Sunday, March 17, 2013

Beyond the Green Hills

Beyond the Green Hills

by Tom Gahan 

He walked slowly at first. Then blending his steps with an awkward jog, he traveled the muddied path alone. Curls of mist rose from the peat. The morning fog that had kissed everything with wetness, now lifted with the brilliant sunrise. Seamus McDonough was on the first leg of a journey that would last the rest of his life. Times at home had not been good. Not good at all. 
His grandfather had survived the famine and stayed. Nothing much came of that. He was nothing more than a slave to the landholder of his small sharecropping farm. Wrongfully accused of poisoning the landlord's horse, he died in prison a defeated man. Seamus’ father worked Grandfather's farm hard enough to feed seven children. Other than being blessed with them, he didn't have much to show for his troubles. His wife died at the birth of his last.
A hay wagon sat at the side of the lane headed in Seamus' direction. “Going my way, are you?” he calls out to the driver.
“Where are you headed, lad?”
“America, I am.”
“I’m not going that far. I’ll be tuning round at Kilcoole. I was restin’ me horse here for a bit. She’s gettin’on.  I suppose I am, too. Hop on. I'll take ya that far at least.” The driver motioned to the place beside him. “Martin Herlihy is the name.”
“Thank you, Mr. Herlihy. Much obliged.”
“I’m glad for the company,” Herlihy said.
“I’m even more glad for the occasion to rest my legs,” Seamus replied as he tossed his bag in with the hay. Herlihy’s gnarled hands flick the reigns and the dappled mare pulled against the harness.
“Ah, boyo, I recall yer face and voice. Y’re in the pubs givin’ them fiery speeches. You live out beyond the green hills.”
“Well, now, yes t’is me.” Seamus shifted uncomfortably on the wagon seat.
“Made good sense to me. What you were sayin’ and all. Even with a belly full o’ potcheen.”
“I don’t touch it,” Seamus countered.
“It was me self I was referin’ to. Why don’t you drink?” Herlihy questioned.
“I’d rather be spending my hard earned bit of money on tools and books. And…this new adventure.”
“I see. Ah, yes! You’re the horse-shoer from Wicklow.”
“Yes, a farrier I am. I remember you and your horse. Shoed her up a couple of times.”
“What’s sending you to America?”
“A steamship out of Liverpool. I’ll catch a boat over from Dublin to connect.”
“Right, then. What I’m askin’ is—what’s chasing you? Have ya thought aboot stayin' and fightin'?”
Seamus measured his words carefully. “Sure I've thought about it. We all have. But what's the point?”
“Right, then. Don't be forgettin' your homeland, lad. It's made you who you are.”
Seamus thought about it for a while. “Sure it's true. The dirt under my nails and on the scruff of my neck is from the turf,” he said.
“The revolution is what will put this good land back in the hands of its people,” the driver said.
Seamus was usually a quiet young man with the ability to read and write very well. His mother had taught him to read by candlelight. When she died, the village priest educated him on the finer points. McDonough always wanted more and something better. It drove him.
“The revolution is the answer for all that troubles us,” Herlihy said and wiped his stubble with the back of his hand.
“Those in the fight will wind up on the losing end of a long rope, courtesy of the crown,” Seamus argued.
“You’ve already been involved. Givin’ those strong words in the pubs. Never know when a constable’s man or a double-agent is listening.”
“I’m careful about that. I always know who’s in the room.”
Herlihy turned and looked his passenger square in the eye and said in a low voice, “You can never tell who might be a turncoat. In these hard times, a little money, a pig, or the promise of an easier life for a workin’ man’s family can turn the weak. A man bribed with whiskey could loosen his lips just the same.”
“Right, then. Just as well I’m leaving. Wouldn’t you think?”
“Probably so.” Herlihy spat over the side of the cart into the dirt. “Boyo, I’m hoping you set foot in America long before the Black and Tans even know you’re gone.”
Seamus knew Herlihy was right. Although he was a skilled tradesman and could likely eke out a little better living than most if he stayed; it would only be a matter of time before they caught up with him. His cousin Kate had gone ahead of him two years ago. She had sent him some money to help with his trip. There was the promise of a job for him at the house where she worked as a domestic at the estate of Patrick Sullivan. Kate arranged for Seamus to work in the stables. Sullivan, a wealthy merchant, was a second generation American. A plan was in place, but McDonough feared the unknown. Word had gotten to him that his compatriots were being treated very poorly in America. They couldn’t apply for most good jobs and were paid lower wages when they did find work.
