charters Cause Harm”] Under state law, districts are not permitted to take into account their own financial situation when approving new charter schools, which means that charter expansion cannot be a rational part of an overall strategic plan.

  1. Lack of innovation. Charter schools were meant to be “innovation labs” to test out new ideas and introduce those ideas into the traditional public school system. But that is not happening. We’ve had charter schools in Pennsylvania for 15 years, so where is all this innovation that should be showing up in all of our schools by now? Supporters of the highly problematic Senate Bill 1085 wish to strip the innovation clause out of state law, which is the last thing we should be doing. [See “Top 5 Reasons to Oppose SB 1085”] We need to find ways for the best charter schools to work collaboratively with school districts so that all students benefit.
  2. Hard to get rid of the bad ones. Poor performing charter schools do not just go away. Half of all brick-and-mortar charter schools have been around now for over ten years. But Rep. Roebuck’s new report finds that “their results do not significantly improve the longer that a charter school has been open. … Unfortunately, for 2012 – 2013, a majority, 51 percent of the charter school open 10 years or more have SPP scores below 70 [considered the minimal acceptable score].” The report concludes, “these results are not encouraging and it raises concerns about renewing many charters with poor performance over so many years.” [Charter and Cyber Charter School Reform Update, April 2014]
  3. Charters promote “choice” as solution. I’m not convinced we simply need more “choices” in public education. We do need great public schools in every community (that doesn’t mean in every single neighborhood), that any parent would be happy to send their children to, and that meet the needs of local families. We don’t really have any choice at all if our local public school is not a high quality option. The idea of “choice” is very American, but it’s also at the heart of modern neo-liberalism; free market ideology has turned parents into consumers, rather than public citizens participating in a common good. Markets do a fine job making stuff and selling it. But they also create extreme inequality, with winners and losers. [See “The Problem with Choice”] Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge any family that makes the personal choice to send their child to any school, whether private, religious, charter, or magnet. I’m not advocating getting rid of choices. But I’d be a lot happier if charter advocates stopped using “choice” to promote these schools. Choice alone doesn’t guarantee quality and it hasn’t solved the larger problems facing public education.”

I have recently become a member of the American Civil Liberties Union. (A.C.L.U.) and I have shared posts of theirs in which they have stated that if President-elect Trump violates the constitution and civil rights of Americans that they are ready and prepared to sue. Perhaps that is what you were referencing when you mentioned to me Friday afternoon after Thanksgiving that we should not be talking about suing people. I would also say to you that the person you voted for has sued many, many people and has threatened to sue his entire time during the campaign. Most recently he settled out of court in the Trump University case. In which he ran a fraudulent university that bilked people out of 125 million dollars. A case in which he settled out of court for 25 million dollars thereby profiting a hundred million in fraud.” Perhaps this is a testament of Mr. Trump’s business acumen.

As I have heard you and many others say “We will survive this.” Well, we should not have to survive a Presidency. And yes you and I will very probably “survive this”. As two white men in this country we shall do quite well. However me being an immigrant, well we shall see. There are people that are saying people who are protesting and openly challenging this incoming administration are being alarmists, sore losers, hypocrites because of the concerns that Donald J. Trump would not accept the election results if he lost. To that I will unequivocally state, “No”. Many are marginalized people who have been threatened and attacked this entire election cycle by the very man who is about to become President and by many of his supporters. We have all seen the amount of hate being perpetrated and the many acts of hate graffiti that are taking place across the entire country. Taking to the streets is a defiant and a “grandiose” way of showing unity and strength for some people who do not feel neither equal nor strong at the moment.

I have followed politics very closely for going on thirty years. I have read the extremists’ members of the G.O.P. speak and articulate their thoughts and beliefs during these decades. We are now on the verge of witnessing this extremist agenda beginning in the next several weeks. Another tax cut for the rich, dismantling government services such as Medicaid, Medicare and education services. A further proliferation of the attack on the natural resources of this planet. There is no doubt in my mind that there will be another march to war.

As for as myself, yes, I am guilty of making blanket statements towards people who voted for Trump. Most notably that people who voted for Trump also voted for racism, misogyny, homophobia and xenophobia. This is indeed a fact. I own these statements and am always ready to speak as to my reasons why. You cannot cherry pick some things you like about Mr. Trump and blindly disregard the others. One thing I will give the Trump campaign, he never hid any of his inner thoughts. To move forward you must connect these dots and fully realize that your vote for Mr. Trump was also a vote for racism, misogyny and xenophobia. All of this being said I fully realize that not everyone who voted for Mr. Trump is a racist, hates women or immigrants and refugees. However if being lumped in the same category of people who hold these ideals bothers you and hurts your feelings than you should do some introspection. A vote for Trump supports all of this. Mr. Trump’s current cabinet picks are being filled by known racists. Steve Bannon who was instrumental in a long campaign of sheer hate and vitriol towards women in a movement that was dubbed “Gamergate”. Mr. Bannon has published many, many articles of hate towards African-Americans and other minorities as executive chair of Breitbart news. Another notable cabinet selection was Jeff Sessions a known racist who former colleagues testified under oath that Mr. Sessions has used the “N-word” many times and also has said that the KKK was okay. Hate is hate is hate is hate.

I felt during our recent conversation that I was patronized for my anger and that as someone that is angry that I cannot maintain rational thought. You brought up mutual people that know both you and I and that these people where asking, “What’s up with Bobby?” as perhaps as a way to guilt me into silencing myself. That being said, I will never acquiesce, subjugate nor silence myself. Not now, not ever. At this point in this countries history more than ever dissent must happen and must be protected. Dissent does not mean a call to arms, or war but to keep questioning and challenging our elected officials. Be it phone calls to Senators, volunteering, a protest march, voting with your wallet, knocking on doors for political candidates, giving money to worthwhile organizations. Mr. Trump brings an enormous amount of conflict of interest to the Presidency. He is also a pathological liar. Now more than ever requires critical thinking.

“No harm ever came from overestimating the danger of a political situation. Whole civilizations have been lost from underestimating it.” – Hannah Arendt in her book The Origin of Totalitarianism

We are all human and being human we are not perfect and we falter. As a man who purports to be of certain ideals you threw them away on this vote. That being said I am ready to move past your recent choice of who you wanted to be President of this country. Albeit with a caveat. Are you ready to stand up and be on the side of justice for all? To help protect the vulnerable who will be facing insurmountable challenges such as when health care is being dismantled and taken away. When people are being rounded up and families being split up? Are you going to stand up to the hate that is all around us. When the next march to war begins? It is very easy to talk the talk. As you and I can attest to it can be extremely difficult to walk the walk. I look forward to walking alongside you. You have professed to a love of people, compassion and to be charitable. As someone who directly speaks to many youth on any given day you have an esteemed place that not everyone has. These kids look up to you. I have seen it. For their sake and the sake of your kids and grand kids do not let them down.

