Category Archives: Writing

Bobby Dean Goes Viral

A short story

The whole town was delirious. People were on their feet, cheering wildly, hardly believing what was about to happen. Gardnerville had just hit a long pass and was down 23-21 with four seconds left in the game. They just had to kick a 27-yard field goal to beat Consolidated, their oldest and biggest rival, for the first time in eight years.

Cole Daley stepped in behind the holder. Everyone knew he could make it: most of them were there a few weeks before when he nailed a 45-yarder. The snap and the hold were good, the ball rose into the cool night and seemed to be, had to be, dead on…but then it curled just left. The visitors’ bench and stands erupted, while the hometown side deflated like a dollar-store beach ball.

Cole took the blame at the postgame press conference, telling the few reporters, “It was completely my fault. I didn’t plant my other foot right, and I missed the angle.” But when Bobby Dean Glenn heard that on the radio, he jabbed the “Off” button and spat out the window of his pickup. Bobby, as everyone knew, had been on the team that won the state title in 1979. He was a reserve, slow and a little small for a defensive end, and his butt never left the pine in the big game. But no Gardnerville squad since had gotten anywhere near that far.

“The kid’s got no nerve,” he groused to his buddies the next morning over coffee at the Good Day Café. “None of ‘em have any mental toughness. Or physical toughness either, because if you try to make ‘em tough nowadays their parents and the school board come screamin’ bloody murder.”

“He’s a good kid,” Ray said. “Works at my cousin’s place. Always on time, real polite to the customers. ‘Course his old man’s not around. That might have something to do with it.”

“He hit that big one against Central, remember?” Doug chimed in. “Then he misses a short one.” Bobby snorted. “That’s what practice is for. Back in my day, we knew we’d better be good every time or we’d get our asses kicked.” He waved irritably to the waitress for a refill. “I heard him on the radio sayin’ he didn’t plant his foot right. Well, if you’re a kicker, what else should you know how to do?”


When Cole went back to his after-school job in Ray’s cousin’s hardware store, most of the customers, if they said anything at all, said “Too bad,” or “Good season.” But a few of them gave him dirty looks and one man grumbled “It wasn’t but 27 yards.” That night as Cole rode home on his bicycle, Bobby pulled up alongside him and called “Careful on that bike! Better plant your foot!” 

A couple of weeks later, Cole came into the Good Day to get a cup to go before school. The boys were at their usual table, and as Cole turned to leave, Bobby said, just loud enough for the whole room to hear, “Don’t forget to plant that foot now.”

Cole didn’t look at them and never changed his expression as he headed out the door. “I heard he’s coming out for basketball again,” Doug said once he was gone.Bobby shook his head. “Probably can’t shoot any better’n he kicks. There goes that season too.”“He shot pretty good last year,” Doug replied. “And we need him for experience. We only got one other senior.”

When Cole missed a layup in the first game, someone yelled, “Hey number 12, you forgot to plant your foot!” As the season wore on, a couple of freshmen got hot and one night Cole didn’t get in the game until the last few minutes, and right away he heard “Plant that foot!” But he still played hard, hustling up and down the floor until the final buzzer.


Spring brought graduation and just after the 4th of July, Cole’s mother Suzanne came into the café. Wanda, who was running the register, asked about Cole. “He’s great,” Suzanne said, beaming. “He’s already off to college. The University of Illinois.”

“Illinois?” Bobby piped up. “Thought I heard he was going to Auburn.”

Suzanne looked at him, still smiling, but barely. “Well, he applied to different places and he liked Illinois. It’s really a fine school. He decided to take some summer classes and get settled in before fall.”

“That’s a long way,” said Wanda. “It must be hard.”

“Oh, it is,” Suzanne replied. “I never thought such a small house could feel so empty. But you have to let go sometime and he just loves it there. Thank goodness for email and texts. And Skype.”

“Well, I guess Illinois’s all right,” Bobby said. “Nothing wrong with Auburn, though. Seems like a kid’d want to stay close to home.”

Suzanne turned toward him with her mouth suddenly taut and fire in her eyes. A few tables away, Greg Burdick chuckled and took out his phone. He’d seen that look before, many times, in her fourth-grade class. This was going to be good.

