You learn more from your mistakes than your successes.
So here I am to try, and to fail, so I can learn.
Paul Fail. For The Win!

24 March 2011

#FridayFlash: The Littlest Key

Friday Flash
The Littlest Key
©2011 D. Paul Angel

She was following the path past her relationships. Each garden was in its own little field, separated by fences of various heights. Some were all colorful, some merely green. Some were flourishing, and some, she knew, she'd have to either tend or let perish. In the middle of it all was the spot where a cluster of roses were bursting forth. Vibrant and alive, they had steadily pushed other plots aside. Some, like the forest of her family, refused to move and the roses instead traced an area close to it. Others had simply been overrun. Not that she minded most of those...

As she studied it she could see the tension between Tim's blooming roses, and the fragrant wildflowers of Caitlin's area. Neither grew within a foot of the fence separating them, and she knew that would mean trouble eventually. But at least for now her boyfriend and best friend simply kept their distance.

As she contemplated what might happen between them the sunny day gave way to a brooding overcast of clouds. Their muted, pensive gray cast a doubting pall across the entire garden. She didn't like how the weather could shift so suddenly. She could feel it irritate her deep down as she heard the low rumblings of thunder just off in the distance. She tensed, as always, trying to will the Sun back, but only managed to deepen the gloom.

"You OK, sweetie?" Tim asked, putting his arm around her. Deep within she could feel some of the clouds lift as she snuggled next to him.

"I'm fine. I just have a lot on my mind."

"I know. I do, too... You ever think about the future?"

Rain started to fall, and she was scared to be caught out in the open by the unexpected downpour. She was heading down the path, trying to get away from the garden, but the path was no longer straight. It was twisting with organic fluidity, sometimes even upon itself, but always seemed to be trying to draw her back towards the roses.

She took Tim's arm and lifted it over her head, giving it back to him and sitting up, facing him. "I don't know that I'm ready to talk about the future. Why isn't just today ever enough?" She noticed his sudden hesitancy, his hand in his pocket, and herself leaning back, too.

The rain continued to fall, fluctuating in its intensity depending on how far she was from the roses. Finally she saw her escape and headed towards a large, marble building. It was somewhere between a mausoleum and a bank, with stark white walls and Doric columns about its edifice. She ran through the rain, racing the darkening sky, and pulled an expansive ring of keys out of her pocket. The largest, a heavy cast-iron antique, opened the door and let her safely inside.

The tall walls had numerous doors of varying sides covering them. Most were locked, some stood open, some were obviously empty. The open ones were filled with the little things here and there. These were the thoughts shared by anyone and needed no protection; the names of various Housewives from E!, the chorus from Lady Gaga's Born This Way, and the difference between a Merlot and Syrah. Even the final score from last years Pac-10 Championship game sat in a room with only a half hung shutter for a door.

She rushed past these deeper into the vaults. The doors were almost all locked now. Some had simple keyholes that even a paper clip could open. Some, hidden in the shadows, had multiple locks and bars across them. She wished they would go away, but she knew they never would. Then, deeper still into the very center of it she came to a wall with a single door. There was a small keyhole near the center, and a glow coming from under it.

"I know this makes you uncomfortable," Tim was telling her, "I know how you try and run into yourself and avoid the future. I know you don't want to be hurt again. But, Jo, that's part of life, isn't it?"

The door was growing steadily larger as she watched. She could see it try and enclose all the radiance within it. The light around the edges filled the hall, warming her and even driving some of the dark away from the scarier doors. But even as it grew, the tiny keyhole stayed resolutely locked. She pulled the keys up and looked at the littlest one. It had a single, thin tang at the end, and a simple hoop to hold.

Tim took her hand and moved off the couch. He took one knee, placed his hand in his pocket and pulled out a ring. "Josephine," he said nervously, "Will you share your life with me?"

