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An open letter to America…and maybe the world

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Java typed with determination and focus, as she was prone to do in these situations…

An open letter to all Americans…and maybe the world.

Dear Americans (or…Worldians?):

You don’t know me…well, I suppose some of you do, but the bulk of you don’t. And that’s OK.

It’s been a hot minute since we last spoke and that’s on me. It seems that the latest presidential election threw me for quite a loop. Not like a “damn, I didn’t see that coming” kind of loop, but more of a “KER-POW”, tiny cartoon mouse clobbers the cartoon cat so hard with a giant frying pan that his head flattens out kind of loop. And when I sat down to write to you all about it, to try and “work through it” as they say, I found the only things coming out of me were just awful. Anger and frustration bubbled up in me in such a way that I just could not put something down here without it turning all bad, just counterproductive maniacal ranting really. Who needs that?

So I stepped away for a piece. Took a moment to search for that inner calm, many of us seem to seek out so regular. I unplugged my TV. I read a couple books and learned some new things. Did you know there are over 40,000 different kinds of rice? News to me too.

Eventually, I felt the harder edge of my frustrations dull a bit, at least to the point where I could consider a different perspective. After a while, I did plug my TV back in and I took a “baby steps” approach to reacquainting myself with what the world was becoming. And through my calmer, deep-breathing induced, more rational state of mind, I realized – the world is a mess and we made it that way.

It’s awful to say, but that realization is not the culmination of frustration and vitriol as much as it is just an acknowledgment of the fact that, collectively, we have lost our way. We are on a path that needs to change or we will do great and eternal harm and it seems like we just don’t care all that much.

My friend Stella likes to say over and over that, “the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one.” She says it a lot. Like a parrot. But there’s truth in it. We have a problem, and by a problem, I mean a whole slew of them.

I’m not talking politics here, although politics surely feed the beast. I’m talking about how we seem to have stepped away from our lofty, yet primary objectives that define us as a species. Where is our decency, our compassion, our interest in helping others up so we can move forward together, or our interest in making a better world over slowly destroying it?

Understand that I am not so newly enlightened and calm that I believe we can all get along all the time and gather in some sort of eternal kumbaya moment like the Whos around a Christmas tree – nice as the thought may be. I mean, there are long-time neighbors and blood relatives that can’t stand to be in the same room together. Everybody has their shit and everybody loves their drama. But over the short term as those types of things work themselves out, or don’t, our job is not to proactively make things worse when these situations arise.

First, do no harm, right?

If you are a stranger to the obvious, let me share some of the things I’ve learned in addition to that tidbit about rice. We are divided. We are selfish and self-serving. We don’t listen. We are unforgiving. We are unyielding. We are inflexible. We are demanding. We are intolerant. We are irrational. We are easily amused. We are easily manipulated. We are lazy. We prefer style over substance. We go for the popular and discard the less so. We strive to be adequate. We spend billions on things that don’t matter. Comparatively, we spend little on what does. We gather and hoard. We crave fame and notoriety. We want to see and be seen. We are superstitious. We are frightened. We are weak. We are fragile. We are damaged. We are damned lucky to be alive at all and more.

Remember when I talked about stepping away from our lofty, yet primary objectives? That’s probably wrong. Truth be told, we probably never embraced the concept of those objectives. They are merely platitudes. We talk about how we should live. We have A LOT to say about how others should live, but we can’t keep up. The real work is hard. Too hard maybe, since we can’t seem to commit to it.

Now, I’ve heard people say, we all aren’t all those things and that it is unfair to use such broad and negative generalizations. You may be right. But we will be judged by who we are as a collective society, and not by the actions of our singular heroes.

We’ve had centuries to try figure out how to get along with each other and we can’t manage it. We keep making the same mistakes. The more people we squeeze onto the planet, the bigger those same old mistakes become. We progress far slower than our full potential because the masses rely on the work of a few to get things done for everybody.

You want an example? Pull up to the corner of virtually any intersection, look down at the curb, then count the cigarette butts you see sitting down there.

Even one is one too many. And that’s my point. We know smoking is bad, but people do it. We know littering is bad, but people do it. We know bombs are bad, but we keep making them and we keep using them. These are not the unfortunate byproducts of things beyond our control, like mold after a flood or whatever. These are things well within our control, but not within our immediate interest or sphere of caring. So as long as there is a person out there who feels it is their God-given right to smoke and flick cigarette butts out the window, or blow something up every time there is a disagreement – everyone else be damned – we will be a lesser species.

So what then? What happens now? What do we do? Whatever we can.

We have one world to live on and Heaven help us and whomever, if we find another one out there we feel we have the right to mess up. If you aren’t helping, you’re hurting or hindering. You’ll say no, but inside you know it’s true.

Think. Breathe. Get involved. Demand more from others, yes, but demand more from yourself first. Be humble. Be understanding, Let go of the anger and whatever else pollutes your day. Try.

Good luck to us all.

Your friend in the cosmos,

Java

*Editor’s note:
To read other “Something to Ponder” entries, search for Java at the top of the page.

Something to Ponder – 7

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Sage advice from an elderly gentleman perched atop a lonely mountain.

Hello friends! Today our question comes from Ashley Chambray of Fitchburg, Massachusetts.

“Dear Banaba,” Ashley writes. “Why do people get mad at me when I’m only trying to help?”

To my new friend Ashley, I say simply, “Help is perspective, and it is subjective.”

But, I suppose that is me not being very helpful at all.

Help has been around for a long time. I have heard it said that the desire to help is part of the human condition. It’s instinctual. But as we have come to know, through conditioning, we can often override our instincts so that we act in a way that is driven more by our personal motivations and less by how we are wired.

If you feel people are reacting negatively to your help, we must explore what help you are providing, the environment in which you are providing it, and what is motivating you to act.

First, do they ask for help? That is the best indicator of whether help is needed at all.

I share with you two brief stories.

To start, there is the well-known tale of a man who came across a butterfly struggling to emerge from a cocoon. Because he could not tolerate the notion of the creature’s struggle, felt that the creature was in trouble and would be doomed without action, he decided to “help” by stepping in and releasing the creature. In this case, the creature was working through what it needed to as dictated by nature. The struggle itself is what the butterfly needed to overcome to ensure it was strong enough to survive. The butterfly was not ready to be free in that moment and the help – the man’s actions – only ensured the fate the man feared most.

In the second tale, a young woman recently moved out to be on her own, but she came back to her mother’s house regularly to bake cookies. The mother, thinking she was helping, gave the daughter a new cookie tray to bake with believing it would help make her life easier because then she would not have to make the journey back home just to bake the cookies. The daughter took the tray graciously, but it made her cry. She did not see the tray as a gift of help as much as it was a message from her mother that she did not want her to come over to bake anymore.

And, if you will indulge me, I believe another short story is in order. This time we find a teacher who is constantly telling a little boy what to do. There is nothing wrong with the boy other than he often lags behind the other children when getting things done. The teacher feels that she needs to remind him to do things so very often so as to “help” him stay on task, to “help” him keep up with the other children and to “help” keep him from getting into trouble. In his mind, the boy sees himself very much the same as all the other children, yet he feels frustrated that he is constantly singled out to do the very things he had either already done, or was on his way to doing.

So, now we wonder – who was helping who? Who really needed help? Would everything have worked out as it should without the added help?

The case of the teacher shows us that she may have pushed the boy under the guise of “help” to satisfy her own needs in the moment. The boy was capable. And aside from speed, the boy was successful. He likely did not need help. Yet, her job is to manage the class and the boy could be a hindrance – if even a small one – to her finding her own success in the way she perceived things.

If the mother was to know the real outcome of her help, that her daughter was profoundly upset by the gesture, we could guess that she would most assuredly clarify her intentions with her daughter, so the intent of her effort was effectively understood. But in the moment, the daughter was capable, she was successful, and probably did not need the help she received.

Finally, the man would have no way to communicate with the creature he encountered. He saw a situation unfolding before him and chose to act in a way that reflected the limits of his current understanding. He projected a potential danger onto the very small creature and felt compelled to do something. Was the creature in danger? Probably not. Would the creature have otherwise have been successful? Probably, short of the interference with another predator in his circle of life. Did the creature need help?

Because Ashely did not provide the specifics of what makes people mad at her when she tries to help them, we can only guess that she might be offering “help” where it is not needed or it is the kind of “help” she offers regularly, and some may say unnecessarily, to satisfy a need of her own.

Humans are generally good. They generally want to help others. But we could all benefit from understanding where help is needed most, defining what help will actually help and knowing that help is not often providing a resolution, but enough of a bridge to helping another achieve success. Most importantly, we must explore whether we are we helping those who really need it, or are we helping ourselves.

Peace to you  – Banaba

*Editor’s note:
To read other “Something to Ponder” entries, search for Banaba at the top of the page.

 

Something to Ponder – 6

banaba 1a

Sage advice from an elderly gentleman perched atop a lonely Mountain.

Hello friends! Today our question comes from Langdon Mershon of Park City, Utah.

“Dear Banaba,” Langdon writes. “What makes you feel you are qualified to comment on the human condition as you do? Where do you get off?”

To my new friend Langdon I say, “Since I am already here and I am not on anything, there is no need for me to get off of the thing I am not on.”