“And what young man would want to stay here?” she demanded. “Where you do one thing wrong and have to hear about it for the rest of your life? ”

Startled, Bobby said, “I don’t know what you mean, I –” but she cut him off. “Don’t you lie to me, Bobby Dean Glenn. He told me what you did that night when he was riding home.” She leaned over the table, staring down at him. “I could have killed you dead but he said he’d just have to live with it. But why did he have to live with it?”

No one was eating anymore. “He’s seventeen years old. He made a mistake in a game. And he owned up to it. But you and your good-for-nothing friends never gave that boy a chance.” Suzanne folded her arms. “How would you like it if everybody kept reminding you how your girlfriend ran off with that tractor salesman?”

Bobby tried to say something, anything. She held up her hand. “Not one word. But let me tell you what I told Cole when we said goodbye,” and her expression softened. “Be good, but be yourself and be happy. There’s a whole new world out there. Don’t fret about the old one,” and she picked up her takeout and left.

Everybody was looking at Bobby. “What?” he barked, then muttered, “Guess it’s the wrong time of month for her.” People looked down uncomfortably. But Kristin, the waitress, who was about to give Marge Edmonds her breakfast order, marched over to Bobby’s table. She poured the little pitcher of milk she was holding in one hand into the bowl of cornflakes in the other, and then she dumped the cornflakes right over Bobby’s head.

The room exploded in laughter. People guffawed, hooted, and clapped as Kristin emerged from the kitchen with another bowl and pitcher. “Sorry for the delay,” she said nonchalantly as she set them in front of Marge, who was about to split her sides.

Bobby sat there with soggy cornflakes falling into his collar, milk running down behind his glasses, and the bowl riding atop his head like a World War I Army helmet. With as much dignity as he could muster, he removed the bowl and stood up. “Wanda, if you think I’m payin’ for this –” he began, but she stopped him with, “The coffee’s on the house. But I’ll have to charge extra for the cereal,” and the place erupted again.

Bobby stalked out, shook himself like a dog to get rid of the milk, glared at the two bemused women on the sidewalk watching him, and got into his truck. He wasn’t halfway home before his phone buzzed. “Bobby, you old goat, you’re supposed to eat those cornflakes, not wear ‘em!” Ray howled. “I tell you what, you ought to send that to America’s Funniest Videos.”

Video? Another call: “You can’t talk like that in front of a lady, especially when she’s armed and dangerous!” Another one: “I’ve heard of breakfast to go but not all over your head!” And: “Hey Bobby, I’m buying a new tractor. Let me know if your girl comes back!”

By noon, Greg’s cellphone footage was everywhere and Bobby had 37 calls. That evening, the network news anchor said, “Tonight, we have a lesson in civility from Gardnerville, Alabama,” and the phone rang again. Bobby didn’t pick up, just walked out the back, sat in an old chair, and stared across the yard. He was still there after the sun went down, the air turned chilly, and the moon came out.


Cole was reading in the lounge of his dorm when a girl he’d recently met sat down next to him. “Hey,” she said, “what was the name of that town you said you were from?”

Later he checked his email: Dear Cole: When I saw the video, I laughed so hard I woke up the cat! I know you didn’t want me to make a fuss. I just couldn’t keep quiet.I’m sure this will blow over. But you might save that video so someday you can show your kids that Grandma was a firecracker — and she loved you very much. Be happy.Mom

Copyright 2018 by Dave Swan

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Southern overexposure

A problem facing writers like myself is establishing an identity. It helps if one’s homeland conveys gravitas (which sounds cool even if it’s a buzzword) and by default plants you in the same ballpark with giants like William Faulkner and Eudora Welty. So by virtue of the fact that I’ve lived way down below the Mason-Dixon for a while, and have absolutely no shame about self-promotion, I hereby do proclaim my humble self a Southern Writer.

(Please don’t be put off by this topic. I know that writers who write about writing are sometimes way past running on fumes and in desperate need of a Literary Inspiration Tow Truck. But this post is a voyage of longing, self-discovery, and angst about my place on this earth, all of which are SOUTHERN to the core. Don’t click away!)

