Cleaning House

“.. Ain’t no room on board for the insincere..”
Warren Zevon, Mutineer

Something about this time of year calls for cleaning house, both literally and figuratively.

Every year, this is when I weed through my social media. Eliminating those who died, so-called influencers, the serially broken, and yes – the insincere. I’m not alone in this, I generally find myself in whatever category qualifies for elimination too with some.

Like a few religious and cultural traditions, time to clear all debts real and imagined. Start the new year with a clear slate. I wish I could say “Kalins always pay their debts” with a straight face but I do have relatives.

Clearing the decks, making room for a whole new set of friends, who knows there might be keepers in this batch.

Hope springs eternal after winter’s purge.

Happy Holidays!

Charisma

[Quick note: This story was written in 2018, published in Chasing Eleven and Dear Leader Tales in 2019. At the time, it was hoped the Oranged (pronounced ‘oran-jed’) One was shortly done. However, like many bad actors he seems to have many lives and hasn’t really left town yet. But fingers-crossed! Hope you enjoy this.]

Simona looked carefully around the garden she had been working all afternoon. Good! The weeds are almost entirely gone. Next to her, two small squirrels played while she worked. They weren’t much help today, except perhaps as comic relief. Simona suspected they were mostly there to make sure she didn’t inadvertently uncover their horde of winter food. The other reason was they liked being close to her when she was outdoors.

“You two are ridiculous. I’m kneeling all day in the hot sun while you play and play.” Simona always talked aloud to the many small animals living on or next to her four-acre, wooded property. One of the squirrels shook its tail as if to refute her words before coming next to her leg and placing one paw on her jeans in a tentative fashion. “No, I’m not really angry with you. I suppose you want me to refill your nut dish, hmm?” Their answer was a frenzied tail-up running about, bravely bouncing off of her leg to make the sharp turns.

Simona stood straight up, stretching her back muscles out of the hunched-over posture gardening required. Placing her hands on her lower back she looked straight up at the light blue sky which was now beginning to darken with approaching dusk. Creaking a little, she said a quick prayer to the goddess, before going back into the house. Her cat, Tango, was there to greet her along with Orson the rat. Most people would expect some friction between the normally antagonistic species, but in this case harmony prevailed. Simona expected nothing less, after all. Tango rubbed himself around her legs, while Orson investigated the smells her jeans had picked up from the earth. Moving cautiously, Simona shuffled in to her small but comfortable kitchen and started the tea kettle.

Tango gave an odd vocalization which almost sounded like human speech, ending as always in cat talk with the ‘owwweeerrrrr’ sound. He was a large, yellow-striped tabby cat, who could easily place his paws atop the countertop when standing on hind legs. Orson was grey-furred and, while big for a rat, was not in the same class as Tango.

“Yes, yes. Dinner will be served shortly. I’m doing it now, see?” Simona prepared their respective food dishes while waiting for the tea water to boil. Soon, Simona was forgotten altogether as her friends feasted.

Tap, tap, tap, insisted a noise from the kitchen window. Outside, a young male crow from her woods stood proudly with a gift: a shiny marble, doubtless lost by a careless child. Simona opened the window and accepted her prize.

“My, this is so beautiful. Thank you, my young friend, it is truly a treasure!” she said and continued praising the young crow. He puffed up and strutted back and forth before allowing her to stroke gently underneath his beak. “I have something for you as well, where did I leave it?” The script was always the same, she would look and look until finally finding a small bag of peanuts. Taking two she offered them up to her young admirer. “Don’t eat the shell this time!” Her friend quorked, took one peanut in its left claw and the other in its beak before leaping off of the window sill in flight. Simona watched him for a few seconds smiling, until she heard the teapot announce completion of its task.