But, of course, that would be me kidding you.

Other people have asked me the same or similar question over the years. Those with whom I am close often consider the question, at least in its directness and perceived tone, to be rude or hostile. However, I assure them that the question is merely a question like all the others and that we should not judge Langdon’s intent by how the voice in our own head interprets the words.

That does not mean it is not rude or hostile. It may very well be, but that kind of hostility often bubbles up from the frustrations we feel when we can’t make sense of what we are experiencing. So we try to seek out a space of common understanding if both sides are willing.

When someone takes in the words of another they have two choices. They can agree and accept those words as part of their own developing knowledge base or they can disagree, discard the words as worthless and move on.

To Langdon, I am either uncannily close to his current mindset on so many issues that he is amazed at how in tune we are, or I am so far off, so often that he considers what I share to be so very incorrect that my sharing it offends his sensibilities in some way.

By asking where I might get off, I’m inclined to believe it is the latter. And if that is the case, he would probably rather that I be quiet and go away completely than to write another word.

It would be easy to do so, but he did ask the question and that implies – no matter how slim – that there is a chance to find a place of common understanding.

So to Langdon, I say, I am no more qualified to comment on the human condition than anyone else. That said, I am no less qualified to comment either.

I am a human in the human race and all that comes with it. I experience what everyone experiences. We all see things through the lenses, filters and biases that we develop as we follow our particular path. Each experience, good and bad, works to tune and hone, break, tear and rebuild those elements which ultimately affect how we see the world and how we feel we need to act to survive.

Just because we have these filters and biases, we should not feel that we are completely bound to them, that we can’t work to better understand them and that we can’t work to change them if we find them not to our liking. After all, as humans, that is how we grow.

We can follow the paths of our lives seeing the world as it is, blissfully unaware that there may be something more for us to do in it until we ask ourselves one question – why?

Once we do that, a gateway to a new universe of possibilities opens before us and it can never be shut because our new sense of awareness prevents it.

In many ways, it can be overwhelming. Change is a scary thing. What do we do with so much potential? Maybe we don’t understand what we think might be happening. So we reach out. We talk. We ask others who may have already been there what they experienced and what we might experience, and if there are any handy tips for making things work. A lot of what we do is looking for handy tips for making things work.

He may disagree, but in the sphere of his own experiences, Langdon himself probably offers insights and guidance to others more that he realizes. Even as he continues to question the broader universe that opened to him.

I cannot claim ownership to knowledge and insight. I cannot prioritize my perspective over another’s. I only do what I feel we all can do when someone reaches out to us.

Reach back.

We may not walk away from this any different from where we started, but because there was effort, there is hope.

Peace to you  – Banaba

*Editor’s note:
To read other “Something to Ponder” entries, search for Banaba at the top of the page.

Something to Ponder – 5

banaba 1a

Sage advice from an elderly gentleman perched atop a lonely Mountain.

Hello friends! Today our question comes from Terry O’Keefe of Kellogg, Idaho.

“Dear Banaba,” Terry writes. “What is happiness? Why is it so hard for us to find?”

To my new friend Terry, I say simply, “Happiness is the cloud you walk in.”

When you consider the state of the world and the plights of so many people who struggle to merely survive, it seems that happiness is the most elusive of all the feelings.

Or is it?

We are a funny species. We crave happiness. We long for it. We work very hard to define it. We are pretty certain we know when we do not have it. And yet, when we do, or we think we do, we don’t allow ourselves the luxury of enjoying it. We often squirrel it away so nobody will see it. We feel guilty when someone calls us out for having it and then strongly deny it as if there was a greater value in a common, universal misery. When we see others who may have it, we envy them and instead of celebrating with them, we question if and how and why they may be more worthy of happiness than we are. There are many vicious circles at work here and the very bit of it all is that it all resides in our brains.

I always say you are the arbiter or your existence. You own who you are. Happiness, like misery is a choice. Of course, there are forces in the world that you must deal with every day. These forces may test your commitment to your search for happiness, but only you can decide to give up the power that makes your happiness go away.

So many people scoff at this notion and look at me as if sitting on this mountain for so long has warped my sense of reality and my perspective of the human condition. To them, I say, “not that I am aware of.” Because the questions you pose Terry, are not new and for as long as we have roamed the Earth, humans have done a very poor job of recognizing and embracing their happiness.

To be happy, you must define what it is. You would do yourself a tremendous favor by defining it as something you can attain easily. Why make it harder than that?

If you define happiness as winning millions of dollars in the lottery so you can do all the things you think you deserve to do and have all the things you think you deserve to have, your definition will be quite hard to achieve. You will find happiness elusive and you will perpetuate negative energy when you find out someone else won “your” money. Will the other winner be happy with the money? Who is to say?

If you define happiness more simply, perhaps as a positive state of mind that helps you work toward overcoming the challenges of your daily life, you will find happiness faster and more bountiful. In this case, happiness could be found in a good parking space, making it inside the house before it rains, the sip of an ice cold cream soda…so many things.

So you see Terry, because you don’t really find happiness, there is a sense of futility that comes with always looking for it.

Happiness lies in wait wherever you go and wherever you are. Making that your definition is not ignoring or glossing over the daily problems of life, for that will only lead to its own frustrations. Rather, it is embracing the knowledge of things as they are, knowing what you can do to change those things as needed – if anything – and knowing when to let them go. Accepting things as you have made them, after doing your very best work or putting forth your very best effort, even if they are not perfect – are good. And good is a profound seed for happiness to grow from.

Peace to you  – Banaba

*Editor’s note:
To read other “Something to Ponder” entries, search for Banaba at the top of the page.

 

An open letter to all American voters

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Java typed with determination and focus, as she was prone to do in these situations:

An open letter to all American voters – Dear Voters:

You don’t know me…well, I suppose some of you do, but the bulk of you don’t. And that’s OK.

You see, we don’t need to know each other on a super personal level to know that we are all part of a giant community of Americans who share the most important, and some might say daunting task that is electing our new president. That’s right, come November, we – collectively – get to pick who is going to represent us, protect us, nurture us, guide us, promote us, support us, inspire us, engage us in combat, embarrass us and calm us over the next 4 years.

Thing is, as I watch you on TV and such, campaigning or protesting or sharing your views with the world as to which candidate you back and why, the thing I keep coming back to is the notion that very few of you – OK, very few of us – really know what we’re talking about.

First, understand that I want every able-bodied and capable American to vote in this election. It’s our right to vote and it’s important to participate in the process. Secondly, every able-bodied and capable American who wants to vote in this election owes it to himself, herself and every other American to do the homework.

You see, I don’t really care who you vote for if you come to a responsible, educated, well-informed decision that suits your personal ideals of where this country should go. But – if you’re gonna pick who you vote for based on your gut, what spews forth from whatever news channel you favor, who slips you a fresh $20 bill, what your mom tells you, what lies in the bottom of your tea-cup, what Ben Franklin told you in a dream, what way the wind blows or whatever other magical seventh-sense, mystical voodoo that motivates you, stay home. If you’re gonna guess, stay home. If you just don’t like the way somebody looks, or you just want to vote the way you’ve always voted, stay home.

If you feel all those things above, or you driven by spirits or whatever and you still want to vote, just go ahead and jot your choice down on a piece paper and cast it to the wind. I assure you that the magical elves of Clannor will gather up your vote and see that it gets where it belongs. No harm, no foul.

It’s like this. Let’s say you watch a thousand hours of a medical drama (or a combination of medical dramas – there are some great ones out there) how likely would you be able to safely and successfully remove somebody’s appendix based on what you’ve seen? I think most of us would see ourselves as absolutely unqualified no matter how many hours we’ve watched and would step away from the challenge entirely. Why? Because we know we would likely do more harm than good. We could kill somebody.

It’s not a sign of failure. It’s the human brain being reasonable. You realize that the only way you will likely, successfully remove somebody’s appendix is to actually learn how to do it. You need to understand the anatomy of the body, where to cut, what to take out, what to stitch up and a whole host of other things plus, you need to know how to react if something goes wrong. It’s complex. Body parts aren’t conveniently labeled.

Now, there are those out there who would take on the challenge and want to step up, grab that knife and give taking out that appendix a go. These are the truly dangerous among us and don’t kid yourself, these people do exist. They will push their way up to the body and maintain that not only do they know what they are doing, but they can probably do it better than most because they are just all that. Even when things turn sour and they find themselves in trouble, they will maintain they know what they are doing and keep at it rebuffing help and wisdom, until it is way too late. Finally, as the body cools after their tragic ignorance does its terminal damage, they will not take ownership of the loss. No, they will likely blame the darned fool who let them have the knife in the first place. They are forever and always without fault.

You see, the average American voter is lazy, yet pompous and full of bluster. They don’t want to do the work. They don’t want to invest the time to figure things out. Rather, they pick, they commit, then sit back and have a fit when things don’t go as they thought they should. They are ready to go poking around for America’s appendix without having so much as an inkling about what lies under the skin and we can’t afford that. The world is a complex place. The issues we face are complicated. You just can’t pick a stance out of the blue based on a headline. It just doesn’t work that way.