She stood before the door holding the tiny key in her hand. The light shining through was almost blinding, and yet still she hesitated. Opening the door would flood her world; changing everything forever. If she didn't open it, she knew the light would fade and eventually extinguish itself. Another garden might grow someday, the room itself would shrink back; but she wouldn't be hurt. There'd be no more new rooms in the far, dark corners needing bars and chains. She was thrilled. And scared. She could her the rain pour suddenly outside and then just as quickly stop. She rubbed the key, feeling the smooth metal with her fingers.

"Will you trust me?"

11 March 2011

Earthquake Thoughts

A Happy update! Heard from Mariko and she and her family are OK!  No further details, but at least she and her family are fine.
In the late '80s we had a Japanese Foreign Exchange student stay with us for a couple of weeks.  Mariko came into our lives speaking very little English, but bringing an indomitable spirit.  After coming back to the States to live for several years she moved back to Japan and married a wonderful man.  She just gave birth to their first child not too long ago, as did her sister-in-law.  It is the Japanese custom for new mothers to live with their folks for the first couple of months, so most of the family was under one roof.  They live near Honshu, which was close to the epicenter of the most recent 8.9 quake.  It will be days before we know anything, I'm sure, but I know their strength, and have faith in that; and in their goodness.  What follows below is a recounting of my earthquake experience from a couple decades ago.  It is not much, I know, but it might perhaps give those who have never been through a large Earthquake an idea of what it is like...

The Loma Prieta Earthquake hit October 17th, 1989 at 5:04pm.  I was, as the crow flies, about 5 miles from the epicenter.  I was a sophomore in High School, loved the A's, and was excited by the Bay Bridge World Series that was going on.  I was lying on my bed watching the pregame on the TV.  My Mom was in the living room reading.  It was sunny, warm, and a day like any other.

Then, and to this day I'm not quite sure how, I found myself in mid air.  Without conscious thought I had rolled over in the bed, pushed off, and was literally parallel to the ground just about to land and run for the doorframe when the earthquake hit.  So many things happened at once it's almost a blur, but time for me is forever frozen there, too.  That fraction of a second, hanging in the air, wondering why in the Hell I was suddenly leaping; will always be burned into my memory.  That's when the entire house moved, slamming back and forth on its foundation.  That's when a roar like a freight train rent the air.  It felt like God was kicking the house.  And he was pissed.

I landed and staggered.  The roar really was deafening, there was no other sound beyond.  There was no sound of glass breaking, furniture moving, or anything else.  Just an all encompassing wall of sound flowing, but never ebbing.  My doorframe was probably 8 feet away and it took at least that many steps to get there.  Balancing itself was a chore.  I got to the doorframe, pushed back against it with both legs, and clasped it with both hands just to stay put.

My Mom came to the frame from the living room.  I could see the floor heave like the swells of an angry sea as she crossed over it, practically falling into me and the doorframe.  I have no idea how long it took us to reach each other there because time was both dilated AND constricted.  There was just the Roar and an angry Earth below us for whatever remained of the 39 seconds of shaking.  We held onto each other, but not for comfort: it was the only way to keep us both in the doorframe.  That changed when the Earthquake passed, and we realized we needed to get out of the house before the aftershocks came.

We went down the hall to leave through the kitchen.  There we saw that every cabinet and cupboard had opened, and three inches of broken glass, plates, and cups covered the entire tile floor.  We had been only ten feet away, in the doorframe, and we heard nothing break.  We also realized we weren't going out through the garage.

We went back the way we had come and left by the front door.  As we passed the living room, we saw that the Grandfather clock had fallen, and the upright piano was now halfway into the room.  The upright piano it had taken half a dozen brawny men, literally, to move into place was walked 6 feet across the carpet in a matter of seconds by the quake.

