Fear of the Future

robot

On the futuristic cover of a sci-fi magazine

Was the picture from a story set in 2017:

A giant robot killing everyone that wasn’t good

And the people all were running as he trashed their neighborhood.

Well, I was just a young boy when I stumbled on that scene

Of the crazy science fiction world of 2017;

But now it’s here, yet human beings continue being bad

And the way that things are going I fear the robot’s getting mad.

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And So This is Christmas

“And so this is Christmas, and what have we done?”

As I reflect on the changes I’ve made in 2016, I feel that I can truly answer Lennon’s question with, “I’ve bettered myself.”

In March, I was at an all-time lowest low. It had been five years since my wife passed away, and my plan of drinking myself to death wasn’t working, thanks to my mead-swilling ancestors. I swelled up like a woodtick and was nearing 300 pounds. I had pretty much lost everything to booze: my house, friends, family, self-respect, hope. But I still had my three children, and it was my love for them that finally broke the curse, and I believe it when people say that love is the strongest force in the universe, because I know nothing less would have worked. Let me explain.

While I was stuck in non-stop party mode, my oldest child, Aaron, was spiraling out of control himself. With an alcoholic father and a drug addicted mother, the cards were stacked against him from the beginning, but he tried to rise above it, and went to college, got married, and bought a big house. With an anxiety problem, he, too, medicated himself with booze, and soon lost all three. That’s when he moved in with me and we saved each other’s lives —  but not before our drinking almost took his.

I remember waking up and realizing I was laying on a floor. Well, I’d been on more floors than Johnson’s Wax, so it was nothing unusual, until I opened my eyes. I was on the floor at a bar with Aaron lying unconscious next to me. I have a vague recollection of cops and paramedics. I was taken to detox, but Aaron went straight to the ER via ambulance. His blood alcohol level was at the place on the chart where the little guy has exes instead of dots for eyes. But he didn’t die, thanks to his mead-swilling ancestors. And still, we didn’t quit. We tried over and over, but severe alcohol withdrawal is so horrible. It’s like having your anxiety volume control knob tweaked wide open while you feel like you do just before you barf from the flu, and every tortured minute feels like an hour. This can go on for four or five days before you start to feel any relief at all, and the whole time you know you could end the suffering for two dollars.

Only slowly did it dawn on me that to continue drinking with my son was as sure to kill him as a bullet to the head. I had to quit. There was no option B.

So we went through withdrawal together and have been sober since. I’m on a health kick now, and I walk a lot. One week I logged 53 miles. I’ve hiked to every lake, river, and mine pit in the area, and in the Land of 10,000 lakes, that’s a grand tour. It was a wonderful summer, and to date I’ve lost almost 60 pounds. I imagine myself with a ten pound bag of potatoes strapped to each arm and leg along with one on my belly and one on my back. Whew! How did I even move?

My son is doing well too. He has a good job now, and he runs over 5 miles to work, hardly breaking a sweat.

I started my blog in April, writing short shorts and poems and such, but I’m just getting warmed up. I hope to become a real writer someday, and I’m glad that WordPress gives me the opportunity to practice…and better myself. Merry Christmas. And a happy New Year, let’s hope it’s a good one, without any beer.

A Woman’s Place

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I started working in the iron ore mines of Northeast Minnesota back in the early seventies, at about the same time wives and mothers and sisters were trading in their aprons for hard-hats and safety glasses, and showing up in all walks of the male-dominated mining industry. They were soon to become a familiar sight in the pit, but it didn’t happen overnight and there were a few bumps along the way.

You see, mining had traditionally been “men’s work” for generations, and many of the old-timers thought it should remain so. After all, mining was hard, dirty, and notoriously dangerous. OSHA had only recently been founded, and changes for the sake of safety were slow in coming. In fact, a certain number of mining fatalities was not only tolerated, but expected, and there were duly compensated widows all across the range. Hell, in the annals of mining lore, a death in the family in the service of the company might be looked at as down-right respectable. And we miners aimed to be respectable.

Sometimes the stories about these “bumps in the road” were sad, and sometimes they were amusing. This is one of the latter, and it all started that beautiful Minnesota summer morning when a gal named Barb Thorson showed up as the new Car Rider.

Now, I know Car Rider sounds all glamorous, and one might assume it had something to do with a pleasant Sunday afternoon drive in the country, but it was, in fact, one of the dirtiest jobs in mining. Especially in red ore mines. When you worked in a natural iron ore mine, everything you came in contact with soon took on a rusty hue, from your car seats to your beard. And what did car riders make, putting their lives on the line daily? The lowest base earnings paid by the mines. So it was.

