A novel

Seven years ago, I wrote a novel. It sounds so easy said that way. In fact, the plot and characters had been growing in my head for several years when I finally started writing. And it took a few returns over the past seven years to tweak the words and sentences so they seemed right to me.

This is the description on the back of the book:

“On Christmas Eve, Mark Pendleton’s wife and daughters were killed in a traffic accident. Now he was left with only his job, his house, and his books.

On Easter, Amy O’Reilly’s boyfriend emptied his apartment of her possessions and locked her out. Now she was left with only her fast food job, her clothes, and her dance classes.

Soon they would each have more. They would have each other.

Their story is told in their own words. But it is more than a he said-she said confrontation. For he was born at the beginning of the Baby Boom, and she was born at the end of the Baby Boom. Now, in the mid-1980s, they are a generation apart from one another. Living and working in Little Rock, Arkansas, they have far less in common than anyone might have guessed. They must learn to share their lives in the face of their many differences.

More than a love story, I Remember Amy is an account of two individuals, both growing, both learning, and both coming to terms with relationships, with forgiveness, and with acceptance.”

Four dollars for the electronic version on Kindle, or thirteen dollars for a traditional book from amazon.com

When I first imagined the story, Mark was to have been injured in the wreck that killed the rest of his family, unable to stand or walk for the rest of his life. Amy was a gymnast before she became a dancer. She would have been on the brink of greatness, expecting Olympic medals and fame and fortune, but untimely injuries kept her from competing at key events. So she returned to her small town, unsung and uncelebrated, with no future ahead of her. Her only employment was cleaning houses. She would have ended up being a caretaker for Mark, and the story would have developed from there.

By the time I was writing, Mark was no longer confined to a wheelchair, and Amy was a college student, fast food worker, and dancer. One key plot twist—which I am not revealing on WordPress—gave me the incentive finally to create the entire story.

It’s set in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1985. Mark has a job in the state government. While I was writing, I did a lot of factchecking to be authentic about the weather, about events happening in town, and even about which restaurants and motels existed then.

For the last two or three weeks, I have been carefully reading through the work one final time. Last night I finished the reading and sent the work to Kindle for publication. It’s already available; I’m excited to see how it will do. J.iremember

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A novel idea: part four (help and hope for the homeless)

There was once a con artist, a phony preacher, a wolf in sheep’s clothing: he called himself Tony Alamo. In the 1960s, he said that Jesus had called him to faith and also called him to a street ministry in California. He reached out to prostitutes, drug abusers, and the homeless, developing a commune which operated several businesses for the benefit of Alamo’s so-called ministry. In the 1970s he relocated to Arkansas, where again his church owned several businesses including a clothing factory which sold decorated leather jackets to a number of famous and wealthy individuals.

Nothing is wrong with helping the poor in Christ’s name, giving them jobs and a place to live, while selling the work of their hands to interested customers. But Tony Alamo became a millionaire while those he supposedly befriended remained destitute, hunting through dumpsters for food because he paid them so little. He subjected some of them to verbal and physical abuse. He claimed their young daughters as his wives. Alamo eventually was charged, convicted, and jailed for tax evasion, child abuse, and violation of the Mann act. He died in prison in 2017.

Jason Hero never met Tony Alamo or any of Alamo’s victims. But Jason abhorred the way Alamo took advantage of the poor and helpless. Jason especially abhorred that Alamo misused the name of Jesus to commit his crimes, “for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). Jason had compassion for the homeless; but, until he won the lottery, he was not able to do much to help them.

Consulting with experts in charitable work, including attorneys, Jason established the Jason Hero Foundation and Jason Hero Enterprises. The first act of the Foundation was to open a daytime homeless shelter in the inner city. The shelter included shower stalls and a clothes washer and drier, as well as soap, shampoo, towels, and laundry detergent. It maintained a directory of soup kitchens, food pantries, and overnight shelters in the area. Every day, staff was available to consult with the people who visited the shelter. Jason persuaded doctors, nurses, dentists, barbers, social workers, and counselors to volunteer their services at the shelter on a rotating basis. As incentive for their services, his Foundation offered them financial assistance toward their student loans and other professional expenses. Pastors and Christian leaders were also invited to visit the shelter, pray with the homeless, counsel them, and encourage them. The Foundation kept a small paid staff at the shelter to keep it in good repair, to coordinate the schedules of the volunteers, and to make sure no one was abusing their access to the poor and homeless.