The two traveled on in silence. Herlihy spoke first, “You’ll be shoeing horses in America, then?”
“Hopefully so,” Seamus replied.
“I hear tell that motorcars are becoming all the rage in America. They don’t need shoes.”
“Well, there might be an odd one here or there. My cousin has arranged stable work for me.” Seamus leaned back in the seat with a smirk. “Of course I’m sure those motorcars will need fixin’ soon enough. I’m fine with that.”
A lone horseman approached. Sitting tall in the saddle, he wore the dark green uniform of the Royal Irish Constabulary.
“Say, old Herlihy. What's in the wagon?” the constable asked. He spoke in a clipped, staccato rhythm.  
“Hay, of course. Can't you see? It's as plain as day.” What a fool, Herlihy thought to himself.
“Mind if I have a look?”
“Suit yourself,” Herlihy said and pulled on the wagon’s brake.
“Who's your passenger?”
“He’s my smithy. Came along to look after old Nell's hooves, he did.” Herlihy grinned.
“A might well dressed for a smith, don't you think?” said the constable.”
“Aye, maybe so, but it doesn’t seem to bother the horse.”
“Don't be a smart-arse. Hold your tongue, Herlihy. Your face alone is ugly enough to get you arrested,” the constable said as he dismounted his horse.
“Did you want to inspect my wagon?” Herlihy jerked his thumb toward the hay pile.
“We've got word the rebels are running guns through here. What do you know about that?” The constable leaned his face to within inches of Herlihy.
“Nothing,” Herlihy replied and turned his head away from the constable’s acrid breath.
“And how about you, mate?" The constable now glared at Seamus. He unsnapped his holster’s cover and drew his Webley revolver.
“Easy now. There's no call for that,” Seamus said. Ashen faced, Seamus held up his hands.
“I'll be the judge of that. Get down off there and help Herlihy unload that hay.” He pointed to the load with the gun.
“Right here?” Seamus asked.
The constable waved the pistol. “You seem like a sturdy enough young man. Right here. Right now,” he said.
Seamus and Herlihy fiercely tossed hay over the sides of the wagon. Seamus prayed that Herlihy wasn't in the business of running guns along with his fodder. The constable took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He began to question Seamus. “The R.I.C.'s barracks up the road were burned the night before last. I'm told they started the fire with tallow and common straw. You've got enough here to start quite a blaze. Wouldn't you say? Carrying baggage and dressed as you are… might you be running away from that job?” He pressed the Webley 450's cold muzzle under Seamus' chin to emphasize his point. Beads of perspiration began to glisten on Seamus’ forehead. “You seem a might nervous, mate. You have all the makings of I.R.A. scum.”
“Sure enough. I'm hoping all the saints in heaven make sure that gun of yours doesn't go off by accident,” Seamus said.
“Don’t be so cheeky. I'll just wait for the next patrol of lovely Black and Tans to take over the questioning. I’m sure they’d like a word with you.” Seamus cringed at the thought of the ruthless Black and Tans interrogating him. He knew they had murdered a local priest in cold blood a week ago.
“If you’re about shoeing horses; where are your trade tools?”
Seamus changed the subject. “I'm off to America to see my cousin Kate McDonough of Wicklow. Perhaps you know of her?”
“Indeed I do,” the constable answered. “Fine lass. Too bad she went packing for America. Is she coming back? Her uncle could have used her help at home. What with seven children and all…”
“Aye, I'm the oldest of them.” Seamus sensed the tension drop and he backed away from the gun.
“Nothing to be proud of. You come from a long line of criminals. Your grandfather died in jail. And rightfully so, for killing a man’s horse,” the constable said. Seamus felt the anger rise in his veins and decided to bite his lip.
“As you say, sir.” Seamus looked to Herlihy, then the wagon’s empty bed and finally to his interrogator. He held his hands out to the side, his palms turned up. “Will there be anything else, sir?”
“Looks as though you’re not carrying any contraband. I guess most everybody’s got a pile of straw somewhere that could be used to set fire. That’ll be all. Load up and be on your way.” The constable climbed back on his horse. “Give my regards to your cousin Kate. I remember her fondly. Let her know her good name and the memory of her fair face got you off the hook.”
Herlihy dropped off his passenger on the outskirts of Kilcoole village. He snapped the reigns and pulled away with a half-dozen American made .30-06 Springfield rifles still safely hidden beneath the floorboards of his wagon.
Seamus finished the remaining twenty-five miles of his journey to Dublin on foot. He had only been there once before as a boy. He had forgotten about the aromas drifting from the bakeries and pubs. Streets bustling with activity greeted Seamus as he made his way to the pier. A boat crowded with people waited for the trip across the Irish Sea to Liverpool.
