Sunday, March 31, 2013

Arts and Culture Grants

Michelangelo's 'David.' - Ricoh Heil






by Louis Shalako





Do arts grants subsidize people’s hobbies?

In this Huffington Post article by Peter Worthington, he asks and answers that very question.

My chief objection to arts grants, both provincial and federal, is that if a client of the Ontario Disability Support Program received a cultural grant, it would be treated as income.

I wrote then-Minister the Right Honourable Margaret Meilleur in 2006 and asked, ‘What would happen if I received a cultural grant of $12.000?’

The lady never got back to me on that one. If she couldn’t answer the question, who could?

Here’s what I think.

The province would allow them the first $100 free and clear and then claw back fifty percent from of their benefits. And she didn’t want to put that in writing. Howeer, if someone very much like Mr. Worthington were to ask the present Ontario Minister of Community and Social Services, or the Minster of Culture, and ask them that question, I'm sure they understand the issues very well indeed and would be more than happy to assist him.

It is theoretically possible to operate a business under ODSP guidelines. Publishing is a business. Writing can be a hobby or a way of life. We subsidize people's way of life all the time. Don't we, Mr. Worthington?

Here's how it works for Ontario's disabled:

One, their benefits are already thirty or thirty-five percent below the poverty line. Two, a police officer twenty-three years old and starting off at $78,000 a year can get a grant, and receive the full benefit of that grant—even though they arguably don’t need financial support to write a book, create some new artwork, or to make or study music.

A provincial arts grant, a ‘book-writing grant’ can go up to $12,000 here in Ontario. The recipient can only receive $20,000 in any two-year period. You would be applying year to year. It makes no sense to go off an approximately $12,000 a year disability pension (for a single adult with no dependents) to go on a grant which can never be anything other than temporary, for the illusory notion of living on grants. With all of the free time available to the disabled—over fifty percent of whom are unemployed at the best of times, surely they have a good chance of making it as best-selling writers. After all, any asshole can write a book these days.

I don’t have serious moral issues with a teacher, a construction worker, a single mom with two kids getting cultural grants, and for the most part, writing books that don’t sell more than five hundred copies. I don’t care if they get $2,000 to make a quilt celebrating local history that will ultimately hang in the town hall. It buys goodwill for the government that provides the support. The government taxes you, but look at all the benefits it provides to regular Canadians, ‘real’ Canadians, and real Canadian culture, too.

Does it encourage ‘art?’ In some limited sense I think it does. It probably doesn’t generate too much world class fine art, but that’s not the entire spectrum of art.

But because I can’t share in that bounty, the whole thing smacks of unfairness. It looks like discrimination.

We all accept that governments stay in power by the judicious use of patronage.

Spread it around a little—a little more. Spread some of that this way. I have no idea of how ‘professional’ writers, that is to say as defined by Mr. Worthington, those who are ‘making a living at it’ feel on this issue, but I can take a quick guess or two. Because they can’t apply either as far as I know—because they don’t need it to ‘develop’ their art.

Maybe it’s unfair competition. Maybe it takes up space on bookstore shelves that might have gone to another product. Maybe it saturates a tight market with too much unprofessional and unwanted competition.

What would be of most benefit to further advance my career, my development as an artist, and who knows, maybe even be fiscally successful enough to get me off of disability?

I don’t know, but it ain’t a cultural grant. It simply doesn’t meet my needs.

Anyway, I would like to thank Mr. Worthington for his perspicuousness.

Incidentally, I’ve written ten books without any help from grants whatsoever. You might want to have a look at them here on Smashwords.


END

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Personal Space Craft.






In the Lensman series of science fiction books, E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith created a character named Rob Kinnison, who was a member of the Galactic Patrol. He was entrusted with The Lens of Truth. One of the stories I read involved Kinnison being abandoned or marooned on an asteroid or moonlet of low mass.

Somehow or other, and that part is a little vague in my memory, Kinnison leapt or propelled himself off that little rock at escape velocity, enough so that a little additional thrust from a gun or a small gas bottle or something, gave added impetus to his trajectory and he was captured by the gravity of a bigger planet, and one I think where he found additional resources. From the story telling point of view, let’s say it was the base, the hideout of some space pirates or other bad guys—the ones who had dumped him there in the first place.

So he sneaks up on them, arrests or subdues them, and uses their ship to bring them to justice.

While I don’t remember much about that book, novel-length as it was, the idea of a person with nothing but a spacesuit and some imagination, going from one body in a system to another sort of stuck in my mind. I probably read that book when I was in my late teens. I’m fifty-three now.

That was thirty-five years ago.

When we see people flying in suits that inflate and give them control in a free-fall jump, or when a guy flies across the English Channel with a wing strapped to his back successfully, then we have to ask what comes next?

I’m thinking the Personal Space Craft can’t be too far behind. The total mass of Vostok 1, in which Yuri Gagarin made one orbit of the planet, was about 10,420 lbs. With modern technology, much of that mass could be fuel, and it doesn’t even have to stay with the pilot. I see a high-altitude aircraft launching a booster that expends ‘x’ amount of energy and propels a man, probably a daredevil the first time or two, out into space and ejecting him in a suit designed for the limited duration of his flight. The booster descends by parachute, and the radio-control mother ship is landed like any other aircraft on some desert strip somewhere in the boonies.

There was a guy in Southern Ontario, years ago, who was designing a small conventional chemical rocket. He hoped to ride it up, jump out and parachute down…or something like that. The chute might have been on the machine, although he would have worn one as well.

He might have made it into the stratosphere, but maybe not into space. If my suit only weighed five hundred pounds with me in it, it takes a lot less energy to get into space compared to the Vostok. I wouldn’t have to achieve high orbit to enjoy the thrill and the joys of personal space flight. It’s like jumping out of a helicopter with a surfboard and a parachute…and a camera strapped to your head. I wouldn’t have to achieve 17,000 miles per hour or escape velocity, and I wouldn’t have to worry about re-entry. If I’m sitting inside the machine, the cabin can be low-pressure air, that’s for comfort, and my suit would be skin-tight and all life-support strapped to my backside. There would be a quick-release hatch out of the cabin in an emergency to be used at low altitudes. We’re coming down in something akin to a big model airplane.

Here’s a similar news story from Oregon.

The first buyers would be young, of course—the kind of guys that jump off of cliffs with parachutes on their asses and cameras on their heads, with no real thought of commercial development or even fame. It will be more for the thrill of doing it, doing it before anyone else, and maybe having a few good friends along that understand what it’s all about.

We don’t necessarily have to orbit the Earth. Just launching in California and landing in Nevada, Utah, or Arizona, somewhere remote, would be quite an achievement. While the focus of the wingsuit pioneers is to fly like a bird using the human body for control, my design might be more of a lightweight airframe with simple controls and the pilot lying comfortably in the Formula One position with pedals and stick control. All controls would be simple and sturdy cranks and pushrods, operated by digital-proportional, fly-by wire electric servo-motors. That’s where my old-school sort of begins and ends! At high altitudes the air is thinner and the speed of sound is lower. The system would have to be capable of sustained Mach-plus speeds. Until we get a little closer to the ground.

The Space Shuttle and other conventional spacecraft carry a lot of mass and a lot of velocity, require a precision landing. They have a lot of momentum on re-entry, and they came in from higher in space. But a light object, subjected to the drag of the thin higher atmosphere, would begin with much less momentum, hence the drag would be more effective in slowing it down without heavy thermal protection systems or possibly even retro-firing of motors. It’s smaller because the mission is simple. A large tail, some fairly small wings, and just remember to carry enough velocity for steering control, and on board is a pair of chutes if all else fails. A few devices that are similar to automotive airbags in the cabin in case of heavy impact and Bob’s your uncle.

The ship doesn’t even need windows, although most pilots would prefer it. Pilot vision could be accomplished through simple external cameras and goggle-type hookups with selector switches and multiple cameras, and other backup systems. With proper feedback telemetry to friends on the ground, a remote control operator could take over and fly an unconscious pilot down safely in the event of an emergency.

Don’t try this at home.

Disclaimer: Personal Space Craft are dangerous and require training. Always consult an expert before attempting to design, build, test or fly a Personal Space Craft.   The author is not responsible for loss or injury resulting from attempts to build Personal Space Craft inspired by this blog post.   END

Monday, March 25, 2013

On the Nature of Consciousness.

Morguefile/FX/Louis.



by the Evil Dr. Emile Schmitt-Rottluff




Our consciousness exists mostly inside of our own heads. It sounds either self-evident or a college entry-level rubric, but it’s obvious that when we look out on the world, we’re not aware of looking out of our foot. Our foot isn’t even aware or able to sense the ground under it. It has to send information to the brain, which sends back appropriate instructions, many of which are sub-conscious, our only conscious decision being whether we want to walk somewhere or not.