The average American voter stands solidly behind the candidate that tells them the prettiest story or stirs the greatest anger within them. They don’t allow themselves to believe that the stories are stories and that solutions are useless unless people work together to make them a reality. They refuse to understand and accept that the backstory of our decaying government was written by their own hands and that they made the world we live in by filling the government with people who sit under their favored label or are apt at stroking the voter’s frail and fragile ego.

You can’t invite separatists, extremists, isolationists, egotistic, narcissistic bigots and zealots into your government and suspect that things will go well.

You need to get at those folks who are willing and able to do the job and who actually understand that the job is doing the work of the people, for the people and not the just relentless task of constantly getting re-elected. Seriously, we have enough of those do nothing career politicians.

I truly believe people spend more time looking at a dinner menu than they do evaluating their prospective elected officials, their qualifications, or what they really bring to the table.

I hesitate to blame the politicians. They only do what politicians do and that is press their advantage. If they can get voters to put them into office with pretty words and platitudes, they’re going to jump on that opportunity like a crow on roadkill. However, their work is a matter of public record. You can see what they do and don’t do. They’ll tell you they’re doing the good work, but it’s easy to see there’s not much work getting done.

We are the ones that keep putting people into places they don’t belong. Then we expect that we will get some sort of magic out of them when they get into office. Like they really heard us or something. It used to be cute; voters being all naive and aw shucks and such. Now, it’s just sad.

It’s time for each and every American voter to get off their proverbial backsides and start rubbing some brain cells together. The bluster and partisan pageantry of the conventions are over and now the real work begins.

How loud you yell, doesn’t make you a good voter. The size of your sign doesn’t equate to how well you get the message. You don’t “win” by being able to shout someone else down. You don’t “win” by vilifying another because their beliefs don’t align with yours. You don’t “win” by voting for one because you hate the other.

This ain’t a TV show folks. Do the research. Check the facts. Demand information. Ask questions then shut your mouth, open your ears for a moment and listen. Resist the urge to attack and disparage the moment you think you hear something that bumps up against your tender sensibilities. Dare to hear and understand the debate that takes place on both sides. Dare to expect more.

I’m talking to you American voter. You’re never going to teach someone else a lesson by wasting your vote. In fact, every wasted vote, every voter who withdraws from the process or treats the right to vote as anything less than the real and sizable responsibility it is, is an insult, a slap to the face of every person who fought for, died for and still fights today for your right to continue to vote.

The world is watching. We can show the world we still know what we’re doing and that we do it with mindful purpose and intent. That we give the right we have to vote the respect it deserves by taking the time to push beyond laziness, ignorance, apathy, bitterness, dogma, prejudice, spite, anger and more to ensure that our decisions truly reflect and serve the needs of our people. Do the right thing the right way. See you in November.

Your friend in the cosmos,

Java

 

 

Something to Ponder – 4

banaba 1a

Sage advice from an elderly gentleman perched atop a lonely Mountain.

Hello friends! Today our question comes from Deloris Wilson of Tin Bucket, Arizona.

“Dear Banaba,” Deloris writes. “Can I have it all? If I can, great, but if I can’t, why not?”

To my friend Deloris, I say, “If you had it all, where would you put it?”

Of course, that is me kidding with you.

The answer to your question Deloris, lies almost exclusively within you – within each one of us.

You must first define for yourself what it means to have it all. Does “having it all” mean you have healthy, nurturing relationships with the various people in your life? Is it a life that allows you to be the person you want to be? Is it money? Material belongings? Good health? The ability to travel frequently to far off and exotic places? The latest clothes? The skills and abilities to do whatever you want? Fame? Recognition? And so on.

You might review that list and say yes, all that and all the other things, all of it.

Once you define the objective, the next thing to determine is what you are willing to do in fact, to get it all.

How deep is your drive? How dedicated are you to the task of achieving your objectives? How hard are you willing to work? What do you know now in your life that you are willing to sacrifice in order have it all? How much are you willing to gamble?

When we start to consider the work involved with getting, and having and keeping it all, we often start to hear in our minds the soft voices of dissent which whisper to us the various ways in which we will fail in our efforts to get everything we want.

It goes like this:

You: I want a boat. I deserve a boat. Other people have boats. I’m as good as anyone else who has a boat. Why can’t I have a boat?

The soft voices: Boats are expensive. You won’t be able to get a big boat. You don’t have the money. Yes, you could try to save the money, but that will take a long time. You aren’t great at saving money. And what about the bills? By the way, you have no place to put the boat. And, because you are working all the time, when would you use the boat. Do you really need a boat?

And just like that, we give up, often in a swirl of frustration and sadness…possibly anger.

In my experience Deloris, I find that many people who dream of having it all, are merely envious of those whom they believe have more than they do. What adds to their woe and anger is the perception that those who have more than they do got it all through ways and means that are not equitable to all. They believe that in someway, the other person’s path was made easier and that their path is far more difficult. That the world is unfair.

It is a hard notion to embrace, but even when we feel slighted and that our lives are bad, or not what we wanted or not what we feel we deserve, I can assure you there are people who envy the lot we have in life. In some ways, we look to be the ones with the easier path.

That is not to say that you should give up on your dreams of working for and having the things that you want. But know that we spend a lot of time and energy in the pursuit of things, things and moments that come and go and so quickly dissolve into photographs and memories. It is the day-to-day of living where you will spend most of your time and it is there that you must find some level of satisfaction, or happiness.

It was once said, “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find, you get what you need.”

If you can embrace the perspective that your life is as good as you make it. That you are good and that you have value no matter what others surmise, or what you believe others surmise. If you can recognize and embrace the glorious gifts that each day has to offer, the sun, rain, green grass, food and drink, the moon and the stars, those with whom you surround yourself. If you can release the bitterness and anger that comes with envy and the notion of greed, well, you may not end up having it all – at least not how you saw it originally, but you will certainly be closer.

Peace to you  – Banaba

An open letter to the Republican party

As she was prone to do in these situations, Java typed with determination and focus:

An open letter to the Republican party – Dear Republicans:

You don’t know me, but I wanted to take a moment to share some thoughts with you that may well represent a portion of the voting population of the United States that you might have yet to hear from, or have not yet decided to tune into.

I grew up with a kid named Billy McCabe. For the most part, Billy was hands down the most hilarious person I ever met. He probably still is. I imagine him in jail somewhere for some reason, for the only problem I’ve ever know Billy to have is, he never really knew when to say when. He couldn’t recognize when perhaps the jokes had gone too far and his ability to wield the magical healing power of laughter turned from a relief and a blessing to a curse and an embarrassment. At times, he just got so deep in the ruse that he couldn’t see a clear way out of it, so he just kept at it.

Most of the time, his taking things too far ruffled a few feathers, but on occasion, people got hurt. Not the kind of physical hurt where people need medical care, although one time Billy took a fairly solid blow to the nose that drew blood. No, this kind of hurt was personal, internal. It was the kind of hurt that you remember and it festers in your soul. It can shatter your confidence. It can fill you with doubt. It can create hate and bitterness over healing and compassion.

Now, I’m not saying that what you all have brewing is a joke gone too far, but when I look at it all – when I watch and listen – I can’t help but continue to search for the moment when someone in your group pops up, with hands waving in the air, yelling, “Ok, stop! It was just a joke. We’re kidding! You didn’t get it. No harm. No Foul!”

I mean…seriously?!

The initial set up looked like a joke. You had so many potential candidates, you couldn’t get them all on the same debate stage.

Hilarious!

The array of personalities were diverse, stark and bigger than life and when they all started talking about stuff…it was real ROTFL kind of material.

They were all calling each other names and poking at each other’s ideologies and records of achievement (or lack there of), making faces at each other, there was lots of aggressive pointing and other standard playground behaviors culminating in some real juicy, knee-slapping, good times. It’s kind of like you rolled up a limo at the premiere of the presidential election that looked regal and all serious, but when you opened the door out rolled this happy clump of buffoons. I swear, if any one of them could make balloon animals, you’d have a show ready to take on the road.

But now, things are getting serious, and as my grandmother Chamile used to say, “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.” My dear Republicans, you are in the dangerous realm of potentially losing that proverbial eye.

We’ve seen the Grand Old Party slowly, but surely degrade over the years. You’ve been so busy bullying, obstructing, posturing and promoting that you seemed to have lost touch with your political vision. You have such a splintered, distorted view of things, that I’m not sure you are even aware of how deep in trouble you appear to be. You’ve become a mockery of your former self, kind of like Vegas Elvis in the latter years of his career. You don’t know who to pander to, so you collectively to pander to everyone – well, everyone who you think will vote your people in. You can’t win on record or deed, so you inspire division and are stuck in the mud stubbornness.

Let me break it down for you. Your number one guy, the guy who appears to be your pending nominee, may be the very best thing for reality television, but the very worst thing for you as the leader of the modern free world. You have to see that, right? The sad part is, numbers one through four after him offer little else in the way of smarts or substance. It just makes us shake our heads even harder. You were so busy worrying about what Obama was up to and trying to put the kibosh on that, that you lost sight of what was going on in your own backyard. You hate what’s going on, but you have nothing brewing in your own kitchen to offer up as an alternative. Bad plan.

Now on the upside, Trump could win and you would have your guy in the White House once again. Then again, Trump could win and you would have your guy in the White House. I don’t get the idea he will be as easy to direct as the last guy you had in there.

