Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lindsey v. Paris

Paris Hilton, or Lindsey Lohan. Hmmm… It’s difficult to decide who I care about less. Rehab. Jail. Parole. Paparazzi. More rehab. More rehab. More whatever. I can’t say that seeing their pretty painted faces on the cover of US or PEOPLE or THE NATIONAL INQUIRER doesn’t make me smile. While I rarely read (or rather look at) those magazines, one can’t help but see them at the grocery store or the drug store.

If I smile it must mean that I do care, but not the way a lot of people do.

US WEEKLY is relatively new to me. Until a few weeks ago I never actually looked between the covers. While I was at the doctor’s office the other day I was irresistibly attracted to an old copy in the waiting room. There was nothing else to read except the posters on the wall which showed photographs of abnormal skin lesions. I had already read those exact posters several times before waiting, with my shirt off, for the big skin exam. Once again, I found myself sitting there, cold, shirtless and with absolutely nothing else to read. When…there it was: ROYAL WEDDING! The Making of a New Princess… The gowns, the jewels, ladies in waiting, strict new rules. How Kate’s Life Has Changed Forever – And What She’s Learned From Diana.

Do tell. I am happy for her and all, but it is all cartoon reality for me. Jewels? Ladies in Waiting?

I guess she’ll be happy, but I am thinking that her life is going to be about as weird as can be. What are the chances that Kate is going to go out for a cup of joe at Starbucks or hang out in Barnes and Noble or go to a movie or walk her dog in the park without being accompanied by a massive bodyguard unit? Maybe one of her ladies in waiting will have to walk the dog for her. Well, one less thing to worry about.

There was an article; maybe it was a regular “column” in US, called HOTHOLLYWOOD. The story this time was about the “Dancing with the Stars” finale. That is a show I look forward to missing every week. So this guy blew out his TV with a shotgun and had an all night standoff with police because, “He was upset Bristol (Palin) was still on the show.” He must have been a real devotee of the show. That is some serious investment in TV!

Have you ever wanted to know how Angelina (I am sure that I do not need to write her last name, right?) stays satisfied while directing her new film in Hungary? Apparently US WEEKLY has paid off spies because they have the scoop… “By snacking on food from the pockets of her coat!” It’s true. She has been seen eating broccoli, cauliflower, mixed nuts and even scones. Scones!

Want to know what’s in Julie Benz’s purse? It's in there.

Did you know that Denise Richards has a fascination with lucite stripper heels? Well she does.

After Eva Longoria parker filed for divorce, “rumors continued to swirl” about her husband fooling around with a former teammate’s wife. Those rumors are probably still swirling.

The pictures are really informative too. Katherine Heigl is shown browsing a bed and bath store buying pillows. Kristin Cavallari is shown taking out her own trash and Dakota Fanning was photographed plugging coins into a parking meter.

I am not saying that I wouldn’t like to meet some of my heroes. I would love to ask Eric Clapton to show me some riffs, or to ask Stephen King to give me some writing tips. I would love to get some insight from Nelson Mandela or swap stories with Jimmie Carter. They’re celebs too. They probably plug coins into parking meters, take out the trash, and even eat snacks right out of their pockets.

But I wonder at the fascination we have as a society, for the rich and famous. Perhaps it makes us feel a little less common if we know that the rich and famous and beautiful we hold so high also have marriage troubles, eat out, buy clothes and do a lot of the regular stuff we do. Maybe if we see photos of them taken from a quarter mile away with a telephoto lens without their makeup, we feel a little better about ourselves without makeup. If we see a famous model or movie star in a skimpy bathing suit and her figure isn’t as perfect as we thought or she has some cellulite, then perhaps we feel a little better about our own imperfect bodies.

