Birthright


“Joel, I can’t stress this enough, you need to reconsider this decision before it’s too late.” Richard Collins said.

“Dad, it’s what I want to do. It’s not like I just woke up this morning and suddenly decided to change everything. I’ve given this a lot of thought, and nothing else makes sense to me. It’s the life I want, it’s who I want to be.” Joel said.

“To be a cook, you’re giving up on college to become a cook? What kind of life is that Joel? It’s certainly not the kind of life that a Collins is destined for. Jesus Christ, your great grandfather was on the Supreme Court! Your grandfather was on the Supreme Court of the State of New York. And, although I chose a slightly different path, I still went to the same law school they did. I doubt I’d be where I am today with Goldman, if I hadn’t chosen to follow in their footsteps.”

“I get all that Dad, but it’s just not what interests me. I have no desire to be a lawyer, or a judge, or a politician like Uncle Robert. Going to a top-notch culinary school isn’t like I’m some kind of university dropout who’s heading off to vocational school. I’ve been to three interviews, and a pretty tough skills evaluation – all of which I passed with flying colors. That means they see something in me that they want to have at their school.” Joel said.

“Sure they do Joel, they see the Collins name and know there’s a cash-cow to milk. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that to sound as harsh as it did, I know you have a lot of terrific qualities son, and maybe that’s why this is such a difficult discussion for me. I don’t want to see you waste those talents making dinner for a room full of strangers.” Richard said, calming his tone.

“I’m pretty sure it’s not a money thing Dad, they’ve got dozens of students who come from wealthy families. The people I’ve already met there seem to have a lot of integrity, and I doubt they would be just winking me in because they’re after another tuition.”

“I’m trying to think of a way to put this that you understand; that you’ll possibly see from my point of view. You’re in a very privileged group of people Joel, and I don’t just mean our family or friends. I mean you’re in the upper half of a percent of American wealthy families. We’re the people who helped build this country into what it is today. As I was getting to earlier, we’re the lawyers, the judges, and the lawmakers that help keep America in good shape. In a way, we’re the backbone of the American system, whether it’s in business, politics or finance. We set the course, we influence the political system, and we discourage the usurpers who want to change that.

Life in this country is pretty damn good Joel, and that didn’t happen by accident. It takes committed men and woman who know what parts they need to play. You’re part of a very special group of people, but it’s also a group who has a set of responsibilities laid out before them Joel. I’m not saying that you’re predestined to one single occupation, you still have plenty of great choices son. They’re simply choices that better fit our station and responsibility. They’re the kinds of professions that contribute to the betterment of this country of ours.”

“Wow, that’s pretty dramatic Dad. Are you going to tell me all about the secret society I’m going to be inducted into? Do I get to learn the special handshake so I can gain entry into their lair? I’m sorry Dad, I’m not trying to make a joke out of this, but I really doubt that one Collins son heading off to culinary school, instead of an Ivy League law school, isn’t going to radically shift the course of the country. Look, you and Mom have always told me that I should make the choices that make me happy. I’m just following that advice now, so it’s not some rebellion or acting out, it’s me doing what I truly want to.” Joel said.

“Back when your mother and I said that, we were talking about what little league sport you wanted to join, not your life’s work. Joel, you are destined to be an influencer of other men, the kind of man who others look to for their own direction. I’m not disparaging the culinary profession Joel, but it certainly isn’t what we tried to set you up for. You went to the best schools, you had the best mentors and guidance we could get for you, and that wasn’t so you could become a chef. It was because your mother and I both believed that someday you’d become the kind of man that we both knew you could be.” His father told him.

“Wow, you’re really serious about this, aren’t you? I mean, I get that it’s not what you and Mom pictured for me, but it’s exactly what I want to do. I’ll just be right up front about it, I have zero desire to be a lawyer, zero desire to be a judge or politician. Let the people who want to be those things pursue those paths, but don’t expect me to. I’m not going to spend the next four years of my life trying to be something that I already know I will hate. What kind of life is that?” Joel said.

“Now who’s being dramatic? You already know you’ll hate it, huh? Where are you hiding that crystal ball, in your back pocket? You can see into the future so well, but yet you can’t see the writing on the wall right in front of you. The gloves come off now Joel, I thought I could encourage you to reconsider, but I see that’s a lost cause now. So, I’ll get to the bottom line then, law school will be fully financed with a stipend to boot – anything else will have to be done on your own. I’m truly sorry that it has to be this way son, but take some small solace in that you’re not the first one to face this choice. My own father had to do the same thing with me, back when I couldn’t find my own ass with both hands. I chose the right path, in hindsight, I really did. I still think you have a good shot at doing the same thing, but you need to stop getting in your own way. Those high ideals about ‘doing what you feel is your true calling’ are just misleading you son. Sometime in this life we all have to do things that, at first, aren’t what we want to do. It’s that illusion of free choice, versus predestination that fools us. We all have parts to play, and this is yours, Joel – if you take it. If you don’t, well… I don’t want to have to imagine that.”

“Are you freaking serious right now? You’re just going to cut me off for having the audacity to pursue my own dreams? For not towing the family-line? And, Mom, she’s cool with this too? Wow, this really blows apart so much of what I was sure you guys had taught me while I was growing up. Well, I’ll tell you what, I don’t want to be in the ruling class Dad. I don’t want to be ‘special’ or a person others look to for guidance. Not unless it’s in a Michelin Star kitchen! If I have to work a job all day long, I’ll still take my classes at night. Sorry, but your threatening to cut me off isn’t going to stop me from doing what I know is right for me.” Joel said defiantly.

