The Payment Plan

 

Roni made one more call just before the end of his shift at 10 pm. The west coast number was in the queue. Someone picked up. A young girl answered.

“Hello.”

“Hi, this is Roni. Is your mom or dad home?”

“Mom, someone’s on the phone!” When the girl yelled into his headphones Roni yanked them off of his ears and held them away from his head.

“Who is it?” It was the voice of the mother in the background.

“Who are you?” The girl queried.

“I’m Roni with American Resources.”

“Roni ’merica rescores.”

“What? Let me have it. Hello?”

“HI I’m Roni of American Resources. I called to tell you of a special offer…”

“No thanks.” The phone clicked off.

10 pm. Roni removed his headphones and signed out. His shift at the call center was done for the night.

He had one taker that evening. A woman in Hawaii. When she picked up Roni heard a piano playing in the background. He started with his usual opening and then asked, “Is that a piano playing that lovely music?”

The woman said yes. She was giving someone piano lessons.

Hearing that Roni said, “I’ll be brief. You have been chosen to receive a special offer.” Roni sped up.

“The card is only made available to qualified folks. I won’t be long. The card is a valuable resource as it is accepted in almost everywhere. Parity Platinum doesn’t charge penalty interest. That’s a potential lifesaver for cardholders who occasionally miss payments due to liquidity issues. And when you use it you earn points, when you shop, when you eat at restaurants, when you travel… That sounds like Debussy. Is that clair de lune.”

“It is. Are you a musician?’

“I played the trumpet for many years. I bet it is a beautiful day there.”

“It is. There’s a breeze coming off the ocean.”

“I’ve neve been there, I… well, you’re in the middle of something. I better be quick about this. Are you interested in the Parity Platinum Card?

“OK.”

“I will need to verify some information and then read you the terms and conditions and then we will be done. OK?”

“OK.”

Roni spent the next minute verifying her name, date of birth, address, and her occupation – Piano Teacher. He then read the terms and conditions on the computer screen, a full page of fine print. He only stopped to catch his breath in the middle. The 29% finance charge was read off in the same rapid-fire monotone as the rest of the legal boilerplate. When he had finished, Roni asked her if she accepted the terms and conditions. She said yes.

“Thank you, Ms. Hampton, for accepting this offer. You will be very pleased with this valuable resource in your wallet. Parity Platinum Card welcomes you. And, thank you for the beautiful music. Your card will be mailed to shortly. You should receive it in the next 10 to 18 days.”

The call ended. Roni caught his breath as he removed his head phones and then signed off. The telemarking manager, Tyronne, who listens in on the telemarketer’s phone conversations, gave a shout out to Roni. Roni learned from Tyronne that he would receive, at the beginning of his next shift, a certificate: Quality Award for Presentation Performance. He understood this to mean that he basically said every word of the legal contract and left nothing out. He also learned that this meant a small bump up in his next paycheck.

Roni grabbed his jacket and headed to the door and out to his car. Outside, he lit up a cigarette. He smoked it facing the call center and away from the glare of the white LED parking lot lighting, which bothered his eyes. After six hours staring at a computer screen his eyes were burning. He took several long draws from the cigarette and then flicked the remains to the curb. He wanted to get home and get to bed by 11. He had to get up at 6:00 am for his full-time job. The half-hour drive home would be under the same discomforting lighting. He knew that the glare and the high blue content of the lights would affect his sleep, making for another restless night.

The next morning Roni began his daily routine. He put on coffee and went out to the patio for a smoke. He scrambled some eggs and then got dressed. He needed to be at RRR at 7:30 am.

Roni and his two brothers had taken over the family business – Resolution, Reset & Recovery Corp. – when their father retired. The debt recovery service had its own automated call center. Roni supervised the ten employees who dealt with those who picked up. He listened in on the phone conversations just as Tyronne did on the calls of the employees at FirstOne Telemarketers.

Roni’s younger brother Ruben purchased bad debt at a discount from other collection companies who had no luck making a recovery. The third brother, Rohn, managed the business, making sure that payables and receivables were taken care of. The fourth brother, twelve years younger than Rohn, was told to stay away from the business. The three brothers were the owners and they didn’t want a young upstart around telling them what to do.

Though the three brothers had been handed a going concern, the brothers were jealous of Raphael. Their father had given him money for his education. He wanted Raphael to become an investment banker. The three older brothers were given no money by their father for an education. The early days of the business were a financial struggle. There was no extra money for education. Beyond this, Raphael seemed to cocky, too sure of himself, too privileged. So, they kept their distance, despite their mother and father’s desire for family unity. They voiced their concerns when the family gathered for the holidays.

That day at the office, a Friday, the hours dragged on for Roni. The lack of good sleep didn’t help. And out of the five hundred automated calls placed, only two debtors picked up the phone. These were offered payment plans and a chance to pay off their credit card debt over time. At three in the afternoon Roni received a text message: “Hey, want to come by for a beer after work?” Roni texted a reply to Marty, “Sure”.

Marty was Roni’s apartment neighbor. Marty liked to talk politics and Roni didn’t. Roni thought politics was boring. All that who’s the bigger hypocrite back and forth was irksome. Most of the politicians wanted to pick your pocket anyway. So ‘n So will save the planet if you vote for him or her and turn over your income to them. Who needed that? With having to pay alimony and child support and growing credit card debt, Roni wanted no more hands in his pocket. Making ends meet was the only politics he cared about. He would have a beer with Marty and turn in for the night.

At five pm Roni’s day was almost done. The automated calls would continue till 9 pm on the west coast. Those who picked up could leave a message where to contact them. Each response would be noted to show a debtor’s willingness to pay. Before the employees left for the evening, Roni checked with each one to fill out the schedule for the next week. The employees were part-timers. Some had classes to attend. He also praised Charisse for the way she handled her call and secured a payment plan for their client Parity Platinum Card.

Roni then checked in with his brothers. Rohn, looking depressed, said that they were about to lose their biggest client Parity Platinum. Roni told him that RRR had just secured a payment plan for Parity. “No matter,” Rohn responded. “They have contacted a bigger firm.” Ruben also looked depressed. “With the cash flow the way it is, it has been hard to buy bad debt. This will make things worse.” The three of them looked at each other and shook their heads. Roni finally spoke. “If dad finds out he will blow a gasket.” The two brothers nodded. “And, if that pip squeak brother of ours finds out he will have a good laugh at our expense.” After several silent minutes Rohn threw up his hands and said he would make calls on Monday. “There has to be more business out there …or, we will have to lay off some of these kids. We can’t keep taking out loans with no receivables.”

Roni left the office crestfallen. He didn’t want to lay off anyone but business is business – making ends meet. Now between the ends, things were becoming dire for Roni. He had used his credit cards to get by thinking that at the end of the year there would be some payout from the profits that he could use to pay them off. Now the chances of that looked slim to none. “Debt has no pity”, he thought. “I don’t think dad will either with the choices I have made.”

 

After changing clothes, Roni walked out his patio door and headed over to see Marty. Marty was on his patio drinking a beer.

“Well, look what the cat dragged over.” Marty chided Roni when he saw him. Roni gave a half-smile in return. Marty offered, “You look like you could use a beer.”

“I could use a beer and a chaser.” Roni plopped down on a patio chair and lit up a cigarette.

“Wow, a bad day?”

“You could say that “, Roni replied looking at his phone. Another call he didn’t want to take.

“Well, if we had the right people in power, then us working stiffs wouldn’t be so stressed out.”

Here we go again, Roni thought. The garbage man dishing out political garbage.

Marty handed Roni a beer and then went into his apartment for something stronger. He came out with a bottle of whiskey and two shot glasses. Marty poured whiskey into the glasses. He handed one to Roni and said “Cheers.” Roni clicked his glass with Marty’s, leaned his head back and downed the shot. Wiping his mouth and knowing that his reply would only prod Marty to continue the political mumbo-jumbo, but feeling irate about the day’s bad news he spoke anyway. “Even with the ‘right people’ in power there isn’t enough money in the world to pay to fix the bad choices people make. Besides, there is always cost incurred when you use other people’s money.”

“With money in the right hands we could put a dent in it. That’s why I am voting socialist this time.”

Roni cringed. He knew he shouldn’t have replied. He had other things on his mind. His phone buzzed again. The same caller he didn’t want to answer.

“Hey, how’s your business doing?” Roni was glad Marty changed the conversation but it led down an even less desirous path.

“We’ve hit some bumps in the road. Our biggest client is leaving us for a bigger collection agency, one with (quoting with his hands) a “better reputation”.

“I thought you guys had it made in the shade.”

Roni was quick to respond. “Someone moved the shade.” He gulped down some more beer and lit up another cigarette. Looking at it he thought, “If I kicked this habit, I could repay my body for the six years I’ve been smoking”. He took a long drag and thought ’but not today’.

“Hey, you know what I found on my route today? In the dumpster was a plaque with a gold crowbar stuck on it. The plaque said LEVERAGE EVERYTHING. Do you know what that means?”

“Yeah, it means you put yourself out on limb where someone can come along and cut off the limb.”

“That’s weird. Hey, how’s your other job going there, Shylock?” Marty goaded Roni. Roni smirked.

“Just swell, I make $12 per hour and talk to people I wouldn’t otherwise talk to. It’s a job, a part-time job that’s all.”

“You are offering credit cards at 23 to 36%? Yikes. How can anyone catch up?”

“I offer people a choice. They can choose to use it or not. They know the terms. I’m not a loan shark, if that’s what you are implying.”

“No. I’m just giving you a hard time. The rich will have a hard time, too. The rich will know ‘the terms’ when my candidate is elected.”

Roni’s phone buzzed again. He didn’t pick up. The caller left a message.

Roni lifted his glass. “I could use another shot.” Marty poured another for both of them. Roni knocked it back and thought of a reply for Marty.

“With socialism, the usury is your freedom. The percentage of the freedom taken from you keeps going up. And when your freedom is gone, they come for a pound of your flesh. That’s been recorded in history.”

“Yeah, but this time…”

Roni shifted in his chair and turned toward Marty. “I better be off. I’m seeing my kids tomorrow and I have to get the place cleaned up a bit.”

“You’ve been divorced for six years now. You need a woman. They say ‘Love conquers all.”

Looking at his hands, Roni scoffed, “Love conquered my checkbook.”

Marty looked over at Roni. “For the love of Pete, man, you look awful.”

“I have a lot on my mind right now. Thanks for the beer and the shots.”

With that Roni walked back to his apartment where he listened to the phone message. It was from Endal Debt Recovery. They were calling to set up a payment plan. Roni had missed several payments. He was out on a limb and the limb was being shaken. Now he faced a tough choice: he could go with Endal and their payment plan or he could call his younger brother Raphael, ask for loan and come up with a repayment plan. Either way, the minimum payment would be at the expense of his pride.

 

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2019, All Rights Reserved

The Assignment

 

Minutes before the final bell, Miss Hailee handed out a sheet to her third-grade students. The wide-ruled copies held only the heading I am looking forward to summer vacation… She walked down the rows of desks and passed one to each student.

“Class, this year we have been learning to journal. On this sheet I want you to describe how you are feeling about your summer vacation and why you feel that way. Use the adjectives from the word search I am handing out to describe your thoughts. Use your best handwriting. Write complete sentences. Turn these papers in tomorrow, first thing. There will be no letter grade. I will be reading them to see how well you express your thoughts.”