Simona sat down at the kitchen table, drinking tea as the sun completed its descent on the horizon. Looking at the calendar, she determined there would be no visible moon tonight, at least not in her little corner of the world. Good, I’m tired already and don’t need to go traipsing in the woods for moon-herbs tonight. I’ll log on to my social media and see what family and friends are up to. Maybe a little television after. Tango lazily swatted at the tea-bag tag, making her scold him half-heartedly. “You keep that up and maybe it will be time for your annual bath quicker than you think, young man!” Tango flicked his tail as if he didn’t believe the threat, even for a second. Orson lay stretched out on the table with a full belly, in the final remaining patch of sunlight.

“I’m going to take a long, warm bath before dinner. You two stay in here please, I don’t want to share my bathwater tonight!” Neither one bothered to respond.

After her bath, Simona made herself a nice dinner omelet with mushrooms and herbs from the garden. Taking a glass of wine afterwards she sat down at her computer to check on her social media accounts. Ever since her son Ian had set it up she, quite to her surprise, found it to be addictive. Her circle of friends spanned early childhood to more recent, work-related ones. Even relatives she barely knew began to be known online. Sharing pictures and memories had once been a delight for her. Recently, however, a new politician had entered the national scene, dividing friends and family as seldom before. Simona did her best to ignore all of the hyperbole, she didn’t care about him one way or the other, but her friends all seemed to be seized by a collective insanity. They either loved or hated him, no matter what issue was being discussed. Worse than that, the divide appeared to approximate halves, so a plurality was never formed. Just two sides endlessly sniping and provoking each other online.

“It’s almost like a spell, what’s happening, boys,” she said addressing Tango and Orson, each of whom had commandeered an arm of her easy chair. “Something like this can be truly evil and set off real wars if it is not addressed early. The amount of power to cast such a spell would be ridiculous, affecting everyone in the world. Even I am affected by it. I dislike the man and I don’t even know him.” Tango and Orson held their peace on the topic.

Simona threw up her hands finally, “I can’t look at this anymore tonight, let’s just watch some Discovery Channel, shall we?” The boys were amenable and soon the trio was happily watching a rerun of Shark Week.

***

The next day, Simona decided she should go speak with her coven master, Leopold. If there was a spell affecting everyone in the world, surely he would be aware of the situation. Leopold ran a small shop selling essential oils and fragrances in the arts district. In the last few years, his business had gone from a sleepy concern lucky to see more than a couple of customers a day, to a thriving business. In fact, he employed several coven members as clerks during the weekends when demand was high from tourists.

As it was a weekday, she found Leopold, a grey-bearded man fully owning the look of a prosperous hippie, behind the counter explaining the wonders of essential oils to a potential client. Seeing Simona, he smiled in greeting and nodded her towards the back of the store to a small sitting area stocked with makings for tea. She settled in to wait.

“Thank you for waiting, sister. What brings you to me?” Leopold asked a few minutes later. Usually the only time he saw Simone was at communal worship meetings.

She proceeded to speak of her concerns about the country’s new president, which was generating so much strife between people. He nodded as she detailed her suspicions.

“Yes, I believe you’re right, there is a spell behind it. I have had to maintain a shielding spell in my store so the effect would not contaminate what we do here. Check it yourself, is the shield working?”

Simona addressed herself internally and found that while she was still aware of her concerns, she no longer felt an irrational dislike for the man. “Yes, the shield works. I was affected by the spell outside, but now it is only an annoyance.”

“I initially created it to maintain a calm atmosphere here, but the result is what amounts to a safe psychic space. I need to also treat my residence. Unlike you, however, my effect is that I believe he is doing a good job. The base spell must be very powerful, as I don’t vote red for obvious reasons,” Leopold explained.

“Do you have any idea who might have created it in the first place?”

“No, I don’t. I did look to see if there was any locus of force centered on the man himself, and there isn’t any evidence he is directly responsible. It seems to draw its power directly from those affected, in a feedback loop, so those responsible no longer have to maintain it. There are maybe a thousand of us worldwide who could do something like this, but finding them would not be easy.”

“How can we stop it? Should we? I don’t think this is an ethical use of power: creating division, sowing hatred,” Simona said.

“I agree, but there isn’t much we could do to stop it. The spell is now self-powered. It might end when or if someone kills the politician, but it might not if the spell finds a new host. Now, there is an idea! It might be easier to shift the spell onto a more acceptable vessel: to someone who doesn’t inspire the same extremes in opinion.”

