penpusher: (SciFi  honoring <lj user=melodymuse>)
Nobody can continually keep running. The “flight or fight” response is only a temporary jolt. Eventually, the adrenalin will wane, the muscles will tire and ache, the oxygen will be more difficult to process and the heart rate will level and reduce.

There is also the matter of needing sustenance. Eating nothing but fish for days and weeks at a time, with only some of it properly cooked, might be enough to survive, but there was also the possibility that even a little was tainted, poisoned by radiation still in certain areas. Consuming only as much as needed and continuing to keep moving through was the best way of handling the circumstances. It had been a very long time out on the road.

The good thing was the solitude. With no one else to share the journey with, there was no one else to need to deal with, to protect or to have to debate when the next choice of how to proceed came up. Full authority about when to go and where to go made for quick functioning.

The bad thing was the solitude. With no one else to share the journey with, there was no distraction, no diversion, no way to prevent all of the thoughts that came from all of the experiences that were part of the need to escape. With nothing but the imagination, the memories to share the journey, there was no avoiding the history of what created this circumstance.

The problem was being a recognizable person. Traveling during the day was more dangerous but it also helped to change the skin tone and, to a degree, the hair color with some sunlight.

As the area just negotiated was mostly flooded, it didn’t seem to matter. There were no search parties here, certainly none coming from any similar direction. But, the circumstances were finally changing, as the waters finally receded at the entrance to the Arid Zone.

A community was up ahead. It was time to make some decisions. Sneak by, be stealth, stay low profile. Or walk in, be bold, act like you belong. The tendency was always the former. But somehow, seeing a rather wide open and rollicking town, the latter was a little more appealing.

Jailee smelled it, in the air, the smell of food! She noted the sign in big black letters on large yellow squares: WALE HOSE. Though she had been dieting on fish this whole while, at least this place was cooking something that didn’t “smell” like whale.

She entered the brown building and was greeted by applause from the people working there.

“Welcome to Day fifty-two thousand five hundred and ninety-six!” smiled a waitress.

“Sorry? What?”

“We have been open twenty-four hours a day, every day, for, how many days is it again?” called the cook working over a hot grill.

“Fifty-two thousand five hundred and ninety-six!” yelled the rest of the staff.

“And you’re our first customer of the new day!” The waitress smiled, as she sat Jailee down in a booth by the windows. “Let me get you a menu and a cup of coffee.”

Another worker brought over a placemat and the menu, with a small glass of cactus juice. “Hi, Ma’am,” he said.

“Hello,” Jailee nodded wearily.

“I’ve never seen anyone that looks like you before.”

Jailee just scanned the menu. There were pictures of things she had never seen before that you could supposedly eat. The waitress returned with a pot of coffee and a cup, pouring, and placing.

“Do you know what you’d like, darlin’?”

“I don’t really,” Jailee said. “What do you recommend for someone who is hungry to have something other than fish?

The waitress finally looked at her customer, emaciated, gaunt, no matter how you described her, she was definitely not looking healthy.

“Gimme The State Breakfast, Charlie!” The waitress called, then went over to greet the three gentlemen who walked in.

Jailee glanced over at the group being seated. One of the men looked strangely familiar. She immediately went into defense mode. How would she exit the building if she had to right now? Busting through the window was the obvious choice, but was there a less noticeable way? Could she run through the kitchen and exit out back? She took another glance at the other table and noticed that at least one of the group was staring over at her. She quickly turned her face toward the windows. She got out her little Nerve Blaster and pretended not to pay any attention. Just then, a hand touched her shoulder.

“Aah!” Jailee yelled just before pressing the trigger, then realized it was the waitress with her meal.

“I didn’t mean to startle you, Darlin’!” she said, “but this plate is hot and I didn’t want you to get burned. Now you’ve got some pure goat sausage and bacon and two eggs, scrambled because that’s the safest way, and some hashbrowns!”

“What’s this round thing?” Jailee asked, looking at the separate dish.

“That’s our house specialty,” the waitress said. “Pour some of this syrup on it and enjoy! Oh, and let me refill your coffee.”

Jailee knew that if she ate too much too quickly, in her present physical condition, she wouldn’t be able to keep the food down. So she sipped a bit of the Cactus Juice, and nibbled at the egg and sausage before attempting the larger round item with the accompanying liquid, what did she call it? Sauce? She poured a little bit on and got a small bite. It was sweet!

She was ready to swallow it whole, when she noticed someone from the other table standing and walking towards her booth.

Immediately she got up and moved towards the women’s privacy hatch and closed the door, quickly inspecting the room. There was an air vent that looked like it led to the roof and might be big enough…

Just then the door flew open! The person walked in and shut and locked it. The bravado.

Jailee’s eyes widened as she realized the other person was a woman, too. “Who are you?”

“You don’t need to know that,” she stated and held up a medic reader. “We only have about forty-five seconds before this appears suspicious to the other people I am with. Why did you come here?”

“I had to get away from…”

“You really didn’t, you know. You were safe where you were.”

“That isn’t true. An agent followed me to where I hid and…”

“I meant you were safe where you were with my fa…” and the woman shook her head. “Take this.” She handed Jailee what looked like a keyring with three keys and two padlocks on it.

“What do I do with this?” Jailee asked, looking at the ring.

“This is a Sector ring.” She said. “the green padlock and the green key will transport you to a region you select, where no Sector officers are located – designed to get Sector officers to a location where they’re needed, quickly. The Red is a small storage of weapons, knives for close combat and a handgun.”

A knock on the door. “Is everything alright, Agent Bingham?”

“Yeah, but I shouldn’t have had that last taco,” she called.

Footsteps running from the door.

“Why is there an orange key with no lock?” Jailee asked. Bingham held up the lock.

“Because we’re about to use it right now. Get the green key ready and grab me as you turn it. Bingham opened the orange lock as Jailee turned the green key. Bingham jumped into her arms. The light of an explosion was just starting to flash in Jailee’s eyes when –

Suddenly they were on top of a tree lined mountain. Several kilometers away and below, they could see the explosion and fire. Jailee was devastated.

“Oh, no, did all those people…”

“No. I tipped off my fellow agents, I’m sure everyone got out of the building before the blast.”

“I didn’t get to finish my breakfast.” Jailee said. “And now, there’s one less place to eat around here.”

“That’s really okay,” Agent Bingham said. “They’ll be open again before sunset. They always are.” The agent pointed towards the building and that a hook and ladder and engine had already arrived and extinguished the blaze, and a construction crew had already begun measuring the area for materials.

“Very efficient.” Jailee said, sadly.

“But we still need to feed you,” Agent Bingham said. “And I can’t take you home because I’m presumed dead.” She took a long look at Jailee. “I guess we’re both outlaws, now.”

“I don’t think I can climb all the way down this mountain,” Jailee stated, looking at the height from where they were back down.

“We can use the transport lock again,” Agent Bingham said. “But the more urgent issue is what our story is supposed to be.”

“OUR story?” asked Jailee.

“I can’t be seen in my agent togs anymore. And you can’t be seen. After all, you killed a Sector Agent before making your escape.”

“When you put it that way, you made my situation even worse. Now they won’t stop hunting me until I’m found, and the punishment will be…”

“Not a problem, because I’m not actually dead,” Agent Bingham reminded her. “I think I have an idea. You really believed I was a man, so why don’t we play it like that? Boyfriend Girlfriend?”

Jailee raised an eyebrow.

