Wednesday, February 29, 2012




It sends them back to us in boxes.
Seven foot long boxes.

That’s what this war thing does.

It takes our youth and sends us back old, tired men and women.
The lucky ones come back with just a limb, a trunk, a brain missing,
The less fortunate have their spirit missing.

Perhaps those in boxes would feel less fortunate, but their service is over…
Their suffering done.


It sends us our future back in boxes
Seven foot long boxes.

That’s what this war thing does.

It takes our dreams of tomorrow and ends them today.
It takes our dreams of lovers and flushes them away,
The fortunate ones can’t recall another time

Perhaps those in boxes can help them, but their voice is gone
Their song is finished.


There are those who don’t want us to see the boxes.
Not the ones draped with the flag.

Boxes are sad things
The war thing wants it that way.

Mothers cry
Fathers weep
Sisters and brothers, too.

Widows wail and the day grows long,

Still more boxes are unveiled.

Seven foot long boxes.
Just the way that war thing wants it.
Just the way it was ordained.

Seven foot long boxes.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Off the Record

There is a developing story in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal that has to do with a dispute between China and the United States. I can’t say any more about it than that and you’ll soon see why.  In the articles a source close to the investigation is quoted…a source close to the action…a source on the inside who says…

You’ve read it a thousand times before.  Woodward and Bernstein had them.  Cronkite had them. Every reporter worth his or her salt has used them. The source.
That mysterious individual who somehow knows the story but has gone on deep background and refuses to be seen – but is heard: that is the source.  They tell the story from the shadows.  They give the facts of the deeds from the other room.  They phone it in. They are the expert witness who never gets called to the witness stand, but somehow leads all the other parties to that point. The source.

Remember Deep Throat – the man, not the movie. Deep Throat was the ultimate source. He brought a Presidency down. From the shadows. Faceless and unknown. But with information that was so precise that an entire nation was shaken to its core.

Well, the other day I was having dinner with friends and I was sitting next to the source in this breaking news that the Times and the Journal are falling all over themselves covering.

The source asked me to pass the potatoes. I did.  And the peas and some more iced tea. The source was polite and kind and very knowledgeable about a lot of things including hockey, which I know little about.

He also knew a lot about this story. Everything it seems. But he didn’t say anything at the table about the story, nor did he speak of it when we adjourned to the den for after dinner drinks and dessert. No, he talked of grandchildren, baseball and politics.  And hockey.

The fact is, not until this story broke did I even know he was remotely connected to it; and then only by accident – a relative’s slip of the tongue. A huge international story and he is the source everyone is quoting. Today, the source close to the parties said…

That’s the guy who asked for more potatoes – he’s the guy who took a second helping of apple crumble. He’s the guy who hundreds of thousands of readers in two giant countries – world powers– are reading about diligently everyday to find out what is really going on – the insider.  The guy with the goods. The guy in the know.

The source was sitting next to me at dinner and wanted more potatoes. You don’t think about that often.  That somebody who is shaping the news of our times, in what will be one of the biggest stories of 2012 is a neighbor, a friend, a father and a son and a guy who knows an awful lot about things that important people have in play and maybe don’t want you to know about.  My buddy did though.  He’s the source.

The source may be the person next to you on the subway or the L. It could be a carpool buddy. You may share an elevator with him or her everyday. That little league coach, that Sunday school teacher – they could all be the source. You never know. The source is faceless, nameless and invisible.

Except the one I know.

The source- the one I know – is just a regular guy.  He likes to play ball with his kid in the front yard; he likes popping a cold one on a hot summer’s afternoon by the pool, while the steaks sizzle over the glowing embers of the charcoal. He likes to go to movies or to concerts or to work on cars in the garage behind his house. He is just like you or me.  Only he knew a lot about something the world is really going to be interested in. 

That and hockey.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Touchy Feely

Recently I have become increasingly aware of the callousness of a male-dominated government (and society) that doesn’t seem to care about the rights, the concerns or the liberties of women, let alone their privacy. It is truly going back to a man’s world, according to some who would be our leaders. To that end this small piece of photographic and poetic satire:

I gotta hold on you.
I gotta hold on you
I gotta hold on you, baby.

Get your hand off me.
Get your hand off me.
Get your hand off me, baby

I gotta hold on you.
Get your hand off me.
I gotta hold on you.
Officer this man is grabbing me.

Sorry ma’am, you’re just a girl,
Our government doesn’t really care.
I gotta hold on you.


Photo by Ted Karch

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Old Friends


Photo: Ted Karch

To my old friends

We marched to work together for decades
We climbed a mountain or two.
We stood and watched our home burn down
And babies born
And grandchildren arrive.

We’ve weathered the snows of winter
And the muds of spring and the heat and snakes of summer’s hottest days
You’ve been there with me
Supporting me
Holding me
Giving me the encouragement to keep on going

We been through much together.
You’ve found a new soul or two
And a heel here and there,
But overall you’re in tact
Just like I’d expect you to be.