“So the extremes are not generated by the spell itself?”

“I don’t think so. This guy inspired the same kind of discord before he became president, but it was on a smaller scale. He was famous before, but people had no trouble ignoring him when they felt like it. I know I didn’t give him a second thought.”

“How would someone shift the spell? I think it’s something which needs doing,” Simona asked respectfully.

Leopold looked sharply into Simona’s eyes and confirmed her resolve. “I can research it over the weekend, and maybe have something back for you next week. Don’t expect formal coven support on something this politically sensitive, though, we have to treat both sides equally. Are you planning or willing to do this alone?”

“Maybe. It disturbs me to see everyone fighting like they are, it cannot be good for our community. Dangerous even. What if he whips up a crowd to come after us again? I know we’re in better shape this time around but it would still be an ugly situation. I’ll think about it over the weekend and decide once I see what you have for me, it might be something I couldn’t even do,” Simona said.

“I’ll tailor the spell or procedure to what I know of your strengths, which are significant,” He said with a quick smile. “Promise you won’t just rush into anything before understanding all of the ramifications, please! I like having you with us,” Leopold urged.

Surprised Simona colored, “I won’t. I have too many responsibilities to casually make such a decision. Why, my animal friends alone will keep me focused on the most important thing: hearth and home.”

“Do me a favor, will you? If you come across any comfrey and damiana in your woods, can you harvest some for me? I’m running low.”

“Certainly, I was going to ask. There will be a nice moon tonight, so I should be able to find a good selection.”

A bell from the front of the shop chimed. “Ah, here comes another customer. I’ll take my leave and look forward to seeing you next week, go in blessed peace, sister,” Leopold said in benediction.

As Simona walked back to her wooded home, she pondered whether the spell could be transferred to something innocuous, a rabbit perhaps. No, that might be problematic if a predator was to kill the rabbit and the spell escaped to something else. Try as she might, she couldn’t think of any one of her friends she would want to burden with what she considered a curse. As she entered her land, the forest creatures gathered as usual in greeting. All wanted to reassure themselves of her health and be loved in return. If you were to survey the health of the resident skunks, possums, armadillos, bobcats, foxes, raccoons, and coyotes it would surprise the uninitiated. In Simona’s four acre woods, every creature tolerated every other creature: harmony ruled. Outside in the wide world other rules applied, but having a safe place without parasites, predation, and disease makes a difference.

Simona could sense the stain of national hatred and strife working its way even into her domain, now she was aware of it. That evening, she picked the things Leopold had requested, but also spent time collecting ingredients to create her own shield, similar to what Leopold had deployed in his shop. By the next evening, she had marked the boundaries and invoked the goddess successfully, creating another zone of blessed peacefulness. Once more she was bone-tired, but there were mouths to feed before another bath could be drawn. As she worked to satisfy Tango and Orson, the mobile phone began beeping in an alarm notification.

“I wonder what this is, boys. Let me check,” Simona ran over and read the text message. It was a national notification of emergency being declared by the president using the national alert system. The emergency was to announce his decision to contravene the will of the sitting congress by building a wall on the southern border, using emergency powers. Simona threw her phone onto the couch in anger. Moments before, she had felt peaceful and now the cad had reached past her shield to further aggravate. Tango looked ready to vanish if more sudden moves were being contemplated by Simona, and Orson was always ready for a turn in fortune, all rats have that gift.

Noting the alert status of her animal friends, Simona calmed her breathing saying, “I’m sorry to let him upset me, I’ll be better now,” she said as she went back to making their meal and set two dishes down with a flourish. She then busied herself preparing and packaging herbs for Leopold while her mind raced. Maybe she could transfer the spell to a tree! They were strong, slow of mind, and benign for the most part. It was hard to hate a tree, wasn’t it? Unless you were a developer or lumberjack, who would as soon cut a tree down as look at it. No, a tree wouldn’t do after all. Even rocks were alive in a sense to someone like Simona, but they too were ruled out for similar reasons.

