Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Appearances are Deceptive, by Mary Papas

“I’ve been making a list of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who’s dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing.”

― Neil Gaiman, The Kindly Ones

A wide angle view of Dealey Plaza at dawn on the morning henge day (or two days later). The brick building in shadow on the far left is the infamous Texas Schoolbook Depository. President Kennedy was shot on the curved road on the left, almost fifty years ago.

Took a day off work – the COVID-19 vaccination mandate is overwhelming everything – there are so many questions unanswered. It’s been a while since I had my jab and am thinking about a booster, but the FDA Booster Shot decision is putting it into the fog like everything else (I don’t turn 65 for a few months).

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Friday, January 1, 1999 – More than twenty years ago. The kids, at that age, were connoisseurs of fast-food ball-pits – we knew all the ones in a ten-mile radius of our house and most of them along the highways radiating in all directions.

Saturday, January 1, 1999, McDonald’s with Playland

….. House is empty.
Holiday is spent.

I needed to get the kids
some exercise.
Drizzling Wet Warm Fog
No day for outside.
So it’s off to
McDonald’s with Playland.

Nick and Lee are good enough
I can let them go around
on their own.
I can sit and write.
notebook on green laminate.

Lee borrows my pen
to follow the numbers
on a placemat puzzle.
He says he knows
it’ll be a snowman.
he traces the outline
still.

Three
amazingly fat women
sit at the next table, here in the
McDonald’s with Playland
without any children.
So close I can hear them talk.
at least snippets.
Recipes – they are trading
“I get these headaches,” one squawks
“Then I go eat me some chocolate.”
Hmmmmmmmm – the others intone
worshipfully.

Nick and Lee want ice cream
I give them all the cash
I have
and send them to the counter.
They come back with cones
and a single dollar bill
and three pennies.
One so sticky I leave it behind.

A young mother
excites into her cell phone
in Spanish.

A toddler drops her
Orange Drink.
The thin liquid puddle grows
as she stares mute

An older man- a customer
cleans it up.
A teenager- a worker
appears with a mop and bucket.
“Don’t touch that!”
The old man growls.
He rants on about how dirty
the mop water is-
and cleans up the mess
with his own cloth handkerchief.

He must be nuts.
Nobody carries a cloth handkerchief.
Anymore.

And a piece of flash fiction for today:

Appearances are Deceptive, by Mary Papas

from the Short Story Society and Flash Fiction Society

What I learned this week, September 16, 2021

My son is at a friend’s house watching Thursday Night Football and I’m at home surfing the web. This is what I learned.

Underneath the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. (click to enlarge)

5 Mindful Habits that Lead to a Minimalist Home

Creating a beautiful, minimalist home can be done in one fell swoop with the help of some major de-cluttering—but maintaining a minimalist home is a whole different story.


Underneath the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. (click to enlarge)

Be a Schedule Builder, Not a To-Do List Maker

Imagine you bought a new phone, but at the end of each day, every day, the operating system crashed. Would you keep using the faulty phone? Of course not. You’d take it back to the store, complain, and get a new one.

And yet, many people run their entire lives on a faulty operating system. It’s called the to-do list. Have you ever met someone who runs their day using a to-do list and actually finishes everything they said they’d do? Me neither.

To-do list devotees keep a running register of all the things they promise to get done, but at the end of the day, they’re surprised to find the list of uncompleted tasks has gotten longer, not shorter. The next day, they repeat the Sisyphean practice. Their days, months, and sometimes entire careers are spent in a harried blur of never getting enough done, even though they’re using a technique that’s supposed to make them more productive.


Blockchain, explained

Blocks? Chains? How does this whole thing work?


Jars of Kimchi, half and full gallons.

Common factors within the gut associated with depression and bipolar disorder

New research has found that there is a common, overlapping environment in the gut bacteria of people living with mental illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety.


Wildflowers south of Dallas.

How humans created color for thousands of years

Back before we could paint our world with pixels, we needed precious commodities to make pigments.


Gymnast, by Enrique Alferez, bronze, Poydras Street, New Orleans

A Beginner’s Guide To The Unsung Heroes Of Gym Equipment

Be honest: Do you dash towards your fave treadmill every time you go to the gym? Or do you wander around, look at the equipment, and try new things? While it’s totally fine — and even beneficial — to stick with a solid and predictable workout routine, there’s something to be said for shaking things up on occasion, too.