In Liverpool Seamus threaded his way through the streets. Sooty smoke spewed from factory chimneys and the stacks of ships loitering in the harbor. His ship to New York wasn’t set to sail until the next day. He wandered from the park to a pub and back again to kill time. He read three newspapers. Night was falling and Seamus thought about getting a room for the night. His meager pocket money would have to last until his first paycheck. He reconsidered. The weather was almost mild enough; sleeping in the park seemed to make sense. He then considered the risk of being rousted by the police, harassed by pickpockets, or worse. Seamus chatted up the pub’s proprietor who agreed to let him sit at the bar until closing. Being amiable, and crafty, Seamus negotiated a deal with him to sweep up the place, wash the dishes and stock the bar in return for a meal and being allowed to stay the night inside.
“I’ll come round first thing in the morning to unlock the door,” the barkeep said and poured himself one last draft. Seamus sighed in relief. He was in a country that didn’t take kindly to his lot. Although the owner had a brother-in-law from Limerick, that was about as far as the diplomatic relations extended. In the morning Seamus was up and ready to leave before he heard the key turn in the door.
Seamus bounded up the gangway and produced his papers and ticket for boarding the ship. He had heard horror stories about the coffin ships in days gone by. This ship seemed far better than the ones in the tales. It was booked to capacity and steerage was his only choice for passage. He was okay with that. Making his way below, he found a bunk and stashed his bag.
In crossing the North Atlantic Seamus gained an appreciation for the vastness of the world. Sky merged with the water on the horizon and blended into an indiscernible boundary. Half way into the trip clouds began to thicken and the winds increased. Gradually at first, stiffening the flags, and then whipping into a full gale. What had been a tolerable bobbing of the ship in the sea now changed to an undulating ride. Green water broke over the bow and coursed over the top deck. Seamus watched with a mixture of fear and amazement. Best to go below, he thought, this is no place for horseman. A sudden slash of cold rain chased him down the steps. His knuckles whitened as he gripped the rail. He made his way to his bunk and stumbled in. Women huddled with their children as the ship pitched. Many heaved with seasickness. Even more prayed for their lives.
The storm kept on for two more days. During most of that time, Seamus, and most everyone else aboard, figured they were goners. On the third day the winds dropped, the skies cleared and the crew announce that New York Harbor was only a half-day away. The passengers didn’t have enough energy left to express any joy. Lack of bathing and the effluents of seasickness made the odor below decks unbearable. Seamus longed for the earthy smell of the farm. Even the dung heap smelled better, he thought.
They arrived in New York as the sun set behind the Statue of Liberty. All those in steerage were transferred by ferry to Ellis Island for immigration evaluation. Given the hour, they would have to wait until the following day to be processed. Passengers on the upper decks were granted the luxury of on-board inspection and immigration procedures and the courtesy of being let off in lower Manhattan.
“Where are you from?” a man wearing dark clothes and a thick black moustache asked Seamus. They sat on the long wooden benches under the vaulted ceiling in the Great Hall of Ellis Island waiting for their number to be called. Seamus didn’t recognize the man’s accent. Scores of others sat in the rows. Their accents and languages echoing off the tiled walls were unknown to Seamus.
“I'm from beyond the green hills,” Seamus said.
“Which green hills?” He looked puzzled.
“The ones back home,” Seamus replied and arched his back in defiance of the hard bench.
“That is good. Welcome to America, I think, yes? And maybe yes, this will be our new home?”
“Maybe, yes,” Seamus said.
“Do you have someone here for you?” The man squirmed and tugged on the number card hung around his neck. 57612 it said.
“Yeah, me cousin. Me cousin, Kate. She wrote. Told me to meet her outside Castle Garden in a place called the Battery when I get off of here. I didn’t know they had castles in America. Battery must be some sort of village, I suppose.”  A uniformed man came and tapped 57612 and he was gone. Seamus slumped in his seat for endless hours thinking about the past and wondering what America would be all about. Then he was tapped.
Seamus passed his physical exam and was processed for entry. He was tired, dirty and hungry.