There’s plenty of information coming in from everywhere.

Our consciousness seems to be located in our head, where our thoughts are. This is located directly behind our eyes, surely the number one sensory organ in modern human beings. We process vast quantities of visual information. This is a good place to be located in our bodies, as we can see out and we have everything at our disposal…

But our consciousness is also our identity, which doesn’t change whether we’re hot or cold, running or walking. It is who we are as a person. It’s how we think of ourselves. Science fiction stories about the uploading of consciousness sometimes seem to try and preserve that sense of identity—that sense of self, although there are stories where all memories, all traces of personality are stripped away, leaving a husk, a thrall, a kind of kidnapping of the body but leaving the person out of the equation. But there is no real reason to upload a body. Only a consciousness.

I’ll go off and read other people’s work on consciousness in a minute. But I thought I would get my thoughts down first, before being influenced by some credible opinion. There are lots of studies out there, all kinds of theories and a lot of really interesting literary work.

I think consciousness arose as a defense mechanism—otherwise we would have eaten our feet on the path of evolution. Nature invests heavily in higher organisms. They shouldn’t get knocked down and eaten too easily. It’s a balance between waste and renewal. When I was a kid I saw a praying mantis that had a grasshopper in his claws and he was eating it. The grasshopper had a chunk of leaf or grass in its claws. It was eating it too. I wondered if the thing could even feel pain, or why it didn’t struggle to escape. It seemed quite unaware of its predicament.

A virus doesn’t need to be conscious to do its job. A sea anemone doesn’t need to be conscious to do its job either. The currents bring food to it, and it doesn’t grow well where there aren’t enough nutrients or currents. The reproductive cycle is simple but robust. The sea anemone is a kind of a no-brainer. As life-forms become more complex, and as they acquire more sensory organs, and the more active and varying survival strategies are demanded from them, then consciousness becomes necessary. The brain gets bigger to accommodate demands made on it. It can no longer just feel food against its lips and begin biting, but now our life form must evade predators, it must colonize, nest, migrate, predate, raise young, lay eggs, store food, make homes…the list is familiar; it’s animal behaviour in all of its complexity. And certainly the higher animals are conscious to some degree. They have to be.

Robert Fludd.
Plants can be phototropic in that they turn with the sun. They also grow faster in daylight, and slow down at night. This simplistic behaviour is purely thermodynamic in principle. In higher animals, the thermodynamics are much more complex. It’s all ruled by algorithms, with an infinite number of variables over time. We are chemical beings. Your dog will never think of himself as a chemical being ruled by thermodynamic algorithms in a complex social environment. In that sense it is a lower life form because it has a lower form of consciousness…in a kind of legalistic sense.

The ability to invent abstract ideas comes from consciousness. A subconscious entity has no reason to invent anything, for its duties will necessarily be limited, such as respiration, digestion, and glandular production, in the human body.

Who are we? Are we our body? It is the ‘habeas corpus’ of the legal men. This is my body, this must be me. My toe is a part of me. But if you cut off my toe, I doubt if I would feel as if a small part of my conscious self had somehow gone with it. All of me would remain intact in terms of consciousness. We live in our brains and not our toe.

Even as an atheist, perhaps denying the existence of the soul, could any rational person deny that most of us see our inner self—our ‘consciousness,’ as kind of riding around on top of a big biological machine, a bit like sitting in the control room of an Imperial Walker?

If we could upload my consciousness, that’s all well and good. But how would I feel anything?

I won’t argue whether all knowledge could be downloaded into our brains, or whether we could access a databank through an interface with some kind of electronic storage system. Or else it’s something akin to spiritual, and now we’re psychically beaming waves into your brain, and maybe some organic structure in there can detect and decode it. Simply reverse the process and your brain is loaded into the databanks. Right? Download my brain through wireless.

If you could hook up a computer to a body—a real, live body, with all of its sensory organs intact, including eyes, ears, nose, mouth, fingers and toes—the machine would have all of the same experiences as a human being, except we have transplanted the brain of a pig into the body of a man.

By one measure of the law, ‘brain dead is legally dead.’ This is for the benefit of the living heirs of the body. But what happens when the body won’t die, or what happens when the mind just goes away, as in the case of amnesia? Where do we stand legally there?

What if a mind is simply wiped by heavy brainwashing techniques, leaving the body free for other things, other masters, and other personalities?



What then, eh?

For more on consciousness read this article on Wiki.
Here's something on thermodynamics, important in 'cell biology' among other things.

This is interesting, a story on the film altered states and all about sensory deprivation can be found at the link.

These are used extensively for out-of-body projection by the Centralian Empire in my novel ‘The Case of the Curious Killers.’ That book asks the question, what is reality? The answer is that reality is subjective, it is what you can see. Consciousness is said to be what we see around us--essentially the same thing.

Therefore, consciousness is reality, but a very subjective one.

END

The Evil Dr. Schmitt-Rottluff appears in 'On the Nature of the Gods,' and is a regular guest on this blog.






Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Wall. When Ego Writes the Cheques.

(File photo.)







by Louis B. Shalako 




On May 8, 2009 I learned a sharp lesson in humility. Setting out twenty minutes before twelve p.m. on a mild and sunny spring day, I pedaled my over-sized mountain bike out of the city. I followed Sarnia’s Howard Watson Trail, heading north and then east in the direction of Bright’s Grove and ultimately Camlachie, a small, rural, beach-front community at the south end of Lake Huron.

If it got too much for me I could turn around and go back. Within an hour and a half I was turning up the driveway. I had promised someone that I would come out and look at a small basement renovation he had on the go. We sat outside on the patio and had a Coke, and a cigarette. After an hour or so it was time to go.

The trip is about twenty-three kilometres each way. After two kilometres of pedaling homewards, I was in trouble. Deep trouble. I had no energy, and worse, the pain was burning in the large muscles of my upper thighs. My heart was okay, but it simply wouldn’t go any faster. I could feel all of my torso moist and wet with sweat, and my lungs didn’t seem to be providing enough oxygen. I kept slowing down, and cursed the developing blue band of low rain clouds on the horizon. The wind was straight in my face and gusting, but blowing at an average speed of about thirty kilometres an hour. My wrists hurt, my elbows hurt, my shoulders hurt…the trail is nothing if not level, yet even the gentlest incline seemed beyond me.

And I still had twenty-one kilometres to go. You could say I learned a little bit about suffering out there. The temperature had fallen to twelve or fourteen degrees Celsius, just enough to make the sweat uncomfortably cold. My legs burned with pain all the way home, all of it self-inflicted. The trip took about one hour and forty-two minutes.

I must have gotten off the bike a dozen times, I was so tired I couldn’t ride it. I’d walk a hundred metres while my heart slowed down, and my breath caught up to me. But as soon as I got on again, it only took fifty or a hundred metres for my energy to burn out again. I'm lucky my friend filled up my one-litre water bottle for me. The amazing thing is that I managed to average a whopping thirteen kilometres an hour, or about eight miles an hour. Twice walking speed. God, I thought I would never get home.

That last kilometre, I walked at least half of the way. It was a kind of death-march, out there. Yet I managed to ride up my own street, and put the bike away, et cetera. There was one cold beer in the fridge, in answer to all my prayers.

I learned a few lessons out there. I have more grit and determination than I often give myself credit for. I guess you could say that the margin between victory and defeat can be razor thin—although I was competing against my own stupidity. On any given day, the winners probably hurt more than the losers. The winners were the ones who dug deep, and scraped the bottom of that barrel until they came up with some spongy and discoloured oak shavings, making fuel for further efforts.

I was totally unprepared. A month of proper training might have helped. That was an Olympian ride, for me. I was walking funny for about a week. The pain and stiffness eventually went away. I can’t remember the last time I really hit the wall. It is a profound learning experience, one I won’t forget any time soon. There was just no way I was going to lay down beside the trail and patiently await rescue by passers-by. There was no way I was going to walk up to someone’s door and ask to use the phone. I just couldn’t allow myself to be humiliated like that.

Ego is not necessarily an unhealthy thing. It was my ego that wouldn’t let me quit. But that day, my ego wrote a check that just barely cleared.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Just Do It: Generating Enthusiasm.

Hober Mallow.

We all have good days and bad days.

As a writer, we might want to figure out how to generate a little enthusiasm from time to time.

It’s been a long winter, after all, and we just want to get out there and see a little sunshine.

Maybe things haven’t been going our way.

I just wrote about a thousand words on something that looks like a parody novella or novelette. A kooky spy thriller. The work itself makes me laugh—that’s a good thing, right?

This morning I noted that I had sold a couple of books on Sony. The other day I sold a copy of Time Storm on Amazon. I saw my account go up a few bucks.