“It makes sense. I know all the protocols. I can get you some skin cover to make you look more normal, um, I mean…”

“I know what you mean.” Jailee said quietly.

So, let’s get us dressed up and to the other Wale Hose before they reopen the first one,” Agent Bingham grinned. “I haven’t had my breakfast, either!”


This story was written for LJ Idol using the prompt The Waffle House Index.

Here is an Index of all previous LJ Idol appearances of Jailee
penpusher: (Playboy)
Previously on “The Fixer…”

Joe Fixadore was booted from the LA Police Force and set up shop as a Private Investigator out of his mother’s basement.

His first client, Gary (who The Fixer insists on calling “Driz”), owner of a literary agency, was being blackmailed by someone using a phony picture of him in a tête-à-tête with a Playboy Playmate as leverage. After being run off the grounds of the Playboy Mansion and losing his car to the LAPD, The Fixer and his client now proceed on foot to meet likely suspects that want to punish Gary for his past actions.

--- )
penpusher: (Playboy)
Joe Fixadore was a policeman in the City of Angels, booted off the squad for a violation he swore he didn’t do those thirty-two times.

Now, he’s an ex-cop with a chip on his shoulder and a grudge to settle and he is determined to even the score and get back on the force.

Joe kept his badge and he kept it highly polished, though he was supposed to turn it in with his uniform and his pistol. He taped over the number and told everyone he knew, and even some people he didn’t know, that he was a “freelancing plainclothes enforcer of the law.” When nobody bothered to contact him, except his former Captain demanding he return the shield, he quickly changed his phone number and started running ads on the back pages of the paper:


Who said you couldn’t give yourself a nickname? That was his nickname: The Fixer. You know, because of the last name. He considered going with an additional slogan – “You’ll ‘Adore’ The Fixer,” but he thought that would be too easy for the cops to figure out it was him.

The Fixer set up operations... )
penpusher: (Pen)
When something was wrong, the thought, the concept that most people had was to fix it. Simply start by correcting the problem. That assumes you know what the problem actually is.

If you are in a circumstance where you do not know what the problem is, you have a preliminary step: that of discovering the problem. But discovering what the problem is requires you to actually be interested in the problem and what issues it is causing.

Enter Christoph. Yeah, he used to just be “Chris” and yes, he could have gone with Christopher, but he figured this way he’d sound more cultured, more downtown. Christoph usually liked to solve problems. He had a bunch of apps on his phone that were problem solving games, where you would maneuver pixelated versions of wood planks so that a particular wood plank would move safely across a screen. Or where you had to get a bunch of similarly colored objects in a row to make them disappear.

But Christoph wasn’t supposed to be playing any of those games right now. He had work to do. Serious work.

Still, there was nothing like the rush of getting a new high score, or better yet, posting it where others could see. Everyone had to like a new high score (meaning more media for the social media) and nobody liked it more than Christoph.

Of course, there was a job to do, first. Can’t sit around all day playing with the phone when there was an issue to resolve. What exactly was the problem? The sooner this started, the sooner he could get back to crushing candy or helping famous cartoon characters from a particular movie studio get across the road.

Okay, let’s focus. Here we are. It seems like there is a person, or entity of some kind, and they are setting off some kind of display or action. Is this being done from a home or a business? Impossible to know. What neighborhoods will it involve? Perhaps this one, since the call came for him to attend here.

It was a highly populated part of the country, with both a standard urban skyline and a lot of smaller residential units just beyond it. But why were the people who summoned him so urgent about the issue? There didn’t seem to be any imminent problems. There didn’t seem to be much of anything at all.

But first, he had to check that signal on his iPhone. WHAT?! Coco just topped his high score in 2048?! How was that possible? Coco, of all people, who nearly always stuck to higher math problems and programming issues somehow decided to play and beat his high score. How many tries did it take? How much did she beat his score by?

It didn’t matter, really. Okay, it totally did matter. And he would take care of that as soon as he took care of this.

So, looking at the information provided, and looking at the area affected, this should be easy. Simply search for the controlling program and shut that down, then go back and find the entity that was using the program and dispatch some authorities to pick them up. It would be easy.

So easy, in fact, that it meant there was time to go back and reassert the high score. Christoph glanced at his watch. 23:25 local time. He could do a quick spin, get the high score back and still have time to complete the task in a matter of moments.

But, for some reason, Christoph was having a problem. As soon as he was getting close to Coco’s high score, his phone would reset. What is this?

After doing a quick examination of the phone itself and then the connection to the app, it seemed that Coco planted a naughty little bug that caused his phone to shut down as it was approaching her high score! That little devil!

Now it would take an extra ten minutes to resolve her minor worm before getting the new high score posted. Won’t she be surprised to see how quickly her score will go away!

Oh, but first, this other issue. Yes. Priorities. What was going on with all of this? Some hacker messing around with something in this neighborhood. What was going to happen? What was the goal? Shut off the water for the area? Cause problems with the power? And who do we think is bothering to do any of that? Some high school kid with too much free time.

Time to run a diagnostic on the grid system while the removal of the phone hack was going on. Concurrent jobs meant success, twice as fast!

Christoph sat back and waited. Whichever finished first would get the attention, first! He had to admire Coco, though. A worm that shut down the phone as the high score was about to go. Why didn’t he think of that? Borderline genius, if he admitted it.

Aha. It was ready to examine. The game app was a minor issue, really, which is how it got resolved so quickly. And really, it’s all about the quick.

A few simple keystrokes, a new code program and done! And sure, he could just send Coco the worm back, but only a lower level gamer would do something like that. And really, Christoph could also insert a ridiculously enormous high score total, but that would not be authentic. And it would be too easy to check. If he did do something like that, it would be a reputation ruiner.

No, the old-fashioned way was the best way. Time to rack up an impressive score in a hurry and to see what else had to be done.

Okay. Now it was time to look at this… what. What’s going on here?

It looks like some sort of object. What sort of object would be moving towards this area? And why was it moving now?

It was a projectile traveling at a very fast rate, and the source was unidentified. Christoph set off to examine the information as it came in, and it appeared as if the object was a rocket or a missile of some sort. But that couldn’t be right. Why would this area be some sort of target? Or why wouldn’t the people that contacted him tell him this was a likely part of the scenario?

It looked like the impact might occur in ten to twelve minutes, depending on wind speed and trajectory.

That left enough time to contact the authorities. Should there be an evacuation? Or could the rocket be stopped. Or did it have to be stopped? After all, we don’t really know what this is. Maybe it was a drill or test case of some sort.

Oh this was bad. It was very bad. Coco had immediately beaten his new score in the interim! But, okay, what about this issue. He probably should ask around to find out who knows anything about a rocket or missile. Calling it a rocket sent less of an alarm out than referring to it as a missile, and there was no need for panic when there was no call for danger.

It did appear as if this was a missile. Maybe this incoming text would answer everything.

“HA. HA. HA.” wrote Coco.

Grr, that will have to wait a minute or two. Maybe this wasn’t some high school kid. Maybe this was more serious? But there still was no reason for this area to be the target of anyone. There were no valuable interests like gold or oil. There were no government entities or other organizations like the United Nations nearby. Who would want to cause any problems here?

It was clear now that it was a missile. But what could be done? Roughly five minutes. If it were a nuclear device, it could devastate a region of ten-thousand hectares in the initial blast. But there didn’t appear to be a nuclear signature coming from the missile.

