Sunday, July 15, 2012

Safety Quest

 Oh, hell. I don't feel like explaining this.

 Quest Carefully

Often when on a Quest
You'll create an unholy mess
And cause great distress to others:
Such as horses, goats and your mother.
So it is best,
Outside the nest,
To Quest -- carefully.

When you see a dragon at the break of day,
Run away.
Run away.
Do not believe what the soothsayers say.
Require proof
From the sooth.
If an old man on a bridge offers his advice,
Treat him nice.
Treat him nice.

Quest Carefully. Quest Carefully.

Use care as you stare
At Buxom, bawdy, barmaids.
Do not imbibe the potions you get
From cute redheads, and brunettes.
Blonds, too,
If it's true,
They've had more fun --
Meaning more flings flung.
And when climbing a ladder
To rescue her from what's the matter!
Don't stand on the top rung.

Quest Carefully.  Quest Carefully.

Even so, just so you'll know,
As you pursue your Quest
Never rest, never rest --
Do not be reckless in your rest!

Sleep with care. Sleep with care.

Be aware the woods have bears
And the forest is where
The wolves have their lairs.
And never eat meat
unless it's been cooked to an internal temperature
Of 160 degrees Fahrenheit and you should immediately refrigerate --
Yes, refrigerate!
The unused portions.
This is also the case
When you reheat -- and eat --
the meat you think safe.
Why not be a Vegan?

Quest Carefully. Quest Carefully.
And as you quest never rest -- recklessly.

"Yes, I will maintain a high degree of Sanitation
At every way station.
  (Where's the gold?)
I will not slay dragons at the break of day,
and all other times I'll say -- never mind.
  (Where's the gold?)
I'll always think twice before beating on some old twit
offering silly advice.
  (Where's the gold?)
I won't believe a sooth,
Some toothless old crone
playing with chicken bones!
Even her truth
Is of no use.
  (Unless the whore
  knows a hoard)

As for girls offering potions:
I won't drink without a notion
That when I wink,
She'll wink back
And we'll jump in the sack.
As for the matter of ladders
I will stand
On the top rung
And then the one above that.
Now, where's the gold at!"

I left some hair colors out (space considerations).

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Blue Desert

Continuing my commentary on current events (in song!), I thought I'd try something Bob Dylanish, but via Peter, Paul and Merry -- I mean Mary.  I tried "Where have all the taxes gone" but that sounded more like Pete Seeger.

I don't know.  Maybe a folk song in the Academic style.  Ivy League Blue Grass, but parched awful.

The Blue Desert

Find the words
And make them yours.
Find the meanings and
Confiscate them.
Take the language you now own
And turn granite into sand --
and name it stone.

Your blue desert
Needs a hard green rain.
To fall from the heavens
And go directly down the drain.
As blue programs sink
Into the deep, red ink.

History becomes hysteria.
The logician a beautician.
Paragraphs are paradoxes
Paralegal and Para-rational --
Built to tease and meant to please
As you take it all national.
In this language you own
You turn granite into sand --
and call it stone.

Your blue desert
Needs a hard green rain.
To fall from the heavens
And go directly down the drain.
As the blue measures sink
Into the dark, red ink.

Find Prosperity. Create poverty.
Call it equality.
To Squander on squalor
Is investment well spent.
Current taxes are unfair
Your increases far fairer --
A beauty to behold.
As the beholden
Will be held,
Held tightly in control.

Your blue desert
Needs a hard green rain
To fall from the heavens
And go directly down the drain.
As the blue pleasures sink
Into the dark, red ink.

A massive dollar infusion
Will not lessen the confusion.
As your blue dream sinks
Into the wine dark ink.

I think early Dylan style fits. If I can only find my Dave Van Ronk voice. I think I left it with the whiskey and smokes.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Slap them with a Tax

I wrote some lyrics! They are lyrical! They can be sung to the tune of every Radiohead song I’ve ever heard (I haven’t heard them all).
 Big G and the D.C.’s

Slap, slap, slap.

When I see you eating Big Macs,
With your happy meal deal kids
I feel your weight upon my shoulders.
I want to…
Slap, slap, slap.

When I see you in your big car,
On a commute that is too far,
I fear the temperature rising
and want to…
Slap, slap, slap.

At the movies you eat popcorn
So full of salt and fat
I feel forlorn.
I want to…
Slap, slap, slap.

Your insurance is inadequate.
It makes me want to pitch a fit.
I want to devise –
Appropriate punishments.

Slap, slap, slap!
Slap them with a tax!
Slap. Slap!
Slap them with a tax!
I don’t want to be your lover,
I just want to control
what’s in your cupboard.
Slap, slap!
Slap them with a tax!
I don’t want to be your doctor
I just want to decide
What is proper.
Slap, slap!
Slap them with a tax!
I don’t want to be your banker
I just want to be the confiscator.
Stash, stash, stash!
I don’t want to be your savior,
But I will be your reg-you-lay-tor.
Slap them with attacks!
I don’t want to be your defender,
but I will be your ruler who
Does not believe in your maker –
But will be your under-taker.
Put ‘em down, cut ‘em down,
SWAT ‘em with attacks!
Those will be the final under-takings.
Attack, attack, attack!
Oh, I don’t want to be a bureaucratic drone
Just control the drone that flies over your home…

 15 Steps then a Shear Drop!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

It's Powerful Stuff

Some years ago I started doing commentary on current events through the use of  musical comedy. Unfortunately, it led to uncontrolled weeping so I stopped. Still, I like putting my thoughts in song (yes, song!) and here is my latest attempt. Think Punk Rock. Starts sweet, ends loud.

Clerk Power

I know you think I'm heaven sent
The greatest hope your world presents.
Your situation's critical
But to me you're typical.

Bad vibrations
In creation.
In the nation.
Check the box now,
Fill the forms out!
In your niche now;
Break the molds? No!
We must know you. Or we'll no you
Yes, we know you. And will no you.
Clerk Power. Clerk Power.

I got you feeling desperate
The needs you have are barely met.
But leave no blanks upon the form,
Always behave within the norm.