But there is a part of me that is resentful of this stuff. Because perhaps we should also be paying attention to other things. Example: 15 years ago there was a massive genocide in Rwanda. Well over a million were murdered in 100 days. The scope is unimaginable. But very few Americans seemed to know or care about it. Most people who have not seen the film, "Hotel Rwanda" aren't even aware that it happened. The hot news item du jour was the O. J. Simpson trial. It was on every weekly magazine, in every newspaper, on every news broadcast. It probably got more than ten times the ink of the Rwandan genocide. A hundred times the ink. A THOUSAND times?

And what about the tragedies in the Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo? Have we forgotten the conditions since the earthquake in Haiti?

Maybe it's just in our nature to gravitate to the easy stuff. The fun celebrity info takes our minds off the real news. It’s not like we don’t care, it might just be too much of a challenge, too depressing, too hard.

But if we don't pay attention to the hard stuff, if we don't look up and out at the real world, how will we know who to pray for?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Patch, Part 3

Part 3 picks up with Patch, the mutinous first mate of the Windsong, as the sole human survivor of a shipwreck. He is desperate and alone in a dinghy in a calming sea. All is not lost for he can see land far in the distance as well as the hated horses. If you would like to catch up and read part one, click here. Read part two by clicking here.

This is pretty long for one post. Here goes…

Patch, Part 3

…”Those devils,” he whispered under his breath. He unstrapped the oars from the sides of the boat and fitted them into the rusty oarlocks.

His arms, aching and chilled, began to cramp as he pulled on the oars and the small craft pushed through the water toward the distant shore. His eye socket itched furiously and his good eye stung from the salt water.

He couldn’t believe that the horses had survived. He thought of the musket he had wrapped and bound in the oilcloth now tucked into his belt. He knew what he would do with that musket when he reached the shore.

He tried to remember the last time he had eaten. He hadn’t touched that sickening filth the captain called dried beef. It probably had no nourishment at all, probably would have done more harm than good. It would have been a mistake to eat that. He stole some of the captain’s stew after shooting him. He remembered calmly setting down the stolen musket on the captain’s table, its barrel still smoking, while he helped himself to what was left in the bowl.

As he pulled the oars and headed toward his destiny and this unknown land that lie ahead, he thought of his past. Patrick was his given name. Patrick Macarthur. That was probably why it was so easy for him to accept the nickname Patch when he lost his left eye. The first time he heard himself referred to as Patch, he flew at the man who had said the word. That man would never again make fun at someone for wearing an eye patch. After a while he had gotten used to seeing with only one eye. He could still sail as well as any man, shoot better than most.

As he rowed on he thought he could hear his mother’s voice calling to him from the past. Maybe it was delirium, but he could swear that his mother’s voice came through in the sounds of the wind and waves. He didn’t remember his father at all but he remembered his mum as a kind person with a quick laugh. It was her laughter he heard in the sounds of the sea around him. He wondered if she was still alive. How long had it been since he had seen her? Because Patch was not one to write, he had never properly learned his letters, her letters to him were left unanswered until, he supposed that she had tired of writing.

As his biceps bulged and his back strained from the pull of the oars, Patch’s mind returned to the horses. He knew how he would get some fresh meat. Those infernal horses. To Patch, this whole mess was their fault. Weren’t they the very reason the ship was sailing? Didn’t they have finer rations than the men who worked so hard with so little compensation? Didn’t Smythe fawn over the stupid beasts with his idiotic crooning voice while the crew headed into the worst storm he had ever seen? The horses. The precious horses. He’d show them when he got to shore. Yes, he knew where he would get fresh meat all right.

He felt the bulge of the musket and he knew where he would put that first ball; right into the neck of the light brown mare. He would do it as he stared into its big dumb eyes, the same way he had stared into the eyes of the black one as he dealt death to it. The stupid beast. The same way he had stared into the eyes of Smythe. He would be looking right into its eyes when it died.

While the sea had calmed considerably, the dinghy approached the shore through crashing waves. The foam rolled into the bow, soaking and chilling Path to his very marrow. The air was cold enough now so that he could see his breath. Steam rolled off his shoulders from the heat he generated through the labor of rowing. His fingers ached as they curled around the oars. He could see the horses running in a herd in the distance. His eye burned so much now that he had to control the insane urge to rip off the patch and scratch the itch that never seemed to go away.