We had no idea if the house was still sound or not so we left straightaway without grabbing a thing.  We walked across the deck, down to the driveway, and stood at the far edge of it.  Dust was all around us, and a haze of dust was hovering over the town down by the Ocean.  The garage door, which had been shaken loose from its rails, was now just hanging above the garage.  One end was resting on top of the VW van, the other was dangling close to the ground where my Dad's car usually parked, but was still with my Dad at work.

All the chemicals my Dad had, gasoline for the lawn mower, paint thinner, WD40, that kind of stuff, was all in a single stand alone cabinet that was now knocked over; with a puddle of some amalgamation thereof slowly creeping out it.  Between that and the Van our 12 year old lab/mutt came slowly wandering out.  She was deaf and arthritic, and didn't look so much panicked as deeply unsure. 

She came, sat with us, and we soon rode out the first aftershock.  It was in the mid 6's, but seemed all of the sudden rather impotent.  Across the valley we could see a house shaking as it swept, this time quietly.  Not too soon after, with the help of a neighbor, we got the Van out of the garage, and that's where my Mom and I spent the night.  My Dad worked for Emergency Communications for the County and we wouldn't see much of him for the next couple days.  There were more aftershocks, but they weakened each time.  Within a week we had electricity and water again, and life went back to normal.

To this day I don't remember any of what my Mom and I said during that afternoon and night, but I do remember when a dark cloud of dread came across us.  We didn't know how close we were to the actual epicenter, so we thought we were feeling the remnants of the Big One hitting San Francisco.  There 50,000 people alone at Candlestick to watch the game; some of whom were good friends.  We had other friends in the City, too, and some lost even more than we did to the fires that hit.  But it was also a relief when we finally found out that it was us who bore the brunt of it, and not a tightly packed city of hundreds of thousands built on landfill.  Even though our own, small downtown was essentially gutted, we all couldn't help but think that it could've been far, far worse.

That always seems to be the refrain after such a disaster, that it, "Could've been worse."  We had dozens and dozens of buildings in my town destroyed, but only a handful of deaths.  Our own house had cracked stucco.  The insurance adjuster told us he came across a woman "vacuuming" her living room with a vacuum that wasn't even plugged in.  She hadn't noticed that the entire side of her house had fallen away, leaving its whole backside open.

For the next several months, there were no strangers in our town.  In every line you stood in, any place you waited next to someone else; you would talk, share stories, and bond.  We were our own ad hoc support group.  We shared each other's losses, enjoyed the little pieces of humor here and there, and marveled at the miracles.  I'll leave you with one, from my Science Teacher.  His 2 year old was watching TV in front of a large entertainment center when it hit.  The force threw the TV over her.  Then the entire unit fell towards her.  Far from being hurt, she ended up sitting, completely untouched, in the space the TV had just vacated.

Crises are defining moments for people, both individually and collectively.  The larger crises' can certainly bring about some of the worst in people, like the burgeoning scams already spreading.  But they also bring out the very best in people, and I know that that heart, that spirit, that courage, and that strength is flowing throughout Japan now too.

10 March 2011

#FridayFlash: A Geek Tragedy

Friday Flash
A Geek Tragedy
©2011 D. Paul Angel

It was just like any other regular old, craptacular Tuesday. Someone downloaded a virus from eBay. Margot locked herself out. Again. Tom in accounting crashed the Access form that the vendor guaranteed would never, ever, not in a million billion years crash. (Tom’s kind of an Anti-God in that way.) And then, well, then Cynthia called.

Sweet, beautiful Cynthia. Beautiful, stunning Cynthia, who never has a problem; so, I never need to come over and help; so I never talk to her, Cynthia. And I yeah, I know she has a boyfriend who could benchpress me with one arm while yawning, but still, today she needs MY help. Today is going to be MY day!

Well, it was supposed to be....