I'll rearrange you.
I'll estrange you.
Bad vibrations
Fill creation.
throughout the nation.
I will serve you,
On a platter.
Does it matter? Do you matter?
Clerk Power! Clerk Power!
Clerk Power! Clerk Power!

I know you think I'm heaven sent
The greatest chance your world presents.
But before solutions are devised
All interviews must be reprized.

I'll estrange you!
Rearrange you!
Take your measure?
At my pleasure!
Fill the forms out.
Does it fit now?
Have a cow, now?
Don't act crazy!
Take a nap now.
Don't be lazy!
Or outrageous
It's contagious!
Here to serve you,
On a platter.
Does it matter? Does it matter?
Don't you matter? Do you matter?
Clerk Power! Clerk Power! Clerk Power!
Whew. I was shouting a bit much at the end there. Calm. Down. When did the slogan All Power to the People become All Power to the Clerks?  When the people shouting "All Power to the People" became clerks.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Ironic Storm -- A Novel

Chapter One

The Perfect Winter

    Gregor Strasser is a crab. He moves forward and he moves back but he scampers sideways. He lives and feeds on the boundaries. He consumes whatever the waves turn up. And when “folks” come down to the shore to sweep back the tides about to wash away the sand castles of their dreams he, Gregor Strasser, eats their brooms. This he cannot help doing. For he is a crab: a crab that sidled sideways out of landlocked Central Europe, but a crab nonetheless.  
    In a few hours one fall morning, back when Greg was still a British Billionaire and shortly before he moved to the US to become an American one, he made additional billions betting against a well meaning European politician who was fighting – in the very best sense of the word – for a new world free of avarice and, perhaps, crabs.    Here's the irony: Greg himself famously fights for the same world and supported this same politician in his idealistic endeavors. Read Greg's speeches and his many pronouncements to the press (on the occasions when he comes out of his shell) and you'll find them saturated with the most pleasing idealism – all the more pleasing for coming from such a realist.    Look at the think tanks, academics, charities and, yes, politicians he supports and you will find that they are not only well meaning but also mean well. Still, when their idealism beached a “dead as a door nail” beluga whale outside Greg's beach front villa, well, he fed. For he is a crab.
    It's all called “currency speculation.” Greg wasn't speculating when he projected the outcome of a bunch of political pugs (most of whom he knew personally) borrowing heavily to maintain their position in an international currency “peg” – which rhymes with beg. And so he fed.             
    After he became an American he facilitated a speculative spike in the dollar price of oil (tripling the price in six months) followed by a run on the dollar and the world banking system, all of which got a little wildly out of control and all but collapsed the global economy (but, hey, it needed a little collapsing) – good thing Greg brought what he set in motion to heel before the entire world went to hell.
    With its carpets the color of sand, both wet and dry, his office is a suitable habitat for just such a crab as he. Greg's desk is a large teak table. Perhaps it once formed the center of a pirate's mess. Weathered, it may have carried some pirate prince off a sinking ship and through the turbulent seas until he washed up on the Long Island shore (then built a beach front villa). The large computer monitor/TV sits to one side (he seldom uses it) and has a “coral reef” screen saver complete with the subtle sound of underwater waves and colorful fish swimming through the plasma.   Occasionally a predator hidden in the sand would pop-up and eat a passing fish – but only virtually, of course.
    It should be noted, lest anyone underestimate the man inside the crab, that Greg is quite charming in person and has a clever sense of humor. His humor is fun but it cuts and clips and consumes. 
    Of all this, and more, she reminded herself. 

    She would remain on guard. Greg could see she was on guard, though she did not want appear on guard.  Lunch was offered and refused.
    She looked away from Greg, and took a  few steps away as well.  The vertical green blinds across the wide picture window – turned partially open now – were made of harvested kelp, judging from the color, texture and appearance.  She looked through this kelp forest and out the window and down to the turbulent ocean. On that day the Atlantic was not at all pacific, sending huge waves crashing beyond the beach.  She watched gray clouds roil the dark sky over the cold, thick waters – dark gray meeting darker gray right where the horizon is lost. Bursts of icy rain splattered on the glass right in front of her nose but the sting and the wet of it did not penetrate. The wind howls like a billion damned souls and makes the entire building sway with a kind of thumb sucking rhythm -- while the waves outside almost seem to crash against the glass.
    It's the sort of weather to send even a crab scampering for shelter. It results from the unusually early “election day blizzard” reaching the Atlantic and strengthening into a Northeaster (“North Eater” was how Greg pronounced it, perhaps jokingly). The bundles of moisture it picks up over the ocean, it backhands onto the Northeast – as if the dump truck that hit 'em on the New Jersey Turnpike backed up and dumped all over them again -- adding another foot to the previous foot and a half.   But as bad as the weather was locally, it was events far to the Southwest, where Hurricane Crystal spread havoc along the coast of East Texas, that brought her to the meeting.
    She turned toward Greg and watched him exam the paper she brought him.  She decided he even looked the crab. He leaned forward with his elbows splayed on the desk, and his husky frame appeared much wider than tall.   His hair is mussed and knotted on the sides but flat on the top – the result of constantly running his hand through his gray locks with each thought and patting down on the thin top as he decides (almost as one stroke: think, decide). As a result, his head looks almost as wide as his wide neck and even wider shoulders.
    His Stylish glasses have a lot of goggle in them, so his eyes appear panoramic -- as if they could look forward and back and right and left all at the same time. But now they focus on the page in front of him – the color of blubber, it's held in both hands as if by claws. He uses his instincts as he devours – or rather reads – it. She's seen him devour before, but not quite like this day. It's that crack of a smile: as if he'd like an after-devouring mint and a bit of conversation.   She moves a few steps from the window to take her place in the deeply comfortable chair facing his desk.   Greg wore that crack of a smile as he sat back and removed his glasses – the better to focus on her. “So what's this Chattanooga choo-choo?” His stare encouraged the thought that he knew what she was thinking.  Of course he didn't, and on that assumption she preceded.
    “The sort of cute language that got him in trouble,” said Sandy, swaddled in her chair.

