Present and Counting
from Georgia Jones
Archibald Benson was not, as his name might imply, a conservative throwback to some eighteenth century worldview. The name was a family tradition; a tradition of punishment and challenge if you had asked him in the fourth grade and for some years of his youth. But he had learned to live with it and the diminutive, Archie or Arch wasn't so bad. His kids called him Dad, even his oldest who was going into her rebellious teen years and usually avoided calling him by any name at all. His wife of twenty-eight years, Susan Bensona nice normal sounding nameseldom had reason to complain to her friends about his lack of attention or sensitivity. Archie, as she called him, was a good man with a quiet life, not too conservative or too liberal.
Archibald believed in the rule of law and the rule of rules, and he seldom "colored outside the lines" as he had once described "rebellious ignorance of order" in an editorial he had written. Though that line did not fully describe his attitude toward life, it had stuck. Archibald Benson, that conservative newspaperman was how he was known in the community. It was a wounding assumption because he thought of himself as open minded and maybe even, in his more confident moments, creative.
Now-a-days Archie had bigger problems than an awkward name and a reputation that didn't fit. The economy and technology, progress they called it, was destroying the business he loved. Print news was in trouble and that meant Archie's daughter's might not get to college, the mortgage might not get paid, his eighteen employees might be out of work and, probably most devastating to a man like Archie, the news would no longer be received vetted and carefully fact checked. It might not be received at all.
He had embraced technology at first. The pages of his paper had been graced by color pictures in new, non rub-off inks. He had a web version of the news, though he had never been comfortable with the tiny paragraph lead that was all many readers ever saw of the stories he and his reporters worked hard to provide. Now, though, he worried.
He worried about the past: what should he have done differently to avoid the calamity he foretold? He worried about the present: those employees, their bills and his own. And most of all, he worried about the future: who would take care of facts and fact checking, of learning the basics and beyond, and who would pick up after the mess his generation had left behind. That wasn't something he imagined when he had planned his children's futures. Neither had Susan and he couldn't quite shake the thought that she would blame him if that future were to become reality.
There was a definite air of gloom as Archie culled the files for "Christmassy" material to enliven the December month for his publication, The Local Times. Most years this had been one of his favorite editorial duties. This year felt different and it was. He couldn't ignore his concerns or the reality he saw on his books every month. This might be his last month of papers. Dailies were an endangered species and everyone seemed to think there were optimistic things to be said about that. Maybe there were, but he didn't see any.
He had been through the file of clip art, considered all of the cute reprints from past years and had simply had it. There would be papers this month. December wouldn't just go away because he wanted to cancel it. There would be papers but it was going to be a month of gloom, even if he stuck in every bell, Santa, Baby Jesus and Christmas wrapping picture he had on handnot to mention anything he could pick up from the Internet… At least it was good for something. With that thought he turned his chair away from the computer and bellowed into the open space in front of him, "Has the mail come yet?"
Tina, who set copy and did a bit of light editing as well as brought coffee and the mail, hurried in to apologize for its being so late. What could she do about it? Archie grumbled to himself. As soon as she left, he got up and followed her out to the front desk. Nothing. No mail. He knew Tina was right, but he needed something to focus on and it seemed it would be the mail.
Before he could give up on this small hope, the postal carrier as he always called her to emphasize his political correctness even though he knew her name was Millie came through the door, a small bundle of envelopes in her hand and a smile at the ready. She was probably expecting Tina, he thought, but returned her smile anyway. He reached for the mail and Millie mumbled something about the weather, took the stack of envelopes waiting for her on the counter and swiftly turned toward the door. "Have a good Holiday!" Archie called after her, practicing the sound of it. Could they tell how he felt?
There was only one envelope addressed "Editor" and he pulled that from the stack, grasping it like a lifeline, and turned back to his office where he could open it in private, and maybe chant some wish for a miracle over it before applying the knife-like opener to its sealed flap. He was usually too busy to indulge primitive superstitions in his life, besides he laughed at people who did. But today Today he needed anything he could get, even luck and metaphysics. The envelope opened with a soft zipping sound and a photograph fell out and onto his desk. He picked it up and looked it over.
It was slightly yellowed with age, maybe fifty years or so. There was a Christmas tree and presents and a couple of children tearing at wrappings. It was black and white. He shook the envelope. A note fluttered to the surface: For publication. Nothing else, just the scrap of paper and the snapshot. Not much of a picture, but he had asked for a picture. Here it was.
Archie put the photograph in his tray with a note of his own indicating that the picture was to be put right on the front page. Maybe someone will come forward with an interesting explanation of the photo, he thought to himself, and there might be a story in it.