“I’m really sorry it’s come to this Joel, I truly am. I can only hope that someday you will reconsider this conversation, and realize that it wasn’t some evil plot to force you into a life you’d be unhappy in. We don’t always get our way son, and that’s okay – we adjust to what life brings us. I hope you’ll see that one day.”

“Whatever you want to think Dad, it’s cool. Although, I am really curious what it was that you gave up on to ‘do the right thing’ like your dad wanted. What did you want to do with your life, before granddad talked you out of it? What was it?” Joel asked.

“Not that it changes anything now, but I wanted to go into the sciences, physics specifically. I was fascinated by Einstein’s theories, and Planck’s writings, and I also had a head for numbers. I’m only telling you this because I want to add that I don’t regret my choices Joel, not one bit. The world is full of great physicists, but it’s not many that get the opportunities that I’ve had since those days.” Richard said.

“Really? You really believe that investing other people’s money in the stock market has been more satisfying than possibly discovering something in physics? I just can’t see the comparison Dad, I really can’t.”

“I know you think I just massage people’s money to create more wealth for them, but it’s so much more than that Joel. We make decisions almost weekly that affect different events all over the globe. Choosing to fund, or not to fund, the different projects, governments, or individuals we deal with, changes the global landscape and balances of power. Goddamnit Joel, we’ve stopped coups, funded rebellions, and made or broke world leaders during my time at Goldman. You have no idea what we’re capable of influencing, or directly affecting. It’s not all pretty, but it’s part of what we see as our responsibility to maintaining this way of life we all enjoy. The American dream is a reality because of a system that was put in place over two hundred years ago, and it’s up to real people to keep that dream alive and well.”

“So there it is, finally laid out in its full glory. Keeping the American Dream alive! That’s a pretty lofty purpose Dad, I wish you all the best with it. Me, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with it. I guess it’s a surprise to you that I don’t actually want to keep everything just as it is. There’s so many underprivileged people in this country, marginalized and cast aside to suffer their fates, as you see them anyway. I don’t want any part of that unless it’s about helping them all get more of what they deserve. Because, I don’t think those people really are predestined to a life of poverty Dad, I think they’re in the situations they’re in because of people like you. To you, the status quo means the rich staying rich, and the poor staying poor. Let the middle class do all the work, and sprinkle them with a few toys to make them feel good, and all is well. Isn’t that the idea Dad? And when anyone, like some ambitious politician, puts his hand into the pockets of the rich, you cut that fucker off, right? No one takes from this ‘upper half of one percent’ if you can help it, I’m positive that’s a fact.

But, before you shit yourself and call me a communist, let me say one more thing; I’m not some naïve social justice warrior Dad, and I’m not a closet Socialist either. I’m just a guy who thinks that the deck has been stacked against the little-guy for far too long. All those other ‘privileged families’ you were talking about… they should take a look back at history, and learn from it. When the rich deprive everyone else for too long, bad things happen to them. Reference the French revolution if you don’t believe me. When the scales tip way too far in your direction, and for too long, people will do something to regain some balance. I know where I want to be, when and if that happens, and it’s not holed-up in my mansion on the hill somewhere.” Joel said.

Time Skipping


We were simply ‘there’ without any commotion or a light show, or any sensation that I could detect… just suddenly there at what looked like a food truck in the middle of nowhere. There was a young woman inside, elbows propped on the service window’s counter, staring at Jake blandly.

“You’re back, and with a friend I see.” The woman said.

“Yeah. When were we here before… or was it after this?” Jake asked. “Doesn’t matter I suppose. Let me have a hot tea please, it helps me focus.”

“That’s what you had tomorrow.” The woman said.

Time travel was so unbelievably weird, it made people say things like that and not blink an eye over what sounded to any regular person like she’d misspoken. I knew she hadn’t, and I’d only been at this for a short… time.

Time, it was a word I’d probably need to stop using eventually. Used how I had always said it, well, it didn’t make sense in that context anymore. Now it was more like using the word ‘coordinates’ or ‘longitude’ – more of a mark on some insane map that would be impossible to navigate without it. I mean, place and time were always thought of together here, inseparable as a concept. Yet, just a few weeks ago I’d have never said it that way. You didn’t need to know the time of downtown Cleveland, it was just a place… it had a latitude and longitude on a map, and directions to get there by several means of transportation. Now, all that’s changed for me. If I asked Jake to take us to Cleveland, he’d definitely ask about the time.

Birthright

“Joel, I can’t stress this enough, you need to reconsider this decision before it’s too late.” Richard Collins said.

“Dad, it’s what I want to do. It’s not like I just woke up this morning and suddenly decided to change everything. I’ve given this a lot of thought, and nothing else makes sense to me. It’s the life I want, it’s who I truly want to be.” Joel said.

“To be a cook, you’re giving up on college to become a cook? What kind of life is that Joel? It’s certainly not the kind of life that a Collins is destined for. Jesus Christ, your great grandfather was on the Supreme Court! Your grandfather was on the Supreme Court of the State of New York. And, although I chose a slightly different path, I still went to the same law school they did. I doubt I’d be where I am today with Goldman, if I hadn’t chosen to follow in their footsteps.”

“I get all that Dad, but it’s just not what interests me. I have no desire to be a lawyer, or a judge, or a politician like Uncle Robert. Going to a top notch culinary school isn’t like I’m some kind of university dropout who’s heading off to vocational school. I’ve been to three interviews, and a pretty tough skills evaluation – all of which I passed with flying colors. That means they see something in me that they want to have at their school.” Joel said.

“Sure they do Joel, they see the Collins name and know there’s a cash-cow to milk. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that to sound as harsh as it did, I know you have a lot of terrific qualities son, and maybe that’s why this is such a difficult discussion for me. I don’t want to see you waste those talents making dinner for a room full of strangers.” Richard said, calming his tone.