Sincerely,

Robert Mitchell

bobby

Good Bye, David Letterman

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Photo: Jeffery R. Stabb CBS 2015

bobby By Robert A. Mitchell

We humans are weird, strange, emotional creatures. On any given day it is difficult to ascertain what might put us into an emotional tailspin and send us into a slight depression and self-reflective state. Last Wednesday night (May 20th, 2015) I was sitting with my wife watching David Letterman’s last show in our living room in my adopted state of Indiana — which I thought was apropos given Letterman’s roots. The end of the show when Dave said, “That’s pretty much all I’ve got, the only thing I have left to do on a television program, thank you and good night,” followed by The Foo Fighters playing their song Everlong over a montage from both the CBS and NBC shows was hitting the rewind button x10 on my memories. Images I have not seen in years flashed by, Larry “Bud” Melman saying “Good evening.” Then video of the various stunts that Letterman pulled such as being lowered in a tank of water wearing an Alka-Seltzer suit, the suit made of velcro which he vaulted off a trampoline onto a wall of velcro. I insta-remembered seeing these shows as a kid and was jettisoned back thirty years.

That night I had an extremely restless sleep. Endlessly tossing and turning. Mild allergies mixed with anxiety. The images from the Letterman montage and the song Everlong replaying in my head. A couple of times through the night I would have this sensation of suffocating and bolt upright as though I was emerging from being buried in sand or like I was drowning. Being awake most of the night, I fell into a self-reflective thought pattern, wondering what I was doing with my life and where I was going with the finite amount of time I have on this planet. The next day was no picnic.

In between my daily routine I found myself on YouTube replaying The Foo Fighters montage several times to tap into that nostalgic, melancholy feeling. I fell into the rabbit’s hole and began watching an endless amount of old Late Night clips. I recalled the opening of the Late Night on NBC that I loved so much. A yellow taxi-cab driving slowly down a dark and desolate New York City street. A stencil on the asphalt saying Late Night. The camera tracks through an office building as a janitor cleans an office. A neon sign for a neighborhood bar. The camera enters, several patrons alone and slumped over the counter and booths. The camera then swoops into a parking garage, a guy stretched out on a bench reading the morning paper. New York City looked gritty and dangerous. One of my other favorite television shows in the eighties was The Equalizer, it also had an opening sequence of a gritty and dangerous New York. As if to confirm my reflections of this era of the pre-disneyfication of New York, in one of the YouTube clips I watched, The Late Night announcer Bill Wender says in his baritone voice “From New York, the dumpster that never sleeps.”

Allow me to rewind the VHS tapes of my memories, press play and adjust the tracking. 1985. My father had an apartment in a high rise building in Toronto that was near the holy shrine that was The Maple Leaf Gardens. He was a truck driver for the Globe & Mail (A daily Toronto newspaper). This job saw him working nights. I have fond and vivid memories of sitting in the passenger seat as we drove down near empty streets. As we turned and went down Spadina Ave and through Chinatown, red and green neon signs spilled their colors onto the streets and there were these pockets of hustle and bustle centered around restaurants. We would then arrive at the Globe building on Front street. My father would usher me into the building and we headed to the large printing room to watch the creation of the morning paper. It was a huge thrill for me to stand high above the printing press and marvel at the many conveyor belts as thousands of papers rushed by. It was one of my first glimpses into the subculture of people who work nights.

It was also around this time that I would wind up on my first film set. One of my father’s buddies, a fellow Globe driver who I called Uncle Mitch, was also a driver for movie trucks. He got me on the set for Police Academy 3: Back In Training. I don’t recall much of being on the set except being in awe of the people, trucks and equipment. I have always loved cameras and was quite taken with the film cameras and the lights.

During this summer I also bought my first comic books from the corner store on the street far below my father’s apartment. The store had one of those circular metal racks for the new comics and the first one I bought was The Punisher limited series number two. The cover was striking. It featured the Punisher standing against a brick wall in a Manhattan subway entrance as a bunch of bad dudes descended the stairs towards Frank Castle. Once again this cover reenforced the image of a tough, crime-ridden New York City. That comic book is now signed by the artist Mike Zeck and framed on the wall of my writing office. I spent a lot of time in my father’s apartment by myself. He was sleeping during the days and working nights. My imagination flourished in all of this alone time. I remember reenacting that Punisher cover by hiding behind the couch in the living room and pretending it was that New York City subway entrance and I was a ten year old vigilante. Years later, finding out the revelation that Late Night with David Letterman was not shot at 12:30 am but was taped in the afternoon was tantamount to another kid finding out the truth about Santa Claus.

My father has been a long distance truck driver for over thirty-five years. His home is a sleeper bunk behind his steering wheel in some rest stop/parking lot/truck stop somewhere in North America. However, during this summer of 1985, as I have stated, he was a city driver for the newspaper which, although a night shift was an inversion of his hours, was the most time I recall spending with him. Which brings me back to David Letterman. On my father’s nights off we would stay up late and watch The Late Show. I can still recall my father’s deep robust laugh when I think of watching these shows. David Letterman in the mid-eighties. Boy oh boy was that funny stuff. His deadpan, sarcastic and self-deprecating humor was a real revelation to me. The idea that one could tell a joke and have no expression on your face which kept people guessing if you were telling the truth or were joking is my favorite kind of humor and one I have spent my years trying to obtain. There was also David Letterman’s sense of mischief. Some of the bits that have long stayed with me are Letterman playing “Mr. Curious”, a guy just hanging out in the street trying to see what’s in your bag or perhaps at the one-hour photo shop trying to get a glimpse of your vacation photos. On my recent YouTube journey through old Late Night clips I came across the Mr. Curious moment when he approaches two uniformed NYC beat cops. “What do you do for a living?” he asks. The one cop responds, “I’m a mailman.” “It’s a tough city; the mailmen carry guns and billy clubs,” Mr. Curious turns toward the camera and deadpans. Looking back I can make the connection that since it was this humor that I first encountered which made my father laugh so heartily, it has been my goal to be this kind of funny as a way to seek my father’s approval.

By the time I was a teenager and was back in my hometown for a couple of years my friends and I’s comedy influences had turned towards the Red tapes from the Two Bar in Jersey and the Jerky Boys. Which I have to think were directly influenced from the ultimate prankster Letterman, phoning a pay phone in Times Square bit comes readily to mind. One of the best pranks my friends and I pulled was at our local convenience store. We pulled up to the store, my friend dialing the store on his newly acquired cellular phone and informed the cashier that “We have been tracking an individual (describing my sixteen year old self) and that this person was an international renowned counterfeiter and that under absolutely no circumstances should they sell me anything.” I waited a couple of moments and then walked in. Immediately the two people working in the store eyeballed me with such intensity that I could feel them starring at me. I played it up and wandered the couple of aisles and picked up several items, inspected them and put them back on the shelf. I finally approached the counter and picked up a five cent Bazooka Joe bubble gum and placed it on the counter. At this time my friends waiting outside walked into the store trying to get a glimpse of what was taking so long. They looked at me and had to stifle laughter and went back outside. As I then try to pay with a twenty dollar bill, the look upon the cashier and stock clerk face’s was one of the most remarkable things I have seen. A look of absolutely astonishment and bewilderment. They refused to sell me the gum. When I pressed them on why they couldn’t sell me the gum they fumbled over words, finally arriving at that they could not tell me. That moment in that corner store was one of the greatest tests of maintaining a deadpan face. I left the store to so much laughter from my friends and finally breaking my deadpan face, myself.

