Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Monarchs by Bill Chance

“A withered maple leaf has left its branch and is falling to the ground; its movements resemble those of a butterfly in flight. Isn’t it strange? The saddest and deadest of things is yet so like the gayest and most vital of creatures?”

― Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons

Caterpillar
Caterpillar

Monarchs

After work Craig drove over to the health club and had a good, tough workout. It was a gorgeous day and he felt like staying outside for awhile so he drove across Sunnyvale to Lake Ray Hubbard and a little park at the end of Barnes Bridge road. He had been there before… often, really… this is the place with the two wooden crosses.

The two crosses were still there. He was glad to see that someone had repaired Jason Farmer’s cross. From the look of how it was done, it might be the same people working on the other cross.

Michelle Lemay Self’s cross was still kept up with a little plot of plastic flowers. The white wood was covered with messages written in what looked like black magic marker.

Wife, Mother, Daughter
Granddaughter
Sister Beloved
“Friend”

We Don’t know you
but visit all the time.
STEF

There was a little line drawn about eighteen inches up from the ground. It was labeled, “Austin’s height when She left him.”

At about three feet there is another line. “Austin’s height, 7/9/98, 2 1/2 years old.”

I
Love U
always
Your Husband
Chris Self

Nearby, in crude but legible hand,

I love you
MOMA
Austin 7/19/98

Along one side was a longer, more ominous message.

For those of U that come
and see this 1 and Lonely cross
I hope u all have took the time
and understand are pain & are loss.
This 1 man I’d Love too c out
here 1 sunny summer day.
So I can end his sorry LIFE,
AND then be on my happy
way to go & tell my loving wife that
he has finally paid.
u know who u are
I’m coming soon.
Gregg

The park was as poorly-developed as always. Some run down playground equipment and an arc of shoddy grass, a bit of woods along the shore of the lake. Craig walked on down a path away from the parking lot.

All the lakes in North Texas were threatening to dry up with the summer’s drought. The recent deluge had helped, but the lake was still down. Instead of these little cliffs of mud-rock along the shore, there was a thin ribbon of sand which used to be lake bottom. Craig sat along this poor man’s beach and watched the gold sunset sky, the hazy distant opposite shore with its expensive homes and developments. A lone sailboat fought against the waves, a flock of white seabirds dove for fish.

The wind was blowing stoutly and that was enough to build waves from across the big lake. They came rolling in, miniature breakers. With a bit of imagination Craig felt it was like being at the ocean. It even smelt a little like the sea, mostly because of a mat of drying and rotting seaweed.

He walked on down the curl of the park ’til the stretch of public property ended in a steel barrier and “No Trespassing” signs. Away from the water was a thick grove of trees and a path. Craig walked back into a little grotto, his legs brushing away the night’s spider webs, nobody had been there all day. He looked up into the trees, still illuminated by the afterglow of the set sun and saw motion. The trees were full of Monarch Butterflies.

It was a beautiful sight. The green and yellow trees, orange sky, red and black flapping wings. The branches were lousy with them, many came fluttering down, disturbed by his approach. They flew in a cloud around him, close enough to reach out and touch.

They must have been stopping over on their annual migration. It was an unexpected treat, a special pleasure, to have them decorate this remote speck of shabby forest.

Craig needed to get home so I walked back to my car. The return drive was slow and fun, he was stuck behind a peloton, maybe thirty riders. A local club was finishing up a ride, trying to get back before dark. He especially liked slowing down on the uphills, watching them all come out of the saddle, black shorts and colorful jerseys, pumping legs and bobbing helmets.

It had been a long, tough enough day that Craig was content to sit in the bucket seat and steer, listen to a tape, let them all do all the work for once.

Little Free Libraries Everywhere

“Are you happy wearing clothes that don’t give you pleasure? Do you feel joy when surrounded by piles of unread books that don’t touch your heart? Do you think that owning accessories you know you’ll never use will ever bring you happiness?
The answer to these questions should be no.
Now imagine yourself living in a space that contains only things that spark joy. Isn’t this the lifestyle you dream of?”
― Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

Little Free Library near my house. They were generous at the start of COVID.