Lest y’all think it was easy, I will have you know I’ve struggled to adapt since I came down from Up Nawth. I no longer get weepy and misty-eyed from watching blizzards on the Weather Channel, and I’ve learned that a “Meat and three” is not a rock band. However, I still don’t know or care what a “restrictor plate” is, except that it’s not what they serve your meat and three* on at the meat and three. I sure haven’t morphed into one of those noxious noodniks who still haven’t figured out they lost the Civil War.

Lots of real-life stories have a Southern tinge, like the one in which a cat caused a lady to lose control of her pickup, which “traveled across the west bound lanes of Lafayette Street, onto the side walk and into a utility police.” And nowhere but the South would you hear about the amorous couple who used a fish farm as their lovers’ lane and ended up, uh, sleeping with the fishes.

Unfortunately, the phrase “Southern writer” still calls up an image of a man (why always a man?) in a Panama hat, white shirt, and suspenders, sitting on the veranda under a ceiling fan with a typewriter, a glass of hooch, and a cigar. This guy probably wrote Southern Gothic stuff, hilariously satirized by James Thurber in “Bateman Comes Home,” in which old Nate Birge sits “watching the moon come up lazily out of the old cemetery in which nine of his daughters were lying, only two of whom were dead.”

The New York Times recently posed the question, “What Is a Southern Writer, Anyway?”, pointing out that the genre is changing along with the region. As novelist Lee Smith put it, “It is damn hard to put a pipe-smoking granny or a pet possum into a novel these days and get away with it.”

Oh yeah? Well, one of my relations once had a cat named Possum and I’ve heard of another Southern gent who kept an alligator named Kittycat in the bathtub of his mobile home. So here’s the first sentence of my next book: “Grandma got drunk on Cousin Junior’s moonshine and threw her pipe at Possum but instead hit Kittycat, who jumped out of the tub and chased Grandma, who was nekkid, plumb out the door of her doublewide and all the way down Dead Confederate Mountain.” Am I Southern or what?

*Vegetables. Including fried okra, macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes, field peas, butter beans, cabbage, corn on the cob, creamed corn, green beans, turnip greens, fried green tomatoes, baked beans, Brunswick stew, potato salad, and onion rings.

A bad spell of whether

It’s official. We’re in a national crisis. You don’t have to take my word for it. Plenty of more authoritative authorities than your Uncle Grumpy have exposed the shocking truth: the White House can’t spell.

In Washington, you know you’re in trouble when two big stories about your problem surface like enemy submarines on the same day. Now, both the Washington Post and the Associated Press have articles listing the spelling and grammar gaffes the new administration has inflicted on the public.

The list isn’t short. Some of these mistake are mildly humorous, like the news that “Teresa May,” a British porn star, would visit the White House instead of Theresa May, the prime minister. (Irrelevant parenthetical question: Since the PM is of the female persuasion, shouldn’t she be called the prime mistress? A lot more people would listen to her speeches!)

But yuks aside, this is an official White House document mucking up the name of a foreign head of state, and not just any old state but bleedin’ Britain, FFS! In the name of equal-opportunity diplomatic insults, another release referred to Colombia as “Columbia.”

Then there was the presidential quote on the official inauguration poster that read in part, “No dream is too big, no challenge is to great.” They blamed a third-party vendor for that one, which is sheep flop.* Having been both vendor and vendee,** I can testify that the client must always, ALWAYS, review and approve the product before it goes to press. Other gems include “unpresidented,” “lose cannon,” and “attaker” for “attacker” (27 times in a single document).

Of course, we all make mistakes, including the very media that reported these. Before I’d even had my coffee this morning, the Post smacked me with, “Capitol Hill Republicans have tread carefully….” It’s trod, folks.

Some of the administration’s fumbles probably stem from plain carelessness, compounded by internet-induced ADD. However, I suspect they’re also caused by what the AP headline suggests as a solution: “Hey, Mr. President: It’s time to make spellcheck great again.” Sorry, but spellcheck wouldn’t have caught Teresa, Columbia, no challenge is to great, or the misuse of “historical” for “historic” in another tweet.