Old friends. My dear old friends.
I’ve taken a real shining to you.
Stay with me one more season.
Stay close. Ready at a moments notice to get up and begin a new journey.

Dear old friends

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Cardboard people


He is the cardboard man.

He sits on cardboard pallet and has a cardboard hut next to him where he lives, cold night, hot nights, wet nights and dry nights. What he owns, he carries on his back. His collections are placed in a small cardboard box on the street where passersby can drop their donations.

His feet are shod in cardboard. He has a pillow that is made out of rolled-up newspapers flush with yesterday’s headlines and a striped blanket that looks as if it hasn’t been washed in a hundred years.

He looks as if he hasn’t been washed in a hundred years.

His name is Oliver Gold.

You probably don’t know Oliver Gold.

I know I didn’t.

Not until he asked me if I had some change.

I looked into his tired, hungry eyes and said I did.  I gave him a twenty. His eyes lit up and he actually smiled. He invited me to sit.  To talk.

You fool…you say.  He’s just going to buy wine with it.

So?  I say.  You’re probably having a cocktail as you read this.  The only difference is that you are in your wood paneled study, in a nice home in suburbia somewhere, the TV blaring in the background and you don’t have to make a living on the street.

Oliver Gold might not either, except he lost his job, lost his family and then got taken for everything he owned by an unscrupulous lawyer representing his wife.

Sorry lawyers, but this guy was the worst example of your profession.  Oliver pleaded with the judge for some leeway, but the judge, who was up for re-election needed money and votes from the lawyer’s firm so, he sided with the lawyer who promised to deliver votes and cash and Oliver was left out in the cold. 

No home. No car. No money.

When I say no money, Oliver had nothing.  He got a job for a while working in one of those big electronic warehouse stores, but when HR found out he was living out of cardboard boxes – they canned him. Undesirable.

There’s no labor union representing Oliver Gold and the cardboard people. Hell, for that matter there’s no government representing them either. Washington points to Austin and Austin points to Dallas and Dallas points to the cardboard people and says, “Keep moving. Don’t stop here.”

They are on the outside looking in.

Oliver Gold is the cardboard man.  I sat next to him on the curb and talked with him for an hour. He didn’t cry.  He didn’t try and hard sell me with a pity story, he just told it like it is.

Here’s what I came away with. Oliver Gold is a good guy. We’re going to try to get him in a halfway house and find him a job. But the real thing I learned is that judges should not be elected. There is too much graft in elections.

I’m starting to feel that way about Congress, too; but they don’t seem to have as much control over the life of Oliver Gold and the other cardboard people as do local judges and politicians, who want the men and women like Oliver Gold to just go away. Make the problem go away.

He’s a cardboard man.

But he has a name. And tonight, thanks to some very decent people who came to his aid, he has a home.

It is not in the suburbs, because you wouldn’t want him there.  Too close to you and your family. Too close to your nest egg and your slice of the American dream. But at least it’s not in a cardboard box.  Not tonight, anyway.

Now here is the scary thing. You could be a cardboard person just as easy as Oliver Gold. Think about that huge mortgage. That credit card debit. Think about how tenuous your job probably truly is. What if the downturn stays down for another two years? Can you hold out? What if that big client walks? Does your boss think enough of you to cut his bonus to keep you on?

Oliver Gold is not one of us. But we could all join him. Don’t kid yourself.

It’s that close. That close to being a cardboard person.

Photo art: John Crawley

Friday, February 24, 2012

Dog Gone Death

Sam asked me to stop by and visit with him.

His father had just passed away and he knew that both of my parents were recently taken, so he thought I could be some comfort to him. I would understand what he was going through – what he was facing.

I wasn’t too sure.

Losing a parent is a personal experience. It is like losing an arm or a leg or giving up a kidney.  It is part of your heritage, your lineage. Gone. And when you lose both mother and father, you, even as an adult, feel a tad bit like an orphan.  At least I did.

I was lost and floating freely out there in that great spatial expanse we call life. And it was very lonely.  True, I had my loving wife, my three adorable – if not slightly expensive – children and a dog.

Oh yes, the dog.

How could I forget the dog.  That is what really got me through those tough times right after my mother passed.  Sadie, the name she allows us to call her, was a real comfort and a real friend during those dark and lonely days.  She didn’t ask for anything, other than a belly rub and an occasional walk around the block. She didn’t try to carry on useless conversations about the weather or how natural mother looked in her coffin or try and share recipes about someone’s aunt’s cornbread pudding that was always served at wakes.

No, Sadie was the perfect companion during the loss of my parents. Not that my wife and kids didn’t fill a special place – they did.  But Sadie was able to get in my lap, lay her head down, sigh deeply and fall asleep, knowing that I would not dare move to wake her.  And that stillness and solitude did me good. It also kept nosy neighbors away who just wanted to talk about cornbread pudding recipes. Or worse, the Rangers.