As I entered my twenties I was back living in Toronto. A worked a lot of jobs, landscaper, bartender, house painter, dock worker, until I fell into working nights in a grocery store. I had now become like one of those people in the opening montage of the original Late Night. When you work nights you tell yourself it’s only temporary. In my case, I temporarily worked the graveyard shift for ten years. My first store I was promised full time for over a year, long story short once a full time position became available I was then told it was being absolved to cut back on the payroll. The next night I quit. Two weeks later I started working for a new grocery company. The store was located at Bloor and Spadina. The street I fondly remembered transversing with my father many years ago to see the newspaper being printed. My first shift was the night of September 1st, 2001. By the night of the 10th I had worked several nights in a row. As the pre dawn bluish, pink sky began to form in the East I left work and entered the subway. I was heading to the furthest Western stop as I was seeing a woman who lived in Mississauga, a city adjacent to Toronto. I was so exhausted I fell asleep on the train. At the last stop I bolted out of sleep. I headed to the surface to catch the first of the two busses I had to take to get to my girlfriend’s apartment. Finally arriving I had breakfast and fell into a deep slumber. An hour or so later I woke up and could not return to sleep. I went to the living room and turned on CNN to see if the world was still there. This morning it wasn’t.

The images I was seeing were indescribable. I watched a plane smash into a World Trade Center building. The buildings came crashing to the ground. People running as a tidal wave of ash billowed down streets. New York City a city I had come to love and I’ve only seen on television was on every television channel. The confusion of that day is hard to put into words even after all of these years. My father was actually not on the road and was home. My immediate impulse was to call him. “What’s going on?” I asked. “They’re gone.” “What do you mean they’re gone?” “The World Trade Center. They don’t exist anymore.” Stunned silence. It was immediately known that world we knew had changed irrevocably.

Just six days after the attack – with the site still smoldering – David Letterman returned to the air. His poignant monologue still resonates. “…if we are going to continue to do shows, I just need to hear myself talk for a couple of minutes, and so that’s what I’m going to do here… It is terribly sad here in New York City. We’ve last five thousand fellow New Yorkers, and you can feel it. It’s terribly sad. Terribly, terribly sad….there is only one requirement for any of us and that is to be courageous because courage as you might know, defines all other human behavior.” That’s one of the things that resonates with me as I reminisce about watching Letterman all of these years. He was always there. During the difficult time of the 9/11 attacks or his personal health crisis, when he was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery for a quintuple bypass. Most recently during Hurricane Sandy that was taped in an empty Ed Sullivan Theater. The image of Letterman and Paul Schaffer standing in yellow rain courts outside the theater still resonates. Now I’m married and currently calling Indiana my adopted state. As George Clooney joked on one of the last shows, “I’m a married man now Dave, I’m home, I’m home with my wife, I turn on the t.v. and now I hear that you’re not going to be there…that’s not okay.” I felt the same way. David Letterman was no longer going to be there. That’s not okay.

One thing that has resonated with me about David Letterman was he never pandered or kissed the asses of the numerous celebrities or politicians that have sat beside him over the years. If it was talking about not getting the Tonight Show after Johnny Carson retired or the Leno, Conan fiasco. There was the night Paris Hilton was on the Late Show to sell a perfume and the first thing Dave asked, “So, what was jail like?” The time that John McCain snubbed the show, the memorable Bill O’Reilly appearance. Dave Letterman didn’t play softball and mince words with guests. It has been said by a great many people the impact Letterman has had on other comedians and the creation of what Late Night television shows could and would be and what they have become. In short, in my opinion David Letterman is late night television. Last night I flipped to CBS to see what was occupying the 11:35 pm spot. It was the show The Mentalist. My heart sank. The time slot after the local news has someone missing. However there is no room for nostalgia in show biz. The next day after the last Late Show with David Letterman workers were in the Ed Sullivan theater taking down and destroying the iconic set piece of the bridges and skyline of New York City. I read in a N.Y. Post article that the George Washington bridge was saved; perhaps it will wind up in the Smithsonian.

As I finish up my thoughts, those late nights sitting in a dark room in front of the television, the bluish light flickering around me, scenes of Letterman dropping watermelons off a six story building, tossing bowling balls unto a car far below fill my memory. Forever etched in my memory is Chris Elliot popping up in the audience as the man below the stairs. Larry “Bud” Melman interviewing travelers at Penn Station. Who can forget Zippy the Chimpanzee skating around as “The Late Night Monkey Cam”? There was Paul Shaffer’s voice, always off camera interjecting a point. All of these great television moments. I want to thank Mr. Letterman for making my father and I laugh so many times. I wonder where my father is tonight and when the last time he laughed was.

The Bus Stop

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It was one of those cold days in February if I remember it all correctly. Charlie had been hustling downtown again. He told me the night was slow, not many johns. I suggested since nothing was happening he should get the fuck out of the cold and we could wander for a while. I looked at Charlie. His face was sullen and sunken in.

Charlie and I had known each other since grade three. Grade fucking three. It felt like seven lifetimes ago. As fucked up as our lives were we were like moons on a similar orbit. Months would go by without seeing each other and then there we were. Together again.

We walked through the city catching up. Nothing had changed and everything was bad. It was nearing two in the morning and we were waiting on the last buses of the night. We stood huddled on the platform doing our damnedest to keep warm. To not much avail.

“You get tested yet?” 

“Yeah.” Charlie said, “Yeah, last week?”

“When are you going to find out?”

He fumbled in his pants pockets for a pack of cigarettes.

“Next week or something.”

He procured the sorriest looking cigarette. All flat and bent. Charlie sparked a match, lit it up and took in a lung full of smoke.

“You know, when did it all go wrong?” He asked exhaling. Words in between coughing.

Searching for an answer I looked down at my arms. Underneath the sweater and the giant parka concealed a dozen needle mark scars. I’m a fuck up.

“I don’t know.” I replied, “You think I can get one of this cancer-sticks off of ya?”

“Yeah sure buddy.”

I lit up and inhaled the smoke.

“You still going to rehab? Charlie asked?

“Yeah, I have a meeting tomorrow.”

“How’s that going?”

“It’s going.”

“Think you’ll be able to kick it this time?”

“Probably not?”

“Than why waste your fucking time?”

“It gets the powers that be off of my back.”

“Yeah, I guess so. I hope you can kick that shit, your the only comrade I can talk to. I don’t need you in the fucking ground.”

I rubbed the stubble that comprise of a shitty attempt at a beard and looked up to the late night sky. The gray clouds looked painted on like a picture in a child’s scary fairy tale book.

“You know, it wasn’t supposed to be like this.” Charlie said, his words slow and drawn out. The way he would get when he was really thinking. “I was supposed to be a fighter pilot and your were supposed to play second base for the Yankees.”

We both looked at one another and shared a smile.

“Yeah, that was a long fucking time ago.” I said.

“Yeah. It was a long time ago.” Charlie reiterated.

Just then a bus pulled up to the curb. The brakes hissing as it stopped. Charlie stood up, brushing the ashes from the cigarette that had fallen on his pants. He took one last drag and tossed the spent smoke to the gutter. The same gutter we were crawling in. A bunch of hopeless people resigned to the fact that we were tossed away. Minimum wage. Dead end job to dead end job. Kept in chains by poverty. Falling through a void of hopelessness clinging to anything that staved off the pain.

Long ago we passed on the respectable citizen trip.  Society deemed us miscreants and forgot us in it’s quest for a tarnished respectability that in a thousand years won’t be worth spit. Charlie and I were just trying to survive the best way we knew how.