Story A, is up to 9,200 words. Another story, Story B, also on the desktop, is at about 6,000. I published an excerpt from ‘Heaven Is Too Far Away’ this morning and I blog on weekends anyway. There are more readers on a weekend. I get more clicks.

I just ordered a proof of my new pen-name’s first full-length thriller. My proof copy of ‘Selected Poems’ is all set to go. All I have to do, (when I get a minute) is to complete the transaction. Am I enthusiastic or am I simply going about my duties in a normal fashion? At some point I make it all look just a little too easy…

There are days when I wake up and don’t have a hell of a lot of enthusiasm. It’s only 1,000 words written so far today. But that adds up to 365,000 words a year—and now we’re starting to look like something. But only if we can do that every day—good days and bad days.

It’s all about allocation. If I blog twice a week, averaging 500 words per post, then that takes 52,000 words right off the top of my yearly total. It leaves enough words for three novels. Or two novels and a bunch of short stories. The key thing is to keep pecking away at them.

It takes time, production time, from other things to be on Facebook. Yeah, but it is nice to have a few friends as well, and writers can get a little isolated if they aren’t careful.

So this is why it’s good to be able to generate some kind of enthusiasm in ourselves, and why we might sort of want to portion that out in a manner that doesn’t dilute or dissipate everything all in one go.

My new pen-name hit the 2,000 follower limit on Twitter, and so I have a little time off from doing that whole ‘click-click-click’ thing. It’s necessary, and doable, but not the sort of thing that generates enthusiasm. I merely endure it.

But I will say this. Any true adventure involves risk, suffering and sacrifice, and the rewards are sometimes intangible.

You know what I hate doing? Formatting on Blogger, a six or seven thousand word story, that ultimately gets thirty page hits in the first day. Yet I do it anyway—I just had to suffer through it.

If I wanted that story published, and no one else was going to do it for me, then I really had no choice, did I?

I wouldn’t call that enthusiasm. For me it’s more of a Just Do It sort of thing.

All of the stories I wrote recently are submitted. There’s nothing to do there but wait. I have plenty of material in folders to keep the blog going for quite some time, even if I didn’t write anything new for a month or two anyway.

I must have had enthusiasm, at least once or twice along the way. All that material had to come from somewhere.

Here are most of my titles, available on iTunes. ‘The Handbag’s Tale’ is free and that’s Epub format.

You know I wrote this in the afternoon, left it in draft and posted it during Prime Time, don't you?

That's a free blogging tip for you. Here is a previous post on Time Management.

Two Seater. By Lt.-Col. William Tucker.

The early morning contact patrols had just gone out. The ‘Long Patrol’ was thundering off into the distance. Soon there would be nothing left to disturb the sunny silence but the returning birds or a buzzing fly awakening from a deep sleep.

I wasn’t flying that day. Although I had a bit of an earache and a bad cold, the promise of spring was in the air. I had been on the squadron for about two months and already had a few missions, maybe a couple of dozen. Before this I was an observer, having transferred in from an infantry unit. After some of my experiences in the infantry, life on an RFC aerodrome, even over that harsh, cold winter, was quite civilized.

And I was relaxed, confident, having been accepted into the company and camaraderie of the mess. Life felt good even though I couldn’t go with my mates on this mission. It wasn’t that I felt that bad, it’s just that at fifteen thousand feet or so, an earache can be a serious problem.

From a previous bout of some kind of flux, I knew that only a few days off and you lose the keen edge, that fine focus that could make a lot of difference between death and survival. Still, a holiday once in a blue moon can’t hurt.

So I’m standing there in front of the dispersal hut, and right next to it was the first of the row of empty hangars. The mechanics had gone for breakfast or back to bed, whichever suited the individual taste. It was peaceful, and a couple of hundred yards away, I could see the children of a nearby French peasant family going along past the end of our lane. There were a couple of hammocks slung under a clump of trees, and while the branches were not fully leaved-out, it would be a fine place for a nap.

I guess the children were going to head off to school. Some of their friends came and off they went. Kids always make me smile, and this family had provided us with a lot of family atmosphere, and had sort of adopted us. Anyway, I heard a droning noise approach from the south, and while the engine had a familiar note, I couldn’t quite place it. Sometimes ‘big shots’ and ‘Brass Hats’ who had access to personal planes or the power to requisition one would show up at the aerodrome on some trumped-up excuse or another. The major was leading this morning, on the weekly Long Patrol. This duty was rotated through the squadrons in this sector.

I called in through the window of the Recording Office & Command Post & Miscellaneous Shack, for that’s what it said on a crudely-carved plank nailed up over the door.

“I wonder who the hell that is?” I called.

No sound came from inside, but maybe he had gone to the latrine or over to the cookhouse for a cup of coffee. The aircraft was very unusual, in that it appeared to have a glossy black fuselage and white wings, at least on the oblique angle I was seeing.

Idly watching the unfamiliar shape enter a left-hand circuit at about seven-hundred-fifty feet, the south east orientation of the sun, and a bit of morning fog bank, turned it into a soft grey silhouette.

The gentleman piloting the machine reduced throttle, lined her up into the western breeze, and dropped her down first time without a hitch, which is pretty good, for even the best sometimes have to pass over the field once or twice and study the situation before attempting it.

The graceful shape taxied up and the engine sputtered to a stop. I straightened up, preparing to snap a bold salute, gaping in disbelief. Bulky in the highly-polished black cavalry boots, leather coat, blue breeches with a red stripe up the leg, massive gloves, holding a pen and clipboard, helmet, scarf, and goggles, this apparition pushed his green-tinted goggles up on his forehead, while I took the clipboard. He struggled out of his gloves and pulled some thick glasses from a deep pocket on his right breast. He put them on and blinked in the wan sunlight. Nothing out of the ordinary?

He stood there as I studied the brilliant blue eyes twinkling at me in a kind of humourous bonhomie. Fortunately I happened to be wearing a pair of stout walking shoes as I had been preparing to go a-hunting for rabbits, pigeons or whatever I could hit. It would have been embarrassing to be wearing slippers and striped pajamas when a man like that arrived.

The silly bugger had a basket of eggs and cheese, unbelievable! Hopping on one foot, I could barely contain myself. How long could it last?

Unable to believe my great good fortune to have this gentleman all to myself for a few more minutes, I clicked my heels together as smartly as I could and gave a dashing salute.

“Guten Morgen,” he told me affably.

“Wilkommen,” I purred at the Unteroffizier, as he stretched a little in the morning breeze.

“Kommen zie hier,” I said politely and courteously, turning and beckoning. “Ja, ja, wilkommen.”

I opened up the door and held it open in polite fashion as he hesitated and then went into the dark interior. He stumbled in the darkness and I pulled up a chair for him. Then I made a show of dropping his clipboard on the CO’s desk. Loudly, enough for him to know what I was doing. I pretended to look for a pen.

“Scheiss!” I murmured. “Dumbkopft.”

I rummaged in a drawer.

“Gott im Himmel…” I grunted.

“Wo ist…?” his mouth opened up but I was right on him, even as I pulled out another drawer and mucked about in the contents.

“Berlin,” I sighed.

Then I leaped up out of my seat behind the desk and scooted out the rear door while he took a load off of his feet. And my luck held, for right there, coming back with a tray and a steaming coffee pot and cups, was Mitch, the recording officer.

“Give me that!” I whispered excitedly. “Sh-sh-sh!”

I put the tray down on an old table beside the wall.

“Come around and look at this.”

And with my hand literally holding his face shut, I pushed, poked and prodded him into the alleyway between the office and hangar number one. I was a little rough with him, but it was well worth it. This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

“What the…fuck?” he gasped. “No! You can’ be serious…”

“Get a fucking guard on that. Tell him I’ll be taking off in a minute. Make sure they know me,” I told him. “Don’t think. Sorry sir. But, seriously, just do it? Please?”

He had a silly grin on his face as he gazed deeply into my eyes in glee. He was wild-eyed, in fucking delight! These desk jockeys, they don’t get out much. The man looked at me, looked back at the plane. I could see his mind go.

“This is too good a chance to miss…” he was thinking out loud and we had no time for that, in my humble opinion.

“Carpe diem, Captain. Seize the day.”

“I knew that would come back to haunt me,” he grumbled, still grinning though.

There was a little bit too much white around the eyes, but he was coming around…

“Come on captain,” I pleaded. “See if you can keep the boys quiet for about five or ten minutes.”

“You are one sick bastard,” he breathed in awe. “What the hell are you up to?”

“Just play it by ear and let the ball roll, and the chips fall where they may,” I begged him.

He smiled and nodded.

“Some things are worth any risk…why, I believe it was you that told me that, once upon a time. I’m just taking the lessons you taught us and now I’m applying them.”

