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Archive for December, 2011

Courtney at the speed of life

A Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie story

“Lord-a-mercy!” I said in my thickest southern drawl. “Somebody tell god to take the rest of the week off. He has made perfection, and there ain’t no topping that!”

The beautiful blonde woman scowled and blushed at the same time. It made her look seventeen again.

“Where is your charming husband? I can’t believe he’d ever dare to leave your side.”

She shook her head gravely, and maybe that was my cue to lay off. Or maybe not…

“Well, tell me what your boyfriend looks like, then. So I’ll know who to run from.”

She chuckled. “No boyfriend.”

“Well, then, the next man that asks, you tell him I’m sprouting gray hairs in patches and I carry a little paunch. I’m half-a-step slower than I never was. I’m ugly as sin, and I stink something awful toward the end of the day. You tell him that’s my description.”

She drew a finger across her eyebrow, the hair so fine it was almost white. Her eyes were blue and deeper than a quarry lake, alive with the light of mischief. “Am I to take that as an offer?”

I nodded gravely. “What fool could pass on perfection?”

She smiled a wistful little half-smile. A woman with a secret, a woman with a story to tell. “I think it was you…”

I wanted to stay and talk but somebody pulled me away. It was a New Year’s Eve party at my sister’s house. I was the guest of honor, the prodigal son returned, and I hadn’t seen some of the revelers for twenty years. I kept getting bounced around the room, passed like the torch of sobriety from one drunk to the next. But my eyes always sought her out, sought her supple perfection amidst all that was chaotic and deformed. She moved like liquid glass, like a cat, like a leopard. Her hands preceded her always, and she caressed everything with long, slender fingers. It was as though she had the power of vision in her fingertips, and she saw more than you or I will ever see with mere eyes.

She moved, and she graced the universe with her touch, with her glance. She made me hungry, hungry in a way I haven’t known in more years that I care to think about, hungry for things I walked away from a lifetime ago…

And then she was gone.

I jerked my head around stupidly, peering into every corner, but I knew she was gone. I was surprised at the loss I felt, and I thought about just letting it drop. But then I grabbed my coat off a bed and busted out into the freezing night.

I hollered up the icy hill, “I’m following you, pretty lady! I ain’t gonna let you get away!” I couldn’t see her, but I knew where she was. I always knew where to find her…

I never chased her up that hill, and I never chased her down it. But for three nights in a row, a lifetime ago, she stood with me all the way down at the bottom of that hill. All the way down at the river. Tossing pebbles into the water. Weeping with me for my dead.

* * *

It was the Summer I discovered sadness. It was the Summer when everything changed. It was the moment of glowing perfection just before the dawning, when all of life is a stark silhouette, a black mystery against a golden aura in the instant before the sun ruins everything by making it obvious and banal. It was the Summer I left home.

Of course, no one ever really leaves home. We just walk away, coming back less and less often. And every time we come back, there’s less and less of the indiminishable everything we thought must always be there. Relatives die off one by one. Old friends move away. Schools and houses and buildings are abandoned, cackling through broken-toothed windows as we mourn them. Until one day, one very sad day, there’s nothing left at all, nothing but the memories we carry with us indiminishably, inextinguishably. Life begins but it never ends, and at the speed of life events have sequence but no duration, no expiration.

It was the Summer I discovered sadness. It was the Summer my grandfather died.

I had already left home once. Not for keeps, but I didn’t know that. I thought I was gone for good. I thought I was the top rider in a one-man rodeo, couldn’t nobody stop me ’cause nobody’d dare to try. I was nine parts foolish vanity and the tenth part groundless pride, but it was a fine and perfect pride. I taught haughty to flamenco dancers on the side, and they paid me in silver dinares. I pretty much figured I wouldn’t bother to go back home until I could return suitably laureled, hailed by herald trumpets.

In fact, I was living in a building too far gone to qualify as a tenement, but I was too stupid – and too proud – to be miserable. And then I got the word that my grandfather had died and I had to abandon all my worldly possessions – about twenty-nine dollar’s worth, net – and scurry back home to see him waked and buried.

I hadn’t known. I was the working prototype of a young idiot, and I hadn’t really known – in my guts, in my bones – that people could die. You read about it, you hear about it, you see it a dozen times a day on TV. But until death comes to someone you know, someone you love, someone you never doubted would always be there… I was numb and useless that first day of the wake. Couldn’t do anything, couldn’t even cry.

She was there at our house that night, there for my sister. Courtney Lancaster, the little girl on the hill. She was my sister’s age, a year-and-a-half older than me, and she’d always been around the house. Silky blonde hair in french braids, wrapped up around her head like the girl on the Swiss Miss box. In khaki shorts with cargo pockets and starched white blouses. And later in painter’s pants and denim work shirts with tiny mother-of-pearl snaps instead of buttons. In parkas and pea coats and watch caps and miner’s boots. In sandals and Summer suits and big floppy white hats. Her skin would tan to a golden brown in the Summer and the fine white hairs on her legs were never touched by a razor and I never thought a thing about it. Of all my sister’s friends, she was the one who seemed least like a girl. And therefore, by my standards at the time, most like a human being.

But now she was all woman. Her dad was a consulting engineer and she had spent a year in Europe with him. Knowing what I know now, I would have understood immediately that there was a man behind the metamorphosis. But at the time, I was stunned, even outraged. She was wearing camel’s hair slacks and a creamy white silk blouse, very fluid. Her hair was brushed and brushed and brushed until it seemed to glow with a light of its own. She wore no make-up, no jewelry, nothing to hide or cheat or disguise, nothing to detract or diminish or disfigure. I could hardly bear to look at her; I kept having to look away. It wasn’t lust, it was simply radiance. She was too blindingly beautiful to be looked at for long.

After dinner, she started flipping through my records and asking me questions about them. It surprised me, sort of, because I hadn’t known until then that it could be possible for a woman to be both beautiful and serious. The old Courtney-in-khakis could be serious, but Courtney-in-camel’s-hair? My sister was a little put out, too, even though I wasn’t doing anything – not then, anyway – to swipe her friend.

She spun up Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks,” easily the best album since “Blonde on Blonde.” She stopped at “Simple Twist of Fate” and played it over and over again, and I thought my sister was going to tear out her hair. For my own part, I was charmed by her attentions, but I had other things I wanted to do.

I had my mom’s car keys and I spun ‘em on my finger. I said, “I’m going out for a while. You wanna come?” I didn’t know why I invited her, and I didn’t know why I was so delighted when she nodded and said she’d come along.

I knew of a liquor store where the clerk was drunk every night after eight o’clock or so. Never carded anyone, and couldn’t read the numbers even if he had. I scored us a quart of beer and drove her all the way down into the heart of the bottom. At the bottom of the hill there’s a little park platted out in the flood plain of the river. It’s good flat land and it makes a fine softball field come April, when it finally dries up. In the late Summer it’s dry as dust and the river’s hardly deep enough to soak your shoes. It’s dark and quiet and there was never anybody down there at night, nobody but me.