As I told my students in the writing workshops I used to teach, spellcheck can’t save you from yourself. It’s no substitute for thorough reviewing and proofreading by people who know and care about the English language.

This requires time and effort. But correcting and apologizing for mistakes eats up a lot more resources! You can’t even measure the damage that typos, malapropisms, and BAD writing can do to your credibility. I shudder to imagine what people thought of my old newsroom when we quoted a pope as saying, “Life begins at the moment of contraception.”

So block out some proofreading time, get yourself some reading glasses, and be your own spellchecker. Remember, even if you’re as ancient as Uncle G, it’s never two late too lern to right good English!

 

*A euphemism. Use your imagination.
**An actual word! It means, “the person to whom a thing is sold” (Dictionary.com). I could’ve just said “customer,” but this way I get to demonstrate that I know how to use a dictionary.

Out to pasture with Uncle Grumpy

Buggy whips. Gas lamps. TVs with rabbit ears. Cars without seatbelts. Rotary phones. Dial-up modems. Pauly Shore. Copy editors.

Everything listed above is obsolete, old hat, antediluvian, bygone, timeworn, and generally kaput. Why do I mention “copy editors,” a group of fine hardworking Americans that includes my own self, your obedient language guardian Uncle Grumpy? Because if anybody with one sentient brain cell could still edit copy, grammatical horrors like these wouldn’t be sprouting like Kardashians:

“When emergency responders got to the seen, the man was deceased.”

“The victim was badly burned from the waste down.”

“Coastal elites really have a vice grip on the House Democratic Caucus.”

I know some of you are thinking that last one is correct, but it should be VISE grip. A vise is a tool, which rhymes with fool, which is what I must be for getting so steamed about this.

And when I say STEAMED, I mean I look like I’ve got tiny teakettles boiling in both ears. Because words and language were the heart of my working life – on radio and TV, in print, and online – it kills me to wade through this kind of sloppiness and ignorance. I constantly see things, written by adults who are getting paid to write them, that would’ve earned me a big fat red F in English from first grade on.

I try not to take it personally. I know the legions of scribes on the web really aren’t plotting against my sanity: “Hey, I’m gonna write ‘The clouds has moved offshore’ so I can send Uncle Grumpy around the bend!” (Not to be confused with up the creek, up the river, over the river and through the woods, up the pole, or over the hill, though that applies to me too.)

I sometimes wish the ‘net gods had never invented spellcheck, which allows “My longtime spouse” to become “My longtime souse.” The real problem is that our attention spans are so decimated by nonstop surfing that even the most hideous goofs just don’t register. Any day, some major news outlet will write a headline about President-Elect Tramp and no one will bat an eye.

Reds

Author’s note: This is the first time I’ve posted fiction here. None of the characters are based on real people, the setting is not a particular place in Atlanta, and the story is not based on actual events.

****************

Brianna was afraid she wouldn’t get to see the president. The principal confirmed the rumor right before school ended for the day, his usually grouchy voice on the intercom bursting with pride: “The President of the United States is coming to visit us, right here, because of what we’ve done.” Bree clapped and cheered along with the other kids. But now she sat on the bus with her good friend Val, heading home through the northwestern suburbs of Atlanta, thinking about what her parents would say.

Unhappily, she recalled the middle-school parents’ night a few years earlier, after the last election. Mrs. Nelson, who she loved, had innocently remarked to Bree’s mom that the kids had gotten a great lesson in democracy. Vickie Bailey’s smile vanished and Bree had to stand there, squirming, listening to her mom lecturing her teacher: “This election was stolen from us by the media. They never reported how he’s a Muslim and he rammed all this socialist healthcare down our throats. And they made up all those lies about Romney.” (Of course, her folks had voted against Romney in the primary, convinced he was far too liberal and that Mormons weren’t real Christians.)

“What are you gonna wear?” asked Val, sitting next to Bree.

“Wear to what?”

“The assembly. We might be on TV.”

Bree grimaced. “I might not even get to go. My parents hate him.”

“Mine do too but I don’t care,” Val replied. “They grounded me for skipping school. So what are they gonna do, ground me again for going to school?”