She was easy to pick out of the crowd. Stunning and easily the tallest woman within sight, Kate’s brilliant red hair was bunched behind her head. Her curls tumbled over her shoulders. Seamus ran to her. They hugged.
“Ah, sweet Jesus. You look a mess,” she said and began to laugh.
“Aye. It’s been a rough ride,” Seamus said.
“Surely you’ve had better days. We need to get you cleaned up.”
“A bite would be most welcome.”
“Mr. Sullivan gave me money to see to you.”
“I tip my cap to Mr. Sullivan. Bless him.”  Seamus lifted his tweed cap with one hand and let it fall back on his head.
“There’s a hotel up the street. We’ll get you a bath and your clothes cleaned and pressed. I’ll see to it that you are brought something to eat.”
“Okay, after that. What’s the plan?”
Kate didn’t answer the question. “Let’s get you taken care of first,” she said.
They arrived at the small hotel and Kate paid for the room in cash. She turned to Seamus, handed him the key and said, “Go up and take care of yourself. I’ll meet you in the lobby in two hours. I have errands.” She gave the desk clerk a stern look and instructed him to pick up Seamus’ clothes and send them to the laundry. “Do whatever it is you have to do to have them back in ninety minutes. We have a schedule to keep.” She pressed a large tip into the man’s hand. “See to it that he is brought a decent meal. Am I clear?” The clerk nodded vigorously.
In well under two hours Seamus bounded down the steps into the lobby bathed, shaved, pressed and fed. Kate greeted him and handed him a brown paper package. “Feeling better, are you?” she said. “T’is for you. A compliment of Mr. Patrick Sullivan. He wants you to make a good impression this evening,” Kate said. Seamus opened the package. It contained a new silk tie.
“Right, then,” Seamus said and wrapped the tie around his neck. “Help me with the knot, will you, Kate?” 
“Aye, for sure. Still dressing the McDonough boys, I am.”
“Where are we off to? Seamus inquired.
“I don’t want to talk here. There’s a small pub a few blocks up. We know the owners.”
They walked the streets of lower Manhattan and Seamus was overwhelmed with its enormity. Much grander than Dublin, Seamus thought. He craned his neck and gawked at the buildings and the endless stream of Model T Fords rumbling by. Kate grabbed his hand and yanked him into a doorway. His eyes took a moment to adjust to the mid afternoon dimness of the empty pub. “Back here,” she said and pulled Seamus toward a corner booth. An aproned bartender rounded the bar and approached. Kate waved him off. “Give us a moment, will you?” Without a word the bartender nodded and shuffled back to his post.
“Seamus there are many of us who believe we will one day make a difference and win the respect of this country. In a short time we’ve already gained control of the police and fire departments. Some other areas, too. We’re not done yet. It’s a big block of votes as the bosses say.” She looked at Seamus to make sure he understood. “We believe that before long one of our people will be in Washington’s Whitehouse. In the meantime, there’s other work to be done.” Seamus leaned forward as Kate lowered her voice. “It’s all about independence and becoming an Irish Free State. As you know, Mr. Sullivan has sponsored you here as part of a much grander plan than the stable.” Seamus bobbed his head in agreement.
“He’d like to get you naturalized and run you for Congress some day,” she said. Seamus’ eyes widened. “You’re smart and hard working. He’ll pay to further your education.”
“For God’s sake, Kate. If I am going to represent the people it should be back home,” he countered.
“Yes, it’s true. But it’s not safe now. And maybe one day you will,” Kate said. “At the moment, we need you here.”
Seamus was growing frustrated. “Let’s get on with the plan at hand,” he said. “My original proposed role here.”
Kate continued, “Okay, then. You and your gifted tongue are to speak this evening at a social club. It’s out in Woodside Queens. We’ll take a train there. Sullivan will be on hand. He wants you to lecture us about the goings on at home. He wants you to tell it all. The brutal atrocities by Britain’s thugs, the Royal Constabulary, the Black and Tans and...”
“Aye….tonight…are they friends of the revolution?” 
“Now, Seamus...Mr. Sullivan and his family have long been supporters of the Fenian Brotherhood here.” Kate reached out and patted Seamus’ hand in reassurance.
“Sullivan knows you’re a firebrand, loyal to the sod and can deliver an inspiring speech. You move people’s hearts.”
“Right. But are they friends? How do you know there won’t be a detective in the house?”
“Oh surely there will be detectives. But they’re with us.” Kate paused. The quiet darkness of the room enveloped them. She continued, “Yes, Seamus, all friends. Brotherhood members, they are. Tonight it’s a fundraising benefit for the new Irish Revolutionary Army.”
“Right. That’s what I’m here for,” Seamus said. “Let’s be on our way.”