That first night we didn’t talk all that much, just nursed the beer and kicked some rocks around. I wanted to talk about my grandpa, but I kept choking up and I didn’t want to cry in front of her. I knew she had something she wanted to tell me about, too, but she was having troubles of her own. But we managed to find serenity in the comfort of an easy silence in the quiet of the night – crickets chirping, the river burbling, and, far off, the high white whine of the highway.

I dropped her off at her folks’ house, the fieldstone ranch house at the top of the hill. Without looking up from the steering wheel, I said, “Thank you, Courtney.”

“For what?”

I blew a puff of air at my nose. “I don’t know. Thanks for coming to the wake, thanks for being there for the family, all that stuff. But that’s not what I mean.” I took my time thinking and she let me. “What I want to thank you for is not posing. Does that make sense?”

She laughed. “Not a bit.”

“You’re not a pose, you’re not an act, you’re not a show. You’re just who you are all the time, so I don’t have to try to figure out who you want me to be. I can just be myself. All the time. I always liked you, but until tonight I didn’t know why. You’re whole enough to be quiet…”

“Maybe,” she said with the light of mischief in her eyes. “Or maybe I’m just empty. Nothing to say, and the good sense to say nothing.” She laughed, and she was beautiful in her laughter and she knew it.

She ate with us again the next night and she went out with me again. This time I didn’t even bother about the beer, I just drove straight to the river. We sat cross-legged on top of a picnic table, facing each other, bouncing a tennis ball back and forth between us. I was able to look at her, partly because I was more comfortable with her, and partly because it was so dark she could hardly blind me with her beauty. We sat there for most of the night, telling lies, telling jokes, telling the brutal truth in raucously funny ways. I can’t remember a single thing we said that night, but I’ll always remember it as the happiest night of my life. I can find my peace in solitude, in a cave or a canyon or just on a lonesome old road. But that was the one night of my life when I found a perfect peace in the company of another human being. My gift, my treasure, from Courtney Lancaster.

On the third day we buried my grandfather. Seventy-four years in the same one parish, and the monsignor himself said the words. Afterward there was a big blow-out at the house, a 16-gallon keg and a fat guy in a red satin vest with an accordion. Everybody who’d cried for my grandpa for three days wanted a chance to cheer, to lift a cup from sadness and raise it up to joy. To praise my grandfather for his virtues, and to praise those virtues of his that live on in those who loved him. And if you need to clear a knot of grief from your throat, a good way to do it is to make some noise.

We stayed for a while, but not too long. She left with me and I knew she would. I expect you can guess where we went.

It was a somber night at the river. The sky was shrouded in clouds and the air was sticky and close. I stood by the water and listened for the whine of the highway and I could hear her rustling behind me. I couldn’t bear to look at her, and I didn’t know why. That was when she told me about her man, the man behind the metamorphosis, the man she’d met in Europe. The way she described him he sounded much older, but we were so young that everyone seemed much older to me. She was flying back to join him the next day, a sort of trans-Atlantic elopement. Her parents were fit to be tied, but what could they do?

I had plans of my own, and I laid them out for her, still not daring to turn to look at her. After a while I tried to talk about my grandpa, about all the things we’d done together over the years. But my voice was rent by sobbing and I knew she couldn’t understand me. After a while I couldn’t understand myself, and I just stood there weeping, grieving for a man I’d never learned to love until it was too late.

I could feel her right behind me, could feel her breath behind my ear. I knew if I turned she’d hold me, and I could bury my grief within her. And I knew if she reached for me, I’d turn. But she didn’t reach and I didn’t turn. And after a minute or an hour or an eternity, I crouched down and grabbed a handful of pebbles. I started tossing them, one-by-one, into the water. In a moment I felt her move away.

A long time later she said, “I need to get going.”

I tossed her the car keys. “Take the car to my mom. Someone’ll give you a lift up the hill.”

“I can walk up.”

I nodded. “Or you can walk up.”

“What about you? What are you going to do?”

I smiled at her and the clouds parted and a glimmer of moonlight lit her radiance and blinded me everlastingly. “I’m going to miss you every day, Courtney Lancaster. I’m going to miss you every day from now until forever.”

She started to say something but I shook my head. I pressed a finger to my lips. “Walk away,” I said. “Walk away and don’t look back.”

She leaned over and brushed my cheek with her lips and as she pulled away I felt the downy fine hairs on her cheek and I caught the scent of her. No fragrance, just the essence of heaven itself.

And then she was gone.

I stood there tossing pebbles into the water until the dawn broke over the treetops. Then I walked along the bank of the river until I came to the highway bridge. I scrambled up the embankment and I started walking down that lonesome old road. And I never looked back…

* * *

She was waiting for me when I got to the top of the hill on that icy New Year’s Eve. The house was bigger than I remembered it, bigger and more imposing. It sat on four or five acres, surrounded by a split-rail fence. There were no stables or corrals, but everything about it said equestrian. There was a covered walk-through between the house and the garage and behind it was a huge fieldstone patio. Her dad had built a big brick barbecue and faced that in fieldstone as well. That was where I found her, sitting by that barbecue. She had built a fire and the heat of it kept the cold at bay. The flickering light chased the years away from her face and she looked to me like the little girl, the full-grown woman, who had blinded me in the moonlight twenty years before.

She smiled at me as I stood before her and I was blinded yet again. She said, “I’m glad you followed me.”

“You knew I would.”

She bit her lower lip. “I hoped you would.”

It was my turn to smile. I said, “I hate to be lied to, and you always tell the truth. Even when it’s the hardest. That’s what I’ve always loved about you.”

Maybe the word shocked her, I don’t know. I went on before she could stop me. “I have always loved you, Courtney. Every day, just like I promised.” I smiled a tight little smile, but the truth is there was a wetness in my eyes and a burning spot in my throat. “I loved you every day, and I never once let you know. You and my grandpa, I thought about you both every day. I wanted the two of you to be proud of me, and I wanted for you never to be ashamed of me. Everything I’ve ever done, I wanted to live up to you, to you and my grandfather. Doesn’t that seem stupid?”

Her own eyes were wet and she did nothing to hide it. “I don’t think so.”

“Courtney, my grandfather has been dead for twenty years. I haven’t sent you a card or a letter for twenty years. Not even a phone call. My grandpa can’t count my worth and I never gave you the chance. I walk around making this catalog of the absurd, but the true fact of my life is that I measure myself against two ghosts, a dead man and a lady who vanished. I have to laugh at myself, too, when I’m stupid. It’s only fair.”

She nodded and that was good enough.

I heard a noise behind me and I spun around to see two small creatures in bed clothes creeping up on us. The back door to the house was half open and I strode over to pull it closed. When I returned the two creatures were snuggled under Courtney’s arms. She said, “Permit me to introduce Samantha and Abigail.”