Could he do an about face and start to genuinely care about the American people and working to make the country a better place? Sure, maybe. But I don’t think we’ve seen any evidence of that. And in the absence of that possibility, you must start to envision the probable. When you have your guy in the oval office and he starts enacting his particular brand of “presidenting,” and things really start to head south – guess who’s going to suffer? Trump? Nah. No matter how he leaves the office, he’ll say it was amazing and he was the best president ever. He’ll go back to his life, kick up the apprentice thing again and be none the worse for wear. You however, collectively, will likely have a lot of explaining, apologizing and rebuilding to do. And it might just turn out to be too much and your efforts will be too little, too late. At that point, you will be Billy McCabe.

Your Friend, Java

 

 

Something to Ponder – 3

banaba 1a

*Sage advice from an elderly gentleman perched atop a lonely Mountain. 

Hello friends! Today our question comes from Astrid Korthew of Aberdeen, Maine.

“Dear Banaba,” Astrid writes. “Is karma a bitch?”

To my friend Astrid, I say, “You know it sister, and then some.”

But in reality, that is me kidding.

As it is explained in Buddhist philosophy, karma is the law of moral causation. It is the cosmic principle according to which each person is rewarded or punished in this life or incarnation based on that person’s deeds in this life or in a previous incarnation.

The phrase you ask about is a very limited application indeed.

Often people use the “bitch” motif when they want to remind others that their deeds will lead to future unhappiness in a very ruthless and uncharitable manner, that they themselves are potentially on the receiving end of a sort of “karmic revenge” for something they must have done (which they feel undeserving of, of course), or they long to see the retribution of karma rain down on those which they feel have done any level of unsavory injustice.

In each of these cases, the whole of karma is boiled down to being some sort of metaphysical punisher or ethereal seeker of revenge.

Unfortunately, this is not generally how karma works. It is not something we control by our wishes and desires like some sort of spiritual voodoo doll. It is not something we can wish upon others to make ourselves feel better because we feel karma’s “justice” will take care of something we find we are incapable of doing ourselves – at least outwardly.

In most cases, we would never see the effects of karma because we could not possibly understand the complexity of the philosophy. On the other hand, all we may see are the effects of karma, but again, when we view what goes on around us through the limited scope or lens of our personal experience, no matter how broad, we are incapable of truly recognizing what we are witnessing, nor do we have the universal context needed to comprehend the vast meaning of what we see.

Human beings often limit their view of everything to the now. I am uncomfortable now. I am not sleeping well now. I am angry now. I am sad now. People don’t like me now, and so on. Therefore, their vision, their longing for and patience toward getting a resolution is limited to the now. If I am uncomfortable, I must find comfort now. If I am hungry, I must eat now. If I am passed over for a promotion, I must quit my job today and leave angry because they do not appreciate all I have done for them, those bastards, and so on.

While there is a great value in learning to appreciate the now – the moment you are currently living in – because it is the only thing you can truly count on, restricting your views and tying your actions and emotions solidly to the now prevent you from seeing the world and your place in it as it truly is. You begin to think and act without perspective because you do what you feel is right – right now.

As an example, in our first scenario you are driving. You are minding your own business. Another driver comes out of nowhere, zooms past you, cuts you off, scaring you half to death, causing you to swerve and possibly causing you to drift off the road. In our second scenario, you are driving. You have a sick child in the car and you are trying to get he child to the hospital. Time is of the essence. You swerve in and out of traffic, going faster than you should. A slow car in front of you refuses to yield the right of way to you. When you finally get the chance, you zoom by them and head on to the hospital, but in doing so, you cause them to swerve, scaring them half to death and nearly forcing them off the road. Who should karma punish in each case? The drive who cuts you off? The driver who blocks you from your goal? You, for nearly running someone off the road?

Who is to say?

It could be effectively argued that karma put that slow driver in front of you just long enough for you to avoid a potential catastrophe down the road, had you gotten there too early.

Remember, karma can punish, but also reward.

So, you see Astrid, yes, karma can be a bitch, when it is inconvenient to us. It can also be a delicious club sandwich with chips. It can also be a roadblock that takes us off our usual and predictable path so that we might see something new, or experience something we haven’t before. It can also be that stranger that sits next to us at the bus stop. The one that we don’t talk to, but politely acknowledge as another person just trying to get through the day, and we leave it at that.

The greater task for us, is to focus less on determining an appropriate level of revenge against those we feel have wronged us – or – worrying about what we might have done to deserve  the unwavering eye of karma’s “ruthlessness” (although we are convinced it is nothing), and focus more on understanding the role we play in the world and in the lives of others with a more universal perspective.

Understand that when you throw a rock into the water, the are ripples. Those ripples will travel out from the center of the action you created and they will do what they do until they fade away and the next rock is thrown. The only control you have is how hard you throw the rock…or if you throw the rock at all. That is karma.

Peace to you – Banaba

Something to Ponder – 2

banaba 1a

Sage advice from an elderly gentleman perched atop a lonely Mountain.

Hello friends! Today our question comes from Myrtle Trisk of Portnoy, North Dakota.

“Dear Banaba,” she writes. “Why are people so stupid?”

To my friend, Myrtle I say, “Because.”

I say because, because there is really no better answer to that question, at least as Myrtle poses it.

It is what some might refer to as a “loaded question.” For without context, the ability to assist her in reaching a higher level of enlightenment is greatly diminished. Despite our very best efforts, to try and divine a satisfactory response that helps illuminate the pathway to resolution related to her specific need is very much like trying to lasso a single star in the great universe that surrounds us.

Let us try instead, to better understand what drives such a question, to then see if a more reasonable answer will present itself.

First, Myrtle is not alone in her search for the answer to this question. Many write to Banaba asking the very same thing with varying levels of related information. But the question itself seems to be more an expression of frustration. The motivation to ask the question comes when understanding the actions of those around us – both in circles close to us and those in representational groups we are forced to recognize – eludes us.

In most cases, it is clear that a person or persons have acted, or are acting, in a way that conflicts with what we see as our own definition of common sense. We see them as behaving contrary to what we deem as “smart” and the action is so far away from “smart” that in order to easily classify them for the sake of discussion, we must ordain them as “stupid.”

As an example, let’s say that many users of the Internet start responding to a common and widely dispersed post that asks, “What kind of cat are you?” You begin to see tens, then hundreds, then thousands of responses from some of your very closest friends and family members to throngs of total strangers, which define for you, and each other, what kind of cat they are.

We know, of course, they are not currently and never will be a cat. Let’s say too, that you do not like cats in the least. Let us say finally, that you find this kind of mindless group exercise to be a fruitless and meaningless waste of time.

You will certainly not be playing the game, for you could care less about what kind of cat you are. In fact, we could go as far to say that your strongest desire might be to post something completely contrary (like being a dead cat) that would wrinkle the noses of those who are playing the game.

However, since you see yourself as better than that, and you are not interested in dealing with the potential rage of a group of angry cat lovers, you do nothing. That lack of satisfactory action and the inability to put an end to the distraction causes frustration. In the worst case, this frustration can make one very angry to the point of wanting to break something, or wanting to punch someone in the face. But again, because you are so reasonable, you boil that frustration down to the point where all you have left is to ask, “Why are people so stupid?”

You don’t really need an answer.

You need a better question.

You need to release frustration that comes with trying to figure out what you may never know. You need to understand that the energy put into figuring out why people do what they do, may never result in an answer that gives you great insights, for the moment you think you’ve seen it all, a whole new crop of stupid is almost certainly guaranteed to rise up and greet you.

Thus, the better question for you Myrtle and so many others; the better possible pathway to a deeper layer of inner peace may be:

Why do I allow people who act contrary to my personal sense of, or definition of intelligence, distract me so that it restricts the progress I make on my personal journey to enlightenment?

Remember too, the you may at one time or another, do something that falls outside of someone else’s personal definition of smart. You will be a distraction to their focus, which feeds the pool of their frustrations, and they may one day write Banaba a letter about you.

Peace to you  – Banaba

Something to Ponder – 1

banaba 1a

Sage advice from an elderly gentleman perched atop a lonely mountain.

Hello friends, today I bring to you some thoughts on a question sent to me from a Mr. John Tanner of Mesquite, Texas.

“Dear Banaba,” he writes. “The question that constantly comes to my mind is simply, what the Hell? I mean, as I look around me, I wonder…seriously, what the Hell?”

To my new friend John I say, “What the Hell, indeed.”

Your question is really most profound.

Many people around the world have asked it again and again throughout all of time. Some have used it more as an expression of their frustrations and in more of a rhetorical sense while others seriously and earnestly ask it because they would really like to know in that moment – “What the Hell!?”

No matter what in your life brought to where you needed to ask, the question as you ask it certainly deserves an answer.

I can tell you that the answer is not easy, nor is it overly complex. The answer can also be as individual as the person who asks it and may be affected by the variable context in which it is asked. So, there could be over a billion possible answers.

But, let us not try to boil the ocean today. Instead, today let me tell you that there are basically three answers to your question.

Number one:

In a literal sense, the answer relates to Hell itself, of course. For some reason, things in your life start to move in a direction that you feel ill prepared for. It may appear to be something that is either truly difficult to resolve or just too much of an inconvenience at that point in time for you to want to deal with it. Mentally, you may feel as though Hell has literally opened up and brought forth this horrible thing just to ruin your day.