Recycled Books, Denton, Texas

Why William Gibson Is a Literary Genius

Forty years after his breakout story, “Johnny Mnemonic,” the father of cyberpunk remains one of the best writers around

A Day of Zoom Meetings

“The evil in the world comes almost always from ignorance, and goodwill can cause as much damage as ill-will if it is not enlightened. People are more often good than bad, though in fact that is not the question. But they are more or less ignorant and this is what one calls vice or virtue, the most appalling vice being the ignorance that thinks it knows everything and which consequently authorizes itself to kill. The murderer’s soul is blind, and there is no true goodness or fine love without the greatest possible degree of clear-sightedness.”
― Albert Camus, The Plague

A little way farther down the wall is “Chomp”, also by Amber Campagna

Today, work was a day of Zoom meetings, webinars, and long lists of unanswered questions. Although I go into work every day there is an army of people at home writing PowerPoint presentations and espousing on what is better for everybody else.

Today was the day that Biden’s Covid-19 Mandate hit like a ton of bricks (yes, we employ more than 100 people and yes, we do business with the government) and a lot of folks are running around like chickens with their heads cut off.

I am fully vaccinated and have been for a long time. There are some people I know that are strongly opposed to the shot. There are more (mostly vastly younger than me) that are simply too lazy to get the needle. I don’t know.

Now that the best plans are laid – and I take a very close look at them – it really won’t make a difference until early next year. Really. It is all a dance, a show, virtue signalling. Take my word for it.

Box Office Poison

“Death is a funny thing. Not funny haha, like a Woody Allen movie, but funny strange, like a Woody Allen marriage.”
― Norm Macdonald, Based on a True Story

Funerary Figure (tau-tau) Dallas Museum of Art Dallas, Texas

I saw today that Norm Macdonald passed away. I usually don’t go all social media when a famous person dies. Especially since I don’t know the person personally – their death won’t really affect me at all. Their artistic output is still there. Now there are some exceptions – I still think about the music that Stevie Ray Vaughn would have produced….

At any rate, I have always been a fan of Norm Macdonald. He had that combination of unique dry odd humor and political incorrectness that is rare today. He will be missed.

I suppose everyone has their Crackerjack YouTube moments they can come back to when feeling a little blue. One of mine – one of my very favorites – was a Norm Macdonald guest stint on Conan with Courtney Thorne-Smith. I saw that Conan re-uploaded a good quality version onto YouTube today, in honor of Norm… and that made me happy.

I know you’ve probably seen it before – but if you haven’t here it is. Be sure and watch ’til the end – one of the best lines ever… I still wonder if it was really impromptu (never say to someone like Norm Macdonald “Do something with that, you freak,”) – I like to think it is.

Sunday Snippet, Trouble by Bill Chance

“If trouble comes when you least expect it then maybe the thing to do is to always expect it.”

― Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Kids love the reflecting pool. The water is less than a quarter inch deep.

One day he said he picked up a “warning.”
“What did you do?”
“I dunno.”
“Did you forget to raise your hand?”
“Nope”
“Did you break a rule?”
“Yeah, that’s it. I must have broke a rule. If you break a rule, you get in trouble. I got in trouble, so I must have broke a rule.”
“Do you remember what rule you broke?”
“Nope.”


He went on to say he didn’t like it when somebody was in trouble
“Cause the teacher STARES at us!”
A demonstration was made of the teacher’s stare, eyes narrowed, brows lowered, forehead slightly knotted.

It was pretty scary.

A Record of the Day

I guess everyone is thinking about twenty years ago today. I’m not a big one for that kind of forced nostalgia – but I do have my blog – and I thought it would be interesting to review what I wrote down at the end of September 11, 2001.

I keep hearing people say how they were shocked and how much their view of the world changed that day. Of course that is very true for the people that were directly affected… but for me… I’m almost ashamed to say I wasn’t shocked. I wasn’t even surprised. It seemed like something that was going to happen, we just didn’t know where, how or when.

The world always exists as a thin membrane between our daily lives and the void of chaos beyond. September 11, 2001 was a day that the membrane broke… more than usual.

The Daily Epiphany
Tuesday, September 11, 2001

A record of the day

We have awakened a sleeping giant and instilled in it a terrible resolve.
—- Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.

