Night Shift Driver.

11 November 2018

Copied from the ebook “Trucker”.  I wrote it some years ago.

I want to play a game. Actually, I want you to play a game. It’s called Night Shift Driver. It’s what I do; I drive our rig through the dark of night. I want you to play this game so you can get the true feel of that “call of the open road” romanticized by country-western singers and teenie-bopper movies.

To play the game, you need to devote a 24-hour period beginning at about 6:00 P.M. on a Friday or Saturday night as you’re going to need the following day to recuperate. Also, be sure the night you select is one where you’ll be free of interruptions by family and friends – oh, you can make and receive cell phone calls, but no one comes to visit.

The best place to play this game is down in the basement where it will be completely dark and you can achieve a feeling of being totally cut off – just as in a real long-haul semi. Also, the make-pretend “road” which we will be driving this night will be I-94 from Miles City, Montana, east toward Fargo, North Dakota. I picked this stretch of I-94 because at night, you can drive on it for hours and never see a sign of life. Also, when you’re in eastern Montana and all of North Dakota, the land is fairly flat and the road can be as straight as a stick for miles. Also, I-94, being an Interstate, is 4-lane all the way so you never have to worry about oncoming traffic and head-on collisions.

You will be driving a 10-hour shift, though eleven hours is the legal maximum and the one your employer prefers you drive. Understand that this means ten hours behind the wheel, not just ten hours on-duty. For example, if you start driving at six P.M. and will need a half-hour for fueling and another half hour for potty stops, you will be going until five the following morning. If you choose to work the maximum allowed by law of eleven hours, you won’t be getting out of that seat and turning off the engine until six in the morning.

Because I drive with my wife as a 2-person team, I’ll be sitting up with you for a while, just as Jo does with me. You’ll find the company to be quite helpful.

Now, you’ll need a few things to get set up:

• A chair upholstered in cloth, no leather or plastic. Don’t want to get your hinder all sweaty and stuck to the seat. Also, the chair can’t be a recliner as it must keep you in a fully upright position and allow your feet to be flat on the floor. It needs to be a chair you can tolerate sitting in for at least four uninterrupted hours. This will be your “driver’s seat.”

• A large screen TV placed three to four feet in front of the chair. This TV needs to accept connection to a game-playing machine like an X-Box™. The set’s screen should be placed at eye-level to simulate looking out the windshield of a semi. This will be your view of the “road.”

• A video game that shows a road course which can be played in an endless loop; this will simulate your view out the windshield (HINT: Ask your favorite 14-year-old lad, he probably can name at least three suitable games).

• A ladder back chair, one whose uprights you can grasp to simulate the steering wheel. This should be placed at arms’ length between your driver’s seat and the TV.

• To the right of the driver’s seat, place a small table that can hold your night’s essential supplies. These include:

One non-alcoholic beverage, preferably two. Coffee is suggested.

Munchables – enough to keep your mouth constantly engaged to fend off sleep.

Smokes, if you use them.

A cell phone.

Something to make a constant, fatiguing roar at about 95 dB. Perhaps a large floor fan set on Hi. This will simulate engine and road noises.

Ready now? OK. Turn on the TV, pop the video game into the player and start it up. Turn out the lights and take your seat. Now this simulacrum isn’t true in one vital respect: the road course of the video game will probably be in daylight hours and may have other vehicles on the road with you, but for our purpose tonight, that’s OK. Also, you will see far richer detail on the TV screen than what is available to a night shift trucker on I-94.

Comfy? Good. Let’s begin.

First, getting a semi up to 65 m.p.h. takes less than a minute and once you’re there, you simply set the cruise control so don’t be worried about playing with a shift lever and stuff. What you need to be concerned about in our little game is rolling down the road and staying awake.

I must caution you to keep both hands on the “wheel” as much as you can, for a semi has a mind of its own. In a car, you can be cruising along at freeway speed and still watch interesting things as they pass by: “Gee, Blanch. Lookit that!” you say, pointing out the passenger-side window, “A bucking bronco trampling its rider.” Some seconds later, you return your gaze to the road ahead and find you are pretty much where you expected to be. Not so with a semi. They constantly want to go off the road – into the oncoming lane or over the side and into a ditch, it makes no difference – and the wheel needs constant and massive corrections to stay in your lane.

Do you recall movies of the black & white era showing someone behind the wheel of a car? The driver is constantly thrashing the wheel right and left to control the car? Well, that’s what it’s like in a semi. Except the thrashing a semi driver has to do is far more sudden and violent than the gentle rocking motions we see in those old movies. Even with today’s power steering systems, it’s like wrestling a boa constrictor.

But this is only a game, so you don’t have to be flailing the ladder-back chair around the room. Just hold onto the uprights, that’s good enough. And keep your eyes on the TV screen – remember it’s your road for the night. Taking your attention away from the endless pavement long enough to give your behind a good scratching can get you killed.

We will start promptly at six.

6:09 P.M. ==========

We’ve been cruising along now for ten minutes or so. How do you like it so far? Good. I knew you would.

6:35 P.M. ==========

What’s that you say? The chair isn’t as comfortable as you thought it would be and your back is starting to complain? No problem, just scrunch around and shift positions. It’ll be OK. Also, remember you are on cruise control so you can move your feet around all you want.

6:51 P.M. ============

HEY!! WATCH THE FRIGGING ROAD! {*Stomp* *Stomp*} Goll-dang it! You were looking at the goodies on the little table and took your eyes off the road for three whole seconds. I told you that’s enough to send you out of your lane. You drifted off to the shoulder and if it hadn’t been for the rumble stripe – that was me stomping on the floor as a sound effect – you’d have gone into the ditch and probably rolled the rig. If you had drifted off to the left, you’d have crushed that little red VW that was passing you, the one with the two college kids inside.

OK, the kids are past. But that doesn’t mean you can inspect the table, looking for a particular morsel. You just reach over and feel around for the thing you want.

Oops? What do you mean “oops?” Oh, you knocked the thing you wanted on the floor? No problem, when you stop for fuel and potty, you can pick it up then. Content yourself with Choice NO 2.

And keep those eyes on the road.

7:17 P.M. ============

What do you mean “It’s boring.” You mean the sameness of the road? Well of course its boring; you’re on a lonely stretch of Interstate in the bowels of the night.

As I have often remarked to friends who ask about the driving experience, one mile of pavement looks pretty much like any other mile of pavement. True, isn’t it? Yes, and especially so at night. You can look out the windshield and what you see could be anywhere in the country anytime of the year. All there is ahead of you are:

• The endless unwinding strip of pavement.

• The same mesmerizing dotted lane divider.

• The low indistinguishable stuff on the shoulders which could be wintertime snow or summertime weeds.

• The same little white posts topped with reflector tape,

• The same white-on-green signs and mile markers.

• The same inky black sky.

• The protruding hood of your rig.

Except, that is, for the bugs. Bugs are the big difference; your windshield doesn’t get covered with bugs in the winter.

Have another slug of coffee.

7:36 P.M. ============

Are you sure you’re all right? I thought I just heard your wheels nicking the rumble stripe again. Keep those peepers on the road now.

7:38 P.M. ============

What? Of course you can turn on the radio. Hit the scan button and let’s see what’s playing tonight.

