That’s A Pity

I have come to believe there is a deep reservoir of anger simmering only slightly below the surface of our so-called civilized society.  But always leery of believing everything I think, I am constantly on the lookout for evidence that will either prove or disprove my assumption.

As one example, can you imagine this hypothetical situation actually happening?  A driver is cut off in traffic, perhaps inadvertently, by another driver.  Angered by this, he tailgates the offending driver and, at the first opportunity, passes him and immediately cuts back in front of him.

When they stop at the next traffic light, the driver in the car behind jumps from his vehicle, runs forward, and kicks a dent in the door of the front car, angrily yelling and waving his arms all the while.  The driver of that car, startled by this assault, opens his door so forcefully that he hits the assailant in the face, breaking his nose.

With blood gushing from his nostrils, the injured man slams the driver’s door closed just as the driver is getting out, pinning him between it and the car, breaking his leg.  Enraged now, and in pain, the driver grabs a gun from his console, aims it at the bleeding man, and shoots him.

Can you imagine such a scenario?  Can you imagine the anger?  And the escalation?  I can, although perhaps the whole thing is a touch melodramatic.  So, consider this less-lethal example and see what you think.

A comedian on stage at an awards show cracks a rather tasteless joke about a woman in the audience, a woman who suffers from a physical affliction over which she has no control.  Her husband, offended by what he sees as a gratuitous attack, immediately rushes to the stage, approaches the comedian, and sucker-punches him with an open-handed slap.  He then returns to his seat in front of a dumbstruck audience of hundreds in the theatre, and millions more watching on live television.  Once there, he exchanges loud, profane threats with the comedian, who shortly thereafter exits the stage.

Several minutes later, that same husband is back on stage to receive an award for his acting accomplishments, an appearance the assembled audience greets with a standing ovation.  Can you imagine such a scenario where anger and violence are so freely condoned?

Of course, we don’t have to imagine this second example because it actually occurred.  But consider what might have taken place if things had unfolded differently.  Imagine instead if the angry husband had marched to the stage, approached the clueless comedian, and seized the microphone from his hand.  Imagine if he had then explained to the man, and to everyone in the audience, why he and his wife were offended by the joke, why it was in poor taste, and how it might have detrimentally affected others hearing it who are also afflicted with a physical disability.

Imagine if he had explained how humour doesn’t have to be hurtful in order to be amusing.  Imagine if he had asked the comedian to apologize, then and there, to anyone who might have been offended.  And finally, imagine if he had then told the man he forgives him for his mistake.  Had he done these things, I believe he would have returned to his seat to an even more enthusiastic and deserved standing ovation, this one in recognition, not of his acting achievement, but of his actions—an acknowledgment and appreciation of his ability to seize the opportunity and render it a teachable moment.

Violence and physical assault are never okay—not between disputatious individuals, not between warring gangs or political parties (the difference becoming less and less discernible all the time), and not between sovereign nations.  Violence and physical assault are never okay.

I regret the loss of civil discourse in our society, where people holding different points of view could meet in the middle to discuss matters rationally, civilly, and with a propensity to listen and learn from one another.  Instead now, we have people retreating in high dudgeon to their respective corners, where they launch slings and arrows at each other, designed to wound and demean their opponents, to deliberately spread calumny and misinformation.

We have become a degenerate society, one diminishing ever more rapidly as a result of our rush to anger, our seemingly-insatiable need to feel aggrieved.  Rather than seeking to lift each other up, to bolster and propagate our shared comity, we are rushing pell-mell toward the lowest common denominator.

And that’s a pity.

April Cometh

Another April is almost upon us.  I have always looked forward to its coming, its showers sweet, its promise of spring—only to be disappointed all too often by its refusal to let go of winter.  I wonder which we will get this year, the beautiful warm month of soft showers, or the cruel bringer of winter’s final ravages.

Poetry is one means I use to express my anticipation of April, sometimes optimistic, full of hope, and other times doubtful and despairing.  And I find the Japanese haiku form especially appropriate—three lines of five, seven, and five syllables, respectively—to convey this conflicted state of mind.

Here are five haiku dealing with April, each with a picture in harmony with my outlook.  I leave it to you, the reader, to decide which of my moods is being conveyed by each—

peekaboo
sun plays peekaboo,
dancing 'cross the wint'ry lake---
heralding the spring
teasing
april is cruel---
so the poet says---teasing
us falsely with spring
spring
joining in our walk,
tentatively, yet warmly---
sweet spring has returned
april fool
april can't fool me,
that false harbinger of spring---
may is the gateway
in the rain
dancing in the rain,
neither of us wet or cold---
warmly wrapped in love

May the spring blossom anew for all of you…..in April, or whenever it arrives!

I Won’t Go Back Again

Each month, wordpress.com, the host of my blog, issues a writer’s prompt. This month’s prompt is the word BRIDGE, and this is my submission.

On the day my wife and I visited Venice, the city was flooding—a precursor, I fear, to what is to come.  Some of the streets alongside the canals were underwater, deep enough that we couldn’t venture into them without rubber boots.

