The Unwelcome Thrust of Progress (Part 1)

In Three Parts

Part One: The Corner Office

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Alta Vista did not, as is commonly thought, simply fold or become absorbed into a larger tech company. It morphed, with offices in New York, into an independent research company, mostly for hire by firms looking for a competitive edge against a rival firm. Alta Vista became AltVista. First Vice-President for Account Analysis Robert Hughes turned the knob on his office door at 8:55 am, as he did every morning, whether the train was early or late, entering, throwing his laptop case on the couch, pressing the brew button on his Keurig machine, and staring out his window down into the city, where he could just see the corner of Madison Square Park until his cup of coffee was brewed.

“French Roast,” he said. “So this is what the pavement in France tastes like.”

He took the cup from the machine and sipped, lifting his eyes to gaze out the window, thinking how many people were scurrying to be at work on time, as if it mattered, but they should have made allowance for time, like he did, so that at least appearances were kept up. Look at them, he mused to himself. The wealth of the nations, scurrying to push history forward, one cog at a time, until the cog comes around again, and then…” He couldn’t bear to finish the thought. He began another thought. They’re only me, just five minutes behind. I’m only five minutes ahead, so I’ll see it close down upon me just before they see it close down upon them. He lifted his cup to take another sip. At least I have a nice house…

At that moment, whether by the stimulating power of coffee, or by a change in the light reflecting from inside the window, VP Hughes became aware of another person in his office, someone behind him, sitting on the couch. Startled, he spun. “Oh, hello!” he started, then, “Oh, good lord…” A robot was sitting on his couch. Continue reading “The Unwelcome Thrust of Progress (Part 1)”

The Unwelcome Thrust of Progress (Part 1)

A Life in The Day

A Life in The Day

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An Homage to Ingmar Bergman

“Bertram?” the vicar peeked around the door, scanning each hospital bed for his quarry. “Bertram?” Three beds were empty; the fourth held a sleeping figure. Bertram was laid out on his back, angled by the cruelty of hospital beds, and propped into that unnatural sleep by a drip of some sort and hot pillows. A third time the vicar called, venturing nearer the bed, “Betram?”

Bertram’s eyes came open, looking upward into the white of the ceiling. He scanned. The vicar drew near to him and sat down. The rustle of the vicar’s jacket pulled Bertram’s eyes away from the ceiling and toward the vicar. “Vicar!” he tried to exclaim, but phlegm blocked the greeting so that the vicar was greeted by an exuberant, thick cough.

“Lois told me you broke your hip.”

“Darnedest thing, Vicar,” laughed Bertram. “I was walking to turn off the lamp—you know where the lamp is—we run the cord for the lamp under the carpet there. Well, I tripped over the cord, fell down, and I heard my hip go ‘snap.’”

The vicar nodded. The nurse came tumbling in, saying, “His hip broke, then he fell.” The vicar nodded again.

Continue reading “A Life in The Day”

A Life in The Day

No New Loveseat

Back in our salad days Deb and I bought a love seat. Its price was greatly reduced because a naughty salesman had sold the matching couch as a separate item and because there was a going out of business blowout sale. Nevertheless it wasn’t worth much more than its greatly reduced sale price.

That was fifteen years ago, at the least, and it has been worn out for many years already. I’ve done some rudimentary repairs on the framework and springs, but it’s just not a very nice love seat.

I mentioned to Deb that I should just go buy a new one, even another one at a greatly reduced price, if only because this one would like to finally rest in peace. “No,” she said. “I appreciate the thought, but I’ll just cry.”

It’s true: whether the thing matches the living room appointments or not, whether it seats all comers with comfort, whether the thing is an exact replica of our present love seat, she’ll cry. I don’t know that it’s a bad thing to capitulate to the tears. After all, it is a beloved love seat. More than that, there are so many other things to take care of, so many other things which will bring tears.

Perhaps one day we’ll grow enough to earn a new love seat.

No New Loveseat

Jack Sprat Tarts

Plain milk chocolate was the candy of choice through my childhood, with the occasional novelty candy, like Pop Rocks or candy cigarettes, satisfying the other side of my sweet tooth. Later on, however, emerging through the ruination of simple tastes by means of the vicissitudes of young adulthood, came the dark and mysterious, thrilling, forbidden flavors of Nerds.

So also the delight of Jack Sprat Press and their first release (which you can download for free for a while). As thrilled as I was to see my own little tale realized in the inaugural issue, I was even more enchanted by the accompanying illustrations, the surrounding graphic comics, and the winding flash fiction stories. Some real talent occupies the Jack Sprat Press suite, no doubt soon-to-be ensconced high atop some modern tower in midtown megalopolis.

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Aside from my own piece, and without diminishing the artistic talent of the other contributors, the highlight of this inaugural edition is Jonathan Scott’s comic art piece “The Burning Bride.” Scott turns the four-panel discipline into freedom, telling a remarkable story without a single stroke of text, except for the title. The story invites you to read it multiple times, and each time is a pleasure.

The whole thing is a pleasure; it’s like opening up that little box of Nerds just before Mr. Ansell’s 8th Grade English Class started, right after the afternoon recess: it’s going to be nothing but flavorful.

Best of luck to all the peeps involved in this endeavor, especially to editor-in-chief Emily White, whose baby this is.