Still, it might help to know where this was being sent from, to forward that info on to people who might need it. From the looks of it, this was launched remotely and using a somewhat familiar set of intel.

Now Christoph had to actually do some work, triangulating the signal that the missile was receiving and tracing that back to its source. Wherever this thing was going to land, it could create some pretty severe devastation, no matter what.

Christoph checked to see if there were any other messages from Coco. Nothing.

Could it be reprogrammed to go back where it came from, or to detonate before impact? Continuing to scan, it looked like there was not even any explosive on board the missile. That would keep the danger relatively small.

Christoph noted that there was only about two minutes until impact, but as it appeared to be a non-explosive device, now it didn’t matter quite as much. Time to work at that high score!

With just thirty seconds to go and with Christoph right in the middle of his game, his phone activity signal went off. Begrudgingly, he looked his Snapchat.

It was a GIF of Coco smiling, winking and holding a sign that read, “It's Midnight. Looks Like I Got You!”

Christoph disgustedly logged off of the service and tossed his phone back on the desk, just as the roof caved in.


This story was written for LJ Idol, using the prompt: Lethargy
penpusher: (Pen)
“Hello there!”


“And who might you be?”

“My name is Angela.”

“Angela. Is that it?”

“My mom taught me not to give out too much information, especially to adults I don’t know and in threatening situations.”

“I see. Do you feel like you’re being threatened in some way?”

“Actually… um… no.”

“That’s good then.”

“So wait. Who are you?”

“Don’t freak out when I tell you this. But I am an angel.”

“My mom named me Angela because she said when she saw me, I looked like an angel.”

“That’s a lovely thought, Angela. Thank you for sharing that with me.”

“But, I don’t look anything like you.”

“Yes, well, your mother had never actually seen an angel at that time.”

“And, I’m not a guy.”

“No, but you see, angels aren’t actually gender specific because, obviously, we don’t reproduce.”

“Well, you *look* like a guy.”

“We’ve found that humans tend to respond more readily to authoritarian figures who fall into the spectrum of male. If you find this thought sexist, I apologize.”

“So, you’re actually an angel?”

“Don't make me repeat it, Angela!”

“Oh. So, what’s your name?”


“Like Peyton Meyer, the guy who starred as Lucas from ‘Girl Meets World’ on Disney Channel. I cried when I heard that show got canceled.”

“Or like Peyton List, the girl who stars as Emma on ‘Bunk’d,’ also on Disney Channel!”

“I never liked that series.”

“Tell me how old you are?”


And how do you currently feel, Angela?”

“I don’t feel… bad. I don’t feel anything.”

“Would you characterize the feeling you have as… numb?”

“I guess so, I mean, I don’t know.”

“You aren’t feeling too cold or too warm?”

“Not that I’m aware. And I’d have to say that normally I would be completely bored if I wasn’t watching something and texting or tweeting about it. Somehow, sitting here and talking to you, it’s strangely okay.”

“I’m glad to hear that, Angela.”

“So, are you like MY Guardian Angel?”

“Me? No. That isn’t my role at all.”

“Oh. Kay. So, why are you bothering with me?”


“Why are you talking to me, if you aren’t my Guardian Angel?”

“Guardian Angels never speak to their charges. It would only complicate matters in ways that would likely create many more problems than it would resolve.”

“Yes. We established that you aren’t my Guardian Angel. So why ARE you talking to me?”

“Let’s come back to that question a little bit later, Angela.”

“Are you trying to hide something from me?”

“Hide? No. I can’t hide anything from anyone. But the mind needs time to understand and process, so we have to take things slowly.”

“Oh and where are we, anyway? This definitely isn’t my room, and it’s not any place I recognize.”

“Would seeing things that you would recognize be good for you, Angela?”

“Yes. I guess it would, Pey-ton.”

“Don’t be mean, An-gel-a. I’m here to help.”

“This looks like the main lobby of my Junior High School.”


“How dull. How about this.”

“Alright. Times Square. Certainly not the first time I’ve been here.”

“It's weird that the whole place is empty.”

“That’s because it’s just the location, not the people in it.”

“It seems kind of sad with no one here.”

“Sad? Well, we don’t want that. What if we changed it to the porch and lawn part of your backyard?”

“Fine, I guess.”

“There. That’s more like it.”

“So, is this later, now?”


“So I can find out why you’re bothering with me when you have a whole universe to take care of, I mean there’s probably someone in trouble you could be helping.”

“Oh. That.”

“Or granting someone’s wish! Or, I mean answering their prayer?”

“That’s not exactly how…”

“‘You seem to enjoy being cryptic.’ That’s a quote from my therapist. But it also applies to you.”

“I don’t mean to be cryptic, Angela.”

“I just realized, I’m being a terrible host. Would you like something? A snack?”

“Angels don’t eat in the same way as humans do.”

“I see. I was going to get a glass of iced tea but I’m suddenly not thirsty at all.”

“I understand, Angela.”

“So, there’s more to this backyard than just the porch. Off to the right is about a hundred acres of woodlands. Now that I’m thinking of it, you can suddenly see it over there! Sometime deer come out and sit on the grass. We even saw a trespasser bear one time.”

“That must be fun to have happen!”

“It gets pretty old. Especially when the deer start to eat flowers my Mom planted. She throws a fit. And my dad had to scare the bear with a cherry bomb. Out there, is Dad's little driving range and mini golf set of putting greens. Oh, here’s my dad, now!”

“Angela, there’s something I should tell you…”

“Why is he running in slow motion? And there’s Mom running in slow motion behind him. Even for a dream, this is weird. Is this a dream?”

“Angela I’d like you to listen carefully to me.”

“There’s one other thing in our backyard that makes us the envy of the block. Our Olympic sized swimming pool!”

“Yes. About the pool…”

“Take a look! Isn’t it great? We had it installed during the Rio games last year and I only got to start using the diving board this year! Hey. There’s somebody swimming there, without me!”

“Angela, please listen to me.”

“Angela, do you see that person in the pool, the one your parents are slowly running towards?”

“Of course, I do. I was the one to say someone was in the pool.”

“That someone is you.”

“No, it’s not. I’m here, talking with you.”

“Yes. You’re talking with me. Peyton the Angel.”

“But if that’s me, how could…”

“Did you notice the expressions on your parents’ faces? If not, don’t look.”

“Are you saying that I’m…”

“Here’s the thing. You are at a crossroads, Angela.”

“That sounds ominous.”

“You have a choice! Not everyone gets this sort of choice, especially so young.”

“What are the choices?”

“You can either rejoin your family back here or you can come with me to a new existence!”

“So, what are the catches?”

“Catches? Do you believe I’m out to trick you into some sort of steal your soul bargain? Our side never pulls that kind of guff.”

“I didn’t mean to imply you were trying to trick me, just that usually there’s some elements that come attached to any decision that might make someone consider that choice more carefully.”

“I get it. You’re a highly intelligent being.”

“Am I going to be brain dead or impaired if I stay?”

“No, you should make a full recovery.”

“And what is this ‘new existence’?”

“I can’t tell you anything about it, just that it’s very different from this place.”

“Well, how am I supposed to decide which way to go?”

“I will say this. There is incredible beauty and overwhelming joy if you come with me.”

“But my Mom and Dad will be sad for the rest of their lives if I chose that.”

“It’s not like you’re going to see them. I mean, take inventory. How are you feeling now?”

“I’m okay.”

“So, you’d be okay with leaving them behind.”