“I’m pretty sure it’s not a money thing Dad, they’ve got dozens of students who come from wealthy families. The people I’ve already met there seem to have a lot of integrity, and I doubt they would be just winking me in because they’re after another tuition.”

“I’m trying to think of a way to put this that you understand; that you’ll possibly see from my point of view. You’re in a very privileged group of people Joel, and I don’t just mean our family or friends. I mean you’re in the upper half of a percent of American wealthy families. We’re the people who helped build this country into what it is today. As I was getting to earlier, we’re the lawyers, the judges, and the lawmakers that help keep America in good shape. In a way, we’re the backbone of the American system, whether it’s in business, politics or finance. We set the course, we influence the political system, and we discourage the usurpers who want to change that.

Life in this country is pretty damn good Joel, and that didn’t happen by accident. It takes committed men and woman who know what parts they need to play. You’re part of a very special group of people, but it’s also a group who has a set of responsibilities laid out before them Joel. I’m not saying that you’re predestined to one single occupation, you still have plenty of great choices son. They’re simply choices that better fit our station and responsibility. They’re the kinds of professions that contribute to the betterment of this country of ours.”

“Wow, that’s pretty dramatic Dad. Are you about to tell me about the secret society I’m going to be inducted into? Do I get to learn the special handshake so I can gain entry into their lair? I’m sorry Dad, I’m not trying to make a joke out of this, but I really doubt that one Collins son heading off to culinary school, instead of an Ivy League law school, isn’t going to radically shift the course of the country. Look, you and Mom have always told me that I should make the choices that make me happy. I’m just following that advice now, so it’s not some rebellion or acting out, it’s me doing what I truly want to.” Joel said.

“Back when your mother and I said that, we were talking about what little league sport you wanted to join, not your life’s work. Joel, you are destined to be an influencer of other men, the kind of man who others look to for their own direction. I’m not disparaging the culinary profession Joel, but it certainly isn’t what we tried to set you up for. You went to the best schools, you had the best mentors and guidance we could get for you, and that wasn’t so you could become a chef. It was because your mother and I both believed that someday you’d become the kind of man that we both knew you could be.” His father told him.

“Wow, you’re really serious about this, aren’t you? I mean, I get that it’s not what you and Mom pictured for me, but it’s exactly what I want to do. I’ll just be right up front about it, I have zero desire to be a lawyer, zero desire to be a judge or politician. Let the people who want to be those things pursue those paths, but don’t expect me to. I’m not going to spend the next four years of my life trying to be something that I already know I will hate. What kind of life is that?” Joel said.

“Now who’s being dramatic? You already know you’ll hate it, huh? Where are you hiding that crystal ball, in your back pocket? You can see into the future so well, but yet you can’t see the writing on the wall right in front of you. The gloves come off now Joel, I thought I could encourage you to reconsider, but I see that’s a lost cause now. So, I’ll get to the bottom line then, law school will be fully financed with a stipend to boot – anything else will have to be done on your own. I’m truly sorry that it has to be this way son, but take some small solace in that you’re not the first one to face this choice. My own father had to do the same thing with me, back when I couldn’t find my own ass with both hands. I chose the right path, in hindsight, I really did. I still think you have a good shot at doing the same thing, but you need to stop getting in your own way. Those high ideals about ‘doing what you feel is your true calling’ are just misleading you son. Sometime in this life we all have to do things that, at first, aren’t what we want to do. It’s that illusion of free choice, versus predestination that fools us. We all have parts to play, and this is yours, Joel – if you take it. If you don’t, well… I don’t want to have to imagine that.”

“Are you freaking serious right now? You’re just going to cut me off for having the audacity to pursue my own dreams? For not towing the family-line? And, Mom, she’s cool with this too? Wow, this really blows apart so much of what I was sure you guys had taught me while I was growing up. Well, I’ll tell you what, I don’t want to be in the ruling class Dad. I don’t want to be ‘special’ or a person others look to for guidance. Not unless it’s in a Michelin Star kitchen! If I have to work a job all day long, I’ll still take my classes at night. Sorry, but your threatening to cut me off isn’t going to stop me from doing what I know is right for me.” Joel said defiantly.

“I’m really sorry it’s come to this Joel, I truly am. I can only hope that someday you will reconsider this conversation, and realize that it wasn’t some evil plot to force you into a life you’d be unhappy in. We don’t always get our way son, and that’s okay – we adjust to what life brings us. I hope you’ll see that one day.”

“Whatever you want to think Dad, it’s cool. Although, I am really curious what it was that you gave up on to ‘do the right thing’ like your dad wanted. What did you want to do with your life, before grandpop talked you out of it? What was it?” Joel asked.

“Not that it changes anything now, but I wanted to go into the sciences, physics specifically. I was fascinated by Einstein’s theories, and Planck’s writings, and I also had a head for numbers. I’m only telling you this because I want to add that I don’t regret my choices Joel, not one bit. The world is full of great physicists, but it’s not many that get the opportunities that I’ve had since those days.” Richard said.

“Really? You really believe that investing other people’s money in the stock market has been more satisfying than possibly discovering something in physics? I just can’t see the comparison Dad, I really can’t.”

“I know you think I just massage people’s money to create more wealth for them, but it’s so much more than that Joel. We make decisions almost weekly that affect different events all over the globe. Choosing to fund, or not to fund, the different projects, governments, or individuals we deal with, changes the global landscape and balances of power. Goddamnit Joel, we’ve stopped coups, funded rebellions, and made or broke world leaders during my time at Goldman. You have no idea what we’re capable of influencing, or directly affecting. It’s not all pretty, but it’s part of what we see as our responsibility to maintaining this way of life we all enjoy. The American dream is a reality because of a system that was put in place over two hundred years ago, and it’s up to real people to keep that dream alive and well.”

