45 Minutes

This past Saturday, as I lay restlessly in bed trying to get some sleep, I felt an earthquake. It was sometime in the 11 PM hour (23:00 for you 24-hour clock lovers.) In response, I got out of bed and headed for the door of my bedroom. Halfway there I stopped, not having felt any aftershocks. Then I grabbed a drink of water and headed back to bed.

I’m getting soft. I’m a native Californian; if an earthquake doesn’t knock something off a shelf it’s usually not worth my consideration. My reaction – to head for my bedroom door – was an overcautious response based on advice I had learned from a very young age. In school we practiced earthquake drills by diving under our desks to avoid any falling debris. If there wasn’t a desk or table, I was told, a doorframe would do in a pinch. I had been just a bit scared this time, and my instinct told me to head for the door.

It has been a long time since I last felt an earthquake. Maybe that made me unaccustomed to something that was rather run-of-the-mill as far as earthquakes go. It was also the first time I felt an earthquake while I was on the second floor of a building. That type of thing can work some psychological voodoo on a person’s state of mind. Of course, it could also be that the epicenter of this particular earthquake was only 47 miles away, probably the closest I’ve ever been to an earthquake’s epicenter.

It brought me back to another earthquake many years ago – in 1989. Known as the Loma Prieta earthquake, its epicenter was, oddly enough, about the same distance from where I live today as last Saturday’s quake. I lived somewhere else back then, so I was much farther away from it, yet it scared me even more than this one did. I was in much the same position – on my bed, but this time I was reading. It was the first time I ever actually felt the earth roll beneath me. That time I went all the way to the door and stood there for a few minutes sussing out the possibility of aftershocks before I felt like it was safe again.

That was the first earthquake that ever scared me. I remember during my childhood an earthquake hit while I was straddling the windowsill of my father’s den (and no, I don’t remember why I was in that position). It may have knocked me out of the window, or at least made me lose my balance, I don’t remember clearly, but I just laughed it off at the time. It was just an earthquake, after all. Loma Prieta was the first quake to make me feel vulnerable, like the falling ceiling tile scenario from school could actually happen.

As scared as I may have been, Loma Prieta was a downright nightmare for the San Francisco Bay area. It was famous for being one of the few major earthquakes to have its initial jolt broadcast on live television, where it interrupted the 1989 World Series. By the time the earthquake subsided, 63 people throughout Northern California had been killed, 3,757 had been injured, and 3,000-12,000 had been left homeless. My trip to the doorframe was small change in comparison. Loma Prieta registered at 6.9 on the Richter Scale. That’s one big quake!

The Bay Area suffered a lot of structural damage. Building facades collapsed, roads fell apart. The image of broken cement with twisted rebar was commonplace on the news. A section of the upper deck on the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge even collapsed. But this was far removed from me. It didn’t really touch my life – except for one part.

The worst disaster of that particular earthquake was the collapse of the two-level Cypress Street Viaduct of Interstate 880 in West Oakland. 42 people died after being crushed under the weight of the upper level. The televised news showed those images so much they became burned into my mind. Broken, undulating concrete roadways. Twisted guardrails and rebar. And most horrifically, dozens of cars smashed down into what looked like nothing more than a four foot tall gap between the levels, if that wide. It left an indelible mark on my memory, one I will never forget.

Section of collapsed Interstate 880. Courtesy Wikipedia

But those were all other people, people I didn’t know. As horrifying as it was, I was detached from it – until I heard my brother-in-law tell us one day how he had traveled over that section of road forty-five minutes before it collapsed. Had my brother-in-law been caught in one or two more big traffic jams that day – and such a thing is a very big possibility in Oakland – he could easily have been among that rubble. His “near escape” is nothing when compared to the cars that found themselves just beyond the end of the collapsed section, but it brought the disaster closer to home than any earthquake before it.

I don’t wish to disrespect the families and friends of anybody who was actually on or near that section of road when it collapsed. My brother-in-law’s anticlimax of a “near miss” is not intended to diminish the actual pain and loss suffered by those people. What it did, though, was to serve as the one example in a fairly boring and uneventful family history of how tenuous fate is. One delay, one stop to have some food along the way, could have put my brother-in-law on that section when it collapsed, and I might have been left with a much more tragic family history than I have now.

John Bradford supposedly said “There but for the grace of God go I” as he watched a group of criminals being led to their executions. Later, at the age of 45 he was executed by Queen Mary. On any given day we may be the spectator or the spectacle, one of millions watching a baseball game as the broadcast suddenly cuts out during an earthquake, or the driver unaware that the roof of the highway he is driving along is about to come crashing down.  I can’t say if my family history will remain boring or if tragedy will strike us at any given moment. All I can do is appreciate each day that comes my way without a tragic story to tell or be told about me.

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Hook Ups – Chapter 2

Copyright 2012, B.K. Price

Please enjoy the latest installment of Hook Ups. For more information on its origins, see the first installment on my Fictional Follies page.

2

I’m nobody special. I was born and raised in Mexico, Missouri – the “Fire Brick Capital of the World.” Yes, that’s a real place. People ask me that all the time. I wasn’t a model student. I got my share of F’s alongside my C’s and B minuses. When I came to Europe I hopped around quite a bit. Menial labor was the name of the game for me. I’ve worked the docks in Rotterdam, painted houses in Gillingham, cleaned toilets in Basildon, and even swept out chimneys in London.  My latest stint was as a security guard in Ipswich. I’m no Einstein or Aristotle. Nobody’s going to be giving me a Nobel Prize any time soon. So keep that in mind when I say that on that day, as I walked down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris surrounded by a horde of addle-headed numbskulls, I felt like a goddamn Rhodes Scholar.

Our journey began at the Arc de Triomphe, and I could see in my mind’s eye the cold rotting corpse of Napoleon turning over in its grave as his monument of triumph was overwhelmed by the vain and stupid masses. Our journey was to take us approximately two kilometres along the length of the Champs-Élysées to the Place de la Concorde, where the crowd of hopefuls would meet with various potential sponsors in an effort to get a chance at fame and fortune, as they saw it. The feeling of excitement was palpable in the air. All I felt was nausea in the pit of my stomach.

There had to be thousands of would-be contestants marching down the empty avenue that day. I felt like I would suffocate on perfume and body spray, and more than once I wished some muscle-bound bonehead would put his damn shirt back on and shut his trap. If Hell wasn’t exactly like this the Devil wasn’t doing his job right.

As it turned out, I was premature. The real Hell was still awaiting me farther down the road.