7:39 P.M. ============

Huh. Nothing on but that radio preacher. The one ranting about the “hummasexalls” ruining the institution of marriage. Out here on I-94, I’m afraid there isn’t much else.

Did you bring any CDs? No? Aw, too bad. Well, try the radio again in fifty miles or so. You might have better luck further down the line.

7:56 P.M. ============

What’s that? You say your backside and thighs are starting to get hot and sweaty? Yeah, no doubt they are. I warned you. But, hey, I have a nifty comfort tip for you, though it won’t stop your hind end from sweating: Undo your belt, unbutton your pants and pull down your zipper. It takes a real load off the guts. It also helps you fart – sitting in one spot like this tends to retain the gas, and that gets to be uncomfortable. And it gives you the opportunity to easily twiddle your johnson, if you have a mind to do so. Or your thingy, if you’re a girl.

8:13 P.M. ============

You say your feet feel like sausages? Yeah, sorry. I forgot to tell you to untie your shoes. Better yet, kick them off and drive in your stocking feet.

8:33 P.M. ============

Got to pee now, huh. Well of course you do; we’ve been on the road close to two and a-half hours now so it’s time. I was just looking at the road atlas and it looks like there is a rest area about seventy miles up the road. You can pull in there.

9:03 P.M. ============

Here comes the rest area and … Oh, oh. Sign says it’s closed for renovation. Bummer. But the atlas shows another one in maybe half an hour or so.

What say? You don’t think you can hold it that long? Well, you have to. You simply can’t pull off on the shoulder and get out and pee. If a highway cop catches you, you’d get two citations for sure. One for illegal parking and another for public indecency. Just pull the puckering string; it’s only another hour. Besides, the discomfort helps keep you alert.

9:10 P.M. ============

{*Stomp* *Stomp*} Hey, I heard that rumble stripe again. Mind what you’re doing.

9:49 P.M. ============

What? You say you feel like you’ve grown into the chair and that you are stiff and sore? Welcome to the club. And wait until you try to walk around and find out how wobbly your legs have become. But you’re new to the job. It’ll get better in six months or so.

10:03 P.M. ============

OK, you’re finally at the quote/unquote “rest stop.” Put the video game on Pause and go hit the can. Stop by the kitchen for some refreshments too, if you’d like – after all, the rest stops usually have vending machines of junk food and bad coffee.

10:12 P.M. ============

Got to get back in the truck now. We can’t be late for our delivery. All comfy? Take the video game off Pause and let’s log another 250 miles. It’ll be time to fuel then and you can also have dinner.

11:30 P.M. ============

Getting a bit sleepy after that snack are we? Well here are a few truckers’ tricks for staying awake.

• Open the window and let in some fresh air. Works best in the winter.

• Play the radio way loud.

• Sing at the top of your lungs.

• Turn on a talk show and argue with the host.

• See if you can find someone to talk to over the CB. Your chances are best when you’re out east on the heavily-traveled I-95, but out here? All you’re probably going to get is static.

• Play mind games with yourself: relive old experiences; imagine bedding that hottie you saw yesterday at the Starbucks; role-play a favorite hero – Captain Kirk, maybe.

• Stamp your feet.

• Slap your face.

• Pinch some part of yourself. Hard. Or bite yourself – cheeks, knuckles, tongue. Whatever you can put in your mouth.

Remember, if you fall asleep you’ll get in a smash up. Game over. If you really can’t fight it off any longer, find a place to pull over and nap – I do believe I see an exit ramp up ahead. You can pull off there. In this game, simply put the video game on Pause and you can snooze in the chair. But before you take that snooze, turn on your cell phone alarm and set it for no more than half an hour. You have a schedule to keep.

12:06 A.M. ============

There, that nap felt good, didn’t it? What? You say your eyes feel like two piss holes in the snow? Yeah, I know; rub them around a bit. And if you’re like most people, you have to pee as soon as you wake up. I keep an old CranApple® jug behind the passenger’s seat for this but you can get up and use the toilet.

12:12 A.M. ============

Well, you seem to be doing pretty well now so I’m going over to the couch (it would be the sleeper berth in a real semi) for a couple hours of shut-eye. You’re on your own. If you start getting sleepy again, though, just call and I’ll come up here and keep you company.

Meanwhile, take a caffeine pill and wash it down with some Red Bull.

What’s Red Bull? Dude, it is just the hottest thing to hit trucking since Benzedrine and you can get it at truck stops everywhere. Red Bull is an energy drink that’s got some stuff in it to give you lots of vim and vigor – plus a good hit of caffeine. Chug one of these little suckers after a caffeine pill and it’ll keep your peepers wide open. It gets me through nights like this. But it’s spendy; a little six-ounce can costs almost three bucks and to tell you the truth, I think the caffeine is the real effector here. But the combination works, so … Of course there are other brands if you don’t like the cherry taste of Red Bull.

Anyway, time for my nap. See you in a couple of hours.

2:06 A.M. =============

I’m back. Didn’t hear any rumble strips so you must be doing OK but remember, you still have a while to go so let’s think about taking another break. This one is for fuel but feel free to hit the head and go by the kitchen for some grub. Of course the restaurants and deli counters in many truck stops will be closed at hours like this so all you can count on is prepared stuff – oh, there might be a lunch counter, but that gets expensive so it is best avoided. But this is just a game, so, please, feel free to raid the ice box. Take half an hour.

2:36 A.M. =============

Dinner was good, wasn’t it? Nice of your beloved to leave us those turkey and cranberry sandwiches. If this were a real truck stop, you’d have had a stale precooked cheeseburger from the cooler that you’d have nuked for a few seconds to enhance its palatability. Maybe a Snowball for desert.

Did you get some more Cheetos? Swell. We truckers love Cheetos. Good-and-Plenties are nice too. Actually, we like anything that is sweet or salty. But never veggies or fruit. They’re too hard to keep. Besides, they’re like all that yucky stuff mom made you eat.

2:37 A.M. =============

Conversation helps keep the mind alert. Want to talk about religion or politics? Politics? Good. Well, that ass-wipe Bush, he …

JESUS H. CHRIST! Will you keep your eyes on the frigging road? You were looking at me and not the road and you drifted way over into the left lane. Just about hit that other semi that was passing you. Yeah, I know I told you there wouldn’t be much traffic this time of night but there’s some and it sneaks up. Check your mirrors every minute or so. (Newbies. Honestly.)

2:52 A.M. =============

Well, I am glad to find you too think Bush was a destructive moron. How about we try religion next?

No? OK, fine by me.

3:00 A.M. =============

Bored out of your skull? Yeah, sitting in one spot watching the same-old-same-old for ten hours can get to be a drag but that’s how you earn your 39 a mile.

Tell you what, keep your eyes open until 4:30, then I’ll take over. Now, according to the Federal government’s Hours of Service rules, I’m not supposed to do that; you’re supposed to drive the whole gig yourself but, hey, let’s be human about this.

3:30 A.M. =============

Well, here we are at a rest stop and, saints be praised, there’s a parking spot just waiting for you. Hey. Watch it; you weren’t paying attention to the trailer’s off-tracking and you just ran over a road cone that was set out by a pot hole. Not a problem, though. Almost everybody hits them once in a while.