“So there it is, finally laid out in its full glory. Keeping the American Dream alive! That’s a pretty lofty purpose Dad, I wish you all the best with it. Me, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with it. I guess it’s a surprise to you that I don’t actually want to keep everything just as it is. There’s so many underprivileged people in this country, marginalized and cast aside to suffer their fates, as you see them anyway. I don’t want any part of that unless it’s about helping them all get more of what they deserve. Because, I don’t think those people really are predestined to a life of poverty Dad, I think they’re in the situations they’re in because of people like you. To you, the status quo means the rich staying rich, and the poor staying poor. Let the middle class do all the work, and sprinkle them with a few toys to make them feel good, and all is well. Isn’t that the idea Dad? And when anyone, like some ambitious politician, puts his hand into the pockets of the rich, you cut that fucker off, right? No one takes from this ‘upper half of one percent’ if you can help it, I’m positive that’s a fact.

But, before you shit yourself and call me a communist, let me say one more thing; I’m not some naïve social justice warrior Dad, and I’m not a closet Socialist either. I’m just a guy who thinks that the deck has been stacked against the little-guy for far too long. All those other ‘privileged families’ you were talking about… they should take a look back at history, and learn from it. When the rich deprive everyone else for too long, bad things happen to them. Reference the French revolution if you don’t believe me. When the scales tip way too far in your direction, and for too long, people will do something to regain some balance. I know where I want to be, when and if that happens, and it’s not holed-up in my mansion on the hill somewhere.” Joel said.

Excerpts

“Adam, you were the one who thought I should get LO tattooed on my right knee, and VE on the left one. Just so you could make jokes about ‘spreading the love’. You’ve never actually grown up Adam, and I’m tired of waiting for that to happen.” Janet said.

“Oh, come on now! You used to laugh a lot at my ideas, and it was all for fun anyways Hon. How come, all of the sudden, you’re Mary Poppins?” He asked.

“Jesus Adam, even that question is juvenile. Look, I’m 28 years old, and you’re 31 for God’s sake. It just seems like it’s time we behaved more like adults, and you started acting like someone who actually loves and respects me.”

“Damn, you’re insatiable. I just loved you last night, and you already want more?”

“Fuck off Adam, that might be the last ‘loving’ you get from me if you don’t take this seriously!” Janet shouted.

“What the fuck? What’s up your ass now? Are we back to you not liking my jokes, or the way I dress, or how much pot I smoke? What is it now Miss High and Mighty? Because I’ll tell you something, I’m getting kind of tired of this same old argument. Are you on the rag again? Fuck, I should go camping once a month while you’re on the cotton-pony.”

“Have you lost your fucking mind? Are you such a moron that you think saying that kind of shit is going to do anything but piss me off even more? I don’t have to be hormonal to see that you’re a misogynistic asshole, and one that’s probably never going to change either. I don’t know why I’ve been kidding myself for these past couple of years Adam, you’re not worth the stress. All you’re ever going to be interested in about a woman is her body, and I just can’t subject myself to that Neanderthal thinking anymore.”

Adam stood up and moved aggressively towards Janet, raising his right fist. She quickly dropped to her knees and leveled an uppercut to his groin. As he folded forward in pain, she stood and raised a knee into his face. Adam collapsed onto the floor, bleeding hard from the nose.

“Stay there Adam, it’ll only take me about two minutes to pack my bag and get the hell out of here. Oh, I have an idea, why don’t you call the cops on me? Tell them your girlfriend kicked your ass and walked out, I bet they’d get a kick out of that.” Janet said. Then she turned on a heel and headed to the bedroom to gather her things. There was something calling her out there, and it was far from where she was now.

A Close Call

#1. The Rider

It was one of the closest calls he’d been involved with in his many years of riding, quite nearly a very tragic day. Rounding the sweeping curve at the end of 29th street, just where the freeway off-ramp intersects, a car just missed him as it exited at full speed. He’d seen this before, and was always cautious at that curve since it seemed that the cars getting off of the highway were determined to keep going 65 mph. The posted limit on the frontage road was actually 35, but at 6:00 am, few drivers seemed worried about getting stopped for speeding. Most would not only take the exit at full speed, but would often cross over the three lanes to make the first right turn, about two blocks up. James watched for all of this as he rounded the city street that paralleled the freeway. He knew very well the cost of getting hit by a car when you’re on a motorcycle. There’s just no ‘fender-benders’ between cars and bikes. The rider is almost always who suffers the brunt of the injuries and damages.

This morning, as James leaned into the sweeping right turn, he glanced over his left shoulder to check for merging cars, but couldn’t see the one with no headlights. Had they turned them off too early? Or, just forget to have them on at all? James heard the screech of tires before he saw the car, he squeezed his brake lever and leaned as hard as he could. After a wobble or two, he recovered just in time to see the car’s driver give him the one-finger salute. He gave a brief thought to chasing the idiot, but decided he needed to pull over and take a few deep breaths instead. Close calls have a way of releasing every ounce of adrenaline in your body, all at once. It’s a dizzying feeling that needs a few minutes of calm to make go away. He did remember hearing another car honk it’s horn just as he hit his brakes – James hoped they were honking at the careless driver, and not him.

It’s a sobering feeling to know you’d just missed either dying, or at least being horribly injured in such an unnecessary situation. James removed his helmet and took long drags of the crisp morning air. He felt very lucky to be rolling in to work all in one piece today, as if someone was watching out for him.