Next, the Foundation purchased an empty industrial plant in a smaller town nearby. It also built an apartment flat near the plant. Homeless people who visited the daytime downtown shelter were advised that they could relocate to the town and work for Jason Hero Enterprises. (We’ll assume that the plant, like Alamo’s, produced clothing.) They would be paid a livable wage, with their money first deposited in a Hero Enterprises account. From that account they could buy meals in the company cafeteria, food in the company grocery store, and lodging in the company apartments. On company property the rules were strict: no tobacco, no alcohol, no marijuana, no illegal drugs. Prescription drugs were handled through a resident nursing staff. Professional security endorsed the rules and prevented violence among workers and among residents. Anyone who was asked to leave for violating the rules, or anyone who chose to leave, was given the balance of their account in U.S. dollars. Volunteers, like those who visited the downtown shelter, made their talents available to factory workers and their families, to anyone who lived in the company apartments. Jason Hero Enterprises deducted taxes, offered health insurance, and fulfilled all the obligations of any business. Any financial losses were covered by the Jason Hero Foundation; any profits went to the Foundation and not to Jason.

Third, the Foundation purchased farmland outside of town and began raising food for the company cafeteria and grocery store. Housing units were built, and people receiving services at the downtown shelter could choose to live and work on the farm or at the factory. The same rules applied at both places, and the same services were offered. Jason’s goal was not to establish a permanent workforce at either Enterprises location, but rather to help the poor and homeless recover their lives, develop useful work skills and good work habits, and be prepared to reenter society as productive citizens.

Once again, I had hoped to develop this history in the form of a novel, with conversations, events, successes, setbacks, and dramatic conflict. But this sketch suffices for the present. Next comes Jason Hero’s political career. J.

A novel idea–part three

When Jason Hero won the lottery, he did spend some of his winnings on his personal life. He bought some new clothing. He bought a new car. He bought a larger house, one on a lot large enough that he would not have to hear his neighbors. He improved his diet, buying more fresh fruits and vegetables that he had not been able to afford in the past. But Jason did not invest much money in unnecessary luxuries. He was not interested in a fancy car or fancy clothing; what he bought was practical and comfortable.

Jason (to borrow a line from the musical Hello, Dolly!) believed that money is like manure: it is meant to be spread around to help things grow. So Jason invested some of his millions of dollars in starting two new businesses.

One of his new businesses was called Green Stealth Lawn Service. The Green in the name was not just a boast of greener lawns; Jason intended his lawn care service to be environmentally friendly. He did not offer pesticides or fertilizers; only grass cutting and leaf and debris removal. The Stealth in the name represented the fact that Jason’s workers were to be so quiet that the homeowner wouldn’t even know they had come. Instead of gasoline lawn mowers, they would use hand-operated reel mowers and hand-held trimmers. Instead of leaf blowers, they would use rakes. With the savings in equipment and fuel, Jason’s company would pay higher salaries than competing lawn care companies. Therefore, Green Stealth could afford to hire the best workers and to keep only those who followed the rules. Clippings and leaves and other lawn debris would be packed in biodegradable bags which the workers would leave on a lot purchased by Jason for that purpose. After a year or two of business, Jason would be able to offer his customers mulch, rich compost, and fill dirt as an additional service. The workers and their equipment would arrive in electric-powered trucks, keeping the theme of quiet and environmentally friendly.

Jason rented an office with a telephone for his company. He hired a manager who was in charge of hiring and scheduling. Jason was a customer of Green Stealth Lawn Service. Twice he had workers fired for breaking company rules and bringing leaf blowers to the job. (This would be described in much detail in the novel I thought about writing.)

Jason’s other business idea was inspired partly by the Disney theme parks, partly by Renaissance fairs, and partly by nostalgic movies such as Back to the Future. Jason purchased several pieces of property around the country and had each developed in a different way. One was built on the pattern of a medieval village, complete with a castle. Another was a western ranch, set around the end of the nineteenth century. A third was a suburban community, with all the houses and cars and stores resembling those of the 1950s. Another was a pre-Civil War southern plantation. In each case, Jason had the developers create dwellings that could be rented that would portray the flavor of the time period depicted, yet would also have modern comforts including heat and air conditioning, and hot and cold running water. Customers could come and stay for a night or two, or for a week or longer. When they made their reservations, they would include their clothing sizes; and when they arrived, they would be given clothing suitable for the time and place. They would be served meals also matching the time and place. All the staff—greeters, food servers, property cleaners, maintenance—would be actors and actresses trained to complete the experience of a medieval village, a 1950s suburb, or whatever else the property was designed to represent. Considering the amount of money people pay for the Disney experience and for Renaissance fairs, Jason figured his nostalgia vacations would also be profitable over the long term. His lottery winnings made the short-term construction possible.

Jason also had a thought about using his money to help the homeless, but that will have to wait for another post. J.