© Tom Gahan 2011 - 2013. All  Rights Reserved.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Maybe Tebow Didn’t Lose.

In the game against the New England Patriots it could be argued that Tim Tebow didn’t lose. After all, it was the Bronco’s defense that allowed 45 points. Okay, so Tebow and the Denver offense fell 36 points shy of a win…although, maybe it wasn’t Tebow who lost in the grander scale of things.
Tebow’s celebrity has inspired many discussions about the promotion of one’s faith and other talks that turned an ugly eye toward the topic of personal beliefs. Did Tebow buy time on national TV, write an editorial or run for public office to make it happen? Nope. He didn’t have to. Simply being man enough to profess his faith, display it publicly and turn his other cheek to his critics was enough. Tebowing was scoffed at by media members and emulated by high-school students.  Genuflecting became louder than words.  I have to imagine that it has turned more than a few hearts to examine their faith (or lack thereof).
Tim Tebow never knelt on the sideline praying for a touchdown or in the end zone asking the Almighty for a win. It was the act of a man thanking God for his skills and talents and his ability to do what he does on and off the field. But he’s caught a lot of crap for it.  MLB players regularly bless themselves when entering the batter’s box or point to the heavens when rounding the bases. Nobody ever accuses them of injecting religion into sports. Nobody even raises an eyebrow.  I say...ease off on Tebow.
Tebow became the whipping boy, and took the virtual sack from atheists, Tebow haters and the like. Hmmm… Tebow detesters spewing so much hate toward someone who makes a better role model (in many ways beyond professing his faith)… than those disgorging the vitriol? Go figure.
Tim Tebow has reached into areas of people’s personal lives that usually aren’t discussed much publicly. In a recent Facebook discussion (relating to Tebow) among friends, inevitably the topic of abortion arose. A result of the discussion was one participant offering a link to  Rachel’s Vineyard is an international organization that helps people in a non-judgmental way in their struggle with feelings of grief and shame following an abortion.  That link was passed along to a pastoral care provider as a resource for someone who may find themselves in that position.  Who knows, in the not too distant future, a person who made a choice that they cannot live with may find the power of forgiveness and healing through this chain of events. You see, Tim Tebow never threw a pass, scrambled in an option play or scored a touchdown to make that happen. One day, just by being himself, perhaps Tim will change someone's heart when they are faced with a choice.
I’m sure I may catch some crap for this blog. It’s okay…I’ll just take a knee.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I PC, Do you PC?