4:32 A.M. =============

Ah, it is finally the end of your shift. Pull off on the next exit ramp and we’ll switch. Actually, I’ll be going home, but if we were in a real semi, I’d be taking the wheel for the next ten or eleven hours while you sleep. After you update your log book – it only takes maybe fifteen minutes or so – you’re done.

Why don’t you shut off the fan and the video game and I’ll get the lights. Then let’s us go outside to stretch our legs and get some air. The sun should be coming up about now.

Oh, one final jolt of realism: instead of going off to your bed, go sleep on the couch. It’ll be more like a semi’s sleeper berth.

Fun, wasn’t it? Want to do it again tonight?

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I Shouldn’t Be Here.

3 November 2018

My old chum, Freddy Farquart and I were sitting around sucking down Scotch when a thought intruded.  “Hey, Freddy,” I said, “There were some times in you life where you dodged the bullet, right?”  After a suitable pause, I looked up and said, “Ya know Freddy, I’ve dodged a few myself — if you tell me yours, I’ll tell you mine”.

“OK, Merl, you first”, said Freddy as he took another sip.

So here’s what I told Freddy.

When I was six, I had a strangulated hernia.  Rushed to the hospital for immediate surgery.

At age thirteen, I had my tonsils removed and caught pneumonia for the first and second times.

At fourteen I fell off a roof.  One the way down, I scrapped the skin off my back in the cedar shakes.  I also lit on my head, knocking me out for about five minutes.  Moreover, I skewed myself right in the armpit on a small picket fence surrounding the little sidewalk on which I koshed myself.  One of the small pickets went into my shoulder joint, dislocating the bones.

When my fifteenth year came around, I broke my hand playing ice hockey.  Asshole from Bloomington stomped on it because I stopped his puck.

About twenty or twenty-one, I buried an axe in my leg while helping Grampa clean up after a storm.

When I was twenty-four, I had a seizure and found out I am an epileptic.  I have both Grad Mal and Temporal Lobe.

At thirty-three I had surgery for Carpel Tunnel Syndrome.

At about the same time, I had a putrescent cyst cut out of my ear canal.

As of this writing, my mouth is as full of gold as Ft. Knox and I’m missing three teeth.

When I was fifty-eight, I found out I have cancer and had a totally maiming operation that really fucked me up.

I’m as deaf as a post and have hearing aids turned all the way up. Through the years I learned to lip-read.

As 2003 rolled around, my appendix blew and I was in the hospital for the better part of a week as they treated me for Peritonitis.

In 2013 I had another operation for the cancer.

A year and half ago I found out the cancer had metastasized and went on chemo — which, praise be, seems to have worked!

Last Christmas Season, while playing Santa, I got dehydrated and contracted gastroenteritis thanks to norovirus.  This caused me to go to the hospital (via ambulance) where I was put in isolation in the cardiac ICU because of the heart attack I had, thanks to septic shock that topped it all off.  They tell me it was a near thing.

Today?  All is well.  For now . .  .

-Merlin-

 

 

 


Why People Love Trump

22 October 2018

Football games: People go to them to see a player get his skull crushed.
Car races: People: to to them to see a driver killed in a fiery wreck.
Ice Hockey games: People go to them to watch a player spit out his teeth.
Basketball games: People go to them to see a player’s knee go sideways.
Mixed Martial Arts matches: People go to them to see a fighter get his brain turned to pudding.

People love violence. That’s why we have wars.

People love the guy who wins and sneer at and disparage the loser. They cheer-on the brute. It’s why bullies always seem to have a retinue of followers who can watch as their hero mortifies some poor joker who came to his attention.

And that brings us to Trump.

The more he beats up on those helpless to respond, the more his fans love him.  If you’ve ever seen any of his “rallies”, you know this is true.  His fans cheer and call for blood.

But let’s see how the shoe could fit on the other foot.  In a debate, his opponent could look at Trump’s midriff and say, “Trump, you’re gonna need an anchor chain to hold in that gut” and the audience will laugh.

Or, “Trump, I saw your hairdo when the wind blew from behind and your noggin looked like a dog with a shaved ass”.

Then there’s: Trump, I saw a pix of you at that gauche golf course of yours and I gotta say, I never saw a hind-end that big except for a Percheron at the county fair.  You stuff your pants with the funny papers, maybe?”

Or, “Trump, you look like a damned pumpkin.  What’s all that orange shit you smear on your face?  Does it help hind the wrinkles?”.

Or possibly: “Trump, from what we hear tell, you’re not much of a man in the bedroom.  I thought you said you were hung like a horse and really, it’s just a pathetic little nubbin.  You gonna start wearing a codpiece to show your fan club?”

Could use: “Trump, you’re so damned crooked it would take Yankee Stadium to hold all the people you’ve swindled and cheated.  Most people I know wouldn’t take dog shit to you to have it smelled.”

Ah: Trump, you must have a tree service on call 24/7/52 so they can trim that lying nose of yours, Pinocchio.

Maybe: “Oh, Trump.  You’re so damned stupid you can’t even read.”

And how about: “Trump, you still looking to bang your daughter?”

People like Trump can dish it out but they can’t take it.  If an opponent took some shots like this at Trump, he’d have a meltdown. What would he do? Splutter?  Cry?  Just walk away?  If he did, his fan’s would turn on him in a heartbeat, “Looser,” they’d snarl.

I’d love to see it.

-Merlin-

 


Warehouse vs. Sweatshop.

5 October 2018

Back when I was making another futile attempt to get a college degree, I worked in an automotive parts warehouse.  It was a union shop and my coworkers and I did alright.  These were men wo were the family’s sole support.  They had boats, snowmobiles, hunting gear and such yet could take the kids out for pizza when ever the mood struck.  Nice vacations, too.  The warehouse was clean and the bathroom was easily accessible to anyone, anytime.  Same with the soda pop dispenser in the lunchroom.

Contrast that with today’s most egregious sweatshop, an Amazon “Fulfillment Center”.  You can’t even go to the can without getting in trouble.  You gotta pee?  Pee in a bottle and if you don’t have a bottle, the floor will do.  Toilets are far and few between and you are timed down to the second; take too long to get it all out or clean your bum and you catch hell.  Then there are the gizmos you have on your wrist that time your every move and if Amazon thinks the thing you are doing is taking to long, it buzzes a warning: Simon Lagree is on his way.  You are always on-call so your life and plans are always tentative.  In Amazon’s eyes, its people are nothing but meat machines.  Amazon is not a union shop and that’s why it’s people are treated abominably.

-Merlin-


Congress, Something’s Wrong Here

14 September 2018

Last May, my oncologist put me on a medicine know as Zytiga.  It’s been quite effective. My cancer is no longer detectable.  Still have a few years left, it seems.

Now Zytiga is not cheap.  One month’s supply retails for  about $9,817 per month, a supply of 120, 250 mg. tablets. That works out to be $117,804 a year and most people in our country don’t make anywhere close to that.  That means you must be either rich or have insurance — good insurance — or you simply go home to die.