A long soak in her bath accompanied by a glass of her favorite wine put the final touch on releasing tension. Once more the trio sat down and watched several episodes of a new show about the life and times of the current British Queen. It did its job of distracting Simona from the issue she was determined to remedy. The issue of the American President could wait another day or two.

***

Simona woke the next day filled with determination, somehow in her dreams she had come up with a plan. She decided no one else should bear the burden of the spell if she was not willing to do so herself. It had to be her. As Simona considered the situation, it seemed obvious a mild-mannered witch who never hurt anyone would defuse the curse. Having made the decision, her life regained the normal rails of its existence. The week passed quickly and, due to the protective field or perhaps her decision, Simona wasn’t unduly concerned by outside influences.

Packing up the herb packets for Leopold into her walking bag, she set off once more for his shop. Once she exited the lines of her property, the irrational thoughts poked at her insistently again. The amulet she made as protection for short trips worked, but its power was less than needed for full immunity. Simona gritted her teeth and walked faster. An hour later she entered the store once more and relaxed in the field Leopold had installed. As before, he was occupied with a customer so she made herself a cup of tea as she waited.

“So, sister, do you have my herbs?” Leopold asked with a smile.

“I do, they are right here,” Simona said as she pulled the small package out of the bag and handed it to him.

“Thank you! I needed these sooner than I thought. I want to compensate you and won’t take no for an answer.” Leopold handed Simona a small envelope holding some cash which she tucked into her pocket

“Good news on another front, I’ve done the analysis and have a formulation which should work for the task. Here, let’s spread it out on the table,” the coven master opened a new scroll with the full set of instructions. “As you can see, the shift isn’t all that hard, the hard part is that it must be done with the subject within line-of-sight. Have you decided where the curse will be transferred?”

“It’s a very difficult decision, Coven Master. Every possibility had issues and I eventually realized the fix might require some personal sacrifice on my part. In the end, I think I should take the curse into myself. I’ve assumed the fact I am relatively innocuous would help mitigate the worst effects, plus I’m able to work secondary spells to keep it contained.”

“Dangerous, Simona. What if the transfer pulls more out of you than anticipated? The President will get something from you in exchange, I doubt you’ll be able to choose what goes to him. I’d be very cautious there, what if he gains your powers?”

“I’ve considered it, and I think it must be done regardless. If he gains my powers, at least he won’t know how to properly use them; and he is old enough so there isn’t a lifetime left for him to learn. No, I have to do this; he is a threat to our way of life if nothing is done,” Simona soberly stated.

“I see your resolve, sister. While I cannot officially endorse what you’re about to attempt, I shall pray for its success and your personal safety. Do you have any questions on the formulation?”

“No, the scroll is very logical and straightforward. I’ll try to find small ways to minimize the risk, but I think the biggest issue will be finding a way to get within eye distance. The Secret Service will keep me at a distance if they get any indication of ill intent.”

“I can help you there, sister. Here’s $500; send a donation to his campaign website and ask where or when you can hear him speak. No campaign in the world would ignore the request! I’m concerned enough to support your effort but it has to be our secret! You know the politics of our world,” Leopold handed over another small envelope and pressed it into Simona’s hands. “If something goes wrong with your workings, depend on me to help set it right. Good luck!”

Her heart warmed from Leopold’s support, Simona clasped the envelope to her chest along with the scroll and hurried home to begin the work.

As Leopold predicted, the campaign manager personally responded to Simona’s donation submittal and provided a ticket for an upcoming presidential rally, to be held less than 100 miles from her home. Simona gathered all of the ingredients and brewed the potion which would be activated upon recitation of the necessary mystic phrases. The good news was she didn’t have to be very close to the President or even make eye contact with the dolt, she merely had to ingest the potion and watch him while conjuring. Simple enough. The potion could be ingested before the rally as it was effective for several hours.