*****

Bree knew she’d be in for a battle. Her mother would have the TV on Fox News as soon as she got in from the bank. Her dad’s sales job with a chemical company kept him on the road all day listening to Rush, Hannity, and the others, and he usually came home stoked, eager to talk about the latest outrage.

She couldn’t get a break at other kids’ houses either. Bree and her folks had gone to a neighborhood cookout one time on a big-game Saturday in October. She sat near the grill and started texting friends while the men came to hang out with the host, Ward Pierce, as he cooked, and pretty soon the talk turned to politics.

“I hear they’re starting Obamacare. So what does that mean – Medicare covers crack and cheap wine?”

“Don’t ask me. I wouldn’t buy into that garbage if I was on my deathbed.”

“My brother says if they hadn’t delayed the small business part, he’d have had to lay off a third of his people. You believe that?”

“Yeah, and this guy keeps talking about how he’s creating jobs. Bull-shit.”

“What I still don’t get is how we elected him in the first place,” said Mr. Pierce, flipping burgers and chicken. “Somebody must’ve stuffed a lot of ballot boxes, ‘cause I’ve never met a white person who voted for him. Or at least who’ll admit it.”

Bree felt uncomfortable. She was in plain sight, not snooping, but was this what they wanted their kids to hear?

Then Mr. Raney spoke up. He lived outside the subdivision in a house that had once been a farmhouse, but everyone in the neighborhood knew him. He was in his early forties with a scraggly brown beard and fierce eyes behind his glasses.

“That black sonofabitch isn’t fit to live,” he said slowly. “And mark my words, if he ever shows his goddamn face around here, he won’t live long.”

Some of the others chuckled a bit nervously. “Better watch out, Paul,” one man said. “Hope there’s no FBI here today,” another one cracked. But nobody really challenged or criticized what he’d said.

*****

The bus lurched to a stop. “Let me know what they say, ok?” Val said.

“I will. Later.” Bree walked to the door, stepped down, and adjusted her backpack. She’d take her time walking home so she could think about how to convince her parents. Maybe if she pretended to be even more excited than she was and talked about how all her friends and the whole school would be there…

She walked into the kitchen and said, “Mom, you’re not going to believe this,” but Vickie interrupted her. “I already heard. You’re not going,” she said nonchalantly, as she sliced peppers for a pasta. “I don’t like it when anybody uses kids for props and I definitely don’t want him using you.

“And it’s not just you,” she added. “I talked to Richard and Marcia across the street and some of the other parents, and the school board is going to hear about this.”

*****

Bree didn’t argue yet. Her father got home late due to what the TV called “a huge Friday afternoon meltdown on the topside Perimeter.” If she waited until they were together, she might convince one and have more leverage with the other.

But when she came down for breakfast Saturday morning, Greg Bailey was already going on about ISIS and terrorism, his favorite issue. “We’ve got to go in,” he said, gesturing with a forkful of scrambled eggs. “Remember when he backed down and the French president got mad? When those people think you’re a wimp that’s pretty bad.”

Her mom laughed. “And now he wants to tell all our poor uneducated kids how brave he is,” she said, handing him his coffee. “Well, I know one girl who’s too smart for that.”

“He’s not going to be talking about terrorism,” Bree said. “He’s coming because the test scores are so high and the refugee kids are doing so well. That’s what the principal said.”

Her dad snorted. “Refugees? Probably the same people who are trying to kill us all.”

“Honey, this is a smokescreen,” Vickie said. “He’s trying to hide things. Because of him, we’re not safe anymore.”

Her father sipped his coffee and leaned across the table. “We have to stop this before we have another 9/11. You’re too young to remember that but it was horrible. We need to send soldiers, the NSA, whatever it takes.”

“So should I join the Army after I graduate?” Bree asked. “I read they’re allowing women in combat now.”

Her folks stared at her in surprise. Bree had surprised herself by saying it, but hearing her dad’s spiel again was more than she could handle. “Whoa. Whoa there,” he said.

Vickie jumped in. “Sweetie, you’re only in tenth grade. When you graduate you’re going to college and then you can do what you want but I hope it’s not the Army. Not for combat.”