In the Piazza San Marco, the main square of the city, elevated boardwalks had been erected to allow tourists to pass from one side to the other.  Outdoor cafes, their tables waiting for customers, were untended because they sat in several inches of water.  A few children romped and splashed in the accidental lake that covered much of the square, their squeals of delight piercing the general hubbub.

I wondered, sadly, how much longer tourists like us would be able to visit the legendary city.

We made a point of visiting the famed Rialto Bridge—to say we’d been there, of course, but also because our youngest daughter accepted a marriage proposal on that very spot several years ago.  We found it quite romantic, despite the crowds.

Until, suddenly, it wasn’t!

I had stopped to take a couple of pictures of the staircase leading from the bridge to the street below, when I was roughly jostled from behind.  I almost dropped my cellphone.

“Outta the way!” a voice growled.  “You’re blocking the way!”

The speaker, about my age, held the hand of a little girl, perhaps six or seven, and they started down the steps past me.

“I’m taking pictures,” I said.  “You should watch where you’re going.”

“What did you say?” he demanded, turning back, his English accented but fluent.  And angry.  “You shouldn’t even be here!” he exclaimed.  “You tourists are spoiling our city, all you people!”  He was quite excited by then.

“Why don’t you calm down?” I said, wondering where this was headed.  “Before you frighten your granddaughter.”

“I’ll calm down when you are gone,” he said, still looking up at me.

There was a momentary pause as a flurry of thoughts flashed through my mind.

Who is this guy?

What’d I do?

What if he assaults me?

And what about the little girl?  What if she gets hurt?

And what if the police come?

How do I get into these messes?

The man, apparently having second thoughts of his own, turned away abruptly, and started down the stairs, the little girl in tow.  “We can’t even walk around our own city anymore,” he complained loudly, one arm gesticulating.  “All you people, you come here, you block the streets, you ruin everything.  You should stay home, stay wherever you come from…”

His voice faded away, and within seconds he and the little girl were swallowed up in the crowded street, lost to sight.  No one else seemed to have noticed the altercation.

I was shaken, of course, although convinced I had done nothing wrong.  After a few minutes, we retreated to the bridge to collect ourselves before resuming our walking tour of the remarkable city.

Later that evening, reflecting over a glass of wine, I wondered if the man’s anger was not so much with me, as with the fact that I was but one of hordes of tourists overrunning his city, even as the marshy land it sits on sinks into the sea.  In fact, more than 30 million people visit Venice each year, a city with a population of approximately 50,000 souls.

In his anger, I heard echoes of complaints from people in nations all over the world—people opposed to the influx of immigrants and asylum-seekers to their countries, people afraid their jobs will be taken, their culture destroyed, their language lost.  Their fear is real and their resentment palpable.  Politicians cater to it.

I’m awfully glad we visited Venice when we did, and I’m happy we stood on the Rialto Bridge where our daughter’s beau proposed to her.  It is an indelible memory for us both. 

But I won’t go back again.

The Way I Sees ‘Em

I’m excited to let you know that my brand-new anthology of stories has just been released—I Calls ‘Em The Way I Sees ‘Em: Tales of a Capricious Critic. It joins six previous books of tales, along with eight crime fiction novels, in my published portfolio.

The story goes that a long-ago baseball umpire was explaining his method for calling balls and strikes. “They ain’t nothin’ ‘til I calls ‘em,” he declared. “An’ I calls ‘em the way I sees ‘em!”

That’s what I have tried to do in this collection of short essays and poems, addressing some of the issues facing all of us today—questions and concerns about the society we live in from my perspective as a capricious critic of our world with all its systemic injustices and prejudices.

The book is available for preview at this safe link—https://www.lulu.com/spotlight/precept

There are easy calls, hard calls, and poetic calls described in the book, plus a few tales explaining why I bother to make the calls at all. I hope you’ll take time to check them out because, if you enjoy reading my blog, I think you’ll enjoy the tales I’ve spun.

To whet your appetite, here is an example of one of those poetic calls, written shortly after my father’s death to commemorate our relationship—

The Railwayman

You’d take me down beside the rails to watch the trains go storming by,
And tell me all those wond’rous tales of engineers who sat on high,
In cabs of steel, and steam, and smoke; of firemen in their floppy hats,
The coal they’d move, the fires they’d stoke, as o’er the hills and ‘cross the flats
The locomotives huffed and steamed, their whistles blowing long and loud.
And one small boy, he stood and dreamed beside his daddy, tall and proud.

Terrifying monsters were they, bearing down upon us two, who
Felt their force on that steel highway, hearts a-racing ---loving, true.
I’d almost flinch as on they came toward us, with their dragon-face
A-belching, spewing, throwing flame and steam and smoke o’er ev’ry place.
But you’d stand fast beside the track, and, oh! the spectacle was grand.
So, unafraid, I’d not step back, ‘cause you were there holding my hand.

Oh, Railwayman, oh, Railwayman, I’m glad you knew when you grew old,
How much I loved you---Dad, my friend---who shared with me your dreams untold.
Oh, Railwayman, oh, Railwayman, if I, beside you once again,
Could only stand safe in your hand, awaiting with you our next train.

