30 October 2011

Magpie Tales 89: Enemy of the State

Image courtesy of Tess at Magpie Tales

The meatheads from the Ministry of Information came for me, as they came for everyone they disappeared, at four o'clock in the morning.  Predictable and laughable, to those of us who knew we would get caught, eventually.  The secret police was hung up on outmoded aspects of psych-ops, left over from the wars, that said humans are at their most vulnerable just before dawn.  A load of shite, we said.  After all, we had lived under the clumsy thumb of the Premier for all our lives, and we stopped feeling vulnerable and became numb.

There they were that frosted October morning.  The small flotilla of chunky black limousines pulling up to the curb out front, silent and slick like oil spilling into the gutter.  The thunk of the doors closing was faint but I heard them.  I was in the basement in my usual habit, having been up for an hour already, too anxious to sleep.  Sitting in the semi-secret closet-turned-study behind the furnace, I was chain-smoking and piecing together the next piece of samizdat for the upcoming protests.  The dank little room with its single bare bulb had been my secret home for years.  I had stapled insulation to the door long ago to muffle the click-clack of the contraband typewriter I had smuggled in shortly after moving in.  I was banging away on the keys when I heard the clatter of boot heels on the wooden stairs.

The typewriter had been my own personal joke, a sharp stick in the ribs of the State.  Computers, laptops, smart phones were all the rage now.  The Ministry had focused so sharply on the electronic revolution I reckoned they would never suspect broadsides from a pre-digital relic.  And I was right.

For years they had chased me, always wondering, never grasping the motivation behind the typewritten pages.  They could not fathom why anyone would do such a thing when smart cards and an Internet connection was so much faster and pernicious.  They never understood how I had rigged up my own ribbons from spools of tailor's trim, the ink a home-made mess of Vaseline and carbon black from candle wicks. The blot on the nacreous concrete of the basement wall a testament to a bottle of the ad hoc ink thrown in a moment of panic and frustration, that night so long ago when the apartment next door had been raided.

They never understood.  They never will understand.  The revolution will not be accomplished by machines.  The revolution will only happen because people are behind those machines, even the relic I had poured my life into; this was the joke, you see.  The typewritten pages were all one elaborate joke that the blind leviathan called the State was too dim to see.

Just as the bullet leaves the gun because a finger squeezes the trigger, Truth leaves the pen because a human heart made it so.  Like water wearing down a stone, truth will wear down tyranny.  And truth is not produced by machines.

Their was a sharp rap on the door.  The insulation jumped, peeling a little further off the door. An iron voice.

"Bellensky!  We know you are there!  It is best that you come with us, peacefully!"

My mouth opened in a silent laugh.  They still had no idea of my real name.  I placed my last cigarette between my lips, bent to the desk to rummage in the drawer.  The cold metal grip of the pistol felt electric in my hand.  the magazine was full.  I swiveled the chair about to face the door.

"Come in, komissar, come in!" I exclaimed jovially, "I wish nothing more than a polite discussion of the truth!"

Planting my feet firmly on the gritty, stained floor, I leveled the pistol at the door and watched the lever turn.  The revolution, I thought, starts now.

26 October 2011

Chancellor of the Exchequer

She knows, this blue-eyed wonder that is my progeny.  She knows because I have told her that I lost my job and I do not have much money now.  It hits home when you have to explain that there won't be as many trips to the bookstore or the zoo.

Although, it is impossible to resist that look of glee when ice cream is suggested.  I have been unable to refuse Her Royal Cuteness on that score.

For her, it is visceral on an elementary level.  Daddy hasn't enough money equals fewer books.  For me, it is visceral in that it strikes right into my gut.  Always.  My gut has always been reluctant to play nice.  In times of stress that translates into physical reactions that go beyond the typical low-grade grumble.  It is a trait I dislike about myself.  It limits my effectiveness, flexibility and on the worst days, my ability to be a cheerful human being.

This reared its head not long ago, on a sunny Saturday with my daughter.  She was with me for her regular weekend visit, and the time had come for us to runs some errands.  Foremost on my mind was a run to the bank, to deposit the next to last bits of income I may have for a while.  Grateful that I had something, my stomach was also churning, gnashing at itself as I thought of the great black void of no money into which I was about plunge headlong.  I was gathering up my papers when Wee Lass asked if we could take the change from her sheepy bank (its a sheep, not a pig) and count it.  Of course, I said yes.

Mind you, the sheep was full.  Crammed full.  So full I had begun to stack the change on the nightstand next to it.  More coins would not fit, as I had been saving all my change for her.  Every day in over the past year on which I brought home change I had placed the coins in her bank.  My idea was to set up an account for her, in which extra change and possibly allowance could be deposited.

This was to be hers, and hers alone.