The students stopped fidgeting and grabbed their backpacks. They stuffed the sheet into it along with their pencils and corrected papers. The dismissal bell rang. The third-graders scrambled for the door, talking to each other about their summer plans.

Miss Hailee watched them leave. She clearly enjoyed her assignment. She could tell that the eight and nine-year old children enjoyed being in school and that they loved their teacher. And she loved the untainted boyishness of the boys and the unsullied girlishness of the girls. These children expressed emotions openly and without guile. Their personalities hadn’t yet become compartmentalized. Their imaginations, like potter’s clay, could be easily shaped by careful hands. They are animated, responsive and for the most part, well-behaved. Apart from having to correct them for talking in class, passing notes, not raising their hand to answer and having to lecture the boys teasing the girl who said she was a horse and whinnied and ate the white pasty glue and having to lecture Laura about the glue, discipline was minimal. Teaching them was a joy, for they were teachable.

When the last student was out the door, she erased the black board and pushed her chair into the desk. She gathered up her teaching plan and the student assessment sheets for the Check System. She placed them in a pouch and slung the pouch over her shoulder. She walked out of the classroom and headed to the parking lot and home.

At First Bell the next morning not one student was tardy. Their papers were in their hands being waved like flags. The chance to talk about their upcoming summer vacation had them wriggling in their chairs, one leg on and one leg off their chairs.

Miss Hailee brought the class to order. “Please sit straight ahead with both legs on your chairs. We only have a short day today so I need your full attention. I will now collect your papers.”

She walked down each row and each student handed her their paper. She looked at each to make sure it had the student’s name on it. The papers, backpack-crumpled and smeared with erasures, were filled out.

“Class, today we will talk about the math you will be doing in fourth grade. But first we will do language and reading. After lunch you will present your science project to the class. We will now have our morning meeting.”

Miss Hailee reminded the students of the class rules using a poster board created by the students. She then asked them “What did you do well as a researcher for your science project?” After hearing several responses, she asked, “What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?” Everyone answered that question at once. As things quieted down, she asked the students if they had good news or bad news to share with the class. Several said the good news was summer vacation. Another said they have a new dog. Another said his birthday was in July. A girl shared that she wrote the bad news in her paper. Miss Hailee told her she would read her paper in private and would talk to her about it with her in private tomorrow. Then came the Word of the Day: question.

After lunch the students shared their science projects with the class. Miss Hailee asked each presenter “What questions did you have during your preparation? When all was said and done Miss Hailee praised the class for their work.

At 12:50 the dismissal bell rang. “I will be reading your papers tonight. Tomorrow, your parents will be bringing in treats for our last day of school. I’m sure you will be on your best behavior.” The students filed out.

Again, Miss Hailee watched them leave. Again, she erased the black board and pushed her chair into the desk and gathered up her teaching plan. On her way out the door she stopped at the school’s office and handed in the student assessment sheets she had completed. Putting her feet up and reading the student’s papers was on her agenda that night.

 

That evening Miss Hailee ate the chicken pot pie she had prepared the last weekend. She poured herself a glass of wine and sat down on the couch with her feet up and the student’s papers on her lap. She began, recalling the face of each student as she read. She expected positive happy thoughts in these papers. The first paper did not disappoint:

I am looking forward to my summer vacation… I play baseball with my friends. Dad and mom said that me and Bill are going to a Cubs game. Yeah! Salty popcorn is the best. Summer is the best. Dad gives me purple popsicles. They make a big mess on my shirt. I play outside until mom calls me.

The happy life-affirming thoughts continued. The students wrote of Great America, playing soccer, trips to see relatives, trips to national parks, friends, fun in the sun, family plans, family picnics, church picnics, camp, fireworks, nature hikes, riding bikes, swimming… They had used the adjectives from the word search!

But there were several papers whose writers were not looking forward to summer. There was in their forward glance an admixture of disappointment and pain caused by things imposed on them and a faint tinge of hope in … the plans to make do?

I am looking forward to my summer vacation… me mom and my sister are going camping. Mom did not tell my dad. She said dad has to work. Mom says she has to get away. We will have smores and go swiming in the lake and have a fire at night. The fire makes me sleepy. I don’t like moskeetoos. They are nasty. I wish dad could come camping. Mom said it was better this way.

I am looking forward to my summer vacation… mom said I will have a new baby sister. I am so excited. I told Elise. She said that her mom had a baby but her mom said no to the baby. I will let Elise play with my new sister this summer. Elise is my best friend. She is sad. I will make her happy.

I am looking forward to my summer vacation… not much. me and Todd will be moving to a small house with mom. Dad has a boyfriend. His name is Phil. Mom and me and Todd is surprised. I will ride my red bike a lot with Todd.

I am looking forward to my summer vacation… it is hot. The hot makes me sweaty. Dad said people make it so hot. This makes me angry. I play outside to it gets dark. When I come in I have chocolate ice cream. Mom says I am stinky. She gives me a cold shower before bed. I sleep with the windows open. My room is cool. Dad snores loud.

I am looking forward to my summer vacation…no I am not. Mom and dad said divorce. I know what that means. Mom and dad live in two places like Anns mom and dad. I have to visit dad now. My summer is ruined.

I am looking forward to my summer vacation… I am going to visit grandpa and grandma for summer. They have a farm in Iowa. Mom said that when we come back she will be a man. Me and dad question mom. Dad said mom is confused. Summer with grandpa and grandma will be fun. Grandpa will take me on his big green tractor. Grandma said she will make me a fruit pie. They have noisy dogs. I want to stay with them forever.

 

“Oh, lord,” Miss Hailee thought as she put her face in her hands. “How will these children cope? The assignment imposed on these kids by their broken families will break these kids. What can I say to the kids tomorrow?” She wept. “I have tried so hard to give these kids the best of me. To give them the means to take on life. After this summer some of them will return inhibited, anxious, hard, resistant, overwhelmed and, …unteachable.”

These were adjectives she never wanted to apply to her students. Outside the classroom all of the inherited forms and distinctions were being taken away from children. The child’s reference point – their family, the symbol of stability and sense – was being torn up and reassembled into nonsense. The traditional words and signs used to make up a child’s conceptual framework were being converted into gibberish. And teachers were forced to be enablers and accomplices and wardens of the claptrap.

In her imagination Miss Hailee prescribed an Emotional Bank Account poster for the parents. She would show them the deposits and withdrawals they make into their kid’s lives. She would make them read it out loud on the last day. And although she knew about the swift and exacting judgment of political correctness, she did not fear political correctness. But she did begin to imagine repercussions on her students if she held their parents publicly accountable. The reality was that she could do nothing outside the classroom door to affect change to the parent’s withdrawals and deposits into their child’s emotional bank account. Inside her classroom she could be to her students a symbol of continuity and of all that is good in the world.

With a yawn and a soul cried out, she retired. Day was gone. Night was upon her. In a matter of hours, she would be standing before them with words. But not with reassuring words that things will be all right this summer. She could only offer disconnected affirming teacher words.

The First Bell of the last day of school rang. The students found their seats but not their composure. They were ready-set-go for summer. Anticipation had their hands and feet constantly moving. Miss Hailee let them have space for the bubbling over excitement as long as they respected her and each other.

That final morning Miss Hailee talked about what they had learned during the school year. She went on to praise the students for their eagerness to learn and their hard work. She did this while walking along the counter where each student’s remaining graded papers and the posters and plaster of Paris bowls the kids had made during art time were neatly stacked. She reminded them to take these things when they leave.

The first mother arrived outside the door and peeked in. The girl in the third row squealed when she saw her mom. Soon there were three more moms at the door. Then ten, then twelve, then twenty moms and some dads waiting to come in. Miss Hailee opened the door and said “Welcome, come in. We are a full house today.”

Desk were arranged for the treats the moms had brought. The kids tried to show their moms their pile of school work as the mom tried to set out the treats they had brought. The hubbub was expected and relished by Miss Hailee. The school year was ending with merriment. The sugar in the treats made sure of that.

With the mom’s and dad’s and kid’s mouths full of cupcake, candy corn and cookies, Miss Hailee spoke.

“I am very proud of these students. They worked hard. They behaved well. They achieved much. I have high hopes for them going into fourth grade. Behind you are your child’s schoolwork and art projects for you to take home. I have included a list of books for summer reading.” Looking at each of the students Miss Hailee said, “Your parents can read these books to you and there are some you can read yourself with some help. Looking at the reading list she continued.

“On the list I have included an illustrated retelling of Treasure Island for children, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Anne of Green Gables and The Secret Garden. Each one is adapted for young readers. And I’ve included a story I have authored and had illustrated: Summer at Sad Shores, a Livingston Family Vacation Adventure.”

Miss Hailee looked around at the anchor charts the class had used during the year. With last words to present, she again looked at the faces of her third-graders. “The word for the summer is hope. I want you to look up the meaning of the word hope. I am hoping that you will find hope in your summer reading.”

With that she said, “Have a great summer everyone.” The parents and children were free to go.

Before Marta and her mother left, Miss Hailee pulled them aside and asked them if she could talk to them in private. Marta’s mother, a woman with dark bags under teary eyes, looked deeply troubled, as if more bad news would devastate her. She did break down in tears out in the school yard where the three of them talked.

Miss Hailee had learned from Marta’s paper that her father had been arrested and was in jail. Miss Hailee understood why Marta had become detached and listless the last two weeks of school. But what could she offer them? She wanted to deal with each student familiarly but the established protocol was to shunt any “issues” over to the school’s counselor.

“I can’t imagine the weight that has been placed on both of you.”

Seeing the crucifix Marta’s mother was wearing around her neck and looking around to make sure no one was around, Miss Hailee spoke. “Listen, what I am about to say has nothing to do with school or with me as Marta’s teacher. I say this as a friend. Sometimes …. (Miss Hailee took a deep breath) …Sometimes God allows a heavy burden to be placed on us so that we can feel his hand underneath.”

Marta’s mother, now barely able to speak, replied, “This burden is too much. Marta and me are alone.”

Miss Hailee hugged both of them. “You are not alone. I will be your friend. I will give you my phone number and my email address. Here … “

She wrote them on the back of one of Marta’s papers and handed them to Marta’s mother. “This is not a teacher-parent conference. This is me as your friend and I will help you two through this.” Marta gave Miss Hailee a long hug.

“Thank you, Miss Hailee,” Marta’s mother hugged the teacher.

“Call me Sandra, please.” Miss Hailee hugged her once more.

“Will Marta be able to see her dad often?”

Marta mother wiped her tears from her face. “Yes. “

“That is something you can look forward to this summer, Marta.”

Marta looked up at her teacher, her dark eyes glistening with tears for her mother.

“Has Marta ever ridden a horse?”

Marta looked at her mom who couldn’t speak. “No,” Marta replied.

“Then that is something we can look forward to this summer. My father has a farm with several horses.”

With that the three of them walked around the school building to the parking lot.

At the car Miss Hailee said, “How about a picnic this Saturday and we can talk more. Please call me anytime. You are not alone. Your assignment this summer Marta is to see your dad when you can, ride horses and have picnics.”