Samantha was about nine, and she had inherited every ounce of her mother’s beauty and a drop or two more. She was dainty and ladylike and she wore a flowered flannel nightgown with tatted lace at the collar and cuffs. On her feet were fuzzy pink slippers.

Abigail was seven or seven-and-a-half and she held title to every last acre of Courtney’s tomboy arrogance. She was beautiful in her own way, but she was more brash than anything. Her nightgown was an adult’s fleece sweatshirt, and she hadn’t bothered to pull her hands through the enormous sleeves. She had walked out on the freezing flagstones bare-footed, which I wouldn’t do on a bet.

I bowed to the waist and Samantha giggled. Abigail snorted, and who could blame her?

Courtney said, “Why aren’t you guys in bed? Where’s the sitter?”

Abigail scoffed. “Asleep on the sofa. Where else?”

“Oh. Great… Well, get it moving.”

Samantha wheedled, “Sing us a song first. Please.”

“No,” said Abigail, a glint of evil in her eyes. “Make him sing.”

Courtney was about to intervene but I said, “I’ll be happy to. This is a song your mother used to like. I’m only gonna sing the first and last verses, ’cause I don’t care for the rest of it.” I cleared my throat and started to sing “Simple Twist of Fate.”

They sat together in the park
As the evening sky grew dark.
She looked at him and he felt a spark tingle to his bones.
It was then he felt alone and wished that he’d gone straight
And watched out for a simple twist of fate.

Courtney smiled at me and I thought my knees might buckle. Abigail said, “You sing like a duck!”

I gave a solemn nod. “Proudly, like a duck.”

People tell me it’s a sin
To know and feel too much within.
I still believe she was my twin, but I lost the ring.
She was born in Spring, but I was born too late.
Blame it on a simple twist of fate.

Courtney coughed softly. “I was born in the Spring.”

“I know it.”

“What about you, mister?” Abigail asked. “Were you born too late?”

“Why, no. I was born just in time. If I had been born even one minute later, who knows what might have happened?”

“What?”

I shrugged with my palms open at my shoulders. “Who knows?”

“He’s teasing you,” said Samantha.

I nodded. “You’d better go to bed, kids. You’ve met your match.”

Samantha giggled and Abigail laughed derisively and I wanted to hug them both. Courtney dumped them off her lap and pushed them toward the house. I was sitting by the fire when she returned.

“They’re great kids, aren’t they?”

“They are.”

She smiled a tight, bitter little smile. “Their father didn’t seem to notice.”

I looked into the fire. “Where are your folks?”

“Colorado.”

“Your dad building a bridge?”

“A string of bridges. A brand new highway from Nowhere to Nowhere Heights. Your tax dollars at work.” She laughed. “Mother wants him to retire, but I don’t think he’s ready.”

I said nothing, just let the crackling of the fire fill up the silence. The night sky was clear and bursting with stars. The air was crisp and clean and very cold. After a long time, I said, “I’m at war with death.”

She smiled wryly and said, “Are there many casualties?”

“Go ahead. Make fun of me. I deserve it.”

“No,” she said. “Talk to me. Tell me what you never tell anyone.”

I nodded gravely. “I always have. I always will.” I took my time thinking and she let me. “I didn’t know what I was doing, when I started this. I wanted people to stop dying, but I didn’t know what I meant. It sounds stupid, right? People die, it’s a part of life.” I grinned despite myself. “The last part.”

She laughed like glass chimes tinkling in the Winter wind.

“But that wasn’t it,” I went on. “I’d see homeless people pushing shopping carts and sad, tired people shuffling along and little kids who wouldn’t look up from the ground, and I’d think – what I want is for people to stop dying before their time. But that’s what doctors do, isn’t it?

“And I got older. I hope I got wiser. And I got better and better at seeing what I’m talking about. And better and better at talking about it. And I got to a place where I could mesmerize people, just like a revival preacher, just like a snake charmer. And I’d talk and I’d talk and I’d talk and people would watch me and they’d say, ‘This man is crazy. This man is possessed. This man is god. This man is the devil.’ They’d look at me and say, ‘This man is right.’

“And I’d look back at them and I’d know I’d said just the opposite of what I wanted to. Because I didn’t want to tell them what I know, I want them to tell themselves what they had always known, without having to be told. And one day I realized that I had known all along what I wanted…”

She waited and waited, and finally she said, “Well?”

I shrugged. “I wanted them to stop dying while they were still alive.”

She nodded in recognition and I knew she would. And I knew the idea was new to her and I knew she’d known it forever, just like you have.

I pointed one by one at all the houses on the top of the hill. “There’s a story in every one of those houses. A story you’ve never heard before, except you know it by heart. And every one of those stories is tragic, and every one of them is comical, and every one of them is universal. Every one of those stories is different, and every one of them is the same. And every one of them is about nobody but you. You’re presented with the choice to live or die, and the story is which you chose and why.”

She didn’t feel pressed to say anything at all, and that’s the most amazing trait I’ve ever observed in any human being.

I said, “At the speed of light, events have sequence but no duration. Every point on the line of time is the same one point, and events occur in order, but they all happen at the same time. No before. No later. Just now. Forever.” I smiled brightly, because the idea is boundlessly funny to me. “I think about that, because all these stories seem so universal to me, and I wonder what universal might mean. When I write a story, I can freeze the people, I can freeze the events, I can leave it there like a trail marker, something that lasts forever. And when people respond to that, it’s not something I’m telling them. It’s something they’ve always known. We’re all made of star-stuff, millions and millions of years of accumulated nuclear waste. What if universal means something we all own from the birth of the universe? We seem so temporary. We’re born, we live, we die. But what if there’s a piece of forever inside each of us? Maybe that’s the thing that admits the truth. Maybe that’s the thing that discovers, again and again, the things we’ve always known…”

There were tears in her eyes and I was glad of that. There were tears in my own and my voice was broken; the best I could do was a sort of a croak. “I want to live forever, Courtney. I don’t ever want to die.”

She smiled at me and I saw her lovely hand on the arm of her chair and I wanted to pick up that hand and press it to my lips, just hold it there, forever. But I didn’t, and I knew why I didn’t. I said, “But I die with every choice I make. When I choose something, a vast array of futures open up before me. But a vast horde of other futures collapse and vanish, everything that might have happened, but won’t. All these lives in front of me. All these deaths behind me.” I laughed. “The stories are about nobody but me. I’m presented with the choice to live or die, and the story is which I chose and why.”

She traced a circle with her finger on the arm of her chair. She said, “You could stay here.”

I tried not to move. I tried not to react in any way at all.

She gave a nervous laugh. “I didn’t mean that the way it came out. I meant you could stay here in town, couldn’t you?”

I shook my head. “You’ll always be the lady on the hill. And I’ll always be the man with one foot in the next town.”

She said nothing, just stared into the fire. After a long time, I heard the report of a firecracker down the hill. I said, “I hadn’t intended that.”

“Intended what?”