“Hey man, I’m strapped for cash. Can I borrow three bucks for the bus? I’ll pay you back the next time I see you.”

“Yeah sure.” I dug into my pocket and handed him some crumbled up singles. He took the bills. We exchanged smiles.

Charlie climbed up the steps of the bus. The doors closed and the bus speed off into the cold winter night. That was the last time I would ever see my best friend. A week later he tested positive for the H.I.V. virus and blew his brains out. At his grave site I told him to keep the three bucks.

I held the needle in my mouth as I tied up my arm. As I spiked my vein I thought to myself how good it would have felt to hit the game-winning home run in the seventh game of the World Series. That would probably feel pretty damn good, but not as good as this heroin. Than I whisked away like that bus that carried Charlie from me.

 

Sunrises

Sunrise

I randomly snapped this photo of a Memphis sunrise about twenty years ago. I had just finished working the night shift at the grocery store. The exhaustion of working all night washed over me. My legs felt ensconced in concrete, every step was a concerted effort. The night had been particularly steeped in bullshit. One guy quit. Another dude called in sick ten minutes prior to the shift. Our normal six-guy crew was down to four. On top of all that, the truck with the groceries was an hour late. We were working behind the eight-ball and employed by a complete asshole. One thing I do not miss was the self-induced stress brought on by that fucking job. The fact that we finished unloading the truck, stocking the shelves and presented the store just prior to the shift ending was a minor miracle. Anyways, back to that sunrise. The early Saturday morning streets were devoid of life. The city was mine. I rounded the corner on to Union street and came face-to-face with the full brilliance of the morning. It was absolutely stunning in its radiance. Perfectly blinding. I’m glad my instincts were to take a picture. It would be the last sunrise I would ever set my eyes on.

At the time I was working six nights a week. Saturday night was my only night off. I usually stayed up for several hours and slept most of the night like a normal person. The day would be spent with my eyes feeling heavy with sleep and fighting the overwhelming urge to… Just. Fall. Asleep. I whittled the hours of the day away watching bad movies, washing the dishes and doing my laundry. On that day though, I resolved to actually go to sleep when I got to my bachelor apartment. I was growing tired of feeling like a zombie with no social life. I arrived at my apartment building, the elevator was not working as usual so I walked up the five flights of stairs. As soon as I unlocked the door, I did not bother getting undressed but flopped on the unmade bed and fell into a long dream-filled torpor.

I awoke. My flat was enshrouded in complete darkness. I lied in my bed slowly opening and closing my eyes My fore-fingers went to work removing the hardened bits of rheum that formed at the edges of my eyes. Losing the day and waking up well after the sunset, I was completely disoriented. My limbs felt as though they were in a semi-paralysis. It took several minutes for me to get my bearings. I rolled over and glanced at the flashing red L.E.D. lights from my alarm clock. It was 9:43 pm. I sat up and reached for my pack of cancer-sticks. I lit one up and inhaled and then blew out a long plume of smoke. The cigarette felt good. I noticed the red light on my voice machine blinking. I hit play. The tape clicked and then began to unwind.

“Yeah, hey man. Just calling to see if you were still down for hanging out tonight. We’re going to be out, probably start on Beale street but get out of there quick. Anyways, let me know. Ricardo”

Finally mustering up the motivation to get moving, I stumbled towards the bathroom and the standup shower. I cranked the hot water and nearly jumped out of my skin. I finished, toweled off and dressed. I decided to walk my way over to Beale.

The cool air in early March chilled me, and I zipped up my hoodie. The streets were quiet. Walking past Sun Studio I could make out the sounds of a band recording. Further on I saw a van baring blue and white Michigan plates. A guy was leaning against the van. I gave him the head nod. He nodded back.

“Excuse me, can I trouble you for a cigarette?” He asked.

“Sure.” I reached into my jeans and procured my lighter. He drew a cigarette to his lips. I lit his smoke. He puffed on the smoke until the tip glowed orange. Ash fell off.

“Thanks. My first time in Memphis. We drove down from Ypsilanti yesterday.”

“Cool. I then lit a cigarette of my own. “What do you think of the city?”

“I love the vibe of this place. We’re recording a demo tonight.”

“Cool.”

“Yeah, then we’re heading down to Austin to play South by Southwest.”

“What kind of music ya play?”

“Straight up rock and roll. That’s why we really wanted to record here.”

“Cool. Best of luck.” I finished my smoke and tossed it to the gutter.

As I got closer to Beale street the amount of people increased. The basketball game must have just let out judging by how much blue and white apparel everyone was wearing. Based on their excitement, Memphis won. I arrived at the usual juke joint and met Ricardo. The place was bopping. A blues band was in the middle of their set. Several people were dancing around the stage. The room was bathed in hues of red and blue. My head was swirling making the adjustment to the loud acoustics and immediate rise in temperature. It took effort to make my way towards the bar. I stood at the bar scanning the room looking for a familiar face as well as looking for an opening to get a beer from the bartender. Spending most of my life in a supermarket working with several people in the middle of the night it’s always an overwhelming experience to be in a tiny space packed with people. It is in moments like this I realize how out of touch with the world I am. I began to feel the anxiety. I left.

I shivered as the cool night air surrounded me. I instinctively wandered towards the river. The smell of the Mississippi hit me as I got closer. Where was I in life? What was I doing? Thirty-one. Working for twelve bucks an hour in a grocery store. No friends. No girlfriend. Alone. 

“Hey Mister. You got some spare change?” A voice invaded my reverie.

“What?”

“Spare change?”

“Uh…” I fumbled in my pocket and my fingers found the crumbled up bills I was going to use to buy a beer earlier. “Here.”

The guy took the money and thumbed through the bills.

“Thanks brother. Thanks! God bless.”

He wandered off into the night. I walked back into town. As I passed a bar I looked inside. A couple of guys sat on stools. I entered and took up a seat at the end of the bar. Howlin’ Wolf’s “Moanin’ At Midnight” was playing over the speakers.

“What’ll it be?” The bartender asked.

“Uh….I don’t….a PBR.”

The bartender brought the beer over. I took a sip. It was the first of many. Five beers later, a woman walked in to the bar. She was tall and slender. Her skin was like alabaster. Looking at her eyes was like looking at two large orange harvest moons. She sat beside me. She smelled like vanilla.

“Hi.” She said.

“Hello.”

The bartender came over.

“Good evening. What’ll you have?” He asked.

“Oh I don’t know, how’s your Manhattan?”

“To be honest, rusty. Can’t say I’ve made many of those round here.”

“Well, let’s see how it goes. I’ll take a Manhattan.”

“Coming up.”

She looked over at me.

“My name is Alice. What’s yours?”

“Ah…Steve.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Steve. You from Memphis?”

“Yes. Well, I moved here several years ago. You….are you from here?”

“No, just passing through. I love music, so I’ve always enjoyed my time here. What do you do?”

The bartender set down a coaster and the Manhattan. Alice swirled the cherry around the drink.

“I work nights in a grocery store.”

“Nights. That must be a drag.”

“Yes, yes it can be. I’m also a writer.”

“Ah, a writer! Anything I may have read?”

“No, not yet anyways.”

“Persistence. You’ll get there. If that’s what you really want.”