A novel idea, part two

As I revealed last week, Jason Hero won the lottery—the grand prize of three hundred million dollars—without buying a lottery ticket. Jason never received the full three hundred million dollars. He took the bulk payment option, which was roughly half the promised figure (which would have been paid out over twenty years had he favored the other option), and about half of that prize was claimed by federal and state income taxes. Jason was left, then, with seventy-five million dollars, which is still a lot of money.

Jason chose to tithe, to give one tenth of his winnings to the Church and to various charities. Some congregations are so firmly opposed to gambling in any form that they would have refused his gift. Others would say that he should have tithed from the pre-tax amount. But Jason decided that he would divide his tithe among seventy-five recipients, giving each of them one hundred thousand dollars. He figured that was a large enough gift to do some good in seventy-five different places, but not so much that it would be harmful. Jason had heard of congregations that had been torn apart by arguments about how to spend a large gift. He did not want to cause any such disputes.

Jason chose several congregations that he had attended over the years, and a couple of congregations that were led by friends of his. He also sent some gifts directly to the denominational office, designated for foreign missions and for charitable organizations. He gave gifts to secular charities, including the American Red Cross. He gave gifts to the local public radio station and to the local public television station. Jason donated money to the zoo, to the symphony orchestra, to the ballet company, to the community theater, to the art museum, to the county’s historical museum, and to the hospital. He sent checks to the schools where he had earned his bachelor’s degree and his master’s degree.

After distributing his tithe, Jason began investing in his own future. He set up an account that would pay him one thousand dollars a week for the next fifty years, using up $2,500,000 of his winnings. He then took another five million dollars and set up accounts for his ten children, nieces, and nephews. The accounts were trusts to fund their higher education. Until they turned twenty-five, they could spend the money only on tuition, other academic fees, room and board, and normal living expenses such as a car, maintenance of the car, and clothing. Those who had already attended college could use the money to pay off student loans and, if they chose, to pursue additional degrees. Once they turned twenty-five, they were allowed to do whatever they wanted with the remaining money in their trusts. Jason knew that half a million dollars would not be enough for any of them to drop out of life and do nothing useful for the rest of their years. He hoped that the college educations they received would grant them fuller lives that would also benefit the people around them.

After all these sensible plans, Jason still had sixty million dollars to spend in other ways. Some of those will follow in future posts. J.

A novel idea

At times I have thought about taking my fantasies of winning the lottery (or becoming a major league outfielder, either one) and making a novel. By sharing those thoughts with you today, I am breaking one of the cardinal rules of authorship: Never tell anyone what you are planning to write, because you will lose your enthusiasm for the topic once you have shared it. But I am coming to terms with the reality that I will not live long enough to write all the books I have in mind, so I might as well share some of that material here.

I envision the novel as having a character unstuck in time, like Billy Chapel in Slaughterhouse Five. That way I can move back and forth across this life-changing event and show both sides of the character’s fortune, what life was like without all that money, and what life was like with all that money.

We join our hero (who so far is unnamed) in the parking lot of a grocery store, where he is carrying a bag of groceries to his car. He sees a scrap of paper blowing in the wind, and he picks it up to drop it in a trash can, because that is the kind of person he is. Before he reaches the trash can, though, he notices that the scrap is a lottery ticket, and that the drawing for which this ticket is eligible will be that same night. So he slips the ticket into his pocket and doesn’t think about it any more. The next day he opens his newspaper, sees the lottery numbers chosen the night before, remembers the ticket, and pulls it out of his pocket. All the numbers match. He has won the grand prize, more than three hundred million dollars, and he never even bought a ticket.

A few days later the lottery commissioner presents him with a large replica of the check he will eventually receive. During the interview, our hero carelessly comments about finding the ticket in the parking lot. “I’ve never been a supporter of the lottery,” he confesses candidly. “Even after winning all this money, I don’t recommend that anyone buy lottery tickets. Look at all the people who bought lots of tickets and didn’t win a dime.”

More than a dozen people immediately claim that they bought the winning ticket and dropped it in the parking lot. Each wants a share of the prize, up to half the winnings. Hero hires a private investigator who meets with each of the claimants, then reviews security tape from the store. Only three of the people making the claim have any evidence that they actually bought a ticket. Hero pays the investigator and then meets with the three viable claimants. He reminds them that if he gives money to all three of them, he will be rewarding two liars. That he does not want to do. With Solomonic wisdom, he says that he will give a portion of the winning to whichever of them asks the smallest amount from him. One immediately asks for one million dollars, another counters with $950,000, and the next suggests $925,000. After a couple more rounds of diminishing requests, one of the three drops out. The other two have brought their demands down to about ten thousand dollars when the third one says, “Me, I’d be content to get back the two dollars I spent on the ticket.” Hero pays him the two dollars, and the others go away, threatening legal action. None is ever taken.