I stayed up watching TV way too late last night and overslept in the morning. Luckily, my work has a generous flextime policy; but I had some stuff I had to get done. The City of Dallas had some samplers and I had to be there before they picked up so I could collect my split samples for our own analysis. I pried myself from under the covers and stumbled into the shower – then shaved and dressed as quickly as I could. As I dashed out the door to the car I saw Candy’s mom watching TV in the living room. There was only a glimpse as the front door closed and the show cut away to breaking news of a skyscraper (obviously the World Trade Center) and some smoke. I started the car and headed out late into the heart of the morning rush hour.

Most people watched the horror unfold on television. I listened to it on the radio, tuned in as I fought my way around the LBJ freeway loop. I was at about the Garland Road exit when the second plane hit.

That was it, wasn’t it? The first plane… I kept hoping it was an accident or at worst, an isolated crazy person. When that second plane came in though, that’s when it was clear what was going on, that’s when the world changed.

I made it to work and to my desk. At that point I felt strangely isolated. The Internet was so bogged down I couldn’t get any news off of my computer. The only two ways I could find anything out were reports by phone from a cow-orker’s wife and text reports on my web-phone.

Finally, some guys came into my cube and told me the other building had a conference room set up with a television feed. We decided to head over there. I worried a little about the City’s sampling crew and considered dropping some sample bottles in case they showed up but decided it wasn’t a good day to leave an unoccupied plastic cooler sitting in a parking lot.

I shouldn’t have worried. Considering what we do at my work it was obvious that security was going to be tight. The whole campus was closed – nobody was getting in or out.

Simply crossing the street to the other building was an adventure. The security guard made us dump everything out of our pockets. She removed the batteries from our cell phones. “I know what I’m looking for, but you don’t,” she said. Then everybody was frisked – and a pretty thorough frisking, too. I think that’s the first time I’ve been searched like that – though it’s possible I simply don’t remember it before.

Finally seeing the television pictures in the conference room on the big screen TV… well, you know what it was like, you saw them too. The bizarre juxtaposition of such a beautiful, sunny day with the horror unfolding underneath. I remember being in the Trade Center, it was a calm warm day when I was there, two decades ago. They let us go on up above the observation deck and walk around on the roof walkway. I remembered the sheer size of the two towers and understood why the giant airliners looked so small – why the first reports thought it was private planes.

Both towers had already collapsed by the time we made it to the conference room. They kept rerunning the horrific footage of the crumbling structures hurtling down in a cloud of debris over and over. At that point there was still not very much information coming across from the Pentagon – many reports were that the plane had actually missed and had crashed into a helicopter pad next to the building. That’s always one difficult thing about watching a disaster like this (like this? There has never been anything like this) – the constant stream of rumor and speculation, the slow winnowing of fact.

We watched until it became numbing. By the time I walked back to my office the announcement was made that “the terrorists don’t appear to be targeting defense plants,” so we weren’t frisked again – though the site was still locked down tight.

I was actually able to get some work done – I strongly wanted to try and continue my ordinary responsibilities as much as possible. I talked to Candy on the phone, especially when the kids came home from school. They were doing fine – Lee was more or less oblivious and Nick very curious, but not upset or frightened. I talked to him and his major question was, “Why would anybody do this? Don’t they know what they are getting themselves into?” Nick has been fascinated with Pearl Harbor ever since he saw the movie and seems to see some strong connections here.

Cherry Bomb!

Hey, street boy, what some style?
Your dead end dreams don’t make you smile
I’ll give you something to live for
Have you and grab you until you’re sore

—-Cherry Bomb, The Runaways

Bottle cap from the bottle of Cherry Bomb! by Prairie Artisan Ales

Pre-Covid one time, I rode my bike to the Whole Foods at Renner and Plano road – it’s exactly five miles from the house, a nice round-trip. It’s my favorite bar – they have a craft beer growler room there and sell it by the glass too. It’s bright and clean and there are always interesting people there.

But most importantly, whoever manages the place has a good, strong touch in the beers he stocks. Of course, there is a nice selection of local favorites, but there is always a couple of interesting selections from out of town. So, this one time, I’m sitting there chatting with a young couple that had been there a while before I arrived and had been hitting the beers and were now into the wine selection.

