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.

Hiroshima Mon Amour

I was an architect, she was an actress. I drew the Eiffel Tower upon her dress. So we could see the world… The flash burnt our shadows right into the wall. But my best friend and I will leave them behind in Hiroshima. I will keep her secrets, I will change my name. My sweetheart and I are saying goodbye to Hiroshima.

—-My Favorite, Burning Hearts

The opening of Hiroshima Mon Amour

I have been taking too much pleasure in the NBA playoffs and as always happens when you take too much pleasure in something it all went to shit. My team, after a fantastic start, crashed and burned and went down to humiliating and ignominious defeat.

My lesson learned, again, I turned the game off and switched over to the always reliable backup – The Criterion Channel (the best streaming money you can spend). I cruised through the copious selection of marvelous and recherché moving picture shows and settled on a classic that I have never seen, Alan Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour.

Resnais had made his reputation with a string of documentary films, including the first-rate Night and Fog, about the Nazi death camps. He was approached to make a similar nonfiction work about the Hiroshima bomb and traveled to Japan to start work. He realized that he could not make a simple documentary about that horror, especially for Western audiences (who, in the 1950’s, generally thought of the bomb as the end of the war) and proposed he make a fictional film instead.

He hired the novelist Marguerite Duras to write the screenplay and made a groundbreaking film. The surface plot is about a French actress (played by the luminous Emmanuele Riva) in Hiroshima to make a documentary about the bombing – she has a brief but intensely passionate affair with a Japanese architect (played by the equally riveting Eiji Okada). They have only thirty-six hours before she must go back to Paris.

But time in the film isn’t the same as it is in the real world. The story is told in conversations between the couple, in flashbacks, in dream sequences, in bits of newsreel footage.

The fourteen minute opening sequence is an amazing kaleidoscopic montage surrounding a scene of two naked bodies writhing in passion while radioactive dust falls from the sky and sticks to their sweat-drenched skin.

The film is full of questions, symbolism, conundrums wrapped in enigmas, doubling (the actress has had forbidden affairs with soldiers of both of the West’s enemies in WWII) and all the other accouterments of the French New Wave.

Despite all this, the film is watchable to anyone tired of the MCU. If nothing else, you can look at Emmanuele Riva and her expressive face (at eighteen and thirty four) as she is buffeted by history, war, the past, and the passion of today.

Emmanuele Riva in Hiroshima Mon Amour

Decades ago I stumbled across an obscure New York band called My Favorite. I have been a bit of a fan ever since. Watching the movie I realized that one of their “popular” songs, Burning Hearts, was inspired by the movie. Cool.

Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, A Gentle Touch by Bill Chance

He remembers those vanished years. As though looking through a dusty window pane, the past is something he could see, but not touch. And everything he sees is blurred and indistinct.

― Wong kar-wei, In the Mood for Love

Mojo Coffee, Magazine Street, New Orleans, Louisiana (click to enlarge)

A Gentle Touch

The drugs didn’t work. The stents failed to keep the flow going. Time had wracked its fatal damage in its efficient and inexorable way.

Nobody really told him what was happening but he knew. Especially the way they were gathering around him, a circle of faces either somber and quiet or swallowed in a false cheer. When they told him his sister was flying in from Seattle he knew the end was very close. She had not been on a plane in fifty years.

He had so many tubes stuck in him that when he would move the slightest bit one or another would be jostled and he would be hit by a horrific beeping from the machine attached to that conduit. If he was alone, he would suffer, palming the call button again and again for what seemed like an eternity until a nurse would finally come and turn off the infernal sound. It was worse if others were in the room – they would cluck and scatter like chickens until the nurse came – their protestations bothered him more than the beeping.

The balance of his life between future and past, between memory and hope, had now shifted completely to memory and the past. There was no future left and no hope.

And finally his memory was beginning to collapse and implode, fewer and fewer recollections were left. The past would slowly go to black and white, like an old television, then begin to fade until only a handful of echoes were left.

His life had been full. His marriage had lasted over half a century. He had been blessed with children, grand children, great grandchildren. He had a few victories and many, many defeats.

He was shocked, however, at what remained after all these accomplishments and catastrophes had faded.

Many decades ago his company sent him to a multi-evening seminar to learn a new accounting software program. He had met a woman there. She was sitting in the back near where he was and he noticed her walking to the front table to get supplies.