After a week of this, Sadie grew tired of the routine and annoyed at me for not taking her on longer and more adventurous walks.  So the outings went from a few minutes to half hours to three-quarters of an hour and the time away from the sofa stretched into half days and longer and soon Sadie had me up and moving about the house in real time doing real chores, taking care of her in the manner to which she had grown accustomed, before all this human talk about “death” entered her world.

Feed me.  Walk me. Pet me. And let me sleep. Very simply life. And it was my job again to see to it that she was comfortable in that life.  She had nursed me through the hard times and now it was time for me to return to my job – taking care of her. She is, after all, a kept dog.

So when my friend called me back to set up a time to rendezvous, I asked him if the family friends were gathering around the house yet?  He said they were and he was going crazy.  “Too much discussion of cornbread pudding?” I asked.

“No, but a lot of talk about cherry cobbler recipes.  Our family always brings cherry cobblers.” I told him in my neighborhood and with my kin it was cornbread pudding. “So you understand what I am going through, then,” he said.

I told him I did and I told him I wasn’t the one who he should turn to for help at this hour. 

He needed a dog.

A lap dog. A small dog who would curl up with him and take the burden onto himself or herself. And then when it was time for the grief to leave, the dog would lead him back to this life as it is supposed to be lived.

“A dog?” He asked.

“Yes. A dog.  They are better than religion and usually cheaper than therapy and they make really warm bed pals when the wintertime cold feet set in.”

“How did you know all this?” he asked.

“Sadie taught me.”

He paused on the phone for a second then asked, “What will you do when Sadie goes?”

“I don’t know.  I always imagined that Sadie would go before Mom. And I would have her to lean on.  Now, I don’t know. Maybe get a second dog.  You know, one in training.”

“Wouldn’t Sadie know?”

“I’m sure somewhere deep inside she would, but she would also want me to be taken care of. That’s the kind of dog she is.”

“This death business is tough.” He said as I could hear his voice crack ever so slightly.

“That’s why you need a dog.”

He hung up the phone and I went and got Sadie’s leach. Time for the afternoon stroll around the neighborhood. Got to keep her healthy and active until I find her backup. Sadie growled just a little growl. (And they say dogs don’t know…ha! They do.)

Yeah, this death business is tough.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Last Night


Photo; Ted Karch

Last night

They had come over. Last night.  They had all gotten a bit tipsy. Last night.
There was a row, late and the fight lasted for hours.  It was over something very silly.  A bad fight. Last night.

The guests left. Last night.
They had been entertained by the commotion.  Drunk as the hosts.
And then they heard on the news that there had been trouble, late last night.

Police had been called to the scene after they left. Last night.
An ambulance was summoned,last night.
It carried a body away last night.

He was arrested. Last night
She died. Last night.

Last night.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Photo by Ted Karch

They came down from the mountains just to the north of Durango.

At first I thought there was only one wolf. But as the afternoon wore on and the light began to fade in later afternoon, I saw others. Maybe a dozen.

They circled the house and the barns as if they knew what they were looking for. But it was locked away inside with me.

By nightfall I could hear them– their howling was deafening. It began to snow around
seven and didn’t let up until the wee hours of the morning. The wolves gave up soon
there after and left. They have not returned.

I ventured out this morning and took a walk to the creek where I could see tracks. Deer,
and elk and multiple sets of wolf tracks. The water ran cold down from the top of the
mountain; yet as cold as it was, it still let off steam in the frigid winter air. Somewhere
there was a snort and then a tree limb cracked as a mule deer raced away from the creek.

In the distance, a long way away, I could hear them again: a yelp at first then a full-on
chorus of howls. They were on someone else’s land doing God knows what, and looking
for what, I haven’t a clue. Food I suppose. But for now they were gone.

But they will return. Towards the end of the day they always do. And they will circle and
howl and make sure every inhabitant of the valley knows they are there.

It is winter now. Cold and quiet and still. It is the season of the wolf. And I wait. Inside.

Waiting for the fall of light. Waiting for them to return.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Affirmative Action Is Not All Black and White

No blacks here.  Darkies drink at the other fountain.  We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone –especially blacks. And on and on it went – and in some cases still does.

Discrimination.  Alienation. Segregation. They were all the words that America’s racially-charged social structure came to be called; but taking a group of people and drawing a line around them and saying, “You don’t belong here or you can’t go here and do this or that”,  well,  it was too much for the American people to stand.

End discrimination based on race.  We yelled it in the 60’s.  We marched for it.  We voted for it.  We sent politicians to Washington to make sure discrimination was cleansed from America.  It wasn’t the way of our land. Every citizen had an equal chance.  All men created equal. Weren’t those the words Jefferson penned to bring us all to realize that America’s opportunities were for every citizen? That’s what we wanted: everyone on equal footing.  And we almost got it.


Now there’s another form of discrimination in the country. And it, too is based on race.  Sometimes it goes against the black student.  Sometimes against the Hispanic or Asian. And yes, in growing numbers, it has been used against white students.  It is called reversed discrimination. Oh to be sure, the institutions that employee it do not call it that.  They used the term affirmative action.

But even with the glitzy name of affirmative action, it still equates to discrimination based on race.