Looking up at the board I noticed a dark beer listed called Bomb! from Prairie Artisan Ales in Oklahoma. One thing that jumped out at me was the 13% alcohol content – that’s pretty stout for a beer, even a stout. I ordered one and it was good. It was black as used motor oil and had notes of Oklahoma and petrochemicals.

“That’s pretty damn good,” I said to the couple next to me.

“Yeah? Well, we’ll have a couple,” they said to the bartender.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “You’ve had enough and that beer’s too strong, I’m going to have to say no.”

Well, that didn’t go over too well. I have a feeling that the place has some sort of tracking system and alerts the bartender when to cut off the customers. The two sure didn’t seem drunk to me.

At any rate, they paid their bill and stormed off in a huff. A while later they came by and showed me something. They had gone into the store and bought a whole six pack of Bomb!.

“Ha! That’ll show her,” he said to me.

After that little incident I’ve had a soft spot for Prairie Artisan Ales and Bomb!. Some of us have been talking about a road trip to Oklahoma to visit the place.

But Covid has ruined everything. I’ve barely had two beers in the last year and a half.

The other day, however, I stopped at Central Market for coffee and saw a display that included single beers for sale and I couldn’t resist a Cherry Bomb! by Prairie Artisan Ales. I packed the bottle in a cooler and took it to a party this weekend.

And it was good.

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, 100 Word Story, The Phone Call, by Janice Siderius

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

― Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry Into the Limits of the Possible

Downtown Square, McKinney, Texas

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Saturday, September 8, 2001 – Exactly twenty years ago. Wow… only twenty years ago… and coming up only three days from 9/11. It’s so strange reading my thoughts from the point of view of a semi-distant future. I talk about getting a new cell phone and a Pocket PC. An iPhone or a Smart Phone only a dream of the future..I (we) had no idea.

Saturday, September 8, 2001, Gadgets

The folks at work, in all their infinite wisdom, have bought me a couple of new cool toys lately.

I try to resist the temptation of becoming a gadget-freak. A fascination with technology is a powerful, seductive trap in this day and age, this best of all possible worlds. The underlying geek-gene is there, though, I can’t deny it. Plus, if somebody else wants to buy me cool stuff… so be it.

I was one of the last hold-outs against having a cell phone. When I finally picked one up with my new job, however, I was hooked. Especially with all the soccer stuff going on, with Candy and I hardly ever being home, driving all over the place, and with me stepping up my business travel, the cell phone became, finally for me, the irreplaceable part of life that it is for everybody else.

Now, they have replaced my run-of-the-mill phone with a new service, one designed for corporate, industrial use. It’s a Nextel phone, with the two-way radio and, especially seductive, internet access. I had to attend a training class, read a big thick manual, and spend hours punching little buttons and fooling around on web sites to set up and learn all the features of the silly thing.

I always thought web access on a cell phone was sort of useless, but it does have its geeky charm. I especially like the movie service. I can code in a film, punch in a zip code, and it will tell me the closest theater and show times, along with directions to get there. It has an amazing word-completion algorithm for entering emails from the otherwise-almost-useless numberpad.

The only problem is that it does not play cool songs when it rings (I had my old phone set to play the theme song from the old puppet TV show – Thunderbirds are Go). When I complained about this to our phone rep she replied, “This phone is intended for the corporate market, we don’t go for the cute sing-song stuff.”

The really cool gadget they bought me, though, wasn’t the cell phone, but a Pocket PC – a Compaq IPAQ. Compaq is apparently discontinuing the black and white units, offering them for an insanely low price, plus a fifty-dollar rebate, so I ordered one.

I think I like this one better than a color unit anyway. The screen is readable enough and the batteries last forever.

A Pocket PC definitely falls into the category of one of those things that you can’t imagine using until you get one, then you can’t imagine living without it. Especially Syncing it up with my PC – downloading maps, Avant Go,… geez, the free ebooks. It isn’t much for writing fiction or journal entries (my Alphasmart is perfect for that, anyway) but it is fine for writing short poems. The slow process of handwriting recognition actually helps the poetry process.

It’s a digital voice recorder and an alarm clock. It’s a crude sketchpad and a file transfer utility.

Of course, like all things addictive, there are add-ons and additions I want. At the top of the list is a big flashcard memory or two. That would let me use it as a killer MP3 player, perfect portable music. Next, a Targus folding keyboard – then I could use it for significant text entry. Then, especially in conjunction with that flashcard, there’s software. I’d love a powerful dictionary and thesaurus program. There’s even something out there that will turn the IPAQ into a programmable multi-function remote control.