More firecrackers, a whole string of them. “Happy New Year, Courtney.”

She smiled. “Happy New Year.”

“In a story, I could make this so much more… elegant.”

“Tuxedos and gowns, I would hope. And champagne.”

“No,” I said. “At the stroke of midnight, we’d each down a tiny little snifter of Grand Marnier, then smash the glasses in the fireplace.”

“And then what?”

“And then we’d kiss, the orange nectar still thick on our tongues.”

She said nothing for a long moment. “Do you want to kiss me…?”

“Here’s another story. Imagine a drunken hummingbird who’s gotten himself hooked on Grand Marnier. Wouldn’t that be funny?”

She said, “Why don’t you come over here and kiss me?”

I shrugged. “You can’t reach and I can’t turn.”

“I don’t understand that.”

I smiled, but it wasn’t a happy smile. “Of all the people we went to school with, you and I are the only two who haven’t changed… They’re like trees bending in the wind or boats buffeted by the seas. But we are monoliths, and after twenty years we’re barely even weathered. That’s an accomplishment, isn’t it?”

“I see.” She smiled a tight, bitter little smile. “I’ll always be the lady on the hill, and you’ll always be the man with one foot in the next town.”

“That’s right.” The tears were rolling down my cheeks, and I didn’t try to hide them. “We made the right choices, both of us, and we have to live with them. Death is what happens when you make war on your life. Death is what happens when you betray who you are… A life defiled by a thousand small deaths, or death defied by an uncompromised life. That’s the story, isn’t it?”

I smiled at her and she looked up at me and she was the only woman in the universe, forever. I stood up, and she stood before me, just inches away. The fire lit her radiance and the depths of her beauty blinded me everlastingly. I said, “I’m going to love you forever, Courtney. I’m going to live forever, and I’m going to love you every day.”

She started to say something but I shook my head. I pressed a finger to my lips. “Walk away,” I said. “Walk away and don’t look back.”

She leaned over and brushed my cheek with her lips and as she pulled away I felt the downy fine hairs on her cheek and I caught the scent of her. No fragrance, just the essence of heaven itself.

And then she was gone.

I turned and walked down the hill, walked all the way to the highway. I walked my way down that lonesome old road, all those lives in front of me, all those deaths behind me. I walked away and I didn’t look back…

But you always know where to find me, don’t you? If I ain’t making cheese-burgers from all your sacred cows, then I’m running your fingers through the matted hair of yet another wretched untouchable. But at the speed of life events have sequence but no duration, no expiration, so I expect you can always find me unguarded in that moment of glowing perfection just before the dawning. Down at the river. Tossing pebbles into the water. Weeping for all my dead.

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    How to slay dragons

    A Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie story

    And now I am a man-killer.

    We live with the consequences of our choices, and we cannot fail to live with all the consequences of all our choices. Sic semper nobis, sic etiam mihi. Thus always to us, thus even to me.

    Your money? Or your life? Your mind – the means of your life? Or your life – the end of your mind’s devising? Lie or die? Can any such choice be made? And if it can’t – what then?

    What if you choose neither?

    What then?

    I got mugged, that’s what happened. Or almost mugged, anyway. On New Year’s Eve of all days, the very last day of the bloodiest century in human history.

    I live on the edge of a world you barely know about, that place you read about in the newspaper, that fetid cavern that seems to house everything that is vicious and venomous and vile. I’m not interested in vice except as the object of derision, which is why I’m on the edge of that world. But I know the price of living where you do instead, and I choose not to pay it.

    So I was out on New Year’s Eve. Not out partying, not out driving drunk, not out shooting off fireworks or shooting off my mouth. I was out because that’s where I am almost all of the time, out walking the empty streets.

    Since before Thanksgiving I had been wandering within a mile or so of a big-city shopping mall. Not for any reason, but simply because I lacked the reason to go somewhere else. I see your story in what you do, in how you behave. If your story interests me I will stick around to watch you. Until I understand you. Or until I think I do. Or until I get bored.

    This is a fact, and it might be news to you: Stray dogs don’t stray far. The population of vagrants who infest the neighborhood around a big-city shopping mall is pretty stable. Homeless people, winos, addicts, runaways – you think they come and go. But in fact mostly they come and stay. They might sleep in a different place every night, but once they get to know the merchants and the restaurants and the dumpsters, they’re not quick to move on to the unknown.

    So it was no surprise to me that my would-be, wanna-be mugger was known to me. Not a friend, not even a nodding-acquaintance, but someone I’d seen again and again in the past weeks.

    He was a tweaker, a methamphetamine addict. Just a kid, not even twenty, but he was dying. Even before he tried to mug me he was dying. He had an uncontrolled infection in his right leg, an immense pus-filled edema. Like all tweakers he was as thin as a ghost, but his right leg was swollen, from his ankle to his thigh, to the girth of a trash basket. He walked that way, as if his leg was embedded to the hip in a trash basket.

    I had been watching him, catching sight of him when he was there to be seen, because I knew he was going to die. He needed to be in an ambulance. He needed to be in an emergency room. He needed to be in a hospital. Instead he was dragging his swollen leg from parking lot to parking lot, from dumpster to dumpster, from ecstatic high to crushing low, from the shivering cold to the endless shivering sweats. He was going to die, and I was going to let him. So were you.

    But each of us is master of his own fate, and thus it was even for him. He mugged me, or tried to, at the shrine of St. Mary outside a Catholic church. And there did he die, his face lit in his last moments by the flicker of votive candles. Sic semper tyrannis. Thus always to tyrants.

    I was lighting candles for my dead, sitting cross-legged on the concrete before the statue of Mary. There was no one around, of course, and the shrine was out of sight from the street. He came upon me from behind, and it wasn’t much of a sneak attack considering that he had to drag that trash basket of a leg behind him with every pace. He stopped right behind me, and it was only when I heard him pull back the hammer of a revolver that I began to be concerned.

    Without turning, without taking my eyes away from my candles, I said, “Go ahead.”

    “Wuh?”

    “Go ahead. Kill me.”

    “Hey, man, I don’t wanna kill you. I’m just rippin’ you off.”

    “No,” I said. “That’s not what you’re doing. But it doesn’t matter. I won’t let you steal from me.”

    “You won’t let me? How are you gonna stop me?”

    I smiled, though only the Blessed Virgin could see my face. “Just like this.”

    “Huh?”

    “Just like this. I will not permit you to steal from me. I will not despoil myself in your behalf. I will not pretend that your will is mine, that your mind can cause my behavior. I will not cooperate with you.”

    “Say what?”

    “You pretend that your gun controls my behavior. That because you’re holding that gun, you can control my behavior. But you know this is false. That’s why you have the gun. If you could control my behavior, you wouldn’t need the gun. We both know the truth: Only I control my behavior. And I will not volunteer to affect to pretend to believe that the truth is untrue. I won’t lie for you, to buttress your insane illusions.”

    “But— I can fucking kill you!”