I had been to Paris at least twice before. It’s a magnificent city, full of culture, atmosphere, and history. One can’t gaze upon landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and the Louvre and not feel the reverent weight of their majesty and elegance. However, as I walked down the brick-paved street, the curved glass roof and blue-green statues of the Grand Palais to my right and the tree-lined parks to my left, it felt more like the Ringling Brothers had rolled into town. Throngs of boisterous onlookers lined the pavements along the avenue, cheering wildly at the mass of contestants marching down the road. Gaudy banners festooned elegant architecture. Bulbous balloons and hideous streamers festered and rotted on lines hung across the street. A cacophony of fireworks punctured the air as these hopefuls from around the world approached the Place de la Concorde and a chance at instant fame. The entire spectacle seemed like a warped parody of a Bastille Day parade. Whatever city official had approved this monstrosity had sold his soul to the Devil.

The only indication that I was still in France and hadn’t descended into some tumultuous layer of Hell was the solitary red-, white-, and blue-striped flag fluttering from a spire atop the Palais. Outside of that I could have been in Arkansas for all I knew. This was not Gay Paree. It was obscene. The very thought of this eminent city playing host to a reality dating program was unthinkable. “Hook Ups,” the program was called, and normally I wouldn’t come anywhere near it. But Corinne had managed to persuade me to be a part of this rubbish using something more compelling than words.

Why she wanted me here was anybody’s guess. She said it would provide Hook Ups with a unique twist – the grizzled old fellow trying his luck with the young and vacuous lasses. I thought that was pure bunk. She was always a bit dodgy with her reasons, but Corinne definitely wanted me among the contestants. Maybe she would get a bonus for it. Maybe she just got her jollies from seeing me in uncomfortable situations. Who knew? I would probably never spend time in front of a camera anyway.

To get on the program a potential contestant had to convince one of the potential sponsors to put up a rather large amount of money on his or her behalf. Everyone receiving a sponsorship would go on to the next step, while the remaining candidates went home disappointed. Only a nutter would sponsor the lone fifty-four year old among all the beautiful and stupid twenty-somethings. I was certain that whatever diabolical plan Corinne had for me would go down in flames after I failed to achieve sponsorship.

Having assured myself of my imminent failure, I felt more at ease, and realized how much my feet hurt after the better part of our two kilometre journey. It occurred to me that there might be a method to this madness – a test to see who had the wherewithal to complete the walk and who would be thwarted mid-journey. Now that I thought of it, the crowd of contestants seemed somewhat thinner than when it began.

Clever, I was thinking to myself when the young girl walking beside me stumbled. I instinctively twisted towards her and caught her arm. She hopped a couple of times, put a hand on my arm to steady herself, and looked up at me. “Thanks,” she said. “I think I broke a heel.” She looked down. “Damn it! I did.” Letting go of me, she crouched down to retrieve the high heel that had broken away from one of her pumps. When she stood up again she was holding the black leather heel in front of her. “Now what am I going to do?” she wondered aloud, then broke into tears.

I became instantly uncomfortable. I looked around, searching for someone who knew what to do when a woman cried. All I could see in the immediate area were mind-numbed masses. I supposed even the idiots and attention-seekers had feelings and dreams. Today many of them would have their hearts broken and their dreams shattered. This girl wasn’t going to be the last one to cry before the day was done.

By now I had gotten a comforting arm around the poor girl. “Don’t cry,” I said, more as a plea than an attempt to comfort her. “It’s only a heel.”

“It’s not the heel,” the girl explained. Her words were now coming out fast and mumbled, intermingled with loud heaving sobs. “We’ve been walking for miles and I’m tired and this stupid road is all broken I never should have come here what was I thinking I can’t do this I’m just a stupid hick…”

I pushed her away, maintaining a hold on her shoulders. “Hey!” I chided. “Don’t call yourself stupid. You’ve come a long way. You’re strong and smart.” I squatted down so we were the same height, then faced us both forward. I pointed towards the tall obelisk with its pointed crest glowing golden in the distance. “See that?” I asked. Without waiting for her to respond, I said. “That’s the Luxor Obelisk. The French brought that here all the way from Egypt, and if you don’t know already, that’s a very long ways away. The thing weighs over 200 tons. Do you know how much a ton is?” The girl shook her head. “It’s two thousand pounds, which makes the whole obelisk weigh a total of…”

“Two million pounds,” the girl finished, awestruck.

I paused for a moment, then simply nodded my head and said, “Spot on.” I wasn’t in the mood for a math lesson. “Well done,” I added.

The girl smiled at me. I continued.  “You can probably guess that something that heavy would be hard to bring all the way to Paris from Egypt. They didn’t have all the big machines we have today. They had wooden boats and lots of people who had to pull and carry the thing all the way here. It was hard.”

The girl looked at me with curiosity. “How did they do it?” she asked.

“If you want to find out,” I said, “you can look at the pictures at the bottom of the obelisk. They show exactly how they did it. Do you want to see that?” The girl sniffed and nodded eagerly. “Then let’s go see.”

I had her break off the other heel so she could walk normally. Her spirits raised and her curiosity piqued, the girl walked alongside me contentedly. As we travelled, I introduced myself. “I’m Steven Jones, by the way,” I said.

The girl seemed uneasy. “I’m, uh, Kimberly,” she said. “Kimberly Czer, uh, Simmons.”

“Cheruhsimmons,” I repeated. “That’s a strange name.”

She seemed frustrated. “No, just Simmons. Well, actually Czerwinsky.”

I lowered an eyebrow. “I don’t understand.”

“My last name is Czerwinsky, but Corinne told me to use Simmons instead.”

My eyes shot wide open. “You know Corinne?” I asked.

Kimberly nodded. “Yeah. She found me in a nightclub in San Francisco. Said I’d be perfect for this show. Are you her dad or something?”

I looked away, gritting my teeth. It was a fair question, but it stung a little. “No,” I said. “She wanted to put me on the program too.”

Kimberly looked me over, her face filled with disbelief. “Really?” she said. Then realization hit her. “They must be doing a version for old people, too.” She looked around. “I don’t see any others, though.”

Don’t grab her throat and choke her, don’t grab her throat and choke her, chanted the sensible part of my mind. I wished I had some alcohol to drown it out.

Shortly thereafter we reached the Place de la Concorde, and the Luxor Obelisk now towered high above us. “There it is,” I said.

I saw my daughter in the crowd. She waved and gestured to me to come to her. I waved back, then turned my attention to Kimberly for a moment. “Well, we made it all this way. I told you you were strong.” Kimberly nodded and smiled sweetly. “I just saw my daughter over in the crowd. I’ll go over there if you don’t need me to look at the obelisk with you.”