So let’s discuss insurance.  I’m 76, have cancer and am on Medicare, which covers 80%, and is a whole lot better than the chintzy policies employers provide with their wee benefits and low caps.  As for an individual family policy, it’ll be at least half the price of the Zytiga itself and you cough up a horrid co-pay. Even on Medicare, the co-pay is $560 per month (not to mention the “doughnut hole”).  I gotta tell you, $560 is not all that doable for most men my age.  Instead of a pizza once a week, the poor devil will be eating dog food.  Or going hungry.

Now here’s the paste in the groin.  Taj Distributors, over in India, offers a 1-month’s supply of Zytiga for $1,580, plus shipping, and Modern Times, also from India, wants just $1,400.  Furthermore, though the Zytiga bottle has Johnson & Johnson on the label, the medicine, (according to Google searches) appears to be of Italian manufacture, — Janseen Cilag S.P.A.  (read all about it here: https://www.janssen.com/european-commission-extends-license-janssens-zytiga-plus-prednisone-prednisolone-include-earlier).

$9,817 in America and the Indians sell it for $1,500.  I find this insulting.

Medicare needs the ability to negotiate the lowest price for medicines no matter from whom and where they are obtained and how much dickering needs to be done to get them.  It’s your job to make this happen.  It’s also your job to close the “doughnut hole” in Medicare.  Of course you could simply introduce a bill that starts Medicare coverage at age zero — take your first breath and you are covered by Medicare for life.  This needs to be done. It really does. And this is an election year, what better time for Democrats to introduce such a bill? To be sure the turd-throwers in the Republican Party will fall to the floor and chew the carpet but who cares?  As Napoleon Bonaparte said, “Audacity, audacity, always audacity”.  (ed)

-Merlin-

 


What Kind of Day Was It?

7 June 2018

I pulled my Mercedes S600 into the garage, killed the engine and finished listening to Mussorgsky’s Pictures in a Museum. I’d always loved the ending to that piece, what with its claxons, gongs, cymbals, and all.

Joycelin opened the door to the house to greet me; the warm smells of dinner (pot roast, one of my favorites) wafted out. “Hi, Sweets,” she chirped, “I heard the car and poured a Scotch for you.” She extended a crystal low-ball filled with cracked ice and the golden elixir. I closed the Mercedes’s door behind me; it gave that satisfying “thunk” I never tire of. What a car.

I took a step up to meet her and took the glass. “Thanks,” I said, and taking the next step up, gave her a peck on the cheek. I walked into the family room, set down my drink, loosened my tie and went to turn on the evening news to see what the markets had done that day. I was a practiced short seller and Uncle Sam’s current prohibition against that most estimable practice was costing me dearly. The day that folly ended, I could go back to seeing my net worth grow.

As our huge Sony plasma TV came to life, Joycelin turned at the kitchen door and in her delightfully casual manner, asked, “What kind of a day did you have, honey?” Well, that was a good question. I stopped, pursed my lips and with the knitted brow of contemplation, reviewed the day’s events.

======================

About nine-thirty that morning, I turned into Amalgamated Technologies’ parking lot and found a Visitors slot. Opening my new pigskin attache case, I reviewed Amalgamated’s file and prepared to go in and see Teddy Wallis, the Chief Information Officer. Teddy had just taken delivery of the last shipment of routers and switches from the fifteen-million dollar order he’d signed with me the previous August and I wanted to see how things were going. Thanks to Teddy quickly closing the deal, I received a nice bonus out of which I bought a new Rolex President – which now read nine forty-five, telling me it was time to go in and see Teddy.

Closing my attache case, I looked up and beheld the strangest sight: An unending stream of people was pouring out the doors as if it were a high school fire drill. Almost every one of them was carrying a box or a bag. The remainder carried lose collections of papers, pictures and whatnot, all gathered up in their arms. But it wasn’t a fire drill of course, for none were running – indeed, there was a sad languor to their pace.

They streamed past my Mercedes with stunned expressions, their unseeing eyes fixed on the ground. Off to my right, a few seemed to be in a heated conversation. I was non-plused. I wasn’t quite sure what to do, so I sat in my car and just watched. Presently, I saw a familiar face: Teddy Wallis. As he approached, I got out of the car. “Teddy!” I called out. “Over here.”

Teddy stopped and turned slowly toward the sound of my voice. He saw me and, without pausing, nodded diffidently.

“Teddy,” I said. “Hold on a second.” He stopped. Trotting over, I asked him what was going on.

Teddy gave a defeated sigh, looked up at me and held my eyes for a few seconds, then told me Amalgamated had just gone bust. An hour ago, three black Fords full of people in blue suits had pulled up, followed closely by two cruisers from the King County Sheriff. Striding in the front door like Christ come to cleanse the Temple, they announced themselves as Federal agents. The big cheese, an ascetically lean man with a military buzz cut, asked to see F. Henry Goniff, Amalgamated’s president. When the receptionist told him Mr. Goniff hadn’t arrived yet, he turned to an axe-faced woman behind him and said, “We’ll get him later.”

Turning again to the receptionist, he reached into his coat pocket, pulled out a thick folded paper, handed it to her saying, “Search warrant.” Pulling out another, he handed it to her saying, “This is a court order seizing the business. This company is now in Uncle Sam’s hands – we’re taking over. Who’s in charge this morning?”

It seemed Mr. Goniff had been looting the company for years. During the good times, he’d been able to hide his shenanigans but with the economy’s collapse in late 2008, the chickens had come home to roost. The Feds got on the P.A. system and announced, for those who cared to hear, that Amalgamated was stony-assed broke, a Federal court had put what was left of Amalgamated into Chapter Seven, and F. Henry Goniff had also looted the pension fund (it was now ninety-percent gone) so everyone should look to their portfolios as soon as possible.

“You must all go home now,” the agent said. “Be sure to take all your personal items with you as the doors will be locked permanently at ten o`clock sharp.” He concluded the death sentence by giving out the address of a website where people could follow the liquidation process and file claims, if claims they had. “Of course, we’re accompanying this announcement with an email and follow-up letter. We’re truly sorry.”

Teddy’s chin trembled, “I’ve been with Amalgamated for thirty-seven goddamned years this June,” he said with a quaking voice. “I’m sixty-four. I was going to retire on my birthday. Joyce and I were going to move to Montana and enjoy ourselves. Now not only is my pension gone,” Teddy took a few deep breaths and continued. “But just before the cops took down the internet connection, I logged onto my brokerage account to see how my 401(k) and other stuff were doing. Guess what? My account was with Lehmann Brothers and I found out that two weeks ago, they went down the toilet, taking all my money with them – you know I never pay much attention to all that financial shit. What am I gonna tell my wife?” he asked rhetorically. “Well, take care of yourself,” he said and shuffled off like a soul of the damned on its way to Hades.

He’s so steeped in his bits and bauds that he completely ignores the larger world, as does his dull and uninteresting wife. Boy, weren’t they in for a surprise. Together, they’d missed all the news on the housing bubble and the looming depression it was causing to unfold, and now they were caught flat-footed. Unlike Joycelin and me! She and I’d smelled something in the wind a year ago and liquidated our positions in the markets, turning everything into cash, most of which we put into insured certificates of deposit and the remaining half-million into a safe deposit box.

