More things I learned this week, Jan 4, 2022

Found by a photobooth, Molly’s At the Market, French Quarter, New Orleans

I have no friends

I literally have no friends. I wanted to go out today and i wanted to text someone if they’re down to do something fun. BUT then i realized i have no one to ask. Like what the fuck happened.

It’s 2022 and the Pandemic is Over.

Only the most brainwashed True Believers will cling to the failed narrative.

Denmark health chief says Omicron is bringing about the END of the pandemic and ‘we will have our normal lives back in two months’

Shooting photographs at the Seersucker Ride and Picnic, Lee Park, Dallas, Texas

Can you think yourself young?

Research shows that a positive attitude to ageing can lead to a longer, healthier life, while negative beliefs can have hugely detrimental effects

This woman, a bartender at the NYLO Southside, asked Candy, “Is your husband a professional photographer?” Candy answered, “He thinks he is.”

Make Peace with Your Unlived Life

Tina was at a crossroads. Her daughter had recently left for college, and her husband had his own pursuits. And although she’d once enjoyed banking, she now bore little interest in her work. For some time, she had been asking herself whether she should quit. But what would her colleagues and bosses think of her?

Huffhines Creek in back of my house, Richardson, Texas

The 7 Safest Mushrooms to Forage and Eat

Perfect for novice foragers, these mushrooms are delicious, easy to find, and are not easily confused with toxic species

Case Study in Thinking About Fractally Wrong Ideas

Short Story of the Day, Never End with Termination by Marcus Pactor

“Mario, what do you get when you cross an insomniac, an unwilling agnostic and a dyslexic?”

“I give.”

“You get someone who stays up all night torturing himself mentally over the question of whether or not there’s a dog.”
― David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

Found tacked to a corkboard by a photobooth, Molly’s At the Market, French Quarter, New Orleans

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Tuesday, January 2, 2001 Twenty years and one day ago. It’s odd to read about respiratory illness from the days (decades) before COVID

Sleep deprivation

There seems to exist, in this best of all possible worlds, a cruel virus, one that swirls around specifically at holiday time. When I’m home, with time on my hands, a chance to do some things I actually want to do for once… and the virus strikes. A world of headache, sinus drainage, ache, and worst of all, uncontrollable coughing.

The tough decision is whether or not to take cold medicine. It helps the symptoms, but really messes me up. A gulp of Nyquil and I sleep like the dead, but it stuffs my head with what feels like warm wet cotton for days afterward.

One night I tried it alone and was rewarded with an awful hacking cough every time I tried to lie down. I would bounce up and down – sneezing and heaving all night, watching the relentless movement of the clock, the red digits advancing, entropy irrevocably increasing.

That night really messed my sleep schedule up. I began sleeping later and later and staying up ’til the wee hours. I’m not a morning person anyway and am susceptible to this weakness of lassitude.

I knew it would be a struggle to get up early to make it back to work today so I tried going to bed early last night. No dice… couldn’t sleep. The alarm went off anyway.

I remember reading in the Gulag Archipelago Solzhenitsyn saying that the worst torture was when they would simply keep him awake for days and days. Sleep deprivation. I hate it too.

Today I was a zombie at work. Dizzy, sleepy, needing REM rest. After being off for so long it was hard enough to remember my passwords and what the hell I was supposed to be doing at the place – in my deprived condition I was a mess. All I could do was dream of getting home and to sleep and watching the clock slowly tick around.

And a Short Story for today:

Short Story of the Day, Never End with Termination by Marcus Pactor

From 3:AM Magazine

Marcus Pactor Twitter

Sunday Snippet, The Ubiquity of Spiders by Bill Chance

“Spider venom comes in many forms. It can often take a long while to discover the full effects of the bite. Naturalists have pondered this for years: there are spiders whose bite can cause the place bitten to rot and to die, sometimes more than a year after it was bitten. As to why spiders do this, the answer is simple. It’s because spiders think this is funny, and they don’t want you ever to forget them.”

― Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys

Louise Bourgeois, Spider, New Orleans

The Ubiquity of Spiders

Sam Monaghan’s father had moved his family – Sam and his baby sister Brenda – out to the tiny town of Gilmer right after his wife had been attacked. They had lived in a brownstone in the old meat-packing district – they felt like urban pioneers. Until the one afternoon when Sam’s mother, Paula, came home from work to find the two tweakers that Sam’s father had hired to paint Brenda’s nursery waiting.

In the city, Sam had been an elite baseball player – the offensive star of a select team, The Bombers. In Gilmer, however, he had to suddenly give up the sport, which left a frustrating gap in his life, like a missing tooth in his jaw. The attackers had used his bat on his mother and he couldn’t bear to hold one in his hands again.

“Sam, I wish you would make some friends in the school here,” his mother said to him as he pushed her chair out onto the porch so she could watch the sun set.

“I know mom, I’ll try. I just don’t have anything in common with these kids.”

“What about Duane, dear? He lives on the next farm over, you can walk there whenever you want. He’s only a grade below you.”

“I’ll see mom. I’ll see.”

She was talking about Duane Clankman, who was a year older than Sam, even though he was a grade below.

The walk to the Clankman farm wound down through the creek bottoms, on an old abandoned road, not much more than a couple worn wheel ruts and a rusting iron bridge missing most of its roadway. The riot of weedy creekbottom swamp forest grew in from the sides and over the top until the way was a winding green tunnel.

The thing was, Duane had a cool old barn on his family’s farm. Over the start of the school year, Sam began to get in the habit of walking over there. The loft of the barn was full of hay bales, and Duane had arranged everything while the loft was being filled so that there were tunnels in the hay. They would pull a bale out of the opening and then crawl down a series of narrow tunnels into a pair of secret rooms hollowed out. Duane had even thought of leaving small openings for light and air.

Sometimes other kids, usually Frank, whose father was missing somewhere overseas, and Maria, whose father roofed houses would meet up there and the four would crawl through the tunnels and sit in the rooms talking about their friends, their school, their hopes and their dreams.

As the fall fell away, the sun began to set earlier and earlier. The kids smuggled some old flashlights into the hay so they could see their way out, though they would turn them off and sit in the darkness whenever they could. One day Duane showed up with some old candle stubs and a pack of matches from a bar in Broadtown, but the others convinced him it was too dangerous to light candles in the hayloft.

He’d stay as long as he dared, then Sam would rush home along the overgrown path by the light of the set sun, smeared gray and orange across the wide country sky.

“It’s late, Sam,” his mother told him as the screen door slammed shut behind him. “I don’t want you walking back from the Clankman’s in the dark.”

“It’ll be all right, Mom, there’s nothing out there, nothing to worry about.” Same saw a flash of pain across her face and the falling from the uneven spot where her broken cheekbone hadn’t healed quite right. “Really, Mom, don’t worry about me. It’s safe.”

“Well, I guess…” she said. “Here, take this flashlight with you every time, though, it’ll make me feel better.” She reached into a paper bag with a receipt still stapled to the edge and handed Sam a big four-D cell metal light. “I had your father pick this up in town for you. The nights get really dark out here.”

Sam ran his hands over the bright metal ridges along the long, heavy handle. The switch on the side had a solid, firm feel as he clicked it on. Even in the bright kitchen the beam stared out clear and strong… Sam flicked the beam into the shadows behind the table and watched the darkness flee. He grinned and felt his heart jump – this was so much better than the cheap plastic lights they had been using.

That night Sam purposely stayed around the Clankman’s until it was dark as pitch. He wanted to use his new flashlight on the way home. He walked as far as he could until the night was so black he literally could not see his hand in front of his face. He raised the heavy torch and slid the metal slide switch. The light leaped out, poured from the glass lens and the path ahead jumped into view.

He could see the twin ruts running through the center of a tunnel of scrub. He could see the archway of plants, gray-green in the beam. He was not expecting the jeweled constellations of bright lights that surrounded his path.