    “Sure you can. Go ahead.”

    “Wuh?”

    “Go ahead. Kill me. Be a killer. Be a murderer.”

    “But… Don’t you want to live…?”

    “Not like that, not ever.” I spun myself around so I could look up at him. He was filthy and feral, of course, his clothing more rags than fabric. The seam of his right trouser leg was ripped up to the waist, and the great swollen mass of that infected leg was right in my face. “Look at me,” I said. “What do you see?”

    To this he answered nothing.

    “Do I look like a straight to you?”

    “Not hardly.”

    “Do I look bent?”

    “Not really. There’s something different about you.”

    “That’s exactly right. I’m not straight and I’m not bent. There are only two choices, and I choose neither. So what am I, if I’m not straight and not bent? Am I a circle? A spiral? Maybe I’m a coil, bouncing from place to place. Refusing to lie, refusing to die. Refusing to kill, refusing to be killed. Refusing to enslave, refusing to be enslaved.”

    “What the hell are you talking about?”

    “I’m talking about choices. The choice is to lie or to die. To pretend that people with guns can control my behavior, or to let them kill me. The straights choose to lie. The bents choose to die. I choose neither.”

    “I’ll fucking kill you! I’ll do it if I have to!”

    I shifted my weight onto my left hip. “This is your argument: Rather than die, I should prefer to live knowing that I have groveled before the likes of you. I won’t do it. I will not lie for you.”

    That was one twist too many and I knew it. He would never have become a killer, not in a world of cooperative victims. But he was swinging the gun around to aim it at me, and I did not hesitate to punch him hard, right in his infected leg. It was so swollen that it burst with a splash of pus, and he collapsed, screaming. And as he collapsed he squeezed the trigger on his gun and it went off, tearing through his own intestines.

    “What the fuck did you do that for?” he groaned.

    “I told you. I choose neither. I won’t lie for you and I won’t die for you.”

    “So now I’m going to die!”

    I didn’t say, “And whose choice was that?” Instead I said, “If we can get you to the hospital, you should be okay.”

    “No. Three weeks in the hospital. Three months in County. Then three years or more in prison…” He was sobbing, doubled over in pain.

    I didn’t argue with him. I leaned my back against the edge of the shrine, then pulled him over to lean against me. I put my arms around him and said the Glory Be over and over again.

    “Are you Catholic?”

    “Sometimes. When it matters.” I switched to the Hail Mary, because it seemed twice appropriate. “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”

    And there did he die, embraced by the man who had caused his death, vaguely lit by the candles in the shrine of Holy Mary. Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Eternal rest grant him, O Lord, and let light everlasting shine upon him. I kept saying the prayers even after I knew he was dead, only getting up when the New Year’s fireworks erupted into the sky.

    I propped him up against the shrine, then went to call the police from a pay-phone. I told them where to find the body, then I walked away. And I just kept walking, my clothes smeared with pus and blood. What used to be a community is now more like a concentration camp, and reporting a crime is a good way to get sent to jail – especially if you look bent to a straight.

    So I kept walking. I am among you, but I am not one of you; I will not yield to you. I was ashamed of myself. I am ashamed of myself. Will be until I die. I never wanted to cause a death, not even to avoid my own. But we live with the consequences of our choices. Thus always to all of us. Thus always even to me.

    But my wanna-be killer died on the very last day of the bloodiest century in human history. By the time I had reported his death, it was a new year, a new century, a new millennium. And that, at the last, is what I’m writing about.

    I’ve been doing this, walking this nation and writing about what I see, for more than twenty years now. In that time, I’ve evolved four rules for these stories, the Willie stories, and this one breaks three of them. First, a Willie story is almost always short, and this one isn’t. Second, a Willie story is almost never self-revealing, and this one is. Third, every Willie story has at least one joke, and this one has none.

    But the fourth rule stands: Every Willie story is about you. You think they’re about the people I’m making fun of, but they’re not. They’re about you, about people who are basically honest and decent, but who come to be complicit in everything that is vicious and venomous and vile. Not from loving vice, but from failing to love virtue.

    Your mind or your life, lie or die. That’s the demand at the bottom of your tax return. Lie or die. That’s the threat they issue to your son, compelled to register for military enslavement. Lie or die. That’s the threat they make to your employer with thousands of pages of regulations. Lie or die, all day, every day, everywhere you turn. Lie or die, again and again, for every day of your life.

    And every day of your life, you choose the lie. You choose to cooperate and to pretend to surrender control of your life, to insist by your actions that some other mind can control your behavior, but your own cannot. You lie and you lie and you lie, and millions of innocents die. And you yourself persist only by refusing to acknowledge your groveling. Your mind – the means of your life, the awareness and memory and anticipation of your actions – becomes the enemy of your survival. To be aware that you have desecrated the glorious gift of human sovereignty is the path to self-slaughter, so you must slaughter self-awareness instead.

    This is a mistake.

    The worst, most loathsome, most vicious tyrant on the Earth is no different from my late, unlamented non-mugger. He is nothing without your cooperation. Without your active voluntary cooperation. Even I am apt to say “compelled this” and “coerced that,” but in actual fact, human behavior cannot be coerced. Only human bodies can be coerced, pushed around like mannequins. Human behavior can only be initiated by an act of will originating within the person acting. It cannot be caused or controlled from the outside. If you refuse to cooperate with the tyrant, he cannot cause your cooperation. He can push you around, even kill you, but he cannot cause you to initiate any purposive action.

    You live in chains. In this awful century just passed, more than 150 million innocent people died in chains. And yet every person ever born was born free – unalterably, inviolably, immaculately free…

    And the tyrants know it. That’s why they have guns. That’s why they want to take away your guns. Again and again they demand that you lie or die, and they never for a moment doubt that you might choose neither. And they bluster and brag that you never will, and they toss and turn in sleepless nights, because they know someday you shall. Sic semper tyrannosauris. Thus always to dinosaurs.

    Choose neither. This is my wish for the Third Millennium. Choose neither, that we might finally become a fully human race, neither killing nor being killed, neither enslaving nor being enslaved, neither seeking to control others nor pretending to surrender to their control.

    Choose neither. Because this is the only human choice.

    Choose neither. And the dragons will be slain.

    I wish you peace,

    William Francis Xavier O’Connell
    01/01/2001

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  • 13 comments

    At FreeTheAnimal.com: Master something difficult in 2012.

    My friend Richard Nikoley runs a popular paleo-living weblog called FreeTheAnimal.com. In anticipation of New Year’s Day and all its resolutions, I have a guest post up there on how to make 2012 a game-changing year in your life:

    ‘Tis the season for New Year’s Resolutions, and that’s a good thing. Join that book club. Remodel that kitchen. Lose that unwanted weight. But you can make this a landmark year of your life with just one resolution:

    Resolve to master something difficult in 2012.

    There is no shame in knowing how to say, “¿Dónde está el baño?,” but you are fluent in a foreign language when you can read and admire its poetry, when you get the jokes, when you can twist that language into clever witticisms. That’s mastery.