After the classes some of the employees would grab a coffee and talk about the software and how much they didn’t want to use it. Each time the woman seemed to end up sitting next to him at the large round table.

The two of them enjoyed talking to each other and he felt strangely excited on the drive home. After the last day of the class a handful of folks decided to keep meeting in the evenings – both he and the woman were in that group.

It was the start of a decade long friendship. The meeting became the high point of his week. The two of them would almost always sit next to each other. He remembered that sometimes she would laugh at something or make a point and reach out and gently touch him – on the shoulder or leg.

Nothing more ever came of the two of them. They had never even met outside of that group. He decided that they simply enjoyed each other’s company. He couldn’t say why.

The friendship eventually faded and finally dissolved completely. He hadn’t spoken to her in twenty years. Now, in his weakened state, he could barely remember her name and wasn’t sure the hazy memory was right.

But as the last few days fell away, the times he spent with her loomed larger and larger in his mind. His family wondered about the otherworldly expression on his face and the fact he paid less and less attention to them.

“He’s losing his mind,” they all said. And shook their heads sadly.

They weren’t wrong. But he was aware enough to wonder why it was this particular set of memories that were filling his last few miserable, precious days. Pleasant, bittersweet memories. Something that, at the time, meant little in the flow of days.

As his heart struggled, weakened, and finally gave out his final thoughts were of a quiet laugh and the innocent gentle touch of a friend’s hand along his leg.

Short Story of the Day, Flash Fiction, Poison Snail Fight by Robert Kaye

“If you don’t know what you want,” the doorman said, “you end up with a lot you don’t.”

― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

Schwarmerei

If you are wondering about today’s image of snails on a beer stein – here’s what it was about.

Today’s little piece of flash fiction is a particularly good one. Click and Read – it’s worth it, trust me. Or at least listen to the Audio Version.

Poison Snail Fight Robert Kaye

Poison Snail Fight – Audio Version

From Fiction Southeast

Robert Kaye Homepage

Robert Kaye Twitter

Short Story of the Day, When Eddie Levert Comes, by Deesha Philyaw

“Our memory is a more perfect world than the universe: it gives back life to those who no longer exist.”

― Guy de Maupassant

Window Reflection, Dallas Public Library

In perusing the interwebs I came across a nice list of ten online long(er)-form short stories. So I’ll test the patience and attention span of everyone in this best of all possible worlds and slide away from flash fiction for a while.

When Eddie Levert Comes by Deesha Philyaw

from Electric Lit

Flash Fiction of the day, Different Shades of Yellow by Teddy Kimathi

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”

― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Sunflower

A friend called me one Saturday morning to tell me there were fields of Sunflowers blooming, vast, beside the Interstate on the way to Austin. I drove down there to take photographs. It was amazingly beautiful, the miles of yellow faces looking into the sun.

Today’s story reminded me of that day and these photographs.

Different Shades of Yellow by Teddy Kimathi


Sunflower
Sunflower

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – Forgot by Bill Chance

“Our memory is a more perfect world than the universe: it gives back life to those who no longer exist.”
― Guy de Maupassant

Old Man River, Robert Shoen, New Orleans

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#96) Almost There! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


Forgot

Harold Sammons died at work, suddenly. His heart stopped beating. He was coming out of the break room with a cup of coffee on his way to the morning meeting. The last one out of the break room, there was nobody to see him go down or smell the hot coffee splashed across the floor. They did hear the cup shatter.

Since nobody saw him, nobody really knows how long Harold was dead. Since they heard the cup and came, curious, and the paramedics were there almost immediately (the fire station was right next door) they revived him and he came back to life.

There was brain damage. It was to be expected.

His short-term memory was gone. He would talk to someone and forget who he or she was. It was embarrassing, but people understood. He would forget where he was or where he lived or the PIN code on his phone (or even what that glass rectangle was useful for).

For the eighteen months he survived after he died and came back, it made life difficult, but not unbearable. While he couldn’t remember five minutes ago, fifty years in the past was as clear as crystal. There were so many things he forgot that came back to him now.

He forgot his first rock concert. He forgot how excited he was when the band did an encore. Now he remembered, “Everyone cheered so loud they came back out and played another song!” That naïve happiness came flooding back.