Kimberly shook her head. There were tears in her eyes again, but they weren’t tears of defeat any longer. “No,” she said. “You go see your daughter. She has a really cool dad.” Kimberly raised herself on tip-toe and kissed me on the cheek. “Thanks so much.” Then she turned away to go see the obelisk.

I felt proud of her at that moment, and just a little emotional – until she turned around again and said, “Oh, and good luck on your old people show.” I sighed. So much for tender moments.

My daughter was right up against the barrier when I approached. “Hi, daddy,” she said. When I was near enough she hugged me.

“Hey, Sarah-saurus,” I replied, using the nickname I had given her when she was nine. For some reason it had stuck with her throughout the years.

Sarah was looking at me with that sceptical look she tended to get. “Are you completely off your nut? What are you doing in a reality television competition?”

“If I knew I’d tell you,” I said. “Corinne talked me into it.”

“Oh, right, the mysterious girlfriend you’ve been carrying on with. So when will I get to meet this Corinne?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. This place is a madhouse. Corinne could be any…oh, hi, Honey.”

Corinne had appeared suddenly from the crowd as if summoned by the mere mention of her name. Her demeanor was perfectly calm, but her eyes shot alarm at me. The message was clear: We’re not supposed to act like lovers in front of the other contestants. That was what she had told me when she was trying to convince me to become a contestant. Naturally, I pointed out that we wouldn’t have to hide our affection if I wasn’t a contestant in the first place, but then she climbed on top of me and that and other protestations quickly faded into a lust-addled, “Of course, my love.”

Her serious face quickly turned to a warm smile. “I’m glad you made it, Steven. Everything’s been going along wonderfully.”

Sarah cleared her throat, giving me a serious stare. “Oh, right,” I said. “Corinne, this is Sarah.” I indicated my daughter with an upraised hand. “Sarah, this is Corinne.”

Sarah and Corinne faced each other. “It’s so good to finally meet you,” Corinne said. “Steven, you never mentioned how absolutely stunning your daughter is.”

Sarah smiled weakly and shook hands with Corinne. “And you never mentioned how…youthful your girlfriend is.” The look she gave me said it all. What on Earth are you thinking?

I shot a glance at Corinne, but she didn’t seem alarmed by the use of the word girlfriend. Sarah continued. “So, Corinne, how did you convince my father to make such a fool of himself?”

Corinne looked over at me. “I wouldn’t call it making a fool of himself. We’re conducting a unique social experiment here. He’s more like a science assistant.”

“Or a Guinea pig,” Sarah interjected.

“It’s all right, sweetie,” I said. “Corinne just needed my help, and that’s what, uh, friends do. It isn’t a big thing. I’m not even going to get a sponsor, anyway.”

Corinne looked at me sharply. “Why do you say that?”

“Come now, Corinne, you can’t expect a fifty-four year old man like me to win the support of a sponsor over thousands of good-looking and youthful candidates. They would have to be either nutters or heavily bribed to sponsor me.”

Corinne cocked an eyebrow. “Is that so?” Turning back to Sarah, she said, “So, your father tells me you work in the video game industry. I was just playing this fascinating game called Sentient where the main character is a newly-awakened A.I. You should check it out; it’s pure genius.”

Sarah chuckled. “I’ve not only played it, I helped design it.”

Corinne gave her a look of surprise. “Really? But wasn’t it made by 2OP Studios?”

Sarah nodded. “2OP got swallowed up by Quantic Dream. That’s how I got here.”

Corinne set her arm across Sarah’s shoulders and the two pulled close to discuss things in depth. “You know what my favorite part was? That boss battle against Maltheuse…” They had started walking into the crowd, chatting away like old chums.

“Oy, what about me?” I called out.

Corinne turned back momentarily. She tilted her head toward the Place de la Concorde. “Sponsors are there. Go around and make your pitch to them.” When she saw my face she added, “Just humor me, okay?” Then she turned back and the two women continued their enthusiastic exchange.

Lovely. My daughter and girlfriend were getting chummy. No good could come of that.

I didn’t make any pitches. Humor Corinne? – Certainly. Prance around like an idiot? – No way in Hell. I did spend the time watching the other contestants, though. They wandered around the oval road surrounding the obelisk, stopping at various booths to meet with the sponsors. Most of them engaged in mini auditions where they apparently talked about themselves and why they were the best investment for the sponsor. I hadn’t paid much attention to the details of the process, but the sponsors stood to make or lose a fair bit of money based on how well the viewers liked their candidate. The longer a candidate survived before being chucked, the higher the payout for the sponsor, but I got the impression that they needed to stay for a certain amount of time in order for the sponsor to break even. It also sounded like they would get more adverts based on the success of their candidates.

The selection process lasted throughout the day and into the night as the thousands of candidates milled about and tried to woo a sponsor. The shops in the area were closed for the duration of the event, but there were stalls on the Concorde selling a variety of interesting food, and I was famished. I knew what Sarah would think of my food choices, but I didn’t care. She wasn’t there. Truffles and crepes it was, then.

Having survived the annoying ordeal of the previous day, I returned to the Place de la Concorde in the morning to revel in my failure to get sponsored for that useless program. The street was laid out with countless folding chairs set all around the central plaza and the obelisk. I found a seat apart from everyone else and waited for the rest of the contenders to arrive.

I located my daughter in the crowd of onlookers, and we waved to each other. Corinne was seated on a stage newly erected around the Luxor Obelisk, along with a pair of gorgeous Korean women who looked exactly alike, down to the same outfits consisting of a plain white blouse with a collar halfway up the neck and tight sequined white shorts. Corinne was dazzling in a figure-hugging green kimono with a floral print. I found myself imagining how it would look pooled on the floor beside my bed. Keep it in your trousers, warned my sensible mind.

Hung-over contestants were still filing in, gradually filling the empty seats, although I noticed that we seemed to have lost some contestants overnight. Kimberly somehow managed to find me and gave me a hug before we sat beside each other. “I’m so excited,” she said, churning her legs up and down while she sat. “Aren’t you?”

I nodded absently. “Thrilled,” I said without enthusiasm. In truth I felt like I was at the graduation ceremony for Dumbass University. All I could hope was that Kimberly wouldn’t gab my ear off throughout this annoying ordeal.

Corinne came to the small podium at the front of the stage and explained the rules of the competition. Every contestant had to be in a pairing by the end of each episode. If any were left unpaired they were ejected. The viewers would vote at the end of each episode for the couple they though was the best pairing. The couple receiving the lowest vote total at the end of each episode would be ejected at the end of an extra results episode. The couple that prevailed at the end would either split the winnings or share them as a romantic couple, whichever they preferred. Blah blah blah. I just wanted to get this over with and go back home.