We took the coins with us, and I deposited what I had into my account first.  We then went to the coin counting machine, whereupon Wee Lass took great delight in dumping and scooping all the change into the hopper.  Holy moly, there was so much change.  By the time it was done, she had racked up over two-hundred bucks.  We were ecstatic.

I told her that for now we would leave it in my account, and when I had more time, I would set up her own personal account, from the proceeds of the saved change.  I let her know that I would have to come back later to get that done.  She looked up at me.

"Daddy, you can keep it."
"Sweet pea, no, that's all yours to keep."
"It's okay, daddy, you can keep it because I know you don't have much money right now."

I knelt down right there, in the foyer of the bank.  My bottom lip was trembling and I could feel the tears starting up in the corners of my eyes.  I bit the inside of my cheeks.  I had no desire to break down in a public venue, but this was tough.

"Are you sure?  That money is yours."
"It's okay, you can give it to me later."

I hugged her, tight.  Here was this amazing kid, this sweet daughter of mine lending me money. I thought my heart was going to burst. I didn't what else to say other than to thank her and tell her that I love her.  You can bank on this: no matter what, there will always be two hundred dollars in my account.  Always.

And my heart will ever be full of love for this wonderful creature who graces me with the moniker of "Daddy".

20 October 2011

Glistening Edges

So you may have guessed by now, I haven't felt much like writing lately.  A few random bursts here in October, plus some handwritten stuff in my little black notebooks (for me, not thee, at this time) and in a new journal I'm keeping.  The streak is over, too, last entry for my More Than A Year Of Daily Writing went up on October 8th.  Officially I topped out at 375 straight days of posting.  Not sure how I managed that.

But mostly, I haven't felt the ambition to write.  Most of the ideas I've had I decide really weren't that blog-worthy, and for the remainder I haven had little energy to pursue them.  I have been too tired to return replies, as my poor record with responses to everyone will indicate.  It's because of the "cold black space with the glistening edges"* that has broken open my personal space-time continuum: getting laid off, the subsequent job search and the attendant money crisis created thereby.

This particular black space has not taken complete control of my life, but its presence is sucking up a lot of energy and attention.  It makes me tired.  I have to crank up the personal PR machine, again, start "rebranding" myself again, and it inflicts upon me great vexation.

I know I am capable, and smart, and good at what I do.  I'm also tired of having to explain that over and over.  It's draining and does no good for my morale.  Fighting for balance and security so frequently, well, that is no way to live a life.  I am not really a magician, and my hat may be out of rabbits.

The upside is I have people who love me, who care about me and are helping me in ways practical and spiritual.  I truly would not be able to sustain myself without their help.  I am grateful for the support, emotionally and otherwise. There are other things I am grateful for, too, including the many readers I have here on Irish Gumbo, and I may write a little more about that stuff later.

For now, I'm going to get some rest, and say thanks to all those who believe in me.  Thank you.

*Bonus points and a Gumbo high five if you can tell me the song from which that lyric was taken, and the band.

16 October 2011

Small Things 02: Fall and Light

October 15th, 2011, 4:45 PM.  Fall afternoon for the books.

Today, looking out my dining room window through which a gentle breeze was blowing, I was enraptured by the light.  Cerulean sky, white-gold light, and I gave my gratitude for witnessing both.

I know what beauty is, and I am grateful.

15 October 2011

During Wartime, Rationing Is To Be Expected

It's silly, I know, this tendency of mine to ascribe pragmatic rationalization to what is really dessert.  For fuck's sake, what is wrong with me?  Can one extra cookie really be a sump of guilt?

The problem is that three cookies are enough.  Only three.  Not more, not less.  And those three cookies are to be eaten after dinner.  No exceptions.  To do otherwise is to break the rules (the rules, the rules, goddamn rules) and those who break rules can expect to be shunned.

It was early evening.  The light fades faster this time of year.  Dinner was over, and my sweet tooth was mumbling to me as I wiped down the counters and stove.  I laid the towel on the counter below the cabinets.  Up high, top shelf in the wall cabinet next to the microwave was the box of cookies.  Taking it down, I noticed how light it felt.  Empty or nearly so.  I peeled back the cover.  There were four cookies left.  Four.

Damnation.  My mind reeled.  I felt dizzy.  I wanted dessert.  I couldn't possibly eat four cookies, when three was the rule.  Something broke and I lifted a cookie to my mouth.

It was during the war that I stood in my kitchen and broke the rules.

13 October 2011

Select Carefully Your Mood Music

Gray skies, cool breezes and rain late in the day.  Had my windows open from morning into night.  They still are, and the crickets murmur of everything and nothing.

Ordinarily I dig these kinds of days.  Today was no exception, up to a point.  That point was up until those small shadows detached themselves from the clouds overhead and came down to settle around my heart.  The rain was floating them.  Listening to "It's A Shame About Ray" by the Lemonheads did me no favors.