“But THEY wouldn’t be okay. They’d be sad, or feeling guilty that I drowned in a pool that they wanted to help make me happy.”

“What if I told you they wouldn’t.”

“They wouldn’t?”

“That they wouldn’t be sad or guilty about this.”

“I wouldn’t believe you.”

“Have I lied to you before?”

“I have no idea.”

“Do you think that angels lie?”

“I… I never thought about it, but if I had to guess it would be no.”

“Then, what seems to be the issue?”

“Maybe you aren’t an angel?”

“Not an angel! Not an angel! I don’t understand how you can say that.”

“You're playing games with me. You are offering me some other existence. You are saying my parents won’t care if I died.”

“I’m trying to help you, Angela, but you have to let me help you. You need to make the correct choice!”

“I thought you said this was my choice! Now, it’s starting to feel like you’re practically forcing me to go!”

“Just release. Fall away. Come with me! Please hurry!”

“I… whoa… blur…”


“Blur, glub, club, lub… skaaz!”


“She’s breathing!”

“Thank you, God, she’s back. She’s back!”

“Honey, are you alright?”


“I’ll get the car. Let’s get her to the clinic.”

“My beautiful angel. You’re okay! You’re okay.”


“Yes, Angela?”

“I’m… sorry.”


This entry was written for LJ Idol using the prompt Turn Back or Forge Ahead.
penpusher: (Trump)
Steve Scalise Among 4 Shot at Baseball Field; Suspect Is Dead - The New York Times Wednesday June 14, 2017

Partisan politics commentary where people of a differing political stance have chosen to call each other “selfish,” “stupid,” “insane” or worse. Much worse. It's difficult not to see the above event as possibly a result of such responses. And it's something we have to address.

If we are to understand where the United States is, politically, we have to go back in time and examine where we were. Let’s turn back the clock and go for a trip to a previous USA, all the way back to the mid twentieth century!

The world of politics during the Eisenhower era... )
penpusher: (Pen)
Note: this piece is a segment from the novel I am currently writing. It follows the piece I posted during Week [8] of this year's Idol competition. Just as a brief summary, the protagonist has shifted from the Earth we know to an alternate one, where different decisions were made and different outcomes were experienced. That world's version of the protagonist was married, had kids and is now divorced but mysteriously disappeared on the first day of spring while on the rim of the Grand Canyon. This is our first view of his former spouse.


Doctor Harriet Foster was extremely busy. Between her lectures and surgical work at the University of Tokyo, and her semi-regular appearances on “The Asako Ito Show” talking about health, nutrition and exercise, she was also, now and for the first time in her life, a full-time, single mom. Her three children were continually in her orbit, because of the circumstances. Of course, she had help, but she had come to detest leaving the kids with a caregiver that wasn’t related to the family (irrational as that was), and she wasn’t comfortable dealing with her parents more than absolutely necessary (practical as that was). That’s why she was doing a bit of work from home, monitoring her progeny while making some progress on a Commencement Address and writing notes on some research one of her surgical teams produced during the previous week.

One of the conveniences of Doug as her former partner was that his calendar was astoundingly flexible. Or, at least, because of the style of his work, frequently writing and usually in locations where all that he needed were semi-private conditions to accomplish his tasks, he tended to be even more willing to take on responsibility to mind the kids, as needed. So, when Harriet’s schedule got overbooked the way it was every spring, Doug had been right there to pick up the slack, or the children, despite the demands on his time.

Harriet was not nearly as comfortable breaking out of a routine. She thrived on the structure of standard practices and even when she was told she should get out of the office or take a break from the endless theory into practice elements of what she was pursuing, it was a struggle. In her head, she was as free to do anything and everything she chose; she just did not choose because that was not her choice.

That was part of the reason why Harriet and Doug were such a perfect match. She gave him a sense of order, while he provided her enough whimsy and frivolity to break her usual grind.

But the element that was taking up most of Harriet’s cerebral cortex was the stunning development that her whimsical and frivolously responsible ex inexplicably turned up about six weeks after he disappeared and in a location nearly 3000 kilometers from where he was last known to be. Her middle child and oldest daughter, Sakura, informed her that Daddy’s Assistant and she spoke about it and that Daddy’s Assistant confirmed this information. And there were a couple of photos posted publicly that were also printed to most of the global media outlets, but no interview by anyone, just yet. In fact, not one of the three kids had said a word to him yet. Harriet tried not to let this thought bother her, but it was a bothersome thought. Why would Doug delay in speaking to them, so long after their most recent contact? Was it just a case of him wanting to full fill his assistant first? Harriet blanched and shook her head even at the thought.

The other nagging question was a more concrete one: what was on Doug’s Device, Harriet continually asked herself in her mind. Was there something on there that would clear up any confusion about what occurred during that day on the ridge of the Grand Canyon? And what did Doug himself remember about that day? And what would he say about his memories?

When the news broke on that First of Spring day, and the world was informed that Doug had gone missing, or, originally, that his Device had sent out a Sep-Sig (the separation signal indicating that a person had traveled beyond the “close proximity radius” of their own Device) in a difficult to access area of the Canyon, Harriet had immediate concerns that someone would characterize her as somehow being involved with or responsible for the events that lead to Doug’s disappearance. But there was no reason for anyone to presume that Harriet would have or even could have been involved. Notably, she was on duty at the University at the time of Doug’s disappearance, which also meant she was a continent, and, with time zones, really a day away.

Missing Persons cases were usually solved in no time: track the location of the Device in question, typically taking less than fifteen minutes, then plug a Seek Program into the Device to connect it to the citizen to whom it belonged. The result, good or bad, was normally quicker than even a commute from Seoul to Shanghai, assuming it was done within the first seventy-two hours of the search. Even in the occasional case where the person actively intended to “Power Off,” the user typically confirmed that choice with a “Do Not Search” message on their abandoned Device to save resources and time of authorities who were tasked with seeking someone that did not want to be found.

Persons didn’t “Power Off” with any frequency. First, it meant not getting any funding/payment for any elements for the duration of the “Power Off.” Additionally, it also meant losing access to being able to pay for any goods or services or to be recognized to travel using the Bubble System, local transport, basically any vehicle that used something other than one’s own power, like a bicycle, roller skates or just running or walking. Basically, anyone who would “Power Off” was turning their back on the Twenty-First Century.

Doug’s disappearance was suggested as “potentially intentional” by a small group of opportunistic entertainment reporters when the story first broke, because there was an indication that Doug was involved in speaking to members of the Havasupai during his time there and someone who resembled him allegedly had been seen in that area, near the floor of the Grand Canyon. However, those reports were withdrawn when there was no substantiated proof that Doug intended to research any of the Native tribes in the area of the Canyon, all of whom were, in a similar way to their fellow natives on the Great Plains, the Amish in the East and the Primevals along the Gulf Coast, populations of Powered Off People: groups that collectively chose to live their lives in a “disconnected” manner. Anyone entering their lands were required to remove all elements of the current world, which is how the rumor about Doug’s possible research concept gained legs.

As this was an unsubstantiated report and was never verified, those specific entertainment companies paid a severe penalty for issuing unconfirmed info during their casts and had to state retractions as their headlines, always an embarrassment for any news gathering organization.

Meanwhile, Harriet had, quite simply, reached the point where she stopped thinking at all about Doug. Of course, when it was revealed that he had gone missing, Harriet kept a low profile, primarily because she was not a part of his current life. Everyone knew that their split was amicable and smooth, they both agreed to all of the terms the other wanted and their son and daughters, according to all accounts, seemed content being able to divide their time between the Western Hemisphere and the Far East.