I know, you are thinking– what is this liberal stalwart doing taking that side?  I happened to believe affirmative action is wrong for America now.  We do have equal footing.  We have the opportunity regardless of race, religion and social status to do anything anywhere in the country (maybe with the exception of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, but they may never come around.)

The U.S, Supreme Court has agreed yesterday to take up the case of Abigail Fisher versus the University of Texas.  That’s UT as in Burnt Orange Longhorns – my alma mater. Heaven be damned I ever rooted against my beloved UT.  But on this one I will.  I think they are wrong in their denying a student a seat at the university because her (or his) race doesn’t qualify for their percentages.

That is exactly how we kept black students out for so long.  So now we’re going to turn it on white students or Hispanic students, because we have to make a mathematical formula to suit every race? 

I don’t think so. 

I know many or my friends will take the other side in this argument.  And I welcome them to. Open discourse on this matter is good. But the one card that can’t be played back at this is the race card.  Because Ms. Fisher was denied her entrance based on race. And if you are going to discriminate against one on race, then we all have lost the race issue.

The money is on this ruling being overturned in the favor of Ms. Fisher. I’m going to guess 5-4. (Now how did I ever come up with that number?)  And that means I will for the first time in history agree with Justice Roberts and his cronies about something. But then I am pre-judging what they will do.

Who knows, maybe they will surprise me.  Maybe they will say discrimination based on race is fine. In fact, the more I think about the better chance I think we could see that – especially from this court.

Weird, huh?

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Zen of Technology

I launched a new computer yesterday. It is a shiny new laptop.  I used the verb launch because there are now as many steps in getting a computer up and running as there seems to be getting a rocket launched into space, or a battleship out to sea or a transcontinental jetliner off the ground for her maiden voyage. All the moving pieces and the software and the things that must come from the old computer to the new one and it must happen in a prescribed order, which, ironically they forgot to mention in the oh-so-brief text of the user manual.

My gosh it is endless.

And they haven’t made it easy at all.

Old plugs don’t fit into new computers’ sockets, and there all kinds of incompatibility issues.  My camera won’t download every time and the printer– well you get the idea.

That’s why today’s blog is a rant.

I hate technology. While it does many wonderful things for us and for society, I still distrust it and dislike it and therefore will dis it as often as I can.

Yesterday I saw a group of workers sitting for lunch in the front yard of a home where they were digging a new plumbing line.  Not exactly high tech work; but they had rigged a microwave oven to their portable power supply and were enjoying a hot lunch thanks to the technology of radio waves focused onto small amounts of surface area.

I thought to myself, well, they can’t start a fire and cook their beans and tortillas there, the city would complain about an open flame, so they’ve done the next best thing.  They’re microwaving their lunch in the front yard. Ingenious. 

I returned home from my bike ride, after seeing the workers and the outdoor microwave oven, and decided to brew a hot cup of coffee.  The power went out.  No power–no coffee. Technology bites.

Maybe some of us are meant to type on underwood upright typewriters. Perhaps others of us are meant to shoot film in our cameras.  Still others of us use the postal service to actually mail letters, real honest-to-God paper letters with stamps.

But I try not to live in the past.  I am truly giving technology a chance. Even though this computer thing has me pulling my hair out. By tomorrow, the kinks will be worked out and the computer will feel like an old friend. Until my Word or Excel or my iPhoto refuses load properly.

Then I’ll cuss and blame it on technology, when in reality I know it is just bad karma.

The Zen master was right. “No matter how hard you try, you’re gonna get it in the shorts.” And he was an optimist. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Men think they are in charge

Men think they are in charge.

They always have.  Ever since tribes roamed the deserts, herding goats on sprigs of grass scattered in the rocky sand, men have believed that they were in charge. They wrote powerful words of warning on papyrus to prove it.  They wrote books to seal the argument; created scriptures to make it religious and therefore the passage of truth from God to man.

They built shrines to the myth.  Passed laws to preserve it and even educated hundreds of generations to follow the foolishness.

Yes, men have presumed that they were in charge.

Then they crossed the line.  They told women what they could and could not do with their bodies when it came to reproduction.  They tried to hide it in the context of theology – of law – of society; but they went too far.

It was one thing to have given them the right to vote, but to give women the right to say what, how and when they would do with their bodies – and do as they pleased –was more than men could stand. So they tried to pass laws to control women – to put them in their place. To rein them back in.

Men think they are in charge.

The Catholic priests and bishops who want you to believe they stand on high moral ground want you to think that men are in charge.  It is ordained of God. But women scoff at them.  After all, they were the ones who hid pedophiles in their midst for generations. – sick men who preyed on youngsters – who defiled innocent lives.  And those men want to stand on the high moral ground and preach to the rest of us.  They want us to listen to their righteous pontificating. 90+% of their female parishioners don’t even listen to them.  They don’t follow their silly rules.  They tune out the empty rhetoric that comes from Rome and from the local pulpit.

Women have had enough.