So how does our hero spend his winnings? I’ll cover that in a post or two next week. J.

Administrarium

I wish I could take credit for this work, but I didn’t create it. I only happened upon it while organizing a box of government documents from the early 1990s. Almost thirty years later, it is as meaningful today as it was then:

“The heaviest element known to science was recently discovered by the Chemistry Department of California State University, Los Angeles. The element, tentatively named Administrarium, has no protons or electrons and thus has an atomic number of zero. However, it does have one neutron, 125 assistant neutrons, 75 vice neutrons, and 111 assistant vice neutrons. This gives it an atomic mass of 312. These 312 particles are held together in a nucleus by a force that involves the continuous exchange of meson-like particles called morons.

“Since it has no electrons, Administrarium is inert. However, it can be detected chemically, as it impedes every reaction with which it comes in contact. According to the discoverers, a minute amount of Administrarium caused one reaction to take over four days to complete, when it would normally occur in less than one second.

“Administrarium has a normal half life of approximately three years, at which time it does not actually decay but instead undergoes a reorganization in which assistant neutrons, vice neutrons, and assistant vice neutrons exchange places. Some studies have shown that the atomic number actually increases after each reorganization.

“Research at other laboratories indicates that Administrarium occurs naturally in the atmosphere. It tends to concentrate at certain points such as government agencies, large corporations, and school districts, and it can usually be found in the newest, best appointed, and best maintained buildings.

“Scientists point out that Administrarium is known to be toxic at any level of concentration and can easily destroy any productive reactions where it is allowed to accumulate. Attempts are being made to determine how Administrarium can be controlled to prevent irreversible damage, but results to date are not promising.”

J.

First Friday Fiction on a Second Saturday

Stanley Harris was born during that brief period when American folk music was hitting the top of the popular music charts. After a year or so, the rest of the country moved on to Motown and the Beatles, but Stan’s parents stayed loyal to folk music. Consequently, Stan grew up hearing the music of Harry Belafonte, the Weavers, Woody Guthrie, and other folk singers. Stan knew all the words to “On Top of Old Smoky,” “Goodnight, Irene,” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Stan’s parents also kept alive their love for the Big Band hits of the 1940s; Stan can still hear his mother chirping, “A tisket, a tasket, a green and yellow basket.” Broadway musicals were also favored in the family. Every year Stan and his parents sat down and watched the classics on network television: The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, West Side Story. Next to the folk records and the Big Band records in the family collection were cast recordings from Music Man, My Fair Lady¸ and other Broadway shows.

On the weekends the family radio was tuned to the classical music station. Stan took piano lessons as a boy, and in the fifth grade he joined the school band. From Bach and Beethoven to Strauss and Sousa, Stan had a wide musical education. Then, when he entered high school, Stan found his classmates evenly and fiercely divided between fans of disco music and fans of heavy metal. Stan joined the minority of high school students who considered the Beatles vastly superior than anything newer, and finally, a decade late, the Harris house was filled with the sounds of “Hey, Jude,” and Abbey Road.

Jump ahead forty years, and Stan’s music tastes remain eclectic. His children, now grown, are also Beatle fans, with fond memories of sitting on their father’s lap as little children while he sang “Hey, Jude” to them, or, “The Long and Winding Road.” When a professional production of My Fair Lady came to town, Stan bought two tickets and took his youngest daughter to the show. This was the night that changed Stan’s summer.

The actor who portrayed Alfred Doolittle was very strong, dominating the stage and capturing the audience’s attention, as the role requires. The actors playing Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering were also quite adept and talented. At first Stan feared that he was going to be disappointed by the actress playing Eliza Doolittle. She did not show the same strength in the early scenes. Only as the show progressed did Stan realize that she was deliberately taking a subtle and nuanced approach to the part. Her Cockney accent was not exaggerated in the way most actresses portray Eliza. Her character was vulnerable in the first act, contrasting effectively with the inner strength Eliza acquires in the second act. The actress beautifully performed Eliza’s first public appearance, at the horse race, showing Eliza tottering on her high heels and overdoing the cultured manners that Higgins has taught her. For the ball at the end of act one, Eliza emerged truly elegant, even regal.

One brief instant lingered in Stan’s mind after the show. Midway through the second act, the actress allowed herself one brief facial expression and wave of the hand that belonged to the twenty-first century and not to the Victorian era. That brief grimace that young ladies use today to express, “What are you thinking? Are you even thinking?” fit the occasion in the script, if not the setting, and it ingrained the actress in Stan’s mind. It may have been a mistake on the part of the actress, but Stan took it as a sign that the actress was not merely playing a part: she had become Eliza Doolittle, and Eliza had become her. For the three hours of the show, they were one and the same person.