In the days prior to the event, Simona acquired some conservative clothing to cover her power tattoos and charms. Nothing must detract from the fiction that her intentions were those of a true supporter of the President. She even purchased campaign buttons and a hat proclaiming her allegiance to the man.

Riding a bus to the campaign rally, Simona noticed the marked stares of those in opposition. Looks of pure hatred and muttered comments about her intelligence were luckily the overt extent of their behavior, probably due to the approximately equal presence of those who vociferously supported the President. I’m lucky they haven’t gone for each other’s throats; I’d get caught up in the melee in this outfit, Simona thought to herself as she averted eyes from both camps.

At the entrance to the hall holding the rally, Simona got in line for the security screening, but first she drank the potion from its small vial and disposed of the glass container. Oddly pleased she had added some sprigs of mint into the elixir, she waited for her turn. A deadly serious Secret Service agent asked for her ticket and ID, which Simona handed over promptly. No one is ever comfortable when going through a security screen, so she didn’t worry much about being stiff.

“You’ve come a long way to see the President,” the agent said.

“He wasn’t planning to come any closer, so I made a day of it. It isn’t that far really, but now I’ll have a story to tell my kids,” she said thinking of Orson and Tango.

Simona’s name didn’t set off any flags and she didn’t have anything which would pose a security concern, so the agent waved her through, “Enjoy yourself, ma’am.”

“Thank you, I will!” Simona managed to respond as she gathered her, now disorganized, bag to her chest and searched for the assigned seating section printed upon her ticket. As expected, it was in a remote section. Five hundred dollars doesn’t go as far as it used to, she chortled, but it would be sufficient for a clear view of the stage. Above the stage was a gigantic screen which would probably be used to project video of the man himself for those like herself in the very back. I’ll have to be careful to ignore that, she thought, the spell wants line of sight to the actual person.

The venue filled up quickly, and the atmosphere was much like a pep rally in high school. Soon Simona had people on either side of her. The man to her left wore work clothes and the same hat as her. The raucous and sweaty fat woman to her right kept telling everyone around her how the President had changed her life for the better. Simona wondered what her life must have been previously if this was an improvement, but kept it to herself. She was a little bit wary of the man, as he exuded an air of silent menace, although he hadn’t done anything to justify the concern.

The rally started with about thirty minutes of local politicians patting themselves on the back for bringing the President to their fair community. The crowd was in a mood to applaud, so they jumped on their cues as directed. The auditorium felt more like a sporting event than anything else. For an introvert like Simona it was all she could do to stay in place and follow everyone else.

The fat woman shouted out the President’s campaign slogan, inspiring the crowd around them to chant it over and over in unison. The chant was picked up and spread throughout the large room, along with synchronized stomping of feet. The floor rumbled under the assault, and Simona felt as though she would faint.

The local party leader got the message and started the windup to announce the President. The noise level rose higher and higher, as the crowd felt their power, reveling in the anticipation. The lights dropped, and a single spotlight lit the President as he strode towards the podium waving to his true believers. Simona thought the sound level couldn’t increase, but soon found it could. The President was wearing an expensive suit with a strangely long tie covering what must be a very large stomach. He also wore the same hat which was sitting on Simona’s head. The fat woman leapt to her feet, screaming her love for the President at the top of her lungs, which were considerable. The silent man was now energized as well, shouting along with the crowd and making arm movements looking something like a salute. The video screen showed a close-up of the great man himself, his hair flying in the breeze provided by the venue air conditioning. He had flung his cap into the crowd, like Elvis, and a fight for the precious relic ensued in the VIP section.

Simona could see the President from where she stood and started the invocation as she stared at the tiny figure on the stage. The overall noise level drowned out the words as soon as they were uttered and if anyone were to be watching Simona it would appear she was another true believer caught up in the rapture of the moment. As the final words were spoken, Simona felt a weight settle in somewhere high in her shoulders, Nerves, I’m fine. Just fit in until I can get out of this mess.

Strangely, the crowd began to subside, and the President began to speak. Like many of his speeches, it was calculated to fire up the crowd and included many pauses for applause. Simona knew the spell had worked because the crowd response was desultory at best, with only smattering of applause and none of the whooping and hollering which had greeted his appearance. She sat down and told herself to clap when appropriate.