    Sandy went well with the carpet. In fact, they had ended up on it a few times, but only after rolling off the couch (this subject was permanently off topic). Greg was an old guy but in one respect he was quite youthful: he was the world's richest and most powerful man, a fact no one mentioned but everyone acknowledged. Oh, there were those that said the President of the United States was the world's most powerful personage, but there were many checks on his power -- his own inhibitions perhaps the biggest one. Which is why Greg worked so hard getting a President in power whose only inhibitions were Greg's.
    Sandy got her name from her hair, which was the color of dry, sun baked sand. Her skin was the color of damp sand at sunset but unnaturally smooth – as if the epidermis had been applied with an air brush and buffed to a nice sheen. You could not see yourself in the finish but darn it, you just might want to. Her eyes were the green of warm, tropical seas.   Her thick lashes seemed a heavy weight on her lids, like those leather straps she sometimes wears on her wrist with pouches for little metal bars. She would do “the latte lift” when she wore those bracelets: one sip of coffee with her right hand, the next sip with her left. So let it be said: The thick mascara did not make her lids heavier, it made them stronger.
    In short, Sandy was tall, agile, athletic, ambitious, attentive, attractive and an accountant.   Greg had many uses for accountants.   It occurred to Greg that he was surrounded by many peculiar people, most of them accountants, the rest lawyers and some, the really peculiar ones, both. In fact, come to think of it, Sandy was both.
    Greg opened his claws and allowed the paper to settle on the table top. “The Him you refer to, he is your cousin.” he said. Sandy had come out from Manhattan to see Greg. He often made people travel to see him. That way the difference in hierarchy became a geographic reality (he claimed he was being more “hands off” in his management). But today the Helicopter was not in operation. All the snow and rain made Manhattan much more snarly than usual, so the fact she made it out to see him was a testament to the importance she attached to this particular email. North of the City the snow was constant. Boston was buried under three feet and acquiring another layer of white shellacking. The northern part of flyover country – the Midwest and such – you could pretty much ski over. But where Greg was, near the shore, the storm was now -- almost -- a spent bullet: just a rush of rain amidst a constant drizzle turning to ice. Everything was coated in ice. Even the ice acquired coats of ice.
    “Jimmy is my cousin-in-law, that's what he is. Or was. Ex-cousin in law. My cousin divorced him so he's not even that,” she said, as if he had sunk below the insects in her estimation. “Now he's just plain old Dr. Savannah,” she added, deciding to give him a promotion and perhaps a little extra credibility. Her lips puckered as if she sucked on something sour.
   Jimmy Savannah sounded like a name out of a romance novel – not that Greg read romance novels (at least not often). The email from Dr. Jimmy to Miss Sandy  had a familiar, teasing tone. The subject line said, The Perfect Winter. “Did you have an affair with him?”
    “Hardly. Jimmy's not my type.”
    Greg smiled. He knew her type – and her type's type. He admired how she kept things in perspective.   Civilization's foundations may crumple but you still only want to be associated with a certain kind of lover. “I'm just trying to determine why he emailed you.”
    “Too gloat. With absolutely no reason to gloat, or so I thought when I first read it back in August.”
    “Obviously, you are much in his thoughts.”
    And why wouldn't she be? “Many years ago – well, not that many – I made him watch a movie about global warming--”
    “Him being your former lover.” He knew of only one reason Jim Savannah would watch that movie with her. The fact that Greg had bankrolled the film (and even made money on it, much to his amazement) didn't change his opinion. The movie in question featured Hal Bore, a Senator Greg had briefly wanted to make President.
    “Ex Cousin-in-law, is what he was. Is. Not lover, mine?” she corrected.
    “Was your cousin/his-wife present for the – presentation?”
    “She was! Out-ta town...”
    “So that night you seduced him, just out of curiosity.”
    She wondered whose curiosity he referenced, his own right now or hers back then? “Can I get on with the story? After watching the movie he looked into it – global warming – and came back saying that movie was 'an incredibly large and festering pile of hooey,' if I may use those words,  full of what he called 'lies' fronted by 'a carnie barker grifter and political hack.'  He called it an appeal to Con-Science -- using science as a front for a 45 trillion dollar con. He kept saying: Extreme Solutions Demand Extreme Problems. He thought he was making a point. So you see the type of person he is? Beyond reason. Cannot be reached by the most carefully prepared presentation."  Sandy and Jim talked about it over pizza.  He drank beer and she drank cola because, in theory, she wasn't old enough for beer. Jimmy was quite funny, and intentionally so, when he spoke of it, both the movie and the science.  And no, they had not had sex. She did not bother correcting Greg because he would only take it as confirmation and anyways, he wasn't off by that much. Still, she had a good time, even if  Jimmy stayed upright -- stayed staid, as it were.  Later, she'd decide that while Jimmy was too good a catch for her cousin, he wasn't quite good enough for her. "He said we are in an on-going ice age, one that's been around for twenty million years lah-dee-dah. The fourth, or fifth or 23rd, I forget, interglacial period with, on the numbers, glaciers due to start romping around the Northern US any day now. He told of cosmic rays causing sun reflecting high-cloud formation. Twelve of Fourteen triggers for a new ice age being present when you only need 11.8! He said, like, for 90 percent of the last gazillion years Cleveland Ohio has been under a mile or two of ice. He said: imagine being in Cleveland or Detroit with 8,000 feet of solid ice over your head?   I said I couldn't imagine being in Cleveland under those circumstances or any other.”
    “Or what you might wear.”
    One end of her mouth bent down. “Thing is, he's quite smart: math wiz, computer wiz, that sort of thing. No half measures. He goes all in. A genius, I think, but not at all geeky or nerdy when you can get him off topic. Rather cute, in fact.”
    Greg smiled. She did have an affair with him. She was a genius herself, but that still left considerable room for stupidity. “So to forget you – finally get you out of his mind after you'd destroyed his life and tossed him onto the dung heap – he began obsessing about climate change. He wanted to control the data streams in a way he could never control the woman of his dreams.”
    “Never looked at it that way.” But she had. Why else would he run away? He would find some place with a lot of peace and quite where he could obsess about her. It was the logical explanation. “Jimmy got a job at a small Catholic college northwest of Montreal. He used the computer in the Economics Department--”
    “Economics Department? I thought he was some sort of Climatologist.”
    She was silent for a moment. “Actually, he coaches Lacrosse.”
    Greg swirled round in his chair and looked out the window, through the gaps in the kelp colored blinds and out over the Ocean and into the swirling gray. He smiled. “I bet it keeps Jimbo's butt tight.” He couldn't help it. He laughed as he twirled back around.
    “I wouldn't know.” She kept it matter of fact. “I haven't seen him in many years. Well, not that many. One. Besides, he has other duties as well. Teaches a course in statistics and keeps the boiler running, too.” Of course Greg laughed some more.    But she may as well give it to him straight. If he was at all interested in what she had to say, and she figured he would be, he'd check it out thoroughly so she better not conceal any inconvenient truths. One truth: Jimmy has been quite a disappointment to her – until about eight hours ago, when she got a peak at the quickly suppressed “seven day forecast,” and compared it to an email she got a dozen  weeks before.
    “See, Jim figured when the glaciers come, they won't come slowly from the north, and grow toward the south, like most people assume. He figured they'd appear quite suddenly – geologically speaking but also in terms of a human lifetime. They would appear first north of the Ohio River and in the Great Lakes Region. The water's going to come from the South, carried north by storms, while the north provides the cold air.”
    “The Chattanooga choo-choo.”
    “Well, to hear him explain it, it should be named after Memphis. I mean, if you have to name it after a city. I called it The Memphis Moon-bat express.”