He nodded again.

“Damn it all, son-of-a-bitch,” was all he said.

Then I nipped back to the tray, and went into the building, to see how far I could get with this little charade. The real trick was to keep from bursting out laughing, or being asked the wrong question.

“Ah, café? Camerade?” I beckoned to the German pilot, who had been frankly dozing in the warmth of the stove, which was still lit.

“Ja, ja,” he grinned as I laid out all the stuff.

He had a sleek, well-fed look about him, with thick but straight brown hair, very long, piled up on his head, combed around in a swirl.

“Kraft durch freude!” I murmured at him, and he guffawed, ‘strength through joy.’

It may have been some help in the current situation, but he seemed to be gazing at a photo torn from the ‘Zeitung’ or news, a paper confiscated from a prisoner. It was pinned up on the wall behind Mitch’s desk. The Intelligence boys provided us with it, just so we knew who and what we were dealing with, (sometimes.)

A picture of an aristocratic face…it was the face of the Baron Manfred von Richtofen. He was wearing his most recent decoration.

Still, I was convinced this man was as blind as anyone I’ve ever seen without an actual white cane.

“Cigaretten?”

“Nein, danke shoen,” he said, taking out a pouch and pipe.

Excellent! It takes some men days to smoke a pipe. This one seemed in the mood to relax.

Thank God, but he didn’t appear to be the overly-talkative type, and I needed every break I could get on this one. Mind you, it’s not like I couldn’t just shoot the silly bastard in the head, and have done with it. So I controlled the situation, so far…so good.

“Das ist gut café, ya? Gut Englander café,” I told him with special emphasis.

“Ja, das ist gut,” he agreed with me, looking down in approval at his chipped enamel mug.

“Englander schwinehunde!” I yapped a time or two to make my point. “Arf! Arf!”

And he smiled politely, and concentrated on puffing on that pipe. No doubt enjoying a brief respite from some paper-bound existence somewhere in a rear echelon. Yes, the gentleman was no doubt aware that some of the fly-boys were getting pretty slap-happy these days.

“Englander schwinehunde,” he agreed.

“God, I owe you one,” I prayed silently.

That stove didn’t get put out for days at a time, in early spring we opened a window and put wood in the stove. I opened up the door and tossed in a stick or two, just to look busy, anything to stall for time.

Smoke up the room…blind the bastard.

“Ya, Ya,” he murmured, grateful for a chance to warm up after his long flight.

I let him help himself to more cream and sugar, while I stood by the window, watching the boys outside falling all over themselves. Mitch, smart fellow, had divined the need to refuel the plane, and he had a couple of guys with rifles and bayonets guarding some kind of perimeter. I could just see them, if I stood on tiptoe and looked out on an oblique angle from the window.

While admittedly a quiet kind of a morning, one never knew who might turn up.

“Das ist gut, ya?” I asked him, as I thumped down in my chair and picked up the form.

Quickly perusing its contents, I noted that we were being delivered a Halberstadt two-seater which the enemy used for reconnaissance and escort duties. It was a very nice plane, brand-spanking new. That must have been worth a few bucks.

“Gut, gut,” he acknowledged as he noisily slurped his coffee off the top of the brim.

A thick finger, with long black hair on each segment politely indicated where I was supposed to sign.

“Hier, hier, und hier,” etc, but I held off for a moment.

Near sighted. I bet he could see to thread a needle, and everything else was just a blur. I burped, farted, squirmed in my chair, hummed some nameless tune, making sure it was nothing he could have ever heard of, a little Cape Breton ditty I had heard on a train once.

I went over to the back door and propped it open, with a big rock we kept beside it for that reason.

The German pilot might see latrines out there, if he cared to wander, and I went out the front to have a quick look-see at my new acquisition, clipboard held proudly in hand. Off in the distance, I could hear the odd gasp and giggle, as I strutted around the two men checking over what was a very impressive and attractive machine.

“Is she full?” I murmured to Gill, and he nodded in the affirmative, with a big smirk lighting up his normally dark, lantern-jawed features.

“What do you think?” I asked the adjutant.

Someone in a nearby hangar was banging on tin. Voices were kept very low.

“I’ll go chat the lad up while you change into your flight suit,” he told me, Wiles and the other mechanic, it was Eldon Heath, they chuckled in complete disbelief.

I gave Mitch the clipboard and told him, ‘Someone will have to make a decision.”

I can’t begin to describe the attitude of admiration they looked at me with, it was unbelievable.

“Be ready to spin that prop,” I told Eldon, who was a bright fellow and could be relied on.

“If he talks to you, just ignore it,” I told the men. “Just fire the fucking thing up, alright?”

They nodded, and I buggered off at a fast trot, for this kind of prank can easily go wrong if you don’t keep aware of the time factor, and the element of chance gone awry. Despite the usual struggle, the flying suit went on in jig time, and as I approached the hut again, the two men came out the door in a brotherly fashion, as if they had known each other all their lives.

The adjutant pointed at me, and said something to the effect, “Und Wilhelm….sprachen ‘Ich bein ein Berliner…ein Berliner!’”

The ‘Fritzie’ had the paper, he was carefully putting it on his little clip board. Mitch could take responsibility for it. Let him sign for it.

They both laughed. Fine, my name is Wilhelm, I’ll remember that, as I climbed up into the front seat of the Halberstadt. They were still talking, jabbering away in Jerry-talk and that was just fine with me because I was totally unfamiliar with this aircraft. I poked my hands around the cockpit, feeling the instrument panel and throttle setup. A process of osmosis, but then someone told me the Germans are a very methodical people. Where would everything be?

“My name is Wilhelm and I am a doughnut? We’ll talk about this later, Mitch,” I whispered to his evident satisfaction.

Suddenly the German pilot was standing there, pointing in at things and jabbering at me as I nodded vigorously. Then he pulled on his goggles, and began to climb into the rear cockpit.
I waited until he has had time to buckle his strap up.

The adjutant told me, “Nothing unusual. There’s the fuel cock, there’s the electrical, there’s the trim, there’s the compass, et cetera. It’s pretty simple, really.”

The ‘Fritzie’ was all bundled up around the head and ears, and Mitch spoke in a low tone.

Men nearby were shouting and running around, all of them looking busy and efficient.

“I’ll be back in half an hour,” I told him.

The other man looked suddenly serious.

“I’ll rustle up a discreet escort for you,” he said. “Be careful.”

“And good luck,” he added. “Tee-hee-hee…”

Poor guy could barely keep his composure. Hang on sir, hang on.

“It’s been good so far,” I told him, just then some boy came running up from the area behind the hangers with a brown paper package tied in string.

He ran up and quickly handed it in to the figure behind me. The perfect touch! A couple of bottles of the finest French brandy and some good English sausages. He turned and waved and took off from there at a brisk pace. Ah, yes, ever the efficient dishwasher, he didn’t look back or wave. A local civilian employee, the story would go around in a flash.

The perfect final touch, and the kid handled it just right, probably earning himself a half crown for his trouble.

“Did you throw in a box of condoms?” I asked Mitch, who blinked back tears, trying not to convulse in hysteria.

I could see some kind of paroxysm quaking at him as he stumbled away through the cloud of dust and dirt thrown up by the propeller wash of another nearby plane, just pulled out of hangar number two. Men stood in front of the fuselage roundels looking at me and that poor Boche Unteroffizier. He waved at them, and a couple of them waved back.

Mitch waved us on, lips smiling and voice unheard in the morning air. God, I love my job…sometimes.

The German started talking, so the man at the front of the plane, Eldon, he flicked the prop over for me and the motor suddenly sputtered into life.

I was on my own now, that’s for sure, but I felt supremely confident. I was young, and this was the lark of a lifetime. My companion, who must have been as blind as a bat and a very brave man, idly glanced around at things as I gingerly learned to taxi the big, splendid machine. A little logical reflection told me this situation was manageable, provided I didn’t try to hurry and get ahead of myself. As the plane wove right and left through the alley between the big trees, branches naked in the sunlight’s glare, the gauges showed that the water temperature was fine, the oil pressure was good, the revs were easy enough to read. When I poked, pulled, pried or prodded at the throttle…it had a kind of spring-loaded squeeze-catch on it, it moved and the revolutions increased accordingly. I waggled the ailerons, kicked the rudder, and looked back to
see my elevators moving. Everything was right there, all self-explanatory. Everything seemed good.

As we cruised past, first one hangar, and then another had tarpaulins over the doorways.

The next two or three were clearly empty hangars, and there weren’t too many vehicles of any sort about. I was relieved not to see the big red ‘Bovril’ van parked there! That van, hastily impressed into service, might have been a dead giveaway.