One of my goals, now that I am no longer gainfully employed, is to straighten up, organize, and de-clutter my little piece of the world (a couple of rooms and part of a garage). I am not a hoarder, but I am on the edge and can keep too much valuable stuff. One of my biggest weaknesses over the decades has been books.

It spiraled out of control when we lived in Mesquite. Our house had a long and wide hallway – wide enough to line with bookshelves. One of my favorite pastimes was to go to Half-Price (a chain of local used books stores) and buy books from the clearance rack. I filled those shelves. The kids referred to it as my “library.” Unfortunately that arrangement concealed the sheer number of tomes involved – until we moved to Richardson. The movers charged us an extra 500 bucks… “I’ve never seen so many books in my life,” the guy said.

So I was put on a diet – two full-sized and one half-sized bookcase. If I want a new book, I have to get rid of one. Of course, then the Kindle came along and my appetite for actual books waned somewhat. I might have a “library” as big as the one in my hallway back in Mesquite – but it’s all digital and doesn’t actually take up any real space – and gigabytes are plentiful and cheap.

But still, I am trying to reduce, eliminate, and de-clutter – and there are still too many books. It’s funny, but to this day, I can’t throw books away. I probably should do that, with some good books, just to teach myself that the world won’t end. But there are other options.

I have a routine now. We have a little table by the front door where we put the mail when we bring it in. I keep a few books there – ones I’ve selected that I have read, or have on my Kindle, or suspect I will die before I get to it. Every time I go for a bike ride in the ‘hood I grab a book and drop it off at a Little Free Library.

It is shocking how many of those things are out there. You don’t really notice them from a car – but from a bicycle they are impossible not to spot. I have yet gone to the same one twice – though I will soon.

The only problem is that nobody is picking up the books I leave. They are all good books, but usually a tad on the difficult side. Most people seem to be looking for children’s books, cookbooks, mysteries, or thrillers.

It is what it is.

What I learned this week, July 22, 2022

Artwork in the Braindead Brewing Company, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Open-minded people have a different visual perception of reality

Psychologists have only begun to unravel the concept of “personality,” that all-important but nebulous feature of individual identity. Recent studies suggest that personality traits don’t simply affect your outlook on life, but the way you perceive reality.


Struggling with positive thinking? Research shows grumpy moods can actually be useful

As psychiatry, which uses medical and biological methods to treat mental disorders, has largely overtaken psychotherapy, which relies on non-biological approaches such as conversation and counselling, psychotherapists have sought alternative challenges. One common approach is to focus on enhancing the happiness of mentally healthy people, rather than relieving the mental pain and trauma of those who are suffering.


Heat
Heat

8 Creative Ways People Kept Cool Before Air Conditioning

It’s therefore no surprise that people have come up with a range of ingenious, harebrained, and sometimes grim but often remarkable ways to stay cool during a summer scorcher. Below are eight highlights.


Wind Turbines Blackwell, Oklahoma (click to enlarge)

The real-world consequences of green extremism

Humankind long ago acquired the technological ability to thrive in all climes, but citizens of the most advanced nations must now check the weather forecast to know if their fridges and household lights will work or be shut down in an electricity blackout.


A group of friends in front of the Dallas Museum of Art, night, long exposure

The Grown-Up’s Guide to Making and Keeping Friends

The best advice for finding your people, staying close, and getting through the hard parts.


Recycled Books, Denton, Texas

7 Fiction Books That Change The Way You Think

Non-fiction books of today are equally entertaining to read as fiction books. That’s also because they’re forced to be more interesting — books have a lot of competition these days.


14 Fun Facts About Fireflies

Fact number 3: In some places at some times, fireflies synchronize their flashing


The 50 Greatest Fictional Deaths of All Time

The most tearjerking, hilarious, satisfying, and shocking death scenes in 2,500 years of culture.


How where you’re born influences the person you become

Today, unique behaviors and characteristics seem ingrained in certain cultures.