After her speech, Corinne began reading the name of each sponsored contestant and their sponsor. As each name was read the contestant would stand up screaming with glee and either jump up and down or jog in place excitedly before going up one side of the stage or the other and receiving a large sticky-backed tag from one of the twins with their sponsor’s name on it. When Kimberly’s name was called she did the same, then gave me a hug before running up to get her tag. Vanderlinde’s, the tag said. I had never heard of that company.

As the ceremony continued I slouched more and more in my chair, dozing off all the while, until something set me wide awake. Corinne’s voice hummed over the loudspeakers. “And last, we have a late entry into the mix. A new sponsor, Quantic Dream, has chosen Steven Jones.”

My eyes were wide open now, and I shot up in my chair. I looked up at Corinne in alarm. She was smiling mischievously and beckoning for me to come up to the twin who had my sticky tag at the ready. Kimberly was delighted and waved enthusiastically at me from the stage. I looked over at Sarah. She had her cell phone against her ear and she was smiling playfully as well. It was then that I realized the fix had been in from the start. My daughter and my girlfriend were in cahoots. I slumped down again, groaning. The sensible part of my mind was playing I-told-you-so. That’s what you get for letting your John Thomas make the decisions for you, mate.

God I needed a drink to make that damnable voice just sod off!

Hook Ups – Chapter 1

Copyright 2012, B.K. Price

What follows is the consolidated first chapter from a short story I am writing called Hook Ups (it was previously released in two parts). This is based on a post I read on WordPress by a blogger named Mike Smith. He related a dream he had and it spawned this idea for a horror story about a new reality show called Hook Ups that is more than what it seems. The idea percolated in my brain and I had to start writing it. I’ve been having a blast. This is a first draft, and it doesn’t get into the horror aspect yet, but there will be blood, believe you me. Since I hope to send this in for publishing whenever I finish it, I can’t put the whole story here, but I can put a few excerpts to see if you folks enjoy it. And be sure to stop by Mike’s blog, MikesFilmTalk, to see the excellent articles he has written, including the one that inspired this story: The Dating House. All of the story’s excerpts can be found in the Fictional Follies section of my blog. I will update them as I revise the draft, so check back again if you are interested in following the updates.

1

Kimberly Czerwinski drummed her fingers against the luxurious leather armrest. Her seat was comfortable – more comfortable than any car seat she had ever been on. She could feel the gentle vibration of the limousine’s motor through the lush carpeting beneath her feet. It should have been an exciting moment for her, escorted in a swanky limo like a V.I.P., but she couldn’t help but feel nervous and a little vulnerable. The figure-hugging blue dress she wore made her feel almost naked. Her legs were crossed vice-tight and she kept pulling at the hem of her mini-dress.

The champagne bottle stood unopened in its tub of ice, and the long-stemmed glasses rattled in their lacquered wooden slots. Normally she would have popped the cork already and had more than her share of the bubbly. But instead she sat board still with her tiny black purse clutched closely in her lap. The windows were too darkened to see much of the world outside, and the black panel that separated her compartment from the driver’s section made her uneasy for some reason. She wished her girlfriends were there.

She was not alone, however. Off to her right, sitting on the sideways seats, was the woman who had approached her in the night club. Concentrate as she might, Kimberly couldn’t remember the woman’s name. She appeared to be Asian, and she wore a high-necked sleeveless white blouse and tight shorts covered with glittering white sequins. Together they looked like two party girls out for a night on the town.

“We’re getting close to the studio,” the woman said without a hint of an accent. Kimberly stared intently at her elegant features. “We need to make sure everything’s ready.”

The woman eyed her up and down, paying close attention to Kimberly’s smooth white legs. There seemed to be something beneath that stare, something carnal. Kimberly scooted more squarely into her seat and pulled at the all-too-high hem of her dress uncomfortably, darting an anxious glance at the tinted window. She remembered the woman out on the dance floor, always hovering near her like a sparkling ghost, hips gyrating to the music. This was San Francisco, after all.

“That dress will do for now,” she stated flatly. “We can work on wardrobe after the auditions are finished.” She was one to talk, dressed like she was. “About the name, though – how do you pronounce it?”

“Kim-buhr…”

“No, no, the last name,” the woman said.

“Oh,” said Kimberly. “Cher-vin-skee.” Kimberly pronounced it slowly.

The Asian woman frowned. “Really?”

“It’s Polish,” Kimberly explained.

“Yeah,” said the woman, “I don’t think so. Too ethnic.”

“But it’s my name,” Kimberly retorted.

The woman furrowed her brow in thought for a moment and then achieved a wide-eyed idea, raising her pen in the air. “Simmons,” she said. “That’s a much better name.” She scribbled in her notebook.

“But my name is…” Kimberly began.

The woman patted Kimberly’s knee. “Trust me. The audience will respond better to a name like Simmons. Cherwhatsit is just too hard to relate to, and it looks like a mess on the screen.” She leaned back. “Don’t worry. We’ll put the right name on your check.”

My check, thought Kimberly. She’d be on television and getting paid! It was all like a dream. One minute she was out in the night club partying with her friends, the next she was being driven to an audition for a new reality television show in style. A smile slid across her face. She could get used to this.

“Besides, actors use false names all the time. You don’t think Tom Cruise was really born with that name, do you?” Kimberly couldn’t argue with that. He had probably been born Maynard Dalrymple or something hideous like that.

“The accent I’m not so in love with,” the woman confessed.

“What accent?” Kimberly was getting a little defensive.

“That whole Kansas bumpkin thing.”

“Arkansas,” Kimberly corrected.

The woman rolled her eyes. “Whatever. You know, maybe it actually could work. You could be the Mary-Ann of the show. You know, the cute country girl. But I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s not like there’s time for a voice coach anyway.”

Kimberly felt the excitement rise. “Where is this show going to be? Your country?”

“My country?”

“Yeah,” said Kimberly. “Japan.”

The woman smiled and shook her head. “Oh no, honey, I’m not Japanese. I’m Korean.”

Kimberly let out a heavy breath, relieved. “Oh, thank God! I totally forgot your name, Corinne. I was too embarrassed to say anything.”

The woman’s face contorted in confusion. “What? I, uh, no, that’s not my na… You know, forget it. We’re not going to be in Japan. We’ll be in Paris.”

“Paris, Arkansas?” said Kimberly, incredulous.

“Um, no – wait, there’s a place called Paris in Arkansas?”

“Yeah,” said Kimberly. “It’s about fifty miles away from my hometown. Their cheerleading team beat ours in the Logan County Varsity Championships my senior year.” Under her breath she muttered, “Stupid Eagles!”