Mitch had been very quick on the uptake. As I taxied down to the east end of our field, I saw out of my peripheral vision that Bob Riley and Steve Gilmore were preparing to follow me.

Basically the plan was to fly straight, level and very, very low over our lines, and then climb like crazy over no-man’s land so the German gunners could see the distinctive wings and shape of the aircraft. Not much of a plan, but not having time to co-ordinate with the other lads, there wasn’t much else to do. It was a very chancy proposition, yet I just felt lucky. Ever had one of them days? Good day to buy a ticket on the football pools.

“No sense in hanging about,” I told the sky and the birds, of which I could see a few.

I sat on the end of the runway briefly, running up the engine and checking the magnetos. I turned to look at him. We both nodded and so then I boosted the power. We rolled along and began to pick up speed. The rudder was effective at about fifty kilometres per hour, as I deduced the metric system from the dashboard. The elevators were mushy but the rear of the plane came up smoothly at about sixty-five kilometres per hour, and at about ninety, the right wing began to feel light and I had to put in right rudder to counteract some moderate torque. I wondered if he knew how to use the rear machine-gun, or if we would end up having to evade Allied fighters.

But with his eyes, it would be useless anyway. I would just have to maneuver as if I didn’t have a rear gunner, and just use the front gun. That’s really all I was thinking just then.

She lifted off smoothly, all on her own at about ninety miles per hour. I figured that out later. It sure was a beauty of an aeroplane, let me tell you! Keeping it low and fast…I headed straight on.

There was a slight cross wind from the right, and I turned into it, clearing the trees at the end of our field. As I continued to climb, I continued to turn, for after all this gentleman was an enemy soldier and we wouldn’t want even his dim eyes to observe too much of this area. Also, I didn’t want to miss seeing any other aircraft in the vicinity.

If I saw them first, I could steer to avoid friend and foe.

Today there were no friendlies. Heading east, I dove down to about fifty feet as I went over our own lines, grateful to see a couple of familiar shadow shapes passing along left and right beside me. Gilmore popped off a couple of rounds which went into the dirt ahead of my plane and in the tiny mirror the German bobbed his head around at the sight of the two scouts.

Poor old fucker is shitting his pants now, isn’t he? Good old Gilly. God I miss that man. We had a few good times together, in Paris, in London, and a few other places.

Another burst or two and my friends pulled off and up, away into the sun. I kept on towards the Boche lines, flying low over the shell-cratered land. A clump of barbed wire looms up, pull up a little, zoom along the contours of the valley.

Rushing up a riddled hillside, with the lone, stark skeleton of a tree with two and only two branches. At the base of the tree, I saw a clump of huddled bodies, waiting to be picked up in the night.

Here we go. Enemy trenches look different from our own, don’t ask me why. Somehow more evil, darker, more sinister. There is no friendly welcome down there for the wayward lad, the lonely flier. Just people with guns who want to kill young Englishmen. Or anyone they can get.

A few shots came, quickly silenced by alert German NCO’s. Then we were through. And now I even knew where we are going. It had to be the place. Anyhow, it’s a German two-seater squadron, and it’s a pretty lonely place, and that’s where I plan to set him down. I know it’s there, we raided them the other day. And I know this country like the back of my hand.

And at that, I began to claw for altitude.

No one around here knows who I am.

It’s an odd thing, but when you go on a patrol with the express purpose of shooting at enemy aircraft, you often see hardly a thing. It’s difficult to approach them. They’re quite shy.

Today they’re everywhere. It’s enjoyable to wave, to stare back at them, and all the time, thinking, ‘if only you knew…’

You stinking bastards, if I pull this one off, it will be ‘A severe blow to enemy morale…’

I giggled at the thought. Who really cares? Not me. This one has a personal feel to it.

Leveling out at about six thousand feet, (two thousand metres by the dial,) I was thinking ahead. Shaking the stick to and fro and kicking the elevators to warn him, I put the plane into a ninety-degree vertical bank on its left side, and held it there as we lost five hundred feet.

“Hang on to your sausage, old man,” I screamed in sheer delight.

Then I pulled back on the stick and with a good amount of elevator, did a full three-sixty degree turn without losing altitude. This required a certain amount of high side rudder, but the aircraft handled smoothly and predictably. It was quite impressive, and I had a new perspective on just why this aircraft was so often hard to shoot down, being strongly built and having adequate power for it’s size and mission.

Leveling out, I throttled back and pulled up the nose gently to about ten degrees above the horizon, and felt the fish-tugging-on-the-line feeling of an incipient stall.

She stalled very nicely, neither going left nor right, and the nose dropped and that was about it.

I made a mental note that she stalled about eighty-five or ninety kilometres per hour with large elevator deflections…mind you, it was all in metric. I headed east again.

It’s nice to know these things, when you’ve never landed a particular machine before.

I did a big, beautiful loop, after diving a little into it, seeing the speedometer hit about two-hundred twenty kilometres per hour. I eased back on the stick and up we went, until we were hanging in our straps. The whole world hung upside down over our heads and I could feel the blood rush up but it wasn’t unpleasant. As we plunged vertically, I let back a little on the throttle and concentrated on clearing my ears and ever so smoothly adjusting the flight path with touches of rudder.

I don’t mean to brag, but I feel like an ‘artiste’ sometimes, especially when we shook for a brief second and I knew we have hit our slipstream perfectly. It ends quickly. I flew inverted for some time, then rolled out yet again, pulled up into a vertical climb and rammed full throttle and aileron to the left. The aircraft seemed to pause, hang there, in a cloud of blue exhaust, then we did a slick little tail slide back down again, turning anti-clockwise.
Pulling back on the stick, I caused her to nose forwards again, and we continued on our journey. I heard noise. Looking back, he waved at me in glee. I guess it must have been quite a thrill. Sure hope its worth it…at least he wasn’t angry.

I wouldn’t want to get a reprimand. As my eyes scanned the area where I expected the enemy aerodrome to be, a very loud droning rang in my head and I wondered just what the problem was? But according to the instruments, it wasn’t the engine. I was fifteen miles behind enemy lines…and there they were, the whole goddamned Richtofen Circus!

Oh, my God! They were coming up from behind, stacked up in three layers of about six or seven planes each. A section of five planes surrounded us, and damned if the two nearest ones, one on each side, weren’t upside down. As they went by, the man on the right did an anticlockwise eight-point roll, and the man on my left did one in the opposite direction.

“Udlinger!” I bellowed at the top of my lungs, that’s Ernst Udet for fucking certain. “Buddy!”

Recognizable? Hell, with blue wings and silver fuselage, with pink polka dots, you would think so.

And there’s fucking Smiltz, and von Fluebl, and whole bunch of fuckers whom I plan on shooting down later.

And they were close – maybe ten feet outboard of my wingtips.

One of them even waved at me, and I didn’t have time to see if the other one did, but I bet he did too! That was a hell of a lot of enemy aircraft to see up see close and personal.

“I’m glad they’re on our side,” I bellowed, turning back to look at my passenger.

A big silly grin, firmly affixed upon my face.

Taktakatakakkta!

Holy shit, what now? Two Nieuport 11’s flashed past and one had a red patch on the fuselage.

It’s Gilly! They somehow managed to stick with me. And now the freaking Richtofen’s bastards are on my friends’ asses, as the two friendly machines climbed like the bandits they are, up into the sunny bowl of the sky. One Hun began to smoke.

I saw that they made it to the first cloud even as several machines broke off the pursuit and made to the south, no doubt planning an ambush tactic. The ‘Flying Circus’ disappeared as I lined up on my runway. With a bit of luck, I might still pull this one off.

As soon as my wheels touched down, on the edge of their field, I hooked in the rudder and caused her to ground loop. What do I care if I damaged the wing tip? It’s not my plane.

I pointed up at the sky yelling incoherently, and bobbed around in my seat, as if I were undoing my straps in a great panic to get out.

“Ausfahrt! Schnell! Schnell!” I yelled at him, frustrated because he seemed to be moving at a snail’s pace.

The gentleman knew what a strafing was, and so he wasted no time in abandoning our cozy little ship. I saw him scurry for cover nearer to the hedgerow as my engine idled. He remembered his package, I could see it clutched under his left arm. Good man. Wouldn’t want to forget the brandy, you’re going to need it.

That pesky droning came again. As I pulled my neck around to sweep the sky and the nearby airspace, my two pals shot past the aerodrome boundary and began to shoot up the hangars about a quarter of a mile to the west.

Takatakaktakatak!

The distinctive noise rolled back as scurrying figures ran for cover.


Now was as good a time as any! I throttled up and took off straight at the hangars, probably causing even more panic and confusion. Engine caterwauling like a banshee, I yanked her up a couple of hundred feet and made off as quickly as I could.