Of course our ace-in-the-hole was our fifty-one percent share in the Loving Flames chain of crematoria, a business that was depression-proof if ever there was one. I’d bought the shares from the drunken fool who started the business and was running it into the ground. I fired him immediately and brought in a seasoned MBA to run the place. Now Loving Flames was going gangbusters.

Joycelin and I would weather this little storm in fine shape.

Oh well. Shit happens.

With Amalgamated done for, I could take an early lunch downtown. I started the engine and drove away.

McDougal’s Seafood and Chowder House was one of Seattle’s most trendy restaurants. Located on the edge of the financial district, McDougal’s catered to young snot-noses who thought their shit didn’t stink. And though I didn’t particularly care for McDougal’s clientele, I did love their crab cakes, so . . .

Normally packed by eleven with these parvenus, it was strangely empty this day. The hostess seated me by the window next to a young couple. Judging by their twitterings and gushing endearments, they were on their honeymoon. I busied myself with the business section of the Times.

I was half-way through my Ceaser salad when I heard a loud, deep, and lingering belch. I looked up; it was coming from the young husband. “What an oaf!” I thought to myself, and put down my newspaper the better to give him the bad eye. The young man then bolted upright, spilling the table’s contents to the floor and sending his chair backwards as if from a slingshot. He stood there with an expression of perplexity as his little wife asked “Honey, what’s wrong?”

Without a word, the young man bent forward from the waist and, making the awful noise of retching, shot out a stream of projectile vomit, rich in blood. Then he stood upright once again, took a deep breath, bent forward and vomited again, but this time it was all blood. His bride clasped her hands to her cheeks in horror and cried out, “Peteie, oh Peteie! What’s wrong?” Of course Peteie was in no position to answer as he vomited thrice more. With these smells, sounds and sights, McDougal’s began to clear out. Someone hollered, “Call 9-1-1.”

Then I realized some of the bloody vomit could have splattered onto my trouser leg. “Goddammit!” I thought as I wet my napkin in the water glass and inspected my pant leg. Fortunately, he’d missed.

When I looked up, Peteie had collapsed to the floor amidst his puddle of red vomit. His little wife had run to him, knelt, and was cradling his bloody head in her arms. With nothing more to upchuck, Peteie looked up at her, his eyes fluttered and he weakly mouthed, “I love you so,” then expired. Wifey began to bawl her head off.

Confusion reigned at McDougal’s: What was left of the lunch crowed had gathered about to watch while employees ran around trying to figure out what to do. A couple of cops had responded to the 9-1-1 call and were trying to resuscitate the poor groom. I quietly closed my attache case, rose and snuck out the door, saving myself a good twenty dollars – and why not? I hadn’t even finished my salad.

Out on the street, I worked my way through the gathering crowd as the siren of Medic 1 drew closer.

Heading to the parking lot, I saw a woman and her young daughter, a child of about age five, begin to cross against the light. “Frickin jaywalker,” I thought. “Where’s a cop when you want one.” I had no sooner completed this thought when I saw a low dark shape shoot past; it was a huge male Rottweiler that had slipped his leash. With jaws flapping and froth flying, it headed for the girl. Neither mother nor daughter saw it coming so when it closed its fearsome jaws on the tot’s arm, both were shocked – to say the least.

With a firm purchase on the arm, the dog gave one shake of its monstrous head and tore the little limb from the shoulder. While the animal began to dine on this tidbit, the girl, who was most certainly in shock, simply looked at the empty socket and the spurting blood, and blinked. Her mother, stunned at the eldritch spectacle before her, stood rooted to the spot for a few seconds that seemed an eternity.

In the background, I could hear an agitated man shouting, “Butch. Butch. Damn it, come back here;” the dog’s owner no doubt. By this time, the mother had recovered her composure and began to attend her daughter. Great sobs poured from the mother as the little girl began a soft whimper. Then, wouldn’t you know, the cop I’d hoped for a few moments ago suddenly appeared (better late than never, I guess). She drew her sidearm and emptied the magazine into the offending animal. One of the slugs passed through Butch, ricocheted off the sidewalk, caught a bystander in the temple and the poor slob went down with a thud.

What a mess.

Well, at least the Medic 1 unit was still at McDougal’s, half a block back.

Once in the car, I took out my Blackberry to see who I might visit on the east side. There were a couple of guys in Redmond who I hadn’t stroked in a while so I started the engine, pulled out on the street and headed for the I-5 on-ramp.

I was heading north in the slow lane when I noticed something amiss. A clapped-out old Chevy full of swarthy young men pulled up along side my Mercedes and the young men gave me the once-over. I mean there are lots of S600 sedans in the Seattle area – well, a few, anyway – so why their interest? I returned their gaze. With that, the driver accelerated, then pulled in front of me, the young men then all faced forward and seemed to brace. As they did this, I noticed an ancient Plymouth pull up on my left, and a quick glance over disclosed another swarthy young man at the wheel. A look in my rear view mirror disclosed an enormous Ford 4×4 closing in.

Then I remembered! There was a scam afoot: Crooked chiropractors and shyster lawyers would collaborate with a bunch of hard-up wetbacks to bilk insurance companies through staged traffic accidents. A car full of “victims” would pull in front of someone who looked well-off (and a Mercedes-Benz S600 would be that kind of indicator) while a compatriot pulled up on the mark’s left to hem him in. With that, the first car slammed on the brakes and the mark, unable to stop or take evasive action, would rear-end it. I was being set up.

I tapped my brake to kill off a bit of speed and yanked the wheel to the right to get over on the shoulder. No sooner had I begun this than the driver of the old Chevy locked his brakes and I went sailing safely past on his right. Unfortunately for the clowns in the Chevy, they didn’t see me pull over or the driver might have let off the brakes. But he didn’t, and the big Ford closed the gap, slamming hard into the Chevy’s rear; a cloud of antifreeze, transmission fluid, glass, chrome hunks and associated debris blew outward.

Safely on the shoulder, I stopped, switched on my four-ways, turned and looked out the back light. The Chevy looked like a stepped-on tin can. The big pickup had run half-way up onto its trunk lid and crushed it. Those beaners wouldn’t be faking anything today – the sore necks would be for real.

Out of curiosity more than anything, I got out and walked back to the scene of the crime. The Chevy had been hit so hard all its doors were sprung and unable to open. A string of Spanish imprecations came from within as the occupants futilely shouldered the doors. At least one was moaning in pain. “Serves them right,” I thought.

Turning my attentions to the pickup, I saw it’s four doors open and its occupants disgorge. And what occupants they were! Bikers and skinheads, by the look of them. “Aw, shit!” came an angry bellow from the driver’s side, “Lookit ma fuckin’ truck!”

“You boys OK?” I asked a waxy looking fellow who was nursing a knot on his forehead. Another fellow with White Power tattooed on his two cheeks came up to inspect his comrade. On the other side of the truck, more cursing and shouting.

“We’ll live,” grunted an enormous man with more muscle than a Percheron. He wasn’t wearing a shirt and I couldn’t help but notice his back covered with pustules and blackheads. Obviously an abuser of anabolic steroids. Would he now have one of the rages for which such men were known? Indeed. Looking over to the driver’s side, he saw the Chevy’s driver crawling out the window. “Where the fuck you think you’re goin’, shithead?” he roared. The driver looked at the big man and redoubled his efforts to escape.