It would be pointless to go through all of those days of December, a kind of Advent Calendar, describing Archie's enduring mood of despair or telling how each day's mail brought another photo, each one as average and uninspiring as the last though all were different and it was possible to guess that some of the living rooms and some of the children were different too, or to mention, in case you didn't see those issues, that each one went dutifully to the front page above the fold unadorned with a caption of any kind. Let us just agree that is what happened and that none of it changed the world or the economy or the future Archie had so heartlessly foretold for the profession he loved.
It was a Wednesday, the third week of the month when Archie placed himself in front of the counter waiting for Millie and his now usual envelope. He was determined to get Millie to interpret the markings on the postmark. Surely, the post office must have some way of telling which part of the county a piece of mail originated from, even without a return address. Millie listened to his demand, smiled politely and answered that there might be, there sure might be, but no one had ever shared that information with her. All she did, she answered, was pick up a bundle in the morning, deliver it as addressed and return the new bundle to the outgoing rack later in the day. She was only part time, after all.
Archie's gloom magnified his frustration and if Tina had not stepped in he might have said some very unflattering things to his postal carrier, things that might have counted as high on the list of postal transgressions as a dog bite and have resulted in his having to pick up his mail himself. Tina had never doubted how valuable her role was, but that day everyone took note of it.
That picture went on the front page, and the next, and the one after that, of course, but Archie was beginning to formulate a plan. On December 23rd he ran a picture, the one from that day's mail, with the caption: Did You See Yourself Here? Come to our open house on Christmas Eve and meet the people we celebrated with this year.
He was sure he had gone a little crazy and so was Susan, though her concern was more about catering an open house at the paper's offices on such short notice. No one was likely to show up, he reassured her. She looked at him and wondered why he would be planning a party if no one was coming, but went ahead with full scale preparations anyway.
The 24th came on schedule, right before the 25th and after the 23rd, and Archie spent the morning ducking the troop of arrangers that was his wife and daughters. They had some help from Tina, of course, but Susan always felt that the personal touch was what made a gathering a gathering or a celebration a celebration, even when she was unsure about what they were celebrating. By noon, the place looked a picture of holiday spirit. Only Archie still wore his everyday face.
The girls were given leave by their mother to go down the street to a diner and lunch with their friends. They had done well, she thought, and deserved a chance to get away from the dustiness of the solid institution their father had built. She, herself, always loved the chance to go by the paper, to feel the buzz of news that told her everything anyone would need to know about the world, while still remaining safe in her own little circle. It was comforting and when she thought about her place in the community she was proud that she had married Archie. Susan knew about the problems, but she always trusted Archibald Benson to know what to do. He ran a newspaper; didn't he? He must know everything and if there was something he didn't know, well, he sure knew how to find out!
Archie sat behind his desk, his ears tuned to the comings and goings on the other side of the door that remained closed. There was nothing for it; by one o'clock he was ready to leave that door closed forever. By two, he was planning where he would move his family. By three, the depression had crowded all thoughts of vengeance, anger or hope of pretending that this had never happened out of his mind. By four, he was packing his briefcase for the drive home and realizing that he would have Susan and the girls in the car with him so would need to pretend that everything was or would be OK.
Susan had gone out for last minute shopping after lunch and seemed composed and cheerful as always. Archie guessed her practiced social face would remain intact until they were alone. Thank goodness he had had the sense to marry a woman as capable as Susan. She might even take the news of the disaster better than he worried she might. That was the most optimistic thought he had entertained in a month. He was grateful for Susan and her ability to make the worst somehow less bad, sometimes even tolerable, though not that day. Not that December 24th at the end of the world he knew and with a chasm opening in front of him and every thought of happiness…
There was noise on the other side of the door. Someone had tuned a radio to carols, but there were voices, too. Archie wondered who it could be. He had run the pictures. He had taken care of the past, someone's past, maybe everyone's. He still didn't know.
He grabbed the lined spiral bound steno's pad from the corner of his desk, the pen from his shirt pocket, and reached for the door handle. The future would have to take care of itself for now. He had a story to write and, from the sound of it, the spelling of a lot of names to double check.
Read this feature from past issues.
print this article separately
We Have Come As Far as We Can
from Georgia Jones
Everyone has heard it said, usually about an old aunt who may be a hypochondriac or just chronically unwell and complaining why we allow such negative stereotypes of women is beyond me, but I do have a point to make and there is good reason why I might begin here: "She'll outlive all of us."
Well, according to the statistics I won't be your crotchety aunt. I do, in fact have a firm expiration date: six months. And a survival rate: 0%. But, before anyone gets too upset (or begins to celebrate I like to think I have lived an interesting enough life that there will be some people who would like to see my influence, and my voice, disappear) keep in mind that there is nothing stamped on me, no date or ticking clock. I have checked. There is also the reality that Bileary Tract cancer, which is what I have, has had so few cases of recovery that even for this rare cancer they aren't enough to make a statistical blip, which doesn't mean there aren't any. I have always been lucky so if there is time available, I expect to be benefitting.