 

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2019, All Rights Reserved

The Legacy

The band concert on that airless July evening ended with Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever. Everyone was on their feet. Moms and dads, grandparents and kids marched in place waving little flags and sparklers. As if on cue from the obligato of the piccolo, stars began popping out of the dark scroll above the ebbing twilight. As the march concluded the band stood up, bowed and received a rousing applause. The clapping and motion of the crowd picking up their lawn chairs created a momentary relief from the otherwise stagnant ether that evening in the park.

Andrey picked up his lawn chair and Laura’s. They headed to their car. Along the way kids were tugging on their father’s arm. There was an ice cream vendor parked on the street nearby. Moms were tugging along the little ones while talking to their neighbors. The concert in the park, a harmony of the past and present, so pleased Andrey that he told Laura as they got in the car that he gained a kick in his step. Laura looked over her glasses at him and then proceeded to talk about what they had to do the next day. Andrey was quiet and was not listening. He was tapping the steering wheel. The past was being drummed up …to a day in July fifty-five years ago…

 

Andrey had been told to clean his room. His uncle was coming over. After much balking and saying “Ahh mom” and mom’s cajoling and taking a circuitous route to each of his friend’s houses to see what they were doing – they were told to clean their room before going out – Andrey cleaned his room. After inspection by mom, Andrey was told to wait in his room. His uncle would be there any minute.

What was this all about anyway? The sun was shining and summer was just outside. Uncle Bill pulled into the driveway. Andrey’s dad, the older brother, came out the door and greeted him. Andrey took in as much as he could through the open bedroom window. Mom came out and greeted Bill. Then the three of them came into the house. After fifteen minutes Uncle Bill was standing at the bedroom door. Hanging from his hand was a strange case. It was brown with brass clasps and looked used.

Bill came into the room and placed the case on his bed. Dad and mom stood at the door. ‘What was this all about?’ Andrey wondered. Uncle Bill flipped open the two brass colored latches and opened the case. He pulled back a velvet cover and there it was – a brass, scratched up, bell-dented Conn b-flat trumpet.

Uncle Bill told Andrey that he played the horn when he was younger and that he no longer wanted to. He thought I could make better use of it. Andrey beamed. It wasn’t his birthday. It wasn’t Christmas. It was July …and it was brass …and it was his. Not yet having a vocabulary of appreciative words other than what he typically said at his birthday and Christmas after opening a present, he simply said, “Thank you, Uncle Bill.”

Mom, dad and Uncle Bill went into the front room to talk. On his bed the horn lay in its case. Its owner sat next to it looking at it as if it like a new kid on the block and not sure of the relationship. He made the first move. He picked up the horn and began looking at it from all angles. He pulsed the valves, pulled out the slides and pinched the spit valve. There was a deep gouge in the bell and dents and scratches all along the tubing. He explored the case. Inside he found valve oil, something called slide lube, a little music stand you hooked on the horn and a mouthpiece. He picked up the mouthpiece and looked at it. It was tarnished silver. It had a wide rim and a deep dark cup. At the other end, the horn end, the tube was no longer round. It looked like it had been dropped. He brought it to his lips and began blowing. Nothing but splurged air. He pursed his lips and blew again. This time a buzzing sound occurred. He put the mouthpiece in the end of the long tube and thought of the girl down the block who had to practice the violin every day and did so making a sound like sawing-a-cat-in-two. He blew into the horn to see what sound would come out.

The sound that came out of the trumpet with that first blow was a muffled sputter. So, Andrey took in a big gulp of air, puffed up his cheeks and blew harder. BlllllllllllOOAAAAARRRRRGH! Bobby, the family’s French Poodle, gave a howl and ran to hide behind dad’s legs. Boots the cat got up from Andrey’s pillow and plopped back down at the foot of his brother’s bed and closed his eyes again. Andrey, a freckled redhead, had a lobster-red face as he walked into the front room with a new kick in his step. His parents clapped. Uncle Bill kidded dad. “Are you ready for this?”

Now that he could produce a sound of his own Andrey felt that the world was handed to him. And then he had a thought. He would have to practice every day like the girl down the street. The world began to look different that day …

 

Andrey drove up to a diner. They went in for some pie and coffee. Andrey wanted to reminisce. And, unlike his first wife who thought his trumpet practicing was a racket and who was as indifferent as Boots the cat was to goings-on not its own, Laura listened to him rehearse his memories.

“I remember my grandfather giving my dad his own boxed set of classical music LPs. It was a set of “Living Stereo” recordings of 100 selections of 80 composers played by various orchestras. That was my first exposure to music other than the hymns at church. I would lay in the middle of the front room floor in front of the stereo console. I turned up the volume and listened to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance and, Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto. There was Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius…and Sostenuto!

My favorites were pieces that featured brass instruments like Mussorgsky’s The Great Gate of Kiev and, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Procession of Nobles and …

The waitress, a tattooed young woman of about twenty-years-old, brought the pies and poured more coffee. Andrey continued.

“Up to that point in my life I had used my allowance to buy baseball cards, comic books and banana flavored Bonomo Turkish Taffy. Remember that? I soon learned to clean the taffy out of my mouth before playing the horn. My first trumpet teacher was a fifth-grade band director. He had a heavy accent. He would hold my mouthpiece up to the light and almost jump out of his chair when he said “Filty!, Filty!”…

Anyway, I began to do chores so I could buy classical records with trumpets playing in them. I listened to them and played my horn to them. Looking back, I learned a language that everyone understood.”

Andrey thought for a moment and then smiled.

“But my music professor at college couldn’t understand where my pitch was coming from. He had perfect pitch and mine was somewhere way south of his. The two of us would sit at his piano. He would place an interval exercise in front of me. When I sang it acapella, he would screw up his face as if in pain. He was charitable, though. I got a C+ in his class for “trying”. I was OK as long as there was pitch I could hone in on it.

“How about I buy a pitch pipe for your showers?” Laura teased. Andrey smiled and then his face contorted.

“Now listen to that… that hateful noise after all that good music we heard tonight.”

Laura looked around. “That is the background music. You can’t go anywhere in public these days without that annoying racket. It’s like someone or something is trying to own your space.”

“Exactly!” Andrey set his cup down and his eyes lit up. “Oh. I didn’t tell you about my dream last night. I just remembered it.

I was on a stage inside a band shell. White light was pouring down on me so I couldn’t see the audience. I was wearing a tuxedo and felt overheated. I was sitting in the trumpet section of the concert band. My C trumpet was on a vertical trumpet stand at my left knee and my b-flat trumpet was on a trumpet stand at my right knee.

There were two young men, one on each side of me in the trumpet section. During the third movement, the one marked Largo – Oh, I forgot to mention that the band was playing a transcription of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony – anyway, the young man on my left took my C trumpet from the stand and began to walk away. I whispered ‘Where are you going with my horn?’ The young man said, “I am going solo.” He walked off stage with it. I could see him just outside the bandshell talking to friends and some women. The young man was showing them the horn. He let them hold it and play it. Then I saw the young man on my right pick up my b-flat trumpet. He began to play the solo trumpet passage in the fifth movement, the one with the Allegro non Troppo tempo. Tah tah tah taaaaah”

Laura put her coffee down. “My, you have vivid dreams.”

“Well, I might be embellishing this just a little.” Andrey winked. “You know. Old men have their stories to tell.”

“Uh-huh. Go on old man.”

“Well, the young man reappears and he comes back and sits down. He places the C trumpet back on the stand. The horn was badly dented and scratched. It looked like the horn my Uncle Bill had given me. I remember being happy to see the horn again but I became sad because I couldn’t use it in the concert. I handed that horn back to the guy on the left and said, “Here, make good use of this.” The guy on the right of me was not happy that I had gifted the other guy the C trumpet. I told him, “You can use my b-flat trumpet anytime you like.” He still wasn’t happy. End of dream.”

“Wow, quite a dream. Say, whatever happened to the old horn?” Laura queried.

“I donated it to the Salvation Army hoping some kid would learn to play. And now that I no longer playing my horns, I wanted to give them to my kids. But they have no interest in them. Here’s a thought. How about they are buried with me? In ancient times pharaohs and kings were buried with what they would use in the afterlife.”

Laura laughed. “You can’t take it with you, Andrey. And besides, I’m sure Gabriel has a horn for you to play.”

“I’ll end up donating them to the Salvation Army. And by the sound of things (Andrey pointed to the overhead speakers) this world needs all the help it can get.”

Laura nodded and said, “I wonder what that waitress will dream tonight after hearing this racket throughout her shift?”

“Maybe about nose rings, piercings, and more tattoos.”

Andrey went to the cash register and paid the bill. He came back to the table, left a tip and a scrawled note on the table: He who understands music understands the cosmos.

Andrey got up. “C’mon. Let’s go.” They went into the night, into the reverie of unbeguiled silence.

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2019, All Rights Reserved

The Dinner

 

The Friday afternoon of Labor Day weekend Marvin was finalizing his response to the client. He sat before his two monitors. One monitor held the client comments regarding the marked-up drawings stacked neatly to his left. The monitor on the right held the recipe for beef bourguignon. He was making plans for a quiet dinner Saturday night and the start of a new book.

As a lead engineer Marvin’s desk was inside a cubicle configured with partitions on three sides. The opening in the cubicle faced a wall and an aisle. The cubicle was at the end of a long aisle that traversed the first floor of the engineering firm. His desk was secluded from all the other engineers. This was of no consequence to Marvin for he kept to himself. Detachment from others meant that he could concentrate on his work without being disturbed by any human drama. The only semblance of his life outside the cubicle was a calendar of military planes that reminded him of his time in the air force.

Before leaving for the weekend, Marvin walked over to confer with another engineer. Landry’s cubicle was at the other end of the first floor. As was his manner, Marvin walked with a deliberate military gait without looking at the other engineers along his path. Any engineer seeing him pass might think of Marvin as an animated stick figure. The pencil thin Marvin conserved his motion and his emotions for the necessary.

Any female engineer, and there was one on the first floor who did, would notice that Marvin wore the same grey twill pants, black shoes and a version of a plaid shirt that he wore every day. On his belt hung a TI-36X Pro engineering/scientific Calculator. If asked, he would tell you that it was the same one he had used for his FE/PE engineering exams years ago. He would also tell you that the calculator replaced the slide rule he had carried on is belt during his days at the university. The shirt pocket pen pouch remained from those days.

The same female engineer seeing Marvin walk by also noticed Marvin’s dispassionate single-minded gaze beneath his dark unkempt eyebrows. And, that his disheveled dark hair and a stout mustache that covered his pursed lips gave Marvin an austere manly look, a no-nonsense guise. It seemed to her that the university geek, now in his early sixties, had continued to live in cerebral austerity. The never-married Marvin appeared to be married to his thoughts. This, she supposed, figured in Marvin’s lack of human interface except as required to complete the challenges presented to him.

Marvin conferred with Landry, a mechanical engineer who was months from his retirement and who gave a glib reply when someone asked him how he was: “I’m here and I’m loving it!” At Landry’s cubicle drawings were spread out on two desk tops. There was talk of the reactor coolant pump the client wanted for the nuclear plant. There was talk of length of pipe and the location of the pump, of water head pressure, of horsepower, of vendor drawings, of the calcs required and of a redundant system. They both noted that there was a labyrinth of pipes and conduits to contend with.

Marvin Left Landry’s cubicle after responsibilities were delineated. He then returned to his own cubicle to respond to the client. He sent his client an email outlining the work to be done and stating the date for the sealed engineering drawings to be handed over. On the other screen he looked once more at the beef bourguignon recipe and decided beef stew would be a good choice for a quiet Saturday dinner. He printed out the recipe and shut his computer down. He was weekend ready.