Women have seen through the ruse. Men are not in charge.

Women have a say in their lives. They are not slaves. They are not some herd of cattle to be corralled and controlled. Women have brains on their shoulders and they see through the crap.  They understand the issues.

This past week a Congressional subcommittee held meetings about the Obama administration policy on contraception.  And the chairman of the committee (a man) did not allow a single woman to step forward and address the needs and the problems faced by women at Catholic institutions when it comes to obtaining insurance coverage for contraception.

Not one woman was allowed to speak.

Not one.

Yet, at the witness table was an entire line-up of white, middle-aged men some wearing the collar of the Holy Mother Church – men.  Men testifying where a woman was not allowed to speak. It reeks of Saudi Arabia, of Iran, of the Taliban; it stinks of the dark ages.

The backlash will be  deafening. The uproar will be swift and painful for those taking the wrong side. And many will. Many men will oppose them out of sheer stupidity.

Those men, the ones trying to shore up their defenses – the ramparts of an old order, have no idea what is about to come at them.

If you think the Komen Foundation debacle was big, wait until the next election. Men don’t control the voting booth. Not by a long shot. Not even close. Forget the Robert’s Court idiotic ruling on allowing corporations to buy elections.  No, women are going to control the next election. Because they are fed up with the crap. They have had enough.

Remember, not one woman was allowed to speak to Congress about their most important issue.

Not one.

Men, listen up – the bozos in Congress just gave away your power. Wish it were different, but it is not. Women will take over now. Sorry. It is history. It is their time.

Men just think they are in charge.

They don’t have a clue.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

From Grapes to History

The caretaker trimmed the plant carefully, as he had done for the last five years; the vintner looking over his shoulder.  It was supposed to be a fabulous year for the grapes.  They were plump and full and the sugar content was exactly right for harvesting. They would make a fine, full-bodied, delicious wine with a rich bouquet.

The grapes were pressed and their maroon juice placed in an oak cask.  Then we all waited. Years passed and soon the cask was opened and the juice rich and dark, was poured into bottles and corked closed. Again we waited.

A man dressed in a tux vest brought the bottle to our table.  He said it was the finest in the house –­ the very best.  He highly recommended it. He opened the bottle and said we should let it breathe. Again we waited.

There was a hint of raspberry and of chocolate to entice the nose. Nobody was ever sure where these subtle flavors came from.  But the grapes were strong enough to have produced a wonderful vintage.
Cheese was served, along with warm bread. And soon the man returned and poured glasses for all who sat around our table.  There were six of us if I remember correctly. We each got a glass.  It was heaven.

The grapes are long gone now. The plants are blooming with new berries soon to sprout. Another vintage. Another year. But the bottle we had reminded us of good times.  Of times past. Of things grown in deep rich soil with just the right weather– just the right about of moisture and sunshine.

We heard this year was going to be exceptional as well. Again we wait.

Photography: Ted Karch

A very bad day for Johnny Princeton. A very bad night for me.

The police said Johnny Princeton shot and killed a convenience store clerk during a robbery in far northeast Dallas that netted him $12.50.

The police said he robbed a service station next, wounding the owner in a shoot out and pointed a gun at a Korean woman and her children at a bus stop just down the street, until she handed over her purse that had $35 in total in it.

The police said that Johnny Princeton was the man who did these crimes. 

They found a three year old picture of him from their files, put it with some other photographs of local hoods and cops alike and showed it to the store clerk’s assistant, the service station manager and the Korean woman.

Not one of them picked Johnny Princeton out of the photo lineup on the first pass.  Only two did with prompting. That simple fact never came to light until after Johnny Princeton’s trial.

The reason the police believed that Johnny Princeton was their man was that witnesses said a bright orange Plymouth Barracuda was the getaway car used. And Johnny Princeton had a bright orange Barracuda.  Notice the past tense of the verb-had. At the time of the robbery, Johnny Princeton no longer owned the bright orange Barracuda.  He had sold it to Marcellus Wilkins, his cousin on his mother’s side of the family, for $600 and Marcellus had the car with him in Houston where he worked for a furniture warehouse. Half of the car money was on Johnny’s  possession when the police arrested him.  They claimed the cash came from a string of armed robberies in which he had participated.

They never found the 9mm Glock that was used to kill Gwen Nao at the C store or the one that was used to shoot James Donald at the service station.

The police were even thwarted in their attempt to place Johnny there by seven eye witnesses who said that at the time of the crimes, Johnny was with them at a basketball game at South Oak Cliff, almost eleven miles from the scene of the killing.

There was even DISD (Dallas Independent School District) surveillance cameras in the school’s parking lot that proved the witnesses’ story. But that evidence was suppressed by the prosecutor.

But still the police arrested Johnny Princeton for the crime and the district attorney prosecuted him and a jury of Dallas County citizens voted to take his life through the use of poisons injected into his veins.

And then I woke up in a cold sweat.

Oh my God, it was just a dream. A bad nightmare.

This is America it could never happen here.

This is Texas, never on our watch would that occur.