Still, I have this diagnosis and I have to prepare with the possibility in mind that I might not be lucky this time or that my ability to function may be impaired well ahead of my death. I would really hate that last, but some things we can't control other than to be prepared, organized, and open with those who are close to us. After fourteen years here at LadybugFlights I certainly consider many of you to be people I am close to. Even if you are new here, we share a lot in this place, usually a wide range of things that are designed to entertain AND to make you think. Unfortunately, I feel the need to reduce my obligations and that will mean that LadybugFlights will no longer be a monthly magazine.
Consider for instance that this magazine has seldom been late and is only this late now because I couldn't move any faster or think as well as normal our wonderful columnists were, as usual though it does sometimes take a reminding nudge, on time.
As I say that last, I find that a final issue makes me sadder than I like to consider, so I will keep the door open to occasional issues. Watch your email announcements for when these might happen, and sign up if you are not on the list!
As I remind everyone, I have been lucky; good friends, wonderful sons, and the best husband in the world. They will all take care of me, but I also care that all of you and that LadybugPress, which I founded and built, should be lucky as well. And you will be. As I was informing my layers of friends and contacts many of them offered to help. The practicality of such offers are usually weighed in the kindness they reflect, but Tina Steele whom many of you might recognize from her medical column in here, her sharp mind and determined attitude Tina offered to carry on with LadybugPress. Now, I know what a huge task that is and how few people could do any or all of it on their own, so I politely thanked her for her interest and said she needed to put together a group if she was serious. She was serious and a group formed out of the mist to step forward like super-hero women and take on the task of giving as many women as possible a voice. That has always been the purpose of LadybugPress.
This group is new but they seem very promising so I have high hopes that LadybugPress, and possibly other parts of this small empire will go on. For now, I will be setting everything in archive mode. You will be able to listen to any of the audio at LadybugLive or read a year's worth of issues here. All of it will be archived for a year as the new group sorts through their plans for the future. I expect that the excitement of new ideas will begin to be seen well ahead of that year and that LadybugPress will grow into a new life with new strength.
She may not outlive us all, but LadybugPress will go on and that is something we can celebrate from all of this. And, btw, I will be keeping up my blog as often as I can as well as be available by email to anyone who needs me, or just needs to knock on my mailbox to make sure I am still here... And, yes, Amy, I will happily accept Dolly Parton as my guardian movie star.
Read this feature from past issues.
You can see more by David Donar at http://politicalgraffiti.wordpress.com/.
Read this feature from past issues.
print this article separately
Rethinking Marijuana with a Clear Head
from Michael Collins
Cartman, Kyle, Stan, and Kenny live in the fictional town of South Park, Colorado, a completely real state that just legalized marijuana by 50,000 more votes than it contributed to President Barak Obama's re-election. South Park's non-animated creators might have voted themselves, and Cartman is undoubtedly working on opening a hashish bar, but Matt Stone and Trey Parker don't actually smoke pot. Their kick ass real life reason? "It makes you okay with being bored."
If not for boredom we would have never climbed down from the trees and looked for something to do in the grassy plains. As it turns out there's not that much, so we moved into caves and started painting the walls as soon as the new smell wore off. Even bong hits and episodes of South Park eventually become boring, as does every activity and creation we've come up with. People are already yawning over the newest iPhone, and it too will soon be supplanted by humanity's boredom avoiding forward momentum.
The only thing that becomes not boring over time is boredom, a poisonous phenomenon that Gabriel Garcia Marquez calls bad time. Bad in the sense that once you've lived long enough with boredom you move out of the normal flow of time; what you think to be Friday is really Monday and what you assume to be May is actually September, until the hours pass like years and the years pass like hours. In psychology there's a learning principle known as extinction. Essentially when a formally conditioned stimulus is presented enough times without being followed by a reward it fails to elicit a response. Think Pavlov's dog hearing the bell over and over and over without ever being brought her food. Boredom is an innate negative stimulus, one that evolved to be persistently unpleasant and make us want to get off our ass and find something to do. But if circumstances are such that doing something is perpetually impossible then after a while boredom drops its cattle prod and a gray lobotomy of apathy descends.
Having spent the last three years in federal prison I'm familiar with bad time and with what it's like to lose the intrinsic motivation of boredom. It's stepping from the shower feeling an electric anticipation -- for what I'm not sure because I know once I tie my left shoe there's nothing left for me to do. The nauseating boredom that once came with tying that last knot used to inspire, this morning though, I simply laid down and took a twenty minute five hour nap, without bothering to take off my shoes.
Michael Collins is the author of three novels, including the notorious Hamster Wheel Manifesto. Michael currently resides within the Bureau of Prisons.
When not writing he earns .37 cents an hour as a GED and Computer Applications tutor.
As a free member of society he attended Nashville State Technical Institute, Tennessee State University, East Tennessee State University, and the University of Tennessee. The award-winning author misses his cat and looks forward to 2017.