Our conversation flowed with ease. I felt quite at ease and comfortable speaking my inner most thoughts to Alice. The bartender came over.

“It’s just about closing time.”

“What’s the damage?” Alice asked. He set down a receipt. She looked it over. “I’ll get Steve’s tab also.”

“You don’t have to do that.” I said

“Nonsense, my pleasure.” She handed the bartender a black card. He returned with another receipt and a pen. She signed her name. A large bubbly signature.

“Thanks!” I said.

“Where to next?” Alice asked.

“I was going to head home.”

“How are you getting there?”

“Walking.”

“Cool. It’s such a beautiful night; I’ll walk with you.”

We wound through the people walking and carrying giant plastic cups of beer on Beale street. Music from several juke joints, bars, clubs filling the night air. A giant circle of people were surrounding a troupe of three guys who were in the middle of an act comprised of juggling sticks of fire and doing gymnastic flips.

“Memphis is a really magical town isn’t it.” Alice said more as a fact than posing me a question.

“It’s cool.”

“Show me your Memphis. Anyone can wander Beale street.”

“I don’t know if I have anywhere cool to show you.”

“Oh, come on now Steve. Don’t hold back on me. You tell me you write. You can’t do all of your writing in a tiny bachelor apartment.”

“I like the river.”

“Take me there.”

We left the lights of downtown and made our way towards the river. Somewhere along the way, we held hands. My heart began racing, and I felt dizzy with excitement. We walked along the edge of the river, past the faux steamboats moored alongside one another for the night.

“What do you write about?” Alice asked.

I thought for a bit. “Life. I write scenes from my life. However it can be quite uneventful most times so there  are large stretches where I am not writing anything at all.”

“So, you need some inspiration.”

“Yes.”

Alice stopped walking. “Kiss me.”

I froze.

“Kiss me Steve.”

“It….it’s been quite some…..”

Her hands grabbed my face and brought me towards her. We kissed. It felt as though every nerve in me had simultaneously awakened. I was on fire. I was alive.

“Let’s get out here.” Alice purred as her lips grazed my ear.

“We can go back to where you’re staying.”

“No. Your place.”

“It’s…it’s a fucking dump…”

“I don’t care.”

We hurried back towards town. It took some time, but we got in a cab at Alice’s insistence and made our way to my place. I unlocked the front lobby door and held it open for her.

“We’re going to have to walk the stairs. The elevators broken.”

Once at my apartment it took no time at all. We were naked. Alice became animalistic. She threw me on to the bed. She straddled me. Furiously and rapidly kissing me. It felt as though she was attacking me. She began to lick and kiss my neck. She made loud noises with her nose as though she were sniffing me.

“I’m sorry Steven. You seem like such a nice boy.” She then hissed and bared what looked to be large fangs. She drove towards my neck. All I felt was pain. The worst pain I have ever felt. It was as though two large knives broke my skin and slowly, ever so slowly inched deeper and deeper into my neck. I began to thrash around. Alice calmly held me down. That’s all I remember. I blacked out.

*****************

I woke up. Alone. In the bathtub. The apartment was completely dark. My eyes immediately adjusted to the darkness. I sat up and looked around. It was hard to discern how much time had passed since Alice was here. I instinctually knew it was at least a couple of days. The red L.E.D. numbers on the alarm clock blinked 1:33 am. The red light also blinked on my answering machine. I got up and felt extremely weak. I hit play.

“Uh…hey man….it’s Ricardo. We’re all at the store wondering if you are coming in tonight.” Click.

“Hey, Ricardo again. You okay? Call me.” Click

“Good morning, Steve. It’s Mr. Gilling. I’m calling about your no show, no call last night. If you still want a job, I suggest you call and talk to me soon. Bye.” Click.

“It’s Mr Gilling. We are clearly getting the message here, Steve. Call me.” Click

“Hey dude. Ricardo. Yeah, people around here are getting pretty pissed. The night crew is cursing you up and down and well, Gilling wants your head on a platter.”

“Okay Steve, you’re fired.” Click

I got up and slowly dressed. I felt the side of my neck and did not feel any marks. Did I dream of Alice? Did anything happen? My mind was so hazy.

I then did what I always did. Walk to the grocery store. The walk took forever. I was so weak. I walked passed the night cashier and walked along the back of the store looking up the aisles. The guys were opening up boxes and hastily grabbing items and stocking the shelves. I finally spotted Ricardo working on the canned soups. I slowly approached him.

“Hey dude.” I said

He wheeled around. His box cutter in his hand. His eyes looked me over. It took a couple of seconds. Then the recognition flashed across his eyes.

“What in the fuck.” Ricardo said. “Yo man. What’s the story? I never thought I was going to see you again.”

“I don’t know.”

“You alright? You don’t look so hot.”

“I don’t feel so good.”

“You need to go the hospital?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Oh. Kay.”

“So the guys are pissed at me?”

“That’s an understatement. I tried getting you on the phone. I left a couple of messages. After a week everyone calmed down. Then people started talking crazy shit, like maybe you got murdered or something.”

“You think I can get my job back?”

Ricardo started laughing. “Nope. Gilling never liked you in the first place.”

“I should get a move on. I’ve been gone a week?”

“Almost two weeks now.”

“Shit. That’s fucked up.”

“No shit dude. You going to be okay?”

“To be honest, I don’t know what the fuck I am right now.”

“Keep in touch.”

“Sure.”

I left the store, avoiding the the really noisy night cashier. I pulled the hood up on my sweater and walked and walked and walked. Thinking. Or whatever tattered thinking patterns were weaving in my brain. My thoughts began and evaporated just as quickly. It actually felt as though I was a complete stranger inhabiting myself. Yeah. That makes no sense. Was there any sense anymore? Off in the horizon the black sky was beginning to take on a slight bluish hue. Something–call it instinct–propelled me to get home as soon as fucking possible. Nothing else mattered. Get. The. Fuck. Home. Shelter. Safety. Survival.

I got to the apartment lobby. Even in my weakened condition, I tore up the stairs. I made it. I sat on my bed. Birds began chirping outside. The sky was changing. Bluish hue gave towards violet, to pink, to reddish hue. Slowly and suddenly my skin felt as though it was on fire. Again. Instinct. Get. The Fuck. Away. From. The. Light. I ran towards the bathroom. I grabbed towels and stuffed them along the crack at the bottom of the door. No where else to sleep but the bathtub and crawled into it and fell asleep.

I awoke. I assume it was the next night. It then hit me. Hard. The CRAVING. Blood. I. Need. BLOOD. Am I going fucking crazy? What happened to me! BLOOD. I NEED BLOOD. I screamed. How in the hell am I going to get blood? I’m not a killer. My insides hurt. The worst cramps of my life. I crawled out of the tub and stumbled out of the apartment. I began to walk the sidewalks. My eyesight was perfectly adjusted to the night. My senses were extremely heightened. I could smell everything. I could hear everything. I have no idea what schizophrenia feels like but perhaps this was it? The sirens finally faded away.

A foreign instinct was taking ahold of me. Guiding me. It felt older then anything I could possibly ever know. I trusted it. To trust the instinct was to survive. That’s all that mattered now. Survival.