On Saturday morning, as was his manner, Marvin got up at 3 AM. he took his usual two-mile walk. When the sunlight began festooning houses with gold overlays, he drove over to the market to purchase the ingredients for his beef stew. With recipe in hand Marvin then drove over to a nearby liquor store where he found a burgundy that the recipe called for. He also purchased a bottle of aged bourbon that he would later pour into his “U.S. Air Force” engraved decanter and rocks glass.

With a plan to eat at 5 PM sharp, Marvin gathered up the ingredients: chuck roast, carrots, pearl onions, garlic, bacon, beef broth, olive oil, tomato paste, mushrooms, seasonings and the burgundy. At 3 PM he placed the recipe on a book holder. He began the process, methodically and carefully. There could be no room for error. After following the recipe to the letter, he placed the Dutch oven in the oven at the called-for temperature. Dinner would be served at 5 PM.

Just before 5 PM Marvin took the stew out of the oven and let it rest. He set his place at the table and poured into a wine glass the balance of burgundy. He set bread on the table and some butter. The smell of the stew filled his apartment. At 5 PM sharp he placed the Dutch oven on hot pad just before his place at the table. A large spoon was put into service as he opened its lid. Just then there was feverish knock at the door. “Now who could that be?” Marvin growled. He got from the table and headed for the door.

Through the door’s peephole he saw a concave figure of a woman who was nervously knocking again. “All right! All right!” Marvin snapped. He opened the door and became dumbfounded at the surreal sight before him. Somewhere under woman’s clothes and a wig was his neighbor Arturo. Before Marvin could say anything, Arturo rushed in and said, “You gotta help me!” Marvin stood holding the door open hoping the illusion would leave the way it came in.

“What?! …What is all this about?” Marvin had no calculus for what he saw. And he had no patience for any of this nonsense, as his beef bourguignon and a quiet night were waiting for him.

“You see …,” Arturo, frantic, started but he broke off as if to find words that a military man would understand. “You see…” Arturo started again, pushing back a wig curl that kept covering his right eye. “I …I …well, you see, it’s like this.” Again, Arturo broke off as if his next words would seal his fate. “You see, my friend (as if to cushion Marvin’s response) I … I … well, I put on some of my wife’s clothes while she is out at a church gathering with her girlfriends.”

Marvin looked Arturo up and down and said, “I’ve heard it said that in marriage the two become one but I didn’t think…”

“No, No, it’s not like that. I mean it is like that, but not like that.” Arturo thought that by not making any sense that he could persuade the unmarried rational Marvin with some secret knowledge of marriage that he, married to Martha, must possess. But Marvin wasn’t buying it. The food was getting cold.

“What do you want from me? I just sat down to eat.”

“I … I … locked myself out of the apartment. I took the garbage out…”

“Wait! You took the garbage out dressed like that?”

“Ah …mmmmm … ah I did”, Arturo turned eyes away from Marvin as if to hide the truth.

“So,” Marvin responded impatiently, “what am I supposed to do? There’s a simple solution. Call your wife and tell her that you are locked out.”

“It’s not that simple, you see …, my wife has no idea and I don’t want her to know about this.” Arturo waved his hand from head to toe.

“I can see why.” Marvin said sternly. The smell of the beef stew was now making his stomach growl.

“You’ve got to help me. Can you check the windows of my apartment to see if any are unlocked?’ Arturo petitioned Marvin.

“You want me to sneak around outside your apartment and look in your windows? The people around here will think I am as batty as you? And worse! And, besides, you have already made yourself known to the neighbors.”

“I … I …I learned my lesson. I cannot go out again.” Arturo was pacing back and forth as he spoke. The look on his face was one of holy terror.

“My wife will be returning, she said around nine-o’clock. I don’t want her to see me like this.”

“So, I get the privilege?”

“I sorry, my friend, to bring this to you but I have no where else to go for help. You are a smart man. You can think of things.”

“Right now, I am thinking of my dinner which is getting cold.” Marvin folded his arms across his chest.

“Say. What is that marvelous smell?” Arturo turned his face towards the kitchen.

“It is beef bourguignon and I am hungry. You can join me so I can eat. If you remain quiet.”

“Maybe you can think of a plan while we eat,” Arturo continued to ply Marvin’s ego as he sat down. He figured Marvin might respond better to the situation than to his makeup varnished face.

Marvin brought out another place setting and a wine glass and an uncorked bottle of red wine. He never had a guest eat with him before. He hoped that he could eat in silence and gain some semblance of the quiet evening he had planned.

The two ate in silence and finished their meal. The silence was broken when Arturo, noticeably agitated throughout the meal, queried Marvin. “Any thoughts?”

Marvin looked up from his plate. As was his manner he spoke dispassionately to Arturo. “My new found ‘friend’, I have no flow chart that can show me the next step. If you were a deadheading pump, I would have options. I could put in a piloted relief valve or a bypass or an unloader valve downstream system of the pump to allow excess pressure to be relieved and flow to continue through the pump and back to the tank.”

Arturo thought for a moment and then said, waving his hand over his body from head to toe, “This must be my relief valve.”

The red wine Marvin was drinking came out through his nose. Little droplets of red wine now hung precariously from his mustache. He wiped his mouth and got up from the table. As he walked to the kitchen he said. “It looks more like a Catch 22 situation. No entrance without a key and no key without an entrance.”

Arturo winced when he heard those words. He knew his fate was sealed. He went to the window and peered through the slats of the blinds. His wife had not come home.

In the kitchen Arturo helped Marvin put the dishes in the dishwasher. As he did black jagged lines formed beneath his eyes. Mixed with tears his mascara had run, giving him the appearance of a freakish clown.

When Marvin had finished in the kitchen, he told Arturo that he was going out to the patio for some bourbon and a cigar. He told Arturo to grab a glass and join him if he wanted to. “You look like you could use a drink.”

Arturo followed Marvin onto the patio but only after he looked around to see if anyone was looking. Then he ventured out and sat down. There, much like the privacy of Marvin’s cubicle at work, two sides of his apartment and one side of high bushes enclosed the space. The open side was the lawn.

Marvin poured bourbon from the decanter into the “U.S. Air Force” engraved rocks glasses. He handed one to Arturo who then sniffed it. Speaking with a quaver in his voice Arturo said, “Thank you for my last supper,” “Cheers,” said Marvin and he clanked Arturo’s glass.

Marvin lit the cigar his colleague gave at the close of last ASME IMECE congress meeting. Taking a long draw on it and, as was his manner, he looked dispassionately at the open space making mental notes of what needed to be done on Tuesday. Arturo, on the other hand, crossed and uncrossed his legs in nervous rapidity. With each cross and uncross his dress hiked up to mid-thigh exposing more of his hairy legs.

Martha’s dress was a size 8 floral print. On six-foot two 220-pound Arturo, the dress looked ready to burst at the seams. The dress’s three-quarter sleeves came to just above his elbows. They had a solid grip on his upper arm as did the wig on his head. Rivulets of sweat ran down Arturo’s forehead; the wig was so full and so tight that the breeze Marvin enjoyed came nowhere near Arturo’s scalp. Unable to fit into his wife’s shoes with his size 12 feet, Arturo wore her flip flops. The only evidence of them being worn was the thong between the big toe and the rest of the toes.

After crossing and uncrossing his legs once more Arturo stood up and said, “Excuse me. I’m going to see if Martha came home.” Marvin continued his dispassionate gaze into Tuesday.

Arturo went into the living room and peered through the blinds. Martha’s car was in the parking lot. Arturo rushed back to the patio in panic mode and told Marvin. Marvin got up with the hope that he could find the reverie he had promised himself the week before. They both went to the window and saw Martha’s car. But then they saw her taking out the garbage to the dumpster at the end of the parking lot. Arturo rushed to the door, opened it and saw that the door to his apartment was ajar. He ran out yelling “Not a word! Not a word!” Marvin closed his door and then peered through the peephole. He wanted to see the return of Martha.

Martha returned. But instead of going to her door she knocked on Marvin’s’ door. Marvin waited a few seconds and then opened the door.

“Have you seen Arturo? Martha asked.

Marvin opened his mouth and hesitated. With a darting glance at Arturo’s and Martha’s front door he said, “I can’t say that I have.” Marvin stood there in a plaid shirt, grey slacks and black shoes with a dispassionate look.

Martha searched the curious look on Marvin’s face. She wondered if there was a smile underneath his mustache. She had never seen him smile. She then looked over at her front door. It was still ajar.

“OK. Sorry to bother you. Good night.” As Martha walked away Marvin shut his door and breathed a sigh of relief.

Back on the patio Marvin sat down and took a swig of bourbon from his engraved rocks glass. He relit the cigar a colleague gave him and took some puffs. He opened the book that he had been waiting to read: “Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto”. After reading for several minutes he took a long draw on the cigar and held the smoke in his mouth. As he breathed out the smoky cloud, he had a thought: “It would be easier to explain the trajectory of a space probe traveling billions of miles from earth to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt than it would be for Arturo to explain his recent trajectory to Martha.”

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2019, All Rights Reserved

What Mattered to Hannah

 

Hannah wanted to get away so she booked a week at a cottage on a lake, the deepest lake in Wisconsin. Hannah boarded her parrolet Henry and headed north. The drive up from Chicago was just a few hours. Off the main highways she followed a lattice of county roads with names like “A” and “T” past fields of corn and cows. God, country, family and, lost love was on the AM radio. Hannah lived alone and drove to the cottage alone.

Hannah’s vacation hours had so accumulated at work that if she didn’t take them before the end of the year, she would lose them. But leaving work to vacation was hard for Hannah. The only relationship she had was with her work. It was a relationship which made increasing demands on her while offering yearly increases in pay. As the years passed and promotions were awarded her work responsibilities ratcheted up. To keep the relationship going and to do what she wanted to do – producing and giving – Hannah did what she had to do.

Using up the accumulated vacation hours was not Hannah’s only reason for getting away from work and home and going to the cottage. Getting away from being lonely in one spot was what mattered. Getting away from work to matter somewhere else mattered. Especially as she turned sixty-seven and the downtime they called “retirement” loomed in front of her. Could she matter without work? Hannah loved to work, to make things happen, to produce what mattered to others. Being an engineer was a career that produced things that worked and things that mattered. Could she live just as an observer?

When Hannah told her two younger sisters about her trip to the cottage, the youngest sister, Anna, gave Hannah a book. Anna described it as a book about hunter-gather societies, the noble savage, Gaia, “rootedness” and a dark green religion of “compassion”. The middle sister, Savannah, gave Hannah a novel about the Rapture. Hannah, put both books in the trunk of her car where they banged around as she drove. Hannah brought Chekov along for the week.

When Hannah called her ninety-year old mom and told her about the trip, her mother said “Good for you” and “Make sure to behave yourself.” When Hannah told her mom about her concerns about the food available at the cottage, for she had drastically changed her way of eating, her mom said “Take what you can get.”

The first day at the cottage was a day of unloading the car, putting things away and finding out that “We have WiFi” meant we can provide no internet signal you can use. The cable TV offered local news and weather forecasts and “This channel should be with you shortly”. The program never arrived. So, the cottage meant the basics like the flip phone Hannah carried.