At his age, Stan did not need to be enraptured with a starlet no older than his oldest children. But the Internet was not his friend. Though he left his program behind at the theater, he was easily able to retrieve the name that he had forgotten and to find the starlet’s web site. There he could learn more about her professional career, watch video clips of her acting and singing and dancing, and download photographs of her onto his computer. Had he wanted, Stan could even have written a fan letter to her. He stopped short of that extreme, but when driving in the car he found himself studying the letters in the license plates of other cars, seeing if he could spell her entire first and last name from them before he reached his destination.

All this would have passed in three or four weeks if not for Irene. Irene was a newly hired member of Stan’s department, transferred from another department in the company. At first their paths rarely crossed, while she was being oriented to her new position. But one evening Stan stayed late at the public service desk, filling in for an employee on vacation, and Stan and Irene had their first conversation.

Irene, Stan noticed, strongly resembled the starlet who had played Eliza in My Fair Lady. Irene was a few years older and wore glasses, but she had a similar face, similar hair, and was of a similar build. Both Irene and the starlet brought to Stan’s mind a song he had heard many times in his childhood: “She had a dark and a roving eye, and her hair hung down in ringlets. She was a nice girl, a proper girl….” Irene was friendly, and she was interesting as well. Already obsessing himself over the actress, Stan began to mingle the two women in his mind.

The next time Stan was at the public service desk on his regular schedule, Irene came downstairs to use the copier by that desk. Stan didn’t know if someone else was using the copier upstairs, and he didn’t ask. They struck up a conversation, and Stan allowed himself to believe what he knew was probably untrue—he allowed himself to believe that Irene had chosen to use that copier at that time only because she wanted to talk again with him.

It was a standard Monday conversation—how was your weekend, what weather we are having, and the like. Stan commented that he had met his daughter’s kitten for the first time, and Irene said that she liked cats but her husband didn’t. The moment was soon over; she was done with the copier and returned upstairs. Stan’s time at the public service desk ended, and he returned to his regular desk. But all day long the song continued to echo in his head: “She had a dark and a roving eye, and her hair hung down in ringlets.”

That ringlets song, by the way, does not have a happy ending. It is sung as a warning to avoid that kind of girl. But Stan has not been particularly good about heeding warnings, not even when they have been part of his life for fifty years. Stan was smart enough to know that he should say goodnight to any thought of Irene, but he also knew what followed: “I’ll see you in my dreams.”

Writing about writing

I was hoping to publish a new story a week ago for First Friday Fiction, but the writing is not going well. This short story is meant to accompany Alibi or Lie, Tom Haven Takes a Leap, and The Mystery of the Yellow MustangIt takes place during the holiday season of Thanksgiving through Christmas. So far, though, I have not been able to develop the dramatic tension that the other three stories possess. I hoped that, once I started writing, additional ideas would occur to me. So far that has not happened.

On the other hand, I have managed to publish my novella through Amazon.com’s CreateSpace. I will leave it available for free on this site for another week or two before withdrawing it; for those who are interested, the book will sell for six dollars. I had one disappointment while creating the book: none of the stock images available for the cover match the story. I ended up using an image of theatrical masks, which can loosely be associated with the story. I would have preferred either a single rose or a romantic couple in silhouette, but neither of those images was offered. (By the way, more than two hundred people have clicked on my novella page and presumably read at least some of it; two have indicated that they like it.)

Last month I took part in a book signing and sale. Forty self-published authors paid for the privilege of spending four hours in a room at the public library with copies of their books to sign and sell. More than half the people who came to the event had a single author to visit, went straight to that author, and left without interacting with the other thirty-nine. I cannot complain: five of the six books I sold were to one person who came only to see me. Other people cruised the room to see what was available. Two of those visitors made a deliberate effort to visit with each author and to ask questions about our books. Other people were interested only in certain topics, not in everything available. As I mentioned to another author near me after the first hour, “They look at my table and see ‘Jesus’ and ‘Bible,’ and they look away as fast as they can. Then they look at your table and see ‘God’s plan,’ and again they look away as fast as they can.” In the future I think I will aim to have shorter book signings with more targeted audiences, but it was interested to try the library’s event one time.