In many ways, you are correct.

As an example, you are driving to an appointment and are running late, but you have it all planned out and you still have time to get to your meeting. Then you realize you need to pick something up at the store. You can adjust your plan, but that makes your schedule even tighter. It’s doable, of course, but much tighter. Then you find yourself in a traffic jam. It’s bad. You will miss your appointment, you will not get to the store and in fact, it looks like you will miss your next appointment as well and get home late.

“What the Hell!?”

It seems unlikely – if Hell is as we understand it to be – that Hell, or whoever runs it would select you out of everyone who needs their compass adjusted, to ruin your day. However, if that is how you feel, that is your reality, and that is ultimately what you must deal with.

Number Two:

If we further explore the more rhetorical side of the question, viewing it less as a question and more of an expression of emotion, Hell in this case may be no less real, but is then applied to the thing you see or encounter.

As an example, you are walking along minding your own business when a speeding truck barrels down the street and plows into a box of baby rabbits.

What the Hell!? Am I right?

In this case, you are making an expression that applies to the horror, or the Hellish scene, that unfolds before you. Unless those are your bunnies, you are probably not directly affected in this case, but the horror for you is still very real. You do not have to deal with the circumstances of the situation intimately, but you will have to learn how to process what you have seen so that in some way you can accept that the thing occurred and can now move forward.

Number Three:

As a good friend once told me, “Hey Bro, sometimes shit is just messed up.”

Again, this leans less toward an answer and more toward an expression. But it can also be taken as an ending statement, like a period at the end of a sentence.

You may not understand what happened or why, no matter how “messed up” it is. In this sense, your “What the Hell?” is merely an acknowledgement of the event. A stake in the ground that allows you to take the next step into your world without being eternally bound to the event.

To think of it another way, it is giving yourself the right to move past what might be seen as the futility of over analysis, complicating the very simple or getting stuck in something you have little or no ability to change.

As an example, you come across a lavish tray of freshly baked cookies. You know you do not need a cookie, but that knowledge is nothing against the desire to have a cookie. You could spend many valuable minutes of your life debating the pros and cons of eating a cookie, when in actuality, you have already decided to eat the cookie and you are merely going through the exercise of internal debate to soothe your conscious mind once the cookie is consumed.

To resolve this conflict, you say, “What the Hell?” and you eat the cookie.

So you see John, despite your frustration in the moment that inspired this question, you will likely encounter a great many more. Being able to answer your question, and being able to accept that answer will be the key to a greater inner calm and a better overall life.

Peace to you – Banaba

 

 

 

 

 

An Open Letter To Donald Trump

Java typed with determination and focus, as she was prone to do in these situations:

An open letter to Donald Trump –

Dear Donald Trump:

You don’t know me, and while the chances are greater that we might one day meet now because you are running for President, I’m not holding my breath. So, let’s just leave it at you don’t know me, and you probably never will.

Still, despite – at least based on my research – what appears a complete and total disconnect between us, I think it’s appropriate and important for me to reach out to you because of your interest in representing me, and the interests of our country, as the President of the United States.

You see – the job of President is a complex one. We the people need to respect the person who gets that job. More importantly, the person who gets that job needs to respect the job itself and the mantle of responsibility that comes with it. If you want to be my President, you better grab a seat and give a listen to what folks like me have to say.

Listening is a critical skill for a successful President. My mother always told me that the best way to listen is to keep your mouth shut so that the message you’re supposed to get comes in clear, avoiding anything your mouth might try to throw at it to confuse things. The second part of listening, is hearing – actually hearing the message that’s coming at you. Since you are everywhere these days I’ve had some good opportunities to watch you, and yes, listen to you.

Two things on that, first, as I listen to you, I hear what you’re saying. And while I’ve never been quite sure what a “bejeezus” is, I know that when I listen to you and I hear what you say, whatever bejeezus I have in me is scared shitless. Because when you boil it down, I’m not hearing much of value at all. Like a handful of those puffy cheese curl snack things, what you say lacks all kinds of substance. What I see is that you have throngs of people who do hear something in your words. I surely don’t begrudge them for that, even though I’m not clear on what it is they’re getting. To me it seems that on the surface, what they hear from you centers on, and seems to incite hate, violence, separatism, intolerance, misunderstanding, ignorance and a few other tasty negatives, which they appear to be OK with. The truth is, you have followers. Therefore, you have a responsibility to them and for them. You owe them the courtesy of your attention, your humility, your sincerity and your respect.

The second thing is that I’m not sure you’re listening or hearing. I get the feeling that instead of listening, you talk until you get tired, you pause for a bit, and then you spend your time looking for your next opportunity to speak out loud. Then when you do – BOOM – there goes my bejeezus again! It’s a terrifying cycle.

Look, I am one voter. While I have my doubts, they tell me my one vote counts, so like anything extremely personal to me, I’m very careful about where I put that vote. In my mind, it’s so much more than a single vote. It is an expression of who I am as a human being, as an American and it is a representation of what I stand for in my life. I don’t give my votes away. A candidate has to earn them. And I can tell you that no hot, steaming pile of rhetoric or reality show based shenanigans will earn my vote.

I’m a voter who needs solutions, solid ideas, compassion, a broad vision of the future, an understanding of the global circumstance, temperance, tolerance, empathy, strength, courage, common sense, a dash of humor, and a slew of other tasty attributes.

My hope is that you got into this because you are sincere in your efforts and intents to guide this country in a way that is beneficial to all. My hope is that you are not just some pot stirring, bile spewing, hate mongering, short-sighted, cartoon strip, ego driven, narcissistic, circus master who’s pulling his show into the center ring because he found someone who’ll shine a spotlight on him.

The fact that you are currently leading your party certainly says something about America. I’m not sure what it says yet, but it has a very sort of “monkeys running the zoo” kind of feel to it. It makes me sad in my soul. Don’t worry. While you are a huge part of that, the whole field of candidates seems lack a certain sense of…gravitas.

I’m thinking maybe you started this thing as a lark and it all got out of control and now you just don’t know how to get out of it. Mostly because you’re tossing some real doozies out there that make it feel like you are just begging someone to eject you from the game. For if they kick you out, you still win. You save face. You can say you didn’t quit.

Look, if you really want out, my first suggestion is to take a page from the Jeb Bush campaign. Look at that poor man’s face. Have you ever seen anyone who wants to be President less than him?

The long and the short of it is, you have yet to earn my vote. I don’t get the feeling that you truly respect the job or the responsibility that comes with it. You are welcome to prove me wrong. Should you do that, I am more than happy to make a full, fair and public apology for doubting you. Until then, it’s all just a big show, a big joke, a whim and a scam, but a scam with severe consequences. I urge you to dance on that line carefully.

Your friend in the cosmos, – Java

The Glorious Sunset of Taffeta Spaulding – IX

Taffeta managed to move Myrna across the sidewalk and into the passenger seat of her car near the door of the pharmacy. Not that she expected any help from the younger man who was causing her this pain, but it seemed worse to have him watch her struggle.

As gentle as she tried to be, Myrna’s head bobbed with every tug and pull. The whole left side of her face was swollen now, effectively closing her eye.

Once Hover emerged from the store, Danny crawled into the back seat slouching low and leaning into to the window. He pulled a pair of sunglasses from his pocket, slid them on his face and settled into the oncoming high. Hover jumped in next to him wiping the blood from the end of his sledge with some paper towels he pulled from aisle 4.

It was Hover who told Taffeta which way to go. Four miles down Wilkes, take a left, then a right, then two miles, then a right and so on. Taffeta aptly followed his directions, but was more concerned about Myrna whom after twenty minutes of driving still had yet to come to. Besides, she was pretty certain Hover was taking the long way around to wherever it was they were heading, just to throw her off.

Another fifteen minutes later, in a part of town Taffeta never knew existed, Hover had her pull around to the back of a series of brick row houses, mere shadows of what they once were, now boarded up and settling into at least a decade of decay.

“Pull up here and stop the car,” he said. Silently, she did as she was told while keeping one eye on Myrna and the other on any possible pathway to escape.

“Now get out, and get her,” Hover said, climbing out of the backseat and setting the sledge on his shoulder. Taffeta stepped out of the car then walked around to the passenger door. She opened it and leaned in to unclip Myrna’s belt, grab their purses and start to heft Myrna out.

“Hey, wait,” he said, just as Taffeta got her friend to stand limply beside her. “I don’t think you need the bags.”

“She has asthma,” Taffeta blurted out. “She needs her medicine. Doesn’t your mother carry a purse?”

“My mother never carried anything, but a bottle of whiskey and a grudge,” he said dropping the sledge to the ground. He stepped over to her and pulled one of the bags from her shoulder. Looking at her the whole time, holding her gaze, he yanked the purse open and reached his hand inside. His hand moved around the inside of the bag feeling for anything.

“Bah,” he said. “Asthma, my ass. You got nothin’ in there but a wad of tissues, a compact and a handful of candy.” He tossed the bag at her feet. “Pick it up, let’s go.” He turned to get his sledge and start up the steps to the first row house.

Taffeta retrieved Myrna’s bag from the ground, almost dropping her, but then righting them both to standing again. “Do you want to check mine too?”