The President began to notice a difference too, getting more and more animated as he strove to whip up what was previously his crowd. None of it worked, the applause was expected and it was there, but nothing like before. As he closed out his speech, a service dog broke free of his client and rushed the stage towards the President. Clearly wanting to play, the Labrador Retriever rolled over, play-bowed and danced away from the Secret Service agents as they tried to capture it. Finally the President waved them off and approached the dog himself. Immediately the dog rolled over looking up at the President with adoration in its brown eyes. Knowing when he was upstaged, the President bent down and petted the misbehaving pup as it wagged its tail nonstop. The owner was brought up to reclaim his dog, who clearly wanted to stay with the President, but the entire episode brought the most applause from the now-jaded audience. In what was meant to be a big finish, the President waved his arms, shouted his slogans, and ended by running for the stage exit. The dog broke loose once more and ran after him, generating more laughter than cheers or applause.

“Quit hogging the armrest, Bitch!” Sweaty fat woman said viciously to Simona.

Simona started and moving her arm apologized, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to crowd you.”

“Your type never means anything, do you? Just think you’re better than the rest of us,” sweaty fat woman spat out and punctuated her words with a hard push on Simona’s shoulder.

“Leave her alone, you fat cunt!” the silent man broke silence viciously, stepping in front of Simona’s seat to address the fat woman’s provocation. The fat woman sized up her opposition, including the right fist the man held ready for use, and decided to exit noisily to the right.

“I’m sorry about that, ma’am, but you can’t reason with people like her. My name’s Gary, and I’ll see you safely out of here if you’ll allow me to help.”

“Thank you, Gary. I must say her reaction came as a shock, it never happens to me. If you can just get me outside, I think I can walk back to the bus station.”

As Gary took her arm above the elbow and navigated the crowds, she learned Gary was a HVAC technician and greatly disappointed in the President’s speech.

“Don’t get me wrong, ma’am, I still support his politics for the most part, but when you see him in person I don’t know what all the fuss is about. He’s just another lying politician. I thought he was more than that, but glad I came if only to help you.”

Simona carefully edited what she told Gary, sticking to generalities on where she lived as well as what her political views actually were. Before long, they were outside the bus station and it was time to part. Gary shyly offered up his business card, swearing he would drive the extra miles without charge if she needed any air conditioning work. Nonplussed, Simona thanked Gary and boarded the bus. Watching out the window she saw Gary standing and waving as the bus left.

On the drive home, Simona came to know Gary and the fat woman were under the influence of the curse which she had claimed. The point was driven home by the evenly split welcoming versus dirty looks from the other bus riders. The good news was Simona was not a proper home for the full power of the curse, engendering fans and detractors who mostly maintained their distance. Ah well, there was almost certainly going to be a price. My solitary lifestyle can adjust to this situation and I can go mostly go on as before. No more large groups, but I’m fine with that, Simona thought to herself.

As she walked up the hill to her home, she looked for her friends, but they were nowhere in evidence. Simona unlocked and entered the front door, “Boys, I’m home from the wars. It’s time for dinner!”

Normally, Tango and Orson would scramble into the room all over each other, but today there was no scramble of furry paws. She walked into the kitchen, the only evidence of her two friends were empty bowls and a swinging pet door.

Odd! Simona walked outside to her garden, maybe they are out playing with the squirrels? Simona called for them, but no response came back. She heard a scrabble on her oak tree and she saw the squirrels sitting on a branch watching her.

“Hello, my friends. Have you two seen Orson and Tango?” Simona asked as she approached the tree. The squirrels watched her closely, retreating higher up the tree as she approached them. “What is wrong with you two?” They didn’t answer, and definitely didn’t want to get any closer.

At the edge of the garden, there was a bloody rat tail left in the dirt along with a trail of blood headed for the brush at the edge of the clearing. Simona picked up the tail, it looked familiar, and followed the trail. There in the brush, Tango sat eating a large rat which had to have once been Orson.