I heard a dog barking. I headed towards it. Some fences stood between me and the dog. I not so much climbed them as I vaulted over them like an olympic athlete. I arrived in someone’s backyard. The dog stood before me. A large Golden Retriever. It began to bark and howl at me. Then guttural noises took over.

“Ssssshhhhhh. It’s going to be okay boy.”

I lunged towards the dog. It began to try and bite me. Picking up the dog as it was violently trying to repel me took no effort on my part. The dog sensing things were not going to go it’s way began to whimper. As though it was begging with me to spare it. The dog was negotiating with a humanity that was no longer there. I broke the dog’s neck and bared my fangs and bore them into the dog. Its blood entering me. The warmth. I felt alive. I threw the emptied corpse to the ground and hopped over the fence. I began to wander. The haziness of my mind subsided. I felt good. I felt peace. I felt sickened. What the fuck did I just do? You survived. You did exactly what you had to do. You survived. 

The blood of the dog satiated me for a night. Instinct. I knew I had to fortify against the light. I went to a 24 hour home improvement store. Many times walking past this store I would wonder, who in the fuck is in need of this shit at four in the morning? I laughed. I acquired black paint and rollers. Hitting up a corner store I picked up tin foil. A lot of tin foil. Once back at the apartment, I attacked the windows with paint. The tin foil would have to wait until the paint was dry. Instinct. This apartment was only temporary. I needed better, more secluded dwellings. Preferably in the earth. A basement. Safety. SurvivalInstinct. Taking no chances I went to the bathroom to sleep.

The weeks that followed, I hunted more dogs. I killed so many that it had made the local evening news. My craving for blood was getting  less and less satisfied. There was a secondary urging, the thrill of the hunt. Grabbing someone’s pet just doesn’t really pose much of a challenge. Instinct. Humans. The very thought made me ill. Some nights after rising I would just pace back and forth all night. My mind going to places I really could not control. Slowly I was accepting my next progression. My bloodlust was propelling me and the excitement of the kill was palpable.

But who?

I thought of my old boss at the grocery store.

But how?

He usually leaves the supermarket well before the sun sets. Eventually I just walked over to the grocery store in the middle of the night and got his phone number and home address.

The next night, I set out for the house of my former boss. He lived outside of the city and I drove out. My mind began wandering. What about his family. I don’t want to kill anybody I don’t have to kill. Have to kill? Humans are a plague. A pest. Kill them all. Kill. Them. All. You are a god. 

The closer I was getting to the house the more my bloodlust kicked in. I became uncontrollably giddy. I arrived and parked a couple of hours away. I walked over to the house and cased it out. I went to the backdoor and tried the knob. It was locked. I looked under the mat. There was one tiny little bronze key. I picked it up. Stupid humans. I inserted the key and turned it. Click. I opened the door. An alarm went off. Loud buzzing sounds. Fuck. I could hear stirring above me. I stood in the kitchen and waited. It took about two minutes but in walked a very frantic Jim Gilling holding a handgun. He spotted me and immediately shot. BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! He emptied the clip. Two bullets hit me. I hit the tiled floor hard.

He was stunned. He slowly approached. He stood over top of me and leaned over.

I jumped up. He jumped back clutching his chest. Struggling for breath. Chest heaving violently.

“Oh my God, Oh my God. Holy FUCK!!!!!! Holy fuck! Holy fuck!”

“Hello, Boss.”

It took a little while for the wheels to turn in his head.

“Steve….is that you?”

“Yes sir.”

“What in the fuck are you doing here?”

“I came to kill you.”

No pleading. No begging.

“Where is your wife and kids?”

“Not here. We’re separated. How are you even standing?”

“Ha, that’s a long story.”

The sheer terror gave way to a sliver of rationality. He stood up and bolted. I looked on amused. Running through the house toward the front door, he ran smack dab into a coffee table and fell. I felt like a giant puma stalking a mouse. I walked towards him, taking my time and savoring the moment. I stood above a man who once had so much power over me. I am a god.

“Any last words?”

“I…..I…I regret everything.”

I pounced.

My fangs shot out. I dove into his neck. My fangs broke the skin and I began sucking. Oh! Ohhhhh. Oh fuck yes! The blood felt so good. At some point I had more than my fill, but I kept sucking and sucking until I could not take anymore.

I stood up.

Dizzy. Woozy. My insides stirred. I heaved. Then threw up. Blood. So much blood everywhere.

I sat down.

Slowly the bloodlust controlling me gave way to my usual thought process. I had just killed a man. I didn’t feel good or bad about it. Just indifferent.

I looked over the house and took any loose cash I found. I am now something vastly different but I am still existing in a human world. I looked over the scene. How anyone would make sense of the chaos of that living room made me smirk. I headed back to my car. I took the long way back.

Once the stories about murdered and missing dogs made headlines, I had become obsessed with watching the news. Now that I killed my first human, upon waking the next night, I turned on the TV. “Murdered Local Businessman” was the top story at eleven.  “Police are investigating a scene that words cannot possibly describe. A violent and chaotic murder that took place in a usually quiet neighborhood. Police are asking for assistance from the community. If anyone has any information, please come forward and contact authorities.” 

My appetite currently in check — even with the amount of blood I lost throwing up — I stayed in for a couple of nights. On the third night after killing my former boss, I wandered over to the grocery store to see the mood of my co-workers. I wore a baseball cap and sunglasses. I did not want their recognition of me to taint their current mood. They seemed to be happier, giddy even. They yelled over each other across the aisles and seemed to be moving faster, actually enjoying work. I walked out happy. I am a god.

*********************

I have come to learn that about five nights without feeding is about as much as I can push things before getting very weak. One of the nice things about Memphis is the high turnover of people passing through. Tourists, musicians, truck drivers, transients. People who could wind up missing and dead but the local heat would cool off faster. The less humans and their puny desires of justice interfere with my world the better.  My instincts and survival mechanisms get honed and stronger with each passing day.

There was one night I had been in desperate need to feed. I wound up in one of my favorite blues clubs. A band was on stage. There may have been six musicians up there but I only saw one. The lead singer. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever laid eyes on. She was mine.

I saw a poster that informed me that she and the band was performing here for two more nights. As much as I needed blood I saw her sing the next couple of nights. Though I sat in the back shrouded from the people and lights of the club, she saw me too.

After the band’s last set, they began taking down and packing up their equipment. Then she approached.

“Hey. You must really like our music.” She grinned.

“I really like the singer.”

“You’re too kind, thank you.” She said blushing.

“My name is Steve. What’s your name?”

“Michelle.”

“Why don’t you join me for a drink?”

“I really ‘ppreciate that. But I should help the fellows with the load out.”

“Oh, they’re big boys. They can handle it.”

“You know what, you’re right. Let’s grab that drink.”

“Let’s get out of here. I know a great place just across the street.”

“Sure, that sounds good.”

We walked outside. I took her hand and ran with her past some passing cars to the bar across the street. We took a booth. Michelle and I talked. Our conversation flowed with ease. We spoke about politics, art, music. I got lost in her voice. She was extemely funny. It has been so long since I had a good laugh. My loneliness rose to the surface. Perhaps I could turn her. Make her like me. We could spend eternity together. I couldn’t do that. Put this curse on her. Yes I can.  I am a god. Yes.

“I should be getting back.” Michelle said.

We walked outside.

“This being my last night here and all, why don’t we take a walk down by the river and see a Memphis sunrise together.”