The woman huffed in amusement. “Well, as much fun as it would be to hold the show in Paris, Arkansas, I’m afraid we’ll have to settle for Paris, France.”

Kimberly had pulled out a compact and was pursing her lips while she checked her makeup in its tiny mirror. “I’ve never been to that state.”

The Asian woman didn’t even look up from her notebook as she said, “Well I’m sure you’ll love it.” Smiling, she shook her head slowly, “You’re going to fit right in.”

*    *    *    *

I was nursing a half of Scotch when she walked in – tight sequined red dress, stiletto heels, legs that went on forever. Her straight black hair came down to her shoulders, framing strikingly beautiful Korean features. Intrigued, I leaned back against the bar, trying to drown out the blaring sounds of the hip-hop music and the inane chattering of the berks dancing on the floor, if you could call it dancing. Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but it looked more like a grand mal seizure set to music.

The Korean woman had spotted me, and I could tell that she was just as intrigued. She began sauntering towards the bar, and fortunately nobody was beside me. Her steps were supermodel suave, hips churning gracefully. I braved a short peek at her cleavage. It shivered invitingly with each movement. She didn’t sit down on the stool as much as she poured herself into her seat, smooth as water flowing, giving me the perfect view of that trim and shapely backside of hers. God, I was torturing myself!

Her smile hadn’t fully committed itself to her face yet, but her eyes provided the full story, roaming from my face downward. It was sly, that look, an expression of curiosity mixed with come-hither seduction. I looked down at my tired old clothes. Surely she was pickled looking at me like that. Or a prostitute.

She turned her face away from me, arms resting on the bar, pouty lips held still as if in anticipation of what might come out of them. “Drinks here any good?” she asked in a silky-smooth intonation that wasn’t even slightly inflected with an Asian accent. If anything it sounded a bit Canadian.

I took my cue from her and looked forward as well. “Decent,” I said. I held up my glass and shook it back and forth as I turned my head just enough to spy her out of the corner of my eye. “Scotch is, at least.”

She swung her stool around until one elbow was resting on the bar and she was facing me. I swung around to face her in synchronized harmony. Her brown eyes fixed onto mine. “Pleasure,” she said, extending her hand.

The way she said it had me wondering whether the pleasure was in our meeting or a promise of things to come. Something deep down hoped for the latter. She’s at least half your age, warned the sensible part of my brain. I took a drink in an attempt to kill it.

I grabbed the proffered hand and with one pump we were chums. “Steven,” I said in a terse introduction. My mouth felt dry. My heart beat heavily in my chest. “Ah, gyuh…” I stammered. Get it together, you old coot! I took another swig of my Scotch. “Y…you, uh, remind me a little of Gaemi Halkki.” That’s it, old boy, pay her a compliment.

Her face took a sudden turn from warm and inviting to cold and lethal. Her hand snapped back to her side. “What did you just call me?” she asked through her teeth.

I leaned backward, sputtering and grasping for words. I couldn’t understand what had just happened. “I’m…I’m sorry,” I finally apologized. “I didn’t know you dislike her so much.”

The woman’s brows furrowed. “Dislike who?”

“G…Gaemi Halkki,” I said. “The Korean pop singer.”

The woman’s eyes fluttered. A look of relief softened her face and turned up the corners of her mouth. “Oh, God!” she exclaimed as she started to laugh. “I thought you were saying I looked like an aardvark.”

I laughed with her, although I didn’t know why. “What?”

She put a hand on my arm and spent a moment trying to stop laughing. “Gaemihalkki. It means aardvark in Korean.”

I now knew what we were laughing about. “Oh, bloody hell!” I said.  “I can’t believe I said that.” Taking hold of her hand once more, I shook it again and said, “Let me re-introduce myself. My name’s Steven, and I’m a right idiot.”

The woman giggled and enthusiastically returned my handshake. “Well, Steven Idiot, I am…” She paused suddenly, looking skyward as if trying to remember her name. Finally, she said, “…Corinne.” Her lips twisted in amusement at the mention of her name. If there was a joke in that, I didn’t understand it. “I’m surprised you knew my ethnicity. Most people think I’m Japanese.”

“Well, I’m not a complete idiot. It’s more like seventy-five percent idiot, thirty percent excellent mathematician.”

Corinne laughed again. “Don’t forget to squeeze comedian in there.” My eyes traveled down her dress and lingered at the shadowed line where her smooth white legs emerged. God, did I ever want to squeeze something in there! Get it out of your mind, came that damned sensible voice again. I downed some more Scotch. Why wouldn’t the voice die already?

Pulling my brain away from the lewd paths it was following, I said, “Between me and my daughter, we’ve been exposed to enough Japanese and Korean entertainment to know the difference by now.”

Corinne frowned and looked down at my lap. I felt a little uncomfortable. Like most men, I don’t like women frowning when they look at my crotch. “Your daughter?” Corinne repeated. “I…well, I thought you…” She made a gesture toward my crotch. Only it wasn’t my crotch.

I held up my hand, finally understanding. “Oh, no, I’m not married,” I said, wiggling my fingers just to emphasize the absence of a wedding band. “Twice divorced, however.” That suggested she wasn’t a prostitute out to turn a trick. A hooker probably wouldn’t care if I was married. Of course, she could have just been playing me for a fool.

“How is your daughter coping with your divorces?” Corinne asked. I sensed genuine concern in her voice.

“Well,” I said. “She’s twenty-two, and they happened quite a long time ago.”

Corinne looked me over with a sly smile. “Twenty-two? You’re too young to have a twenty-two year old daughter.”

Too young? I was fifty-four, and I looked it. This Corinne was either plumb off her rocker or drunk off her sweet young arse – or a lying street-whore trying to crack on to me so she could bugger off with a few quid. She’s dodgy, mate, said the sensible voice, and for once I was willing to listen to it.

“What’s your angle?” I asked.

“I beg your pardon?” Corinne responded.

“The flattery. What’s your motive, hun? You out for a shag and a blag?”

“A what?” she asked.

“You know, take the gullible sod back to your flat, get him rat-arsed, and then have a few thrusts under the covers before you make off with his valuables.”

Corinne surged up from her stool. “Why I never! Are you calling me a hooker?”

I stood up as well, the alcohol raging in my system. “Well, I sure as Hell don’t look too young to have a twenty-two year old daughter. You have to be running some sort of scam to lie to my face like that.”

Corinne’s mouth was open, but nothing was coming out. She just huffed while her eyes shot venom at me. She grabbed her purse from the bar and spun around, storming toward the door. Before she got there, she turned, her eyes streaming with tears. “I wasn’t trying to trick you,” she said, her tone subdued. “I just wanted to get to know you.” Then she turned around again and went through the door.