This is Dallas County, my home county, we couldn’t send an innocent man to die or to have life in prison based on faulty evidence or on shoddy police and prosecutorial actions.

Not here.  Not now.  Only in my worst dreams. Only.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

When the Troops Come Marching Home.

Yesterday, I had a Facebook conversation with an old high school bud who stands as far to the right as I do to the left. We were talking about the soldiers, sailors and marines who are returning from the Iraqi conflict.  He made a point that many of us forget. These young people went over there and gave their lives, their time and their talents to allow us to be able to disagree openly and in public. For that we should all be grateful.

You see, it doesn’t matter which side of the argument you are on, when it comes to the men and women who fight to preserve our freedoms, we are one.  It is their services that give us the freedom to disagree. And we will never agree fully on every issue.  Never. I mean my friend likes Bob Seger music, for God’s sake, but we can still celebrate  together the success for which our troops who worked so hard and sacrificed so much.

I was at DFW airport yesterday picking up my better half from a business trip and a planeload of Army soldiers disembarked.  There was a rousing greeting for these heroes.  People applauded and cried and hugged.  It was well worth the time to witness this homecoming.  Unlike Vietnam, we have not forgotten these service people. They were white and black – Asian and Hispanic.  Men and women, young and (well, not old but certainly seasoned, how’s that for being PC toward the officers?) They came from every walk of life and they served in the same uniform under the same flag.  Old Glory waved proudly over these troops.

Perhaps it is because they were standing so close to me and the emotion was running high, that I felt moved to ask one how it felt to be back in America?  He looked at me, smiled and said, “Hell I’m from Kansas, this is just Texas.”  We laughed and I realized that there is a lot of humor among “Yanks.”  And that’s a good thing.

I think we need more humor on the plains of debate and less shouting in these days.  So for my part, I am going to try and be a bridge from now on. – a thermostat trying to lower the temperature of discussion.

Sure, I will still point out when Fox News is lying through their teeth, but to those who hold a different political point of view, I will give them the right to be heard.  A good number of young people sacrificed a lot for that privilege.  But I will just have to be reminded when I get into it with some of my friends, “This isn’t America…it’s just Texas.” America is big enough for all of us. Even those who live in Kansas.

As we say on Facebook – LOL

Ya’ll take care, now. Ya hear.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Professor Watson and the Numbers Game.

In 1972, John Cherry Watson, a teacher of creative writing at the University of Texas at Austin held this short story up to his afternoon class and exclaimed to them that it was one of the best short stories ever turned into him– one of the best he had ever read.

It was mine.  

I might as well have won the Pulitzer Prize that day.  From a mid-pack student to the one who got their short story raised and lauded over. And it was the spark that ignited the fire under me to write.  I have spent the last forty years doing just that. It is funny what one simple act can do in changing a person life, or at least in shaping it. His words of encouragement, his recognition of my talent before that class that day, gave me the strength to think that maybe I could be a writer.  Maybe I could make a living at this art.

A few months ago I came across that short story and I present it to you today. I hope you like it as much as Professor Watson did.

The Numbers Game

A short story
John Crawley

He would have told you if you had asked him that day that he never thought it would create such a fuss, this discovery of his. He would have shook his head and shrugged his boney shoulders and looked at you through the thick tortoise-shell glasses and said he had no idea that the moment would have been so keen in the sciences.  Alexander Popovich would have blushed if you had suggested things like the Nobel Prize or that his discovery would change the face of social structure.  He was a mathematician.  A physicist.  A theoretical physicist at that.  Usually the thoughts, which ran through his balding head, were of such lofty nature, that it was hard to put them in words.  He could put them in numbers, but to explain them to his nineteen-year old daughter, Chloe, was almost impossible. She was a freshman at Saint Edwards and he was a professor at The University of Texas.  They shared a house–empty as it was, after the death of his wife (her mother), Claudia. They shared an evening meal and an occasional visit to mass an even more occasional walk in Zilker Park on Sundays, but they shared little else.

Chloe was a business major. Finance. But she was much more concerned with the goings and coming of Robert Ord.  Robert, or Bobby, to Chloe, was the man of the hour.  He, too, was a business major. He was – or had been recently – a jock: high school football in some small town in the Panhandle, before coming to Austin to discover his way in the world, and before he discovered the daughter of Dr. Alexander Popovich.  

If you had asked Dr, Popovich that spring day in his office as he faced the dozen or more chalkboards filled with the hieroglyphics of numbers and algebraic contortions, along with nameless algorithms, if he believed that what he had just proved would one day ruin his life, he would have looked at you incredulously and simply said that what he had discovered was the nature of science. 

What Alexander Popovich had discovered, was that for eons, there has been missing in our numbering system, a whole number located exactly half way between six and seven.