My heart broke.

“What about the band?” I asked

“Shoot, they’re probably passed out in the tour bus by now.”

“You know, no word of a lie, you are indeed the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”

“Thank you.” She said and curtsied.

“Let’s take that walk miss.”

I took her hand and we walked down towards the Mississippi. It was a clear night. You could see all the stars in the sky. We reached the shore line. The water touching our shoes. I turned her to me and leaned in. We kissed.

“Michelle, I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

I then bared my fangs and attacked her neck. It felt so good. Her blood was so delicious, so alive. The thought crossed my mind to keep her alive and turn her. But it passed. I took my fill of her and then eased my fangs out of her veins. I then looked into her questioning eyes as she gurgled blood in her last breaths of air on this planet. I then broke her neck.

************************

My routines for survival continued unabated. I killed and killed. However Michelle stayed with me.

I viciously killed someone so vibrant, so alive, so beautiful.  Someone whom I entertained the thought that I could actually love. A foolish notion. There is no love in my existence.

I wandered the streets. Alone.

One night, I found myself at my old apartment. I hadn’t been there in years. I reached the lobby. Looks like the elevator was finally working. I pressed the button and rode it up to the top floor. I walked past apartments, quiet in the late night. At the end of the hallway was a door leading to the roof. I opened it. On the roof I looked at Memphis about to stir in another hour. Delivery trucks lined side streets. Far off in the eastern horizon I saw the beginnings of the oncoming sunrise. I wanted to see a Memphis sunrise again.

I dozed off. It was the birds chirping furiously around me that woke me. Closely followed by red hot searing pain. I opened my eyes and could barely see. The sun had risen. My flesh was slowly burning. It was a much more intense and sustained pain than the night the vampire bit me.

Instinct.

Survival. 

I jumped up and bolted back inside the building and stumbled to the elevator. I hit the button to the basement. Far past the laundry room was a tiny janitor’s closet. I got in and barricaded myself inside. Many hours later my internal clock woke me once the night had returned. I left and headed back to my current safe house. I carry the scars from that morning forever.

I fell into a routine. Days turned into months. Months into years. Time is a human construct that now means nothing to me. I am going to live forever.

Sometimes a feeling stirs from deep inside me and hits me like a tidal wave. The loneliness. It is crushing. I am powerful beyond any human concept. I am immortal. However the need for companionship is like an anchor. Sometimes it has such a hold on me I stay in my safe confines far underground, far removed from people. It is only the all consuming need for blood that stirs me enough to move among humanity.

When I was a human, I was oftentimes broke, lonely, stuck in my dead-end job. However I had hope. Hope that things would get better. I would change my situation. Find someone to love. Since I have become this thing my emotions swirl in a vortex of catatonic despair.

I like to cling to the idea that I still possess traits of being good but that is foolish. I am an energy of pure instinct.

Some nights I go back to that night in the bar. Meeting Alice. That thing that created me.  I oftentimes think that I was a mistake. She did not kill me properly. I was supposed to die but I stayed alive just long enough to turn. In my travels I have never come across another thing like me. I have taken to calling myself a vampire but of course I cannot be sure. There was a period where I watched all of the movies and the books but that is a world of human fiction. I am something else.

I am a god.

I am an animal.

I am oftentimes haunted by my memories and feelings of what it was like to be alive. To be human. Quite sometime ago I printed out that picture of the Memphis sunrise and posted it up near my bed so that it was the first thing I would see upon waking. I think it is my soul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Thursday Night In Memphis

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For a town so steeped in the Blues, it is the swaths of neon reds bleeding across the streets that dominate the Memphis nights. I arrived in the Bluff City four days ago for an interview fluff piece on a transplanted pop musician. As elusive as the pop singer has so far proven to be, his latest song is omnipresent. The over sentimental lyrics underscored by a twangy guitar are seemingly on every radio, of every bar, sidewalk store speaker and car cruising by.

My days have been spent wandering the city. The hard, uneven sidewalks my guide as I aimlessly walk past red-bricked buildings, vacant lots and failed business store fronts. Inevitably I’m drawn towards the Mississippi river. I lost a couple of hours this morning as I looked at the water slowly flowing South. As I sat on a bench, I took out my notebook under the guise of working on my great unfinished novel. My hangover proved too dominant, and I just wound up doodling ink swirls.

My nights have heeded the siren call of Beale street. It being early Spring, myself and a bunch of conventioneers are the only ones sharing the rails of the bars. Walking past the bars and walk-up windows, my weariness of talking about carpet prices had me pick the place that had the least people. The front entrance informed me “Best Blues On Beale“. I saddled up to the bar. Almost instantaneously the bartender tossed down a coaster.

“What’ll it be?”

“I’ll take a Ghost River.”

“Ale, Riverbank, Reserve?”

“Reserve.”

He procured a beer from the fridge, popped off the top and placed it on the coaster. He turned his attention back to the basketball game. I took a long swig of beer and then fumbled into my pockets for my notepad. I began to jot down my observances and musings of the day. I was nearly finished with my first beer when, by means of introduction, the man sitting down beside me said,

“Are you a writer?”

“On a good day I am.”

“What kind of day is today?”

“I’ll let you know when it’s over.”

I looked over to my new neighbor. His eyes looked at the graffiti-ladened lamp in front of us. He wore a baseball cap and an unkempt beard. I immediately thought the man was a truck driver passing through on his way to who-knows-where.

“You from Memphis?” He asked.

“Well, I’m originally from Indiana, but I’m living in Chicago these days.”

“Indiana! Go Hoosiers! Don’t tell anyone around here I just said that. I like Chicago. Haven’t been in a dog’s age. M’sure it’s changed since the last time I took  a train up there. What brings you to Memphis?”

“I’m working on an article for a music magazine.”

“Music. Seems like you’re in the right town. You’ve been to Sun Studio?”

“No, not yet.”

“You have to go. So much history in that tiny building. You know one day, Ike Turner was on his way into the studio to record and he dropped his amplifier in the parking lot. Smashed it all up. They recorded anyway, and that is how distortion in music was born. My favorite musician Howlin’ Wolf recorded in that very building.”

“Cool.”

“I’m sure you’ve been over to Graceland?”

“No.”

“Well, what the hell are you doing in this town then? Man, you have to see that beauty. You could really just live life in that house. It has its own firing range right on the property. Truth be told, I like Graceland more than the White House.”

BZZZZZZZZZT. BZZZZZZZZZZT. BZZZZZZZZZZT. My cellphone began to interrupt my Thursday night drinking buddy.

“Excuse me a second,” I said as I picked up the phone and hit the green button on the screen. “Hello…..I’m good…..well, the thing hasn’t quite fallen into place…..it’s all been back and forth emails with the agent and manger…..no one actually meets anymore these days; it’s all hiding behind an email….I was under the impression this interview was a go, not me cooling my heels for several days while this pop icon hides in his mansion….cool, cool….don’t worry you’ll be the first to know if anything changes….thanks, bye. Sorry ’bout that. My editor. This story I’m working on is proving near impossible.”

“Why, what’s the problem?”

“The singer I’m trying to interview. He doesn’t want to leave his house or have anyone there.”

“I know a little bit about that. I’ve known many an artist who became successful or more apropos, famous and it broke them. It’s a funny thing to put yourself out there and be so venerable and then people pickup on it and like what you’re doing but then it becomes way too much about you and not the music or the painting or whatever it is you’re doing.”