All along the way, bright twinkling blazing spots shot back at him. Some were white, and some were bright green. They were everywhere and Sam jumped back from this beautiful mystery. Then he gathered himself, swung the beam, and walked through. All along the creek bottoms the fiery jewels, yellow-white and emerald-green, surrounded him, leaping into life whenever his light touched them, blinking out when it swung away.

He felts his soul lightened by the sight and walked through the jeweled gauntlet, crossed the rusted old bridge, and up through the forest on the other side. The lights persisted through the creek bottom scrub and ended when he reached the fields around his family’s own place.

Sam through himself into bed, excited about the lights, flicking his flashlight under the covers, until he finally fell asleep with the torch on, still clutched in his fist.

He was dismayed to find the batteries almost dead in the morning, the bulb only a faint orange glow. He gulped down his breakfast and rushed out early to meet the bus to school. He wanted a few minutes in the salmon dawn to look at the creek path and see if he could figure out what had made the bright jewels the night before.

As he walked down toward the creek he peered into the scrubby brush, covered with thick twists of thorny vines, he immediately saw the white tufts of webs thick through and between the leaves. He picked up a stick and poked one of the webs and jumped back as a huge brown spider came crawling quickly out, jumping up onto the stick almost to his hand.
At that moment, he heard the bus horn calling him and he had to abandon his quest and run for the stop.

At study hall he started pulling out the encyclopedia and then asked the librarian for help finding books on spiders. It didn’t take him long to find a picture that looked what had jumped out at him that morning.

It was a wolf spider. The book said they were very common. He felt the hair rise on the back of his neck when he read, “Their eyes reflect light well, allowing someone with a flashlight to easily locate them at night. Flashing a beam of light over the spider will produce eyeshine. The light from the flashlight has been reflected from the spider’s eyes directly back toward its source, producing a “glow” that is easily noticed. This is also especially helpful because the wolf spiders are nocturnal and will be out hunting for food, making it easier to find them.”

So that was it – the white lights were bits of water clinging to the webs and the green lights were the spider’s eyes. He sat and thought about that for a while. He thought about walking through the path, past and underneath thousands of wolf spiders. The thought didn’t bother him. He wasn’t sure why, but the spiders didn’t frighten him. Their green lights in the flashlight were too beautiful.

After school he told the other kids at the Clankman’s about the spiders. Frank didn’t seem to care, Maria was frightened, “You mean those spiders have always been there, we just didn’t know about it until you shined that light?”

“I suppose.”

“Uggh,” she cringed, “That really creeps me out. I’m never walking down there no more.”

Duane’s reaction surprised Sam. He was angry.

“I can’t believe it, all those nasty bugs down there, living along my road.”

“It’s not your road, Duane, Beside, there not hurting anything.”

“Still, who told them they could do that.”

Sam wasn’t sure what Duane was so pissed about, but he hardly talked any more that afternoon. When it was dark Sam put the fresh batteries he had brought from home into the flashlight and tried to convince the others to walk down to the creek with him and see the spider’s eyes. Nobody would go.

Disappointed, he walked home by himself, and barely stopped to look at the lights, though they were as thick as the night before.

The next morning was Saturday, and Sam walked back to look at the spider nests. He was curious about where the wolf spiders went during the day and if he could find any of them. When he looked across the bridge at the path on the other side, he saw Duane already there.

He had a big metal can with a hose running out of the top of it. There was a handle attached to the top and Duane was straining to pump the handle up and down as hard as he could.

“Duane, what are you doing?” Sam called out across the old bridge.

“I’m gonna kill all those damn spiders – that’s what I’m gon’ do, dammit,” said Duane.

Monkeys Minding Machines

“For God’s sake, let us be men
not monkeys minding machines
or sitting with our tails curled
while the machine amuses us, the radio or film or gramophone.

Monkeys with a bland grin on our faces.”
― D.H. Lawrence, Selected Letters

I had heard that the new year was going to be bringing cold weather to North Texas. I opened the door this morning to bright sun and surprisingly mild temperatures. Best of all, no wind.