    If there was a snob in the office, intellectual or otherwise, it was Sandy, not Greg.   He took people as he found them and sized them up accordingly, focusing on what use they might be. But he was a man of several parts, and if you were not in his sights you likely encountered the pleasing ones. He was also a shrewd judge of people.   Sandy had a former lover who turned into a crackpot with unfashionable ideas – a guy subject to ridicule who threw his future down the drain – and found it a bit embarrassing.   Still, the fact she could assign herself as the cause for his downward spiral was, for her, a point scored. If she suddenly resurrected him, it would be another point scored. She's the score keeper.
    Of course none of that mattered to Greg (though how Sandy came about her information did). Greg just wasn't that impressed by academic credentials. And this wasn't reverse snobbery. Every few years he took the time to teach a course at the London School of Economics – so that he could better fool the next generation of Central Bankers, on the evidence. But he saw, over the years, how Academia had morphed into a self-perpetuating bureaucracy that put its own interests first. Of course not everything they do is dog doo-doo, you just had to watch where you stepped.        
    A decade earlier a couple of Ivy league mathematicians had figured out a fool proof way to make money playing the markets. They had mathematical formulas to show how various prices moved in tandem: some went up when others went down. Big money men gave them a king's ransom – in fact, enough to ransom many kings – to play with. These fellows wore sweaters and carpet slippers to work and puffed on pipes with unlit tobacco in the bowls. And for a while they all had a serene, pleasing, and quite profitable time. It was as if Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood had launched a hostile takeover of Wall Street.
    Then they showed up in his office one day asking him to lend them several billion dollars. Greg politely turned down this “investment” opportunity. Within a matter of days the news emerged that these guys had lost 80 billion buckaroos. Funny, it seemed like a lot at the time.
    Now, you would think their example would put an end to such arrangements but it did not. There were plenty of brilliant folks – hedge fund operators, they're called – who thought they were smarter then these previous brilliant folks. To Greg, that made them the greater fools in the greater fool theory -- but not quiet as foolish as the folks who gave them the funds and followed their lead.
    As for the latest fashion in Smart: It is true that Greg supported climate modeling with his own money, but he never put his faith in “models."   He “donates” money where his self-interests lie. He did not believe for a moment that anyone could model the climate a hundred years in advance. The Soviet Union could not model its own rundown economy and get enough sausage and bread into the one store allowed in each neighborhood, and those were the smartest guys that a well educated population of 300 million could produce. But the same guys were good at creating a demand for rockets and tanks, where too much was apparently never enough. They were good, in other words, at fudging until everything was totally fudged up. Having come of age in that sort of environment,   Greg was an expert at modeling the behavior of bureaucracies. He thrived in the space between the bureaucracies and the societies they mastered.   Global Warming Theory would greatly expand his ecosystem, so promoting it was his idea of altruism.
    He also knew that a million Pseudo Intellectuals sitting at keyboards would produce scenarios that will fit every conceivable occurrence.   But Sandy was smart as a whip and nobody's fool, not even his.   Jimmy's predictions from a few months before fit the last seven days and that impressed her. The fact that they also fit the current “seven day” forecast impressed them both. A train of storms, headed north, just like he said. The natural question: If he's not just one of millions of monkeys pounding a keyboard, how'd he do it?
    Greg picked up the email. “Your man is a prodigious prognosticator.”
    “Jimmy admits that it's tough to predict an event that happens four or five times every million years, but if you approach the task with sufficient humility--” Sandy almost smiled, then thought that might not be a good idea. She cleared her throat a bit. “The thing is, after I saw him last year he left me an encrypted manuscript that explains it all. The encryption is so fiendishly complex that not even the Federal Government with all it's resources could decipher it without the key. Or so he said. I figured it's a load of BS, of course, but took it just to keep him quiet.”
    “You made love to Jimmy last year.”
    “Is that a question?”    
    “You threw out this manuscript, this enciphered load of--”
    “I still got it, somewhere.”
    “There is a treasure map hidden in a sunken ship, to help us find this key, to decipher--”
    “No map. He wants me to come see him. And ask nice. I feel it in my bones.”   She had her own reasons to see Jimmy, some of which Greg could guess and others she hoped he didn't. “I am not the map. I am the legend.”
    “You are the key to the whole she-bang.” Greg smiled. He wasn't interested in a decade long lovers' spat. But if the World was about to take a turn toward a new destination, Greg wanted to be there when it arrived. Would deciphering this manuscript help? Would pretending it would help, help? Could giving Sandy what she wants ever be the right thing (for him) to do? Think, decide. “You do have plenty of stylish winter gear, don't you? According to this weather report,” Greg held up the email, “You will be needing it.”
    Sandy knew not to put much stock in Greg's hints – he laid so many false crumb trails you'd think he shed croĆ»tons wherever he went. But with the life of the nation about to turn into one long natural disaster – one compounded by the nature of her fellow creatures – she knew that in this hour of her nation's need she should take care of her needs. Of course she always felt that way, but her needs had suddenly changed.
    Jimmy Savannah once told her that Irony slouches through human history, continuously born and never noticed. “It's like the dialectic of Marx and Hegel,” he told her, “except it runs in reverse.” At some point, he said, Irony might become a mere literary construct again but by that time we would no longer have literature: we will have dialed back past that.   She liked to conclude he was off his rocker but she never could so conclude, or rather did – often and in cycles: conclude, rethink, deconclude.
    Now she had an example of Irony at work: her presenting Jimmy's memo on the Natural End of the Current Interglacial Period -- what Jimmy called "the Perfect Winter" -- to one of the great proponents of Man Made Global Warming.
    But as Greg himself might put it: you're unlikely to lose money betting on his insincerity. Of course he would never say it himself or be pleased with the person who did.