It took three car riders and a car loader to handle the job of loading railroad cars: two top riders to bring down empties in groups of five, and pitch hay in the cars that were to be loaded with fine ore, as it had the consistency (and color) of spaghetti sauce, and a “leaker” could temporarily shut down the whole process. So my partner Breeze (the other top rider) and I tried to keep ahead of the game.  We had to work hard sometimes, hauling air hoses all over and pitching hay, but we never actually rode any cars, and if we were very careful, we could usually keep the soupy ore from spilling over the tops of our tall rubber boots.

The bottom rider was not so fortunate, and only he (or she) alone could claim the title of Most Dangerous Job. The bottom rider’s job was to actually mount the five loaded cars under the pocket, and ride them down the steep grade until they smashed into and knuckled up with the string of loaded cars at the bottom. On the trip down, the rider was supposed to tighten the ancient, rusted hand-brake on the top of a car to lessen the impact, but everyone knew the old brakes were useless, and often the rider had to just dismount and let ’em go. The greenhorn always got bottom rider.

Like I said, we miners aimed to be a respectable lot, so we always gave the newbies important advice: first of all, try to find a position in the string that has two brakes together, as they may or may not work. If they both fail, jump down, gallop alongside the 400 ton free-wheeling metal monster until you can climb up on another car. Also, jump off right before they impact, because if you don’t, a torrent of spaghetti sauce will crash into your face and drench you right down to your spaghetti core. Only we didn’t tell them about that last part the first time they went down; we considered it an initiation. I did say we aimed to be respectable.

So when the young, fragile waif of a gal Barb Thorson reported as bottom car rider that day, I was afraid that the ore bath might be a little too much. Macho guys were our usual target. I went up to the pocket to have a word with our nasty but efficient car loader, Ol’ Kotsy. As I entered, he was just putting on his pink bunny slippers for the shift. Yes, pink bunny slippers. You see, Kotsy was a pink bunny slipper-wearing asshole. He had put in his time playing in the mud, and now that he had a “dry” job up in the loading pocket, he really enjoyed rubbing it in our faces by wearing his wife’s old slippers instead of the steel-toed rubber boots issued by the company. Someone got their revenge one day by spray-painting Kotsy’s helmet pink to match the slippers, but Ol’ Kotsy couldn’t have cared less. He liked it pink just because it was against the rules. He never wore his safety glasses either, something he’d never get away with in any other part of mining.

“Hey Kots,” I said, trying to appeal to his better nature, “that new girl sure looks too small for her helmet. Maybe you should load this first one light, give her a break, y’know, so you don’t drown her.” I had forgotten that Kotsy had no better nature.

“She should be at home making sandwiches if she can’t handle the job! Damn women, taking our jobs!” Did I mention that he was also the ideal caricature of the male chauvinist pig so prevalent in the era?  Even Breeze was getting pissed at such talk, and Breeze was a hard guy to piss off.

I watched him as he started loading the first string of cars. The first car was filled to the usual limit; yet he held the chute open as I looked on helplessly. All I saw was an idiot with serious issues, and I secretly wondered if there was an uncle or neighbor somewhere to blame.

In his eagerness, he loaded the car so full, the ore flooded over and onto the tracks. “Shit! We’re stuck, Zoner. Get down there and show the princess how to use the tugger.” I had to come up with something quick before disaster struck, and it looked like this was my opportunity. We hooked up the tugger, and got the cars rolling again. Ol’ Kotsy resumed loading like a fiend. He was going to personally see to it that women knew their place, and that place was not in the mines.

Suddenly, someone yelled, “White hats!” to which Kotsy added, “Oh shit.” White hats usually meant the company’s stockholders were coming through, sniffing around just because they could. Breeze started ditching his weed, and Kotsy leaned back into the shadows, but it turned out that day the visitors were a couple of reporters from the local newspaper. They were looking for a photo-op; they wanted a picture of a woman doing the dirtiest, most dangerous job we had for an article in their “Women in Mining” column.

As the woman reporter and her cameraman slid around awkwardly in the mud, so out of place with hard-hats, plastic safety glasses, and tall rubber boots, Kotsy smiled to himself. Like a wolf circling its prey, he began loading with a renewed vigor.

The reporter called up to him, “Is this a good place for a picture of Barb working?”

He purposely waited a minute or two before answering. “Well, you’d probably get the best picture down at the bottom when she hooks her cars onto the string.” I told you he was an asshole. Then he stuck his pink helmeted head out the window, and added, “And while you’re down there, why don’t you tell her to go home where she belongs! Women! The only place in the mine a woman should be is in the kitchen making over-time lunches for us men! You can put that in your fool paper!”

The reporter’s eyes glared at him through over-sized safety lenses; she’d met his kind before. She talked to the cameraman, and they gathered their equipment and headed down the tracks.

Finally, the last car was (over)loaded, and Barb went to work, first bleeding off the air from the cars, and then, when they began to roll, climbing up on one to the hand-brake on top. The reporter could see her now, head and shoulders above the cars, and she signaled her cameraman to get ready.