    We are victims of Art Appreciation and Film Studies classes, glib-and-lazy time-wasters in which we learned nothing but how to pretend to know something. But there is no class called Geometry Appreciation. In the maths, you can either do the work or you can’t. This year you can pick up where you left off in math and push yourself as far as you can go.

    And tell the truth: Every time you see a musician performing — popular music or classical — don’t you wish you could do that, too? The good news is, you can. All it takes is commitment and effort — and time.

    Mastering a demanding new skill will take a while. The desire for instant results is how all New Year’s Resolutions get abandoned. But to learn a serious discipline will require your time every day — an hour or more a day of serious, dedicated effort. I like the idea of working every day, since, if you take no breaks from the work, you won’t have to resist the temptation to extend a break by one day and then another and another.

    But the benefits to be realized are huge — far beyond anything you might be expecting. In Art Appreciation class, everyone participates in the group discussions, there are no right or wrong answers and the class is graded on the curve. That is, everyone, including the teacher, is wasting time on a pantomime of education.

    But mastery of a truly difficult discipline can only be done alone. Your teacher can help, and, as always, we stand on the shoulders of giants. But it is only your brain, working all alone, that can distinguish educere from educare in Latin. Only you working alone can solve that quadratic equation — and prove your work. Even if you’re playing in an ensemble, the music will jar unless you yourself are competent to play your part.

    You’ll be better for having improved your mind. But your mind will be improved for having learned something you may have overlooked in school: Only an individual mind can learn and master any branch of human knowledge. You’ll be a better scientist, a better mathematician, a better musician, a better linguist. But you’ll be a better person, too — more independent, more competent, more whole.

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    Slugging Away. One E-mail Address At A Time

    I’m on a quest to find 75 San Diego real estate agents.  I need 75 agents, to give me permission, to e-mail them weekly.  I told you about my plan to secure those permissions and I thought I’d update you as I get results.

    Bill Lyons agreed to do a joint marketing deal with me but I haven’t taken him up on that yet.  I’ve been scrambling around with year-end stuff, and I took a holiday trip to Arizona, but I’ll do something with Bill next year. For now, I’m focused on the SDAR Officers’ Installation and Dinner as a magnet.

    I held a drawing at the Downtown San Diego caravan.  Thirty agents gave me their cards and Debbie Neuman won the tickets.  This works pretty well because while she is a quality agent, with established lending relationships, she’ll sit at my table that night.  This will be a good chance to get to know her and pitch ourselves as her “number two lender” (I’m not proud).    The challenge with the thirty “new” contacts has been securing permission to e-mail them..  I have spoken with ten agents thus far and only five agreed to receive my newsletter.  I do have a drawing scheduled at the La Jolla REBA, next week. and those folks know me better.  I guess if I have 25-30 permissions, by next Friday, I can celebrate the fact that I have achieved one-third of my goal.

    That means I’m going to have to grit it out for the final fifty permissions.  I’m going to start the “open house plan” after the first of the year.  The plan is to visit open houses and drop off a “care basket”, filled with snacks.  Agents get hungry at open houses so this is what I’ll give them:

    A couple of bottles of water, three bags of snacks, and a couple of oranges (or apples, or bananas).

    I’ll assemble them in my newly delivered TANSTAAFL lunch bags.  I ordered these from 4imprint.com and 100 of them cost me less than $300.

    I had my name, website, and phone number imprinted on them, along with the word TANSTAAFL.  The idea is that I can call later and play on the “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” idea and secure permission to email them.

    The front pouch holds 20-25 business cards in it.  Agents can hand these to buyers,

    I don’t LOVE the lunch bags.  They aren’t the best quality and I doubt they’ll be brought to the beach.  Agents could use them to keep a lunch and water cold so I’m hoping they keep these for future open houses.  Notwithstanding, I’ll spend $3-5 to be memorable to an agent and these bags are bright.  I think they make a cool statement too.  I’m pretty sure they will remember who I am when I call to follow-up.

    Retail selling is a grind.  I’m always looking for short cuts, to make my marketing efforts scalable, but sometimes the one-off selling situation cements the relationship more easily than large numbers.  As always, your feedback and suggestions are appreciated.

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    You may have wondered, “Why is there bad weather?” The reason? So you can properly appreciate heaven on earth — Phoenix, Arizona.

    We just went through our “fall” — a span of about three days when all the deciduous trees in metropolitan Phoenix lose all their leaves all at once.

    Why does it happen this way? Because it never gets cold enough for leaf-bearing trees to behave the way they do where you live.

    Instead, right about this time of year, the trees start to bud with new leaves, and the buds push the old leaves out of the way.

    Witness:

    That tree is budding now, and the smell of the flowers is heavenly.

    And not to rub your nose in our ubiquitous natural beauty, but this cute little guy lives in a palm tree at a home I have listed for sale:

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    Merry Christmas to the Bloodhounds…

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    A canticle for Kathleen Sullivan

    A Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie story

    I got to the hospital after visiting hours, but the nurse led me to the room anyway. “There hasn’t been anyone,” she confided.

    I pursed my lips in grim acknowledgment. “That’s why I’m here.”

    Inside the room the patient looked like purple death. It was a critical-care room, bright and white and cheerfully clinical. The bed was surrounded by apparatus, with lines and leads and probes and IV tubes running to him. The only unbruised part of him that I could see were his eyes, and his eyes were more deeply wounded than anything.

    I’ll tell you his story, but I won’t tell you his name. His name is yours. His name is mine. His name is legion…

    I pulled up a chair and got as close to the bed as I could. I wanted to see his eyes. I wanted him to see mine. His jaw was wired and he was breathing though a plastic tube mounted in his throat, which makes for a fairly one-sided conversation.

    “I just came from the funeral,” I said. “Biggest one I’ve ever seen. The procession must have been two miles long. Kathleen Sullivan, mother of six, grandmother of two, with two more on the way, loving wife of Brian Sullivan – in the newspaper it’s just something that’s there, like the basketball scores or the stock tables. People die every day. People are born every day. It doesn’t seem to matter very much.”

    I shrugged. “I think it does. I’ll tell you a story: About six months ago there was a woman driving down Endicott Avenue. Driving very safely, five miles an hour below the speed limit, doing everything just exactly right. There were some schoolboys riding their bikes on the sidewalk beside her, and, all at once, one of the boys decided to dart out into the street, right in front of her car. She stood on the brake pedal, but it was already too late. Screech, crunch, tragedy. The boy was killed instantly.

    “She saw it, of course. His little schoolfriends saw it. Half a block away was the crossing guard, and she had never stopped barking at those boys to be safe on their bikes. She saw it all, too. That boy’s parents had to live through everything they’d always dreaded, and the parents and relatives and friends of everyone involved had to try to help pick up the pieces.