To bring some new light to the holiday I suppose I should write something about Christmas .  I am re-engineering the acronym “PC “ to--Prefer Christmas. Correctness be hanged.

I am well aware of the true meaning of Christmas. That alone is reason enough for me to celebrate. I imagine you are aware of the foundation of Christmas as well, but perhaps you celebrate something else.  That’s fine. Yes, Santa Claus, reindeer, trees, elves and imbibing eggnog, et al, have all crowded the holiday scene.

Over the past hundred plus years, Christmas took on an increasing role of a secular holiday in addition to a holy day.  Secular Christmas fills the lives (and certainly the cash registers) of believers and non-believers alike.  Is that a bad thing? Heck no. Christmas pumps joy into the soul and spreads cheer equally among all.

Some who don’t PC should consider all of the good that the holiday brings. Those who argue that Christmas must not be celebrated everywhere, as a separation of state and all that is holiday-ish, must ask themselves… why are the post offices and government building all closed on December 25th? If the government recognizes Christmas (it has been a federal holiday since 1870) in such a grand fashion, who are we to argue!

No matter what you believe, Christmas is wherever you are. Christmas floats freely in the air, it lives in every country and it snuggles up to you in bed.  It strolls on city sidewalks in holiday style and lies where the snow is deep and crisp and even.  It's on the moon. Christmas hides in the quiet and noisy places and it’s always right beside you.  Christmas is holly jolly. It’s up to you to stand close enough to it to feel its warmth.  Even the Grinch, who had a heart “two sizes too small”, was touched by what Christmas does to people. It made his heart grow three sizes larger.

I PC, do you PC?
For all of these reasons...I PC. How about you?  

No matter where you are, or where your heart is, allow me say this to you at least once... Merry Christmas!

From my family to yours - Merry Christmas wherever you are! For a little Christmas fun, turn up your speakers and click on this video link:  Christmas on the Moon   Enjoy!

“To all a good Christmas, and to all a good night.”  Thanks for reading. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Voodoo King

Oh that voodoo that you do… Sometimes there’s just no substitute for hands-on experience.

I underwent surgery on my foot a few weeks ago.  It was to correct damage to bone, nerve and tissue that resulted from on and off infections in an initially small wound that occurred two-and-a-half years ago. It was a minor puncture, but a subsequent trip to Jamaica resulted in an infection from tropical marine bacteria. At least this is what I was told by four independent, reputable doctors on different occasions. It was very nasty stuff, very hard to cure, they said. It had morphed and reared its ugly head numerous times, defying even the most potent antibiotics.  The damage was repaired and now   everything was plodding along fine, pun intended, until the beginning of week two. That’s when the curse took hold.

Seems a nasty infection ferreted its way in through the open door of the surgical incision, or it may have been the one from below the Tropic of Cancer, lying in wait in my bones like an asp in the grass. This came to light as the doctor merrily pulled the numerous stiches. “Oh my, this isn’t good,” he said.  Those words are not good coming from a doctor who has visited and removed some of your inner parts. At least now there was an explanation for the steady increase in pain and obscene swelling.

After judicious injections of a numbing agent (which was certainly, and unfortunately, not single-malt scotch) he proceeded to reopen the incision and swept the gremlins out. I’m not afraid of needles. Really, I’m not. The good doctor hosed everything down with the stinging-nettle, clinical smelling variety of disinfectant and wrapped the foot tightly.  Well, not quite gift wrapped, but you get the picture.  Doc exhaled slowly.  “Along with powerful antibiotics you’re going to need x-rays and blood work,” he said. “We need to make sure that none of that infection is in your system and is going to end up in your heart or brain.” How could I argue?  Visions of more copays danced in my head along with our Christmas shopping list.