The sun broke through the clouds in the late afternoon sky. It shown in a bright beam on the horses, casting them in an unearthly light. The golden mare’s tail and mane streamed out behind her as she galloped away from Patch. It’s beauty and innocence sickened him. He would show that one. Oh, yes.

He dragged himself onto the beach through the salty waves. His throat was as parched as if he had swallowed sand. Water was his first priority. As he slogged up the beach, he wondered if he was on an island or the coast of Portugal or Spain. They had lost their bearings. How long had they endured the storm? To Patch’s fuzzy mind it seemed like weeks although it had only been three exhausting days. The act of survival had stolen his chance to examine the charts before the wreck and since the sky had been so cloudy, there was no chance to shoot the stars with Smyth’s sextant.

He figured that if he could walk far enough along on the beach he would eventually run into a freshwater stream or creek running into the sea. All water ran to the sea.

He walked as quickly as he could, trying to conserve his strength. It was a black thought that something as simple as the lack of fresh water might be the end of him, especially since he could see water into infinity as he looked to his left.

His pace slowed as his strength ebbed from his legs. He dropped to his knees and crawled. He was a proud man, but not too proud to crawl. His only thoughts were water and the horses and the insane, unending itch that now reached like a burning hand across his face.

Just as he figured he couldn’t possibly go on, he spotted a trickle of water running down the beach in the distance. Green lush plants grew around it. There was no mistaking the gleaming, twisting creek that was water, his survival. He dragged himself the distance to the clear running stream.

Patch threw himself into the cool freshness. He gulped frantically. After quenching his thirst, he rolled onto his side, water streaming from his hair, face and neck, running from his scruffy beard. His stomach rumbled ominously. He fought the urge to throw up. He was not skilled in matters of medicine, but he knew that his body needed this water. He was exhausted, cold, near starving and dehydrated. If he wretched it could be the end of him.

Once again he felt the comforting bulge of the musket under his sash. He hoped that the powder would be dry enough to get off the shot. All he would need would be one straight into the neck of the golden monster. He looked forward to the expression of surprise he expected to see in the eyes of the dying horse. He stumbled to the beach and into the warming afternoon sunshine. It felt good on his neck and shoulders. He untucked the bundle from his belt. After untying the cords, Patch unrolled the oilcloth and pulled out the damp firearm. “Mighty fine,” he mumbled. “It’ll be good as new with some time in this warmth and sun. Hardly got wet at all.”

Most people would shudder at the idea of eating horseflesh, but to Patch those beasts were the reason he was here, the cause of the ache in his frozen bones, the pain in his shoulders and head. The horses were the cause of his hunger, his thirst, and by God, they would sate his hunger.

He could hear them galloping off in the distance. The sound was grating on him. The sickening thudding was nauseating. They were demons. He would kill them. He had precious little powder. Should he change out the powder charge in his musket? Surely the powder wasn’t so wet that this time in the sun wouldn’t dry it sufficiently. He would save the powder for the other horses. For he would kill them all.

Perhaps he could find a way to drive them off a cliff. But first he would kill the golden one. He would not rest until he did.

After he was satisfied that the water would remain in his gut, he rose and picked up the musket. It was warm to the touch from lying in the sun. It felt smooth, heavy and reassuring. The wooden grip was comfortable in his hand. He had no doubt the pistol would fire and do its job.

He could see the horses gathered at the same stream from which he had been drinking, farther inland. He shambled slowly toward them. His woolen clothes were fairly dry after lying on the beach in the cool wind and sunshine. His stringy shoulder length hair blew back from his face. He felt the comforting weight of the lead balls in his pocket and the corked powder horn swinging on its leather thong. He felt the cool evening air coming on. Mostly he felt the stinging itch where his eye used to be.