I downed the remainder of my Scotch and slammed the glass down on the bar. The nutters out prancing on the dance floor remained oblivious to everything except their ridiculous gyrating. I looked towards the door once again. God I was a fool! No wonder I was still single after all this time.

Out on the pavement I looked to the sky. Smelt like rain. I didn’t want to linger too long. A couple of metres away a limousine was ticking over. Limousines weren’t a common sight in this part of Ipswich. I couldn’t see through the tinted windows, so I didn’t know who was inside, but I didn’t really care, either. Probably just some middle-class bloke larging it in a rented limo for the day. I just needed to get back to my flat and sleep the Scotch off before I made even more of a mess of things.

It was while I was sleeping off that Scotch that I was awakened by a knock on my door. My trousers were on the floor, but I didn’t bother putting them on before I answered it. Whoever it was would just have to live with it. I whipped the door open, intent on exclaiming, “Do you have any idea what time it is?” except I didn’t even know what time it was. But when I saw who it was beyond the door all words escaped me except one. “Corinne!”

There was no time for further words when she came at me, lips locking onto mine. From that point on we were all hands and lips, driven only by the need we had for each other. Her dress was off, then we spun onto the bed and fell into urgent lovemaking until we lay sweaty and knackered with the bedding all askew.

I was just starting to doze off when Corinne started up with some pillow talk. “So tell me more about your daughter,” she said, swirling a finger around my chest.

I blinked my eyes, forcing them wide open to drive off the haze of sleep. “She’s…well, she’s great. Smart, successful. She works for a company called Quantic Dream. She lives in Paris now.”

That bemused smile slid across Corinne’s face again. “You’re talking about the one in France, right?”

I felt like I was hearing a joke that I wasn’t in on. “Uh, yes. Is there another one?”

Corinne patted my chest. “I just wanted to be sure you weren’t talking about Arkansas or something.” She snuggled against me, then said, “Do you get to see her much?”

I shook my head. “Only when she’s on holiday. Why?”

Corinne raised herself up and looked at me with her soft brown eyes. “Because I think I know of a way you can see a lot of her.”

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blog

I am not a “blogger.” I know, that’s ironic coming from a blog post, but it’s true. I don’t sit around coffee shops sipping a double whatever latte and sending pictures of my food to Instagram. I’m not part of the Internet couture du jour, assuming I didn’t just mangle the French language. I first got onto Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr earlier this year, and then only to follow a YouTube poster whose content I liked enough to become a veritable cyber stalker.

Not only am I less than a social butterfly on the Internet, I’m also not too involved in other communication forms. If people aren’t incessantly texting, tweeting, calling, or poking me, I’m a happy camper. Please don’t take that as a rejection; I enjoy the likes and any comments that might come my way. But in this crazy world of non-stop communication, I really have lagged behind. I’m not lamenting that fact, just stating it. I’m the rotary phone of the Digital Age, and I love it.

I like technology. I have an iPod, iPad, cell phone, PC, laptop, XBox 360, Wii, High-def television, Blu-ray player, and I like to use all of them. I have been involved in video gaming and computer programming for most of my life. I know my way around computers. I just don’t tend to like sharing myself with the Internet masses. In general I’m a loner, comfortably nestled behind my digital anonymity.

Facebook I use only to hook up with old friends from the town I used to live in. Twitter is next to worthless for me, just a way to follow high-profile personalities and other YouTubers that I like to watch. Tumblr – well, before I followed this particular YouTube personality, I wouldn’t have been able to tell a Tumblr from a tuba. I definitely had no interest in sharing anything in a blog.

A blog tends to be like journal writing to me. I’ve tried it. Sit down each night when you’d rather be going to bed and write your feelings about what has gone on each day. No thank you. I live what I consider to be an altogether boring life. I work, play video games, and sleep. I’ve never thought of my life or my experiences as anything to share with the world in essay form. Why, I’ve never been to war, never had a good solid romantic relationship, never even broken a limb. What on Earth could I possibly contribute to the Internet besides pictures of cats and fart jokes?

The writing I like to do is fiction writing – primarily fantasy and science fiction. I’ve loved that from a very young age, but never quite managed to finish a project and get it published. I do have a short story out right now, but in all my years of writing that’s the only thing even close to being published. For a while now I have been feeling like my well has run dry. I have been writing and reading less than I used to.

You see, when I was young I was bursting with ideas and enthusiasm. I wrote an entire draft of a novel in the summer between junior high school and high school. It was mostly rubbish, but that’s neither here nor there. I ate, drank, and slept fiction writing. It was my passion. The ideas couldn’t be contained in my head; they had to spring out.

As time passed, that enthusiasm died out. I still had just as many ideas popping into my head, but I lacked the wherewithal to carry them through the writing process. I worked a full time job and didn’t want to work another unpaid full time job when I came home. Writing, as I learned over the years, was a lonely and difficult process. Writer’s block is one of the most debilitating conditions I know. The sacrifices I had to make to write had become too unbearable for me.

I remember a phone call I got not long ago from my sister. She has always been interested in my progression as a writer. She came to the conclusion that I was losing that fire that had once fueled my writing passion. Frighteningly, I wasn’t able to tell her, “Don’t be ridiculous!” I was worried that she might be right. Writing has been so tied up in who I am that losing my passion for it seemed like it would mean a loss of my very identity.

So we come to Tumblr. I signed up, mainly to comment on and like the posts of this YouTube contributor that I was following. Just to avoid being a complete leech I published a couple of token pieces and reblogged some humorous items I saw. But I had no intention of becoming a regular blogger. Then she wrote an article where she encouraged commentary. Due to the vagaries and limitations of the comment system on Tumblr, I wrote a long response and posted it on my blog. I loved it.

Ever since then I have been seething with thoughts that demand to be put down on the page. Essays? Not my thing, yet I have written quite a few already. Poetry? Perish the thought, but even that has popped into my head of late. The fire is rising again, I think. I hope. Putting down these random musings has set the creative machine in motion again.

It’s amazing what blogging has done. I have no doubt the constant blogging about anything and everything will die down before too long. There’s only so much a boring fellow like myself can drone on and on about before becoming repetitive and annoying, if that hasn’t happened already. But there’s a lot of energy to tap into, and I’m determined to make this a springboard into serious and furious feats of writing. I have a nice blog space, a new muse, and ideas crackling from my fingertips. Wish me luck. I’m going in.