Jack Sprat Tarts

From Lover to Caregiver

…to lover again

The temptation is sometimes overwhelming to try to fix the one near you who suffers from debilitating anxiety and panic attacks. Those irrational fears, you tell yourself, can be reasoned away. Those cognitive loops can be opened up to emotional freedom. Frustration builds, of course, as every attempt to “bring your loved one back” is stonewalled or sabotaged. Anger takes the place of love, and a circle of anxiety is created, with the lovers entwined in some terribly destructive anxious behavior. It struck me like a thunderbolt, some years ago, that: 1) I couldn’t fix Deb; 2) I had my own anxieties with which to cope. At that very moment, while I looked into her eyes, I saw a plea for mercy behind that fire of helpless rage, and from that moment, I dedicated myself to the pursuit of understanding what she was pleading for. Not that I have it figured out even now; not even close. These anxieties and the attendant paralyzing panic attacks plumb depths of the human psyche that I can’t possibly fathom. I can’t go with her down there, wherever there is. Whatever it is. Chaos seems like a good word to choose, but it’s not quite right because the rigid formula of irrational thought and circular reasoning is definitely a structure, highly structured, easily navigated within its own system. It takes you with it, though, where you yourself, as a lover, should not go. And so you have become an accidental caregiver. Caregiver is a role many lovers take upon themselves, with good and bad results. Even though the caregiver is guided and impelled by the forces of love, care-giving is a role far removed from the initial impelling force of love. The lover, in other words, is performing a role which any qualified person can do apart from the compulsion of love. Moreover, the lover is not performing his role as lover, into which he entered by solemn oath on the basis of reciprocity. A lover needs love of a particular kind, in a mutually beneficial exchange, and, as an accidental caregiver, he receives it not. An outside force is essential; otherwise, anxiety captures a community and threatens to unbind what was bound. The spouse who suffers within the realm of anxiety is like a drowning person, causing great anxiety to those who would help her, especially to the one who wants most to help her, but she is grasping at anything to keep afloat, even at the expense of drowning the one nearest. As a caregiver, you can’t help but to rush headlong into the thrashing in an effort to make saving effort, but without dispassionate training and professional distance, you’re likely to become overwhelmed by her anxieties, so that both lovers are lost to flailing helplessly. As a matter of practicality, the two of us have done a great deal of work to identify her triggers, especially the big ones, i.e., holidays, social events, traveling. I remind her to set an appointment with her professional in advance. As for me, I’ve developed coping mechanisms so that I react to her meltdowns with patience, tenderness, understanding–inasmuch as we strike the balance between compassion and enabling–in an effort to prevent my entering into that endless loop of trying to “fix” her. It also helps that I employ a professional to help me understand my own anxieties which are tangled up with hers. And so I only occasionally become an accidental caregiver, but with limits, so that, with the help of dispassionate professionals, we can return to our preferred roles as lovers. In that role we help each other best.

From Lover to Caregiver

For Those Who Suffer Panic Attacks

Jack, our second son, was born in 2005, and he was born with spina bifida, in which the spinal chord is in “communication” (as the surgeon said) with the air. Unless treated, the spinal chord would get infected, and he would be permanently crippled or die a painful death. Naturally, we chose surgery, and he came home from this ordeal a week after he was born, a miracle of modern medicine.

The very night he came home, the refrigerator broke. In it was three months’ worth of staples that Deb, my wife, had prepared during the summer so that we could eat. We didn’t have a storage freezer, so this was a crisis. I called the landlord.

He picked me up, and I could tell he had had about twelve to fifteen beers that evening, but he was a kind man nonetheless, so we drove around to all his friends’ and relatives’ houses picking up ice chests. The food was saved. I told him I wanted a new refrigerator. He agreed.

The next day he showed up at the house bearing a very old refrigerator with a giant gash in the left side of the exterior. He had gone to the used appliance store and bought this harvest gold-colored beast, a living relic of an extinct appliance past.

This ordeal, though insignificant in its own context, was the last in a long series of uninterrupted family traumas, including career changes, deaths in the family, and sickness. The refrigerator experience broke Deb.

Flash forward to 2015, ten years later, after thousands of dollars spent on hospitalization, therapy, and counseling, not to mention submitting to some rather uncouth machinery to zap those bad feelings away. We’ve settled nicely into a stable instability, if you will, as my about page says, “several vocational irons in the fire.” We have our own house now, so we don’t deal with alcoholic cheapskate kindly landlords anymore.

Our stainless steel refrigerator bought new from Sears in 2006 started leaking last night, but it was a rather simple fix; the part is on order, and I can swap the leaky valve for a new one in less than ten minutes. I’ve already practiced with the old one.

After I practiced, I came out from behind the refrigerator wiping my hands, with a self-satisfied look on my face, I’m sure, because I was satisfied with my self and with YouTube, the giver and teacher of all appliance repair. “Well, Deb,” I said. “That should do it. Nothing to worry about.” But Deb was nowhere to be found.

“Where’s your mother?” I inquired of my 12-year old.

“She’s upstairs.”

She rarely goes upstairs because she stays downstairs near the nursery to take care of the baby’s needs. So I went upstairs to find her, and, lo, there she was, in the grip of a terrible panic attack.

“The refrigerator broke,” she said.

“What?” I asked.

“Don’t you remember the last time the refrigerator broke?” she said.

“Oh yeah,” I said. “But this time I’m taking care of things.”

“You need to drink a six pack to get things started,” she said.

Droll, very droll, my love is, even when she’s suffering from a panic attack. I told her everything was all right and to just lie down for a while, and let me know if she needed anything. After a while, she came downstairs, a little worse for the wear, but seeing the refrigerator in good working condition, she relaxed a little more.

harvest gold

For Those Who Suffer Panic Attacks