“Absolutely not.” Her dad got up for more coffee. “That’s another dumb liberal idea.”

“But if the terrorists are so dangerous, shouldn’t we all be doing something?” Bree blurted, a little louder than she intended. “And how come you were never in the Army?”

Her dad’s face hardened. He banged his cup down, spilling the coffee, and walked swiftly toward Bree. She shrank back in the chair but he pulled her to her feet. “Greg!” her mother cried. He looked at her, then down at Bree, then after a moment let her go and walked out.

*****

“He’s really sorry,” her mom said. They were in Vickie’s Chevy Traverse on the way to Bree’s flute lesson. Looking out her window, she saw a few birds flying among tall pines against a pale grey sky.

“I know. He told me,” Bree replied. “But it scared me and I still don’t understand it.”

Vickie sighed. “He wanted to serve in the military but it just didn’t work out. It’s always been hard for him, because your grandfather was in Vietnam and his father was in World War II, in Italy. He was a real hero,” she said, shifting lanes. “That’s why he’s kind of sensitive about this.”

“Kind of? Mom, he was going to hit -”

“No, he wasn’t,” Vickie said firmly. “I wouldn’t have let him and he wouldn’t have done that anyway. He just lost his head for a second.

“But your generation doesn’t have to worry about things like mine did or our parents did,” she said. “Grandpa didn’t want go to Vietnam. He didn’t have any choice.” The Chevy sped up, not much, but enough for Bree to notice.

“And all the things you kids have, I swear,” Vickie continued. “Remember when your friend Katie was over the other day and was talking about how she just had to have all new clothes?” The car moved a little faster. “I wanted to talk some sense into that girl.

“I wonder how she’d like it if all her clothes, everything she had, came from the Goodwill.” A pause. “With her own cousin telling everybody you’re wearing what she gave away.”

Bree looked at her mom, startled. Vickie said, “I’ll bet she never has to rub her poor mama’s feet after she’d waited tables all day.” Bree had never heard that either.

The Traverse kept accelerating as Vickie seemed to forget she was behind the wheel. “And her daddy’s a good man,” she said, her voice suddenly cracking. “He’d never -” choking back a sob, “He’d never slap her face in a restaurant just for asking if she could have a piece of pie.”

One after the other, the tears appeared, trickling down Vickie’s face below her sunglasses. She stared ahead, not talking, as the trees rushed past and Bree looked fearfully at the speedometer. “Mom, are you all right?” she said. “You’re going almost 65 and this is a 45 zone.”

“Oh my gosh oh my gosh, I’m so sorry,” Vickie said, quickly braking, then stopping at a light and dabbing at the tears with a tissue. “I got distracted. Don’t ever do that when you learn to drive.” She pushed the gas pedal, gently, as the light changed.

“You never told me any of those things,” Bree said. “It must have been awful.”

“Honey, it’s my cross to bear,” Vickie said. “And I’m out of that place, and I’ve got you and your father. I’m fine.

“But nobody ever gave us anything. I waited tables too and did lots of other jobs because I had to. Now everybody in the world just wants handouts, and the president will give them what I earned and worked for.” She looked closely at Bree. “That’s why you’re not going. We won’t have any part of it.”

*****

By Sunday night Bree was resigned to missing the assembly. After dinner, she sat by the window in her second-floor bedroom looking out over the front yard, reading her biology book. The window was open and a light breeze drifted through the screen, but with her earbuds in she almost didn’t hear the car pull into the driveway. Looking down, she saw Mr. Raney at the door as her father opened it. “Paul,” he said, sounding surprised.

“Hey,” said Mr. Raney. “Sorry to bother you but I need to ask you something. You used to work for Danielson Chemical, right?”

“Yes, I was there before I started with Chemico. Why?”

“You ever go up to that warehouse out at the end of Shallow Run Road?”

“Sure. But –”

“What kind of security they got?”

Her dad didn’t answer right away. Then as Bree listened intently, Greg said in a worried tone, “Why would you want to know a thing like that?”