“Tango, what have you done?” Simona scolded. Clearly, Orson had put up a fight as one of Tango’s ears was cut up and tattered.

Tango directed a look of pure, feline hate at Simona, hissed, then retreated further into the brush with his dinner.

Shocked, Simona collapsed onto the recently-tilled soil and cried as if her heart had broken.

***

The President leaned back in his executive office chair, then addressed the Chief of Staff and Press Secretary, both standing sheepishly in front of the Resolute Desk. “What the hell happened out there, Simon? We were going great guns and the whole thing just dried up. Shoot, I even saw empty seats in the last four stops. That shit only happens to Democrats!”

“I don’t have an explanation, Mr. President,” Chief of Staff Simon said. “Edgar here says the polling took a dive after the service dog incident. Nothing is trending even close to what we saw previously.”

“That’s right, sir! The tweets aren’t being read or complained about and you’re losing followers in huge numbers. Right now you’re neck-and-neck with the Prime Minister of India, which represents a 30% drop,” Edgar read from his notes.

“Edgar, you need to check your attitude at the door. If you can’t be loyal, you won’t see the six month mark on-the-job. I need can-do people, not excuses,” the President chewed.

“With all due respect, Mr. President, this feedback is purely data-driven and loyalty has nothing to do with it. For some reason, people aren’t reacting positively or negatively to your activities. No reaction means a loss of trending.”

“Look, you useless piece of shit, great data; what the fuck do we do about it?”

“This useless piece of shit resigns, effective immediately. I’ll show myself out,” Edgar turned and exited the door closest to the President’s assistant.

“No one quits on me, you’re fired! Not only that, I’m announcing it right now on Twitter, citing lack of competence,” the President shouted at Edgar’s back.

“Sir, please don’t send that, it will only give the press a reason to give Edgar coverage for his side of the story.”

“Too late, bitches. I get things done, I don’t sit around making excuses. Maybe we’ll regain some momentum on the back of it.”

Simon sighed and stood ready for the President’s next edict.

“What about that other matter? Have the White House exterminators dealt with the rat issue? I had one run over my foot at breakfast, the room was full of them.”

“The exterminators have traps out and expect to regain control of the situation very soon. They mentioned it was very strange for the rats to follow wherever you go, it is almost as though they love you.”

“I don’t love them, spent my whole life in the city and never had a need for any pets. Now it seems every damn cat or dog I see wants to crawl onto my lap. They haven’t attacked me yet, but I think it is a security risk. Make sure the Secret Service knows I want an animal-free zone centered on me at all times,” the President directed.

“On that, the Head of Detail asked if you would look out the window to see what they are dealing with.”

The President of the United States looked out his window onto the lawn. “Goddamnit Simon, it looks like more than a thousand squirrels are out there, all looking at me.”

“More than five thousand, according to the Secret Service. As quickly as they are removed, more come in. There are even more birds sitting in the surrounding trees and bushes, it’s beginning to be a problem for the landscaping crews.”

“Fuck this! Light up the helicopter, I’ll head down to Florida to play some golf.”

***

The next few days of news coverage were quite unusual: a sitting President being chased off a golf course by resident gators, entire flocks of birds sitting on top of the Presidential golf cart, and many incidents of dogs slipping their leads just to be closer to their Commander in Chief.

Image by Mustafa Alpaslan from Pixabay

Father’s Day 2022

Father’s Day started with a bang at 8 am, Sarah and I participated in the 2022 Mountain Swim Series – Solstice Swim 1.2 mile race in Union Reservoir, Longmont.

As one of the two codgers (over 65 years old) in the race, I did pretty well in relative terms. Objectively, the race organizers didn’t properly lay out the course and it was significantly shorter than the nominal distance stated. (the winning times would have set world records if the distance had been correct) So my times were better than expected but the distance wasn’t credible. My results are here, which even has a link for my video finish. The organizers screwed up the awards too, as I actually placed second rather than the 3rd one given to me.

After the race, we met up with a friend and enjoyed a great brunch. We met this fellow waiting in the line.