So I decided to go for a little bike ride – my goal was ten miles around the ‘hood. Comfortable in shorts and a T-shirt I packed up a Moleskine and my pack of portable fountain pens along with a thermos of coffee – so I could stop, sip, and write a little… if I found a good spot.

Wandering around my usual route, then a little off I decided to pedal into downtown Richardson. There are massive changes/construction going on there and I wanted to see. I was disappointed – it is all so car-oriented… and the traffic was fast and noisy. After wandering a bit I did find a little pocket park with some white metal picnic tables – a good place to sip my coffee, scribble in the Moleskine, and listen to a podcast on my phone.

The traffic noise was distracting and my Platinum Preppy spit out a gob of purple ink onto my page (as it is wont to do – have to replace it in my rotation) but otherwise everything was right with the world.

But as I wrote I didn’t notice the clouds rolling in, the strengthening wind switching around to the north, and the temperature dropping like a stone. By the time I made it home it was bitchin` cold, maybe close to freezing and the wind was howling.


To make matters worse – my goal was ten miles but checking my Strava I had ridden only 9.92. I took the dog out for a walk and made up the difference, but only made it to the end of the block before the cold drove us back home.

Rona Pondick, Monkeys, Stainless Steel, Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, New Orleans

What I learned this week, December 31, 2021

Get the Hell Out of Here 2021 and Oh, Shit, Here Comes 2022

For Our Own Good, We All Need a Glimpse of the Evil Queen

Now, as far as I am concerned, dreams are statements from nature. It is not so much that we create them. They manifest themselves to us.

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.

Best News of 2021: Coffee Is Incredibly Good for You

Maybe your New Year’s resolution should be an easy one: drink more coffee.

Good food makes for happy customers.

How to be happy: the psychology behind the “HEAL” method and how it helps you become happier

Fascinating new research suggests that it’s psychologically possible to train yourself to be happier.

Two girls enjoying the art for sale at the “For the Love of Kettle” event.

The unconventional approach to New Year’s resolutions that makes them stick

With this approach, perhaps you can sidestep the inevitable challenges that come with traditional New Year’s resolutions and achieve lasting, positive changes.

Fabrication Yard, Dallas, Texas

The Ungracious–and Their Demonization of the Past

The last two years have seen an unprecedented escalation in a decades-long war on the American past. But there are lots of logical flaws in attacking prior generations in U.S. history.

Venus Victrix (The Judgement of Paris), Pierre Auguste Renoir & Hercules the Archer, Antoine Bourdelle, Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden

The Evolutionary Advantages of Playing Victim

Victimhood is defined in negative terms: “the condition of having been hurt, damaged, or made to suffer.” Yet humans have evolved to empathize with the suffering of others, and to provide assistance so as to eliminate or compensate for that suffering. Consequently, signaling suffering to others can be an effective strategy for attaining resources. Victims may receive attention, sympathy, and social status, as well as financial support and other benefits

hiva Nataraja, South India, Tamil Nadu, Chola dynasty, 11th century, bronze, Dallas Museum of Art

How disruptions happen

Major disruptions in world history follow a clear pattern. What can upheavals of the past tell us about our own future?

Short Story of the Day, Runaway by Alice Munro

“A story is not like a road to follow … it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows. And you, the visitor, the reader, are altered as well by being in this enclosed space, whether it is ample and easy or full of crooked turns, or sparsely or opulently furnished. You can go back again and again, and the house, the story, always contains more than you saw the last time. It also has a sturdy sense of itself of being built out of its own necessity, not just to shelter or beguile you.”
― Alice Munro, Selected Stories

Horse by Raymond Duchamp-Villon
Large Horse by Raymond Duchamp-Villon

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Saturday, September 12, 1998this is the conclusion of the story of when one of our kids’ pet Fire Bellied Toads escaped and I bought a replacement without telling them

A runaway returns

I had a lot of trouble sleeping last night. Tossing and turning and turning and tossing, I ended up on the couch in the TV room. I kept hearing a noise from the window. A tapping, or maybe a melodious scraping sound coming from the window. My exhaustion muddled mind imagined all sorts of horrible possibilities for this sound; when I’d turn on the lights, there would be nothing there.