“Motherfucker,” the big man muttered as he reached into the pickup’s bed and retrieved a baseball bat that had a six-inch deck screw driven through the business end. Hefting the bat by the handle, he walked around the back of the pickup and in less than six strides, had the Chevy’s driver by the collar. “Here, let me help you,” he growled and pulled the Mexican out the window. The Mexican stumbled to his feet to confront his fate. The big man wound up and swung the bat at the man’s mid-section with the force of Babe Ruth hitting a homer. There was a soft “whump” as the bat struck and the deck screw buried itself in the Mexican’s bowels. Yanking the bat backwards, the deck screw tore through the Mexican’s belly, bringing with it a length of intestine. The Mexican fell, assuming the fetal position, and the big man proceeded to administer several more strokes to the man’s back. The Mexican squirmed for a while, then was still. “Way to go, man,” squealed the wax colored man I’d seen first.

Another of the truck’s occupants appeared. He wasn’t as big as the guy who was working on the Mexican driver, but he was by far the more intimidating. He was covered with Nazi tattoos, large scars, and had his teeth festooned with rhinestones and bright-work. He said nothing as he reached in the truck’s bed and fetched a gallon can of gasoline and a tire iron. These in hand, he walked to the Chevy, set down the gas can and hopped onto what was left of the trunk lid. Using the tire iron, he knocked a hole in the glass. Climbing back down, he walked around the car, smashing out the side windows. Noticing that I was observing, he turned to me and said, “Fire’s gotta have air.” With that, he picked up the gas can and began to douse the car’s remaining occupants. The Mexicans began to protest and holler.

“Slug,” he asked the fellow with the banged-up forehead, “Ya got a light?”

A smile swept across Slug’s face, “Ya bettcha, man,” he said as he took a large Zippo from his pocket and tossed it to the Nazi-man. The Zippo’s wheel was struck one, then twice and the wick came to flame. Chittering like a crazy monkey, the Nazi-man tossed the burning lighter through one of the smashed-out windows. There was a loud Whuff, a ball of fire and enough heat to make one turn away, then the screaming began.

From my vantage point, I could see in through the Chevy’s windshield. The front seat passenger was clawing at the glass, his mouth open in howls of pain. Then he saw me. He looked at me beseechingly, as if asking me to relieve his suffering as his fingers continued raking the glass. Well what could I do? Nothing, obviously. And I so indicated by giving the man a “tough shit” look and shrugging my shoulders. Soon the flames engulfed his face and that was the last I saw of him.

While I was watching the Chevy burn, the big man with the pustulous back had come up beside me. Tapping me on the shoulder, he got my attention. He put his face close to mine and asked if I was having any trouble with all this.

“On the contrary,” I said as I extended my hand. “Those mutts were trying to scam me with a phony accident. Thanks to you guys, they won’t be pulling that shit any more.”

The big man beamed, shook my hand, slapped me on the back and said, “Well, you’d best get outta here a-fore the cops show up.” Turning toward his companions, he hollered, “Let’s go, boys.” With that, all four climbed over the guard rail and scampered off into the underbrush. I got back into my Mercedes, put it in gear and nailed the throttle. Seconds later, I rounded the curve on I-5 and the grisly sight was gone.

On to Redmond. My time there was productive, picking up a small quarter million-dollar order. After signing the papers, I took my customer out for a late lunch and beers at Hooters and by four, was on my way home.

As I was coming down Elm Street toward our home, I noticed some commotion off on my left. Something was going on at the Jenkins’ place. The Jenkins were an older couple – late fifties, early sixties – who ran a small software business out of their downstairs. Their business had sputtered along for a few years, going much of nowhere. Then, three years ago, their product seemed to catch on and prosperity seemed to be assured.

But it was not to be. The old boy got a nasty cancer and spent the next year focused on getting well. Too bad, for it was during that year that the window of opportunity for which he’d been looking, opened up; in the year 2000, speculators, angel investors, venture capitalists and agglomerators of every sort were looking for software companies, but my elderly neighbor was in his sickbed and out of circulation. By the time he was able to work again, the window had slammed shut. The Bush recession was in full swing and the enormities of September 11 had exacerbated the problem. The poor old guy’s customers had all headed for the hills and his business went in the crapper.

My neighbor and his long-suffering wife tried to pull several rabbits out of the hat and after five years of slogging away, seemed to have come up with another winner, though it wasn’t yet ready for market. Of course, by then they’d eaten through whatever resources they had and were about to head for permanent retirement in Panama when an angel investor appeared. The angel thought their product, which was but weeks away from beta testing, was, in his words, “kick ass.” He offered half a million to finish the coding and do a product launch.

That night, giddy with delight at his reprieve from ruin, the old boy showed up at my door, drunk and waving a bottle of the cheap Scotch he liked (or could afford; I’m not sure which). He told me of his good fortune and we proceeded to get happily loaded. Unhappily, the angel investor promptly turned into a pumpkin and welched on the deal. Now my poor old neighbor was totally and royally hosed. His being sixty-something wasn’t a good augury for gainful employment, so . . . They would probably have to move in with their kids. I saw very little of him after that.

About four weeks ago, while driving down our street, I happened to look over at the old goat’s place and saw a sheet of paper nailed to his garage door. An eviction notice no doubt (when the ghouls come to take your house, they are especially graceless and take full delight in all the humiliations they can inflict). Now, tonight, I saw the hubbub was indeed the aforesaid eviction. A squad car was parked down in one end of the driveway. The cop was standing watch as the old folks loaded their stuff in the back of a small U-Haul. I slowed to watch.

The missus was standing by two cat carriers and quietly sobbing while the old boy struggled to horse their sofa into the trailer. “Don’t suppose you could give me a hand, here,” he asked the deputy. The cop set his mouth in a sad smile, looked at the ground and shook his head No. I motored on.

While I was waiting for the garage door to open, I looked in the mirror and saw the old couple pull out of their driveway and go slowly up the street. Jeez, mid-sixties, broke, ridden with cancer, and now homeless. Hell of a combination. Wouldn’t be surprised if they pulled off the road somewhere and blew out their brains.

======================

Well, Joycelin had asked what kind of a day I’d had, hadn’t she. Thinking of all I witnessed today, I smiled, looked at her and answered: “It was a very good day, my sweet. A very good day.” (ed)

-Merlin-


Suzette and Absalom and Why I Hate Mountains

7 June 2018

I used to love the mountains. I’d sit out on the deck of the old place in Clearview and gaze upon them for hours over a bucket of Scotch or, if the sun were not yet over the yard arm, a double shot of espresso. I’d watch the hawks soar through the Snohomish River valley and the Baldies glide among the clouds that swirled above the foothills and around the Cascade peaks. At night, I could sit in the same spots and watch the full moon come up over the peaks like the Great Pumpkin; sullenly orange and bloated but growing bright and small as the night wore on.

In September’s crystal mornings, just before the sun gave any hints it was on its way, old Orion would be laying on his side across the mountain tops, his sword stuck in the earth.