Mr. Raney chuckled. “Just a little project I got going. Y’all will find out about it this week.” He lowered his voice but Bree could still hear him. “Let’s just say I’m giving our visitor a big welcome and he’s going from here straight to hell.”

Bree froze. It was several seconds before her dad spoke again. “Paul, I don’t believe this. I hope you’re not saying what I think you are, but I don’t want anything to do with it. You’d better leave right now.”

Mr. Raney didn’t move. “Look around,” he said in a low rasp, grabbing Greg’s shoulder and gesturing with his other hand. “Look at all those houses. You think there’s anybody in any of them that doesn’t want that bastard dead? Think you’re any different?”

Terrified, Bree looked down as Mr. Raney glared into her father’s face. “You’re just like me. Except I got the guts to do something.” He stepped off the porch, saying “Trust me, you’ll be happy and the kids won’t get hurt. But you better not say a goddam word.” He got into his car and drove away.

*****

Carefully, Bree stepped back from the window, her heart pounding and her brain feeling like it was caught in a tornado. After what happened on Saturday morning, she didn’t want to tell her dad she’d been eavesdropping. But she’d heard some neighborhood whispers about Mr. Raney having spent time in jail. And she couldn’t stop thinking about what he said.

She went to bed early that night but barely slept. The next afternoon, she sat silently on the bus. When she got home, both cars were in the driveway, and as she came in she heard low, urgent voices upstairs. She started up the steps, changed her mind, and walked out to the deck.

Standing in the cool afternoon, hands in her sweatshirt pockets, she rehearsed what she’d decided to say to her dad. Suddenly she heard sirens, then with no warning the roar of a helicopter right overhead. Running to the deck rail, she watched the sleek black chopper land in Mr. Raney’s yard as a silver Hummer barreled into his driveway. Five helmeted figures with rifles jumped out and ran through the door, followed by three more from the helicopter. A moment later they led Mr. Raney out, struggling, handcuffed behind his back.

Bree heard more copters. Running back through the kitchen, she saw BREAKING NEWS on the TV as a reporter said, “Law enforcement sources tell us the suspect was stockpiling chemicals for a bomb plot directed against the president, who’s scheduled to visit this area this week. We don’t know if anyone else is involved but our sources say this was a credible, serious threat.”

Bree raced up the stairs, then stopped outside the bedroom as she heard her dad say in a hushed, pleading voice, “What was I supposed to do? He was here at our house! We’d all be in jail!”

“It doesn’t matter!” her mom screamed. “You don’t call the police on a neighbor! And we could’ve been rid of Obama! How stupid can you be?”

*****

Bree stood there, stunned, as her father yanked open a drawer and stuffed the contents into a gym bag. “Oh, that’s good,” Vickie snapped. “You’re running away. You’re such a coward, just like in R.O.T. -”

Greg grabbed something off the dresser. An instant later, the heavy antique ashtray flew across the room. Vickie shrieked as it smashed into the mirror behind her and the glass shattered. Not even looking at her, Bree’s father charged downstairs and slammed the door hard enough to rattle the whole house. Her mother stood, her eyes wide and her body shaking, as the last few shards fell off the wall. Outside, tires screeched as Greg’s car roared out of the driveway.

*****

Later, as they sat in the kitchen, Vickie told Bree how her dad washed out of the Reserve Officer Training Corps in college after failing a bayonet drill, in which he not only couldn’t skewer a dummy but nearly got sick to his stomach. “I shouldn’t have called him a coward,” she said quietly. “I shouldn’t have said any of those things. I know that. But that’s no excuse. I still can’t believe it.”

Vickie buried her face in her hands. She sat for a long moment as Bree waited, not knowing what to say, while the TV described Mr. Raney’s plan and his crude map of the presidential motorcade route. Finally her mother raised her head.

“My dad threw a whole stack of plates at my sister once,” she said. “I thought all that was over. You try to forget the hurts and hold onto the good things and what you’ve always believed, and it seems like the whole world’s against you.”

“Is he coming back?” Bree asked.

“I don’t know. I’d have to forgive him but first he’d have to answer his phone.” Vickie looked sadly at Bree. “Lord, I’m so sorry we put you through this.”