He forgot how many fireflies there used to be. Clouds of cold sparks. Now he could see them, even though they are now rare.

He forgot how everyone, young and old, used to watch the same shows on television together and could talk about them the next day. Nobody had more than one set so watching television was a social act.

He forgot how going out for a hamburger and maybe some ice cream was a big deal and a real treat.

He forgot that every house only had one phone and it was attached to the wall. The phone knew its place and its purpose.

He forgot swimming in a lake. The water had a green cast and a slight smell. The bottom was soft mud.

He forgot about front porches with rockers and gliders and the neighbors walking by.

He forgot about Zippo lighters that had liquid fuel and little yellow cards of replacement flints.

He forgot the taste of cold milk from a glass bottle.

He forgot the woman he loved first and loved most. He married someone else and never knew where she went. And now she was back and not a day older. Her smile as magnificent as ever.

These weren’t like old dusty memories that suddenly get stirred up. These weren’t like an unexpected odd odor that you know you have smelled before. The unfathomable labyrinth within his brain had been broken open and the distant past was as fresh and new as the sun is in the sky.

For those last eighteen months people would see the confused emaciated old man in his wrinkled ancient suit shuffling along or sitting motionless on a bench – they would feel pity and dread the day when they would end up in the same sorry state.

But for Harold Sammons the time after he came back from the dead was the best of his life. He no longer forgot.

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – After Hours by Bill Chance

“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

 

A sketch of the Casino at Montelimar, Nicaragua – once Somoza’s beach house.


 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#77) Three fourths there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


After Hours

Barry Carpenter and his daughter walked out onto the beach in the darkness. Even the waves seemed to respect the night, rumbling low in a tumble of phosphorescent foam. The sand was cool between their toes and the offshore breeze warm on their faces.

Far out to sea a violent store raged. From the beach, all that could be seen was a spreading mass of black cloud, curling above the unseen horizon, blacker than the black sky above. The clouds were silently and invisibly roiled but the violence was revealed by the strokes of electric veins flashing across and through the distant storm. Sharp traces of lightning flared alternated with the soft blue glow of deep interior discharges.

They stood on the smooth wet sward of damp sand, stood there and let the breeze blow bits of foam, the last extent of the crashing salt sea undulations, kiss barely against their bare toes. They stood silent, staring, shoulder to shoulder, together, and alone.

Barry Carpenter became aware that his daughter wasn’t completely silent, or utterly still, like he was. He turned his head and, since his eyes had become accustomed to the darkness of the moonless night, he could tell that her shoulders were shaking, her head moving a little in an irregular fashion. He wasn’t sure at first but then he caught a little sob, heard a bit of sniffle. Though she was trying to conceal it, his daughter was weeping. She was standing on the sand next to him, looking out to sea, and weeping.

He had no idea what to do.

The tiny sighs and subtle sobs, almost drowned by the noise of the surf, were powerful blows. He felt a deep and primordial panic welling up until his mind could not stand it any more.

Automatically, his memories poured forth; inexorable images welled up. He remembered another beach at night. A long time ago and a long way away. Another continent. It was another ocean – a much warmer one. He was young then, and so were his friends. And they were out of rum.

They were walking down the beach. Back behind them was the tourist beach, with the lifeguards and the all-inclusive hotels. There the sand was scrupulously clean, swept every day at dawn by a mob of barely-fed workers. The tourist beach was no fun.

Barry and his friends liked to hang out at Calangute… the people’s beach. Here the sand was always littered and the dunes filled with thatched huts rather than glass hotels. Thick blue smoke from hundreds of wood cooking fires battled the sea breezes – the unique magnificent smell of third-world grease and spice hung on everything. There was always a party at Calangute.

Except now, it was too late. The poor people of Calangute all had to work, somehow, to eat and it was four in the morning. Everyone was asleep. Everyone except Barry and his friends, who didn’t have to work and never liked to sleep. And they especially didn’t like it when they were out of rum.

They were working their way down the ocean-most row of shacks, wobbly crude constructions of sticks and palm fronds, intended during the day as tiny storefronts, selling food, drink, cheap plastic childrens’ toys. This late they were all closed and bundled up and took on their second purpose as houses for their proprietors.