My family has not sent Christmas cards for several years, but I thought we would send cards this year to the cousins and college friends who have kept in touch in this way. In shameless self-promotion, I will include a note telling what each member of the household is doing and mentioning the books I have published this year. I also have a canvas bag in my car with several copies of each of those books, but I never have the courage to tell people that I have books for sale. The fun is in the writing, not in the advertising and promotion. So far I’ve given away more copies of my books than I’ve sold. But at least I’ve achieved my life-long dream to be an author. J.

First Friday Fiction: Porta-Pads Incorporated

Bobby’s father pulled the car into a parking space in the garage and stopped the engine. Bobby’s mother sighed. “Do we have to use the Porta-Pads?” she asked in a weary voice.

“For the last time, yes,” Bobby’s father answered firmly. “This is my vacation. I don’t want to waste it sitting in the car or sitting in the airport. Three instant Jumps and we’re there—Disney World! And we’ll have the entire week to enjoy before our three instant jumps back home to Atlanta.”

Bobby and his father and mother got out of the car. Bobby’s father pulled the family’s luggage from the back of the car. Bobby’s mother shook her head. “I just don’t feel like being scrambled. I don’t trust these things.”

“Thousands of jumps and never an ounce of harm done,” Bobby’s father reminded her, quoting the company slogan.

Bobby’s family took the moving sidewalk to the front door of the Porta-Pad station. As they stepped inside, they saw a line at each of the four stations. Five businessmen were standing at the nearest station, signing their waivers. “It’s just a formality,” the attendant said to each of them. “Thousands of jumps, and never an ounce of harm, but Congress still wants you to assume responsibility for your journey.”

Bobby’s mother pulled the laminated cards they would need out of her purse while they waited. These cards listed the inoculations each member of the family had received. To prevent the spread of illnesses, no one could travel by Porta-Pads without proof of immunization. While she was distracted, Bobby jumped away from her reach. Five information kiosks were placed along the waiting area. Running as quickly as he could, Bobby touched each screen so that all five voices would utter their message as a chorus.

“It was July 2019. In Fayetteville, Arkansas, archaeologist Anna Kane was studying photographs of a Mayan carving recently unearthed in southern Mexico,” said the first voice. “During the development phase of the Porta-Pads, the three inventors had to battle lawsuits from the University of Arkansas, which claimed ownership of their discovery,” added the second. “Because of the curvature of the earth, Porta-Pads can move their cargo no more than two hundred miles,” the third voice reminded them. “The Porta-Pad moves its cargo at the speed of light, which in two hundred mile jumps is almost instantaneous,” said a fourth voice. The fifth voice chimed in with, “No government outside the United States has passed legislation permitting the use of Porta-Pads or similar technology.”

“Bobby,” his mother hissed. “Come here at once! Don’t do that again!” She grabbed his arm and yanked him to her side.

The businessmen moved on to the second station. Bobby’s mother handed the attendant the cards, which he studied closely. Handing them back to her, he said, “Both you adults have to sign a waiver, and there’s an additional waiver you both have to sign for your son.” Bobby’s mother and father each pulled out their pads and signed electronically. “Retina or thumbprint verification?” the attendant asked. “Thumbprint,” Bobby’s father said.

“Your attention, please,” a voice came from the overhead speakers. “A weather system containing thunderstorms stretches from Texas to St. Louis. Travelers jumping to the west coast are being rerouted through the Great Lakes and Prairie states. Please adjust your time expectations accordingly.”

Bobby took advantage of the distraction to make another round of the kiosks. “Bobby!” his mother hissed again. One of the business travelers in line at the second station smiled at her. “Don’t be too harsh on the boy,” he told her. “We don’t mind the entertainment—really, we don’t.”

“As she began translating the text, it appeared to Dr. Kane that a device for translocating people was described,” the first voice was explaining. “The Mayan sculpture had mysteriously disappeared, and Kane possessed the only readable photographs of the carving,” the second voice told them. The third voice intoned, “Early experiments showed that the Porta-Pads can move as much as eight hundred pounds without harm to the cargo,” as the fourth voice indicated, “A pizza bought in Chicago would still be sizzling hot after making seven jumps to be delivered in New Orleans.” Finally, “The first Porta-Pads were built to connect nearby cities: Chicago and Milwaukee, Baltimore and Washington DC, Boston and New York, Los Angeles and San Diego,” according to the fifth voice.

As the businessmen handed over the luggage for inspection, one by one, they joked with each other about the pizza traveling from Chicago to New Orleans. “On a good, day, it won’t even have time to grow mold,” one snickered. Another joked back, “The crust will not be too hard to chew, so long as you have good teeth.”

Bobby’s mother looked at Bobby’s father. “It takes ninety minutes to fly from Atlanta to Orlando,” she reminded him.

“But you have to get to the airport two hours early,” he answered, “and when you’re in Orlando, you have to wait forty-five minutes for your luggage.”

