Invisible

The weekly prompt from my Florida writers' group was to write a book review featuring the word invisible.  Here for your amusement is the piece I submitted.

NEW YORK TIMES #1 BESTSELLER HOPEFUL

FROM HERE TO OBSCURITY
by
Hy Perbulley

Book Review by Times Critic
Cara Fulreader

     New York, NY - April 19, 2022 - High School Valedictorian.  Deans List.  Phi Beta Kappa.  Rhodes Scholar.  Nobel Laureate.  These highly-esteemed honours, although coveted by young Algernon Entatty, the subject of this forgettable biography, were never attained.
     According to author Hy Perbulley, Entatty’s story begins in 1949 when he was born to an unmarried mother living in a squalid third-floor walk-up in a dilapidated tenement building in a run-down neighborhood in New York City.  The baby was his unfortunate mother’s first and only child.
     Nothing is known of his first five years, but his ten years in grade school ended with a mercy-rule promotion to high school when he was fifteen.  Six years later, he left school after grade eleven to join the army.
     In his seven years of service, during which period he achieved the rank of Private, 2nd Class, he saw reluctant combat duty in Vietnam.  According to the author, Entatty surrendered five times to the enemy, but was promptly returned each time.  At the time of his discharge, he was the only American soldier ever to have been deemed unfit for duty by both sides, a distinction he holds to this day.
     Following his military service, shortly after the death of his mother who had never married, he began to openly profess a belief that he must have been the offspring of a virgin birth.  Over the next five years, he tried to align himself closely with the Billy Graham Crusades, following the famous evangelist from city to city, proclaiming himself the Chosen One.
     The author writes that, in 1980, Entatty began to openly solicit funds from Christian believers under the Graham letterhead---all donations to be sent to the address of a squalid third-floor walk-up in a dilapidated tenement building in a  run-down neighborhood in New York City.  These fundraising efforts continued until the Graham organization obtained a restraining order.
     Almost nothing is known of the next two decades of Entatty’s life, but at the age of fifty he burst into nationwide prominence on the cover of a national tabloid magazine, Police Court Gazette.  Possessing a strong resemblance to an infamous Mexican drug-cartel boss, El Crapo, Entatty was mistakenly arrested, charged, and convicted in New York, where he was sentenced to thirty-five years in federal prison.
     The author tells us that Entatty's picture continued to appear frequently in tabloids and television newscasts for the next half-dozen years, however, because his imprisonment did not result in the reduction in the volume of drug trafficking expected by the authorities.  They claimed he must have been managing the vast criminal enterprise from behind bars, a premise no one who knew him believed even remotely possible.
     Entatty was eventually exonerated when the real El Crapo---embarrassed that people were believing the remarkably incompetent Entatty could actually be him---surrendered to police in order to clear up the humiliating confusion and redeem his sullied reputation.
     The Bureau of Prisons quickly attempted to free Entatty, but after several fruitless searches through their records, they could not find him in the vast network of federal prisons.  A Bureau spokesperson told the author, “It’s like he’s…y’know, a non-entity.  He just disappeared.  We can’t find him.”
     Hy Perbulley, who claims he first befriended Algernon Entatty as a prison pen-pal, told this reviewer by phone he has never met the man in person.  He did spend time searching out close friends as part of his research, but finding none, resorted to interviewing anyone with even a passing acquaintance.  Hardly anyone remembered him, and no one was able to tell him anything of the remotest interest about the man.
     Perbulley claims he is negotiating with a major film studio that is considering whether or not to option his book for a blockbuster movie, tentatively titled The Invisible Man.  No independent confirmation of that claim has been obtained.  Perbulley has since dropped from sight and remains unavailable for further comment.
     This paltry book, From Here to Obscurity, numbers forty pages in length, and may be read in one sitting, should anyone care to waste time doing so.  It is not available in regular bookstores, but Perbulley said it may be ordered online for US$34.99 from the website---
www.ex-concon.com.
     The IP address for that site is located in a squalid third-floor walk-up in a dilapidated tenement building in a run-down neighborhood in New York City.  
BOOK RATING		1/4* (out of 10*)

Green Fishing

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

I’m often asked by old friends about my retirement to the green fields of Florida, and what I do to amuse myself all the livelong day.  Knowing me well, many of them assume I do a lot of fishing—because it’s true, there are few pleasures in life to compare to the solitary joys of fishing.  But only, of course, if it’s done properly.