At least two columns of smoke rose up near the hangars and workshops, and I could see one machine burning and another that didn’t look too healthy, but I had no time for detailed observations.

The return trip should have been uneventful. But I suppose I’d been lucky enough for one day. It doesn’t pay to expect too much sometimes, but my luck held a little longer. And that’s all that’s really important, isn’t it? Just hold out long enough, as I scanned the sky all around.

Give her full throttle and hope she doesn’t break. Hell, all I needed was twenty minutes.

So anyway, I was cruising along about eight hundred feet, heading into the usual western wind, which thankfully was light today. A couple of black puffs ahead alerted me to the presence of an enemy balloon, and yes, Holy Shit!

Here were Gilly and his wingman attacking it.

They broke off and headed straight towards me, then turned in behind me, as I plowed on, straight ahead. Two-seater pilots often dove into their own barrage to throw off pursuit. I pulled what was obviously the cocking lever, and it wouldn’t move, then I saw the little catch, on the side of the breech. Now she’s cocked. I lined up my sights as we sailed serenely towards the enemy balloon, as Gilly and pal took pot shots, firing short little bursts at me, narrowly sending them past my wings and tail. I dove even lower, giving the impression of sheer desperation, a friendly aircraft seeking the protection of the guns…

The enemy gunners have bought into the fraud completely. But Gilly and the other one were too close behind me! The enemy machine gunners were in a quandary as to what to do now.

They hesitated for vital seconds. Arguably, they should have risked shooting down a friendly aircraft.

Two for one, right? The inexorable logic of war.

“Fuck you too!” I bellowed, I was suddenly just mad as hell for no reason at all.

And then I let rip with the old Spandau, and the balloon seemed to crumple up and float to the round. It was too low, too sudden for the observer to jump. Since it didn’t burn, it’s possible he didn’t die. Later the boys told me they didn’t see anyone jump either, but were pretty sure they’d seen someone in it when they attacked, so it is hard to say. But the enemy ‘sausage’ was definitely destroyed.

At that, the usual response was for every gun to open up, and that’s what they did. We were lucky to have confused them and we got into no-man’s land with very little damage. Riley had a few holes in the main-planes, and Gilly had three holes in the fuselage about halfway to the tail empennage. My earache was completely gone, although I did kind of feel in the mood for a nap, as I switched off the engine. They never did shoot at me, or if they did, they didn’t hit anything.

Probably thought it was an honest mistake.

Mitch stood here looking at me.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” he told me.

Won’t we all, Mitch. Won’t we all.


END

This was cut from 'Heaven Is Too Far Away,' the memoir of Lt.-Col. William Tucker, who flew against the Red Baron and lived to tell about it. Available for $2.99 from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony, and Smashwords as well as other fine online retailers.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Other Guy.









Bronson Walker had a nice home, a nice wife, a nice family, and a nice car. He had a nice job and a nice career. He had nice kids and lived in a nice neighbourhood. He had nice parents, nice brothers and sisters, and worked for a nice boss. It was a nice town in a nice part of the state.

So far, Bronson Walker was having a pretty nice life, although to be fair, he worked very hard to achieve these things. He was a prudent and thoughtful man, a good husband and wonderful father. He was also very lucky.

The hell of it was that he knew it.

Simply put, the tall, athletic, well-educated African American was a very, very nice man.

Bronson even had the wit and the grace to feel a little guilty about it sometimes.

***

“Why are we here?”

Shawna’s voice hissed in his ear as they sat in the fourth floor lounge area. Several patients had visitors, and the more mobile used this area rather than lay in a bed, taking visitors while someone took their time about dying in the next bed; or was merely laying there with ears wide open.

“There is someone I would like you to meet, if he will see us,” said Bronson.

There was really no way to explain this, this feeling, and so he preferred not to attempt it.

“Who? Who are we meeting in the hospital?” she insisted.

A white-clad figure clattered down the hallway and came to a stop.

“Lawrence says he doesn’t know you, or at least he doesn’t remember you,” the nurse told the couple. “But he will see you. He doesn’t get any visitors.”

“Yes, I know,” said Bronson. “Come on, honey.”

Reluctantly, with a hand from her husband, Shawna dragged herself up from what was a deep and comfortable couch and reluctantly tapped along beside him. What was he dragging her into? Normally a stable and considerate man, all the mystery was simply infuriating. Making a scene was not her style, and all she could do was to endure.

They turned and entered a sunny, double room. Thankfully, one bed was empty, although wrinkled and disturbed bed-coverings attested to an owner. The other bed had an occupant, sitting up with the back of the bed on an angle, and looking at the pair of them expectantly.

Bronson halted.

“You don’t know me, or us, I should say. Are you Lawrence Bliss?” he asked, with Shawna hovering uncertainly at his side. “I’m Bronson Walker and this is my wife Shawna.”

“Pleased to meet you,” said the figure on the bed as Bronson quickly stepped forward.

They shook hands briefly and a little awkwardly, with Mister Bliss reaching across his body with his right hand, as Bronson was sort of on the wrong side of the bed.

“What is this about?” asked Lawrence.

“You're the guy who fell off the bridge,” noted Bronson, as Shawna drew a sharp breath, in sudden recollection of the story, if not the name.

“Yeah!” agreed Bliss. “That was a long time ago. What about it?”

“Well, it’s pretty amazing that you lived,” said Bronson. “I heard you were off work for a long time.”

Lawrence sighed.

“Never really got back, actually,” he said.

There was a silence as Shawna studied the emaciated features of the man before her.

“Are, are you disabled, Mister Bliss?” she asked.

“No!” he said. “Car accident.”

“Oh,” she said, nonplussed and unable to contribute much.

Bronson had something going on inside his head, and she sure wished she knew what it was!

Her hubby pulled a roll of bills out of his hip pocket.

“Your house burned down in two-thousand and three,” he told Lawrence Bliss.

“Oh, yeah! That’s right,” said Lawrence. “The furnace broke down and the dog knocked over the kerosene heater…”

“Yes, I read about all that in the paper,” said Bronson. “Look, I want to give you some money.”

“Why?” asked Lawrence. “What did I do?”

“Well, you were just hit and almost killed by a hit and run driver, probably a drunk driver,” noted Bronson and again Shawna was struck by the reminder.

“You were in the paper! I remember reading all about it,” she said brightly.

“Yeah. I kind of doubt if they’ll ever catch the bastard, though. Some kind of black car, they all look the same these days,” noted Lawrence, mystified by the attention of these strangers.

“I’ve never been in the paper,” observed Bronson obscurely, and pressed the wad of bills, about a thousand dollars worth, into the man’s reluctant hand. “I’ll give it to the nurse if you won’t take it. She’ll stick it in the bank for you. We’ll get you a trustee or something. Please take the money, sir.”

With a big lump in her throat, Shawna nodded brightly, and the man accepted the gift.

“Thank you,” he began, but Bronson held up a hand.

“No, thank you,” he said. “If it’s all right, I might come back and visit in a couple of days.”

“Sure!” said Lawrence Bliss.

And then they were gone, with Shawna no more enlightened than when they set out.

***

It was a long, silent walk down the hall to the elevator. She said nothing in the elevator, just looking and wondering at the strange behaviour of the man she loved. The walk through the lobby and out into the parking lot was silent, with neither one saying anything.

Unlocking the car without a word, the pair got in and Bronson started the engine. He left it in park and just sat there for a moment.

Finally he turned and looked into her inquiring gaze.

“That man was flooded out in ninety-four and ninety-six,” he told her. “His dad was an alcoholic and his mother ran away and no one knows where she went. His little sister died of cancer at nine years old.”

She said not a word. All she could do was to listen.

“He did eleven months in jail, and then the charge was withdrawn when the actual culprit was caught, some sort of convenience store robbery,” he went on. “He was in an armoured vehicle in Iraq when it hit a roadside bomb. He has four steel pins in his leg and a titanium plate in his head…he fell off of his bike and lost his front teeth. He was kicked out of school because he didn’t want to be a choir boy…the list goes on. Oh, Lord, the list goes on and on and on.”

“Oh,” she said.

“Do you know who that man is?” he asked her, his voice rising in some deeply-rooted emotion, a near hysterical tone evident. “Do you know who he is?”

“No, honey I don’t,” she said very, very quietly. “Who is that man?”

“He’s the other guy,” said her husband with a tone of finality. “He is the other guy.”

And without another word, Mister Bronson Walker put the thing in gear, and calmly drove to their fine suburban home, and she never mentioned it again.

***





Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Submissions Game.

F-1 driver David Coulthard, photo by Oleksandr Topchylo.





I submitted a story a couple of days ago. The publication has a submissions tracker. The story is #112 in the queue...so I guess I should try and keep that in perspective. It’s like I’m in a hurry for that rejection slip so I can move on. Another publication has a stated response time in the Ralan list. That isn't exactly carved in stone. The time has past, and I probably should query.