Finally I realized that what I was hearing was simply the sound of raindrops hitting the glass. It has been almost four months since it has rained at our house, I had forgotten the sound completely.

Today I was out of sorts, headachy and tired. We ran some errands in the morning (soccer games canceled because of muddy fields) and Candy dropped me off at home while she took the boys to a church carnival. I made an omelet and was sitting on the couch eating, watching “Planet of the Apes” and generally trying to imitate a vegetable when a movement in the kitchen caught my eye.

There he was, hopping across the tile floor, heading out of the kitchen, our missing toad. I guess he’s been hiding behind the cabinets or something; luckily I was there to see him make his run. He was hopping pretty well, seemed no worse for wear for his few days on the lam. I scooped him up before the Giant Killer Dog woke up and deposited him back into the aquarium.

We had to come clean with the kids, had to tell the truth about why there were now three fire bellied toads in there. They weren’t upset at our deception, only happy that we now have three toads.

They decided to call the new one “Runaway.”

And a Short Story for today:

You could argue about whether or not Alice Munro is the best short story author of all time… but there is no argument that there are none better. She did win the Nobel Prize for literature for her short stories – something very rare. This story, from the New Yorker’s 2003 fiction edition is a little longer than most of the fiction I link to here… but it is worth the time (as is anything Munro has written).

Runaway by Alice Munro

From The New Yorker

More Things I learned this week, December 28, 2021

Outside the Mojo Lounge, New Orleans, Louisiana

How to know what you really want

From career choices to new purchases, use René Girard’s mimetic theory to resist the herd and forge your own path in life

(click to enlarge) Book With Wings Anselm Kiefer Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

Burdened by Books

With the quickening cascade of political, social, and natural crises in our country, the faith in progress—the belief that good will and steady work leads to a better world—is a difficult faith to maintain. There have been times when the arc of history seemed to bend toward justice. But lately it’s snapped back the other way. It’s as if we’ve heaved a great boulder toward the mountain top, and we’re now watching it, slack-jawed and wide-eyed, as it careens back to the ground below. It feels that there is something absurd, in fact literally Sisyphean, to our predicament.  

Strains—not species—of gut microbes hold key to health and disease

Every day, the billions of bacteria that inhabit your digestive system change; the food you eat, medications you take, and germs you’re exposed to make some bacteria flourish more than others. Scientists know that this ever-shifting balance of gut microbes is linked to your health and disease, but have struggled to pin down what makes one microbial balance better than another.

Running of the bulls, New Orleans, Louisiana

It Turns Out That Everything We Know About The Runner’s High Could Be Wrong

Many people have experienced reductions in stress, pain, and anxiety, and sometimes even euphoria after exercise. What’s behind this so-called ‘runner’s high’? New research on the neuroscience of exercise may surprise you.

Smoke, steam, and sulfur dioxide coming out of the volcano, Masaya, Nicaragua.

Why Does This Indonesian Volcano Burn Bright Blue?

Olivier Grunewald’s dramatic photos showcase blue flames—not blue lava—that result from burning sulfur

The Race to Find ‘Green’ Helium

Helium is a critical—and finite—resource. The future of our most indispensable technologies depends on a new supply.

The Problem with “Distemper”

Perhaps it is the word distemper that causes the most confusion. Few are aware that this is a generic term encompassing several different coatings. There really is only one type that is of relevance to historical buildings – or any building for that matter.

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, The Wash by William Fore

“Although frowned upon by the Reverend Johnstone and his captains, these visits across the dunes served a useful purpose, introducing into their sterile lives, Ransom believed, those random elements, that awareness of chance and time, without which they would soon have lost all sense of identity.”
― J.G. Ballard, The Drought

Autumn grasses, Courthouse Square, McKinney, Texas

From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Sunday,June 11, 2000

Walking in the rain

North Texas has been in a drought for… actually, about the last three years. It’s been that long since we’ve had enough rain to saturate the ground. I’ve forgotten about what real rain is like and my children haven’t even really seen it. We have had rain almost every day for the last few weeks… that didn’t used to be unusual this time of year, but it’s something we haven’t seen in quite some time. Any rain we’ve had in the last three years has been instantly soaked up by the dry ground, adsorbed, removed, and used to swell shut the cracks that vein across the parched clay every summer.