After a nap, I rejoined my friend for a City Park Jazz Concert picnic with Hazel Miller headlining. What a great day!

Dating Epiphany

One thing I’ve noticed about the online dating scene is that I learn something with every encounter. Some things are about the world in general, and others specifically apply to me.

A woman, I met online, brought up the topic of philosophy and religion. On the dating applications I have always found it difficult to answer the “Religion” question due to all of the options not being fully applicable. I’ve tended to say I’m agnostic, which doesn’t really answer the question for someone to whom it matters. The Christians all assume I can be brought back into their fold, when the only reason I don’t say “Atheist” is that I can’t prove the negative. All of the choices are inadequate to fully describe my views. After I explained that in some length, she took the conversation in a different direction by asking how I lived my life.

I responded that what matters most are the things you do, rather than what you say. What you say you’ll do and what you actually do should be in complete accord. How you treat people in general, being consistently ethical regardless of with whom you are dealing. It hadn’t escaped my notice over the years that religious belief certainly doesn’t make its practitioners ethical, in spite of the common assertion that religion is necessary to “teach” ethics or morality.  I’ve also noticed something I call “Tribal Ethics” where the members of a specific creed treat other members ethically, but are free to treat outsiders however they wish without moral consequence. I would consider that to be unethical myself.

I’m also fairly steady-state when it comes to emotional issues. If life throws a curve-ball, you deal with it and move on without bemoaning it for the next few years. It doesn’t mean a lack of emotion (which is conflated today as a sign of stoicism) it simply means you feel negative emotions at the time, deal with it as best you can and move onward without further complaint.

When it comes to how I interface with the larger world, I don’t require magical thinking to explain my place. If I act poorly, I don’t have the luxury of blaming “The Devil” for it – it’s me that’s the asshole. If I don’t understand something, I don’t make up something supernatural to explain or justify it.

After listening to all of this, she tells me I’m a Stoic from a philosophical standpoint. I remembered a few things from college philosophy, but needed to refresh what I knew before I could agree.

First I learned Stoicism is applied philosophy rather than a religion. It builds off of man’s technological understanding of the universe without the need for an activist “god” to fill the empty space. The Stoic applies force of will towards behavioral goals such as courage, justice, moderation, and wisdom. As with any philosophy, the practitioner will not always live up to the ideal, but the goals are fairly straightforward. The Stoic learns then applies, and repeats this cycle endlessly. Self actualization before it was a 20th century thing. Again it fits my behavioral model.

What is the reward? Not heaven or paradise in a magical setting, but a life well-lived and admirable. Meeting death without fear or bewailing fate. Seriously, what more can anyone ask? In a practical sense, I was to witness soon thereafter that Stoics can also be hypocritical, but then I think all humans share in that failing to some degree. It doesn’t mean you can’t work on it.

So now when it comes to any questions regarding religion, I’ll use the term “Stoic” as my choice. Whether the world understands the term or not is irrelevant. It’s a more thoughtful and truthful answer than the alternatives provided.

A Stoic take on lying, as an example:

“By lying, we deny others a view of the world as it is. Our dishonesty not only influences the choices they make, it often determines the choices they can make—and in ways we cannot always predict. Every lie is a direct assault upon the autonomy of those we lie to.”
Sam Harris

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Random Quote

“..I’m no Stephen King. However it turns out I’m in really good company, as these days even Stephen King isn’t Stephen King.”
Dan M. Kalin

March 2022 Production

Starting once more to track monthly writing production. Lots of ups and down, but it does provide a baseline to improve.

Active projects for the month.
Daily production and cumulative total for the month.

Masters Swimming – CO State Championship

This weekend I participated in the USMS Colorado Short Course Championship held in Thornton, CO. All in all it went very well, all times were improved significantly, earned 38 points for my team, and scored two t-shirts. Not a bad weekend.

This weekend was even better when the below canvas print was waiting for me after the meet. I hung it where a different Blue Boy used to be and I quite like it.

Canvas print from Huntington Museum.