It's also pretty easy to get angry and assume some vast cosmic conspiracy designed to prevent your success. There are probably writers who simply pick up the phone, tell an old friend about it, and make a sale in five minutes. You live in a different world. It's that simple. If I was an editor, looking at two stories, one by a famous author and another by an unknown, and I liked them both equally, my money would probably go to the big name. It's a bigger draw, it's more prestigious, and it's a better business move. It looks better on the cover of the magazine.

This is the challenge I face...and there is more to it, but I'll put all of this into a blog post and maybe build my own name as best I can. What else can I reasonably be expected to do?

I sure as hell won’t quit, because I would never forgive myself.

When I started as a drywaller, I was paid $10.00 an hour from day one. I made eighty bucks the first day, and eighty the second, and the third…and I didn’t know my ass from a hole in the ground as far as drywall was concerned. I was a big strong boy and I had boots and a hardhat and a few tools. Drywallers, with all due respect, were worth about a dime a square foot back then.

That was the going rate.

When I started as a reporter on a small community weekly almost thirty years ago, they started me off at $190.00 a week. It was a salaried position, but that works out to about $4.75 an hour.

When Dow Chemical called, I quit and went to work for them. I made $14.00 an hour…and spent the summer on the end of a shovel. Then they laid me off.

Oh, how I would love to make $4.75 an hour for my self-published works. Let’s say you want to drive Formula One. There are exactly twenty-four Formula One drivers in the world today. Even if your daddy was a rich man—and very few Formula One drivers have come from a background of poverty or even working class origins, the odds of making it onto the grid are exceedingly slim. The odds of becoming World Champion are even slimmer. Some of my favourite drivers, David Coulthard for example, never became World Champion.

But the writing game is different. I can compete here. I get to practice with the big boys, and rub shoulders with them in the paddock, and yet a lot of the time I don’t even make the grid. I think it takes some monetary resources. When I get my Smashwords royalties in June, then I will at least be able to afford a new piece of essential equipment, a new computer. Until then, I run what I brung. When someone says, ‘We’re not in competition,’ I just laugh. You may not be, but then you know yourself best.

I’m here to compete. It’s who I am.

To sit on the back of the grid at a Formula One race is a phenomenal achievement for pretty much anybody, no matter who you are.

In the writing game, no one gives a shit who you know or how much money you have. It’s a question of whether or not you have a story they can use.

An editor is a bit like a woman with a purse full of money and she’s shopping for shoes.

She may not know what she’s looking for, but she knows what she likes and she’s prepared to shop till she drops until she finds it.

A shoe-shopper can take her money and go home. An editor has a magazine with a certain look, feel and customer expectations to fill up. He has to do that on a schedule, a recurrent basis.

I heard of a guy who finally made his first pro sale---it took him fifteen years.

Fifteen years! You have to admire his persistence.

No wonder so many people walk away, publish on Amazon and Smashwords, swap five-star reviews with their fellow authors, get their mothers and buddies and every cousin they can find to buy it and review it in the hopes of gaming those product presentation algorithms, fooling the readers into thinking it’s a good book, and becoming a best-seller.

Maybe they’ve found a better way, and of course I understand the temptation.

In the meantime, I’ve got a couple of new stories underway, and we’ll see how that goes.

Lately, I’ve gotten a couple of very complimentary rejection slips. They liked the story—there’s nothing wrong with my writing skills, (as evidenced by this blog post,) it’s just not the sort of thing that appears in their magazine.

So we’re making progress, then…and I say that because it’s awfully hard to tell sometimes.

You want to make money as a writer and don’t like failure? Constant, demoralizing failure?

Get a job in journalism. All it takes is the ability to suckhole, to offend no one, to tell the stories the bourgeoisie wants to hear, to write groundhog and Valentine’s Day, fucking Christmas stories, stories about heroes and criminal court, traffic accidents and home fires.

People will look up to you and tell you that you have succeeded.

I happen to know better, but then I’ve been there and done that. And my needs may be different than yours, and my stories won’t die an early and much-deserved death when the daily news goes out to the recycle bin

END.

(So why David Coulthard? - ed.)

(He was always cheerful, accessible to fans and press, acknowledged his mistakes, was a good sport, and he was a good driver. He didn't always have the best machinery, and that's important too. - Louis.)

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Hive Mind.


Rosse1954





(In which the internationally-renowned science-fiction writer with a pretty good little cult following Mr. Louis B. Shalako makes the case for a bailout of the disabled to the rather unsavoury Standing Committee on Budget and Financial Matters, or; ‘the undesirables in pursuit of the unspeakable.’)

The disabled, the mentally ill, the permanently unemployable, need to raise their expectations.

As long as we are satisfied with mere subsistence, then that’s all we’re going to get.

The reason the government can’t give the disabled a five percent increase in their pensions for five years in a row, is because they’re afraid we might become radicalized by the internet. But, luckily, we can’t even afford it! So their fears are groundless and irrational. The people in charge of our society honestly believe that they need to keep poverty around for some reason. I think it has something to do with their quest for achieving the highest possible social status. They enjoy the competition. Funny thing is, most of them are crappy writers.

I like to think that our society has a kind of collective consciousness. It’s kind of like a bee hive. It seems to me that by pursuing our own enlightened self-interest, our actions also work to the common benefit of all. The person who operates heavy equipment on a road-building project does more than earn a pay-cheque and feed a family, and help provide them with a home, heat, hydro, clothing, and education. The fulfillment of their private needs causes all sorts of spin-off benefits. Building homes, providing shoes or natural gas and other items employs other people, who get to provide homes for their own families. It’s a pretty simple equation: the more good jobs there are, the more good jobs are created in services and production; i.e. ‘manufacturing.’
Whether we like it or not, all social programs rest on some kind of revenue stream, whether it’s
user fees, customs duties, stamps, or taxation in one form or another. Yet the federal and provincial governments have cut personal and corporate income taxes, at the same time they are increasing spending. Here in Ontario, the Liberal government has increased spending about ninety percent over six or seven years. In order to pay for that, you have to have growth in revenues of eight or ten percent to be sustainable. That was before the recession. This left us in a remarkably bad place when the recession hit. They didn’t listen because they couldn’t listen. It wouldn’t have been popular politically to help the disabled. It might have interfered with their chances for reelection. So they chose to cut taxes in an effort to stimulate production of essentially useless luxury consumer goods, so their cronies’ industries could remain profitable.

Yet recessions happen about every ten years, looking back into recent history. One wonders why the bee who was supposed to be specialized, to lead the rest of the colony, was unable to foresee the future in any credible fashion, and was unable to lead in a credible way. What ticks me off is the way I tell the government what I need, and then they go do the opposite. My interests must be contrary to someone else's. Just who exactly is that, anyway?

The provincial economy has doubled in size over the last fifteen years. They couldn’t help the disabled when times were good, and now they can’t do it at all. Social justice is a myth of the middle class, many of whom seem to draw a pay-cheque from the government’s infinite ‘sunshine fund.’ The government should not be the biggest employer, or the loudest self-interest group in town; or always be wearing a mouth-piece.

Mark Oglestharp
Locally we have the Corporation of the City of Sarnia. The provincial government and the federal government are corporate bodies as well. The Romans called it a ‘corpus,’ which means, ‘body,’ for a very good reason. It acts like a body. A body has defenses, and a body will defend itself if threatened. No matter how weak or strong, it will defend itself. The government is a kind of an organism. If you attack one small part of it somewhere, another small part of it somewhere else will step right up and attack you. Because what threatens one part of the body threatens the whole. It doesn’t even need to give out specific
orders, each part is capable of independent actions. The ancient Romans were extremely intelligent, and well educated lawyers, doctors, philosophers, poets, authors, mathematicians, generals, navigators, and engineers. We really shouldn’t ignore the lessons we can learn from them.

While it is true that Mr. Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister, or Mr. Dalton McGuinty, the former premier of the Province of Ontario has his own individual consciousness, he simply cannot direct each and every member of the government and bureaucracy each and every day. Each individual also has an individual consciousness, for they must be able to act independently. Yet they also represent a collective consciousness, one which communicates ‘amongst itself.’

(I tried to brainwash Mr. McGuinty, unfortunately there wasn’t much there to work with.)

This collective consciousness doesn’t take time to inquire into why someone might have attacked it, it merely defends itself instinctively, and for all the normal reasons. It wishes to perpetuate itself. It wants to live. In that sense a government is a kind of artificial intelligence—it has consciousness, it has reason, it has identity, and it seeks to perpetuate itself. It has motivation.