What Counts as Seeing

A conversation between Alice Wong and Ed Yong

Licorice Pizza

“If you figure a way to live without serving a master, any master, then let the rest of us know, will you?”
― Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master: A Screenplay

Cook throwing dough at Serious Pizza, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

I’m a huge fan of Paul Thomas Anderson. I’ve seen everything – wrote about Phantom Thread – and of course the impossible task of filming Pynchon Inherent Vice. I wanted to see his newest, Licorice Pizza – but never made it to the theater. Still, somehow, I was able to get a digital copy of the film and put it on my Kindle Fire 10.

I have been doing well in getting my ten miles a day of bike riding – so far in July I’m seven miles ahead of my pace. One cheat I do is that I joined the Huffhines Recreational Center (I am old enough for the senior discount – it’s a lot cheaper than a health club) down at the end of my block and they have really nice recumbent bicycles. An hour of stationary riding counts as ten miles in my mind – and I’m sticking to it. If I ride too many days in a row outside my shoulders begin to hurt – so a day on a recumbent is a big help.

Most of the bikes have flat screens and a good selection of channels – but one bike is more old-school without a screen. It’s not very popular – I’ve never seen anyone else using it – but I can prop my Tablet on the bike and watch a movie. So over the last two workout sessions I watched Licorice Pizza.

It wasn’t a great movie – but it was a lot of fun and a perfect way to let the hours go by while I pedaled away. It’s a pastiche, an homage to a certain time, the seventies, which I remember really well.

Waterbeds form an important plot point – and that’s one thing from back in the day that I still miss even now. I had a waterbed for about a decade (or a little more) and never slept better.

Another plot point is the oil embargo and subsequent shortage (lines at gas stations) and that, unfortunately, feels all too familiar right now. I remember 1980 well and the disaster that happened feels like it is happening again. The only difference is that in 1980 I was single and young and all I needed was to buy a couple Ramen Noodle packs and I could get through the day.

Life is a lot more complicated and risky now.

Flash Fiction of the day, Ten Minutes to Impact, by Deepti Nalavade Mahule

“Honestly, if you’re given the choice between Armageddon or tea, you don’t say ‘what kind of tea?”

― Neil Gaiman

Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

From my old online journal The Daily Epiphany – Saturday, February 19, 2000

Too much ice cream

Nicholas had a basketball game today. They played an undefeated first place bunch of third grade kids.

The overall tenor was set when one kid showed up with only one shoe. I had noticed the fancy basketball shoes he wears before. I could hear him talking with his dad.
“Are you sure it’s not in your bag?”
“Sure Dad, I checked.”
“He had it out last night to show Aunt Cecilia,” his mother interjected.
“I told you to put it back!”

There it is, he is so proud of his shoes he pulls one out of his bag to show his favorite aunt and then forgets to put it back. His father told him to be sure and put it back without checking it personally, which is a sure disaster, as anyone with children should know. Still, you say out loud, I told you to put it back, knowing how useless and silly it sounds. The trip home to fetch the shoe took ’til halftime.

Then, about halfway through the first quarter another player on Nick’s team stumbled away from the action bent over clutching his gut. The coach and ref walked over to talk to him and suddenly the poor kid started puking all over the court. I was sitting up way high in the bleachers but still was surprised how red the barf was. I found out later that the kid was up all night eating strawberry ice cream; that explains it.

I am amazed at the speed in which a child can go from a laughing, grinning good time to “I don’t feel so good” to spewing vile vomit. It is definitely less time than it takes to pull a car over or to get a kid out of bed and to the bathroom.

They led the kid away but he still managed another good retch right in the path where folks were piling in to watch the girl’s game on the other side of the divided gym. One of the scorekeepers had to be stationed there to warn of the vomit pool and make sure they stepped around it.

The referee and the coach collected some paper towels from somewhere and started some tentative daubing at the mess. The manager of the center disappeared for awhile before returning with a yellow bucket and mop. The three started an inefficient, clumsy attempt at cleaning things up. I was relieved when Candy left the low bench where she was sitting with Lee and properly organized the work.