 

#2. The Witness

Christy’s exit was approaching  quickly, and she was still in the wrong lane to make the off-ramp. One of those aggressive types was blocking her merge into the right lane, even though she’d been signaling for over a half mile now. She pumped her brakes enough to be able to slip in behind Mr. In-A–Hurry, just in time to make the exit at the last second. She slowed her Jetta quickly on the downhill ramp, because at the bottom it intersected with 29th street and its slower residential speed limit. She noticed that the aggressive guy was still moving at a high speed, which was unsurprising, but still super dangerous she thought. The drivers on the street she was going to merge with were coming around a long curve, and most at about 35 mph. The Mercedes in front of her got to the merge point and started moving over two lanes to his right, seemingly without even looking for other traffic. That’s when it happened. He smashed into a guy on a motorcycle who was rounding the curve, just as the Benz crossed lanes at full speed. Christy could hear the impact immediately, and saw the rider fly up over the Mercedes’ hood. The red motorcycle slid and spun on the asphalt until it hit a curb, then it flipped and landed on the lawn of home next to the street. She pulled over as soon as she could, got out and ran back to see if the rider needed help. In her 15 plus years in the Mid-Town ER, Christy had seen many motorcycle accident victims brought into her trauma center. Very few of the cases turned out well for the cyclists. As she approached the helmeted figure in the street, she could already see that his legs were in positions that nature had never intended. The driver of the Mercedes had pulled over as well, and she was surprised to see him looking straight at her.

“I didn’t see him! He just came outta nowhere!” He said quietly, almost as much to himself as to her.

She knelt down next to the fallen rider, as other drivers attempted to slow and divert traffic around them. Christy felt for a pulse at the neck, but couldn’t find one. She slid her fingers along the back of his hairline, and there she felt the protruding vertebrae of a broken neck. He was gone.

 

 

#3. The Observers

“This is going to be a very precise interplay of events, you’d better focus as clearly as you possibly can. The moment of separation will be very brief.” The mentor said.

“I shall, I won’t let you down.” Hecta said.

“It’s not letting me, or anyone else down that I am concerned with. I’m concerned with having this transition be successful for all parties involved. The young rider has many more life lessons to go on to, we cannot have him end here prematurely.”

“Yes Gian, I will concentrate and catch him just at the precise moment of contact. He will not know more than a brush with death in his timeline.”

“Very well. The death timeline is for the other souls involved here, most importantly the driver. He has had a long time to make adjustments to his temperament, but has yet to make a single change. I am sorry it’s come to this, but some need a direct and drastic event to bring about self-change.” Gian said.

“I am curious about one thing, Gian… the rider, does he not have fault in this as well?”

“Observe him in his new timeline Hecta, I think you will see that he is a cautious man who does not express his ego through his vehicle. I also sense a strong likelihood that he soon will choose to stop riding such vehicles. He has a very realistic view of mortality, I’ve seen to that over his lifetime.” Gian said.

“It’s beginning, I must focus now.” Hecta said.

The two observers saw the scene begin to play out. The rider leans into the sweeping right turn, just as the Mercedes exits the freeway at high speed. At the moment the car body begins to make contact with the rider, a flash of light, and now there are two scenes. The first one sees the rider lean harder and brake to a stop at the curb, as the car speeds on. In the second scene, the car makes contact with the rider, and sends him airborne to his death.

“Very good Hecta, that was quite perfect. Please monitor your driver to ensure that he has started down a proper path of self-discovery. I shall continue on with James in his new timeline.”

They’ve Been Here

Thoughts on Alien visitations to this humble planet

I suppose I take a somewhat scientific approach when asked if I believe in aliens having been here; either directly/physically here, or just passing by for a look. The question makes me think about how, ideally, we humans might approach a planet that we’d detected intelligent life on. (generously assuming that our alien friends deem us intelligent)

I believe that we would have a multi-stage plan of study, well before we ever got to the actual contact part of things. It seems wise to gather as much scientific information as we possibly can before we ever would make the decision to reveal our own presence to that newly discovered populace. Starting with basic chemistry and biology, learning about their planet, their physiology, the natural environment they live in, their foods, rituals, religions, and everything else cultural that we could study.

So many questions would have to be answered before we could even consider making contact with them. What if we found out that they believed they were the only beings in the universe, and that tenet was a strong part of their shared religious belief system? Simply by revealing ourselves we would send their populace into a state of panic with such a dramatic paradigm shift from what was once a concrete belief. Further, what if, at the very beginning of our studies, we discover their atmosphere is toxic to us? Or, the biology of the flora & fauna of their planet is intolerable to human philology? Would we call-off the study? No, I think we wouldn’t go that far, but it might weigh heavily on our decision to ever make contact with them.

Even culturally, if their social mores and folkways were quite different than ours, it could take a great deal of study to understand them enough to even design an approach strategy. I think back to stories I’d read of the first Western Europeans trying to deal with the Native American tribes back in the 1500’s. The newcomers were so used to a hierarchical system of leaders, they could not deal with the natives always sending different representatives to negotiate. The settlers were always looking to speak to the person ‘in charge’ – the Chief (some still debate that we Westerners invented that moniker for whomever was deemed to be the leader of a tribe, but many groups were quite consensus-based, and led by a large group of experienced elders – any of whom were able to speak for the entire tribe)

We certainly wouldn’t want to repeat those same mistakes, so many centuries gone by, would we? Yet, even after long periods of careful study, I think there would still be heated and rightful debates on whether to make actual contact with another alien race. So much to consider before a good rational decision could be reached, it might take decades to come to a proper conclusion.