Hover stopped and turned. He took one step toward her then stopped. He thought, then smiled shaking his head and keeping himself on task.

“Keep it up lady,” he said. “I got more things to do than to rustle around in a bag full of tissues and hairpins. Just get inside, huh?”

“What about him?” Taffeta said nodding her head back toward the car where Danny now slept soundly.

“What about him?” Hover said looking over at Danny. “You best mind your own. You don’t really want to be waking him up when he’s, you know…sleeping. Better for me that you just get inside. Better for you too.”

“You could let us go.”

“Lady…,” Hover said, shaking his head again. “Really, just get inside.”

Taffeta struggled to get them both up the steps and inside the dump of a house, again, without any help aside from Hover impatiently holding the door for her as she moved slowly past him. The house was dark, beyond whatever light found its way through the cracks in the boards that covered the windows. She squinted to help her eyes adjust so that she could get a better lay of the land. The smell hit her first, a hearty wave of rot mixed with a touch of urine. As she stood there she could make out a couch, a small table and a couple of chairs and the along the wall were stacks of boxes.

“Don’t just stand there lady,” Hover said, moving up behind her. “Go over to the couch and sit down.”

“Could you get me some water?” Taffeta asked. “For my friend.”

“This ain’t the Ritz, lady. Just sit down until Danny figures out what to do next.”

She found her way to the couch and slowly dropped Myrna into place first before plopping herself down tightly next to her. She could almost feel a cloud of filth, dust and debris billow up around her. Despite the lack of comfort and the layer of disgust, it felt good to sit. She was exhausted.

Hover came over with a hand full of rope and kneeled before her.

“You’re going to tie us up?”

“Shut up lady.”

“Is that really necessary?” Taffeta said. “I mean look at us. She’s not going anywhere, unless I drag her and frankly, dragging her here was more than I was made for.”

“Just…shut up.”

Hover tied her feet the best he could. Then he tied Myrna’s to hers then worked the rope to connect them both to the base of the couch. Then he left them.

Her first intent was to get free and get them out of there, but the distraction of another soft moan from Myrna, sent her into caring mode. She adjusted her friend to make her more comfortable. Then got herself as comfortable as she should. She stroked her friend’s hair calmly in the dark. Who knows what damage she suffered by the blow to the face. Whatever it was, Taffeta hoped it was temporary. It wasn’t long then until the excitement of the day took its toll and Taffeta herself drifted into a soft, uneasy sleep.

It was hard to tell how much time passed before Taffeta jerked herself awake. Myrna leaned hard against her shoulder, snoring, which was probably a good sign. She was sleeping. Not slipping away into a coma.

Worse still was that in the dimly lit room, she squinted to see Danny standing before her, still, stoic, and staring at them. His face was blank and emotionless. He just stood there drifting ever so slightly back and forth, his dirty hair hanging down across his face. A thin string of drool hung from his lip and stretched down towards the floor.

She watched him.

He stood there. An unnecessary standoff, between the victim and the vacant.

She had no idea how long he stood there before he moved, but when he did, he shook his head and squeezed his eyes as if he were trying to close off someone who might be talking to him. He raised his hand lethargically and waived the phantom voice, away.

“Shut up,” he mumbled, but it sounded more like. “Shuup.”

Then he staggered forward a step, then another, then managed to step slowly into the shadows.

Taffeta breathed out a hard sigh, dropping her head forward. She closed her eyes trying to calm the pounding in her chest.

She must have nodded off again, for when her head jerked up again, another young man was kneeling before her, one she had not seen before.

“Hey lady,” the man said. “You want some water?” He held out a plastic bottle.

Taffeta reached forward slowly. Her muscles sore from hefting Myrna around so much moved under protest.

“Thank you,” she said softly.

The young man looked back and forth quickly before producing another bottle from under his jacket.

“What about her?” he said, reaching out again.

“Yes, thank you.”

“What the hell is this?” Hover said, stepping into the dim light of the room. “What are you doin’ Petey?”

The young man on the floor jumped up, “Nothing. Why? What do you care?”

“Seriously,” Hover said, pressing the other. “What the hell are you doin’? Danny aint gonna like this.”

“Danny doesn’t know what he’s doin.” Petey said. “What’s he thinking bringing two old ladies here?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Hover said. “It’s what he wants and he’s making the decisions. Maybe he wants them to clean up around here.”

“You’ve got to be kidding. We should be letting them go.”

Hover stepped closer to the other man, who held his ground.

“I said…we don’t make those calls,” Hover said. “You sell the stuff. That’s your job. The rest is all up to Danny.”

“Have you seen him? He’s really not looking his best today…or any day lately.”

“So?”

“So…,” Petey leaned in. “I’m making this call. I’m letting them go. They don’t belong here.”

“Don’t do it, Petey.” Hover swung his sledge up slowly to rest on his shoulder as his hands shifted along the handle to find the right grip.

“Screw you, Hover!” Petey said spinning around. “I signed on to this thing for one thing and one thing only – cash. Not kidnapping. Not murder. Just Cash.”

Slowly he stood. “I don’t know what you signed up for and I don’t care. Danny is losing it. He broke the first rule, stay out of the product, and now he’s just a mess. He’s sloppy, careless.”

“Brave talk, coming from a small time street pusher.” Hover said working his hands and training his eyes on Petey.

“Small time?” Petey laughed. “Maybe. maybe it started small time, but who is responsible for this?”

Petey lunged at the boxes along the wall and pulled hard, the first toppled to the floor breaking oven and releasing a spray of cash.

“Or this?” He grabbed another ripping at the flap which allowed more cash to escape.

“This wasn’t Danny. And it certainly wasn’t you! Anything we’ve built, I brought to the table. And this…,” he broke off pointing at the two women. “Is not what we do.”

Petey stood in a puddle of money breathing heavily with his arm stretched out and his eyes fixed on Hover.

“Now,” he said. “I’m making this call. You’d be smart to step back or crawl into whatever hole it is you call home and just let it happen.”

Hover shifted his weight, leaning his head back in consideration. His eyes thinned his stare at the other man and they stood quietly, until Hover finally took a single step back and gestured with one hand as if to say, go ahead.

Petey dropped his arm and nodded with relief at Hover’s slow but, ultimate recognition of what made sense here. He stepped back to the ladies, kneeled down and again, began to work the ropes.

“You ladies get out of here. Get right out of here. Get into your car and go home and for get all about this place and anything you saw here.” He looked up for a brief moment at Taffeta. “You got that?”

“No…,” was the only thing Taffeta had time to mutter.

Petey’s face shifted from contorted confusion at what he thought was Taffeta’s denial, to wide-eyed fear as the woman before him tried to recoil deeper into the couch. There was no time to turn, or flinch or duck for in between those taught seconds, Hover’s sledge found its next target and the aim was true.

The Glorious Sunset of Taffeta Spaulding – VII

Four weeks later, Myrna’s question still pressed on her.

What now?

“What now indeed,” Taffeta thought, bristling at the notion that the only answer she could muster to the seemingly simple question was no answer at all.

What now indeed.

Life for Taffeta and Myrna went on as it always had, simple, rote and uneventful save for the fact that now they had a submachine gun to occupy some of their free time. And for as big a ripple as it put into their lives initially, even that quickly stitched into the fabric of their day to day, or week to week. For now, instead of parting ways after their Thursday lunches and heading home for an antacid and perhaps an afternoon nap, they drove out to their hill for some quality time with Cora.

After that, at home, Taffeta would wipe Cora down the way she learned from various Internet videos. She loaded the magazines to be ready for their next excursion, and she counted the rounds to…

She had yet to understand why she counted the rounds. It was a woeful exercise. Clarity came the instant she glanced at the once grand pyramid of boxes that shrank now week by week. Each count made it painfully obvious that they were running through rounds with little or nothing to show for it and each count filled her with a sense that once the last round popped away and slammed into the dirt, it would all be over…whatever “it” was supposed to be.

Then what?

Taffeta Spaulding was not one much for obsession. She didn’t have an addictive personality. She never took much to the drink. Smoking made her nauseous. If she took the occasional aspirin for a headache or pain it was only because her tried and true method of a lie down with a cold compress didn’t work first, but oh, that gun.

There was just something about that gun.

If someone had told her she would become so taken with it, she would have brushed it off as utter nonsense. And what was her brother thinking sending it to her in the first place. She was not a violent sort. What place did a gun have in her life, much less a .45 caliber M3A1 submachine gun?

Still, there was just something about that gun.

It was about a week ago that she started to keep it near by her virtually around the clock. She carried it from the counter to the table along with her morning cup of coffee. It sat on the edge of the coffee table in the evenings when Taffeta settled in for a read of the newspaper or some television.

She didn’t stare at it, or hold it, but she would peek at it periodically as a parent might of a young child one, to make sure it was still within eyesight, within reach and two, to make sure it wasn’t getting into any trouble.

These didn’t feel like conscious decisions one might make with purpose, but rather, the actions evolved as Cora’s allure and the mystery of her being, and being here, took deeper root.

The next Thursday Taffeta loaded the car as she had for the past several weeks with headgear, safety goggles, Phillies caps, a Thermos of coffee and bullets.

She found Myrna waiting out front when when she pulled into her friend’s driveway. The second the car stopped, Myrna pulled the door open and worked herself into the passenger seat.

