Friday, April 17, 2009

A Report from the Road of Martyrs.

As if life isn’t bad enough in Afghanistan imagine having to take the bus. What is a passenger suppose to think when he looks out his window and sees this sign? Does one think, “Oh, I should have driven.” A bad idea. Private cars are ransacked on a regular basis along Afghanistan's roads. Flying might be your next choice but there are no flights where you want to go and hiring a private plane is all but impossible.

A bus is the only way. Believe me, the entire trip through the mountains riding an Afghan bus makes you reflect upon your life. You reexamine your priorities and commit yourself to change. Each time the bus looses traction along the goat path of a road you clutch your cross and strike bargain after bargain and make promise after promise with God. They say there are no atheists in foxholes. I’m writing to tell you that there are no atheists on Afghan buses.

There were times along the journey I thought were my last. I asked myself over and over why I took this assignment. I'm employed by the Confederacy of Dunces News Service (CNS) and Cloverdale Weekend Television. Both organizations want first hand reports on the war. My professionalism won’t allow reporting from the comfort of a hotel room in Kabul. I had to report from the field to give our citizens the kind of insight into world news you would expect from a Dunce.

I’ll file regular reports. I’ll report all the news no matter the cost. Our viewers will see and hear the war on terror. CNS and Coverdale Weekend Television understand their responsibilities and take them seriously.

Signing off for now along some lonely dusty bend in a mountain road on a rickety Afghan bus holding the road on two wheels.

Norla Battley
Cloverdale Weekend Television

CNS. All the News that's Fit to Print

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Loren Leberman's Mother was Right

Loren Leberman’s mother was right. She told him he’d poke his eye out if Santa brought him knitting needles. Loren begged and she relented. Why Loren wanted knitting needles was beyond her understanding. Loren was the kind of boy that preferred the rough and tumble to the sedative and dull.

On Christmas morning he raced down the stairs and waited patiently as Santa’s gifts were portioned out. His younger sister opened her last gift and everyone’s attention turned to Loren. He opened his gifts one by one. First came an ipod, then a few video games. Clothing followed. Loren's last gift was wrapped in silver with a red bow. The shape gave the contents away. Loren was the proud owner of a pair of knitting needles. His father looked at mother with confusion and worry. Mother shrugged her shoulders and mouthed the words, “That’s what he asked for.” Two hours later Loren was in the emergency room at Cloverdale’s small community hospital. His mother's prophecy was fulfilled.

After all the gifts were opened, the Leberman children disappeared into their rooms to play. Mrs. Leberman told Loren to bring the needles and yarn. She hoped to teach him something simple, like knitting a scarf. He declined. Apparently he and his younger brother Joshua had other plans. One hour later, a quiet Christmas morning was disrupted by a scream. Mother rushed into Loren's room and found him sobbing on his bed. One hand covered his right eye. The other held a knitting needle. Joshua stood at the end of the bed looking defiant. He was breathing heavily. He looked at mother, dropped his needle to the floor and proudly said, "Black Beard is dead! I'm the greatest pirate now!"
“What happened!" Mrs. Leberman shouted to Joshua as she inspected the bleeding wound.
“We were playing pirates. We were sword fighting on the bed. The bed was my ship. He attacked my ship and I fought back and won,” Joshua answered with pride, seemingly uninterested in the injury he inflicted on his brother.
"You two were jumping on the bed and fighting with those knitting needles?!" Mrs. Leberman questioned. "Are you stupid?" Her face turned a deep red. Joshua understood that look and went mute. "I knew you'd poke your eye out. Didn't I say you'd poke your eye out?" she repeated over and over as they grabbed their coats. Dad fetched the car for the trip to the emergency room.

Loren’s eye was saved. He felt bad about the money they spent at the emergency room and the distress he caused his mother. But being a young boy and rather stupid, his sense of pride overwhelmed his remorse. He couldn't forget the shame of loosing the sword fight to his younger brother. There was a burning need for revenge bubbling inside him. A week after the injury Loren invited his cousin Max over for a sleepover. Max and Loren were equally adventurous and stupid. Max listened intently as Loren described the dishonor suffered at the hands of his younger brother. He thought for a moment. Max's brain, not wired to consider consequences, formulated a surprise attach of rubber bands and thumb tacks. Loren thought for a moment, considered the possible pain, and agreed to the idea providing the attack was carried out the pirate way. Joshua had to be given the black mark first. The next morning Joshua woke to find a small piece of paper on his pillow. There was a black circle at its center. He was confused. Suddenly the door to his bedroom flew open...........