That evening Hannah drove into town and went into the first restaurant she came to. There were cars on the street in front of the place so she felt it might be worth a try. It wasn’t a supper club. It was a bar and restaurant with the look and smell of the fifties and something past its prime. The redolence of time past and the objects on the wall made Hannah feel like she had gotten away from the present. On the walls surrounding the well-used wooden tables and chairs were fishing maps of the lake, a framed type-written menu from 1955, and black and white photos of townsfolk in parades and holding large fish. The bar area had the same but was updated with a “It’s a Great Day to Be a Packers Fan” plaque hung over the bar. Hannah was in north heartland.

There were three tables near where they sat Hannah. Two grey-haired women of large size sat at each of two tables. It was Saturday night and the special, rib-eye steak, was set before each of them. One of the women at the far table started up and then asked the passing waitress to move the butter closer. “I don’t want to have to walk.” She buttered her roll with the now available butter and then sat eating it looking blankly out at the street. The woman next to her ate looking at the wall behind Hannah.

At the third table, the one closest to Hannah, an old man and his wife sat with a younger fiftyish man. The younger was doing all the talking. The older couple was doing all the eating. Hannah noted that the older two pushed the pinkish red color meat to the side of their plates. She continued to note that the younger man finished his dinner and took his credit card out to pay the bill. The older man took some cash out of his pocket beneath the table and said nothing. The dinner bill was paid with the card.

Hannah ordered some perch. The waitress supplied the fish and the sides and promptly brought the bill when Hannah had finished. The bill lifted her loneliness. “I matter” she thought.

Back at the cottage Hannah observed the couple in the next cottage return from town. The man got out of his 4X4 pickup truck and walked through the screened porch door. His dejected look seemed to Hannah to be saying “The fish weren’t biting that night”. The short bean pole of a woman had followed him to the door but the screen door had already closed behind the man. The man was already at the cottage door. The woman reopened the porch door and went in.

The next morning Hannah was sitting on the dock when she heard some clomping behind her. The man from the cottage was heading to his boat with some fishing gear. He saw Hannah and said “Good morning. How are you?” Fine, thanks” Hannah responded. “Another day of fishing?” Yes ma’am.” “Good Luck!” “Thanks.”

That night in order to dispel the indoors with the outdoors Hannah slept with the bedroom windows open to let the lake breeze in. The cottage, with pine wood paneling throughout and fusty furniture and bedding, had a dank feel and a musty smell. It was as if the inside of the cottage had been inverted to the outside and then inverted in again for Hannah’s arrival.

Dealing with the windows was no easy task for Hannah. The wooden windows in her bedroom resisted change. One window would not go up and the other would not stay up. Hannah would have the same bout trying to sleep in a new bed: one position on the mattress did not give and another gave too much.

The next morning technology greeted her: “Your brew is complete! Enjoy!” The Keurig Hannah brought with her offered the comforts of home. “Home is where the good coffee is” would be a good country lyric, Hannah thought. After a cup of coffee and some reading Hannah went to the local diner for breakfast.

There, old men sat around a table talking about their trucks and politics and baseball. A beaming grandma led her grandchild to a table. A weary baby-carrying mom followed. Does one miss the weariness born of attachment? At that moment Hannah did.

It seemed that most of the patrons of the diner were older early risers like Hannah. The crossword puzzle in the daily Sentinel was already filled out by the time she arrived at 7 am, Hannah observed.

The atmosphere of the diner and its food were comforting to Hannah. Unlike the Keurig, the waitresses brought her breakfast, more coffee, and the check with “Here you go my dear” and “More coffee sweetie?” and “Have a great day hun.”

The atmosphere of the diner lifted her loneliness but the diner’s food began laying her low. The third cup of coffee, the well-buttered toast and the oil-coagulated hash browns – the settling food made her uneasy. The heaviness in her stomach and her sinking mood reminded her of the deep well of grief and sorrow she carried inside. The sediment of losses, screwups and broken relationships had settled deep inside her after sixty-seven years of life. But if she sat at a breakfast table with friends she’d wouldn’t be talking about her subterranean sorrows. She’d be talking about the weather, her kids, her job, and asking “what’s new with you?”

The shop owners along the small town’s main street were very happy to see Hannah come in. “Take what you can get” Hannah remembered. She bought a top and a flouncy blue and white summer dress that she knew she would never wear. Owning the feminine charm of the dress gave her the feeling that she mattered as a woman.

In the evenings, after dinner in town, Hannah sat on the cottage’s screened-in porch. There, she smoked little Brazilian cigars, read Chekov and when it was too dark to read, she listened to the night. It seemed to Hannah that the incessant chirring of grasshoppers and ratcheting of crickets was like millions of prayers being offered for those who would soon fall asleep to the murmur of their unspoken supplications.

It was on one of these nights that Hannah had a dream. Or, was it a vision? A Winnebago Indian princess named Lily Thunder Boss stood on the porch. She spoke to Hannah: “Trace the fingers of God and you will see the hand of God. You have come this far, keep tracing.” Hannah immediately woke up. It was 2 AM and the grasshoppers, crickets …

On the third morning Hannah walked down to the docks at the end of the row of cottages. The sun had just come up over the silhouetted shoreline behind her. It began to flash gold in the eyes of the houses along the far shoreline. The lake, not flush yet with direct sunlight and now beneath Hannah’s bare feet, was like a dappled green and grey quilt that stirred as if the lake was about to wake beneath it. In the company of moored pontoons and motor boats and of ducks bobbing for food and loons beginning their conversations Hannah sensed something familiar.

That afternoon she went to the Crossroads Grocery. She bought the fixings for a salad and some Chardonnay. The automated voice of the grocery’s self-serve checkout scanner said “Thank you for shopping with us”. Hannah remembered “Take what you can get.”

On Thursday morning Hannah took a canoe out onto the lake, the deepest lake in Wisconsin. She paddled to the center of the lake where she could see the full extent of its water. The day before she had driven to the south end of the lake but couldn’t come near it. There were private roads with houses nestled along the shoreline. These were now at a great distance from the canoe. The houses and boats appeared as white flecks against a jagged dark green background. The lake, reflecting the cirrus clouds and the baby blue sky as with an ancient uneven mirror, gently swayed her canoe. Hannah sat thinking about her future over the deepest part of the lake. Above her, the wide-open sky. Below her, the bounded water. She sat at the boundary of rapture and watery earth surrounded by voices nowhere near.

Later, she ate lunch at one of the nearby golf clubs which had a WiFi connection. She checked her emails; there was nothing pressing, mostly ads. She ate watching the golfers, men in shorts with caps and sweaters, as they gathered their foursomes. She overhears them kid each other as they wait for beer and sandwiches to take with them on the course. And though the well-manicured course was everywhere verdant and serene, the game, played between tees and holes and beers, seemed to Hannah, to be disquieting for some of the red-faced golfers who came in for water after their round. Hannah thought they must have spent most of their time playing outside the lines.

That night, after a day of hiking and eating a late supper at the diner, Hannah went to bed and dreamed: She was the lake, the deepest natural lake in Wisconsin. All around her were bass, trout, perch, walleye, white bass, trout, northern pike, muskies, catfish, crappie, sunfish and, schools of Walleyes and Large and Smallmouth Bass. They passed her with open mouths. She saw her four children swimming by her, each in different directions. They didn’t notice her. She was the lake. Her sisters swam by. They were talking as they passed each other. Air bubbles, not words, were coming out of their mouths. Deeper in her, her ninety-year old mother floated. She kept saying “I’m hanging in there” and asking me “What’s new with you?”. In the deepest part of her, the dark green part of her, was her dead father and a son who died in a car accident. They lay in repose. Hannah couldn’t say anything to any of them. She was the casket that held them.

At her surface were boats. Their arched outline appeared like dark mysterious icons. Above that was the sky. The sun cast shadows across her of transparent clouds and opaque birds coasting on thermals above. And then, at the surface, appeared an eel. It seemed friendly as it swam near the surface but then took on an impish smile and dove deeper. The creature then slithered and circled inside of her. It wanted to press her down to the bottom of herself. It was then that waking dream broke off. It was then Hannah understood its name to be TRAUMA.

The next morning, technology: “Your brew is complete! Enjoy!” As Hannah drank her coffee, she read and planned her last full day at the lake cottage. She would take the canoe out in the morning for her daily matins, then go for a walk and find lunch, then she would take a nap on the porch. In the evening she would go to a “Friday Night Fish Fry” which was the special on every restaurant’s menu that night. But she started off on the wrong foot.

At dawn Hannah pulled the canoe to shoreline and pushed it three-quarters of the way into the lake. She gathered a life-jacket and a paddle from the fish-cleaning shack and placed them into the canoe. With one hand on the aft of the canoe she placed her right foot in. The canoe rocked to the right and began to lurch forward into the water semi-sideways. Hannah quickly put her left foot in and began balancing the canoe with her hands and feet on each side of it. So far so good. She had done this before.

She was now hunched behind the seat so she moved her right foot forward past the seat while holding onto the canoe’s frame. Her legs were spread apart, one on each side of the bench – one leg forward and one leg behind. At this point nothing felt stable. The canoe began to rock back and forth with every shift of Hannah’s weight. With her hands on each side of the canoe frame she slid them forward hoping to steady the canoe and place her left leg over the bench. In that moment Hannah realized that the stiff lurching of a sixty-seven-year-old was exaggerated by the canoe. And then it happened. Hannah toppled over to her left and fell into the green wet murk. The canoe, on its side next to Hannah, lay beside her as if to comfort her after its practical joke.

Standing up in three feet of water and reeds, soaked, dripping and covered with algae and green mud, Hannah thought she looked like The Creature from the Deepest Natural Lake in Wisconsin. The words of an old song came to her as she walked to the shore: “Oh the old grey mare She ain’t what she used to be”. If her mother could have seen see her, she would have said “It happens to the best of us” and “You kids will be the death of me yet.” Like as with her mother, the days of her independence were becoming fewer. She would need a steadying hand going forward. Being mattered would matter more than ever.

Hannah returned to the cottage. Her flip-flops squished loudly as she walked past the other cottages. She hung her soggy underclothes on a clothes line. Her water-logged jeans and black sweater were laid on a picnic bench to dry in the sun. The pockets of her jeans were filled with algae and grit. Algae clung to the sweater as if it was a net. Her morning rituals on the lake now included baptism.

After seven days and nights at the cottage on a lake, the deepest natural lake in Wisconsin, Hannah returned home. At the door to her apartment Hannah found a package from Amazon. It was something she ordered a week ago. It was a book, a friend, and what mattered to Hannah.

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2019, All Rights Reserved

 

Hate is In the Air

 

Breath it in. Fill your lungs with a blast of bile, the astringent air of acrimony. The air is electric, charged with rage and resentment all around you. Are you feeling the compulsion to hate “by any means necessary”? If so, there are essentials to perfect your hatred.

 

First things first. Internalize everything. This step is important in order to consolidate your truth. Of what use are other’s thoughts and feelings if they don’t affirm you? Love is that which affirms you. Hate is to be directed at those who don’t love you as you require.

See handed-down truth as demoralizing and not affirming. Reject such truth for your facts. Your truth is all that matters anyway. Then, you will see everything as out of order with regard to yourself. This will allow you to feel righteous and justified in hating the past and presenting your narrative. History is just a record of power in the wrong hands.