The boys would shake each shack, watching it wiggle, shouting, “Oye! Oye! Rum! Rum.” Every shack had somebody in it, but… maybe they were afraid, maybe tired, maybe sick of the noisy rich kids… probably all three – and nobody stirred. They would wait, fain slumber, until the teenagers lost their thin patience and moved to the next hut.

Finally, a groggy woman’s voice grunted agreement from the inside of a particularly tiny and crude, hut. Barry figured she needed the money more than she dreaded the disruption. He pulled a wet, sandy, lump of bills from his pocket and waved it in the dark, knowing it would be more than enough for a bottle of the rough, clear hooch sold at Calangute. The stuff tasted like paint thinner, but it got the job done.

A low, yellow light snapped on within and the handmade door opened up a crack. Barry went in to pick up his purchase. The only light was a cheap lime-green flashlight with obviously failing batteries, but there was enough light to see the scrawny sick-looking woman holding out an old-style glass soft-drink bottle filled with a cloudy liquid and stoppered with a hand-carved wooden cork.

Barry looked around the inside of the shack and saw that it was filled to bursting with children. They were sleeping in piles all around the edge of the room, so deep there was barely enough room to stand in the center. There were too many to be the children of the woman with the bottle, and she seemed to be the only adult present. Barry realized that these were the ragged children that ran on the beach all day, selling tiny boxes of chewing gum, or worthless hand-carved trinkets, or simply offering to fetch a drink of bit of food in exchange for the tiniest of coins. He had always assumed these children to be a member of a family – sent out all day in their rags to bring home a little extra for their parents – but it seemed that they formed a family of their own – on their own.

As he took the bottle and turned for the door he reached into his pocket a little deeper and found one last bill crumpled down at the bottom. Though he already had his bottle he let the last bit of money drop, down, among the sleeping children.

The yellowed memory sight of the grimy bill dropping down into the rags on the floor was the end of his reverie. He was back on the cooler beach, still standing beside his softly crying daughter.

He reached out and placed an arm around her shoulder, pulling her in close to him. Looking outward they both noticed that something had blown the foggy beach air out and replaced it with clear, fresh, atmosphere. Above the distant bank of dark electric clouds the stars appeared.

In particular, they could see a bright star, or planet, maybe Jupiter, hovering just above the remote tumult. And above that, a starry smear, a small cluster of tiny dots, connected with blurs of glowing gas.

See that,” Barry Carpenter said to his daughter, “those are the Pleiades.” She nodded. She knew what they were.

The two of them, nothing being said, began to walk out into the water. The waves poured sand over their feet, licked at their knees, and splashed bits of salty drops onto their faces. They walked until they were waist deep and could feel the bigger waves pulling until they would have to stumble a bit.

Barry saw his daughter pull something out of her pocket. It was a bit of vine covered with small white flowers. He remembered them – they grew on a little terrace in back of the beach house the two of them had rented for the weekend. As a wave collapsed his daughter threw the bit of green and white into the receding foam.

Ok, let’s go back now,” his daughter said.

He nodded, but didn’t say anything, and they turned and walked back, arm in arm, in silence.

Short Story, Flash Fiction, Of the Day, Spaceliner by Bill Chance

This was twenty years before there would be a bicycle shop on every corner, and forty before you could have one delivered the next day from the internet – the only place his father knew of was Sears and Roebuck. They drove to the massive featureless brick rectangle at the edge of an endless parking lot.

—-Bill Chance, Spaceliner

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#3). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

Spaceliner

It took the boy a month of courage collecting and the prodding of his mother to get the nerve to ask his father to buy him a bike. He expected the usual answer, “Christmas will come in only a few months, we will see about it then.”

When his father snuffed out his cigarette, stood up and said, “OK, let’s go,” the boy almost fainted.

This was twenty years before there would be a bicycle shop on every corner, and a half-century before you could have one delivered the next day from the internet – the only place his father knew of was Sears and Roebuck. They drove to the massive featureless brick rectangle at the edge of an endless parking lot.

The boy was jealous of his friends because they all had bicycles they called Spiders. These had huge curved banana seats – with purple plastic metallic sparkling covers. The handlebars rose straight up with a curve on the end – hopelessly unstable, but it looked cool. One friend had a bike with an actual round car-type steering wheel. He was the coolest of all.