When I got to her cube and I saw the pic of her boyfriend gone, I wasn't sure the day could get any better. Then I saw the sundress she was wearing. O.M.F.G. And her hair was just, wow. And her eyes... Oh those beautiful, blue eyes... Well you get the picture. Anyway, she tells me how she has to resize the page for printing, but it's just not working. "That gets everyone," I say with confident reassurance, "Excel never has been any good with printing. In fact this one time I had to get everything on one page and it was hundreds of columns and tens of thousands of rows-" Oh God! She looks bored! OK, steady lad, just fix it and then ask about her.

"But you didn't care about that," I say to save myself, flashing my best, Devilish grin, "let's take a look"

Thank God she brightens again. She brightens the whole office like a, like a, well... like really big, bright light. I don't know. Sometimes words just fail, y'know? I just wish the brightness had stayed. "All we have to do is go to the ribbon bar," I suavely say, "And click on... Uh... Just click on... Um." Then, just like that it’s gone. Click on... What? I had no idea. I'd been fixing boxes since I was nine. Nine! And now, no clue. I had no idea. Insert? No, it, it didn't even look familiar. DATA? Well, I guess we were changing the data, right?

No, DATA wasn't it. There: Sort! Wait, no, sort doesn't help. Filter? What If Analysis? That can’t be right. She's looking at me funny now too. "I'm not an idiot. I'm not!" I desperately want to scream at her, but I-- I’m suddenly afraid it might be a lie.

OK. Focus. REVIEW? What about clicking REVIEW? There’s like nothing here I recognize. Except Spell Check. She already seems to be squirming impatiently, I don't really want to show her her own mistakes. Okay. Think. THINK. This can’t get any worse.

FORMULAS! There’s got to be a formula for it, right? Oh Holy Hell what’s this? Books? Icons of different colored books? Really Microsoft? Really!?What am I going to do with those? I don’t recognize anything on this ribbon at all. She’s not just fidgeting she's looking around. She's looking for a polite way out. Crap! OK, got to hurry. Click something,. ANYTHING!

PAGE SETUP! Yes its got to be here. Rows to repeat? Orientation? Freeze Panes? That’s got to do something clever... Dammit, I turned 'em off. Slow down, look at the screen. Left to right. Left to right. Just think-

Wait, no! NO! don’t call Frank over, Don't!. C'mon, Cynthia don't, he’s like a total douche! I’ve pwned his ass dozens of times. And look! Just like that! The panes are back! See, I fixed the panes! "The panes are back!" I say triumphantly. My reward is a blank face with pity and impatience fighting for dominance. I tried to sound debonair, I swear, but is it even possible once you realize you can feel your armpit sweat being wicked into your shirt?

"No worries Frank," I say, trying to be casual, but really hoping I can save it "I got th-" did she just roll her eyes at me, "I mean, that is, I got this." Impatience won. It didn't look like it took long, either.

Frank comes over, ignores me, smiles at her, reaches between us and points to the "Scale" button. He's so close to her they're almost touching. I even back up to give him space but, he doesn't take it, and she doesn't seem to mind. In fact, she smiles at him. HIM!

He pats her back with familiar ease as he leaves and her smile just widens. I know its over, but I still utter, "I, uh...," before I can catch myself. Not that she'd deign to hear it anyway. Her back’s to me, the mouse is already in her hand, and I’m, simply, forgotten.

I walk away a defeated, hollow, shell of a man. You only get one chance with Cynthia they say. One. Chance.


04 March 2011

#FridayFlash A Final Gift

Friday Flash
A Final Gift
® 2011 D. Paul Angel

He awoke suddenly with the feeling that something was deeply amiss. The curtains of his motel leaked the parking lot lights through just enough to give a dim, glowering shading to the spartan room. He slowly moved his eyes across the part of the room that he could see while staying just as still as as sleep. He focused and calmed his breathing to avoid letting an enemy know he was now awake. After a few minutes he put a hitch in his breathing and fitfully rolled over in the bed. As he brought his breathing back he saw that this side of the room was also clear.