    Nature shrugs.   Homo sapiens complain.
    It was the consensus of unscientific opinion that the Northern hemisphere had no summer that year. The planet experienced a cooling trend. Since it was caused by the Sun emitting less radiation (part of a normal solar cycle, but more normal than any on record), the reemergence of “cool” was treated as mere atmospherics – wearing jackets in July a new fashion trend that will soon pass.   The Usual Experts said it was a mere slowing of an over all warming trend caused by modern, Promethean man (especially the Promethean building, selling, and driving the SUV). So it would be Ironic, of course, if after spending trillions of dollars and turning the economy upside-down to prevent global warming, it all got iced over.
    But the winds and the currents often change, finding new ways to move heat and moisture around the planet or even rediscover old patterns. In the Southern U.S. the summer was cooler and wetter than normal, but hurricane season was almost nonexistent. Hurricanes get their energy from warm surface water and in the process of feeding draw up cooler water from the depths. The Gulf Stream, which moves warm surface waters from the tropics to the North Atlantic, had weakened considerably in the Northern Branch, petering out before reaching the British isles. In fact, the warm current now made a hard right off the coast of Spain and flowed back to the tropics along the West Coast of Africa, so the waters north of the equator became even warmer, enabling the surface heat to build up later in the year. So hurricane season wasn't called off, it was back loaded.
    Ice in the arctic – both on land and sea – had returned with a vengeance. Less fresh water ran into the seas adjacent Greenland and Canada, changing the balance of fresh water and salt water.   The waters that feed The Labrador Current (the Gulf Stream's Cool Cousin) became a little colder, a little more salty and a little more dense. They submerged before reaching New England, so ironically as the current became colder the surface waters off Cape Cod became a bit warmer. But just like baseball is a game of inches, nature is often a game of degrees.
    That Spring in The Great Lakes Region the trees had kept their buds for an unusually long time – as if the alarm clock had gone off after a hard winters night and the foliage was trying sleep in, despite all the racket and the bright light. Eventually, the plants pushed out some leaves and then acted like it was a bad idea.   The lake ice on the “North Coast” hung around well past Easter. April lasted through the Fourth of July and October arrived before Labor Day. It was as if the top of the globe wore “a helmet of cold, dense air” (as one lesser commentator put it) which slowed the normal circulation of warm air up from the tropics. Soon people just called the weather phenom “the Helmet,” and soon, “Helmut” – as if it were a mischievous red faced drunk escaped from an Oktoberfest in Budapest.   So the weatherman said, “Helmut has brought us clear skies and chilly temperatures for the fourth of July” or “Helmut has only brought a pause in the warming of the globe.” Others would add the expletives. Farmers demanded help, even more than usual. But they were not sure of getting it, not by a long shot.
    Because problems a lot more severe than canceling the Fourth of July picnic due to the cold developed. As a result of a prolonged drought and fuel build up in the forest of the Pacific Northwest, unstoppable forest fires (set off by dry thunderstorms) began to rage from northern California to British Columbia. Dry winds fanned the fires to a high heat and not just homes, but towns and cities, went up in whirlpools of   flame. The amount of energy released was compared to a series of nuclear blasts – a long series. It was suggested that the Air Force could drop fuel-air explosives as a way of snuffing the fires.    The current occupant of the White House had run against the use of fuel air explosives and for not tampering with nature. So using fuel air explosives to tamper with nature, regardless of the practical effects, required further study.  
    The fires were termed a “Once in one thousand year” event: Cold comfort to the hundreds of thousands made homeless. In the Midwest a haze from the fires spread across the sky, so Helmut now wore sunscreen.
    It was a hard fire season in Southern California as well, but with a twist. Instead of fires they suffered constant rain, with hillsides turning to mud and flowing towards the Pacific Ocean.   A 6.8 earthquake turned the rain soaked soil into pudding and spread structural collapse into areas not affected by the slides – with widespread loss of life and limb added to the toll on property and business.  
    The Federal Government, which lately spent feverishly to save everything from banks to baby boutiques in the face of a severe economic downturn, now faced demands that it finance the rebuilding of the West coast to the tune of two trillion dollars. A trillion was the new billion, so two of them didn't sound like all that much.   The Politicians, anxious to keep their jobs in a tough economic environment, told the Treasury to reach down into its deep pockets – so deep they apparently reach to China – and come up with the money. By September promises were made, and checks that could not be allowed to bounce were written. New taxes – called anything but – were muted and quickly took effect. These joined a recent dizzying array of progressive taxes increased, loopholes closed, deductions canceled, fees increased, and expensive “licenses to pollute” required – all previously enacted by the same congress..
    Given what was happening out in the Far West, folks having to cancel their swim dates because it was too cold hardly had reason to complain. And if they did, someone would tell them “Homeowners are being burned alive in Oregon trying to stand up to the flames.” Others might say they are witnessing “the fire next time” since God promised Noah he would not again use water to destroy the world. Then someone would point to the mudslides in Southern California, where water was in the mix.
    But what about the combination of fire, mud and ice? Before the fall had passed the people of the Northern Great plains and the Great Lakes – and most who live further south – would have reason to wonder.