All aboard, Dad…all aboard!

Please visit https://www.lulu.com/spotlight/precept to have a look at this new collection of tales, and all my books—and please pass this information along to any friends who might be interested.

Tap the Title

Regular followers of this blog will know that you receive a message in your email inbox each time a new post appears. What you might not know is that, by tapping on the title of that email message (in blue at the top), you will be able to read the post in the original tallandtruetales format, rather than in the unadorned body of your email.

Hot air, flights of fancy, and roads not taken…

Reading each post in the tallandtruetales format will also allow you easy access to all the menu items in the blog—HOME, ABOUT ME, GALLERY, MY BOOKS, and PREVIOUS POSTS.

If you haven’t already tried tapping the title, do it with this brief post…..I think you’ll enjoy the full webpage format.

And thanks for following me on my blog!

Didn’t Miss Nothin’

As a writer, I’ve long been fascinated by the tantalizing ‘What if…?’ question we sometimes ask, as it pertains to history.  How would the world have unfolded if certain noteworthy events had happened differently?  The question can lead us to propose all manner of delicious theories, both fact- and conspiracy-based, and as a lifelong history buff, I love it.

A recent prompt from my Florida writers’ group asked us to consider this very question.  Here is the piece I came up with, Didn’t Miss Nothin’, focused on an alternative reality for something that happened almost sixty years ago.

The prospective assassin opened the window wide, felt the noon heat wash over him.  Although he knew it was ready, he checked the rifle yet again, more by feel than actually looking at it.  The gun was as familiar in his hands as the contours of his wife’s back.  Concealed behind a pile of cardboard boxes he’d stacked in front of the window that morning, he realized he was remarkably calm.  Only a slight tremor in his fingers betrayed a sense of excitement, or maybe fear.

Nevertheless, he was resolute.

Outside the building, six storeys below his perch on the southeast corner, a sizable, noisy throng had gathered to await the motorcade.  Lined along both sides of Elm Street, the crowd comprised men, women, and children, most of them eager to see their President, whether or not they liked him or his politics.

The sightline the determined assassin had chosen would place him squarely behind the presidential limousine after it turned off Houston Street and slow-rolled away from him, angling towards the triple underpass.  He settled on the thin cushions he’d placed on the hardwood floor, watching impatiently for the motorcade’s arrival.

Meantime, out of sight of the assassin, another crowd was gathering near the confluence of Elm, Main, and Commerce Streets where they ran parallel beneath the underpass.  Roughly forty-five men in number, none of them armed, they were deeply disaffected by the President’s policies and determined to interrupt his presence in the city.  Their plan was simple—sit down on the pavement in front of the underpass and peacefully block Elm Street completely. 

They were in place, some sitting, some still standing, by 12:20 pm.  The street had been closed earlier by city police in anticipation of the motorcade, so no traffic was affected by their presence.  The first vehicles they expected to see would be the motorcycle outriders leading the presidential procession.

“Five minutes out!” one of the organizers yelled, holding a CB radio to his ear.  “Get ready, boys!  She’s happenin’!”

Another radio was crackling in the ear of another man at the same time, one of the Secret Service agents riding in the lead escort vehicle behind the motorcycles.  After a moment, he tapped the shoulder of the driver.  “Change of route,” he snapped.  “Buncha yokels got Elm blocked off at the underpass, so we’re stayin’ on Houston.  We can pick up the Stemmons Freeway a coupla blocks further on.” 

As the driver nodded understanding, the agent radioed the change to the cars following behind.  When he finished, the driver said, “This’ll get us to the Trade Mart a few minutes earlier.  Might wanta let them know, too.”

In the presidential limousine, the Governor turned in his jump-seat to tell the President about the protesters and the change in plan.  The President acknowledged the information, then turned to his wife. 

“Too bad.  The crowds have been much bettah than we thought they’d be.  But at least we’ll get to the Trade Maht soonah, out of this heat.”

The First Lady offered a fetching smile, still clutching the bouquet of blood-red roses she’d been given at the airport.

The assassin saw the flashing lights of the motorcade as it turned right off Main Street onto Houston a block away.  He checked the rifle one last time, then hoisted it to his shoulder, careful not to stick the barrel through the window until the procession had turned left onto Elm.  He waited….waited…

A loud shout of disappointment swelled from the crowd on the street below.  The startled assassin quickly realized the procession had continued rolling north on Houston Street, past the building, irretrievably gone from sight.  Pounding his knee with his fist a number of times, he mouthed several silent curses.  Above the cries from the disappointed crowd ringing Dealey Plaza, he heard ragged cheers from somewhere near the underpass.

Knowing he had to hide the rifle before his co-workers re-entered the building, the frustrated assassin jogged to his locker, where he stowed it safely away.  Then he took the stairs down to the second-floor lunchroom.  He had a bottle of soda in his hand when the first employees drifted back in.

“What happened?” the foiled assassin asked one of the men.  A simple shrug was the only answer.

A second man shouted, “Hey, Lee, the yella belly never showed, jus’ like I figgered.  Jus’ tucked tail an’ ran!  You didn’t miss nothin’!”