Now that’s a gadget addiction.

And a piece of flash fiction for today:

The Phone Call, by Janice Siderius

What I learned this week, September 7, 2021

There’s lots you can cook up with the crawfish. Corn, crabs – or here, sausage, garlic heads, and taters. It all takes the spice and the flavor of the crawfish.

The Last Days of the Blue-Blood Harvest

Every year, more than 400,000 crabs are bled for the miraculous medical substance that flows through their bodies—now pharmaceutical companies are finally committing to an alternative that doesn’t harm animals.


13 easy ways to switch off from work at the end of the day

Are you struggling to maintain a work/life balance right now? Here’s how to switch off and reclaim your evening. 


(click to enlarge) Adam, by Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, plus admirer Cullen Sculpture Garden Houston, Texas

How narcissists climb the career ladder quickly

People with a high degree of narcissism get promoted faster, new research shows. Why?


The Secret to Happiness at Work

Your job doesn’t have to represent the most prestigious use of your potential. It just needs to be rewarding.


Drinks menu… the coffee looks good, but “Treats from the Teat” – I don’t know if that’s as catchy as they think it is.

Go ahead, have that third cup of coffee.

Downing up to three cups of coffee daily is associated with lower risks for stroke and death from cardiovascular disease, as well as death from all causes, suggests research presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in France last week.


Jars of Kimchi, half and full gallons.

Fermented foods for better gut health

Naturally fermented foods are getting a lot of attention from health experts these days because they may help strengthen your gut microbiome—the 100 trillion or so bacteria and microorganisms that live in your digestive tract. Researchers are beginning to link these tiny creatures to all sorts of health conditions from obesity to neurodegenerative diseases.


Downtown Dallas, Texas

The Filling Station on Greenville Avenue: From Bonnie & Clyde to Legendary Burger Place

I have been going to businesses in that building on Greenville Avenue since… maybe 1979 or so. I remember the old Filling Station – mostly for having a hot, fresh, fried mushroom and onion ring platter called “Nuts and Bolts.” The article is a little old – it was a Schlotzsky’s (one of my favorite fast-food sandwich places – its round fare resembles a New Orleans Muffaletta) for a few years – now that is gone. I’ll waiting to see what’s next… hopefully not a wrecking ball.

I never realized it was a historical hangout of Bonnie & Clyde.

Marketa Lazarová

Those who do not suffer can not experience delight.

—-Marketa Lazarová

Crepe Myrtle trunk in the snow

It was a long weekend and I had some time and decided to check out The Criterion Channel’s streaming collection and, for some reason, chose Marketa Lazarová. The blurb did say it was voted the best Czech film of all time – and that seemed to be enough reason to watch it.

It was not an easy film to get into. It is a three hour historical epic set in the late Middle Ages, full of snow and symbolism as early Christianity battled with the dregs of paganism for the hearts and minds of the peasantry. It is a brutal film – the initiating incident is the robbery of a coach in the winter by a band of bandits led by two brothers. A neighboring clutch of cutthroats tries to muscle in on the action. This sets up a three-way power struggle between the crown (a high ranking bishop is in the coach) and the two rival groups of bandits.

There is kidnapping, rape, dismemberment, a preternatural pack of wolves, a lamb’s head bouncing down a hill… and plenty of brutality and human humiliation.

I’ll spoil it for you – it doesn’t end well.

Still, if you have the patience for it, it is a great movie and an educational, emotional, and entertaining experience.

I think about this movie and try to compare it to… say, Avengers Endgame. Which is the better movie? What does that even mean? How can you compare the two?

I prefer Marketa Lazarová. The plot is not predictable. The characters are real (they act like real… if really nasty… people). The movie forces the viewer to think. I know that scenes from the film will haunt me for a long time (I know I watched Avengers Endgame… maybe twice… but I have no memory of anything that actually happened in it other than some fighting and Doctor Strange’s transportation fireworks circles).

So there are a whole bunch more Czech films on Criterion. I’ve seen Fireman’s Ball ( I have always been a huge fan of Milos Forman) and I think I’ll add a few more to my viewing queue.

So many movies, so little time.