    Pitch Sanders ran a business called Great American Deconstruction, Salvage and Restoration. Usually called American Salvage -- or more informally Ass-save --  the "yard" is  located in Brood Eskers, a lake front working class town near Cleveland. It took its name from several eskers in the area – ridges of gravel and sand left by streams that flowed under and out of the glaciers that brooded above them for thousands of years. They would erode the ice above and lay down sediment below like an upside down stream. When the glaciers left, the geological features looked like embankments from a failed railroad speculation. Pitch's “yard” occupied a small abandon gravel pit that had gnawed at the confluence of two of these ancient streams.
    Looking at Great American, many would say “What's so great?” There were even a few who might ask, “what's so American?” Pitch was an Arab American but he'd pitched the Arab part long ago. True, it's tough to escape your past but sometimes you can out run it. In any case, he left the tribal hatreds of his parents homeland behind him when he joined the American Tribe (he was still trying to sort out the clannish animosities he found around Cleveland but really, who had that much time?). Pitch got his name because he was a natural born hurler who came to the game baseball too late in life to make it to the majors.
    In Cleveland it was the start of what Jimmy Savannah (weather gadfly? prophet? Gifted climatologist?) called, in his eponymous e-mail,  “The Perfect Winter.”   On September 15 they had their first Lake Effect snowfall, which melted the next day. Similar snow falls, mixed with heavy rain, followed. They were having November in September, no surprise after October came in August.
    October brought December, which would stick around for awhile. Weather events in the west would again impact their lives. Humid air off the Pacific brought the rain that quenched the fires of the Northwest. Then the warm moist air crossed the Rockies and traveled down the east side of the range where it mixed with cold air over the prairies of Canada. An “Alberta Clipper” developed that moved at great speed across the Northern US. This brought 6-8 inches of snow to the Great Lakes on Halloween and the first subzero wind chills on All Saints Day. So far, so not-so-good.
    But that, apparently, was the appetizer for the coming snow banquet.   Clippers, it seems, develop a pulse, and another returned in a few days that lured a low pressure system out of the Panhandle area of Texas.   The two systems rendezvoused where the Mississippi meets the Ohio and brought what was called the “Election Day Blizzard” to the upper Midwest and Great Lakes region. The additional 18 inches of snow it dumped north of the Ohio River gave everyone a bad feeling about the coming winter – technically not due for another 8 weeks. Then the stormed backhanded them with another foot-- more in New England. Three feet in about a week. They dug out -- helped by a partial thaw that turned both the ground and the snow soggy.
    Pitch's business tended to be feast or famine. He liked to feast frequently and fast fast. Right now the weather was preventing any feasting so he wanted to clear away the snow fast. Another blizzard – Spawned by Hurricane Crystal – was heading their way so he had to find new places to put the snow, even if he had to create his own glacier.
    He had two of his workers, Pirate and Paul, with him. Paul was a Lebanese Christian who had trained as a civil engineer but only briefly became one. Bearded and bedraggled, he had an aura of a person that some unknown tragedy befell.
    Pirate was lanky and strong. His tragedies were known but largely forgotten – at least by him. His mother was a drug addict with a series of live-in boyfriends. He wore a patch over one eye, the result of some fight or beating he took.    At one point Pirate took to living, quite uninvited, in the wrecking yard. One day he stole a bit of salvage and took it around front and tried to sell it back to Pitch. To Pitch the choice was clear: he could either kill the kid or take him in. He took him in -- in part because his own kids were on the way out. That was a dozen years before.  
    Pirate was quite outgoing and would talk incessantly to the silent Paul – who mostly listened – and to Pitch, who mostly didn't.
    Now Pirate was telling Paul about a dream he had. “It was a god awful dream. It took place in Chinatown. I don't know where this Chinatown was, may have been in China. This dream was crazy-confusing. This tall, lanky bearded Guy – who ain't Chinese at all – shows up and starts organizing stuff. And he's making this really awful dream really boring."  He meditated a moment on the problem.  " I woke up and I thought, who was that guy?”
    “Well?” asked Paul, like he was impatient for the answer.
    “You know him. It was Carter Richard-son-son-son. I think he was The Third Son of The Third Son.”
    “The big guy with the six pack?” asked Paul.
    “Six pack? You mean of beer. It was never the same six pack, Paul, and it wasn't a six pack for long.”
    “Well, he used to drink them,” he said, by way of explanation.
    “So I'm laying in bed thinking: what the hell is Carter doing in my awful dream making it really boring?”
    “Organizing it?” Paul suggested.             
    “Right, but even more on topic the guy ain't been around for like a decade.”
    “He moved to Syracuse.”
    “So what's he doing in my dream?”
    “Organizing it.”
    “No! Yes. I mean, what brought him to my mind in such a way that he could shoe-horn himself into my dream in that weaselly way of his?”             
    As Paul considered this he looked like he was doing a calculus problem in his head. In fact, he probably was doing a calculus problem in his head. He found it calming. “If yesterday you heard a song you both liked--”
    “Get out of here! But not yet. No. It was you telling me about that lady.”
    “Oh.” Some how he knew it was his fault.
    “The one with the seven dogs that she got all at the same time. That they're all ten years old now and getting sickly.”    
    “Right. I did say that.” May as well 'fess-up.
    “Well, Carter lived in her basement! Don't you see? Carter trades living in her basement for Syracuse, and she goes out and gets ten dogs!”
    “Point is: how'd she arrive at that number?”
    “Well, they was puppies when she got 'em.” Paul was never afraid to point out the obvious. “And suppose, just supposing, she got the puppies and then Carter said 'I ain't living with seven dogs' and then moved to Syracuse.”
    "Ah! A different cosmetology.   You rearrange the time line into a spit curl and invert the cause and effect relationship. But you forget one thing. Carter liked dogs. He'd have never gone to Syracuse if she got those dogs first. On cold winter nights they would've all slept together on a shag carpet, as happy as fleas. You're leaving out the human factor, Paul.”
    Pitch thought this was a good time to interrupt.   He didn't want Paul considering the human factor, at least with Pirate as his guide. But Paul had something else to say and went on and said it. “When you first said a lanky bearded guy showed up to straighten things out, I thought you would say it was Jesus Christ.” Pitch and Pirate both regarded Paul with a momentary look of wonder. Because neither Paul nor Pirate was religious.
    “Come to mention it,” said Pirate, “he wasn't. Because Jesus is identified with wine, not beer. Of course, wine weren't his defining characteristic. But beer sure was Carter's. Wouldn't you say so, Boss?”
    But Pitch didn't say. Instead he told Pirate to stack up wrecks to make a space where they could park all that snow they were expecting. Pirate had an uncanny ability to stack wrecks so they didn't tumble over like dominoes but could still be easily disentangled when needed. Paul was genius good at taking things apart and putting things back together again – even when Pirate stupidly mixed the parts up, he could put them together (Pirate had only done that once, but it was enough to earn him a rep).   So Pitch had Paul take stuff apart. And later maybe even put some things back together.
    Then Pitch left the men to their work. And he climbed to the top of the old Victorian mansion adjacent the wrecking yard where he lived. From the dormers he could see the choppy waters of Lake Erie. It was an eerie sight for this time of the year.  Iced that formed on the surface -- flotsam from the recent storm -- broke apart and was pushed to the Northeast by the wind while it melted like cubes in a cold drink.  Pitch walked to another dormer, one looking to the south, and he saw the brooding clouds stacked up over the horizon, the color of ancient ice below and the feathery white of the freshest snow above. In the cloud he saw a flash of lightening. Strange days indeed. Below he could see his “back yard” – the former gravel pit embraced by the arms of the two glacier hollowing streams that met there in a previous epoch.. It contained the metal bones and wire pickings -- far less than in previous years -- of the plant and equipment Pitch “recycled.” There were also junk trucks and cars, some stacked awaiting the crusher.   The “side yard” contained outbuildings where much of the valued “finds” were kept. Pitched figured ten percent of most things contained 90 percent of the value.   He did not include humans in these calculations for the true value of a human is in their spirit and only God could measure that. Pitch, however, felt free to guestimate.
    He turned his attention to the room and to the beds sealed in plastic. In the hay days of his business, when Great American engaged in the deconstruction of entire factories, Pitch would surge skilled workers in and out town, according to the needs of the project. His home became a boarding house where they would stay for days or weeks while Pitch kept them fed and sober and hard at work. Sometimes these men would disappear for months and then return for another stint. Some of these “working class guys” acquired small fortunes but their real status among their peers came from being good men to have around in tough situations.
    Pitch decided to talk to his wife, Kim. With the approaching storm, they might be putting the beds back in use.  In the past, tough times had been good to him.  But this time these times were just going to be tough.