But now, he’s back, from outer space.

Harriet didn’t want to wait. She wanted to know exactly what Doug knew, what his Device had to say, and anything Doug might share with anyone regarding the time just before he vanished. To that end, Harriet seriously considered meeting him, in person. Though this went against the mediated agreement of their divorce, this was an unusual circumstance, to say the least. So, the next question was how to do it?

The easiest solution would be to arrange a situation where she needed to hand off the kids to him, somehow. That, of course, was why that option was a complete impossibility. Provisions were very strict about that sort of action. ANY episode involving children as a method of communicating with former spouses was considered a felony offense, good for a minimum of ten and a half weeks of psychological “Grunt Work.”

The basics of Grunt Work meant that you would be removed from your employment for the period suggested by the mediator(s) of your case and would need to “work,” instead, on the concepts of what it means to attempt to manipulate others, including continual reminders that children were not meant to be used as a method of advantage (or, really, used in any way). The subject was placed in Immerse situations where they had to endure similar and continual situations involving a person or persons from their past that they did not want to engage, among a variety of treatments, trials and tests designed to help realign the concepts held and to get the subject back to being a healthy, functioning citizen.

What other ways of finding Doug could there be? Even knowing where Doug would be at any given moment would still set off “Prox Warns:” proximity warnings that would alert authorities and the two persons in question that they were “Geoxed” or “geographically crossed.” The exception would be if both parties had terminated their ban on each other, but that typically did not happen unless a mediator had stepped in to discuss the terms of what that meant and to make certain that both parties were doing this for an appropriate, healthy and mutually agreed reason. Also, it was a mediator that typically removed the blocks on the Devices, not the subjects themselves.

Third parties would need to be contacted. Obviously, Harriet could not go through Doug’s Assistant to reach him, any more than she could go through their children. So, she would need to contact one of Doug’s pals somehow, without arousing any suspicion. It made Harriet’s heart hurt to think of being deceptive in any way, all of a sudden, especially for something that most people would likely consider trivial. It really went against everything she knew and had learned, but more, against everything society expected. But, what were the options? She could directly request a meeting with Doug, but that would require an explanation of why, and how, with the divorce settlement, this was appropriate. Or she could just wait and watch like the rest of the world, for Doug and/or his Device to say who knows what?

It was clear she needed to find a person who was a good friend to Doug, who was both discreet and who would be willing and able to find a place to host this brief, makeshift reunion, prior to any media contact. It also needed to happen within the next thirty-six hours, because the news cycles wouldn’t wait much longer before some official statement was made, and even a preliminary statement from Doug, if it wasn’t phrased just right, could create an uncomfortable or even an unpleasant circumstance. Harriet felt compelled to reach Doug before that happened.

Yes, this was going to be nerve racking. But she needed to know the story before the rest of the world learned it. It was time to start reaching out to any friendly contacts she knew, and quickly.

As Harriet began to consider who she might contact, she realized something important. She only had one chance to contact one person. This was not something that could be floated as some sort of “trial and error” experiment. If she started contacting people and they were not receptive to what she wanted to do, it could prove to be even worse than whatever Doug or his Device might state. After all, no other person would be required to remain silent about this circumstance, and they might feel it was in the best interest of everyone involved to explain what they knew about Harriet’s actions, especially if they felt it could prove harmful to her children, or, more personally, if they might be implicated in some sort of deception between two people or the public at large. So, she had to get it right the first time.

Harriet started to feel somewhat antsy, a feeling she hadn’t felt since taking her MCATs over a decade ago. There was a sense of pressure, for certain. The idea behind all of this was to avoid anything that could be embarrassing, but this could exponentially multiply any embarrassment if it went badly and could result in some additional challenges for both her family and her.

The person she had to contact needed to be a good friend of Doug, Harriet reminded herself. That much was established. Probably someone who knew Doug for a long time. But this person also needed to be friendly with her. Maybe it was someone who attended their wedding? That would be most likely. The person she was looking for probably needed a sense of humor, in case they took offense at the concept of the meeting. It would be good to be able to simply laugh it off as a non-request, if whomever this person was balked at the notion.

It might also help if the person, somehow, got some benefit from remaining quiet or from arranging the meeting. But what sort of “benefit” would be available? This seemed absolutely impossible.

Just then, Sakura knocked and poked her head into her mom’s office.

“I know you said not to disturb you, but you have a phone call.”

“Who is it?” Harriet asked.

“The Wayne Brady Talk Show,” Sakura said, turning and closing the door behind her.

Great, Harriet thought. The media are already starting to ask about reaction to Doug’s sudden reappearance, or so she assumed. Some intern for the show probably wants an amusing quote, soundbite or reaction from her. Best to get this over as quickly as possible. She stood up and walked to her desk and grabbed the phone.


“Hi, Harriet? Is that you?”


“Oh, great. This is Wayne Brady.”

“Wayne? Oh! My daughter told me it was your show on the line for me. I assumed it was going to be some production assistant.”

“Let me come right to the point. And I’m not really certain how to do this without turning this into some sort of issue, so I’m going to state this and hope that you are willing to use some discretion.”

“Well, now you’re scaring me,” Harriet said, sitting down in her desk chair.

“I know you’ve heard that your ex-husband has turned up. I mean the whole world has heard it, by now.”


“Well, Harriet, I don’t know how to say this, and I don’t want you to hold me responsible for creating a situation that might cause any problem…”

“Please, Wayne. Whatever you need to say, just say it.”

“Doug got in touch with me, and he wants to speak with you.”

Harriet fell silent for a moment.

“Hello? Harriet?”

“I’m here.”

“Okay. Here’s the thing. Doug agreed to make his first public appearance to discuss his experiences on my show. But, to my surprise, he wanted to have you on hand to talk to him before his appearance.”

Harriet’s heart was in her throat. Though she definitely wanted to talk to Doug, the fact that Doug wanted to talk with her meant something potentially different. But what?

“Did he indicate why he wanted me there?”

“He said he just had some things to say to you,” Wayne said.

“What sorts of things?” Harriet asked.

“Things that are clearly ‘off the record,’” Wayne responded. “Look, I feel like I’m the third wheel in this situation and I don’t want any problems for anyone. My question is, do you want to talk with him, yes or no.”

“Yes.” Harriet murmured.

“And are you available tomorrow at five pm Pacific?”

“I will make myself available.”

“I will send a CBS Bubble to pick you up, and an escort will bring you to the production area of the studio.”

Harriet paused. “What about the potential alarm for a Geox?”

“He told me he does not have a Device, so that shouldn’t be a problem.”

“But his assistant does, and her alarm would also go off.”

“I have a contingent. There’s a dampening field we can activate to prevent that. I mean, we can simulate your device as being outside of the containment area. For the purposes of telecasts, that always has to be available.” Wayne advised. “If you can, we can bring you over at four, set you up in an active studio, set up the dampening field and bring Doug in, separate from his assistant.”

“Okay,” Harriet said.

“Great. I’ll see you tomorrow, a little after four!”


Harriet hung up. Then, she exhaled.