Sunny days in winter were truly a wonder as the peaks were all draped in purest white – almost blinding to look at. Additional drama was provided by the 3-D relief given to the crags and folds by the low angle of the sun.

Of course, thunderstorms were always a treat, even the few we’d get in the winter time. As they almost always developed later in the day, they changed from white to cream to a rich pink as they rose to bump against the stratosphere and then spread out into the “Thor’s anvil” that is their signature. If they lasted into the night, the lightning bolts would make them glow from within like paper lanterns.

Sunsets provided their own spectacles. The very day we moved in, the sun and rain clouds created a 1:1,000,000 scene. A large thundercloud had just moved off to the Cascade foothills across the Snohomish River valley while behind us in the clearing sky, several little fleecy clouds cast shadows. The storm cloud created a vibrant double rainbow which rose in the east and the shadows came together at a point in the bottom center of the bows – a perfect tunnel of light.

On any sunny evening, we could see the pink-and-blue terminator sweep up and over from the east. The terminator is the line running N-S that marks the movement of earth’s shadow; pink above where the sun still shines and a bluish charcoal below when the kingdom of night takes over.

The mountains were also a delight not only to watch but to visit. With picnic lunch in tow, Pam and I have gone into them many times to explore and wonder.  Not as seriously as some folks do, but enough to always find something new. We have taken the daughters and the nephews on helicopter rides through the smoking crater of Mount St. Helens and have spent several late summer days up at Paradise Lodge on Mt. Rainier. We’ve taken many a 3-day weekend at the always-evolving lodge called Sun Mountain that sits on the east slope of the Cascades, over by Winthrop, Washington.

Such beauty.

But I don’t like looking at them so much any more. In fact, when we are taking a load through the mountains, I tend to just keep my eyes on the road and get through them as quickly as possible and preferably at night. One time, I was so eager to be past them that I almost let the truck get away from me on a 6% grade coming down I-70 into Denver.

With the house in Clearview gone, I suppose you’d think the reason I don’t like the mountains is that they are unpleasant reminders of my ruin. You would be partly correct: they are indeed unpleasant reminders, but not of the lost house, Mercedes-Benz and busted business.  I can always get another house and car and start another business. It goes deeper than that. Let me explain.

In the summer before everything came a-cropper, while we still held out hope the stinking program might find its wings, I was working my old network for leads and, best of all, a b test site – a company that would be willing to install Pinpointer 911 and help me locate any bugs we missed. One of my calls went to Walt, a former computer and telephone sales whiz, now semi-retired and working as a consultant for King County. Walt’s last position had been the sales manager for General Telephone, now known as Verizon, over in Bothell and he was all but a legend for his team’s productivity. Walt’s numbers were the envy of managers everywhere – he was the Jack Welsh of telephone sales. If anyone knew anyone who might buy a Pinpointer 911, not just the Seattle area but beyond, or who would hold still for a b test, it would probably be Walt.

A bit of voicemail tag and a flurry of emails and we finally agreed to meet on a Thursday morning at the Starbucks down in Totem Lake at ten o`clock sharp.

True to form, Walt was waiting for me when I arrived. I almost didn’t recognize him: Walt had shed at least twenty pounds and gotten a buzz cut – but the smile was still the same. After saying our hellos, we went to the counter where Walt bought the coffees; a latte for him and a double espresso for me. We took seats in the chairs by the windows. “So,” Walt wanted to know, “Just what the hell have you been up to since … Since about four years ago when I saw you last.” Yes, I said, it was indeed four years – more like five, actually. I volunteered a short history of our software business since the halcyon days of Death/Flex when we were the toast of the town, when Pam and I vacationed in Europe and I’d bought the Mercedes.

I jumped right into business instead of spending the usual obligatory time making chat about the kids, the wife, the cat or the ass-hole that gave me the finger in the parking lot. I suppose Walt suspected I was under some pressure so he accommodated by giving a willing ear to my case. Unhappily, Walt knew of no one who might be interested. He had retired from GTE a few years ago and had lost track of many movers and shakers – and many of the movers and shakers of whom he had not lost track had gotten the axe during the George Bush Tech Wreck. The ranks of people, said Walt, who might be willing to take a look at Pinpointer 911 were reduced to two: a woman at a local hospital who was mere weeks away from retirement and himself. The woman, being a short timer, could not possibly care less about getting involved with new products and as for Walt himself, he couldn’t help as such things as a 911 system were well outside his purview.

Well. That settled that, so we reverted to the chit-chat we had foregone at the beginning of our meeting. I told him of my bout with cancer and urged him, as I urge all men past fifty, to get a PSA test. In return, he told me of his late-in-life son’s accomplishments and relayed some interesting tidbits he had heard about some of the folks he and I had known – including the amazing adventures of Suzette and Absalom Fudkins.

Some background: fresh out of college with a degree in marketing, Suzette had come to work for Walt in early 1982. She became one of his star sales people and had come to earn a handsome living flogging PBX and Electronic Key systems throughout the Puget Sound area.

Part of the secret to Suzette’s success was, no doubt, the fact she was real easy on the eyes. Suzette stood about 5’4” and weighed maybe 115 in her birthday clothes. She was blond and wore her hair in a longish pixie cut. Large blue eyes and a bright smile full of perfect white teeth set off an elfish face that was decorated with just the right amount of freckles. A pert bosom, wasp waist and a melon-like rump were always visible through well-tailored suits and dresses. Her arms and legs, visible thanks to shorter skirts and sleeves, were well toned and pleasingly muscular. She also possessed a wonderful persona and a voice to match. To keep herself in shape, Suzette taught aerobics three nights a week at a health club in Redmond.

Suzette had left Walt’s tutelage back in the mid 1990s to become a wife and mother. The man she chose was a fellow who worked at one of her customers’ businesses. He seemed like Mr. Right but alas, hubby turned out to be a lay-about and toss pot and after enduring his antics for a couple of years, Suzette jettisoned him and went back to the single life. All this I had heard before.

Ah, but what I hadn’t heard, what Walt told me that day, was Suzette’s discovery of Absalom, a buff, well-to-do, and recently retired stock broker ten years her senior who had cleaned up during the .com craze. Absalom had had the good sense to get out while the getting was good and was now as rich as sin. Walt said Absalom had smelled something in the air and so he cashed in his entire portfolio on New Year’s Eve day of 1999. Absalom then put everything into corporate bonds, munies and real estate and began to earn even more wampum while his business chums held and took a bath over the next six months.

With the money pouring in, Absalom bought a new house in Bellevue, a Porsche and, to tone up and recover from the hectic life of high finance, joined a health club – the very one where Suzette held court.

They were a match made in heaven.  She the trophy wife, he the trophy husband and, according to Walt, they are still Living Happily Ever After. Walt positively beamed as he told me all this, which was natural as Walt had come to regard Suzette as a daughter figure. The feeling was evidently reciprocated; Walt once told me that Suzette’s parents were dead and that when she married – both times – she asked Walt to giver her away.

Now I have to admit, hearing of some former colleague’s success and good fortune was a bit disgruntling, what with my unlucky fortunes and all, but what was especially galling was what came next.