Bobby’s father handed the suitcases to the attendant of the second station. “Anything breakable, flammable, explosive, sharp, or otherwise dangerous?” the attendant asked in a bored voice. Bobby’s father shook his head no. “No guns, bombs, knives, swords; no liquids of any kind; nothing poisonous; nothing dangerous. No alcohol, no tobacco, no marijuana, no illegal drugs.” Again, Bobby’s father indicated no. “Pick up your bags and step on the scale, please,” the attendant intoned. After they did so, the attendant mumbled, “Weight check OK.” He opened each suitcase, rummaging randomly through their clothes and toiletries, before returning the luggage to them. “Next,” he said, “Anything breakable, flammable, explosive, sharp, or otherwise dangerous?”

Bobby’s mother held tightly to Bobby’s arm as they approached the third station. The friendly businessman smiled at her again. “Let the boy go free,” he told her. “He’s not hurting anybody.”

Another businessman in the group was still wearing his name tag from a conference they had attended together. It identified him as Brian. “The company is doing this all wrong,” Brian said. “They could build these stations across the highway. You’re driving down the road and them, boom!—you’re two hundred miles closer to your destination. Another quarter mile, and boom! another two hundred miles.”

“I don’t think they’d make much money off of it that way,” one of the other businessmen said.

“They’d find a way,” Brian replied. “Cars could need special equipment, and a bar code stuck to the front window. Only those who had paid in advance would be allowed in the Porta-Pad lane. They could work it out somehow.”

“The big problem would be the inspections,” the friendly businessman said. “Congress is so worried about terrorist weapons and drugs and diseases being spread that they want to control every person who travels by Porta-Pad. They’d never allow people to take their own cars through the system.”

“They’d find a way,” Brian insisted, raising his voice to be heard over the five information kiosks. “Maybe random spot-inspections. Maybe investigation of every traveler before they could get their bar code sticker. They’d find a way.”

Meanwhile, the kiosks continued their spiels. “She brought her translation to Gunter Schultz and Rupa Sagatoriana, members of the physics department. The two scientists agreed that the device described would work,” said the first. “Around the time the lawsuits were settled, the United States Congress began creating legislation to oversee the translocation industry,” offered the second. “To provide a generous safety margin, Congress ruled that no more than five hundred pounds could be translocated on any trip,” the third voice explained. “A traveler could hop across the country from Boston to Los Angeles in less time than it takes to speak the names of both cities,” and, “Today eighty-four Porta-Pads operate across the United States, less than an hour’s drive away from most citizens’ homes,” the other two voices informed their hearers.

The attendant at the third station accepted their payment for the trip. Bobby’s father paid electronically and for the second time that morning he had his thumbprint scanned. Then the family got in line one more time behind the businessmen, waiting to go through the door that led to the actual Porta-Pad.

Brian was speaking again. “Sooner or later, someone is going to figure out how these things work, and then there’ll be competition. Prices will drop and service will improve. It’s the way the market works. The company won’t be able to keep their technology secret forever.”

“Funny that the Mayans knew how to build these things but no one else ever learned about them. You’d think that if one civilization could discover this technology, others would have found it too.”

The friendly businessman remarked, “Some say that it existed all over the world six or seven hundred years ago. Great Zimbabwe has a feature that looks a little bit like a Porta-Pad, and so do some of the other ruins in South Africa. Same thing in parts of India and China. All around the same time, too.”

“I’ve heard that,” Brian agreed. “One theory is that the Mayans launched a series of satellites so they could jump from MesoAmerica to Africa and from Africa to Asia. Curvature of the earth doesn’t matter when you can go up into space and down again.”

“I doubt the Mayans had space travel,” the friendly businessman commented. “I know Porta-Pad Incorporated is looking into satellite Porta-Pads just as soon as other countries allow their business to enter. I think the Mayan story is just a rumor to try to sell the satellite idea.”

Bobby, in his boredom, had set off the kiosks one more time. “The two scientists agreed that the device described would work. After briefly considering publishing their findings, the three of them decided instead to form a corporation and develop the device,” the first voice was saying. “Licensing fees, restrictions, and consent waivers were all imposed upon Porta-Pads, Incorporated, before the first commercial Porta-Pads could be built and made available to the public,” said the second. “The cargo can be living or not; to date nothing and no one has suffered harm when being translocated from one Porta-Pad to another,” the third voice assured them, while the fourth was saying, “Porta-Pads Incorporated offers the greatest improvement in affordable travel since the invention of the airplane.” “Porta-Pads Incorporated: getting you there swiftly and safely,” concluded the fifth voice.