Nostalgia Ain’t What It Used To Be

On a trip over the mountains en route to my father’s house, I had to cycle through a number of radio stations as I quickly lost range over and over again. On the way down into the valley, I was able to settle on one station in particular. It was playing music that had been popular in the ‘80s. A few of the songs I heard carried strong feelings of nostalgia – memories of my years in Junior High and High School. Whenever I hear those songs, I can’t help but recall those happy times and wish that I could return to those simpler days.

Simply being in my hometown at all can bring back those memories. During this last year, when I was unemployed and assisting my father, I would take his checks to the bank to be deposited in his account. I would walk in order to get some exercise, since the bank was only about six blocks away. As I walked that distance, I would pass many things that would stir my memory.

Down at the end of the street I would pass the house of a childhood friend where I spent much time in play. Now it is covered with obscuring trees and bushes, and I can’t see into it at all. Turning and walking farther down the road I would come across the public pool. Hot midsummer days in the Central Valley of California made such a place a haven for kids throughout town. Now it has fallen into disuse, its windows broken and its stained pool empty.

Going farther I would pass the public library. I loved books and spent much time perusing the shelves, and since it is at the edge of the town’s main park, I spent a lot of time around its exterior during my youth. Beyond the library would be the overpass, a long concrete serpent coiling up from the edge of the park before it sprang across the street in an arc. How many times did my little feet pass over that thing?

It is beyond that overpass where the brunt of my memories lie. On the right is the elementary school I attended as a child. A building that squats against the parking lot has a colorful mural painted on its wall. I know that mural well. I should; as a child I helped color it in. I can only wonder these days if the current students can ever appreciate that mural as much as I still do, being a part of its creation.

Across the street is the Junior High School that I attended – only now it’s an elementary school. When I look at that campus, I can pinpoint the window of my science classroom on the main building. I can remember being in line to the cafeteria, one of the tallest kids in school, and waving to my sister across the crowd, since she also was taller than most of the other kids. Yes, I can remember all sorts of good things about my time in that school.

I can also remember bad things. Being picked on, struggling to keep up when we ran laps out on the field, etc. Which makes my nostalgia about those songs I mentioned earlier a little baffling. Yes, those songs make me remember my mid to late teen years, but the only time I ever heard them was during dances. I hated dances. I can’t think of one good memory that came from a school dance. I was awkward, shy, and pretty much a wallflower. Those were not happy moments, yet the songs somehow make me yearn for those days.

I think maybe I tend to look at the past through rose-colored glasses. When my life is particularly boring or annoying, I think back to a better time, when I was younger, when life was simpler, when I didn’t have the problems I have now. But if I actually went back to that time period, do you know what I would probably be doing? Looking back on the prior phase of my life with just as much longing and thinking how much better I had it back then.

When I got a job again after my recent unemployment, I moved to a town I had never lived in before. I knew nobody, and I had to start fresh. I constantly wished I could go back to the city I lived in when I was previously employed. I loved that town. I had deep roots there. It wasn’t my hometown, but I had lived there for the better part of about twenty years. I’ve been missing it ever since I had to leave. I had some of the best times of my life there – and some of the worst.

Dwelling on my time there has turned out to be very counterproductive. It takes away from my establishment of roots here and now. On the road trip that is my life I would much prefer to be the driver than a passenger, but if I am to drive I must rid myself of distractions. Like the recent ads decrying texting and driving that I have been seeing on television, focusing on the past, or even on a desired but far away goal, risks distracting me from the current journey. I might miss my turn and steer myself in the wrong direction. Even worse, my inattention might cause me to crash into something, upending my life’s journey unnecessarily.

Memories are wonderful things, and indulging in nostalgic flights of fancy once in a while is harmless. But the past was just as hard for me as the present is. I didn’t know what to do then, and I don’t know what to do now. All I know is that I survived to this point, and maybe I’ll survive a little longer if I pay attention. Why, I might even look back on this time when I’m eighty years old and wish I could go back to the “good old days.”

Image

Wake Up!

I recently had an epiphany after getting frustrated with the Half-Life 2 mod Black Mesa Source. I was frustrated because it’s punishingly hard for me, even on the easiest setting. Normally I’d quit in frustration, but I kept coming back for some reason. It prompted me to post on my blog about my great epiphany of how I need to have that attitude outside of gaming; when life knocks me down, I need to keep getting up and going back for more. If you saw the post during the 10 or so hours it was up, you’d know what it said. But I took it down. The reason: when I went back to the part that had been kicking my ass so hard, I just kept getting my ass kicked. There was a literal army sent to kill one man and far too few healing packs, and it was too much for me. I gave in and invoked god mode from the console just so I could get on with the game. My post became irrelevant because I gave up.

Funny thing about epiphanies: they’re easy to discover, and they’re very easy to pontificate about, but when it comes to actually applying them, that’s a different story. It’s where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. Epiphanies are inspiring. They are uplifting. They make you get up and shout, “Let’s do it!” But then you try to do it, and you get knocked down again. And again. And one more time just in case you didn’t get the point yet. The message is clear: you were failing before the epiphany, and nothing’s changed just because you read some inspirational words. If there’s no momentum behind that epiphany, well, nothing changes.

Now, Black Mesa Source is just a video game. I played it for no other reason than the desire to experience the events that led up to Gordon Freeman walking off that train into a dystopian city at the beginning of Half-Life 2. I should have just watched a Let’s Play on YouTube, but I figured I could get past my suckiness and play the game by myself if I played it on the easiest difficulty. Of course, I vastly underestimated my suckiness. It’s no skin off my teeth. I won’t cry into my pillow tonight because I failed at a stupid video game. I came to grips with the fact that I’m a lameass quite a long time ago.

Let me tell you a little bit about my life for a moment. In June of 2011 I was laid off work. I basically knew it was coming for about a year, but kept holding out hope until the end. I had been working at that company for seven years, and in the industry for thirteen. My life was good during that time. I was making enough money to pay for my gaming habit and have plenty left over without having to scrimp and save just to get by. I’ve been through that before and definitely hate it. I loved the town I lived in, my apartment was cheap but had everything I needed. Life was great. So losing my job sucked. Not in what it did to my life. I moved in with my father and brother, received unemployment insurance, and still had plenty of money, largely because my expenses had dropped drastically. No, losing my job sucked because it opened my eyes to some harsh realities.