Men, as a rule, simply don’t deal with puke very well. Blood, they can handle, but not barf. The coach and ref were white as sheets, Nicholas, on the bench had his shirt pulled up over his mouth to stifle the stench. With Candy helping and directing it didn’t take too long before a trashcan was full of paper towels and the court was pristine again.

I saw Lee down on the bench sketching away with his crayons. After the game I checked and was disappointed that he had only drawn some dogs and aliens and hadn’t tried to capture the kid throwing up.

Nick’s team shook off these distractions and played really well. Despite some bad luck shooting they ended up winning 16 to 13.

We stayed awhile to watch the next game, a good friend was playing in it. I told him, “You missed a great game.”
“Who won?”
“Nick’s team did, but that wasn’t the best part.”
“What was that?”
“A kid on Nick’s team ate too much ice cream and puked right on the court.”
“No, you’re kidding… really?”
“Really.”
“Cool!” was his enthusiastic opinion.

And today’s flash fiction – Ten Minutes to Impact, by Deepti Nalavade Mahule

from Flash Fiction Magazine

Deepti Nalavade Mahule webpage

Deepti Nalavade Mahule blog

Staycation

“Every person needs to take one day away.  A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future.  Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence.  Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”

― Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now

My bike in front of the Staycation Coffee house, Richardson, Texas

Every morning I have been making a thermos of coffee and taking it with me on a bike ride – stopping after a few miles in a shady spot to drink my hot beverage. But today I left my Aeropress and bean grinder on the shelf and rode four miles to The Coolest Coffee Shop in the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex for a large drip. The Staycation coffee was good – a bit darker of a roast than I usually choose, but better (much) than a Starbucks. They advertise Single Origin Coffee for market price – and I want to go try that out – but it was very busy today – a mother with three kids in front of me took ten minutes to choose their pastries – and the woman behind the counter looked relieved when I said, “Large drip, please.”

I was tempted by the cool air conditioning inside – it hit one hundred and seven today – but I went ahead and plopped down at the end of a big picnic table outside. I had brought a journal (I have a blue dotted book I use exclusively for cycling notes) and a selection of fountain pens – so I sat down to sip my coffee and write a couple of pages.

It reminded me of a time more than two decades ago when I would drop Lee off for two hours of art lessons and then go to Starbucks (no local gourmet coffee then) and write while I listened to the folks around me talk. On Saturday mornings in Starbucks there were a lot of people confessing their sins of Friday night.

Outside at Staycation is filled with young mothers and their children – so no juicy gossip. The women next to me were talking about books – I need to bring my Kindle to Staycation and read a bit – that would be nice.

The mercury was rising and I wanted to get another eight miles in so I didn’t stay too long. It was nice, though. I need to go back and try some single origin.

Twenty Years Ago, Solar Eclipse

“How then does light return to the world after the eclipse of the sun? Miraculously. Frailly. In thin stripes. It hangs like a glass cage. It is a hoop to be fractured by a tiny jar. There is a spark there. Next moment a flush of dun. Then a vapour as if earth were breathing in and out, once, twice, for the first time. Then under the dullness someone walks with a green light. Then off twists a white wraith. The woods throb blue and green, and gradually the fields drink in red, gold, brown. Suddenly a river snatches a blue light. The earth absorbs colour like a sponge slowly drinking water. It puts on weight; rounds itself; hangs pendent; settles and swings beneath our feet.”

― Virginia Woolf, The Waves

Lee viewing the eclipse, June 10, 2002

I was moving files around on my computer, looking at old photos in the process, and decided to take a look at a couple folders that were right about twenty years old. I found one of Lee (he just turned 30 – so he would have been ten at the time) projecting the image of a solar eclipse onto some paper at a baseball game. A quick google search and I found the eclipse happened on June 10, 2002 (only an annular eclipse – not a total).

So I dug out my old journal and looked up June 10, 2002. Sure enough, I wrote about the eclipse. Here’s what I said:

I was exhausted after work today.