“Tell me about yourself.”

“Not much to tell. I guess you can say I’m semi-retired these days. I came to Memphis many years ago. Loved to play guitar, took up with a band. We had a good run. Played a lot of clubs around here. Pressed a couple of records. Started going on tour. The van, gave way to trains, then planes. Tiny bars, to bigger ones. Got to play some stadiums. That was groovy. Then like most things the guys got older. Some fell in love; others out of it. We all had kids. Priorities shifted. Life creeped in and with it problems. Some nights we got along, other nights the only time we spoke was on stage. Eventually we chose to go our separate ways. Man I miss those nights.”

“You mentioned your semi-retired. What do you do now?”

“Oh, I try to keep busy. I drive a tour bus back forth between Graceland and Sun Studio when I get the urge to drive around; I like meeting people who travel here from all over the world. My eyes aren’t what they used to be though, so I don’t get to drive around as much as used to. Sometimes I help out at bars on nights when there is a good band playing I want to see. I still strum the guitar. I’ve even been known to sit up on  a stage and sing some Orbison or Jerry Lee. Those nights don’t happen as much these days. My hip gives me more trouble than not and sitting on a stage brings back too many memories. Good ones and sad ones.”

“If this article doesn’t pan out for me, I think I should interview you.”

“That’s a nice thought Mister but I ain’t got much to say these days.”

“If you’ll excuse me a sec, these beers are catching up to me.”

“No problem, as we know, you don’t buy beer, you rent it.”

I sat up, the effect of several beers buzzing around my head. I made it to the restroom. Noticing the lock didn’t work I placed one foot against the door as I did my business. As I wandered back to the bar my new-found companion was reaching into his jean pockets and tossed a bunch of crumbled up bills on the counter.

“Thank you, thank you very much.” He said and left the bar.

I sat back down at the bar. “Excuse me.” I said to the bartender. “What was that man’s name?”

“What man?”

“The guy who just left?”

“You feeling alright, Mister? It’s only been you and I for the past two hours.”

That House In Shamrock

Shamrock4

Now that I’m standing here, I cannot remember the last time I laid eyes on my parent’s house. Of course now that I’m back in Shamrock, I’m not sure it much matters. I’ve spent most of life trying to put as much distance between me and this tiny panhandle town as possible. Staring at the front door the arguments and the alcohol on my father’s breath come rushing back. I have been sitting in the rental car for a half an hour trying to muster up the strength to unlock the front door and step foot into a past I have spent my entire life avoiding.

It was my Aunt Linda that informed me that my mother passed away in a nursing home she was placed in five years ago. However Linda tracked down my phone number I’ll never know.  I could have let the lawyer and the real estate agent handle everything, but from the second I hung up the phone a force much greater then me propelled me from Chicago to Texas. Nine hundred and sixty miles, brought me here, ten feet away, and I cannot step foot onto the front yard.

It takes a lot of will power to not turn the key in the ignition and drive off to never look back. It takes even more courage to open the car door and place my foot on the asphalt in front of house 120. My heart begins racing and my hands begin to sweat. I stand looking into the windows. The drawn blinds almost acting as a way to shelter the street from the horrors that happened inside. The hot Texas sun feels as though my father is standing behind me, breathing down my neck, every hot breath urging me to defy him.

The walk to the front door takes five seconds. It feels as though it was five hours. I fumble in the front pocket of my jeans and procure a set of keys. Inserting the key into  the lock is difficult as I cannot keep my hands from shaking. Somewhere down the street a child yells out to a friend. I jump. I turn the key in the lock and hear the lock click. I grab ahold of the handle. Everything inside me is screaming to just turn around and drive off. Drive farther than Chicago. Drive forever. I turn the door knob.

I’m not prepared for that stale, musky air that envelopes me. It was five years since my Mother was put into the long-term care facility. The house sat empty and untouched since then. Large waves of dust can be seen gently floating in the rays of sunlight filtering through the slender spaces between the curtains.

The second I step foot onto the mustard colored carpet my mind reels back to the last time I stood on it. I was fifteen. My Father had wandered back from whatever dive bar he was holding court in. He must have lost a fair amount of money at poker that night because his anger felt as though it was another entity in the living room. I was sitting on the couch with a notepad writing a story. My Mother had retired to her bedroom hours ago. The living room was shrouded in enough darkness because Frank didn’t notice me. He stumbled towards the back of the house. Towards the bedroom. Towards Mother. About halfway there he started yelling.

“Mary Anne. Where the fuck are you?!?!?!”

The closer he stumbled towards the bedroom, I realized he was only infused with the worst of intentions. Ugly cannot begin to describe it. The yelling suddenly stopped. My Mother’s voice rang shrill into the night. Pleading, begging, crying for Frank to relent. To stop. I stood up. I walked to my bedroom and behind the door was my wooden Slugger baseball bat. I grabbed the bat. The pine tar still thick and sticky on the handle. I had hit forty-seven hits this season. This was the first person I was going to hit.

I marched down the hallway to the awaiting bedroom door that was ajar. Frank was on top of my Mother. She was yelling and kicking. He had both of her delicate arms in one giant hand. The other hand was bawled up into a fist and was slowly and powerfully punching her. I did not breath. I just swung. As hard as I could. The first swing grazed Frank. A foul ball. He didn’t even notice. The second swing I was mustering up every fiber of strength in my being. I hit him square and hard in the back of the head. A home run. The bat broke. Hitting a game winning run in the World Series would not have felt anywhere near as good as that swing. That good feeling was soon replaced with sheer pain. Frank bolted off of Mother and begin hitting me rapidly, all over my face and body. It was a miracle he did not drop me to the ground immediately. I stumbled back through the bedroom door. As the stars swirled around my head I tried to keep my composure and awareness of my surroundings. The first thing I grabbed was a picture frame with a picture of our trip to the Grand Canyon. I pulled the frame off of the wall and flung it towards the monster. A corner of the frame hit the monster under his eye. I continued to stumble away from the darkened blob of rage before me. Once I got into the kitchen I grabbed everything that wasn’t bolted down. Ceramic mugs, plates, glasses. Silverware, knives. Forks. A cutting board. The glass coffee maker. I threw it all.

It was all a blur of ceramic, glass and blood. I managed to get to the front door. Once outside I got into Frank’s pickup and somehow managed to back it up onto to the street and drive away from house 120. I ditched the pickup. Then I ditched my life.

My first job was picking cotton. Then I worked at a slaughter-house near Hereford. Every job, every dollar took me farther and farther away from Shamrock. I changed my name. I changed my story. Many times.

I had no idea what became of my father or mother until a week ago when Linda called me to inform me that my mother had passed away.

I walked though the house. On edge, thinking Frank was just around the corner waiting to pounce on me. Once I got to the bedroom I noticed the bed was made. The pillow cases and sheets had faded pink roses along the outer trim. I opened and rummaged through the drawers and closet. On a tiny bookshelf sat the seven books I had published under my pen name.  Upon opening my Mother’s night table I spotted my notebook from that long ago ill-fated night. I thumbed through it and stopped at the last thing I wrote.

“Through the endless night comes the brightest light.”

I sat on my Mother’s bed and cried.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.