So now we come to another epiphany, which actually happened a few years before I got laid off. As I said, I was happy. Living large, minus the lavish VIP treatment, but I’ve never been much for excess. As far as I was concerned, I had everything I needed. I was content. Only I wasn’t. Something seethed under the surface. I realized after some pondering that that contentment was a façade. In reality I was an out of shape college dropout in his late thirties who hadn’t had a successful romantic relationship, spent most of his time outside of work holed up in his apartment, and was working at an unfulfilling job instead of living his dream out as a published author or video game developer. I hadn’t done any of those things because they were hard. They required me to get up after I failed. They required me to maintain some self-confidence. They required me to endure pain, humiliation, and sacrifice. I was comfortable, and I thought comfortable was all I needed.

Of course, after I had that epiphany I promptly fell back into my old ways, swearing that I would “get to it someday.” We all know what someday means – never. That epiphany could only do so much to jerk me out of my cozy little lifestyle. Go back to school? Why, I paid off my debts. Why would I want to incur more? Go out and date again? Well, the girls have made it abundantly clear that they want nothing to do with me, so why should I subject myself to that self-esteem shattering humiliation anymore? Finish my novel? Well, that’s a good idea, but after an eight hour work shift I don’t want to do more work; I just want to relax with a good video game. I had the excuses to not act on my epiphany, and they turned out to be stronger than the epiphany itself.

Fast forward to August of 2011. I’ve lost that comfortable lifestyle, I live with my father, who needs 24-hour care, and I’m having one Hell of a time finding a new job because I really don’t have marketable skills and I don’t have a college degree. My life has a way of shoving my epiphanies down my throat. I was forced to come to terms with what I had discovered a few years before: I had to do something to improve myself. So I went to the local junior college and started studying computer networking. I even did a little writing now that I had a bunch more free time. It was going to be hard, it was going to take a long time, but I knew that my former complacency wouldn’t cut it anymore.

Now we get to the present. I found a job, and I’ve been working there for a few months. While I’m not anywhere near where I was before, I’m finding myself falling back into my old habits. I came here determined to exercise more, write fiction like nobody’s business, and continue my extended education. Guess how many of those things I did today? None.

Epiphany is a bitch. It dangles hope in front of your face like a carrot but leaves you to your own devices when you actually have to put it into action. Old habits are hard to break and even though my introspection keeps me hopeful that I can push on, I just fear that this old dog doesn’t have any new tricks left in him. Every time I make a run at some aspect of life improvement I run into a wall, whether it’s writer’s block, the expense of taking an online Game Development course, or hurting a muscle as I try to keep up an exercise routine. That’s not even including my own laziness.

I was just listening to a song on my iPod called “Wake Up,” by a group called Mad Season. This was a collaborative effort from the mid-nineties of some of the members of Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and Screaming Trees. Layne Staley from Alice in Chains does the vocals. I’ve always loved Alice in Chains. Staley’s haunting vocals and odd poetry just get inside my skin. This song is no exception.

At one point, the lyrics state,

“The cracks and lines from where you gave up

They make an easy man to read”

I wish I could sit here and write about what an exemplary human I’ve been. I mean, I’m not some scumbag. I try to be nice to people, and I have done and continue to do many acts of service for friends and family and sometimes even strangers. That’s all part of my upbringing. It comes naturally. But at the same time I’m not a strong person. I go along to get along, and that’s all. I don’t really push myself beyond my boundaries. I succumb to limitations. Black Mesa Source is just the latest thing I’ve given up on because it was too hard and frustrating. The cracks and lines have made me an easy man to read indeed.

This song is not one that brings me down, though. Earlier in the song Layne Staley says:

“Wake up young man, it’s time to wake up
Your love affair has got to go
For 10 long years, for 10 long years
The leaves to rake up
Slow suicide’s no way to go
Blue, clouded grey
You’re not a crack up
Dizzy and weakened by the haze
Moving onward”

There you have it, straight from Layne Staley’s mouth. I may have been in a slow suicide, but I’m not a crack up. I’m weakened by my self-induced haze, but I can still move onward. Layne Staley may have succumbed to his long battle with drug addiction when he died of an overdose, but his words still haunt me. I know what needs to be done. Maybe I should listen to this song over and over again until I finally wake up.

Oh, and I just figured out what I should have done to get past that part in Black Mesa Source the legitimate way. The answer was in front of me all the time: missiles lying on the ground. I always forget I have a missile launcher because I don’t have much ammunition. It’s amazing how the impossible becomes possible when you just pay a bit more attention to the tools at your disposal.

Pulling a “Munsen”

Copyright 1996, MGM

I was just reading something on the Internet today and it got me thinking. It was about a famous person who had been caught in an indiscretion with another famous person. Names will be withheld from this. Both of the people involved offered comments, largely apologizing. I will quote this particular person, but if it’s okay I won’t attribute the quote. The person said, “The actions I portrayed recently were not a representation of my true character, but a lapse in judgment on my part.” Then the person went on to apologize.

Really? A lapse in judgment isn’t a representation of your true character? Sorry, but I’m afraid it is. If you had a stronger moral character you would not have had that lapse in judgment. Now I’m not here to cast aspersions on anybody in particular. That’s why I withheld the names. I am as imperfect as they come, so I have no place to be throwing the first or any stones at anyone else. However, I hear high-profile apologies worded like this a lot. I’m not actually a racist/sexist/homophobe, this is not the type of person I really am, etc. But they are, and it is. I just wish people would own up to these things.

I’ve done this sort of thing myself. It’s natural to do it, and I’m not saying that this person is lesser than I am for resorting to this. It’s natural to try to justify things, or to polish things over because you don’t want people to think badly of you. Again, I’ll raise my hand quickly when asked if I’ve ever done that. Pride makes me do all sorts of stupid things to save face.

But integrity doesn’t end when we fail to live up to our personal standards. It is also admitting we failed and sincerely trying to change our behavior. Failing to live up to your standards is no tragedy. People can better themselves if they stop trying to please the folks watching them. I can only imagine how difficult it is to keep an attitude of integrity when you’re constantly in the camera’s eye and every move you make will be scrutinized by a hypocritical and quick-to-criticize audience. It can’t be easy, but that makes it even more important.

Our current media culture may carry some of the blame. Forgiveness is scarce in such an environment. Little mistakes in judgment can lead to loss of lucrative careers and public excoriation. The names of public figures can become associated with something bad (like Woody Harrelson’s Roy Munsen in Kingpin). I can only imagine the pressure such visibility adds to a person’s life and their quest for personal betterment. We all fall short, even celebrities, but I think most of us “little people” get a bit more slack cut for us than the high-visibility sorts.

Media culture notwithstanding, once, just one, I’d like to hear a public apology be made without some sort of disclaimer, or else not made at all. I’d like to hear one of the following: “I was completely wrong and will work on fixing what is wrong,” or “I don’t give a damn what any of you think, I am happy with what I’ve done.” I would respect either one more than insincerity or excuse-making.