Screams brought Mr. and Mrs. Leberman out of a good night's sleep.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Robby Dumple and his Genie

As far as Genies go Ballozar is pretty much at smoke's end. After a long and illustrious career spanning twelve hundred hears his lamp has fallen into the hands of little Robby Dumple of Glenmore Close in Cloverdale. Imagine appearing in Cloverdale after serving in such cities as Constantinople, Athens, Rome, Carthage and Alexandria. If a Genie's luck can run out then his has.

His lamp has been traded for centuries from shop to bazaar to roadside inn to flea market. Most of his owners recognized the shape of the lamp but weren't pure enough in heart to summon him. According to Genie code only those pure in heart can call a Genie forth.

Ballozar was last summoned by a man named Levi. He was a shoe maker in Jerusalem over five hundred years ago. Levi’s three wishes were simple - A good meal, the best leather for his shoes and a healing from his arthritis. Once the wishes were granted, it was Levi’s responsibility to pass the lamp on to another good and wise man.
Ballozar doesn’t know his lamp's history after the granting of Levi's last wish. He was held in the lamp in a state of limbo until summoned by his next master. That occurred three months ago.

One morning he was suddenly woken from his centuries of sleep and coalesced into human form in a child's play room. He looked for his owner. The room seemed empty. His confusion was interrupted by a sound. It came from below. He looked toward the floor and saw a child holding his lamp. The boy’s eyes were as wide as shekels.
“Master, I am Ballozar and you have....” Ballozar’s introduction was interrupted by Robby’s horrific screaming. Ballozar heard footsteps outside the door and vaporized into the lamp. Genie Code forbids a Genie to be seen by anyone other than his or her master.

For weeks Ballazor was summoned. For weeks the child screamed, forcing a tactical retreat back into the bottle. This cycle seemed never ending

Then one day Ballazor was summoned again. He coalesced before the boy.
“Master, I am Ballozar and you have,” He stopped and waited for the screaming. Instead he heard silence. A smile appeared on Robby’s face. Then giggling. The baby was giggling and clapping his hands in an awkward way.
“You have three wishes. Your wish is my command.” He hovered with arms outstretched in a half bow before the boy.
No response. Then laughter. The laughter was followed by heavy drooling from the mouth down the chin and onto the shirt. Ballozar noticed a large amount of nose discharge as well spread from cheek to cheek. A child’s way of wiping his nose with his hand and not doing a very good job of it.

Today Ballozar is pretty much at his smoke’s end. He is summoned repeatedly throughout the day and each time he suffers the same humiliation of entertaining a child who can’t wish for a thing. His ears are assaulted with gurgling and half talk. His eyes feast on drool and a runny noise and more often than not his nose smells the distinct order of a dirty diaper.

The life of a Genie is not an easy one. The life of a Genie with a child for a master is nearly unbearable.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sister Mary Quietly Rocks the Abby

Sister Mary is a happy nun in the order of the Sisters of Ever Increasing Hope. By day she is content with devotion and prayers. But late at night, for a bit of fun she sneaks down the abby stairs.

There in a dark and dank corner of the basement is a musty gray room with tall ceiling. In the center of the room sits a tape recorder on a wooden chair. This is a room without a cross. The Lord is not worshipped there. Instead Sister Mary pays homage to a different King. His picture hangs on the wall - not to be worshipped but admired. Yes, she will allow admiration. A small sin surely but it was God himself that gave him the voice that changed the music of his generation. Admiration for one of God’s miracles cannot be too great a sin. And if it is, then she willingly risks purgatory for her few minutes of joy each night.

The music’s volume is kept low. She cannot risk discovery. Her vows forbid this kind of worldliness but the music living in her soul gives her pardon. She dances cautiously knowing it could open the door to impure thoughts. She focuses her mind on the music itself and takes delight in the rhythm. For fifteen minutes each day she casts a line to the other world and pulls it close.