“Go wherever you want to for the x-rays; they can draw the blood here,” he continued. 

“Okay. That will save me a trip,” I replied.  He exited and I could hear him instruct staff members outside the ajar door. “See Mr. Gahan in room one. We need to draw blood. Complete blood-count,” he said to an invisible tactician.

“What kind of insurance does he have?” she asked.  Doc shuffled the papers in the folder and told her. She seemed pleased.

Waiting for the bloodletting only added to my discouragement about the way things had gone. I could do without more complications. The most recent complications paled when the Voodoo King entered.  Skinny as a broom handle, his skin was a tapestry of tattoos. He spoke with a strong Caribbean accent. He had weird eyes.  

“My name is Reggie. I’m an intern. This is my second day,” he said with a great deal of pride.

“Second day?” I squirmed on the vinyl padding.

“Yes, yes. No problem. All good.”

“I hope so. I mean, if you say so.” I gulped as I watched him snap on the gloves.

“Roll up your sleeve.”

“Which one?”

“No matter. No problem.”

I chose the right, only because it was the closest to him. I rolled up my sleeve and reclined. Don’t be a sissy, you’re not afraid of needles, I told myself. They wouldn’t let him in here if he didn’t know what he was doing. I should have relied on my visceral instincts.

He wrapped a rubber tube around my arm and probed my skin with his finger for a while. “Make a fist and clench it,” King said. I did and matched the action with my sphincter, which was grappling for a good grip on the green vinyl.  I also closed my eyes.

Then he said, “A little pinch.”  Needle-man was right. It was only a pinch and things seemed to be going okay. “Oh no,” he said.

“Oh no?” That was the second set of unfortunate words that I had heard from a medical professional in the past hour.  “Oh no, what?” I questioned.
“I missed.”  The weird eyes looked disappointed. Without missing a beat he lifted his tray of assorted blood draining tools, needles and vials and placed it on the floor to my left.  That’s correct… on the floor. “We’ll try the other side,” he said.


I kept my composure as I cleared my throat to protest.  The door to room one opened again and his superior stepped in. She was young, but assessed the situation and took charge.

“Don’t put this on the floor, “she said and put the tray on an adjacent chair.  “I’ll take over here.”

King appeared dejected but had a slight wry grin. He seemed to be enjoying the events.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “This will only take another moment.” She wrapped the tubing around my left arm and said, “Clench your fist and hold it.” Little did she know everything about me had been firmly clenched for the last ten minutes. “Okay, a little pinch.”

“That’s what he said,” I said.

“Excuse me?”

 “Never mind.”  I should have known better than to be winding up someone who was inserting a sharp object in my vein.  King Voodoo now stood with his graffitied arms defiantly folded across his chest. He grinned.  I think he had a gold front tooth.

“Oh no,” she said. Before I could say “that’s what he said”, those freaky tikki-torch eyes shot lightning bolts around the room. “Oh no, what? I said as I ducked his laser beams.

“I missed,” she said.
“…You, too?”
“Yes, I’m sorry,” she said. “Mr. Gahan, have you ever had blood drawn from your hand?”
“No, and I never will,” I said as I simultaneously unclenched everything and undid the rubber tourniquet.  I could have sworn a strange luminosity washed over her face.  Without movement of her own, or a breeze, her hair swayed. Moon glow filled her eyes.  I was certain about that. 

I’m also sure, at that very moment, somewhere in the world (likely on a tropical island), there was a group gathered around a fire chanting, moaning and swaying without the benefit of a breeze… I’m positive they were sticking pins in a tall male doll with a receding hairline and a heavily bandaged left foot.