Chapter Two: When Crystal Met Helmut

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Pillars of Fire

Note: This is back-story for a new character (and sub-plot) I'm inserting into The Ironic Storm. I'm also trying out a new "indented paragraph" format.

Kelly lived most of his life in a ranch house in suburbia. His wife, Brenda, worked as a nurse and was proud of the contributions she made to the family budget. He mostly stayed home with the kids. In fact, it was the need for high quality daycare that made him accept the mind-bogglingly huge amount that was offered for his “package,” which enabled communication satellites to increase their data loads exponentially. It is perhaps ironic that after accepting the offer he never bought the daycare. He just handled it himself with some help from a elderly lady in the neighborhood whose lawn he mowed.

On their first date he’d explained to Brenda what he was working on. She only agreed to go out with him a second time if he would not do that again. “Don’t mention what’s going on at your office,” she said, “unless some disgruntled employee comes in and shots twelve people or something.”

“My office is more my business address. You see, I do my real work--”

“Stop it!” she said.

She only agreed to the second date because she hoped to make another boy jealous, although when she thought about it later she realized that going out with a guy who thought you became a success by dropping out of college was not likely to achieve the result. On the second date Kelly did not talk much -- mostly listened to her -- and what he did say was complementary and she had a rather good time.

It is true: When he stopped to pick her up, he complimented her on her shoes. Around this time the story broke that Imelda Marcos, wife of the Philippine dictator of the day -- had thousands of pairs of shoes (Kelly heard some peasant mob had broken into her closet warehouse). From the stories that surrounded this discovery, he surmised that females in general had a fixation on shoes because they had gone barefoot for a million years while having to stitch up genuine leather moccasins for the men to wear -- and stylish ones, to boot. In any case, he decided to complement her shoes and when they met for the date said, “Nice shoes!” Then he realized that he had not actually looked at her shoes and when he did he was relieved to see that they were, in fact, nice -- if somewhat small considering the size of her feet.

So he never much discussed his work with his wife. From the start his little “start-up” brought in enough that, together with his wife’s income, they could buy a nice ranch house in the suburbs. By that time they had two children. When his “start-up” sold his “package” for “quite a bundle,” he did try to tell his wife of their good -- in fact gigantic -- fortune. He said, “You know, I finished up that project and if you like, we can pay off the house, or get that in-ground swimming pool, or even --”

But then the phone rang and his wife went to answer it so he never got to finish what he was saying, which was “or even a twenty room mansion or a 50,000 acre ranch!” He was trying to be effusive -- effervescent! -- which admittedly did not come naturally to him. He had given it some thought beforehand and decided now was the time to try effervescent on like a Hawaiian shirt and one of those little cone hats with a tassel coming out the top (if such thing actually exists). But having tried on the metaphorical Hawaiian shirt it felt like wearing a bear skin coat on a hot July day. So while she was on the phone he reconsidered mentioning the 50,000 acre ranch. He did not mean it as a serious suggestion but still, what if his wife liked the idea? They would end up getting a 50,000 acre ranch and then what would happen? He would like living there and she wouldn’t (the ten minute drive to the front gate would account for both reactions). So he decided not to mention the fifty thousand acre ranch or, for that matter, the twenty room mansion. He even wanted to take back the part about the in-ground swimming pool (lucky for him she wasn’t listening when he mentioned it). It was on account of that fortuitous phone call that Kelly got what he wanted -- which was basically nothing.