He reached under the pillow and grabbed the Kel-Tec .380. It wouldn't stop someone in their tracks like a .45, but it could still disable them or, if his aim was good enough, kill. As he looked around the room again he noticed a shape on the night stand that shouldn't be there. Illuminated by his BlackBerry's luminous clock, he saw the vague, shadowy outline of a box. With, a bow?

He weighed his options carefully. If it was someone in the room, they could've already shot him. Or worse. If the box was a bomb, waiting only prolonged the chances of detonation. He didn't bother trying to figure out who was behind it, there were simply too many. 19 years as an operative had certainly seen to that, he thought. As did the parade of dead faces he saw every, single, night before he went to sleep. They didn't appear unbidden, he had to force them up from the depths of his memories. He had read that the guilty were constantly haunted by remembrances of their victims, so he brought them up as a penance. There were dozens of them now, scattered across 5 Continents. He watched the slow march of their eyes behind his every night and felt, Nothing.

My edge is gone, he realized. He wasn't even sure exactly when it had left. He had chalked the close call in Rome up to the accumulation of chance. A byproduct of the Gambler's Fallacy to be sure, but it had a ring of veracity about it nonetheless. Uganda had also been close, but that was more about the hesitation than anything. Women, he knew all too well, could be just as evil as men; but that didn't stop him from brief hesitations here and there. In Uganda though, he felt his own hesitancy. Thinking in his game was a mixed blessing. Absolutely necessary for planning, for ad-libbing, helping with both incursion and, especially, excursion. But, when it came to the act itself, it was a hindrance.

Perhaps he had just been in the job too long? Too old? Unable to lock his mind down, to excise all options save the single necessary path of termination; "That's going to kill you someday, Johnny," he muttered softly. Perhaps it already has...

There, on the end table, was a box with a ribbon on it that had not been there before. He hadn't woken when it was delivered, nor when the person left. If they had wanted him dead, he would be. And yet, he didn't care. Having taken so much life, even for the best of reasons, had taken its toll on him. He had known before every mission that he was expendable, but that was different. That was a known, weighed risk for a short time. This was far more permanent. Almost apathy, but more just sadness.

It was true when not on a mission that he had known a lifetime of intimate pleasures, and had he had certainly never gone to bed alone except by choice. And yet, that too had trailed off recently. It was all the same after awhile. The prelude and epilogue were always part of the game, but now even the game itself seemed to lack in substance. His experience may have been wider than most save rock stars, but it had never been any deeper than a handful of inches. All those scores, hundreds really, and the only one he desired was the one who had said, "No." It wasn't the rejection itself, he'd known enough of those, and this was for, "professional," reasons. It was that he lost the only one he had ever truly cared for.

Even as he realized it was time for him to retire, he knew he wasn't ready to simply give up yet, either. Not your time, yet. Not today. He pulled the gun from under the pillow threw the blanket one way and rolled the other. He quickly and efficiently cleared the room, twice, and only then did he allow himself to inspect the box. With a single quick sigh he sat at the edge of the bed, turned on the lamp, and set his .380 on the pillow beside him.

The box was a white cube, four inches to the side. A single red bow was atop of it. He picked it up and found it quite light with a slight rattle. Whatever it was, it was not a bomb. He opened it to find an airline ticket to Barbados, hotel key there, and airport locker key. Then he noticed the simple handwritten note under the lid,

I'm officially retired. No more Winter's,
no more coldness. Just Warmth. Just life.
Join me. I left you the way, I just hope
you can take the same path I have.
I love you. You are my One.

Another chance. was all he had thought before there was a soft, almost hesitant knock on the door. He went and opened it, leaving the gun on the pillow, and all caution aside, and he opened the door in ungaurded hope.

A man stood there. He had cold, blue eyes, rough Slavic features, a straggly Chesterfield, and a fatalist's resignation.

"Johnny?" he asked with temerity, leaving the sentence unfinished.

"Of course I'll come Boris," he answered grinning, "you were always the one for me."