This excerpt from “Proxy, North Carolina” was especially selected to be presented for LJ Idol.
penpusher: (Bison)
When I was seventeen and applying for college, I had some restrictions. The fact was, I didn’t have an unlimited supply of funding to draw from, so, that meant certain schools were off the table before I even began. I would not be applying to the Ivy League schools, just as an example. That was partially my own doing. If I had exemplary grades as a high schooler, rather than the good and solid grades I did get, perhaps I could have gotten a scholarship to have helped me through.

On the other hand, I was in a class of thirty-eight people.

Then there was the geography. My mother and grandmother wanted me to stay within a reasonable driving distance of New York, presumably so they could come visit me during the term and I guess so I’d have an easier time coming home. Bus fare or gas money, if I hitched a ride from a classmate, was pricey. It also meant my dream of going to California as an undergrad was not going to happen.

I personally ruled out any NYC area school. Having been permanently grounded for the entirety of my teenage years, I was not about to continue that trend into college. And since college dorms at New York schools were off limits if you were a New York resident, it would have meant living at home to attend, and that simply would not do.

And finally, there was my personal interest of study. I was clearly headed towards English Lit as a major; a school that was good for the arts was where I needed to be.

I applied to eight schools and got into seven of them, with the most distant one of the bunch Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. It was so far away, we didn’t even look at the campus, this, despite the fact that we had cousins who lived in a small town not far from the area, and some of whom now live in Pittsburgh, proper.

I would have liked CMU for a few reasons. It had a reputation for success in the arts, including a pretty illustrious list of alumni, many of whom went on to great careers in show business or in literature. From Kurt Vonnegut to Stephen Schwartz, from Steven Bochco to Bud Yorkin, from Carol Channing to Henry Mancini. And Pittsburgh was (and still is) a city I admire a great deal. I might even say I dote on it. I think if I had my way, I probably would have gone to Carnegie Mellon, just because of those elements. After all, who wouldn't want fifteen minutes of fame?

Boston University was the next most distant. The advantage here was a direct route. Amtrak would make it an easy in and out, probably the simplest option for travel of any of my choices. There was just something foreboding about Beantown and the school itself, to my mind, even without the Yankees/Red Sox element as a part of the problem (I also got into Tufts University, but I was never serious about that concept. My adviser simply suggested that as a safety school).

The compromise vote was Bucknell University, situated in the sleepy town of Lewisburg, PA. Bucknell had a lot of positives going for it, from my family’s view. First, it was close enough: about a two-and-a-half hour drive from New York, a straight shoot on Route 80 once you crossed the George Washington Bridge, then a quick zip south on Route 15 when you reached Central Pennsylvania. More importantly to me, it was far enough away to be off the RADAR. There would not be constant check-ins at this distance, allowing me my first ever taste of freedom.

Next it was (and still is) a really good arts school. Not only did they have a great English department and a wonderful library, they also had a remarkable theater, worthy of any I had seen on any campus. And it was a simply gorgeous campus – looking like the Central Casting version of what a University should be, and was eventually featured in a commercial for Hyundai.

It also wasn’t too large. The undergraduate population for the school ran about four-thousand total and I think it’s still below six-thousand, now. That was a better transition, coming from my tiny sized high school.

But the best element for me was the financial aid they were willing to provide. That, more than anything, turned the tide. Well, that and the fact that every faculty member that encountered me during second semester of my high school Senior year asked, “You’re going to Bucknell, right?” Bucknell clearly wanted me and wanted me badly enough to demonstrate that in the most obvious way possible: Cold Hard Cash. So, it was off to the Susquehanna River for my college experience!

I think it was pretty clear that my “recruitment” to this university was, in great part, due to Affirmative Action. Many colleges and universities did have and some still do have, problems getting minority students to accept their invitations. We can certainly discuss the reasons why that happened and why it continues to happen, but Affirmative Action was one initiative, designed to help resolve that issue.

Many people don’t understand that Affirmative Action actually serves two purposes. The first and more obvious purpose is that it allows minority students the opportunity to attend the seats of learning that their white counterparts have attended regularly and to receive a degree from those places of higher education, permitting them a better start in life and a better chance to achieve their goals. That’s really nice and something that will provide positive gains for our society in the long run.

Some people, admittedly, mostly white people, who understand that there is only a finite space in a college’s enrollment, take issue with Affirmative Action. They feel as if it permits “underqualified” or “unqualified” students to attend a school, while their children, who likely would have been accepted, might be blocked.

This issue was even taken to the Supreme Court, where in 2016, a case was brought by a white student who wished to attend the University of Texas, claiming she was “discriminated against because of her race.” The conservative SCOTUS split, but upheld the concept of Affirmative Action. Still, it was clear, the dissenting voices on the court were not content with the ruling, which also meant that a lot of Americans didn’t like or understand the issue, either.

That leads directly to the other element that Affirmative Action provides. It is the one most people, especially those like the woman in that Supreme Court lawsuit, neither realize nor understand. To me, it may be the more important purpose. The fact is, the United States is not the so-called “melting pot” often referenced when being described. We are, for the most part, separate groups. Part of that is due to Jim Crow Laws that were only repealed in 1964. Those laws forbade minorities to live, work, even shop or dine in the same places with white folks.

The problem with such separation is that it permits people to imagine what those “other people” are about, which is how we get stereotypes and prejudice. Affirmative Action was a method of clearing that well, of taking those thoughts and bringing them into the light. You can’t assume people are different when you are in classroom and in the cafeteria with them. You can see we really are all the same, and why would you be afraid of someone, based on hearsay? Who knew that it would, in some cases, create even more animosity?

But what I didn’t completely know or understand as I was making my final decision of what school I would attend was that Bucknell University had a real reason for wanting more minority students. Bucknell’s student body were (and very much still are) from the most insulated suburbs of the upper crust throughout the region: Connecticut towns like Darien, Cos Cob and Greenwich, the Philadelphia Main Line with those sprawling mansions, areas of Maryland and Virginia that housed golf courses and/or former plantations, and even the portions of New Jersey that people considered attractive!

The people from all of those places, were, likewise, incredibly insulated. That meant they had, to say the least, no empirical knowledge of what minority students were about, or even in some cases, no concept that minority students existed.

The issues I faced as a minority student at Bucknell made my reflection on my time there ambivalent, at best. But if you are an African American, that is often a standard. Independence Day, Thanksgiving, it’s tough to characterize the feeling you get from days like these, because of the meaning, but ambivalence does seem to sum it up. It’s like if you really loved a relative, say a grandmother or aunt, and they died on your birthday. Then, every year, you would celebrate your special day, but in the back of your head you know that you lost someone that meant a lot to you on that same day. Now, imagine waking up and having to consider that thought on a daily basis.

So, while I finally had my first opportunity to become the social person I always hoped to be, I was suddenly in an atmosphere where nobody really wanted to be social with me, simply because of who I was. It took a while for me to understand what was happening, but when I belatedly did, I had to grin at the circumstances, and just keep moving.


This story was written for LJ Idol, using the prompt Invitation
*This also is the continuation of a series of essays I wrote in autobiographical form tagged "Story of My Life." The most recent previous essay in this series was written in January, 2009.
penpusher: (Pen)
“There’s nothing more terrible than being in trouble, being unable to accomplish the task to which you have been assigned,” stated Tom Higgins, realtor, junior class for Homestead Properties as he spoke to the company's monthly newsletter. “But then, there’s nothing more wonderful than getting your first ever sale!”

Higgins looked out from the windows of the employee lounge. The skyline of Midtown Manhattan never looked so great.