“I’m okay. And they’re not cancelling the assembly. I just got a text.”

“Oh no. Don’t even think about that. Nothing has changed.”

“Mom, are you kidding?” Bree cried. “Everything has changed! Do you want me to be the only one who doesn’t go?”

*****

“So what’s going on with your dad?” Val asked. “It’s been three days.”

They were in a long line inching toward the gym for the assembly. Bree checked her texts; nothing from her mom. “I don’t know yet,” she said. “They were up late talking on the phone last night, but I guess they’re still mad.”

“At least you got to come.”

Bree sighed. “I’m so not used to this.” They were close to the gym now and could hear the band playing inside as the kids around them talked and laughed excitedly. Just then her phone buzzed. He’s back. Please come home as soon as you can. Love, m.

Bree clutched the phone tight, closed her eyes for a second, and started to turn away, then stopped and walked forward toward the Secret Service agents at the door. She was in the bleachers when a flourish of music quieted the crowd and a voice announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.”

Hot to bot

I usually avoid cliches like the plague, but brother, this one is right dead center on target: old age ain’t for cream puffs. It’s hard enough just getting up some mornings, then you open the (electronic) paper and are greeted with the bulletin that “The sexbots are coming.”

Believe it or not, I had a sexbot once. Unfortunately, whenever I tried to get friendly, she just kept saying, “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” (ba-dum-BUM!) Actually, sexy bots have been around for a long time. Does anyone else remember Bob Cummings and the very va-va-voom Julie Newmar, a.k.a. Rhoda the robot, in a ‘60s sitcom called “My Living Doll”?

Of course, things have evolved since then. The Washington Post item linked above mentions an outfit called OhMiBod, maker of “The Art of Science and Love,” a sex toy with an app that allows the user’s partner to control it — from the same room, sure, but also from far away. One of the company’s founders says, “Think about that Marine overseas, wanting to somehow intimately connect with his partner or his wife, and that’s super, super important.”

Time out. First of all, any troop on an overseas base might not have the kind of privacy needed for these tete-a-tetes. Can you imagine playing long-distance bouncy in a barracks room full of other guys (or gals)? And what if the gadget goes haywire – maybe gets stuck in high gear?

Tech support person: “Can I help you?”

Caller: “Ohhh yes! Yeeessss!! YES! YES! YEEEEEEEESSSSSSSS!!!!!!

Maybe you don’t want to go that far. Let’s say your love life used to feel like a Lamborghini, but these days it’s more like a 1993 Volvo, and you want to steam up the windows a bit. Well, as long as you’re of legal age, you can use the gift of technology to fire up your beloved with a sexy text message! Best of all, you don’t even have to think it up yourself! There are plenty of cyber-Cyrano websites with the perfect words to make your special hottie practically radioactive! Here are some examples, which I promise I’m not making up:

Were you carrying a mirror in your pocket? Because I could see myself in your pants!

Wanna play hide the sausage? 

How about we pretend we’re auditioning for a porn flick?

Just went to the bathroom at the [bar/party/restaurant] and took off my underwear. One less thing for you to remove tonight… (This one is from Cosmo. Did I have to tell you?)

We’re probably a lot further down this road than we think. Before you know it, the bots will have their own dating service and won’t even need us anymore! Until then,

“Keep your ‘lectric eye on me babe
Put your ray gun to my head
Press your space face close to mine, love
Freak out in a moonage daydream oh yeah” – David Bowie, “Moonage Daydream”

“Reefer and Jesus”

I’ve got some actual news to talk about, and I’d say “Stop the presses!” but the big scoop is that they’ve started the presses over at the Birmingham Arts Journal in Alabama, on an issue that includes my short story, “Reefer and Jesus.” This is my first published fiction, i.e., published by someone besides my own self (though my two self-published stories are still out there on Amazon too).

I’m as happy as I can be that this effort appears in the Journal amid lots of great stories, poetry, pictures, and general creative spirit. It’s all good reading; my favorites in this edition include “Thirteen Reasons I’ll Never Be a Saint” by Jerri Beck (especially #4 and #8), and Shawn Wray’s “Quality Assurance.” Bookmark the Journal and enjoy.