Then, in no particular order…

Never be content. Why should you be content when you can have it all? You were born to crave. Would any god deny you anything you deem good? Pursue the rainbow’s end. See others as keeping you from that end. Life is a zero-sum game. You must grab all you can. Find your satisfaction in tearing down what others have built. How can anyone justify what they have when you are lacking?

Begin to dehumanize those you feel responsible for your misery. They must be unhuman to not affirm your values. Make them into objects of your disfavor. Other them. Hold them in contempt. And be sure to judge them based on your values. They are judging you right now.

Exclude others who do not share your values and tune into others who do. Seek out your tribe’s mouthpieces and emotional surrogates, those who can elicit hatred more vocally. They will authenticate your hatred.  Listen to news programs. Listen to the commentators to get your cues: “Nazi!” “Hitler!” “Racist!” “Facist!” Name calling is an effective means to denigrate those you hate.

Choose politicians who market materialism as “social justice”. Soulishness, found in tales and myths, is for fools. If you can’t touch and hold the object of your desires of what use is that to you? The same politicians must advocate for diversity and inclusion. Both diversity and inclusion determine who’s in and who’s out. Then you will know who your enemies are.

Make sure to talk about others without their knowledge. The purpose of gossip is to convey your disapproval of others and to set yourself apart from them. If someone betrays your values with their words, then return the reproach. Is that not justice?

To feed your contempt and to vicariously ‘deal with’ your enemies watch movies that contain revenge justice. Watch The Hunt. Use your imagination and see your enemy ham-strung, taken down and taken out. The El Paso and Dayton shootings reveal the full realization of hatred.

Use social media to exercise your hatred. What better vehicle to vent the air of acrimony? One should not hold that air in for long. Rather, breathe it out. Use your pride as a self-defense mechanism. Knock your opponent down to size with name-calling. Their pride is keeping them from accepting your values. 4chan is a good place to chat about what you hate.

Reject consequences of your actions as unfair. The law and its personifications, law enforcement and the judges, make victims. Throw your bath water on them.

Whatever you do, do not sit around in silence. Fill the air around you with the voices and music that will sustain hatred. The Enemy of your hatred is not silent. And His words are weaponized and sharper than any double-edged sword. Defend yourself against violence done to your truth with a sound barrier.

Use your fears to leverage your hate. You fear because you do not have. Others have what you want. Hatred works to bring about equality and fairness by calling out others about their unfairness.

Be warned. There are those who walk the boundary of heaven and earth. They seek to mitigate hatred with their version of love. Resist them. Harden your heart against them. For they do not know you. Show your true face to them – the face of the god within.

You have heard it said “love your enemies and do good to those who despise you”. I say to you, know your enemies and let them know what you hate about them. Stiffen your will against all competing interests that are against you. Loving your enemies is weakness. Hatred is the power to control and compensate for any weakness on your part. And, of what use to you are those who do not share your values? There is no room in the same world for you and them. Give them no quarter.

Finally, never forgive. If a person wants reconciliation then make them grovel and accept your judgment of them. Tell them “I do what I do because of you”. If they do not respond adequately then revenge is the only option. The offender must feel the weight of the offense taken. Forgiveness is weakness and meant for those who suffer from a God-like complex. Pity is what you deserve from them for having to hate them.

If you can fill your unforgiving minutes
With sixty plus year’s worth of hate,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be self-actualized, my child!

 

–Shadowbrute

My Times are Not in Your Hands

Despotism has so often been established in the name of liberty that experience should warn us to judge parties by their practices rather than their preachings.
—Raymond Aron, The Opium of the Intellectuals

During the recent Democratic Presidential ‘debates’, the Progressive Element candidates for president reveal just how incongruous Progressive thinking has become. Two of the candidates, Biden and Booker, stated that they want to beat up Trump, inciting the crowd with their aggression. This within the Progressive mindset that publicly denounces bullying and violence. The Communism appropriator Bolshevik Bernie Sanders and Cherokee heritage appropriator Elizabeth “Angry Eyes” Warren push for collectivist health care as a “yuman right” (a “right” that will consume all of your hard-earned property rights). This while the Progressive Element condemns the Trump campaign of Russian collusion. There’s more from these bizarre Progressivists.

CHARLESTON, SC – JANUARY 17: The stage at the Gaillard Center is prepared for tonight’s Democratic debate on January 17, 2016 in Charleston, South Carolina. Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley spent yesterday campaigning in South Carolina in lead up to tonight’s debate. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Biden offered a new and improved Obamacare, a dismal and expensive failure for the consumer. The other candidates want to ditch him, Obamacare and Obama’s legacy for their own new and improved version of collectivism.

Biden said that healthcare is the most important issue facing voters and Buttigieg says climate change is the most important issue. This while the Progressive Element legalizes full-term abortion, promotes physically harmful sexual activity and travels to a climate confab at Google camp (Sicily) in private jets and mega-yachts.

According to Italian media reports, guests were expected to arrive in an eye-popping 114 private jets.

The Post guesstimated that with 114 flights from Los Angeles to Palermo, the planes would have pumped an astonishing 100,000 kilos of C02 into the atmosphere.

A-listers arrive in private jets, mega yachts for climate confab

One of the anti-Semitic socialist spice girls, Ocasio-Cortez Spice, has declared that the world will end in twelve years if we don’t do something about climate change. So, I understand the need to confab and to add ‘fuel’ to the narrative before it’s too late. Our betters need to show us a better way.

“Reparation H” Kamala Harris wants you to pay for slavery that didn’t happen on your watch. This from the party of the KKK and Jim Crow. And new age guru Marianne Williamson thinks all you need is love. And that means open borders for the lot of them. This while the cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and others under Democrat control for decades are becoming third-world-like hell-hole cities – overrun with the homeless, rats, used needles, human feces and the spread of infectious diseases. This from the Democrat socialists who say they will do socialism better than what history accords. This – their love for humanity knows no dystopian bounds.

Open borders? They are Progressivism’s response to the perceived authoritarianism of the Right. For borders, boundaries, and laws are too legalistic, fundamentalist and not inclusive. So, they will promote lawlessness as a means to an end – diluting the country with illegals who will vote for more “Anything Goes” Progressivism. This while the streets west and south of “Welcoming City” Chicago are swarming with the law-unto-themselves gang members who slaughter at will. This while they treat our laws as a three-year-old girl who decides she is a boy.

Who are Progressives? The Progressive Element? Besides offering a narrative that Progressivism’s vision will make the world a better place while being equally detached from the reality of this world, Progressivist’s ideological worldview has many other unsettling characteristics.

Economist Thomas Sowell in his book A Conflict of Visions, Ideological Origins of Political Struggle, provides background and understanding of Progressivism’s “unconstrained vision”.

In the Summary and Implications section of the Visons of Social Processes chapter, Sowell writes comparing the “unconstrained vision” with the “constrained vision”:

The two visions differ fundamentally as to the sources of human survival and progress. According to unconstrained vision, the patterned behavior of society is successful, just and progressive insofar as it reflects the articulated rationality of man in general and of the most intellectually and morally advanced people in particular. Order – and especially a just and progressive order – is the result of design, backed by the commitment of people dedicated to the general welfare. In broad outline, this is the vision of the “age of reason”, which began in the eighteenth-century France and has spread throughout the Western world and beyond.

In the constrained vision, where man – individually and collectively – lacks both the intellectual and moral prerequisites for such deliberate, comprehensive planning, order evolves historically without design, and more effectively than when it is designed, Language is one example of such order without design and its complexity, subtlety, and effectiveness exemplify the power of systemic processes which tap the experience of all, instead of relying on special wisdom or nobility of any individual or council. A prominent element within this tradition has applied the constrained vision to economics…. given full expression by Adam Smith and is exemplified today in the writings of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek.

Sowell goes on to describe the difference of the two visions regarding social processes:

The unconstrained vision tends to judge processes by their results – “Is it right? Is it good? …The constrained vision judges rightness and goodness as process characteristics rather than the results: A foot race is fair if it is run under the proper conditions – regardless of who wins or loses, or how often the same person wins. Justice, in the constrained vision, thus means adherence to agreed upon rules, while in the unconstrained vision, something is just or unjust according the end results.

 Progressivism manifests its end result vision with the likes of participation trophies, allowing men to use the women’s locker room and restroom and to participate in women’s sports. Its version of end result equality is a driver for socialism – making every outcome equal. It is also the thinking behind ad hoc justice, which eschews the rule of law, applicable to everyone, and rules on the basis of individual circumstances and narratives rather than behavior and accountability. Progressivism’s ‘justice’, as Sowell describes above, says that the systems and processes produced the criminal. The individual is therefore not accountable for these things. This feeds the narrative that our betters must be in control to produce better people.

To produce equal outcomes, though, requires control of individuals and processes. And that is what the Democrat candidates are proposing in various ways. They want your times in their hands.

To gain control Progressives paint a dystopian future without them in power. Per them, the world will end if we don’t act, democracy will end if they are not given control, and rights, such as slaughtering the human in your womb and men disguised as women appropriating women’s concerns, will be taken away by the Right. Hence the calculating narrative described in my previous post, Manipulated to Follow the Course of This World. The blatant irony of the narrative is that it does not invoke the Age of Reason”. Rather, it invokes a mercenary army of passions to fight for the Progressive narrative.

Reading these ideological vision characteristics one can begin to see that the Progressive Element sees its members, its candidates, as your betters, as Anointed Ones. It was not long ago that one of the “Anointed Ones”, Hillary Clinton, gave the world her “unconstrained vision”:

It Takes a Village: Picture Book

It Takes a Village offers a universal, unifying message. It captures perfectly Clinton’s vision of a multicultural America working toward a constructive goal. So hopeful and forward-looking.” —The Washington Post

 More could be said but I’ll end here. I’ve written several posts about the Progressive Element with a desire to inform the reader of its diabolical ways. Though proclaiming a roadmap that is just and fair and caring it acts in just the opposite ways. They make excuses for their behavior while condemning and persecuting those who do not serve its narrative. They pronounce good “evil” and evil “good”. Their means to ‘equality’ is to bring others (males, whites, the rich…) down and to say that two things that are not equal are equal (male-female marriage and homosexuality). They become enraged when gendered pronouns are used. Coercing language and humans into confusing nonsense is characteristic of Progressives and certainly of the Evil One and his minions.

The values the Progressive Element extols, couched in humanist and even Christian terms, comes from the father of lies. There is no truth in the Progressive Element. The road map these false prophets propose is the “wide way” Jesus talked about (Matt. 7:13-15. Progressives “come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.”

 

Therefore, I will not put my life in their hands. Rather, I submit to the One True Narrative…

My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. -Psalm 31: 15

Manipulated to Follow the Course of This World

There is a passage in C. S. Lewis’ novel That Hideous Strength (published in 1945) that foreshadows the media manipulation going on today. I’ll begin with some background from my post Genealogies of Straw?

The narrator in C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy novel That Hideous Strength tells us about one of the central characters Mark Studdock. He is a young academic, a sociologist, and a member of the Progressive Element at Bracton College. He is an ambitious, self-centered and shallow intellectual who has come into the service of the National Institute of Coordinated Sciences (NICE). He believes NICE will serve the best interest of humanity through progress at any cost. Once he stopped hemming and hawing about joining the organization he is welcomed into the inner circle. But he soon finds that he has committed himself to a hellish organization which plans to re-do humanity by force so that only the best humans (in NICE’s view) remain. He is made aware that the tentacles of the organization are growing.