“There’s a certain feeling that happens when you put someone right where they belong!” he exuded. “It’s that distinct response when the person and the property are a perfect fit. My client, Eve was just that person.”

Higgins scanned the blocks, finding first the Seagram Building, then tracing a finger along the glass north and east to the block where the property was located.

“Eve is a woman who needed a change in life, and who had the opportunity to move up. I’m really pleased I could help her.”

“Homestead just acquired a building in Turtle Bay,” Higgins continued. “Fourteen units! And it really was ideal for my client who was really in need of some alone time. Sure, she could have gotten a larger place, say in Inwood, but her commute would have included a bus AND a subway. Here, this charming one bedroom means she doesn’t have to deal with anything but a delightful stroll from the East Side. Unless it’s raining, then hop a cab!”

“What I really loved is how connected and receptive she was throughout the process,” Higgins continued. “It was like we were on the same page the whole time!”

“The very fact that she didn’t know where she wanted to be, that’s where my expertise came in,” said Higgins modestly. “I have been hitting the streets for nearly a year now, and during that time, I’ve worked the pavement from the Hudson to the East, and from the Battery to Grant’s Tomb. I’ve run into the cast of “Law and Order SVU” more times than most New Yorkers have been to Katz’s Deli!”

Higgins paused to reflect. “But that’s why we do what we do. We are here to help our clients find the place that is going to make them happiest. And you know something? A lot of the time, they think they know what that is, but they really don’t. It’s up to us to show them!”

“Yes, sometimes the client will flirt during a visit to a listing,” Higgins bragged. “But the idea is to remain professional at all times. In this case, I know she was interested in more than just the property, but there is an element of decorum that must be maintained at all times. The client isn’t ALWAYS right!” he winked.

“Still, we have to stay on topic, and that means finding the right place to be. And really, when you’re in a great space, that’s in a great place, the rest of your life kind of falls into place, especially if you have a great face!” Higgins nodded. “I’m sure Eve will acquire a whole harem of guys based on her apartment alone!”

“The beauty of New York is that it is a playground, a place where anything can happen, and where everything does!” Higgins stated. "And if it doesn’t go right, that’s what the ‘Missed Connections’ section of Craigslist is for!”

“I use a three-word mantra that gets me through; certainly, it got me through my first year with this company even when I wasn’t closing.” Higgins solemnly said. “It’s something that is so simple, yet many people overlook it. I’m sure you want to know what it is. What three words could allow you to survive in this city?”

Higgins paused for dramatic effect, then broke into a broad smile. “Life is good!”


This piece, written for LJ Idol, was created for the phrase: "Location Location Location"

I am teamed with [ profile] xlovebecomesher who wrote on the topic "The Distance Between Us" and I hope you give her piece a read as well!
penpusher: (Quarter)
There is an unspoken rule in any chats, discussions or exchanges between friends and neighbors that all live in the New York City area. People do not discuss the issues of their rent with each other. Why this is the case is as complicated as the rules for renting are, but suffice it to say that it avoids a lot of extra anger or angst, or jealousy or fear.

In the year 2000, before I had even heard of LiveJournal, well before MySpace and Friendster took over the internet and long before Facebook and Twitter were even a concept, I was on my third year of writing opinion columns, a kind of amusing commentary, and sent them out as emails to my pals and relatives on my mailing list. I gave this grouping of pieces an umbrella title: “Trendspotting.” The essays ran the gamut from science to sports, from food to foolishness, all with the bent that they were viewed through the prism, or prison, that was New York. I typically wrote one every other week that year, enough to be interesting without spamming all those excite dot com, AOL dot com or Compuserve users who agreed to receive them.

This was the era of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, or as I (and many others, eventually) billed him: “Ghouliani,” a man who as Attorney General of the city, sent a laser like focus on “ORDER” throughout his district. Elected to office after the first black mayor in the history of the metropolis, David Dinkins, was ousted in 1993, Giuliani resolved to eliminate crime, improve neighborhoods and support business, especially businesses that would help create that “family values” image he wished to establish.

On the surface, those all seem like appropriate and useful elements that any mayor of any town would and should embrace. But, whenever you do something in New York that affects how the city functions, someone wins and someone loses. By and large, the people who had to pay were the poorest residents of the city. One of the first notable elements was that homeless people, frequently found standing at high-volume traffic intersections with a squeegee and a bucket to wash your car windows or camped out at a subway station or aboard a train, panhandling, began to “disappear.”

What actually happened to those people is unclear, but they apparently weren’t a New York problem anymore. There were suggestions that some were given bus tickets to cities with warmer climates (which, if it were true, might help explain the incredible issue of homeless people in places like Orlando, Houston and New Orleans, among other such cities in the ensuing years).

Additionally, the smutty, grimy and undeniably pornographic area of town, “Hell’s Kitchen,” which incorporated the XXX movie theaters of Times Square, was also cleansed, turned into a showcase for such retailers as Disney, Virgin, M&Ms and eventually Toys “Я” Us.

As the city’s reputation for being safer grew, so did the desire for suburban residents to return here, ditching their long commutes from Long Island, Connecticut or New Jersey for the convenience of living close by and taking advantage of the benefits of living among some of the greatest cultural wonders of any single place on the planet: museums, parks and the cultural arts among the most notable elements.

Landlords in the city knew this could lead to bigger and better paydays. But New York has some very curious laws on the books when it comes to rent. The two that matter are “rent stabilization” and “rent control.”

Admittedly, NYC is not the only place that has such laws. But it’s really apparent here because of the lengthening gap between those that live with such laws and those that do not.

As demand for space in New York increased, Economics 101 reminds you that rents, likewise went up. But, thanks to “rent stabilization” the landlord cannot jack up the price more than a small amount if the apartment in question is under the rules of that law. Not every apartment must adhere to these laws, which is what makes this so arcane.

The other problem is that if you want find a “rent stabilized” apartment, you’ll have to wait for someone to move out of one. And that could be a very long wait. Many people die before moving out, and some even put the names of family members on the lease, basically “willing” the place to their relatives!

Back when I was noting all of the changes coming to New York at the turn of the century, I, mostly tongue-in-cheek, but not quite to the satire level of the, at that point, new humor publication/site “The Onion,” stated “New York, and most specifically Manhattan island, will become a gated community in the next twenty years.”

The projection was based on the way luxury condos and co-op buildings were starting to be constructed, in relation to almost no “affordable housing” for anyone not making seven figures a year. But so many were doing so well! Wall Street was booming. Silicon Alley, the Flatiron district’s minuscule answer to Silicon Valley, was up and running (and I was also working there, at one of the dot coms of the era). The club scene was still a trend, even as the Mayor was trying with all his might to squelch it. But most of all, there was a sense that the city was on the verge of something notable. Even the local baseball teams were sharing in the excitement as they both went on to face each other in that year’s World Series.

The question I asked at the time was the question that still must be answered, now. What will happen to the workers, the people that run the town? How are they supposed to live if they can’t afford to be here? And what will become of all the artists? A city thrives on the energy of those people who create. What do you do when they all get priced out of the market? But then...

September 11, 2001.

What nobody discussed in the wake of those events was that the rental marked bottomed out as people initially knee jerked when they considered that NYC was probably the biggest target for any terrorist that had issues with the west generally and the United States specifically. The UN is here, so an attack here sends a message everywhere.

But, on second thought, as a sense of pride, of caring, of feeling that we could and would make it through this, costs started to rise again, in some cases even higher than before the attacks. Suddenly corporations wanted to be here, and not just in the standard business district locations. It was boom time, again.