    “Was the driver at fault? Surely not. She was doing just what she was supposed to do. The crossing guard? She couldn’t have foreseen it, couldn’t have prevented it. The boy’s friends? The boy himself? They were just being kids, taking stupid chances because they can’t see ahead to the consequences. The dead boy’s parents? You can bet they blame themselves, but I’m sure they had leaned all over their son about bicycle safety.

    “The fact is that no one was culpable in that death. But everyone involved is answering for it. Can you imagine the driver’s nightmares? Can you hear the screams of those boys as they wake up, night after night, reliving the accident? The crossing guard, questioning herself day after day, asking what she could have done differently. The parents, haggard and sleepless, no one to turn to, maybe not even each other. None of them earned this punishment, but they live with it anyway. Not for days or months or years – forever. The nightmares will never stop, and we can only hope that they’ll come less often in time.”

    I looked to the floor, a safer place to put my eyes. “Every death matters. I hear people talk about killing other people – killing criminals or supposed bad guys overseas or just joking about killing people they don’t like – and I wonder what it is they’re thinking. There is no casual death, no easy death, no safely, comfortably abstract death. There’s only the real death of real people, the death that results in endless, boundless, horrifying grief even when no one is at fault. How could anyone be casual about that?

    “I can make their answer; I’ve heard it often enough. They claim that they can kill and not be injured in the way that driver was – hurt utterly and permanently – because killing their victims is an act of justice. The irony is that criminals say much the same thing, that it doesn’t hurt them to hurt people, even kill people. I think the hurt is there, it’s just much deeper. It’s like scar tissue, so thick it can’t be penetrated. They claim not to be hurt by murdering people, but I think it must be because something inside them is already dead. In that way, the people who witnessed that awful accident are luckier, even though they seem to be suffering so much worse. If you can’t bleed, you can’t heal…”

    I cleared my throat, but I couldn’t look up. “Kathleen Sullivan was the consummate mother, a model of perfect performance. I didn’t know her. I wish I had. She was everything I admire on this earth, a champion of the very best values. Her husband, Brian, was out in the world, bringing home the bacon, and she was in charge of hearth and home, kith and kin. The children all went to Catholic school, then they went on to the best Catholic high schools. They’re a prosperous family, but they’ve earned every penny they have, and they’ve given a small fortune away. Everywhere you look you see professionally loathsome people spitting at the family, and everywhere you don’t look there are families like the Sullivans – happy, productive, committed people raising happy, productive, committed children.”

    I was having trouble blinking back my tears. “Kathleen Sullivan was a Catholic. Not a Christmas and Easter Catholic, not a Sunday-morning Catholic. She was a Catholic all the time, all the way to the core of her being. When one of her children left home, or one of her grandchildren, when one of her friends or her children’s friends left her house, she would trace the sign of the cross on their foreheads, a small prayer for the small miracle of safe travel…

    “Someone should have done that for her…”

    I was quiet for a long time, until I was sure I could trust my voice. “Just a second later, just a second before she got into her car, just the tiny amount of time it takes to trace a cross on a forehead, and you would have missed her. Blind drunk, a hundred miles an hour in a Corvette, a big dumb dork all wrapped up in a fiberglass condom, all set to penetrate something. She and her daughter had been to the theater, did you know that? A nice little mother-daughter thing, a girls’ night out. Not much of a play, not much of a memory years from now, just the kind of thing that they did together. I expect they were chatting, when you hit them. About the play or school or who has a crush on whom. No huge drama, nothing of any great moment, just more of the current of love that had always flown between them.

    “And then, all at once, it was over. Screech, crunch, tragedy. A Land Rover, the safest car they could afford, and they worked hard to be able to afford a car that safe. But your little Corvette got under them and flipped them. Kathleen Sullivan, dead on arrival. Margaret Sullivan, critical but stable. She was in her wheelchair at the funeral, the wheelchair she’ll be in from now on. I think her mother would have been proud of how strong she was…”

    There were tears welled up in his eyes, and that was what I had come to see: If you can’t bleed, you can’t heal. “The hospital’s all dressed up for Christmas. More sad than cheerful, I think, tiny little twinkling lights trying to compete with the glaring fluorescents. But there’s so much tragedy here, so much illness and sadness and pain and death. The people who work here are very tough, trying to spread cheerfulness and hope however they can.

    “I don’t see any Christmas decorations in your room. No cards. No gifts. No flowers. No friends. Where are all your good-time drinkin’ buddies? Where are your friends from work? Where are your folks…? The nurses care about you, you know. They want patients to have visitors no matter how they got here, no matter what they’ve done. But a nurse told me that I’m your first visitor. A stranger, more a hobo than anything else, and yet I’m the only person who took the trouble to visit you in the hospital. Why do you suppose that is…?”

    He was crying for himself by now, not for Kathleen Sullivan. “I brought you a Christmas present.” I pulled a book out of my bag and held it up where he could see it. “It’s a biography of Ignatius Loyola. Do you know who that is? He founded the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, which in turn built Catholic schools – grammar schools, high schools, colleges – all over the world. People say, ‘What can one person do?’ Well here’s a man, a single, solitary man, who changed all of Western civilization, who did more to spread the philosophy of reason than any other person in human history.

    “That’s not why I brought you the book, though. The interesting thing about Loyola is that he was a vile and vicious man when he was very young. He gambled. He chased women. He drank and drank and drank. You’re a victim of your own laziness and stupidity, but it wouldn’t be going too far to say that Loyola was actually evil when he was young. But then he got sick, and while he was laid up he read a biography of Jesus.

    “It changed his life. When he recovered he taught himself Latin so that he could say the Mass. He was ordained and started to rise through the ranks of the priesthood. He founded the Jesuits and served as the right-hand-man of the Pope. He changed his life completely. Here’s another thing people say, ‘We are what we are. A leopard can’t change his spots.’ Ignatius Loyola changed his life. He went from being the worst sort of man to being one of the best specimens of humanity ever to grace the earth. And he did it by an act of will, by resolving to change his mind, to change his heart, to change his behavior. To do better where he had done badly.”

    I smiled a tight little smile. “I don’t know if you believe in God. I don’t, to say the truth. But I revere Loyola, for the gift of reason he brought to the least of us, the smallest and the weakest – and therefore most in need of the treasures only reason can bring. And I admire him for the way he took the dross he had made of his life and spun of it the gold to form those treasures only reason can bring…”

    I sat in silence for a long time, just looking at him. “Lives collide,” I said, “and everyone suffers, guilty or not. It’s Christmas at the Sullivan home, a big brick house set back from the street. The decorations have been up since Thanksgiving, blue and green and gold. But the decorations are just a sad reminder of the joy that has always been theirs, should always have been theirs. By now Brian Sullivan is wandering that big old house, searching for something he never could have lost. The children are sitting, saying nothing, staring at nothing. Those two little grandchildren want to rejoice in their Christmas, and they can’t understand why everyone else is on the verge of tears.”