Now, applying all of that to the considerations of aliens making contact with us, I’d be comfortable in saying that they’re not just going to land in your front yard, step out of their ship and greet you with a warm handshake. It seems far more likely that they would do much as I’ve outlined above…  long and careful studies of this very odd and complicated species of beings. How long would it take them to realize that we didn’t even all speak a common language? Have you ever read a science-fiction novel where the aliens of a planet speak several different languages among themselves? Or, have well defined racial, cultural and political divisions all over their planet?

Even if our alien observers were twice our intelligence, I think it would take a very long time for them to even begin to say that they understood humans well enough to approach them in-person. In fact, I think the better they understood us, the less likely they would be to choose to reveal themselves to us, at this stage of our global evolution anyway. They would presumably already understand what a cultural shock wave they would be unleashing on all of us were they to do so. Add to that, the political maneuverings, greed-based power seeking, and otherwise darker side of man coming out… well, you get my drift. The smarter they are, the more they would know about how the planet Earth would react to their presence. Sadly, even now, we’re all just about two steps outside that cave our ancestors first lived in.

I’m Listening…

“For years we’ve tried the direct approach, mailings, census’ and surveys, but always with limited overall success. Sure, you can  ask someone what they think about a specific topic, but if they sense you’re connected to whatever, or whomever is asking, they change their answers to please you. It’s some psychological bullshit we humans just do unconsciously, we’re generally not even aware of it. Answers like that are useless to what we’re really after Sam, we need the unvarnished truth in order to keep a finger on the pulse of this country.

You’ve got to make the people want to give up their privacy Sam. I knew it as soon as I saw that Faces website. I mean, damn it, here was a place where people were not only voluntarily registering their basic personal information, but then, of their own volition they were opening up their entire lives. I know most still think it was only open to their little circle of friends, or family, but that’s actually the best part. They really and truly believe that, to this very day despite what the press tells them. It’s like they’re imagining some little privacy dome that surrounds their daily rantings so no one else sees it but the people they’re friends with.
I couldn’t have dreamed up a better idea myself, and I’ve had some damned sneaky ones too. An international website where people post their innermost thoughts and opinions every goddamned day. Sure, we have to do some sorting through their inane photos of every fucking food item they guzzle down at mealtime, but it’s a small price to pay to get a sideline seat to everything else. Every affair, whether real or imagined; every purchase they make, every opinion they have about almost everything, and so much more.

It’s like being the priest in a confessional of the entire global population! Confession is good for the soul, and it’s also damned good for your government too!
And the money to be made, don’t even get me started about that. We can compile custom data reports to satisfy almost any need. Television advertisers chomp at the bit for our latest data. They comb through our reports like they’re panning for gold, and in some ways they really are. Why they can adjust their spending by only buying ad time at the most desirable moments. Haven’t you noticed that no one is buying ad time during the nightly news anymore? That’s because of us, and the data we provide. Some other examples are; you’ll always see reruns during any holiday period, or when there’s some other programming that is a known dominant – such as the basketball finals, or big bowl games. Networks don’t want to ‘waste’ their new product, and the higher ad money they bring in, running against something that will beat them in the ratings.
We can offer them statistical proof of exactly when they will get the most for their money. From the big networks to the upcoming cable channels, we can give them the value-added for their advertising dollar.
Another great feature we discovered is that we have an easy way to test new ideas now. We simply float a ‘news leak’ about whatever it is we’re looking to test, and within hours we’ve got useful data! I figure as long as we keep the NSA as the primary boogey-men for folks to worry about, we’ll stay nearly invisible to everyone.”

Herstory 

“I don’t feel safe anywhere Jack, and I haven’t for over 12 years. Christ, it took me over six months to trust that you weren’t just some guy trying to take something from me.” She said.
“Look, I’m not going to say anything even close to ‘I understand’ – because I don’t, yet. I really want you to help me understand it though, if it’s not too hard to go into.” Jack said, carefully.

She sensed the absolute sincerity in his voice as he said it.

“No, I guess you wouldn’t really understand it, would you? Not in the same way a woman does anyway.” She says, voice trailing off into thought.
“I’m sure a few men might, but I’m not one of them. I really want to though, I want to know what you went through, and are still going through now too.” Jack Says.

“Something was taken away from me twelve years ago.” Janet begins. “Something that feels like I’ll never get back, ever. Even just a decade ago, there were people who would say things like ‘he didn’t take away the important part of you’ or ‘don’t let this change who you are inside’ – and those were people who knew me, and were trying to comfort me. People who cared about me didn’t even know what it was like Jack, and I’ve got to admit, I wasn’t in the mood to try and tell them either. Not then anyway, not so soon after. Shit, it probably took me two years to really come to terms with all of the changes brought on by that one single night.  Two years of therapy, of self-analysis and internal inventorying before I could admit to all of the changes. Can you imagine that?” She asked him.

“Well, imagine it is about all I can do. That’s why I want to hear it from you, I don’t want to have to keep guessing at it. I don’t really like feeling wrong all the time, and that’s how this feels.” He says.

“Yeah, that’s my fault to a degree. I want to stay up in my protected fort and hurl snowballs down at you for not being able to get in. It’s so automatic to me now, I’m not always aware of when I’m doing that. But that’s just part of it Jack, just part of what gets changed in you after being raped – there’s so much more to it. Trust, the loss if it, is just the most obvious one, and maybe the longest lasting too.”