Raindrops and Ray sounded too much like angst and regret.  That is a soundtrack I can do without. 

12 October 2011

Small Things

Tonight, I am grateful for toast, and butter to put on it.  I bow my head before the toast.

08 October 2011


Hibiscus blossom,
Trembling in white morning light
Ah, hah! Big bee! Ouch!

07 October 2011

Of Axes and Impossibilities

This post wrote itself.  Not literally, of course.  I, me, the person who is at the keyboard did the work.  The central idea, however, was ready made.

I was let go from my job today.

Third time in three years.  I must say, it is a song and dance I am mighty sick of doing.  The timing is never good, but it is absolutely horrible for me right here and now.  I am quite short in a key resource, and the steady paycheck was necessity not nicety; no fat margins for me.  Hell, no real margin at all.

I say "was".  Reality? It is a necessity, a fact driven home to me when I sat down to take stock.  The stock, sad to say, was a bit thin.


I don't know what the next step may be.  I've been an architect all of my adult life.  This is the sixth time in that span that I have been laid off.  You might think the universe is trying to tell me something.  The problem, the crux of this dilemma, is that I really don't know what to do next.

That's a hell of a thing for someone who is trained as a professional problem solver.


Where now?  And did you know that, coincidentally, I began blogging three years and a day ago?  Interesting.  Trivial.  Useless, maybe, as a fact.  But interesting.


Where do I go now?  I don't know.  I just don't know.  I'm fleeing axefalls and running headlong into impossibilities.  It's going to take some magic.

06 October 2011

Bitter Apples

So Steve Jobs has passed away.  How about that.

Another businessman has left this mortal coil, and our lives go on as they were.  I'm confident even those addicted to their shiny things will be fine.

I feel sympathy for his wife and kids, his family, his friends.  They knew him best, some of them even loved him, I am sure.  Smart guy, had some big ideas and wicked good business acumen.

But this isn't the death of some techno-Jesus, a silicon messiah spreading the computer gospels.  While he accomplished noteworthy things, in the end its all toys, and the flash and dazzle doesn't save anyone from dying. 

Don't worry, you "fans" of apples, life will go on, and you will be okay.

05 October 2011

Walls Within

An ordinary Tuesday night, and I was mildly bent out of shape over a snippet of douchebaggery I heard about on the news.  By now you've probably heard about the mental belch emitted by Hank Williams, Jr. regarding his idiotic and odious comparison of Barack Obama to Hitler.  Please note he said he was sorry that the remark offended some people.  He didn't say he was sorry to have said it in the first place.

Anyway.  This irritation I was feeling threatened to ruin my evening so I pushed myself to think of something else, something more constructive.  So I got to thinking about walls.

Walls.  The walls we build around ourselves, the ones we build around our hearts and in our minds.  To protect and to defend, to keep out the hurt.  And which can inadvertently keep out the help.

So as I cooled off and backed away from the rant that was forming in my head, I mused a little more on the walls I'm tearing down and the bridges I will build out of the fortress of my heart.  I wondered what it takes to truly overcome the bricks and stones of our souls, and how we return ourselves to the world.

I wondered, how will you tear down your walls, so I can see the true and wonderful you?

04 October 2011

Between Everything and Nothing

October 1st, 2011. 9:52 p.m.  Cool, rainy, quiet.  In other words, almost perfect.

This weather makes me want to smoke.  I don't know why.  Tobacco smoke makes me physically ill, and I loathe the smell of it.  Yet here I am envisioning myself with ciggie in hand, massaging my temples and blowing a thin stream of second-hand out through my nostrils.  That will not do.  Not tonight, not ever.  I shake my head a few times to make the feeling go away.  All at once, I am tired.

This house is quiet, much quieter than I can recall any other place in which I have lived.  The last place that approached the level of quiet here must have been my boyhood home; both houses have masonry walls.  It has been decades since I have lived at length inside the ones in which I grew up.  The neighborhoods are similar and they both possess their own peculiar quiet.  My current one seems to have a bit of an edge.  Or perhaps it is my imagination only.

This room I am coming to enjoy.  It is the largest bedroom I have ever called my own.  The room in which I slept in my old house was larger, but I rarely was alone in there.  Psychically, my current room seems expansive because it is just me.  Well, me, memories and anticipations.

Rain falling.  I turned off the air conditioner yesterday.  Tonight, I leave the fan off so I can soak up the imperfect silence.  I hear that rain through open windows, gentle hiss on the leaves and grass, backed up with a faint chorus of crickets.  The sound lulls me.  Soothing whispers borne down to earth on the breath of angels.  There is no straining to listen.  There is no need to work so hard.  It is enough to lay still, and listen.