Today, it was raining particularly hard. Not a thunderstorm, no deadly lightning, but the long, heavy soaking rain – the life-giving rain. We had plans to go to a friend’s for the afternoon and they don’t have children so Nick and Lee were collecting boxes of toys to take with them. That way they would have something to do other than careen around and tear our friend’s beautiful house and possessions to shreds. Lee was collecting games for the Nintendo 64 while I hunted down the appropriate adapters so we could hook it up to any sort of electronics our friends have at their place.

Lee couldn’t find some sort of addition… some add-on pack that is used to attach his Gameboy cartridge so he could use his hand-held collected Pokemon in the N64 Pokemon Stadium game. After looking for it all through the house I had him call his friends and luckily, it didn’t take long until we located the missing pack at another kid’s house down on the end of the block.

So Lee had to go down and get it and he asked if I would walk with him. We grabbed Candy’s new big umbrella and opened the front door. Lee saw the extent of the torrent out there and asked if we could drive. I said, “No Lee, it’s only to the end of the block, we can walk in the rain, we won’t melt.”

He has a fear of storms, not an entirely unhealthy one. Lee is at the age where he is being allowed now to do some of the things that he couldn’t when he was a little younger; such as walk to a friend’s house in the neighborhood by himself. Lee takes everything to heart and still wrestles with these things. He is afraid of a lot of stuff that was forbidden to him as a small child. He can’t understand how something can be so dangerous, so full of terror one day, and no big deal the next.

Part of that is a fear of storms. He has been warned so often to watch out for lightning, stay inside when there is thunder, don’t swim in threatening weather, that he doesn’t like going outside if it’s raining. I assured him that I’d stay with him, it wasn’t a thunderstorm, we would be perfectly safe simply walking down to the end of the block and back.

So we stepped out with the umbrella, Lee standing close to me so we could both take advantage of the portable shelter. The ground was finally saturated so the heavy rain was all running off; the streets, sidewalks, yards, all covered with flowing water. We live on a slight rise so flooding is not a concern. It has been so wet the fire ants are all building desperate chimneys of mud straight up from their mounds in an attempt to escape the deluge. Unfortunately for them, this makes their nests easy to spot and apply a tablespoon of white powder insecticide.

Lee quickly lost his fear of the storm. I caught him grinning as we walked side against side, both barefoot, wearing shorts and T-shirts. The water along the sidewalk was deep everywhere and deeper is some spots and Lee took great little boy joy in padding his feet through the rainwater pools.

And so did I.

Something about fresh rainwater, it feels good. Warm water, soft water, rushing between your toes, splashing. Some of the water on the ground was tinted an ever-so-slight brown, a weak tea steeped from last year’s dead grass clippings still concealed in the lawn. There was no wind at all and the drops came straight down, big and thick and warm. The rain made a constant pinging on the taught fabric of the umbrella and a faint rustle as it tumbled through the leaves of the trees… the only sounds. For once, the constant background rumble of eighteen wheelers on the nearby Interstates and cloverleaves was muffled by the sheets of falling water.

The neighborhood smelled clean, washed, fresh. Lee was really enjoying the walk. There is nothing like the thrill of a fear overcome. The surprise discovery that something dreaded turns out to be enjoyable. We reached the end of the block and knocked on the door; his friend produced the adapter and I shoved it down a deep pocket and rolled my shirt over it to protect the electronics from the damp.

Lee was impressed by the amount of water running down the street. I wanted to drive the kids to the spillway of the White Rock Lake dam. It becomes an incredible raging torrent – a big change from the usual laconic curtain of water flowing down the concrete – but we didn’t have time.

Lee and I had to satisfy ourselves with our one-block walk in the rain, hopping in puddles, ducking the umbrella below tree branches.

In many ways it was the highlight of the weekend.