And when it ends the bulb is extinguished and the doorway to her world of color and sound is locked. The key is safely tucked away in her long dark robe. She walks toward the stairway. The hallway echoes the clicking of her solid black shoes on the stone floor. She climbs the steps back into solitude with a heart bursting with the wonders of God and the miracle of man, whom God made in his image. Religion is everywhere for Sister Mary. She sees God in all his creations.

She passes the Chapel and stops to bow toward the alter. She continues to her bedroom. Prayers will send her to sleep and then the sun will rise again and fill the world with warmth and color.

Sister Mary is a happy nun.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Jorel and the Stone Angel

Jorel Jacobs lives on Juniper Street with his parents and two sisters. He is of average intelligence and recently began speaking with a pronounced stutter. His mother asked the Head Master of Confederacy Elementary for speech therapy. Jorel objected, without stating a reason. He tried to vocalize his objection during the screening process but gave up after he could see it wasn’t worth the tremendous effort it would take to successfully produce the word “no” in any reasonable amount of time. His sudden onset of stuttering was a mystery to all. The family doctor said it might be the result of a recent traumatic event. He suggested it might be something he out grows.

Unknown to everyone but Winston, the family dog, there was a traumatic event in Jorel’s life. Jorel went sledding alone one day and chose a hill which sloped down into the village cemetery. Jorel wasn’t intelligent enough to anticipate the physics of sledding down a steep snow covered hill into a cemetery forested with upright tombstones. Nor was he clever enough to select a spot which offered the best odds of not striking a solid object on the way down. It doesn’t hurt to mention the fact that his sled was a sheet of colored plastic and therefore missing a steering mechanism. Jorel was smart enough to find a place free of trees. Trees were tall enough to get his attention and he knew trees were dangerous. Last summer he fell from one and broke his arm when trying to retrieve one of his sneakers thrown to knock Hairball out of the tree. Hairball, the cat, spent most of his time in trees to stay out Jorel’s reach.

Jorel was fascinated with machinery and its effects on animals. Hairball still suffers vision problems after spending time in the microwave. Luckily Grandma Jacobs was in the kitchen preparing her nerve tonic (tomato juice, vodka and a celery stick). She heard the microwave door close followed by the sound of a cat getting cooked from the inside out. Her nerves required a double dose of tonic that night. Jorel spent the next two days confined to his room.

Jorel climbed the hill, sat on the plastic sled and prepared to launch. He licked one finger and held it up into the air. He didn’t know why but he’d seen someone do it on the TV. He released the sled and immediately began moving down the hill. He made the sound of a police siren until a bump caused him to bite his tongue. The pain diverted his attention. He lost focus and didn't see the dark figure growing rapidly in front of him. His adventure ended abruptly when his head came into rapid contact with the stone angel which blessed the final resting place of Loretta Hempelwhite. Jorel lost consciousness and the angel lost a wing.

Jorel returned to the world a few minutes after impact. Winston was licking his face. Jorel’s memory was shaken so he followed Winston home leaving the sled behind. His mother was having one of her tupperware parties so she sent him straight to bed to keep him out of the way. He didn’t know where 'bed' was but Winston did - it was where he slept every night. Jorel found the bed and fell into it. He woke the next morning with his memory restored except for the sledding accident. He felt a bump on his head but couldn't talk about it because something else became more important. He couldn't speak without stuttering. It was apparent to his family that his personality was slightly altered as well. He was different. He wasn't loud, overbearing and boyishly cruel like he was the day before. He was quiet. One would think moody but not. Reflective seemed a better discription. Perhaps confused is the most accurate.

Today Jorel seems content. He rarely speaks because of the stuttering. Through practice he has perfected the art of speaking with his hands, facial expressions and writing. While others use words to convey feelings he finds other ways of expressing himself. He brings laughter to family meals with interesting arrangements of his food. Other times he uses a tablet and colored markers and draws impressions of the people around him. Jorel discovered a talent for art and is getter better because of the practice he’s getting. He is a caring, sympathetic boy because his life is focused on listening and not speaking. He can hear the hidden meaning in a spoken word and with a hug or drawing or a combination of both, speak with more meaning than someone blessed with the gift of tongues. His experience into silence has taught Jorel the value of being a good listener. He has learned to hear truth.

Both Jorel and the Stone Angel are different because of their encounter. Joel is a happier boy and the angel is missing a wing - a sacrifice to help a young boy see life with a new perspective.
It was a good exchange.