But his father marched straight to the Sears Spaceliner model. Chrome and red, gigantic, heavy as a steel boulder – these had streamline art deco style curved tubes and a thick red console behind the handlebars that contained a light, horn and silver plastic control knobs. This was a careful design of an impractical transportation device that looked to a father from the fifties like something a boy from the sixties (on the other side of the vast cultural divide) would like.

“Let’s get one plenty big,” his father said, “So you won’t outgrow it too soon. I don’t want to be back down here in a year buying another one.”

The sales clerk had one already put together and he let the boy try it out in the back parking lot.

He had to push it along until it gained enough speed to roll upright on its own and then climb on to it as if it was a boat without a ladder. The thing was so large – so too big for him – that at the bottom of each stroke the pedal would disappear past his foot. He could not reach them at that point. He’d have to fish around with his foot as the pedal rose to get back on it.

Near the front door of the cavernous Sears was a little stand selling hot nuts. The vendor heated them on a little stove and sold them in paper bags. The odor of roasting peanuts, walnuts, and cashews filled the entrance and spilled out into the parking lot.

“Can we buy some cashews?” the boy asked. He was shocked when his father bought a bag. His father wasn’t one for impulse purchases. But this was a special day.

To this day, the boy, now an old man, loves cashews and splurges on a can every time he goes to the grocery. Sometimes he gets out an old cast-iron skillet out and heats them up before he gobbles them down.

 


This story is, of course, mostly true. It is a little simplified from reality – I didn’t get to test the bike out in the store. It turned out to be very frustrating – it was so big It took me a month to learn to ride it. In the meantime, my brother, who was three years younger than me got a small bike (what we would call a BMX style today) and immediately began scooting around the neighborhood. I thought it was my own incompetence, instead of the size of the machine.

I finally learned by lugging the thing to the top of a long, steep hill, standing on one pedal while the thing picked up speed rolling downhill. Then I would climb on. As you can imagine, this process resulted in a lot of crashes, skinned knees, and thumped heads (no bike helmets then).

If you know me, you might think that this is the origin of my love for cycling. That would be wrong. A few years later, back on a base, I went down to the Post Exchange and spotted a ten speed racing bicycle, what we called at that time an “English Racer.” It was the first time I ever saw a bike with dropped bars. I was addicted to Popular Science Magazine and had read about the new invention “derailleur gears” and amazed to see them in real life.  I was entranced.

Again, I was shocked when my father bought the bike. This one was perfect. I rode that bike everywhere and learned how to work on it (the early derailleur system was crude and needed constant adjusting). That has continued to the present day – 55 years later.

Not too long ago, I saw a Sears Spaceliner for sale at a vintage bicycle show. It was in mint condition – it cost seven hundred dollars. I didn’t buy it.

Short Story Of the Day, Fourth of July by William E Burleson

But now he plays. As always, he plays because that’s what he’s paid to do. But this time, he also plays for his co-workers. This time, he plays for honor. And he plays brilliantly.

—- William E Burleson, Fourth of July

The end of a game of giant Jenga – Community Beer Company, Dallas, Texas

I remember… let’s see… I was about ten – that would make it about 1967. Well over a half-century ago. The memory is from a small farming town (about 500 souls) in the middle of nowhere – so that would mean, if I was living there, probably it was when my father was in Vietnam. I remember discovering a well-worn building within walking distance of my house (everything was within walking distance) that had a couple of pinball games right inside the front door. I would walk down there and some old man would give me a quarter so I could play.

A quarter was a lot of money in those days.

If you were weaned on video games you don’t understand the thrill of a real, mechanical marvel. The sound, real sound, of the metal ball and the flippers and the bumpers, clanking and chunking – the bells chiming – the mechanical counters clicking around (and hopefully the wonderful CLUNK of a new free game). The slight smell of ozone in the air from the thousands of contacts making and breaking. The flashing lights and garish graphics – real wood, real glass, real paint. The feel of the spring loaded piston that sent the heavy ball – you could feel the weight in the handle – shooting up and around and the moment you felt your fingers move to the round buttons on the side with your palms against the wood to give careful, tiny shoves (don’t want to TILT – you learned the limits of your machine) to keep the ball moving and away from the gutter. You became one with the flippers – the game would last as long as your skill and luck held out.

Those days are gone.

Read it here:

Fourth of July by William E Burleson

William E Burleson homepage