“Here, horsey,” he croaked. He reached down and pulled some green shoots from beside the stream. “I’ve got something here for you,” he crooned. The horses, still thirty meters away, pricked up their ears and raised their heads in alarm and stared. The golden mare was closest. Perfect. She was his target. “Here, horsey, horsey. You’re a good girl, ain’t cha?” Holding the greens out in front of him with his left hand, he gripped the pistol with his right. The horses remained still, wary. As he pulled the hammer back, Patch heard the comforting loud click as the trigger locked into place.

The mare looked at him and her head cocked to the side as she heard the mechanical sound of the hammer locking. She showed no fear. Indeed, she put her muzzle down as if he might stroke her head. He stepped forward slowly, his offering outstretched. “Oh, you’re a pretty little filly. You’re a pretty one,” he cooed. The mare snorted softly and relaxed her ears. This’ll be easy, he thought as he raised the pistol.

She sniffed at the greens as Patch raised the gun. He pointed it toward the right side of the mare’s head. Their eyes locked. There was a gentle trusting in the horse’s gaze, a soft brown light that almost seemed to come from within. Patch hesitated and brought the gun down. “Child’s play,” he said as he raised the gun again.

The mare reached out with her lips to wrest the grass from Patch’s hand. He could feel her stout whiskers against his wrist, her warm breath. Without looking away, she munched the greens slowly. A snort of satisfaction issued from her flared nostrils.

Patch looked deep into her eyes as he squeezed the trigger expecting the familiar, loud, smoky explosion. There was nothing but a dry snap as the hammer fell.

There was the spark of flint connecting with steel, but the gun did not fire. Their eyes were still locked. Something changed in the mare’s gaze now. Patch sensed some understanding in this stupid beast. A flash, a realization, a sparkle, and hatred – all of these shone in the large brown eyes in that one instant. Patch did not look away. Neither did the mare. That moment seemed incredibly long to Patch. As they stood there on the riverbank, there was an understanding between man and beast. The mare reared up and flicked her right hoof forward. The hoof caught the man under the chin. His head snapped back with a crack.

Patch felt his head thrust violently back – too far, too fast, too hard. He heard the cracking sound of his neck bones breaking and his spinal cord separating. There was a white hot flash of pain. He fell slowly and unceremoniously to the ground. His head splashed into the creek. His left eye, the patched eye was under water. He could feel the cool water on that side of his face. He could feel nothing else. The itching had stopped.

For a brief time he could see. The slender green leaves of the tall river grasses bowed in the wind. The dazzling sunset sparkled the water on the creek. The horses were worried. They knew he was dying. He looked into the eyes of the golden mare. He knew that she knew.

His last sight before dying was the watery vision of the golden mare leaning down over him. His last feeling was her warm sweet breath pushing his hair back from his forehead. Their gazes locked as Patch drifted off, drifted away.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Patch, Part 2

Here is the second installment of “Patch” a story written in writer’s workshop in my third grade class. Click here to read part one.

The story picks up during a storm at sea. Patch Macarthur is the defacto captain of a three masted sailing vessel that has been struck by lightening. We know that he has killed the real captain and has sent several horses, their cargo, over the side. Unless they can get the ship turned into the wind their ship, The Windsong, will capsize and they will be doomed…

Patch, Part 2

Patch went to the small locker where the guns and ammunition were kept. He gathered a powder horn, tightly corked, and slung its leather cord around his shoulder. He picked up twenty lead balls, placed them in a cinched leather pouch and stashed them into the pocket of his trousers. They felt heavy and comforting. He gathered some oilcloth that was used to keep the black powder caskets dry. He wrapped the musket in several layers of the water resistant material and tied it tightly with a piece of stout leather cord. The bundle was clumsy but not too uncomfortable as he tucked into his sash.

Try as he might, he could not ignore the stinging itch he felt in his eye. He didn’t understand the situation as a doctor would, but Patch had an infection. A bad one. He was feeling feverish. He knew something was terribly wrong.