    I put the book on the table by his bed and stood beside him, looking at his bruised face, looking into his wounded eyes. I said, “And here we are, Christmas at the hospital, just you and me and all the cheer we can find in blinking diodes. There are people who would say that you deserve to have died in that crash, but I don’t believe there is any justice in death. Every death matters. Every life matters. And yet I don’t believe your life was miraculously spared by God. You just got lucky, that’s all.

    “But I do believe in redemption. Not the redemption of Jesus – after death. But the redemption of Ignatius Loyola, the conscious choice to do better in the midst of chaotic life. You have a second chance. You have to live with what you’ve done, live with a grief much worse than the Sullivans are going though, much worse than that poor woman on Endicott Avenue. You have to live with the knowledge that you caused a death, that you crippled a young girl, her life barely begun. But you are still alive, and while you’re alive there is still a chance for you to rise above your past, to do better where you had done badly.”

    Somewhere far down the hall a choir of children was singing the Canticle of the Bells, their voices high and sweet and perfect. The tears were rolling down his cheek, and I wet my finger in them. “If you can bleed, you can heal… For Kathleen Sullivan, may she rest in peace. And for you.” Very slowly, very gently, I used the wetness on my fingertip to trace the sign of the cross on his forehead. I said, “Do better…”

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    Dawgs on the run: Brian Brady in Phoenix

    Here is Brian Brady, this afternoon in Phoenix:

    Brian has family here, which is why he is in town, and he was gracious enough to spend some time with me and Cathleen. We had a chance to catch up, as well as to talk about future BloodhoundBlog Unchained events. We talked about the love of human liberty, too, but I can attest that Brian definitely did not arrive in this vehicle:

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    Sicker Than We Thought????

     

    Here it is…a diagnosis that’s supposed to bring us back to reality. Lawrence Yun might be certified as something, but he’s done quite enough “doctoring” for me.

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    Remembering Kim Jong-il — the South Park way.

    Totally NSFW, like all things Matt and Trey:

    More, because an event like this can’t be celebrated enough:

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  • South Park on Sixty Minutes: Is CBS chasing relevance, or are we about to find out how to monetize new-media content?

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    I want my TV to do this…

    This, that is…

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    Reading myself right into welfare via a Kindle Fire. Forgetting whats important.

    In almost two years of participating at Bloodhound this will be my first tech and family combined post. Recently, I decided it was time to buy some bling aka the Kindle Fire. What really attracted me to the Kindle Fire was all that it can do coupled with it’s tiny size. Although it’s not an I-Pad 2, the Kindle Fire is still really practical for reading and Android apps which is the two sole purposes I bought it in the first place.

    Have you ever thought that you might have been reading yourself right into welfare? I wake up in the morning to read for 30 minutes prior to getting out of bed. I read on the toilet! (smile) But using the bathroom now takes longer because I can’t put a book down on the middle of page. I read before and after diner. My social life has decreased and my newly found love aka the Kindle Fire has me consumed.

    Brian (The Genius and mortgage mega broker) really wrote a great post about how he needs more agents to close more mortgages. And that article had me thinking about my time management skills which have clearly gone right out the window. Like the title says, I’m reading myself right into welfare. Of course we need time to unwind and so forth, but what I’ve been doing has been habit which I repeat daily. I am a wife whom is a homemaker and two small girls. I often find myself working longer hours just so we have enough padding in the bank. Just went it seems like we have a good pad, something breaks!

    I guess this post is more of a spiritual battle with myself. I want to be the best husband, always there for my family even at night instead of showing homes. But dad’s need to work harder than ever right now just to survive and care for their family. I do have a confession. I’ve been reading 10 chapters every single day in my bible, on top of all the other non sense reading. How you ever found yourself just going through life and then you stop and like and say, I need to came sure my family is happy, prior to my needs? It’s ok to read books which I do, and it’s ok with do other fun activities, but not at the expense of your wife and kids.

    What are your thoughts on working all the time, finding me time (Kindle Fire time), and finding family time?

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    Looking for some good news? You’ll find it among people who don’t push each other around at gunpoint.

    The Federal government wants to save your life by killing your livelihood.

    This is something we might expect the NAR to object to, but the National Association of Realtors is too busy telling lies.

    Meanwhile, here’s some actual good news: We are getting closer to workable video wallpaper.

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    Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie goes straight — to jail. Meanwhile, he has a new book of short stories out for Christmas.

    William F.X. O’Connell — that’s Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie to you — has been making a game effort to go straight over the past few years. This paid off in abundance this morning, when he finally managed to get himself arrested.

    Meanwhile, just yesterday Willie published a collection of his outrageously brutal Christmas stories at Amazon.com. It’s Kindle-only, but every smartphone and tablet computer has a Kindle reader by now.

    These are the stories, all of which have been published here in various versions over the years:

    The season’s greetings
    A dumpster diver’s Christmas
    A canticle for Kathleen Sullivan
    A future more vivid
    A father for Christmas
    Merry Christmas, Princess Peach
    A Costco family Christmas
    How to slay dragons
    Courtney at the speed of life

    Cathleen and I did the line-edits on the final manuscript, and it was interesting to me to see how well the thing holds together as a collection. Separately, the yarns are almost too brutal, but taken together they have that certain cathartic something that left me feeling cleansed — beat up, to be sure, but better for having endured the punishment.

    Anyway, y’all could do a favor or three for our jailbird friend:

    1. Buy the book — or give it as a present. At around 20,000 words, it’s a lazy afternoon or a cross-country flight in length.
    2. Review the book. It would be nice for Willie if you have good things to say about the stories, but it will be better for everyone if you simply tell the truth.
    3. Tell your friends. Here is code you can link from:

    Willie has an account at SplendorQuest.com, so we can hide and watch to see what has to say about being a fully-processed citizen of the U.S. at last. In the mean time his presence at Amazon.com puts him all the way into the establishment, like it or don’t.

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    Introducing Hank Miller, Atlanta Realtor and Appraiser

    We’re introducing a new dawg today, one who puts his bite where his bark is, Hank Miller of HoundDogRealEstate.com in Atlanta. Hank is an associate broker, leader of a team of Realtors, as well as an appraiser. Here’s his credo, which I like a lot:

    My objective is to call bullshit where I see it and have a little fun doing it.

    I also did some housekeeping this morning, trimming a dozen folks from our contributors list. No drama, just pruning folks who aren’t spending much time with us. We’ve never deleted an account, so if your name was ever in our sidebar, you’re always welcome here.

    Meanwhile, I love seeing the stuff Brian Brady, Mark Madsen, Jeff Brown and others are doing. I spent a little time last week looking at what other weblogs in the RE.net are up to by now. For all of me, we’re the last stand against the vendorslut mafia. This is a resource to be treasured: BloodhoundBlog is the only place on the internet where real estate professionals can call bullshit — fearlessly and in undeniable detail.

    When a Bloodhound howls, the rafters shake. That’s a sound I never tire of hearing…

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