Sure enough, that brake wouldn’t budge, and she had to jump to another car. She reefed frantically on that brake too, but it proved useless as well, and soon the merry train was hurtling at break-neck speed toward the others, and Barb had all she could do to hold on. They slammed into the loaded string so hard, that a huge red wave of iron ore erupted violently from each car, completely washing over everything. When it was over, there was no sign of Barb.

I started running toward her yelling, “Barb! Are you alright?” No answer.

Suddenly Ol’ Kotsy started panicking, thinking he might have killed her. He came flying down the steps, and started sprinting toward us right through the knee-deep red mud in his pink helmet and bunny slippers. It was a sight to behold. “Barb, are you hurt?” he gasped, choking and coughing.

What he found when he made his way around the car, was Barb and I having a good laugh at his expense; I had warned her when we used the tugger to duck under the lip of the car at the last second to avoid the deluge, hang on tight, and remain silent. He got so mad, his face turned iron ore red, and he kicked at the mud. This made him lose his footing and down he went, face first in the slop. We couldn’t stop laughing to see him there, covered from head to toe in mud with a pink helmet and, of course, his pink bunny slippers!

Barb was starting to feel kind of bad about it, her first day and all, so she walked over and offered Kotsy a hand getting up. With all the commotion, nobody heard the click of the camera.

Yea, Ol’ Kotsy was sure surprised that day when Barb Thorson came to work. But not nearly as surprised as his wife was when she flipped open the paper the next day, and there, under the “Women in Mining” column, was a picture of her husband being helped to his feet by a female co-worker while wearing a pink helmet and HER pink bunny slippers. The caption read: A Woman’s Place in Mining.

A Letter to Myself

Dear Self,

I wonder if Ol’ Mother Earth

Grows weary of us on her girth,

Depleting resources each day

To insure our short lives are okay.

Or are we so much more than that?

Are we Gods, rearranging our flat?

Can we buy up the deed to this ball;

Own a piece with a fence or a wall?

No, we are Earth.

We’re billions of Earth’s eyes and ears

And noses and tongues, it appears,

For did we not spring from her mud?

Do we not hold her magma as blood?

For the Earth wants to taste and to see,

And to smell and to hear, just like me,

So she fashioned extensions with senses,

And to do that incurred some expenses.

There are no regrets.

There are no excuses she gives,

For at last she can see where she lives,

And there’s music and flowers and food,

And there’s romance when she’s in the mood.

No, humans are not like some pest

That you can’t seem to shake from the nest.

We upgraded the world with our birth,

So have a nice day.

Signed,

The Earth

Waking Up on Christmas

At the Gates of Eden

At seven-and-a-half years old, Anna was losing her faith in Christmas, humanity, and even God. First, all her coevals at school laughed at her when she mentioned Santa. Her friend Amy told her that believing in Santa Claus was for babies, and that everyone’s daddy really puts the presents under the tree. Then, when she asked her older brother Tim about it, he said that the whole Christmas story was just made up from older stories, and it’s really about the Winter Solstice. “The tilt is the reason for the season,” he said.

She made up her mind to stay awake on Christmas Eve, and settle this once and for all. Why would mommy and daddy lie to her all these years? It seemed like everything she’d ever learned was now in question. What else is just a lie?

Christmas Eve finally came, and Anna was determined not to fall asleep. She picked up the Bible Santa had brought her last Christmas, and flipped it open, half-heartedly hoping to find some reassuring words. …and he placed on the East Gate of the Garden of Eden, a cherubim with a flaming sword, flashing it back and forth to guard the way….

She shut the book and laid back, listening…

Suddenly, a loud noise from downstairs woke her up. It was 1:34 AM. She had drifted off. She slipped out of bed, and crept downstairs. There, in the living room, stood Santa, red suit and all, larger than life. His huge bag of toys was next to the tree. “Daddy?” she whispered.

Santa turned around, and put a finger to his lips. “Shhh,” was all he said, and she flew back up the stairs. As she walked by her parent’s bedroom, she stopped. Was it really Santa, or daddy all dressed up? The big beard had hid most of his face, and he could’ve had pillows under his suit. There was only one way to settle it. She opened the door.

There lay daddy, snoring away as usual. The kids at school were wrong, after all, and her brother Tim was a fool. It was all real! Santa Claus, the Bethlehem story of Jesus’s birth — all of it was real! Someone’s in for a surprise, she thought. Now, she couldn’t wait to wake up for Christmas.

Feeling secure and at peace with the world again, she went back to bed and drifted off, a little smile on her lips. Meanwhile, the Santa Claus Burglar walked out her front door with all her Christmas presents, among other things.

At Mile Five

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At mile five, the endorphins kick in

Like some kind of home-made heroin.

I don’t want to stop. Ever.

A parasol of soft, warm light

Spreads before me.

I lift off, and am raised above the world;

I can see the man running, running…

His troubles are so tiny

At mile five.