So, not much changed around the Kelly household after he scored it big. He was, to outside appearances, now unemployed. His wife was working and he was watching the kids, and, apparently, keeping house. He was doing house work (it helped him think) but in addition he tied up more loose ends than he anticipated from the sale of his “package.” He also invested in the stock market at a time when it was tough to go wrong -- and in fact he went very right, investing heavily in high-tech start ups. It was probably the most fun and excitement someone could have working from a home office and still wrap things up in time to pick up the kids from school.

Then the ladies at the small hospital where his wife worked -- the ladies who ran the place -- thought he was getting a little too comfortable in his role as “house-husband.” He was the guy who stopped over and hooked up their VCR’s to their TV’s and showed them how to “program” it. Brenda led them to believe that the little contributions he made to the family budget came from the work he did helping people with their computer problems. So the ladies hired him to help them with their computers at the hospital. At first he just stopped by and organized the wire jungle -- to make it easier to tell what led where in the ad-hoc arrangements that was installed by different vendors. Then he helped them with the choice of Hardware and software.

He studied a company that was developing management information systems for hospitals. He thought what the founders were trying to do was a bit too ambitious and got them to dial it back a bit and add some features that the people using the system might like. In return he invested heavily in their enterprise and installed the system in the hospital run by the ladies to give it a real world test. While hanging around the hospital he had some ideas in the area of medical imaging technology and micro-surgery that would later yield some good results, and he provided what was called “seed money” to help bring them to market.

About that time his son got interested in football and he volunteered as an assistant coach and so the whole “revolution in the practice of medicine” thing got less of his attention.

Basically, Kelly lived a peaceful, uneventful life and liked it that way.

Then his wife died because maybe he didn’t work harder to speed the application of those technologies he invested in, so the advances were not available when she needed it but it’s no use kicking oneself over stuff like that. By the time his wife died their kids had gone off to college and a very strange silence settled over the house and on his life and sort of crept into his soul and he entered the period he called the doldrums. It was his copping mechanisms which would lead him out of his personal doldrums and into the Doldrums of the torrid zone in that place of climate calm (for the most part).

Turns out his personal doldrums came in the middle of that period of life -- spanning several decades -- when it is said males are naturally depressed. He thought the knowledge that it was all a conspiracy of nature would help to see him through but it didn’t. He took up smoking cigarettes and drinking beer and fixing stuff in his garage until he got in trouble with the zoning board because of the old cars in the drive and in the back yard. He wanted to find an old building and open a business where he fixed stuff but found it easier to sell his house and move to another state (which offered income tax advantages in any case). So he bought an old building in small town near the gulf coast and turned it into a kind of work shop where he could fix cars and stuff. His new surroundings and his new business did help his mood a bit by channeling his thoughts in a different direction.

After working in his shop he would stop off in a bar where he would have a few drinks with recently unemployed oil field workers. Apparently, it was decided that America didn’t do that sort of thing anymore. There were also machinist, mechanics and millwrights from closed factories. Apparently, it was decided America didn’t do that sort of thing anymore, either. And there were a couple of engineers whose style of engineering was no longer in style.

Now it so happens that one afternoon they began arguing about the colonization of outer space -- which seemed to appeal to everyone sitting at the bar because they didn’t have much to do on planet earth. This naturally led them to talking about ways of launching rockets -- plasma rockets and nuclear rockets and whatnot. Kelly suggested shooting it out of the barrel of a gun, the way Jules Verne did in From the Earth to the Moon. Now, he was joking when he put the idea forth but then had to defend it from the ridicule of the others. He said people won’t accept plasma powered rockets launched from earth because the engine would be characterized as a city killing ray gun. And of course nuke rockets would be a non-starter, PR wise.

“And a really, really big cannon ain’t.” retorted one of his friendly antagonist.

“It will be pointed up,” said Kelly. “It will be moonkind, not mankind, that will fear this gun. We’ll just have to shoo away the birds before launch.” This was greeted with laughter, as was intended.

Someone used a laptop computer to bring up an image of the original moon rocket -- the Saturn V. Kelly pointed at the picture. “That rocket is about as tall as a forty story building. Do it make sense to launch a sky-crapper into orbit?” Kelly meant to say “skyscraper” but he’d had an extra beer (or two or three) and it came out crapper and everyone laughed.

This got him thinking over a period of days about colonizing space and the nature of the “super heavy lift” rocket such an effort would require if it was to ever get off the ground -- literally as well as figuratively -- and up to LEO (low earth orbit). Following the habit of a lifetime, after investing a certain amount of thought, he was inclined to invest a certain amount of money.

When he went home that night he looked at the original moon rocket on his own computer. It was tall and skinny to help minimize resistance from the air during the initial launch. Kelly decided not to do that. He decided to make the air his friend instead of his enemy. So he figured if the Saturn V was 365 feet tall, his rocket would be 36.5 feet tall. If it were 33 feet in diameter, his would be 330 feet. Increasing the diameter hugely increased the area of “the disk.” The disk at the base of the Saturn V contained about 123,000 square inches. The rocket weighed 6.7 million pounds -- about 55 pounds per square inch. At 330 feet his disk would contain 12,310,000 square inches and weigh about 5.5 pounds per square inch -- about 67 million pounds. In his drunkenness he thought the idea simple. He’d use something like a canon to accelerate the vehicle to supersonic speeds, then, when it entered the atmosphere, scoop in the air in front, compress it, mix it with fuel, and turn it into thrust behind. He thought the wider and flatter the better -- more air to scoop in to mix with more fuel to produce more upward thrust. Even drunk he thought this would be something like launching a football stadium into orbit -- although in the end “the spider” looked nothing like a football stadium. And his Friends from the bar who saw the models he produced some months later thought it looked like a medieval castle with turrets or perhaps a Cathedral with flying buttresses and gargoyles -- depending on the angle viewed and the imagination of the viewer.

But that night the thought of launching football stadium -- even a small one -- into orbit made him laugh. Because he knew he was about to spend his entire fortune -- scores of billions of dollars -- trying to prove out perhaps the most foolish notion a man has ever had. But then, what were the alternatives? Leave the money to charity? Create a foundation that will be taken over by people who despise guys like him? He would sooner go to the moon.