The rain falls.  I lay back on my pillows with my eyes drooping shut from the lassitude of the day.  In doing so, the rain sound intensifies.  The reduction of one sense, sight, allows for the sharpening of another, hearing.  Laying here, slowly melting into my bed, I listen carefully, and relaxed.  Drops of water strike the earth, the window glass, the eroded edges of the wood fence in the side yard.  The feather force of the drops pings the gongs of my heart and soul.

Rain speaks, it whispers in unhurried consultation with the night.  I lean toward the sound.  Water makes holes in the breeze to tell me that between everything and nothing lies love.  I dream of walking straight and narrow between them, hands outstretched, and am filled with the warm embrace of knowledge, of knowing that this room in which I lay will not always seem so big.

03 October 2011

Magpie Tales 85: Dream of the Disaster Relief Engineer

Image via Tess at Magpie Tales

Thirty five years in the business
Cleaning up diabolical messes
He lay abed in a mess of his own
Veins occluded by whispers of Morpheus

Harrisburg, Pripyat, Fukushima,
Ionization writ in the blood and bones
In fevered sleep he breathed, laughed:
Unlikely angel come to carry him home

02 October 2011

Sunday Meditation #8: Water Through Stone and Tree

September 11th, 2011, along the Patapsco River.  Morning, standing on railroad tracks.

For the first time in a long time I was just far enough away from the roads and the machines of modern life that I could truly hear the sounds of nature.  The river was some tens of yards away, and the valley was thick with green leaves.  It was some minutes before it sank in to my head that the only sounds I could hear were my breathing, the crunch of boots on gravel, the trill of water over rocks and the cries of birds out in the trees.  I stopped to consider this small miracle.

I was on my way to the ruins of an abandoned hospital for a photo shoot.  The path I took to get there was along the rail line that followed the river.   The route took me across a bridge and through a short tunnel bored under a small hill.  The tunnel was made of brick, stone and concrete, constructed in 1903.  I was slightly nervous approaching the tunnel.  As short as it was, I had the small fear that a train would come along as I was in the middle of it.  It was wide enough to step safely away from the tracks, with small niches in the brick for a person to stand, presumably out of range of coal smoke and steam back in the early days.

I hurried through, just the same.

It was as I approached the far end of the tunnel that I heard it all.  Drip, drip, drip.

Water was seeping through the arched roof overhead.  Small puddles on the rail ties, glimmering like mercury in the light shining in from outside.  I slowed down a little to watch my footing.  As my breathing slowed, my hearing became more acute.  There, I heard it!

It was a hawk, keening from the trees ahead.  Its sharp cry put all other sounds in sharp relief.  My pace slackened further as I stepped out in to the silvery daylight from the overcast sky.  The hawk cried again, and I could hear the river murmuring sweet nothings to the rocks over which it flowed.  I ceased walking, and stood still.

I could hear the blood rushing through my ears.  A faint rustling from the trees as a small breeze blew.  I could not see the sun, the clouds were opaque, but its presence was known.  Another cry from the hawk.  I stood and listened, to the water through stone and tree.  I heard no cars, no planes, no raised voices.

I heard peace.

01 October 2011

Powdered Rusk

September 30th, 2011, 9:55 p.m.  The Wee Lass sleeps, I am alone in a cool room. The night surrounds.

It has been a year of posts for me, yesterday, to be exact.  365 days of posting once a day.  A record for me I never intended to set, but once it came close I could not stop.  It is good exercise, but it has left me exhausted in a creative sense.  But I couldn't stop.  Perhaps I should take a break, soon, revitalize and get some other things done.  Tend to the garden, as it were.

It was made clear to me tonight, as I was wiping down the kitchen counters.  I could see some bread crumbs scattered on the laminate, a wheaten corona around the humble silver carcass of my toaster.  I realized I had not emptied the crumb tray in weeks, so I moved the toaster towards the leading edge of the counter in order to clean it.  I slid the tray from its slot, and was amazed.

Two thin sheets of metal, a forked tongue in the mouth of the miniature dragon that browns my bread.  They were obscured by a thick layer of parched crumbs, the detritus of multiple mornings of making toast.  I considered briefly storing them in a jar in the vain hope I would remember to use them in a sauce or maybe to coat some fish for frying.  But then I remembered how long it had been.  There was probably dust in there, and some of the crumbs were so hard it might have been like eating sand.  I tossed the crumbs in the rubbish bin, feeling slightly sad.

Those crumbs stayed on my mind as I sat down and tried (not) to write.  My mind, a wetware toaster cranking out thoughts golden brown, crispy and hot.  My crumb trays are getting full, though, and I need to empty them out.  I let you know if I find any thing worth saving, amongst the dry and carbon black bits scattered on the bottom of my mind.