Although I had things I really needed to do I decided to go with Candy and Lee (Nick is gone to church camp this week) to a T-Ball game played by Candy’s twin nieces. Little girl’s T-ball is always good for a chuckle or two, the girls are cute, the parents ridiculous, the facilities overwrought.

I tried sitting in the stands, watching the little girls making faces and sticking their tongues out at Lee, but I was too worn out to sit still on those aluminum beams. I walked over to an open grassy spot, a warmup area between two of the baseball fields.

I knew there was going to be a partial solar eclipse at sunset today, so I asked Lee if it was beginning to look a little bit darker to him. This started him off on his usual spate of questions.
“How do you know there’s going to be an eclipse?”
“Why can’t we see the moon if it’s about to hit the sun?”
“How can the moon block out the sun? Isn’t it smaller?”
“What do you mean, partial?

I tried to explain everything but wasn’t very successful. Lee would scrunch up his nose whenever I said Umbra or Penumbra.

I had brought my fabric briefcase. It has my Alphasmart in it – along with the digital camera and some other stuff – in case the muse strikes unexpectedly. I pulled a couple pieces of paper out and punched a pen through one, trying to make a crude pinhole camera so Lee could watch the progress of the moon’s shadow. It was too late in the day, though, the angle too severe, and I couldn’t get it to work very well.

Then I remembered that I had a pair of compact binoculars in the briefcase. I don’t know why I carry those around except for a vague feeling that they might be useful sometime. Today, I was right.

I showed Lee how to use the binoculars to project a sharp image of the sun on to the paper. He’d check the progress of the fingernail-slice of the moon’s shadow as it slowly ate up the sun.

The remains of the sun set orange and unnaturally dim at the height of the eclipse. The game ended soon after that. I don’t think Lee completely understands the eclipse, especially the partial thing. I guess I’ll be cutting out a round piece of cardboard, sitting up late with a flashlight and a globe. I guess I’ll be printing some web pages out, maybe that’ll help.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Disneyworld by Bill Chance

“All over the world major museums have bowed to the influence of Disney and become theme parks in their own right. The past, whether Renaissance Italy or Ancient Egypt, is re-assimilated and homogenized into its most digestible form. Desperate for the new, but disappointed with anything but the familiar, we recolonize past and future. The same trend can be seen in personal relationships, in the way people are expected to package themselves, their emotions and sexuality, in attractive and instantly appealing forms.”

― J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition

Paths (detail), by Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir, Arts District, Dallas, Texas

Disneyworld

I was called out of class into the Principal’s office where my mom and my little sister were already waiting for me.

“Your Aunt Cissie is very sick,” the Principal said, “I’m so very sorry to hear this.”

“Aunt Cissie?” I replied. I had no idea who he was talking about.

“You know Aunt Cissie,” my mother said, her voice sounding desperate. I knew that tone – I had heard it many times.. too many times.

“Of course,” I lied. “I hope she’s going to be OK.” I was pretty sure she would not be OK – because she didn’t exist.

“So we will have to take you and your sister out of school for a couple weeks,” my mother said. “I’m going to have to take care of Aunt Cissie and you two will come with me.”

The principal looked suspicious, but what could he say? My mom gathered the two of us up and we walked out to the car as quickly as we could.

“What is this Aunt Cissie stuff?” I asked her. “I never heard of an Aunt Cissie.”

“There isn’t any Aunt Cissie you dummy. That’s just a story to get you both out of school.”

“You lied to the principal?” my sister said. She was too young and always told the truth.

“Just a little white lie,” my mother said. “We’re going to Disneyworld.”

“In California?” I asked.

“No, Disneyworld is in Florida.”

“Why are we going all that way, California is a lot closer.”

“Don’t ask me stupid questions. Your dad has made all the arrangements. We’re going to drive to Florida, so you and your sister have to learn to be quiet in the car.”

I was excited about going to Disneyworld. All our vacations up to that point had involved lakes full of odd-smelling water, bologna sandwiches, and coolers of beer. They always ended bad – both parents way too drunk and pissed of at each other – and a drive home days early. A cross-country trip in our beat-up old car didn’t sound like much fun, but Disneyworld! I wasn’t really sure exactly what Disneyworld was, but it was something that other kids, other families talked about and I wanted to be one of those people.