“Let me start back then, just before everything happened. I was like any other nineteen-year-old college student, away at a new school, in a new town. I got involved in campus activities, I worked at the bookstore, and had a new group of friends who were totally cool. I was exploring my new adult life like it was an attraction at an amusement park. Everything was fun, or cool, or sophisticated, and I wanted to be part of it all. I was so happy, so filled with enthusiasm, and so painfully naïve too. I quite literally trusted everyone around me, and why wouldn’t I? It wasn’t like the school published a list of creepy predators in the campus paper. They wanted us to all believe that we were in a special and highly insulated environment there, and I bought into it.”

Jack could see this was getting painful for her, so he chose to remain quiet, foregoing even the usual noises of acknowledgement one uses in a conversation.

“My roommates had told me about the part that night, not far off campus at a frat-house. The guys there were cool, they said. Other parties they’d been to were supposedly great, so ‘why not?’ I thought, let’s go. In all honesty the three of us had a couple of drinks while we got ready, so I was about half-buzzed by the time we headed over there. I’d guess there were about 75 to 100 people there, but it wasn’t over crowded because it was kind of a huge place. We found some other girls we knew by the kitchen area, and I knew I needed to eat something before I drank anymore. But, just like most parties thrown by guys, their idea of food was chips and gross dips. By the time I decided which chips were the least disgusting, someone had already put a drink in my hand. We were talking, snacking and bouncing to the music that was way too loud. Pretty much a normal party, at least to me anyway.”

“After a couple of hours, the guys there had figured out that all the women were inside, and they started picking us off one by one to go out and dance. One guy had come up and asked me to dance a couple of times, but I was happy where I was and declined politely. By the time it was just Circe and me, he was back for a third try and I gave in. I hadn’t realized how buzzed I was until I had to walk out back to where everyone was dancing. He had to catch me twice before we even got to an open spot to dance. I thought that the physical activity of dancing would clear away the buzz I had, but it really didn’t. After two songs, he suggested we go back in and get some water, and I thought that was kind of sweet. We circled around the other dancers, and went into a different door of the house, then down some stairs. He told me this was just a different way in, and it’d be more quiet there. It was his room, and once inside he spun me around a couple of times, and flung me onto his bed. I was doing my best not to barf on his bed, wishing I was a lot closer to a bathroom, when I realized that he was pulling off my skirt and underwear. I told him to stop, I didn’t even know him and I wasn’t in the habit of sleeping with a guy I didn’t know. I remember him telling me that he couldn’t understand a thing I was saying. I have no idea if that was true, or just a clever disclaimer he used to keep doing what he wanted to. I know I passed out for some amount of time, because when I woke up, I was upstairs on the couch. I could hear Circe’s voice near me, and I tried to call out to her, but I was still in bad shape. When I woke up again, I was still on that couch, but I was a lot more sober, and a lot more aware of what had happened. I sat up and instantly felt the soreness in my crotch, I yelped and that woke Circe who asked what was up. When I told her that I thought that guy raped me, she asked me if I was sure! Then she told me about how drunk I was, and asked me again if I was ‘really sure it was rape?’. I know she didn’t really deserve it, but I started screaming at the top of my lungs at her. I know I woke up everyone in the place because they mostly all started to appear in doorways or stairwells. I got embarrassed when I saw them all, and just grabbed my things and ran back to my dorm room. I had no idea what to do, and I was pissed off at myself for having felt embarrassed and running away from where it had happened. I needed time to think, and because I felt gross, I decided that I could clear my head in the shower. Mistake number one.” She said.

“In the shower I had decided to call the campus police and report what had happened. About thirty minutes after I called, an officer was at my door to take a report. She was kind of cool at first, just listening and making short notes as I talked. Yes, I had been drinking; No, I didn’t know his full name; Yes, I knew where he lived; and then ‘You haven’t bathed since the incident have you?’ Fuck. I guess I hadn’t watched enough cop shows as a kid to know any better. I washed away just about all the proof I had that I was raped. The cop just shook her head and told me that we should go to the hospital anyway for a rape kit. That was humiliation number one.”

“To bring this part to a close, I’ll just say that the only saving grace was that he must have been drunk too, and forgot to wear a condom – they were able to get DNA from what he left in me. He was arrested, a magistrate listened to both sides, and offered him a plea deal of simple assault. He served no time, and didn’t even have to register as a sex offender. That’s the end of the story if it were one you were watching on TV, but since this is real life, it was only chapter one in an ever evolving novel.”

“That one night, I lost so much of what had been my normal life, I couldn’t have even imagined it then. I lost my trust Jack, that simple human quality we have to just trust other people initially. That was all gone, poof! Janet would never just up-front trust anyone ever again, not even other women. How fucked up is that huh? Something that most people take for granted, I bet most barely even think about it. But I do, every single day. You’ve probably imagined meeting a women, maybe in a bar, having a couple of drinks with her, hopping she likes you enough for it to turn into something. Well, that’s never going to be me, ever. Now, every man that shows interest in me, is an instant suspect. Having your trust taken away from you is like being on-guard all the time, and it’s exhausting Jack. My mind is on alert 24/7 and sometimes I forget to relax for days at a time. I’m like a tensed muscle just waiting to spring into action, and 99% of the time it’s all for naught.”

“Well, definitely in the couple of years just after it happened, I was absolutely sure that I needed to be hyper-vigilant just to protect myself from harm. Everyone was a potential attacker, either physically or mentally, but all were suspects. Even with an excellent therapist it was going to take me about five years to own, accept and forgive all of the things I was blaming myself for. See, Jack, that’s another thing that happens when a person has all of their sense of control stripped away – we blame ourselves for it. We bludgeon ourselves with ‘whys’ – why did I go there? Why did I drink so much? Why did I agree to dance with the fucker? So many demanding questions put to myself over and over, hell a hardline prosecutor couldn’t have done any better. All because my own personal control was ripped away from me, violently.”