 Before the passage I quote below we learn that Mark is pressured to write newspaper articles that conceal what N.I.C.E. is up to. At one point he questions Miss Hardcastle, the sadistic leader of the N.I.C.E.’s corrupt police force, about which newspaper – “Left or Right” –is going to print the “rot” he is being asked to write. Miss Hardcastle answers.

“Both, honey, both,” said Miss Hardcastle. “Don’t you understand anything? Isn’t it absolutely essential to keep a fierce Left and a fierce Right, both on their toes and terrified of each other? That’s how we get things done. Any opposition to the N.I.C.E. is represented as a Left racket in the Right papers and a Right racket in the Left papers. If it’s properly done, you get each side outbidding the other in support of us – to refute enemy slanders. Of course we’re non-political. The real power always is.”

“I don’t believe you can do that,” said Mark. “Not with the papers that are read by educated people.”

“That shows you are still in the nursery, lovey,” said Miss Hardcastle. “Haven’t you realized that it’s the other way around?”

“How do you mean?”

“Why you fool, it’s the educated reader who can be gulled. All our difficulty comes with others. When did you meet a workman who believes the papers? He takes for granted that they’re all propaganda and skips the leading articles. He buys his paper for the football results and the little paragraphs about girls falling out of windows and corpses found in the Mayfair flats. He is our problem. We have to recondition him. But the educated public, the people who read the high-brow weeklies, don’t need reconditioning. They’re all right already. They’ll believe anything.”

Mark, the academic sociologist, balks at such an inference. And Hardcastle responds “…Don’t you see that the educated reader can’t stop reading the high-brow weeklies whatever they do? He can’t. He’s been conditioned.”

 Anyone who spends time reading and watching the media, and I presume a large portion of the population here in the U.S does., is susceptible to its manipulation. Is this news to anyone? TV commercials and internet popup adverts are created to manipulate the viewer and reader to go after what is being offered, or to at least carry a jingle and a phone number and an image around in their head. Subliminal manipulation is used constantly to sway thinking.

Similar manipulative influence is used by Progressive Element’s TV news/political opinion programs and on its news and opinion websites where news is swapped for narrative. The talking heads of these shows and websites hope to affix their narrative in the minds of the viewer and reader with an endless repetition of lies, innuendos, slander, and charged words: “Racist!” Sexist!” “Homophobe!” “Islamophobe!” “Nazi!”. These words are intended to produce hate for the ‘enemies’ of the Progressive Element’s agenda. It induces an effect on the viewer and reader not unlike those who take part in INGSOC’s Two Minutes Hate as described in George Orwell’s 1984 (published in 1949).

The Progressive Element’s desired outcome-based control of others using terror and ideological fiction is characteristic of totalitarianism. This manifestation of political evil is not new nor Progressive. It is characteristic of what came before as expressed by Hannah Arendt in her 1951 Origins of Totalitarianism. Arendt, a German-born American political scientist and philosopher wrote about the horrific events of her own day: the totalitarian regimes of Soviet Stalinism and the rise of Nazi Germany that brought about the annihilation of millions. Referring to the citizenry who allowed such horrors, Arendt found a “mixture of gullibility and cynicism… is prevalent in all ranks of totalitarian movements”. And, so was lying. Here are three quotes coming out of Hannah Arendt’s understanding of the forces at work during those times to de-legitimize truth and to de-humanize the hearer: 

Why the constant, often blatant lying? For one thing, it functioned as a means of fully dominating subordinates, who would have to cast aside all their integrity to repeat outrageous falsehoods and would then be bound to the leader by shame and complicity.

In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and nothing was true… The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.

The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world—and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end—is being destroyed.

The talking head’s mocking and sneering of the ‘enemy’ is echoed in social media by the viewers of Sixty Minutes Hate. Internalized totalitarianism, often disguised as a push for social justice, demands control of the conversation, of people’s thoughts, of people’s behavior and of people’s property. With terror-mongering (e.g., “The world will end in 12 years if we don’t do something about climate change”; “Democracy will end if we don’t wrest control of it from those in power”) and with endless repetition one’s understanding of reality is swapped for the socially constructed reality. Shadow banning on social media sites is meant to keep opinions opposed to the Progressive Element’s agenda out of sight and mind.

Societal manipulation done by academics and the elites of the ruling class is used by totalitarian regimes (North Korea most notably today) to produce servitude to its agenda:

 “Apart from the massacres, deaths and famines for which communism was responsible, the worst thing about the system was the official lying: that is to say the lying in which everyone was forced to take part, by repetition, assent or failure to contradict. I came to the conclusion that the purpose of propaganda in communist countries was not to persuade, much less to inform, but to humiliate and emasculate.”

Anthony Daniels, The Wilder Shores Of Marx: Journeys In A Vanishing World

Big tech uses societal manipulation. Machine Learning Fairness algorithms are used by Google to put Google’s thumb on the scale of searches in order to skew search outcomes toward the social justice their narrative demands. Enter “Men can” and “Women can” into the Google home page and see what immediately shows up. Men are portrayed negatively or neutral and even as being able to have babies. Women are shown as compassionate and as powerful corporate and civic leaders – positively. One can imagine what Google’s Machine Learning Fairness algorithm does to skew political and cultural (the LGBTQ in particular) searches.

No matter where you lie on the political spectrum you will want to listen to the video and read the research of Dr. Robert Epstein, Why Google Poses a Serious Threat to Democracy, and How to End That Threat. Beyond newspapers, you and I are being manipulated by the princes of the power of the air – Big Tech. Dr. Epstein stated at the senate community hearing that Google’s manipulation affected a range of a minimum of 2.6 million to 10.4 million votes in favor of Hillary Clinton.

Liberal Professor Warns: Google Manipulating Voters ‘on a Massive Scale’

You can be sure that what comes out of Hollywood is societal manipulation. The entertainment you watch is manipulated. You are taking in pagan and Progressive notions of life meant to shape your world view. One example: 7 Moments That Made ‘Frozen’ the Most Progressive Disney Movie Ever

  

Because of the incessant and ubiquitous manipulation impelling one to follow the course of this world, because the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:1-3) to produce hatred, vindictiveness, greed and a lust for power, a follower of Christ must set their mind on things above (Col. 3:1-2) to gain their bearings in this world. One way to deal with the manipulative narrative is to do what Jesus did to Peter when Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. Jesus rebuked Peter: Get behind me Satan! You’re trying to trip me up! You’re not looking at things like God does! You’re looking at things like a mere mortal!” Jesus put his Father’s words in front of him and put man’s manipulative narrative – avoid pain, suffering and death – behind him.

The father of lies has been around since the Garden of Eden. He lies and he wants you to be a party to his lies. The Evil One is behind manipulative narratives as Jesus makes clear when he denounces the Judeans and their narrative, one of evoking their Abrahamic lineage as proof of the rightness of their narrative.

“You are from your father – the devil! And you’re eager to get on with what he wants. He was a murderer from the beginning, and he’s never remained in the truth, because there is no truth in him, because he is a liar – in fact, he’s the father of lies!” (Jn. 8:44)

The teachers of the law and the religious leaders in Jesus’ day wanted to control the narrative of what the law said, how it was to be applied, and of who had say-so with regard to the law. They clearly had expectations of a Messiah who would overthrow the Romans and of a man as not as repulsive as John the Baptist and of a man not as conciliatory as Jesus. Truth showed up one day in the marketplace and revealed their manipulative narrative (Matt. 11;15-17) regarding John the Baptist and of himself:

“If you’ve got ears, then listen!

“What picture shall I give you for this generation? Asked Jesus. “It’s like a bunch of children sitting in the town square, and singing songs to each other. This is how it goes:

‘You didn’t dance when we played the flute;

You didn’t cry when we sang the dirge!’

The narrative of the teachers of the law and the religious leaders clearly had its expectations. And when those expectations were not met the crowd would have Jesus crucified. The same deference to popularized and propagandized narratives with expectations based on ideological fiction is true now. And the same totalitarian impulse, like in Stalin’s and Hitler’s time and, today, within the Progressive Element, desires that you be in the thrall of their narrative, to dance to its music and to sing its songs. And in servitude to Big Brother’s narrative you will soon hear “‘You dance when we say dance! You sing when we say sing! Or, else! for totalitarianism and the evil behind it are never satisfied. Both seek to control outcomes with lies and manipulation and then with force.

Words That Never Pass Away Except in Some Forums

 

Imagine a chemist or an engineer or doctor thinking that what came before in his field, the accumulated wealth of knowledge and of best practices, is no longer of value and foundational for what he does now…

 

One major modern-day theological misconception comes from assuming that the Pharisees, one Jewish sect of many in Jesus’ day, represented the opposite of Jesus’s teachings.  Assumptive preaching, directly or indirectly, seeks to make a contrast between the Law keepers and Jesus. The Law, presented as antiquated, and the Jews, presented as Law fixated, are projected in a negative light. Jesus and his followers, presented in humanistic fashion, in a positive light. In so doing, the Pharisees and the Law have become stereotyped in the minds of many and with it, Jesus has become stereotyped. With mischaracterization comes misapplication of the gospel.

What is juxtaposed in the gospel are the encounters Jesus has with those of his day and the prevailing opinions about the Law and about the Messiah. Jesus speaks to Pharisees, scribes, religious leaders, prostitutes, tax collectors, Samaritans, fishermen, the blind, the lame, the sick, the rich, the poor and to political power – Pontius Pilate – and to a massive crowd. These occurrences reveal Jesus’ dealing with misunderstandings of the Torah. Jesus’ countering their perceptions of the Law caught many off guard and troubled the righteous who lived by the Law. To ward off their concerns and not willing to destroy one iota of the Law, Jesus says to the Sermon on the Mount crowd “Don’t suppose that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy them; I came to fulfill them!” Not one iota of the Torah will pass away until all is fulfilled with the New Creation (Matt. 24:35).

With his Sermon on the Mount Jesus offered the big picture truth – the Law of Love should be the arbiter of our intents and actions as the fulfillment of the Law. This is God’s intentions for his created beings (Matt. 7:12). The Law basically said “Don’t do this and if you do…” Jesus, in the his sermon, explains his interpretation of the Torah to the Jewish crowd (Matt: 5:17-20). He counters each of their “You heard it said…” understandings by telling them to look at the Torah his way. He summarizes the Torah and the Jewish understanding of the righteous being admitted into the New Creation with “Well, then: you must be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48)

One important consideration to keep in mind with regard to framing a picture of the law is that the gospel writers did not intend to paint an across-the-board history of the time of Jesus. This context was provided by the intertestamental scribes. The Jewish community and the gospel writers knew their writings. The gospel writers stated purpose (John 20:31) was to write an account of the One they called the Messiah. This is the focus of the gospels, not “Law bad, Jesus good”. None of their accounts diminish or denigrate the Law or the Law keepers. Their accounts tell us of Jesus’ juxtaposed encounters and ways of thinking about the Law and life in a Jewish contemporary context. Matthew’s gospel account in particular addresses issues of concern for second temple Jews including matters of the Torah and righteousness which is mentioned over and over again in his account.