“Is this a beautiful day or what?” Myrna said, closing the door and pulling the shoulder strap of the seat belt across her chest. “I’m glad you’re on time. I was hoping we could swing by Cowell’s to pick up my prescription and then the bank for lunch money.”

“I’m always on time, Myrna,” Taffeta said. “In all the years we’ve been going to lunch, when have I ever been late? For that matter, when have I been late for anything?”

“Don’t get indignant dear,” Myrna said, raising her eyebrows and exaggerating a look away as if surprised by Taffeta’s rebuff. “It’s not attractive.” She paused. “It’s just me and my peculiar way of starting a conversation.”

Taffeta silently backed out of the driveway as she had a hundred times and started off down Larchmont heading towards Cowell’s Pharmacy. Despite Myrna’s odd conversation starters, the car remained quiet. It didn’t really matter Taffeta thought. They had had this exact conversation before, maybe twice. They were certain to have it again.

In the pharmacy parking lot, Taffeta pulled into a spot fairly close to the door, because Myrna liked her walks to be brief and with purpose. She turned off the engine and at sat gazing at the door for a moment.

“Are you coming in?” Myrna asked pawing through her purse to triple check the presence of her wallet.

“I guess so,” Taffeta said.

“Don’t get so excited,” Myrna said. “You’ll bust a vessel.” Myrna looked over at Taffeta. “Are you ok?”

“I’m sorry,” Taffeta said quickly while turning her attention to pulling the car key. “I’m not sure what’s wrong with me. Just in a funk I guess.”

“I guess so. Look if you’d rather…”

“No,” Taffeta said, cutting her short. “I’m good.”

She grabbed her purse with solid grip and hefted it across her lap, then she worked the latch, swung the door open and stepped a foot out onto the pavement all in a fluid motion intent on stopping any additional conversation.

She pulled the strap up over her shoulder and together they walked to the store, stepped on the pad that opened the automatic door and moved into the cool antiseptic air of the drug store.

The next second, as they took their first step forward a clawing pressure flared onto Taffeta’s shoulder, pushing her sideways to the point where she mashed up against Myrna’s shoulder and stopped them dead in their tracks.

“What the,” Myrna said, trying to understand what was going on and moving against the force on her own shoulder that pushed her into Taffeta, nearly making her fall.

As their heads inched closer together, a rough and low voice pushed it’s way between them carried on a wave of air scented in smoke and alcohol.

“Good morning ladies. Welcome to Cowell’s. Let’s go shopping!”

The Glorious Sunset of Taffeta Spaulding – VI

“Ha!” Taffeta said, finally. She held out the gun before her as if she just found gold and stared down at it, smiling. “It’s amazing. You need to try it.” She reached up and slapped the top lid closed securing the safety then turned and stepped back toward the car with a new confidence.

“What?” Myrna asked, letting what she thought she heard sink in. “Did I hear you right?” She pulled at her earmuff. “What did you say?”

Taffeta turned, slipping the ear protectors off her ears by pulling the band down so that they now hung at her neck. “Take those off,” she said. “You have to try this and I won’t take no for an answer!” She turned back to the car, her hands moving across the weapon as if she had used it for years. She slipped the old magazine out and slapped it down onto the beach towel, then scooped up the next magazine, snapped it into the gun and slapped it on the bottom to seal the deal.

By the time she turned away Myrna had caught up. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I thought I heard you say something about me shooting that thing.”

“You have to.”

“I won’t.”

“Yes, but you have to.”

“I won’t do it,” Myrna said, resetting her earmuffs firmly on her head in defiance.

They stood face to face, staring at each other through an amber universe. Taffeta smiled a half smile as her head bobbed up and down quickly, yet subtly. Her eyes were fixed on Myrna’s. Suddenly, she pushed Cora into Myrna’s chest and held it there until Myrna’s hands assured it would not fall to the ground. Her smile grew wider, “You just have to!”

Myrna swallowed hard as she held the warm metal close to her. Her head followed Taffeta as she brushed by, headed back to the spot where the bullet casings littered the ground. Slowly, Myrna turned to follow.

Taffeta stood waving at Myrna to hurry up until she was nearly back to the spot then, crossed her arms in front of her.

“Stand here,” she said, with no more discussion of can’t and won’t.

Myrna stepped where she was told. Taffeta unfolded her arms to physically place Myrna’s hands where they needed to go, “here” and “here”. She put her hands on Myrna’s shoulders and turned her so that she was square against the hill where Taffeta’s now mangled clump of weeds stood awaiting a potential second strike.

“I…,” Myrna tried on more time to protest, but Taffeta made two simple, silent moves. One finger shot up in front of her. Shhh. Then it swept around to point at the hill. Shoot.

Myrna sighed in defeat and raised the gun as Taffeta did earlier, but without the same sense of drive or commitment. She held the gun out in front of her while making a face that implied to anyone watching that she was doing something truly distasteful, like a child forced to take medicine, or a parent toting an infant with an offensive diaper.

She gave one more sideways glance at Taffeta who simply lifted the latch release on the safety, then turned away to the hill and pointed. Shoot.

At once, Myrna squeezed her eyes shut and she pulled on the trigger.

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop!

Because she didn’t pull the gun in as hard as Taffeta did in expectation of the kick, each round caused the muzzle to rise forcing her to wrestle it back to where she thought it belong, all based on a feeling in the heat of the moment because with each shot, she squeezed her eyes tighter, clenched her hands tighter and forced a grimace to spread across her face.

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop!

As she wrestled with the recoil, shooting blind, a sound began to emerge from low in her throat.

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop!

With each shot, the growl grew louder, working its way to the surface until around shot twelve, where it burst free from her in a sort of primal scream.

“Oooooooooooh!”

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop!

“OOOOOOOOH!”

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop!

“OOOOOOOOOOH!”

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop!

“YEEEEAAAAH!” she growled.

The gun stopped shooting and jerking. Myrna’s arms dropped to her side. The gun slapped against her thigh. Her breathe came strong and hard and matched the heavy pounding in her chest. She looked up to the sky slowly raising her arms back up, the gun in one hand, a tight fist formed in the other.

“OOOOOH, YEEEEEAAAAAH!” she howled.

Laughing, Taffeta walked over and slapped her friend on the back!”

“YEAH, MAN!” Myrna said, with a wide smile shaking her head vigorously. “That’s the STUFF! WOO!”

Taffeta slipped her earmuffs back down to hang around her neck. “So…,” she said, unable to move the sly smile from her face. “I guess you wouldn’t want to do it again, huh?”

“Are you kidding?” Myrna said. “Let’s get this old girl loaded up!”

“Well, all right!” Taffeta said. “Maybe this time you’ll open your eyes…or aim or something.”

“Hey now, you’re lucky I shot it at all.”

“I’m lucky you didn’t shoot me!”

Myrna smirked. “There’s still time, lady. Plenty of time.”

After the charge of spraying a lonely, innocent hill of dirt with .45 mm slugs, Myrna’s attitude toward the gun changed dramatically. She helped load the empty magazines. She wiped the powder residue and oil from the body and barrel. Taffeta even caught her calling it Cora.

Between them, they drove nearly 500 rounds into that hill before plopping down on a blanket pulled near an old stump for some lunch in a gunpowder induced afterglow.

They found themselves much hungrier than they expected. The adrenaline rush, the pops of dirt and grass that exploded from the hillside as each slug slammed into it left gave them an indescribable charge.

“I just had no idea,” said Myrna, wiping a touch of mustard from the corner of her mouth. “No idea!”

“I expected, based on my research you know,” Taffeta said. “But all the reading and watching videos is nothing like the real thing.

“It takes a bit  out of you,” Myrna said, “My hands are sore. So are my arms.”

Taffeta sighed, leaning back against the trunk of the tree that bathed them in a cool afternoon shade. Her gaze stuck to Cora. “I feel great,” she said.

Myrna’s gaze also fell to the black steel. “Have you figured it out yet?”

“Figured it out?”

“Why you have it,” Myrna said. “Why your brother sent it to you.”

“I…,” Taffeta paused, “I don’t know. I really don’t know.”

“Well, then,” Myrna said. “What now?”

Taffeta looked harder at the gun, her eyes squinting slightly.

“I don’t know. I really don’t know.”

The Glorious Sunset of Taffeta Spaulding – V

For two ladies of a certain level of life experience with preceptively little to do, they couldn’t make arrangements for their first foray into the world of advanced weaponry training for about a week after their initial conversation.

Between doctor visits, a solid bout of rain and the regular schedule of a routine life, the opportunities for them to slip away somewhere to shoot the gun were few and far between. Still, neither of them let the time go to waste. Taffeta read the manual cover to cover three times to make sure she was familiar with the gun and how it worked. She made sure it was properly oiled. She loaded the four magazines with 30 rounds each. She watched the YouTube to learn more about the basics of how to shoot.

Leary of being seen walking around with such a thing, and the questions it might raise, she found an old duffle bag in the attic that Abel had for years, but never used. It had a comfortable, adjustable shoulder strap and plenty of room for Cora, the magazines, and extra rounds…just in case. She shook her head at the thought. In case what?? For extra protection, she covered everything with an old beach towel featuring a fading sun and a small group of palm trees sitting on a beach that dipped down into the ocean.