I did go for the tests my doctor ordered at the lab that I've always gone to.  As I rolled up a sleeve I began to explain to the attending blood-tech what had happened. She rolled her eyes. “I don’t think I want to know,” she said. The cheerful technician was swift and merciful.  I told her she was a rock star. She laughed.  “Sometimes there’s just no substitute for hands-on experience,” she said.  I was in and out in five minutes. There was only one new hole in my arm. The test results came back normal; thank you for asking.
What about the x-rays, you say? That’s a story for another time.  

 Thanks for reading. To see my new video clip at please visit this link:


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Just Knock.

United Parcel Service delivery people are trained to knock on the door instead of ringing the bell. Why? Because doorbells don’t always work and waiting for someone to respond to a defective bell wastes valuable time. UPS drivers only exit from the right side of their vehicle and make deliveries on the right side of the street. Why? Crossing the street leads to accidents and potential injury or worse. They've thought things through.

There’s an old joke, what’s the difference between the post office and the shoe store? ...The post office has more loafers.  For sure there are some hard-workers in the USPS, but it is this perception that fuels the public’s contempt. It has only been over the last few years the postal service stopped turning a blind eye to competition. The postal service instituted changes to service (and politeness) when they realized that they were losing not only the battle, but the war. FEDEX, UPS and moreover, email has put a cramp in their once monopoly of message delivery.  Failure to react, and adapt to a changing environment has led to their downfall. In many ways they failed to look at what works efficiently. Okay, having to feed an annual pension fund of $5.1 billion hasn’t helped – an expense that will unfortunately fall to the taxpayers at some point, not stockholders as it would in a corporation. The postal service now has debts of over $11 billion. That’s enough to make clear thinkers go postal.

It’s true the United States Postal Service has a laudable history that built a nation.  BenFranklin had a clear vision and the pony express riders enacted it. It was realized early on that getting information to people in a timely manner was vital to society and developing commerce. Technology and effectiveness has outstripped the long standing ways (and commonly held beliefs) of doing things. A kaleidoscope of opportunities are now available to message-senders from texting to overnight delivery by big brown… inter alia.

A colleague once emailed me that he had six pages of printed information that he needed to send. “I’ll fax it,” he said.

“Fax is down. Scan it and email it,” I replied.

“I don’t have a scanner.  I don’t know how I am going to get these forms to you.” He was now on the phone dizzy with panic.

“Why don’t you just stick it in an envelope and mail it? Better yet, drop it in my mailbox. You’re only five blocks away.” He had never readjusted his thinking on efficiency, or common sense.

Many point to technology as demise of printed books. Like email, ebooks and ereaders haven’t changed the message, only the way it is delivered. Bookseller giant Borders shrugged at ebooks years ago, saying it was only a passing phase. eBooks weren’t the only reason they folded, but it was one of the reasons. Borders did not embrace ebooks as others had and took too little action too late. Those who do not evolve, perish.

When adversity challenges your position, analyze the basics, revisit efficiency and keep it simple. Learn how to knock.

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Monday, December 5, 2011

It's All About the Words.

It’s not so much whether or not eReaders are good or bad as it is a change in the way people are reading.  When primitive man evolved from drawing pictures on cave walls to words on papyrus, people welcomed the change. If nothing else, it was easier than lugging stone tablets around. It made the written word available to more people.  The invention of the Gutenberg press around 1440 made the written word available to the masses. Monks no longer had to copy tomes word for word.  And not since that time has there been a bigger boon to reading than the invention of eBooks. Because of eBooks, people are now reading more than ever before. This is a good thing.

If I’m reading a print book I’m not concerned with the binding, interior design, the spline or any other attribute of the book as long as I can read the words. It’s all about the words.  We have hundreds of print books in the house, from the classics to the latest releases. They all will not fit in the palm of my hand.  Unlike a print book, I can enlarge the font size to aid my aging eyes. 

As an author, my novel in eBook form is available to more than a billion potential readers inover 100 countries. It has served me well.  eReaders are merely another step in the evolution of how people read. Print books will be around for a very long time, but possibly not forever.  The words will not change, but how we read them will.