Like ‘Gargantua,’ the remarkably satirical creation of Francois Rabelais, it even eats. It eats money, it eats time, and it eats people. Society also has a kind of collective consciousness, where individual consciousnesses can talk and gossip amongst themselves, and over time public opinion can often come up with a course of action—yet who knows which individual cell originally came up with any given notion, or which individual cell may have modified the message before passing it on to the next cell. Individual cells in organic bodies do that too, for example nerve cells. Glandular cells create hormones, antibodies, etc. The body’s internal communications network is completely subconscious in the human being.

If you think about it, these individual consciousnesses must obey certain laws, or entropy, a state of increasing disorder, would set in and the whole system would break down. You could describe entropy as an energy loss due to internal friction. In the human body, our cells totally replace themselves about every seven years. We do not wait seven years and then change all of our cells at once. We just do so many cells a day for seven years. Yet at the end of that time, we are all new people, aren’t we? Society is like that too—it replaces individual cells over time until all of them have been renewed.

Individual cells die, but society persists, because it has evolved to persist. The trouble with the disabled is that we won’t die. We are the undead.

Viruses have no higher consciousness, or awareness of other viruses, unlike human beings.

They simply infiltrate, penetrate, and replicate. They have no idea they are part of a colony.

They may look like one to an outside observer, they may act like one, and have the effects of one. They do act together. There are no individual viruses which specialize in one job or another—they all have the same job. But given time, a single virus will create a colony of like-minded individuals.

Bees do specialize. They live in colonies, they communicate with one another, and they are aware of one another. They have a colony, and they behave like one. Bees have a kind of individual as well as a kind of collective consciousness lacking in viruses. Among the animal kingdom, non-linguistic communication dominates, as anyone who has seen a thick flock of blackbirds maneuvering as if they had one mind will agree.

And I don’t call myself a philosopher for nothing.

My new theory goes something like this. If society has a collective consciousness, and if it does somehow communicate ideas through the whole, ‘body-politic,’ then maybe, just maybe, I could learn how to talk to it. It is a strange kind of animal, I admit that—but I’m good with animals. I figure the government just needs a little obedience training, and maybe the middle class just needs its nose rubbed in it once in a while.

My new plan goes something like this. If every disabled person were to apply for geared-to-income housing, and get their eyes checked, and get their teeth all fixed up, and go to the doctor’s and see if there was anything wrong with them, and then get the scrip, which after all costs only two dollars. You don’t even have to take them if you don’t want to—you can dump them down the toilet, who’s going to know? As long as they’re expensive, see, that’s the key. If every disabled person applied for the Special Needs Diet Allowance, or asked a social worker about going to college and learning two or three languages so they could become a translator, then someone would have to listen…someone somewhere would have to listen. Some fuckin’ asshole somewhere would have to listen, right?

It seems to me that we have to make it more expensive for society to keep us at home, (or in a jail,) than it would be to provide a few little employment incentives for the employers and a few little supports for the employees. This might actually benefit society in the long run. At some point if the disabled could build a little wealth, and maybe even get ahead of the game, they might be able to contribute to the tax base. They might be able to rent apartments on their own, and a lucky few might even own a home someday.

If a disabled person could earn $12,000 a year, and keep their $12,000 a year ODSP pension, then that would put them substantially over the poverty line. They wouldn’t need geared-to-income housing, and they wouldn’t need food banks. They could actually live in dignity and in a state of real independence. Very few employers are willing to hire a relatively-unskilled and inexperienced disabled person for $24,000 a year, but they might grab one for $12,000 a year, especially if the provincial and federal governments coughed up three or four grand of that.

Oh, and $24,000 a year results in a taxable income—which must be of some benefit to Canadian society. The God-damned taxpayers might even get some of that money back for a change.

The disabled did not cause the recession. We didn’t have the power to do that. The middle class is the engine that drives our economy. The middle class is the government, for the majority rules, even though groupthink is about as ignorant as a mob’s opinion.

“The government is the economy.” This is a direct quote from Frank Herbert’s Dune. A science-fiction writer has to be aware of history, and he must be adept at peering into the future.

The key thing is to free ourselves from that hive mentality, and to rise above it.



Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Newfie Vision Quest.

Photo: P199


Ronny Flames! You guys remember Ronny, we used to call him Stinky back then. The town was so small that everybody knew everybody else’s business. When the rich guy flushed his toilet, we all knew what he had for dinner. (Rich guys all live on hills.) I saw Ronny recently. He was walking down the highway with his suitcase. He thinks no one knows about the miniature crossbow in there. He’s probably going for squirrels and pigeons. He usually has a bag of popcorn or something for bait.

“You got to have a system,” according to Ronny.

We had to share our horse with the next town. The streetlights used to go dim when we plugged in an electric shaver. No one was from that town, officially—we all came from somewhere else.

Ronny, yeah, I counseled him at the Community Centre. Arrested juvenile development.

Mind of a fourteen-year-old, but it's okay, he likes older women—about sixteen.

Anal retentive with displaced Oedipus complex—careful how you say that, or the cruelty to animals people will be all over you—and hebephrenic tendencies, narcissistic rage, the whole schlemiel. I think he wanted a pension or something.

Turned him down, they did.

“You’re literate,” they said.

“Literate! Schmitterate!” That’s all I can say.

He got all them holes in his forehead learning to eat with a fork. Don’t know if you knew that.

Oh, yeah, and don’t ever trust the little bugger. He’s the kind of guy that removes the drawstring from your pajamas then pulls the fire alarm. I won’t say he was a gay baby…but you should have heard him howl when they pulled the pacifier out of his ass. They gave him the isolation room at the loonie bin. It was his workplace. None of the other employees could stand his incessant chatter.

I’d rather hear him speak than eat—we’ve all heard him eat, right? Ronny mixed up acid with Viagra one night. He and the girlfriend spent the evening making love on the ceiling (to hear him tell it.) The one time he mixed up the Viagra with the Ex-Lax the poor fellow didn’t know whether he was coming or going! The government gave him Viagra in jail and he got hooked. He finally kicked the habit by getting back on heroin.

One time this nuclear sub went missing, the Americans were going nuts with the aerial searches, stuff like that. Finally found the thing in Ronny’s backyard. He was trying to clean it, but I guess he couldn’t find a spot to get the knife in.

Buggered up his nets something fierce, so he said. The old man and the sea got nothing on Ronny, Hemingway got nothing on Old Ron. His mom was so fat they had to use a bookmark to find her navel. His old man whacked off in a flower pot, raised a bloomin’ idiot, that’s the opinion round here, anyways.

I warned Ronny about them immigrant girls, but no, he had the hots for this one.

Later, he, uh, privately admitted about the stubble on her upper lip.

“By t’under and Jesus!” he said. “I had the nasty feeling that I was grappling with one of me mates!” How in the hell would a man know something like that?

Ronny never listens. We never talk about it. He doesn’t want to be reminded.

Funny thing was, she chewed her arm off…

One night Ronny dreamed he was pinching himself.

“Okay…now what?” That’s what told me the next day.

He ceases to amaze us sometimes. A lot of people think if he had brains he could become dangerous…they think if brains were dynamite, he wouldn’t have enough to blow his nose. Now, he does have a head like a half-chewed caramel, and if I had a face like that I would drown myself in pretty short order. But, he’s not as dumb as be looks, he’s not as stupid as he pretends to be.

He’s got a real brain hidden in there. So brilliant you can’t argue with him. It’s hard to get a word in edgewise.

This one time he was at the track, watching three horses in the semi-private paddock they got there. The first horse says, ‘During my career I won forty per cent of the time,’ and the second horse says, ‘I won two hundred races in three years,’ and the third horse says, ‘I won three and half million for my master,’ and then all of a sudden an old dog laying there in the grass, he says, “When I was into racing in Florida, we used to…”

And all of a sudden Ronny bellows out, ‘Holy shit! A dog that can talk!’ Like he just caught on…what a dingbat. (That was the punch-line. One of the horses was supposed to say it. It just goes to show you, though.)

You got to love Ronny. He’s just like all of us, a maze of contradictions.

Either someone stole his Mojo, or his get up and go had a duty to escape.

He’s like a sooner dog walking with its ass catching up to his head. Haven't seen much of him lately.


Silje L. Bakke.
Maybe he’s on some kind of Newfie vision quest. He’ll stay out until he starts to have visions. When he threatened to run away from home as a child, his mom used to pack him a lunch, give him a hundred bucks, pin a note on his chest that said, ‘Vancouver,’ and shove him out the door.

Can’t say as I blame the poor woman. I would try it myself, but I don’t have the money to get him drunk enough. A two-four would do it. Oh, yeah, and a bus ticket. Lady, if I had that kind of cash I’d be in Vancouver myself.

Before you go, can you spare about nine bucks for a sandwich and a coffee?

Thank you, and you really are a beautiful person.