As he worked his way to the deck he remembered the events of the previous day. The captain, Howard Smythe, was a scoundrel who got just what he deserved - just what he had coming to him. Patch scratched around the frayed black eye patch that barely hid where his eye used to be. He remembered approaching the captain’s cabin holding the pistol he stolen by bashing the lock on the firearms cabinet. He’d used a heavy iron grappling hook to destroy the lock. A stubborn lock it was too.

Patch had the feeling that he would kill the captain as soon as he hired on as first mate. He felt it as soon as he saw the captain’s clean, white shirt, the way he combed his hair back with grease like a dandy. Patch had mutiny in his heart when he smelled the aroma of real stew coming from the captain’s private cabin while he and the rest of the crew were eating moldy bread and what passed for dried beef. Dried beef indeed. It was nothing more than leather. It made the crew sick to their stomachs. There was hair still on it and those who ate it were fools. They were given food unfit for dogs while Smythe ate stew.

He knew he would kill the captain when he saw how Smythe treated the horses. The horses! They had better to eat than the crew. It had to stop. Patch knew that he would be the one to stop it. No one else had the guts.

Patch took a moment to glance out to see the horses. They were still alive, blast them! They all swam in the same direction, waves crashing over them in smothering tons. Still they swam. It may have been herding instinct or it may have been coincidence, but the horses all headed together in an easterly direction.

Antique_ships : Illustration of a ships wheel steering a steady course through rough waters Stock Photo

Patch and the other sailors were frantic to raise some sail. He felt the uncomfortable bulge under his belt, but he did his best to ignore it. The waves were higher now than they were just moments ago. They had to bring the ship into the wind. If they didn’t, they would all perish. The men were falling onto the deck and crashing into the rails. Trying to hold onto the lines to raise the sails was all but useless in the wind and waves now. This crew was used to danger. Most of them, including Patch, had looked death in the eye on a number of occasions. Life on the sea was like that. Danger was always present. But so was hope.

A wave swamped the deck and water rushed into the hold. The ship was sinking. There was little anyone could do to stop it now. For the first time in many of these men’s eyes there was fear, real fear, fear of losing their lives to the sea.

Image Ref: 15-72-29 - Waves, The North Sea, Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear, Viewed 5512 times

There was a sickening crash, a splintering shriek as the wooden hull scraped a reef. The men looked at each other in wide-eyed terror, their screams muted by the almost deafening howl of the wind. The ship was lifted by another enormous wave and, this time, simply dropped onto the reef as it fell into the trough of the wave. Huge planks splintered as easily as a man might snap a toothpick.

Most of the crew was dashed into the sea with that thundering crash. A few clung feebly to pieces of the ship although the remains were too small to support the weight of the men for long.

Image Ref: 15-72-20 - The North Sea as seen from Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear, Viewed 4907 times

The waves continued to bury the men and the remains of the ship. Some, simply winded by the violent smashing of the ship against the coral went down under the waves and never rose again to the surface. A few clung to loose boards until they were buried under the merciless sea, never again to fill their lungs.

Patch and a long bearded seaman named Barber were the last survivors of the shipwreck. Both managed to cling to a capsized dinghy. They would not let go. Patch held with almost supernatural strength. The waves crashed over his head and shoulders trying to rip his fingers from the gunnels. He would not let go.

Barber lost his grip a few times but always managed to regain his handhold. Desperation gave the two men strength. Never had either of them fought so hard for their very lives. Fingers bleeding and gasping for breath, the two clung desperately to the inverted boat. They would not let go. Their clothing, saturated with seawater, tried to pull them down with its weight. The lead balls in Patch’s pocket were an additional weight he could jettison easily enough but he had the strong feeling that he would use them.

Minutes turned to horrifying hours as the pounding continued. Eyes stinging, shoulders aching, bruised from being continually smashed into the small boat, fingers and nails bleeding, lungs aching from breathing in sea foam, frantic, forlorn, frightened, they would not let go.