Alexander Popovich had wrestled with this notion for years.  First it was pi.  Why did pi repeat itself endlessly when the circle it was trying to describe was round?  A perfect circle should have completeness to its math, so reasoned Alexander Popovich.  Then came Einstein’s theories that didn’t always add up to the exactness that either he or Professor Einstein thought they should.  So year after year, Dr. Popovich slaved away over his chalkboards, at first with the tenacity of a hobbyist, then with the passion of a man possessed by a demon. His fellow professors thought he was a crackpot. Yet, every time a great discovery showed up with a slight tweaking in the math that explained it, they looked at Alexander and wondered if the six-foot tall, stick-of-a-man might be onto something.

Then one day he came upon the problem.  The numbering system itself was all-wrong.  Something was amiss.  More figuring.  More tossing and turning at night and jumping from bed to scratch out equations on any piece of paper that was handy.  More countless hours of staring into space seeing the problem; yet, not quite visualizing the answer. Then one day on chalkboard number fourteen, he came across the moment of “eureka.” There was a number between six and seven.  It had always been there, but it had been hidden. And he, Alexander Popovich, had found it.

He turned and dialed the phone on his desk and his daughter answered.  He told her of the discovery.  She squealed with excitement, not so much from understanding what this meant, but more from the tone she heard in her father’s voice.  His thrill of victory, seeped through the copper lines and found their way to her waiting ears, and she in return, fed back the euphoria she knew her father was feeling.

“Daddy, Daddy, you’ll be famous.” She said.

If you had been there that day you would have seen him laugh.  “No darling.  It’s just a simple mathematical formula.  It will make a few journals at best.”

“Daddy are you crazy.  It changes everything. Everything.”

“Now don’t go on and on.  I want to take some time and discuss with my colleagues how I might go about publishing this.  It is science.  It takes a process, you know.  I have to publish it.  It has to be weighed and discussed and looked at before credit can be given or received.”  He was always so matter of fact.  Yet, he did feel a bit proud.  Pi was wrong.  Einstein was correct all along.  He had proved it.  Nature was not ever so slightly out of balance – science didn’t need tweaking every so often.  It was simply the numbers weren’t all there to add up.

“Whatever, Daddy.  I think it is still exciting.  What will you call it?”

“What?  Call what, dear?”

“The new number.  One, two three four, five,  six…What will you call the next number.  The one before seven?”

He hadn’t thought of that.  “I don’t know.”

“I think you should name it for mom.”

If you had been there, you’d probably had seen his eyes glisten just slightly from the words his daughter spoke, which pricked at his heart.  He so dearly missed his lovely bride, Claudia.  “Five six, Claudia…” He said over the phone.  They both laughed because it sounded so strange.  Yet they both new, whatever was placed between six and seven was going to be strange. It was going to be something very, very new.

X   X   X

Chloe told Bobby.  Bobby told his roommate, Pete van Pelt.  Peter told his father who was a systems analyst for a military contractor.  Mr. Van Pelt told a close personal friend and professional relation, Colonel Jackson at the Pentagon, who relayed the message up the latter to a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  There it would have stopped had the general not cracked a joke about the whole matter in front of a White House aide – a young man from Chicago who had earned a law degree from a Midwestern University and was trying to leap frog over his contemporaries from Yale and Harvard, who populated the White House under Nixon.  The young man, Howard Davis, told a member of the national security team about the Popovich discovery and ripples began to form on the still pond at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

By the weekend a meeting had been called with several cabinet-level folk and the National Security Advisor, Dr. Kissinger, along with the President and several close aides.  Davis was ordered to repeat verbatim what he had heard the general say.  He did as he was told while the men around the oval table looked gray and grim as they listened.

“This is not good,” said the Secretary of Commerce.

“I agree,” chimed-in the Secretary of the Treasury.  “Too costly.”

“Why wasn’t I told about this sooner?” asked the President.

“Military has its hands full in Vietnam.  Probably didn’t think much of this.” said one of the advisors, who was a chain smoker. Many thought it was Halderman, but no one for sure can remember who said it. It was remembered that the Secretary of Defense tried to smooth over his boys’ dropping of the hot potato, but no one was having anything of it.

“What’s the plan?”  Asked the President.  “This could be serious.”

“Yes, indeed,” agreed the Secretary of Commerce.  “Every street sign, every highway sign, every stamp, every dollar bill, everything that has a number on it will have to be re-calibrated and relabeled and this will cost the economy trillions.  It’s untold what it could do.”

“Might bring us to our knees.”  Everyone later, when probed, was sure this was Halderman.

The President rose from his chair and looked out the window toward a rainy Washington.  “Take care of this.”

“Sir…” one of the advisors nodded to the other gentlemen in the room.  They were quickly shuttled out. “If we don’t have this guy– what’s his name?”

“Popovich,” answered the Attorney General.

“Yeah.  If this bastard Popovich and his little formula disappear, we don’t have a problem.”

“Sir, with all due respect, we have two problems here.  Popovich may be one…but the other is that he has found a breech in the body of knowledge science owns.” The young man named Davis was almost blushing as he spoke.  Many angry faces turned toward him.  Some wondered what he was still doing in the room.  It was time to make a decision and they didn’t need this young, snot-nosed lawyer messing things up.