And a piece of flash fiction for today:

The Wash by William Fore

From Flash Fiction Magazine

Sunday Snippet, Cut While Shaving by Bill Chance

“I often stood in front of the mirror alone, wondering how ugly a person could get.”
― Charles Bukowski, Ham on Rye

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

Cut While Shaving

Over the years, Andrew had learned to completely avoid looking at himself in the mirror. Even when he shaved, he would only wipe a little oval into the steamed-over mirror and place his chin and cheeks right into that area, cutting away the shaving cream without making eye contact with the person in the mirror.

It wasn’t that he was ashamed of the way he looked – he knew he was perfectly ordinary and about what was to be expected for his age – a little on the downside of middle… but he was disappointed. He wasn’t the person that he had hoped he would be and didn’t like being reminded of that. He avoided having pictures taken of himself and when he failed at that he wouldn’t look at them. Avoiding his reflection in the mirror had been going on for so long he didn’t even think about it any more.

The night before was difficult. He kept waking from horrible unremembered nightmares and would toss and turn with dull pain in parts of his body he never thought about. When his alarm went off he dragged himself into the shower and then, for some reason, there was no steam on the mirror.

Still, his habit stayed and he concentrated solely on the task at hand. He brought razor up and into its long-familar position. He immediately cut himself and dropped the razor into the sink.

For the first time in years he looked at himself full-face and saw a completely different person. It was a tremendous shock – he went weak-kneed and wobbly, grabbing the bathroom counter top until he could steady himself. He grabbed a towel and scrubbed off the shaving cream and then rubbed his face, pulled on his cheeks, and closed his eyes for as long as he could stand – but it made no difference. There was a different person staring back at him.

His hair and been thin, straight, and sandy-colored but the mirror had thick jet-black hair, tousled into a mop. This new face wasn’t handsome, but it wasn’t ugly. It was a little younger, a little thinner, but not young and not thin. It didn’t remind Andrew of anyone, or bring up any strong emotions – it was nondescript… but it was different.

He thought about shaving, but didn’t want to get close to this new face with a razor. Beside – the shadow of dark beard wasn’t altogether bad looking. He felt better as he dressed, and couldn’t see that stranger’s face, though his body felt thinner and more muscular. He was surprised that his clothes still seemed to fit perfectly.

He fearfully walked out into the kitchen – worried about the reaction of his wife to this stranger walking around in his house.

“Honey, get a grip, something odd…” he shouted ahead of himself as he walked into the kitchen, where his wife always stood in the mornings, making breakfast. The second shock of the day came when he entered and found it deserted. On the counter was a brown sack lunch and a note.

It said, “Honey, remember to pick up the kids after work, I have a late meeting tonight and can’t get there in time, Love, Katherine.”

Katherine had quit work when their daughter, their oldest child was born. His kids took the bus to and from school and had for years. He couldn’t think of anything else to do so he grabbed the lunch and drove to work. Nobody in the halls said a word to him and Andrew was thankful that his cube at work still looked exactly the same. He sat down and logged in his computer. His boss appeared at the entrance with a cup of coffee and a list of tasks – he never mentioned Andrew’s new appearance.

The workday settled in as always. Andrew began to feel normal again as the routine took over. Every now and then he would start at the strange dim new reflection in his computer monitor, but after a couple of hours, even that ceased to scare him. At about ten o’clock his phone rang.

“Hello?” he answered.

“Oh, Drew, this is Pen, I’m glad you’re at your desk, I’ve been thinking about you all morning.”

He recognized the voice as Penelope Smithers – the secretary to Johnson, the corporate vice president at their location. Every month he had to take a sheaf of papers to her, marked with little stickers where her boss had to sign them. She would call him back and he would pick them up, signed, and then mail them off to various agencies that required the periodic reports. This was his only interaction with Penelope Smithers – but this voice was heavy, breathless, excited, and personal. He could not imagine why she was talking this way. And why had she called him “Drew?” He had been Andrew since he was six years old.

“What can I do for you?” he answered.