Another basis for the assumption that the Law had been negated and done away with is the fact that Christians are not obligated to follow the Law. For one thing, animal sacrifices were no longer required. Jesus – the Lamb of God – sacrificed himself for us. The righteous were to do the same. The assumption that the law, with its instructions and blessings and curses was done away with is a misunderstanding of the sending of the spirit at Pentecost upon those who believed in Jesus as Messiah. In fact, Pentecost confirms the words of the Law and the prophets: “the “word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.” (Deut. 30:14)

And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh ,… Ezekiel 11:19

 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Jeremiah 31;33

There are some who draw many parallels between the giving of the Torah and the giving of the spirit at Pentecost: The Many Parallels of Sinai and Pentecost. Others line up the dates: The Giving of The Ten Commandments was on Pentecost.

The Torah, the instructions, never went away. In fact, it is right in front of you. Here’s Moses telling the children of Israel this very thing:

For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. “It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ “Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ “But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it. Deut. 30: 11-14 (emphasis mine)

The English word “law” is a translation of the Greek word nomos. And, nomos is a translation of the Hebrew word “Torah”. Deuteronomy, as quoted from above, is a restating of the nomos – the law, the Torah. And, as stated above, one cannot presume that a Moses needs to be dragged off mountain top to restate the law. The law is a by-your-side tutor. So, one is without excuse regarding the knowledge of God and his Torah (restated by Paul in Romans1:18-32).

The Torah is teaching, instruction, and “best practices” to point the Jews the way to walk, to learn to be holy as God is holy. The Torah contains blessings for those who obey the Torah and curses for the those who choose not to obey. The Torah life is not a life of bondage. Rather, it is a life with boundaries. (Boundaries are conflated with bondage these days). The Torah for the Jews and especially for the Qumran community was not a religion but a way of life.

The wisdom literature of the Scripture speaks about observing the law – the Torah – to become wise. This includes home schooling one’s children in the Torah.

Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching (torah). Prov. 1:8

The Apostle Paul, the chosen emissary of Jesus to the Gentiles, would speak also speak to the Messianic Jews regarding how to understand Jesus in relation to the Torah, especially in light of the fact that Paul did not require the Gentiles to follow the Torah. Many today assume that meant Paul disposed of the law for Christians. The trained as a Pharisee and law observant Paul taught a different approach to the Torah in accordance with the resurrection of Jesus and his kingdom on earth (Gal. 3: 19-20). The thinking that the law was made irrelevant by Jesus was countered early on by Paul as he taught that the Messiah delivered on his covenant faithfulness:

The Messiah, you see, is the goal of the law, so that covenant membership may be available for all who believe. Rom. 10:4

Like Jesus, Paul didn’t dismiss the law. And, like Jesus Paul made it known that obeying specific laws was secondary to one’s intent and love for the One who redeemed them to walk in love. Perspective, God’s perspective is what mattered most and not man’s attempt to practice the Law.

Circumcision is nothing; uncircumcision Is nothing: what matters is keeping God’s laws. 1 Cor. 7: 19

This perspective, as taught by Jesus (“Except your righteousness exceed that of…”) and later by Paul to the Jews who wanted to be declared “righteous” to be accepted in the age to come, also made clear that the law brought God’s people only so far.

We are Jews by birth, not Gentile “sinners.” But we know that a person is not declared “righteous” by works of the Jewish law, but through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah.

That is why we too believed in the Messiah, Jesus: so that we might be declared “righteous” on the basis of the Messiah’s faithfulness, and not on the basis of works of the Jewish law. On that basis, you see, no creature will be declared “righteous.” Gal. 2: 15-16

It would be hard to imagine a chemist or an engineer or doctor thinking that what came before in his field, what works and what doesn’t work, is no longer of value and foundational and to declare a new way. But, it is easy for social engineers to discard what came before, including the law, to invoke a societal tolerance of all manner of license against perceived authoritarianism.

The gospel as dispensed today in many churches leaves out the historical context of the Law (and of Jesus) and coaxes out stereotypes. The Jews of Jesus’ day are presented as under the heavy yoke of the Law and obsessive about rules and regulations and keeping the law. Jesus is presented as chastising them for bothering with the law and not being more human. Some preaching will go so far as to say that the law was a failed attempt by God to make his people righteous and that Jesus came to discard it and to try a new way.

Jesus is presented as setting people free from the Law and therefore accountability so that they can be their own person. And, erroneously, the Jews are presented as caring about the Law and Jesus caring about people. I have seen Jesus presented as enlightened man of peace and love. Often on social media I have seen Jesus hailed as a Progressive along with Che Guevara and other radicals. Others on social media have stated that Jesus is OK with homosexuality based on the thinking that God made them that way and the law Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin. is pre-Jesus and therefore invalid (Jesus as social-justice warrior).

Others, including a well-known Jesuit priest on social media, have implied that the Law is authoritarian and “conservative values” and therefore must be vilified as uncaring and Jesus as humanistic “Progressive values” to be embraced. These pagans worship their gods and follow their laws even sacrificing children to them in the name of Jesus the Progressive.

The effects of suppressing the truth about the Law is seen in our culture and individually, as accountability is thrown out the door with the law. Lawlessness abounds, anarchy follows and in-your-face mocking of the righteous. “Law bad, Jesus good”.

Moses and the Ten Commandments – Gustave Doré

Imagine listening to a singer’s performance and the singer and musicians didn’t care about tonality, meter and pitch. Imagine that they didn’t care about what came before musically and what worked to harmonize their performance. The sounds they make are jarring to the ears but you listen because it is promoted as avant-garde, unheard of and en vogue. You leave the performance feeling unsettled because the music didn’t resolve – there were no tonic chords only an establishment mocking dissonance. The ‘music’ was unconstrained and lacked direction and meaning. Yet, you feel proud of yourself that you were involved in something unconventional and iconoclastic. Later, at dinner with your companions, you rave about the performance. You want to come off sounding, liberal, broad-minded and, …Progressive, and not like so many others who are so conventional and lacking your insight. There is preaching today just like that today. “They declare themselves wise, but in fact became foolish.” (Rom. 1: 22)

Finally, there are three Psalms in which the Lord’s instruction is central to understanding life before God: Psalm 1, Psalm 19 and Psalm 119. The writers show a strong desire to know God and His ways. The Psalmists want God’s instruction more than life itself. We would do well to do likewise, since man does not live by bread alone.

 

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There is so much more that could be said about Jesus and the law, so I commend the following:

Required reading: the chapter Did Jesus Abolish the Law of Moses?  Mind the Gap: How the Jewish Writings Between the Old and New Testament Help Us Understand Jesus by Matthias Henze

 

The Way They’ll Do Your Life

 

May 1 – the Day of Solidarity of workers around the world

 

 

The Left’s dalliance with Socialism, redolent with wooing – “Money is in the wrong hands”, “You show me a capitalist, and I’ll show you a bloodsucker”, Workers of the world unite! A future to believe in!” – is not a relationship with socialism’s destructive life-wrecking persona as history accords. Rather, the Left speaks in highly charged (and romanticized) words of a life-saving relationship with socialism using the likes of the moral sounding “From each according to his ability; To each according to his needs”. The match-makers of the Left hype the ‘good-side’ of socialism to their ‘clients’ as one of REVOLUTION! CHANGE! EQUALITY! These beguiling words and many more are enticements for a marriage to politicized envy. They are words of an appeal to dance with the devil (and his details). Millennials who court socialism don’t realize the monster they are dating.

The reality: “From each to the State. Your needs are subject to the State.” Democratic socialism: Pull a lever and vote for socialism; Pull the lever and vote your will; Pull the lever and your needs and your will are submitted to the State.

Personal histories, as in the podcast below, expose “for the people” ideologies and economic systems. As you will learn, socialism dehumanizes the people… “for the people”. Here’s the intro to the podcast from the post She Survived China’s Forced Labor Camp. Now She’s Urging Americans to Reject Socialism.

Jennifer Zeng grew up admiring the Communist Party of China and adhering to its stringent rules. But her life changed forever when she embraced religion and was swept up in a government crackdown on Falun Gong. Arrested four times as a young adult and held in as a prisoner in a labor camp, she quickly woke up to the horrors of living in a socialist state. After being subject to brutal torture, Zeng managed to escape China and now tells about the evils of socialism and communism.

At a time when more Americans are embracing Karl Marx’s teachings, Chris Wright has helped Zeng share her story as part of a network called the Anticommunism Action Team. They recently spoke to The Daily Signal along with Darian Diachok, who escaped from Soviet-era Ukraine as an infant and has helped former Soviet satellite states democratize and overcome their failed communist systems.

 

 

The goal of socialism is communism. Vladimir Lenin 

The legacy of socialism is one of devastation “for the people”.  Beside the accounts in the podcast, personal stories via literature recount the actual eye-witness history. They have the greatest impact on the reader and certainly over myriads of facts. (I will write about the Left’s selective memory in a future post The Mau-Mauing of History.)

The sole substitute for an experience which we have not ourselves lived through is art and literature.

-Aleksander Solzhenitsyn

Required reading w/quotes. These are first-hand personal accounts of life under the heavy fist of socialism:

“Apart from the massacres, deaths and famines for which communism was responsible, the worst thing about the system was the official lying: that is to say the lying in which everyone was forced to take part, by repetition, assent or failure to contradict. I came to the conclusion that the purpose of propaganda in communist countries was not to persuade, much less to inform, but to humiliate and emasculate.”

Anthony Daniels, The Wilder Shores Of Marx: Journeys In A Vanishing World

Three books by Alexzander Solzhenitsyn reveal the grizzly details of Life under Communism via his experience. (I read the complete volumes of Gulag and the The Life…  in the 80’s. I just finished reading the stories of Apricot Jam:

The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956 (Abridged version)

“My life is over, a little early to be sure; but there’s nothing to be done about it. I shall never return to freedom. I am condemned to die – now or a little later. But later on, in truth, it will be even harder, an so the sooner the better. I no longer have any property whatsoever. For me those I love have died, and for them I have died. From today on, my body is useless and alien to me. Only my spirit and my conscience remain precious and important to me.”

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“The separation of church and state was so construed by the [Soviet] state that the churches themselves and everything that hung in them, was installed in them and painted in them, belonged to the state, and the only church remaining was that which … lay within the heart.”

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

“A tub was brought in to melt snow for mortar. They heard somebody saying it was twelve o’clock already.
“It’s sure to be twelve,” Shukhov announced. “The sun’s over the top already.”
“If it is,” the captain retorted, “it’s one o’clock, not twelve.”
“How do you make that out?” Shukhov asked in surprise. “The old folk say the sun is highest at dinnertime.”
“Maybe it was in their day!” the captain snapped back. “Since then it’s been decreed that the sun is highest at one o’clock.”
“Who decreed that?”
“The Soviet government.”
The captain took off with the handbarrow, but Shukhov wasn’t going to argue anyway. As if the sun would obey their decrees!”

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“He ate his supper without bread. A double helping and bread–that was going too far. The bread would do for tomorrow. The belly is a demon. It doesn’t remember how well you treated it yesterday; it’ll cry out for more tomorrow.”

Apricot Jam: And Other Stories

 

Added 7/15/2019:
Here’s Democratic Socialism in action – mandatory action on your part. You must submit your will:
Venezuela calls for mandatory labor in farm sector

“Trying to tackle Venezuela’s severe food shortages by forcing people to work the fields is like trying to fix a broken leg with a band aid,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, in a statement.