Both men’s throats were parched and swollen from involuntarily drinking so much seawater. Their bodies ached for fresh water.

Gradually the sky lightened and the sea calmed. The waves slowly released their grip on the two soaking, nearly drowned men. When the swells were only a few feet high, Patch knew it was time to take action. “Barber!” croaked Patch, coughing and wheezing with the effort. “Make your way to my side of the boat, you lubber!”

Barber, nearly spent with exhaustion, worked his way around to the other side of the small craft. “We’ve got to right this thing, or we’ll go down with the others. Are you with me, man?”

Barber looked up stupidly as if he hadn’t a clue what Patch was talking about. “The boat, you idiot! We’ve got to turn this thing over or we’ll lose our grip. Help me!” he pleaded.

Patch reached up and grabbed the narrow beam of the rowboat. He hoped that the oars were still lashed to the inside. If not, they would simply bob around hopelessly, at the mercy of the currents and the wind. There had to be land nearby somewhere or else where would this reef have come from? “Boost yourself and grab hold as I have,” he shouted at his almost senseless shipmate. Barber didn’t have Patch’s strength, nor the cunning.

Finally, he kicked and lunged and grabbed at the small keel. His numb fingers slipped and he fell back, gurgling into the water. “Again,” said Patch, in a voice quite like a parent talking to a young child. “Try again, man. It’s our only hope.”

Again, Barber kicked hard in the water, reached for the keel of the overturned boat and again he slipped and fell back into the sea. Coughing and sputtering, he surfaced, his tangled hair spilled into his face. “I can’t do it,” he sputtered.

“You must!” Patch could see Barber’s strength giving out, as was his own. “Do you want to die with the rest of that sorry lot? Give it your all, or you surely will.”

Barber took as deep a breath as his tortured lungs would allow, held onto the boat, submerged himself, kicked with all his strength and barely managed to grab hold of the keel. “That’s the way, man!” Patch encouraged. The boat slowly tipped in the direction of the two men. When it did, Barber began to slip yet again. Patch did not waste the moment. Holding on to the boat’s slender wooden beam fiercely with his right hand, he relaxed his grip with his left and quickly entangled his fingers in Barber’s hair.

Barber screamed.

“You will not let go!” snarled Patch. “Now hang on ‘til we get this confounded boat righted. You do not want to die.”

Barber seemed to regain some of his strength. Maybe it was the pain in his scalp. Maybe Patch convinced him that there was hope, but he did hold on. As Patch released his hold of Barber’s hair, he grabbed the beam with two hands again.

The boat slowly tipped. As the opposite side of the dinghy rose out of the water, Patch lunged upward and held fast to the side. The boat rolled and he pushed backward and outward so as not to be hit. He held his breath and went down. Patch was under the surface when he heard the dull thunk of the hull striking Barber’s head as the boat flipped. It was a hard hollow sound. Patch knew it was probably the end of the man and, when he surfaced again, knew that he was the lone survivor of the Windsong.

Patch waited for Barber to surface, holding out no real hope. “He wouldn’t have been much help anyway,” he grumbled, as he continued to grip the side of the dinghy. “But at least he was company.” When it was clear that Barber was never going to rise, Patch reached in and began splashing water out of the boat with his cupped hand. His throat ached with thirst. While he was surrounded with water, he dared not drink.

After much of the water was splashed from the boat, Patch hoisted himself over the side and landed gracelessly on the floor, letting in still more water. Patch knew he would have to do something to get most of the water out. The sea had calmed considerably but now that it was becoming late in the day, there was a chill in the air. He removed his worn left boot and started to bail. After a while he dared to stand. He was dizzy from exhaustion and thirst but he needed to find out which direction to row.

Far in the distance he spied a crust of land with waves breaking against a sandy shore. He also saw faint, small shapes roaming along that shore… the horses. “Those devils,” he whispered. He unstrapped the oars from the sides of the boat and fitted them into the rusted oarlocks…