Here in our little village of Cloverdale our lives are written with ups and downs. We cherish the ups and, just like Jorel, pull ourselves up from the downs wiser and better people. The sun is setting and children are rushing home for supper. There may be time for some television after the dishes are done. Then bed and sleep.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Easter Car on the Coastal Express

Hello Friends,
I'm hoping all of you are enjoying your Easter. I've returned from the annual Easter Egg Hunt at St. Bartholomew's. There is a story to tell as usual. Please refer to the post about Elizabeth and Jordan. Life in the Confederacy of Dunces is never boring. I'll enjoy spending a full week off work and in the company of fellow Dunces like myself.

I'm leaving shortly for Cloverdale's train station. Its such a beautiful day I think I'll catch the Coastal Express for a quick trip to Tamworth on the Tide, enjoy the sea air and return later this evening. Actually the Coastal Express has a different name on Easter. It's called 'The Easter Express".

Every Easter Confederacy Railway converts one car of the Coastal Express into the Sugar Kingdom. Everyone with a first class ticket is allowed into the Sugar Kingdom with a small Easter basket. You are given exactly one minute in the room and cannot take more than your basket will hold. Its maddening to hear the word "Go!" and know you've got one minute to fill a small basket with candy. The selection is astounding! Thirty seconds passes before you gain your composure and start to grab as quickly as you can.

Well, It's nearly 3:00 P.M. and I'd better be on my way. It takes fifteen minutes to walk to the station and the Easter Express leaves at 3:30 P.M.

Enjoy your Easter. I'm sure I will mine.


Elizabeth, Jordan, and the Easter Egg Hunt Rumble.

Elizabeth Barrison-Meyer.
Future - Uncertain.
Present - Prissy

Elizabeth Barriston - Meyer has a new Easter Dress. She found it three weeks ago while shopping with her mother at Cloverdale’s Donaldson’s Department Store. She held it up against her to see how the colors matched her eyes. She studied the delicate stitch work and admired the lacing. Elizabeth was sure her dress would outshine all the other girl’s dresses at Easter Mass at St. Bartholomew's.
Her mother winced at the price. It was customary for Elizabeth to receive an Easter dress but never one that expensive. Elizabeth's tastes were changing as she got older. She paid closer attention to what the other girls were wearing and felt because she had a hyphenated last name (Barriston- Meyer) she should have the very best. Her dresses had to be nicer than those girls with only one last name. She insisted and her parents paid whatever the price to keep their only child happy.
The Saturday before Easter was reserved for pictures. Elizabeth spent two hours preparing. Her hair was done by the beautician who lived next door. Mrs. Barriston Meyer stopped doing her daughter's hair a year ago. Apparently her styles were too common. Elizabeth knew the look she wanted from the teen magazines she purchased with her allowance every week.
During the drive to Kiddy Kandids on the High Street Elizabeth sat motionless on a towel spread over the back seat of the family car. Her white gloved hands laid daintily in her lap. From time to time she asked her father to adjust the rear view mirror so she could , for the hundredth time, check her hair.
It took Elizabeth twenty minutes to decide on the proper back drop at Kiddies Kandids. In the end she chose the outdoor backdrop and the pillar. The picture was taken once she approved the camera's angle.
Elizabeth rose early on Easter Sunday to prepare for Mass. She pleaded with her daddy to wash and wax the car. He obliged. She manipulated events at home to be sure they arrived late to church. She wanted everyone seated for her grand entrance. She walked slowly through the chapel, forcing a cough from time to time to attract attention. She looked for the other girls in her school class and was sure to wave and swoosh her dress.
The Barriston-Meyers found a pew near the front of the chapel. Elizabeth turned to take a seat and stopped. What she saw sitting before her caused her to take a step back onto her father’s shoe. Sitting there looking at her with a smile steatching from ear to ear was Jordan Boyer, the biggest tomboy in her grade. Jordan’s hair was a rat’s nest and her dress a plain earthy brown. Mr. Barriston Meyers pushed Elizabeth from the back to encourage her to keep moving so the family could sit.
“Sit Down,” her father said impatiently. Elizabeth obeyed. She sat down beside her universal opposite. You’ve heard of oil and water, light and dark, good and evil? Well, I give you Elizabeth and Jordan.
“Don’t look at me,” Elizabeth said in disdain to Jordan. “You smell and your look as unkempt as your mother,”

Jordan Boyers on one of her dressed up days. Tomboy.