The drive was even worse than I thought it would be. I tried to stretch out on the floorboards – my legs over the transmission hump. Right when I’d relax and almost go to sleep, my sister would put her feet on me, pushing down, and I’d have a claustrophobic panic attack.

I’d yell, my sister would whine, my mom would scream and my dad would lose his temper. One time somewhere, I think it was in Nebraska, we pulled over and my dad pulled us out and gave us a beating alongside this nowhere road.

The car broke down in Mississippi… I remember my Dad pouring water from an old milk jug into the radiator and having to dodge the boiling water shooting out like a geyser. An old man from the gas station was able to patch something together and we were able to get on the road. Even though it was awful hot outside, my Dad ran the heater as we rolled down the highway with all the windows down. He said it helped keep the engine from overheating.

We had a room in a motel not far from the park. It was small and a little sketchy – still I couldn’t figure out how we could afford even that. But I thought… what the hell… Disneyworld!

And the park was everything I dreamed of and more. Mom took my sister and me – my dad dropped us off and left in the car – he said he had something he needed to take care of. Fine with me, without my dad, my mom was always in a better mood. We stayed all day and mom bought my sister and I anything we wanted – ice cream, hot dogs, stuffed toys of Mickey and Pluto. The lines at the rides were too long, but I enjoyed just walking around. It was like being in another world… a better world than I was used to living in.

We were completely worn out at the end of the day and my mom called a cab to take us back to the motel. I had never ridden in a cab before – it made me feel important. A perfect end to the best day of my life.

Something funny, though, back at the motel. My mom made us walk all through the parking lot looking for the car. When we didn’t find it she said, “Good, your dad’s not here, we can go back to the room.”

My mom was carrying my sister, she was asleep over her shoulder so she handed me the key to open the door. I walked in and saw may dad pulling bricks of plastic-wrapped white stuff from a big trash bag, packing them into a couple of empty suitcases. I had wondered why he had brought those along.

He screamed at my mother, “I told you to stay away until I was finished!”

“Your car wasn’t there, we looked!” she said.

“It broke down again, I had to get a rental! Get the hell out of here!”

Mom took us to the diner attached to the motel. My sister slept on one half of the booth while I picked at my fries and ignored my cheeseburger.

The damage had been done. I was young, but I knew what I had seen. Now it made sense – why we made such a long trip, how we could afford it, what made my dad so jumpy.

He showed up at the diner a couple hours later and I was surprised at how quiet he was. We packed up right away and left the motel in the middle of the night in the rental car. I never found out what happened to our old car and assume it was abandoned somewhere.

You would think this adventure would change our life – I certainly hoped it would. But other than some new furniture and my parents buying better brands of booze – the kind that came in glass bottles, not plastic – everything was pretty much back to normal in a couple months. I guess my dad was just a drug mule and they don’t actually make that much money. The principal looked sad whenever I walked by. He said he was sorry about my aunt Cissie.

I had to act along, of course. I was so good at faking the illness and eventual death of a non-existent relative that I began to believe it myself. To this day, sometimes I find myself thinking about my aunt and feeling sad – until I remember.

Somebody Had A Bad Day

“After being bombarded endlessly by road-safety propaganda it was almost a relief to find myself in an actual accident.”
― J.G. Ballard, Crash

Scene of a crash. That heavy metal bollard – put in to protect the brick signpost – was bent. Somebody hit the thing hard.

I futzed and dutzed around today and didn’t get out for my daily bike ride until the brutal heat of the afternoon. It wasn’t too bad, though, I took some ice and water and at least on a bike you make your own breeze.

I found the bike trail blocked at Larkspur and Plano roads. Someone had hit a protective bollard, bending it more than a bit, and knocked the stop sign/street sign over. There was broken glass everywhere, though the car(s) involved were long towed away. I cut through a church parking lot and rode some residential streets to avoid the broken glass and bent steel.