“You were blaming yourself for being raped?” Jack asked cautiously.

“Absolutely. Think about it, don’t you have an internal sense of being able to control things in your life? Don’t you have a plan in your mind if someone were to try and rob you, or steal your wallet? We all have that Jack, I don’t think a person could function in daily life if they didn’t have some feeling of control. But it’s an illusion for the most part, because so many things can happen to us that we have zero control over. Zero. That’s a pretty tough thing to try and come to terms with, a scary thing if you think about it too much. Even after all of that therapy, I still couldn’t give up on it. I needed, hell, I still need – to believe that I have some control over a few things in my life. Sadly, one of the ways I exercise that control is by keeping people out of my inner space. My mind, my heart, my emotional space were all things I could control without a doubt. It wasn’t until I met you Jack, that I started to realize just how isolated I was.” She said.

“Well, I’m not sure what I did, but I’m glad I did it.” Jack said with a gentle smile.

“You were, well, you are just being you. You’re one of those rare people who’s just comfortable in their own skin. You don’t analyze people, or judge them for superficial crap either. You just seem to let each person you know write their own biography in your mind. To you, everyone is just who they appear to be until they show you something different. That’s a pretty great quality Jack, I hope you never lose it. But, even when we first met, I was guarded and distrusting. I can’t promise you that I’ll ever get past being like that Jack.” She says, tears coming now.

“Do you mean overall, with everyone? Then, no, you probably won’t. But, with selected people that you’ve come to know pretty well, I think you already have. Don’t sell yourself short like that, you’ve come a long way. Sure, it took me a long time to get to know you, but I sensed that you were worth it. If you were 100% guarded, I don’t think I could have sensed anything, except hostility maybe. All I’m saying is that you’ve found a way to reveal little glimpses of yourself to people that you want to trust, and we see it. I saw it, and I liked it, and I knew I was going to be in it for the long run. Even if we just ended up being friends, I knew it’d be worth it.”

 

Race Riot

The city I currently live in announced that our new police chief “has already made history, because he’s Asian!” (The exclamation was actually in the voice of the news reader) As I heard that I couldn’t help but recalling a moment just under 8 years ago, when we were told the same thing about our new President. He was making history as the first black President of the US. History… wow. History making because they’re not white. 

I felt something like a mild depression overcome me just about then. The fact that it’s historical that a person of a non-white race was elected, promoted, nominated, etc… As the kids say, WTF?? In just my lifetime I have been witness to the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, the sexual revolution, and all of the LBGT triumphs & tragedies.  This is all great news for social progress, but it’s also an indicator of just how backward we’ve been; and in many cases still are. 

Our new President-Elect has been labeled as a racist (true, or untrue is still yet to be seen), or at least appealing to the groups in this country who admittiedly are. It just amazes me that even a portion of the civilized, educated, modern human beings of this time in history, are still racists. They don’t like people who aren’t white people. Un-fucking-believable! It really is, to me at least. I just can’t wrap my mind around the concept that people still hate others because of the color of their skin. It’s asinine, in my opinion. Asinine, ignorant and backwards; all in one. I doubt that those who do embrace racism realize how it reflects on them, that is instantly displays their unbelievable ignorance. 

Would it change them if they did realize that? I doubt it. If you can get comfortable with being a racist, then I imagine you think the rest of us are ‘commie sympathizers’ or something along those lines. Perhaps they think we’re all ignorant too, that we just can’t see the evils of those other races? Maybe they feel sorry for us, and believe that they’re eventually going to protect us from our own bleeding hearts? I cannot say with any conviction, because I don’t actually know any real, openly racist people. In an oddly scientific way, I think it might be interesting to meet one, have a dialogue with them… were that a possibility. 

Somehow I don’t see that dialogue remaining calm and civil for any extended period of time. Race discussions are like politics or religion as a topic, just not a good idea unless the conditions are nearly perfect. That means two rational people who can put their emotional passions in-check for the duration. That’s not an easy thing for most people, not even for me. Yet, I still think I’d like that to happen someday. I have a notion that it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to poke a whole bunch of holes into their theories. Beliefs based on stereotypes and lies are not very hard to debate into submission, assuming that both sides can remain good natured. 

Judging other people based upon how they look, where they’re from, or who they worship, is so backwards, we might as well be living in caves still. We don’t deserve all of this technology, or creature comforts – not until we shed those ugly social maladies. 

Body Slam

Jesus David, men can be so ignorant sometimes. You just don’t get it do you? If you’re always looking at other women with big breasts, and especially if you comment on them, it’s a trigger for insecurity! Can’t you stop for a minute and think about how you’d feel if I was always pointing out guys who look like they have large penises? What if I said things like ‘wow, I sure love a big-ol penis and I think he’s got one right there’ ? It’s a not-so-subtle way of saying that someone has some physical feature that you like better than the person you’re with. 
Why does it seem more acceptable for you to gawk and comment on other women’s bodies than it does for me to do the same with men? I think all people in relationships want to believe that their partner sees them as more than some physical characteristic. Furthermore, no one wants to be compared to some stranger you see on the street.

You know you’d get pissed if I did the exact same thing you’re doing, but for some reason you think you’re being cute. Well, here’s some news, you’re not. You’re being an objectifying sexist asshole David, and I’m not sure I can deal with it anymore. How will you ever be happy with who ever you’re with? We all age, we all change in time, and in ten years things won’t look like they do now. Are you just planning on trading me in in a few years? Just keep changing lovers every five years or so? 

This will be your albatross to bear David, and until you look inside yourself and figure this out, I don’t see how you’re going to ever be truly happy with anyone.