Jordan knew Elizabeth all too well and knew she’d say something rude the second she sat down. Jordan was prepared. She was sucking on a peppermint when the Meyers arrived.
“I lost my peppermint,” Jordan said as she leaned toward Elizabeth.
“Don’t come any closer,” Elizabeth answered while turning her nose away.
Jordan repeated, “I lost my peppermint. I think it may be under you. I think you’re sitting on it. I’m hoping it isn’t there because I can't imagine a peppermint stain on your pretty pink dress.”

Elizabeth jumped to her feet just as the alter boy rang the bell. She felt the back of her dress. Her gloved hand found something sticky and round. She gasped in disbelief. Jordan laughed loud enough to capture an angry look from the Priest. Tears welled in Elizabeth’s eyes. Mrs. Barriston-Meyer saw the hurricane forming and quickly took her hand and dragged her to the rest room. They got through the door into the Ladies just as the scream escaped. Elizabeth and her mother spent the rest of the Mass on the back pew.

After Mass the children gathered on the church’s grassy knoll for the annual Easter Egg Hunt. Elizabeth vowed revenge on Jordan and began the process of discovery. Somewhere on the vast green carpet covered in all colors of eggs was the money egg. It was a plastic egg with one Golden Florin, donated by the Knight of Columbus. Mr. Barriston Meyer knew the grounds keeper and the grounds keeper was the one who hid the eggs. Elizabeth used her little girl's persuasive techniques of tears and pleading to convinced her father to bribe the grounds keeper to reveal the general location of the money egg. Jordan watched from a distance knowing what was happening. The children stood against the rope waiting for the whistle. The shrill sound was followed by the screams of children and the shouting of their hopeful parents.

There was only one thing in the universe that could get Elizabeth to act on her primeval instincts - gold. She ran down the hill passing candy eggs of all sizes and descriptions. Jordan followed behind. The two girls moved quickly away from the pack of other children. It looked odd to the spectators to see two lone girls moving to a section of the lawn seemingly void of color. Elizabeth stopped at the designated point. She looked around and then heard a sound. She turned. Behind her at five paces stood Jordan.
“Why are you following me,” she demanded.
“I saw your dad talking to the ground’s keeper,” Jordan answered with a smile. “You know where the money egg is don’t you?”
Elizabeth clenched her fists. This meant war. She dropped her flowered basket, peeled off her gloves and started looking for the egg. Jordan immediately followed. Both girls hovering around each other for a moment, then separating for another minute then back together again.

Something near an old maple tree caught Jordan’s eye. She spun on her heels and ran. Elizabeth was looking through a patch of crab grass unaware of Jordan’s discovery. A moment later she heard the screaming.
“I found it. I found it,” Jordan shouted toward her parents and a nearby hunt judge. Her excitement was silenced by a deep dark voice from behind.
“It’s my egg and I want it.”
Jordan turned and saw Elizabeth walking toward her slowly and with conviction.
“I found it. You didn’t and so that makes it mine,” Jordan answered.
“Give it to me right now,” Elizabeth said with the look of a starved animal cornering a helpless meal.
“Never,” Jordan replied with a look of steel.

The sound coming from the old maple tree was so astonishing that all the children in the hunt stopped and looked. The spectators heard it as well. It was like the gates of hell were opened and demons were released on the land.
“Fight,” one of the older boys shouted. Most of the children ran toward the tangled bodies rolling on the lawn. There were screams, scratching, hair pulling, punching, and kicking. Soon blood was added to the grass stains covering both dresses.

The Hunt judges were the first adults to arrive on the scene. With a great deal of effort the two girls were separated. Elizabeth’s dress was in tatters. Her face covered in blood, mucus, and grass clippings. Jordan was in better shape but not by much. Their mouths continued what their fists didn’t resolve. The other children were rushed away to prevent them from hearing and seeing something usually only seen in a barroom brawl.

Both parents arrived and carried their daughters away. Jordan had the money egg. The hunt judge saw her discover it and certified the victory. Elizabeth lost and learned a lesson that day. Money and looks can take you places and get you things but never ever discount pure guts, determination and cleverness.

It was an Easter Egg hunt Cloverdale will never forget.