It seems that, with all their money, health, vigor and youth, Absalom had suggested he and Suzette spend the rest of their lives doing things almost no one else on the planet has the money, health, vigor, and youth to do. I could just see the two of them, cuddled in front of the fire in the living room of their 12,000 square foot home, sipping red wine and nibbling on brie and crackers and listening to the rain spatter on the 2-story window that gave an expansive view of Mt. Baker to the north when Absalom declared his plan: the two of them would, over the span of their lives, climb Earth’s ten highest mountains.

Jaw dropping open at the audacity of the idea, Suzette would have then thrown her arms around Absalom’s neck and squealed with delight. Putting down her wine and fetching an atlas from the library, Suzette would have returned to help him draw up the plans.

Some weeks later, after they got all their new passports and all their shots, the butler would have loaded the happy couple’s gear into the Hummer and summoned his employers for the ride to Boeing Field where the Gulfstream awaited.

Walt told me Suzette and Absalom flitted about the planet, dutifully climbing peak after peak, saving the best until last, Mount Everest. Walt said that as we spoke, the two of them were on their way up. They had hopped aboard the jet two weeks back, just about the time I first tried to reach Walt. Normally, climbing parties will consist of several people, all strangers to each other, who have pooled their resources in order to afford the excursion. Not so with Suzette and Absalom; they had so many shekels that they simply wrote a check for the whole thing and went up alone, attended only by their loyal Sherpas.

The fact that this climb was such an exclusive one, the news media had taken an interest (and possibly because the fellow at a local TV station had bought a telephone system from Suzette and the two had kept in touch). And possibly because Absalom greased a few palms. Whichever, CNN had offered to carry a live phone call from Suzette when she and Absalom were at the summit. It would be carried on the CNN’s Morning Edition, hosted by Daren Kagen and broadcast allllllllll over the world. Walt was almost giddy with the news

I really needed to hear this. Here I was, begging someone, anyone, to buy my frigging program while dodging dun calls from Wells-Fargo, Direct Merchants Bank and about thirty other outfits and these two birds were gallivanting all over the world doing things I could hardly comprehend. Climbing mountains indeed.  My adventures consisted of walking up to the end of 168th Street and planning what to get at the store with our food stamps.

To bring this less-than-satisfying meeting to an end, I gave Walt a copy of my pitch disk, told him to pass it on to anyone who might be interested, or toss it in the trash. Whatever.

It was one of the very few times in my sixty-four years when I have been truly ashamed of myself. Mortified to tears, actually.

I drove home and went down to the office to sulk. Bitter bile. Goddammit! I sat staring at the computer screen for about two hours. Didn’t do a thing. Actually, I opened the code, all three years worth of work, cursed it as a useless piece of crap and came within a hair’s breadth of erasing the whole shebang. I now wish I would have, it would have saved another eleven months of futile effort.

Pam didn’t know about this humiliation and I wasn’t going to bum her out so I just quashed it and put on my nice salesman’s face. That’s one of the good things about being a salesman, you learn how to act. I could go on the stage.

The next morning, though, I told Pam and Dale about it as the three of us were taking our customary walk. The immediate sense of shame had passed, replaced with one of wondering, “where the hell is mine?” Dale and Pam were somewhat sympathetic but Dale is never one to let me wallow too much and soon had goaded me into a semblance of objectivity. But it still rankled plenty.

I got back into my work and the sting abated. However, two days later as I was fixing a rare egg for breakfast (we had started saving those for the weekend), I turned on CNN to catch the news and as I was coming in the living room with my repast, I heard the anchor woman gush “And now, as promised, we are taking you, by satellite telephone, to an interview from the top of the world with Suzette Fudkins. She and her husband, Absalom Fudkins, have spent the last …” I about dropped my plate. This was positively, absolutely the last thing I needed right now – listen to that goddamned cunt crow about her wonderful life while I take bigger and bigger bites of my shit sandwich. Hell, I can’t afford gas with which to mow the goddamned lawn! Before I could kick the “off” button, on came Suzette’s sweet little voice: “Good Morning, Daren,” she chirped. “And hello to everyone back in Seattle …” I planted my foot squarely on the little green button and the screen went dark and the TV skittered sideways on its stand. I threw the egg and toast out the lanai door and stomped off down the hall to the toilet to take a shower.

I was really getting my nose rubbed in it.

Well, some years have past now and the sore spot has healed over to some degree. Still, whenever I pass by mountains all I can think of is the two lovebirds camped out atop Mount Everest. There, in the moonlight with the entire planed Earth spread out below them, they bang their brains out to the song of the thin, high wind. Afterward, Absalom, full of himself, exits the tent and – with ample justification, I should say – stands there atop the world, thumps his chest and roars “I am Ozimandius! Behold my works ye mighty and dispare” while from inside the tent Suzette makes worshipful cooings as she blots off her nether parts.

Back inside the tent, Absalom reminds Suzette of the time – her call to CNN is due in a few moments. She clasps her hands together and a toothsome smile spreads across her face. Absalom, ever the attentive husband, smiles indulgently, then opens the tent flap and calls out “Boy? Bring me the phone.” A Sherpa in a tent a few feet downslope sticks out his head and nods. Presently, Suzette, bundled against the midnight cold, is on the phone and her words are coming out the speaker of my TV.

In the office where I sit motionless in front of the monitor until noon, doing my best to snap myself out of the mood of utter chagrin and shame, I finally pick my hind end out of the chair and head for my buddy’s place for a little sympathetic conversation and a double espresso.  They will go a long way to balming the soul just now.

Ah, but time is a great leveler and agent of recompense. Let us jump in the time machine and see what has happened to the happy couple.

A few years after his financial triumphs, Absalom grows lazy and cocky and gets fleeced in a land swindle. While this doesn’t land Absalom in bankruptcy court, he is still down by a few million and needs to recoup. Hoping he hasn’t lost the old touch, he tells Suzette the mountaineering will have to go on hold for a while as he gets into day trading. Absalom holes up in a cheesy little office he builds in the basement of the new condo (yes, he had to unload the palace in the woods) and spends 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, working the phones and banging away on his computer. He starts drinking.

But there is more: Thanks to the unfiltered ultra-violet light on top of mountains, Absalom’s face will become covered with actinic caratosese. These are little red crusty sores that never heal and, if not removed by a surgeon’s scalpel, tend to become malignant. You see them festooning cowboys, farmers, construction workers and, especially, mountain climbers. These, along with his balding pate ensures that the face looming next to Suzette in the marriage bed will resemble nothing so much as a small pepperoni pizza. Yum.

As for Suzette, she is a woman after all, so the tits will go bad first. From firm, pointy little gems they will become soft and flaccid duds that will hang from their ligaments like empty wine skins. When she walks through the condo in the nude, they’ll slap on her belly and Absalom will avert his eyes. The lissome legs will have become gnarley from overuse. Veins will stand out in little spiderweb patterns on her thighs and cellulite will widen her hips and make her ass jiggle unpleasantly.

As for her cherubic face, her cute little freckles will become sunstruck and as dark as ink. Some will evolve into unsightly excrescences that grow hair. While most women in their later years will have delicate little crows’ feet by their eyes, Suzette’s sun-ravaged skin will produce things that look like the foot tracks of a Velosoraptor.

Well, at least I sure hope so. (ed)

-Merlin-