Myrna focused on other things like securing protective eye-wear, securing protective ear-wear and looking over bulletproof vests. She started putting together a bag of her own, but where Taffeta’s served the sole purpose of safely transporting the gun, Myrna’s leaned toward preparation for the apocalypse. She had bandages, gauze, bandage scissors and enough medical tape to field dress anything from a paper cut to an amputation, not that she knew how to do any of that. She added the tie to an old robe and a ruler in case she needed a tourniquet. She had the protective ear-ware and eye-ware. She had two Phillies ball caps, a small canteen, a flashlight, a large utility knife that featured things like pliers, tweezers, a saw and a fork. She didn’t know what to expect, so she packed for anything…everything.

The following Thursday had a good feel to it. Both of their calendars were clear and they figured avoiding the weekend improved their chances of doing their work in relative privacy.

Taffeta drove. After packing Cora’s bag, a small picnic lunch – along with her medication of course – and some bottles water, she took off for Myrna’s. Arriving early as planned, Taffeta ended up loading what now became Myrna’s several survival bags into the trunk and they moved out onto the highway.

Taffeta figured she’d head to the Taylor Mills area down in the Braxton Hills. Abel used to say there was good fishing there, but he never seemed to catch much beyond the good-sized sandwich he picked up at the counter deli in Chastings and a decent nap under a tree in the warm sun. The thought made her smile.

They drove for a good hour and a half, only stopping once for the restroom and to get some fresh coffee. Once they got into the hills, they started looking for one of the logging trails used by the mill workers back in the day when the area was mostly forest and ready for progress to share in its bounty.

Taffeta turned the car into a dirt and stone pull off marked by a tired old sign that simply read, Plank Road. The ladies looked at each other, shrugging in unison, Taffeta stepped on the gas and turned in.

Ten minutes later, after a few healthy bumps and lumps courtesy of the old road, they found a small clearing off to the side where a patch of grass lead up to a small hill next to a rolling stream. Perfect.

“This,” Myrna said, getting out of the car, stretching her back and breathing deep. “Is lovely!”

“Isn’t it?” Taffeta said.

“Just listen to that,” Myrna said. “Nothing but the cool breeze and the tripping water of the gentle stream. Hello nature!” she called into the air. “We’ve brought you some shock and awe, a genuine thunder stick to ripple your placid beauty!”

“Oh, hush,” said Taffeta, getting out of the car and moving to the back. “You’re really not making this very easy…or very fun.”

“I’m sorry, Taffy. Really, I think you’ve chosen a lovely place for us to begin our lives of crime. I mean, how many laws could we be breaking by firing an antique, unlicensed sub-machine gun while trespassing on God knows who’s property?” She paused. “Pretty, though it is.”

Taffeta opened the trunk and stopped. “You’re right you know,” she said.

“You mean about the shooting the unlicensed gun or trespassing?” said Myrna.

“About it being pretty. It’s really a lovely day!”

Myrna, deflated, slunk back to the car to help with the bags.

Taffeta moved around to the front of the car and set the duffle on top. Zipping it open she pulled out the beach towel and set it across the hood. She pulled out the gun and turned to Myrna as she stepped up behind. “Here,” she said. “Hold Cora a moment will you?”

Taffeta’s outstretched hand with the gun nearly hit Myrna in the chest causing her friend to recoil and drop her bag as if she was facing down a poisonous snake. “Yah,” she said, impulsively grabbing the cold metal weapon as if she had no choice. She grimaced, pushing the thing out in front of her to full arm’s length.

“You did not tell me that you named it.”

“Huh,” Taffeta said quickly before turning back to her duffle to remove the magazines and place them gently on the towel. “Oh…that. Yeah. I’m not sure I did that.”

“Are you telling me your brother named it and sealed up a card in the case with it?”

“No, I guess I named it, but I didn’t ‘name’ it. It just seemed to…have a name.”

Myrna swallowed. “Crazier and crazier,” she said. “Tell me honestly. You’re not planning on killing me all the way out here in the middle of nowhere right.”

Taffeta stopped her prep work and turned to her friend. “That…is ridiculous.” She reached over and took the gun from Myrna and proceeded to check it out. “We are here for one thing and one thing only. To learn how to shoot this thing.”

“Or die trying,” Myrna said in a whisper.

“I heard that.”

“Please, Lord, bless my friend Taffy here, for she is going through…something and as you are my witness, I am here to help and support.”

“Nice,” Taffeta said shaking her head at her friend. Shifting the gun in her hand she grabbed one of the magazines and stepped into the grass.

“So, please…,” Myrna said even softer. “Anything you can do to prevent us from blowing our faces off would be greatly appreciated.”

“I hear you!”

“Amen!”

Myrna moved to catch up with Taffeta who seemed to find a spot she felt good about.

“This is all going to be fine. Trust me.”

“Keep an eye on us down here Lord.”

“Hush,” Taffeta said. “Now, this part goes in here like this.” She snapped the magazine into the gun and popped it on the bottom like she saw them do on the videos to make sure it clicked in. “There. Easy as pie.”

“So, it’s loaded?”

“It’s loaded.”

“Greeeeeaaat,” Myrna said. “Let the fun begin.”

“As long as this cover is down the safety is on and you can’t shoot it,” Taffeta said, pulling on the trigger. “See?”

“Yeah, great,” said Myrna, “Can you take it easy there? Just in case it remembers it’s an antique and forgets what the safety is supposed to do?”

“I’ve done my research lady,” Taffeta said. “Cora here is really in exceptional condition.”

“We should have sold it.”

“Where would we sell it?” Taffeta asked. “How could we sell it without raising all sorts of questions and creating all sorts of problems?”

“You’re right, you’re right,” Myrna said. “This current plan of yours is so much more…low risk.”

Taffeta ignored her and began to move into a shooter’s stance, at least the way she imagined it.

“OK,” she said. “I’m going to aim for that cluster of weeds.”

“Greeeeeaaat,” Myrna said.

Taffeta reached up slowly to release the safety.

“WAIT!” Myrna said, turning quickly to head back to the car.

Taffeta’s heart jumped and her arms limply held the gun at her side.

Myrna came back dragging one of her bags behind her. “I must be losing my mind too!” she yelled. She stopped, pried open her bag and started pulling things out. “Here,” she said. “Put these on. No questions or I’m making my phone call.”

A moment later, they each stood in the clearing staring at each other. The large yellow tinted goggles and black earmuffs made them look made them look like bees ear things wearing baseball caps.

“We look ridiculous,” Taffeta said.

“Whaaat?” Myrna said pulling at her headgear.

“We look ridiculous!”

“Better to look ridiculous than to spend time in an emergency room.”

“What?” Taffeta said.

“Better to look…,” Myrna started, then waved it off. “Nothing.”

Taffeta turned back in to her stance than back toward Myrna. “Why the Phillies?”

“Whaaat?” Myrna said pulling again at her headgear.

“Why the Phillies?” Taffeta said even louder. “The hats!”

“They were on the clearance table at Chance. It was that or one that said ‘Eat My Dust,'” Myrna said. “I thought that was just terrible. Eat my dust. Who says that?”

Taffeta looked at Myrna through a field of amber, shrugged and moved back into her shooting stance. She reached over and opened the latch to release the safety. She set her grip on the weapon and slid her finger up over the trigger.

“So, it’s loaded then?” Myrna said peering over Taffeta’s shoulder and loud to make sure Taffeta heard her through her earmuffs. The break in Taffeta’s concentration caused her to jump nearly pulling the trigger and shooting nowhere near the direction she intended.

She pointed the gun barrel down. “Are you serious?!”

“What?” Myrna said again pulling at her headgear.

“You’re going to get us killed!”

“I just wanted to make sure!”

“Yes,” Taffeta said. “It’s loaded. The safety is off. It’s ready to go.”

“Touchy, touchy,” Myrna said. “By all means Bonnie Parker. Shoot your gun!”

Taffeta smirked hard and then turned back into her stance, taking an extra deep breath to calm herself and set her resolve. She leveled the gun at the target clump of weeds and inched he finger to the trigger.

“C’mon, Cora. Baby needs a new pair of shoes,” she whispered or said in her head, which seemed like an off thing to say, and squeezed.

The fact that the gun didn’t explode in her face was as much of a surprise to her as the actual kick of the recoil which forced her to bear down on her grip.

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.

The gun fired over and over again in steady succession.

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.

Her eyes squinted through the yellow tinted lens as the targeted clump of weeds danced at the attack of lead slugs that bit into it one after the other.

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.

It all unfolded before her as she was a part of it and yet outside of it as an observer.

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.

Cora grew warm in her hands as each bullet burst through the muzzle. Each shell ejected out through the top and rained down to the ground at her feet.

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.

She grit her teeth and squeezed on the trigger even harder.

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.

Then…silence.

She stood firm in her stance with her hands gripping the metal tight and and the trigger pulled. The subtle smell of warm oil and smoke floated up to brush her nose. Her breath was strong and steady. Her heart beat strong and steady in her chest. She stood firm, staring at the once clump of weeds.

“Taffy?” Myrna said, softly. She reached out slowly and placed her hand on Taffeta’s shoulder. Her friend flinched ever so slightly under her touch. “Taffy? You all right?”