“Oh, Drew, don’t be so cold! Wait, is somebody there? Oh, I see. Well, I wanted to tell you that Johnson is off site today and I can take a long lunch. Let’s meet, let’s get together. The usual place. I’ve missed you so much.”

Andrew almost choked on the phone. He didn’t know what to say.

“Drew! Are you there? I know you can’t talk, but give me a yes and we’ll meet.”

“Ummm, Mizz Smithers… I’m afraid I can’t…”

“Oh, is someone still there? Someone else in your cube? I understand. Well… if you can’t you can’t. You must have a lunch meeting scheduled. Call me back if something works out. I’ll be thinking of you.”

The line went dead. Andrew sat there sweating. What the hell was going on? Why did Penelope Smithers think that he would meet her… at the usual place. She thought they were having some sort of an affair. Sitting there, thinking back, he began to remember things about Penelope… about Pen – he was beginning to think of her as Pen, and he was feeling something… he wasn’t sure what, when the image of her came up in his mind.

Andrew was beginning to feel two parallel sets of memories. His old life was beginning to be overlaid with a dream life. Something new, shocking, different. Andrew began to cry. He felt his life slipping away. He was losing his mind. This dream life was getting more real by the minute.

“Get a grip on yourself,” he told himself in the voice of his father – who had told him this a million times. He looked at the corkboard beside his computer monitor and saw a scrap of paper that said, “Katherine – Work,” and a phone number. He picked up the receiver and dialed the number.

“Katherine Monroe, how can I help you?” Andrew breathed a sign of relief. The voice definitely that of his wife.

“Oh, Katherine, I’m having such a tough day. You wouldn’t believe it. I…”

“Drew, sorry,” Katherine interrupted, “I’m in the middle of something, we’ll talk tonight. Don’t forget to pick up the kids after work.”

“Umm, that’s one thing dear, I’m not sure where exactly to get them.”

“Jesus Drew! The same as always, just watch out for the Hartford private cops… they want everyone in the right lanes.”

So that was it. The Hartford School was on his drive home. There was always a huge mess with parent’s waiting to get their children. The private school didn’t have a fleet of yellow buses and all the cars waiting jammed up the streets and made Andrew’s commute home hell. Once there had been some sort of a fight and he had to creep by watching all the red and blue lights. It was on the news. And now, this is where his kids went. He had talked about this years ago with his wife, but they had decided it was too expensive. Actually, he had decided it was too expensive. And now…. He guessed he had no choice.

“Ok Katherine, I’ll get them.”

The line went dead.

Andrew had to ask the private police guard which lane to take and the guard had looked at him like he was crazy, then asked for an ID. Andrew had a moment of panic when he pulled out his wallet, but his Driver’s License matched his new face. Andrew moved into the proper lane and sat there waiting. He looked into the rear view mirror and for the first time that day wasn’t shocked by what he saw. He moved the mirror around, rubbing his chin, looking closely at the face that was getting more and more familiar by the second. With a shock he realized he was forgetting what he used to look like. That image was getting foggier every second – as if it was a bad dream.

While he was in this reverie the children had come pouring out of the school building. He looked around for his children, his daughter and son, but didn’t see them anywhere. He was beginning to think this was a big joke and thinking about driving home to where his kids would be getting off the bus right about now – when the back door opened and a young man and girl slid in.

“Hey, pops, what’s up?” the boy said. The girl was busy typing something into her phone.

Andrew looked back at the two strangers – they were the same age of his own kids, but they looked different, they looked… well, they looked more like his new face. He guessed it made sense – if he had changed his looks overnight, why not his kids.

“Umm, Jack, Samantha?” He tested. Had their names changed too?

“Yeah, Pops, are you OK?” Their names were the same. At that moment he realized they were his children. The memory of his old kids began to waver and fade.

“I’m fine kids. I just had a tough day at work,” he said.

“Hey Pops, my radio station please.”

Andrew reached forward and tuned the radio. He didn’t know how he knew the station, but he did.

“That good?” he asked.

“Perfect, Pops, like always.”

So Andrew started the car, and drove off into the complete unknown.