“Fuck science,” said the President.  “I won’t have the economy come crashing down because some intellectual twit has found some evidence for a number between six and seven.  Do you have any idea what this could do to us?  You heard the Secretary. Every age of every person would have to be recalculated.  What year would this be?  The Federal budget would go haywire. How many seats would there be in the Senate?  Everything as we know it would change. Hell, the FBI wouldn’t even be able to have a Top Ten Most wanted list anymore.  It would be some new number.  The cost of this change would be incalculable.  No.  No… the guy has to go.  Get a black ops team on it at once.  By the time Monday morning rolls around, I want this guy to be a memory.”  The President looked at Davis, he actually glowered at Davis. “Young man, you have now been brought to the inside of the decision making process.  You have seen it at work.  You can tell no one.  Your life, from this day forward, is sealed. You know nothing.  You saw nothing.  You heard nothing.  Do you understand me?’  Davis nodded.  He wished he had never opened his mouth.

X   X   X

Popovch visited the university twice on Saturday just to look at the chalkboards and wonder about the magnitude of what he had discovered.  He took Chloe and Robert out for dinner Saturday night. They celebrated with much Champagne and  big, thick Texas steaks. When they arrived back at their house in Windsor Heights, they didn’t notice the van parked across the street.  They didn’t notice that someone had been inside the house.  They didn’t see the wires and the small antenna running from the phone and from the cameras placed in the vents in the ceiling.  They were too high with booze and excitement.  Alexander Popovich slumped onto the sofa in the den and passed out like a baby.  His daughter and her boy friend flowed upstairs and into her room.  This had been a huge day.  There was now known to be a number between six and seven.  It was an earth-shaking day. Hell, we could be talking the Nobel Prize for mathematics.

Chloe and her father shared a hangover the next morning.  It was Sunday and bright in Austin – far brighter than either cared for.  After a pot of coffee, they both decided to skip mass, something that his late wife, and her mother, would not have approved of, but skip mass they did and then they took one more trip to the university to look at the chalkboards. 

His office was down a long dark corridor in the Mathematic Research Tower, that was a sixteen story tribute to the university’s good standing with the National Science Foundation, with Naval Science Grants and grants from various other military and paramilitary organizations who loved to fund the brains behind the day’s top research – research that would often go to help develop bombs, and other deadly delivery devices, which helped spread democracy across the face of the globe.  No other professors were working that Sunday.  A janitor was running an electric buffer, polishing the marble floors. They entered the office and turned on the lights.  Something was wrong.  He knew it almost at once.  The boards – his chalkboards had been touched.  Someone had been in his office.  He was sure of it.  He told Chloe so.

“Daddy!  Really!”  She studied one of the boards.  While she looked at the labyrinth of numbers about her, her father looked over his desk.  Was anything missing?  Was there something there that shouldn’t be?  Why did he suddenly feel paranoid?

“Daddy.”  Chloe’s voice echoed against the sides of the cool walls of the office.  Her pitch was more in questioning than in getting attention. “Daddy, right here.”  She pointed to the chalkboards with a list of numbers in a column following a set of algorithmic assumptions.

“Chloe, please don’t touch that board.  Something is not quite right here.” Popovich’s voice was shaking.  His notebook was missing.


“Chloe please don’t touch anything.  Something is not quite right.”

“Yes.  That’s what I’m trying to tell you.  The number here should be thirteen.  You didn’t carry the one.  You’ve got a mistake.”

Popovich circled from behind his desk and stood facing the board as his daughter gently underlined the chalk dust where the number one had been failed to carry into the next column. “It’s a damn mistake.  I miss added.” 

Had you been there you would have heard Chloe and her father actually laugh.  That would have been the last thing you would have heard them do.  For at just that moment the janitor and two other men dressed in drab worker’s clothes entered and filled the two Popoviches with bullets from silencer-tipped guns.  They fell to the cold marble floor and were quickly bagged and placed into janitorial carts and whisked away.  The chalkboards were erased.  The office was cleaned of fingerprints, bloodstains and other traces that anything had ever happened in the office.

That night, the black ops team landed in an airfield outside Los Angeles and reported via a secure phone that the threat – it was over.

There was nothing standing between six and seven.  Absolutely nothing but space, time and history.

X   X   X  

If you’d asked him, he would have told you that the discovery was no big thing.  That’s how Professor Alexander Popovich lived his life.  He had made a discovery that any mathematician could have stumbled upon – that there was more to our system of numbers than we had ever expected.  He found it by thinking about it for more than twenty years.  He had done the math and now he knew.  There was a whole number between six and seven. Yes, if you had met him that day and asked him of the importance of his discovery – before he had a chance to reflect upon it, he would have shrugged and suggested that it was no big thing.  But you and I now know it was.

Even with an error in the addition, finding a number between six and seven was a huge thing: life changing. Who knows what we’ll discover next ­– the next big thing that will need covering up.  Who knows, maybe there is a number between six and seven.  Maybe it’s between eleven and twelve.  Who knows!