It’s probably true that there are as many ways to fish as there are people who go fishing.  So the right way will be defined differently by each of us, meaning how I do it could be totally inappropriate for anyone else.

But as a younger man in the evergreen wilds of northern Ontario, my routine was perfection, itself—or almost, since there was one flaw, which I shall come to. 

As I remember, the proper fishing excursion would begin quite early in the morning, when all save the birds were still asleep.  I’d rise quietly, so quietly as to pass unnoticed by comrades on my way from the cabin to the water’s edge.  My weathered, green canoe, already laden with the necessary gear, would be launched smoothly into the mist-enshrouded lake.  My body would stretch exultantly as the paddle cut deeply through the water’s mirrored, green surface.  The pleasure had begun.

I’d be well offshore when the sun first brought the forest alight in lively greens, bouncing and dancing its way through the translucent leaves.  I’d watch as the mist lifted, a curtain rising before an entranced audience of one.

As the green water parted before my craft, bowing away in widening ripples to lap gently against the shore, the lilting lament of a loon might be all that broke the silence.  Great granite slabs, topped by lush, green bush and trees, plunged down into the lake, which tossed back their image from its glassy, green depths. 

Peace, rampant upon nature’s field.  The pleasure was full-known.

Alas, it would not last.  For to fish is to interrupt the sylvan sequence of morning life, to disturb the natural ebb and flow.  Yet, not to fish would have denied the ostensible purpose of the visit.

And therein lay the flaw in my perfect way to fish.  The act would have been almost a sacrilege in nature’s green cathedral of calm, and devoid of any joy.  All the pleasure would have been shattered by my clumsy intrusions.

Thus, I had to adapt in order to come to grips with the incongruity of being a fisherman who doesn’t like to fish.  My battered, green tackle box always contained a book or two—a novel, perhaps, or a favourite book of verse.  It held my harmonica, that ‘one-man band’ with which I could while away countless hours.  And there was always a camera, loaded and ready.

In short, I still went fishing, but I did not fish.  When I reached my special, green-encircled fishing cove, I’d cease paddling, sink back in the bottom of the canoe, and just drift ‘til it was time to go back.

Metallic-green waterbugs would skitter their erratic dash across the water, an occasional, green-and-blue-bejewelled fish would jump with a splash.  And whenever a kingfisher darted down to stand on the prow of the canoe, I would know I’d become a piece of the peaceful scene I was observing—as one with my surroundings, at once apart and a part of them.

There were the inevitable questions from the greenhorns, of course, when I’d return from each excursion.  “Where’d you fish?  What were you using?  Did you catch anything?”

“Catch and release,” I’d explain modestly. Or I’d say, “Nothing was biting, just a few nibbles.”

In that respect, I guess, I was like a true fisherman.  I would never tell anyone where I’d been when I was fishing.

That would have spoiled everything.

Until It Isn’t

They were twenty years old, two houses across the road from one another in the Florida golf community where my wife and I live for six months of the year.  Identical models—two bedrooms, two bathrooms, den, double-car garage, large screened-in lanai—the stucco walls of one were painted mist-green, the other taupe.

I was surprised one day to see the green house completely shrouded in plastic sheeting, two large hoses snaking from a truck parked in the driveway to the house.  A neighbour told me the owners had discovered termites and had promptly called in the exterminators to ‘tent’ the house for fumigation.  It was a week or more before the residents could move back in, by which time we had gone back north.

Six months later, after arriving back in the community, I drove down the same street, only to discover the taupe house was completely gone.  All that was left was a starkly-white concrete pad between the adjacent houses, the paving-stone driveway leading to where the garage had been.  Weeds were sprouting between the pavers, and the scene was sadly incongruous, like a missing tooth in an otherwise-gorgeous smile.