The businessmen went through the door of the fourth station, followed a minute later by Bobby and his parents. A lighted screen greeted them at the door. “Expect a forty-five minute wait from this point,” the sign said. While they looked at it, it flickered and changed to, “Expect a fifty-minute wait from this point.”

“I wonder why that changed,” Bobby’s father muttered to himself.

“Probably a member of Congress,” the friendly businessman answered. “Congress made sure that government officials would be allowed to cut in line. Company officials can do it too. It’s good for them, but it does tend to slow the rest of us just a bit.”

Bobby looked around the room. StarBucks, Burger King, Taco Bell, and Subway all had booths. There was a book stand, a souvenir shop, and a candy shop. “Mom, I’m hungry. Can you buy me a hamburger?” Bobby whined. “No, dear,” his mother said.

A man approached the family. “For two bucks, I’ll hold your place in line,” he offered. Bobby’s mother glanced at him, then looked away. His hair was uncombed and he had a three-day growth of beard. He was wearing a dirty T-shirt, jeans with holes at the knees, and a torn jacket. He also did not smell very clean. “Just two bucks,” the man pleaded. “You can go buy the boy something to eat.” Bobby’s mother held her lips tight and shook her head. “No, thank you,” Bobby’s father said in a strained voice. The man walked away.

The friendly businessman looked at Bobby’s mother and father. “It didn’t used to be like this,” he said. “At first the wait time was a lot shorter; the jumps were almost instant. But as the wait times got longer, they put in the restaurants and the other shops. Now some people practically live here. It’s become a city all to itself.”

Between the Burger King and the StarBucks was a large metal door with the words “Atlanta Porta-Pad” painted on it. An attendant opened the door and two women wearing fancy dresses walked out. The attendant ushered the next waiting group through the door and closed it again. Talking loudly, the two women took their place at the back of the line. “Forty-five minutes,” one of them exclaimed. “That’s better! In Knoxville we had to wait for an hour.”

“They said it was an hour,” the second woman remarked in a ringing voice. “I swear it was longer.”

Bobby’s mother looked at Bobby’s father. “It only takes six hours to drive from Atlanta to Orlando,” she said.

“Mom,” Bobby said, “I have to use a bathroom.”

 

Busy times

The last couple of weeks have been busy. Most of the busy-ness was unavoidable, but the net effect has felt (at times) overwhelming.

Most important, of course, were Holy Week and Easter. Special services for Good Friday and Easter are to be expected. We observed the anniversary of the Lord’s death in our place, conquering death and granting forgiveness and eternal life. Then we celebrated the anniversary of his resurrection, announcing his victory and establishing the guarantee of our resurrection to live in a new and perfect world.

On the morning of Good Friday, a member of the congregation died. He had been ailing for some time; given his faith, it even seemed appropriate for his to die on such a day. He was seventy-three years old, a lifetime member of the same congregation. One of the other members called him “a pillar of the church.” After the funeral service, one of his sons remarked to me, “Finally Dad got to fill the church.”

On top of that, a historical exhibition that I was assigned to create and assemble opened at my workplace the night of Good Friday. As soon as I realized that the opening date was a holiday, I alerted the other people involved that I would not be present for the opening. For them the date was set—the second Friday of the month is a given for such events, because of other plans involving the place where I work and its neighbors in the community. With help, I put together the elements of the exhibit on Monday afternoon, and a “soft opening” was held Wednesday night prior to the official opening. A “soft opening” is only advertised within the workplace, and there are no refreshments. Four people came into the exhibit during the hour of the “soft opening,” and two of them were casual visitors unaware that there even was a “soft opening.”

I had decided in March that my First Friday Fiction would be a story taken out of a novel which I started writing more than thirty years ago. When I made that decision, I did not realize that I would end up posting the story in six installments, bleeding into Holy Week. Nor did I anticipate that typing and updating the story would inspire me to complete it in two more parts. My draft of the six installments actually ended with discussion questions, intended to gather responses that might shape the rest of the story. Instead, I began answering the questions myself, which led to writing the final parts of the story.

Embedded in these busy times were three landmarks for this Salvageable blog. I passed the second anniversary of the beginning of the blog on April 14. Somewhere in there I published my four hundredth post (one of the story episodes—I haven’t bothered to see which of them was #400). Around the same time, I reached one thousand different visitors who have looked at least once at Salvageable.

That mark of one thousand different visitors might not seem impressive, but I am happy about it. After all, writing anonymously, I have not promoted the blog on Facebook or Twitter or any other social media. In the past two years I have made many good friends, even though we know each other only through WordPress. I am grateful for all my readers, and I also enjoy reading your writings.

Undoubtedly, the best is yet to come! J.