The same neighbour told me that during the summer, the roof over the spare bedroom had collapsed.  No one was home at the time, fortunately, but an inspection of the house led to its being deemed inhabitable.

“Termites!” the neighbour said.  “All through the place.  Little buggers had likely been gnawin’ away for years, accordin’ to the insurance adjuster.  When the studs couldn’t support the roof any longer, down she came.”

I had long known of the perils of termite infestation, and was conscientious about looking for signs in our own house.  But they are hard to find—windows or doors that jam unexpectedly, mud tubes around the outside foundation, tiny pinholes in the painted drywall indoors, small piles of sawdust.  An awareness of the prospective danger is needed, and diligence.

The neighbour shrugged when I asked him if the owners were planning to rebuild their home. “Eventually, I guess, if’n they get the insurance money to cover it.  Otherwise, somebody else will prob’ly buy ‘em out an’ put up a brand new place.”

It seemed so unfair to me that those two lovely homes, both of which had steadfastly withstood numerous external threats for years—blistering sun, torrential rain, flooding, hurricane-force winds—had been attacked by stealth from within.  And only one had been saved, perhaps providentially, while the other had been destroyed.

I’ve been reflecting on that lately, considering how the scenario might be analogous to the state of our democratic form of governance.  In both Canada and the U.S., most of us appreciate the freedoms we enjoy—although some of us might too often take them for granted. But fewer of us, it seems, recognize the responsibilities that accompany those freedoms.

A partial list of such rights might include the right to elect those who govern us, to assemble peacefully, to speak freely, to enjoy an unencumbered press, to worship according to our conscience, to receive equal treatment under the law, and to be safe in the privacy of our homes.

Alas, in both countries, our history shows that not everyone has benefited from an equal application of those rights, although as Martin Luther King, Jr. declared, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Our two democracies have, so far, successfully repelled all attacks on us launched directly or indirectly by malign forces from abroad.  We are aware of, and perhaps readying to defend ourselves against, future existential threats like climate change and pandemic diseases.  Despite our individual differences, we have always rallied together to defeat external foes.

But what of the stealthy foe from inside the house, the metaphorical termite gnawing away at the foundations of our democracy?  Are we ready for that fight?

Even in hitherto strong democracies such as ours, there seems to be a growing threat of authoritarianism, a drift toward mis- and disinformation, a widening chasm between people of different political persuasions, a greater tendency to hurl insult and vitriol at one another, rather than listening to each other’s respective points of view.

Too many of us appear to be increasingly adopting and promulgating viewpoints that reflect our preconceived notions—confirmation bias—instead of keeping our minds open to alternative opinions that might modify our thinking and help us to learn and grow—and most importantly, to understand one another better.

So many are becoming increasingly tribal in our affiliations, whether based on race, religion, politics, or culture.  We are growing ever more selfish about, and protective of, what we deem our rights, too often without an acceptance of the responsibilities we bear in the exercise of those rights.  Too many of us seem willing to violate the rights of others in pursuit of our own self-centred aims.

For too many of us, the distinction between fact and falsehood, between integrity and mendacity, has become blurred to the point where we begin to declare the only truth is ‘my truth’.

The choice our countries are facing, in my opinion, is threefold:  1) we blithely allow ourselves to be attacked from within by those who would dissuade us from our most precious assumptions about democratic governance; 2) we choose to ignore, despite the signs, that the attack is occurring; or 3) we acknowledge the attack and take appropriate measures to deal with it.  

As Abraham Lincoln said in 1858, drawing from the Bible, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  The enemy from within is always the more dangerous, and the termites certainly proved the truth of that in the destruction of the taupe house in my community.  I cannot imagine that the owners of those two houses blithely allowed such an attack, but it is clear the owners of the green house took effective action as soon as they became aware of the problem.

With similar due diligence and swift measures by its owners, the collapse of the taupe house could have been stopped.  But it was not.

And in the same way, the insidious attack on our democratic form of governance from within is preventable. 

Until it isn’t.