But maybe the most frightening element for anyone wanting to live in NYC were three entities serving as “Super Landlords” that have made the market what it is today.

The first two were the most noted seats of learning in the city: Columbia University to the North and New York University to the south. Both of these schools had sought more space, for classrooms, storage, research, but also for students, as dorm rooms were both difficult to come by, and extremely lucrative. With both schools buying up as much property as they could for their faculty, staff and students, it put a strain on anyone living in the areas of Morningside Heights or Greenwich Village who wanted to stay there.

But the biggest issue that still must be addressed somehow are The Banks.

J. P. Morgan Chase, Citi and Bank of America own a lot of properties around New York. Many of those properties are some of the best in town. The problem is that there is no wiggle room with a bank. Where a normal landlord may have to make a compromise and allow a tenant to rent space from them because that landlord has to pay expenses, these megabanks have no such issue. They can sit for an endless length of time, properties vacant, until they get the price they want from the tenant they like.

This is a major issue because it creates a rent shortage and a luxury gap. Because of how expensive the most expensive properties have become, businesses and tenants that might have located in those areas were forced to a more “affordable” space. As that happened, the people who might have been able to continue in that space got pushed out into a cheaper neighborhood. And with “gentrification,” (a misnomer for rooting out what were minority neighborhoods and converting them into “mainstream” places), a horrible game of Musical Chairs is in constant motion where the loser is out of luck and likely out of town.

Granted Mayor Bill de Blasio has created tax breaks for any luxury builder that provides space for “affordable housing” on their property. But even the term “affordable” is questionable, in a town where people are subletting closet space as a bedroom for over a thousand dollars a month (but hey! You have access to the living room and kitchen when nobody else is home)!

So, how does someone actually afford to live in New York City? If I told you, I’d have to kill you.


This thinkpost was written for LJ Idol, using the prompt "The Rent I Pay."
penpusher: (SciFi  honoring <lj user=melodymuse>)
HR representative Neil Proctor and Mobile Android scientist Keri Sanford sat silently in the glass penthouse office and awaited their final appointment of the day. Since the newest androids (not so new, as they had been developed and on the market for nearly 40 months), had been so improved that they looked and sounded exactly like living, breathing humans, older models were being phased out.

It wasn’t a “recall,” Softgoo Labs insisted. But they did hasten the stoppage of use of earlier models by removing replacement parts from the marketplace and offered generous rebates for turning in such dilapidated machines for these incredibly lifelike units. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance for an improvement?

Neil furrowed his brow as he saw not a single unit, but a group of people getting off the elevator at once. He glanced at his colleague as they both stood up and moved to the front of the glass partition.

Keri and Neil moved to greet the group arriving.

“Hello,” Keri said gathering the group to stand together by reception.

“We hadn’t expected a whole family to show up.”

The man who was likely the patriarch of the group spoke. “Surely this isn’t the first time this has happened?”

“Well, it kind of is,” Neil said. “We’ve had a solo family member escort their unit, but never everyone, kids included!” Neil chucked the head of a small boy who immediately punched Neil in the thigh.

“Look, we understand just how difficult it is to give up a,” Keri consulted her clipboard “a B9-THX1138 unit.”

“Please!” the little boy shouted. “Call her Rachael. That’s her name.”

“Listen,” Neil pleaded. “This isn’t easy for anyone. But it makes sense to, um, turn… in…”

That’s when Neil noticed that there were two identical looking androids.

Neil looked at Keri’s clipboard, looked back to his notes and looked up at the family.

“There’s only supposed to be one unit being retired today.”

The eldest man of the group spoke again. “That’s right. One of these is Rachael, and the other is my wife made to look exactly like her.”

Both Keri and Neil circled around the twins eyeing both them and each other. The husband continued, “So, we have a situation. If you can tell which one is the actual android, we will leave her with you, no questions asked. But if you cannot, then you must provide parts, labor and service for Rachael for the remainder of all of our lives.”

“B-b-b-but that’s not how this works!” Neil stuttered. “You can’t come in here impersonating a machine and expect to get your way!”

“I understand your concern,” one Rachael said.

“But my family truly cares about me,” said the other Rachael.

Keri finally spoke up. “Look, as a creator and a scientist, I understand the desire to hold onto the things you… value.” She looked back and forth at the two Rachaels. “But let’s not make this into something regrettable.”

“Can you tell?” Said one Rachael.

“Which one is human?” Said the other Rachael.

“It would only take a couple of minor checks using our metallurgic…”

“No!” the father said. “You have to decide without the use of any tools or products.”

“Who made you the rule maker?” Neil said, staring him in the eye. “We are just doing our jobs. And these decommission sessions can’t take more than twenty minutes!”

“Please don’t be angry,” One Rachael said.

“This is, at heart, about love,” Said the other Rachael.

The entire group stood motionless, everyone shooting glances at everyone else. Then, Keri and Neil backed away into an alcove.

“Okay, so I can’t tell, based only on observation, which is which,” Keri admitted. “They made the wife up to look just like the unit, even with the serial hashmark behind her left ear. I checked for that first.”

“What about this. Put both of them in retirement tubes. Call their bluff.” Neil said with a tone of defiance. “They would never let their own family member…”

“I don’t know,” Keri said, shaking her head. “They went to all this trouble, they probably expect us to do something like that. Besides, if we kill a human, then we…”

“Yes. But if we don’t get this unit then we…” Neil reminded her, harshly.

Keri scrolled through her clipboard, and came across a concept she thought might work. “Let’s try this,” she said, holding up the notes for Neil to see. They walked back to the group.

“Listen. You aren’t the first family to want to keep their B9-TH…” Keri paused as the small boy was giving her the most hateful look she had ever known. “Um. You aren’t the first family to want to keep their Rachael.”

“But, hey! Look at the ‘Green Family’!” Neil took out a remote and pointed it at the wall. A video of a family in their dwelling began, everyone doing their own things, eating, interacting with video screens and computers, exercising in virtual gyms, all while their B9-THX1138 could only stand by and not do those things.

Then, in the next segment, the new android was participating in all family activities. The family was smiling and laughing together with the new unit. Neil pressed the remote again and the video disappeared.

“So, you see, this is the better way to go!” Neil concluded.

The family stood in stony silence.

Neil looked to the father figure. “Did you know that new androids also function as a purifier? That’s right, they will pee pure water! Now, there’s a fountain you’ll want to drink from!”

After examining the father’s countenance, Neil said, “I see where your son gets his expressions from,” trying to lighten the mood.

Neil pulled Keri back away.

“With all your technical know-how, you can’t tell one from the other?” Neil angrily whispered.

“Not just by looking. They did a really good job of mimicking the elements that made the B9 units obviously android.” Keri lamented.

“What are we supposed to do? We can’t let them go!” Neil stated.

“Time’s running out. Maybe we should try it your way,” said Keri. “Put them both in the retirement tubes. What other options are there?”

“Let’s do it.” Neil hissed, then practically ran back to the family.

“Alright. Here’s how it’s gonna go,” said Neil, grabbing one Rachael by the arm. Suddenly he was on the floor, the father standing over him.

“Do not lay hands on my family members,” he said in a voice so calm it was bone-chilling.

“Please walk over to this area,” Keri said, motioning for each Rachael to follow her to the back of the partition, as Neil got to his feet. Keri directed one Rachael to get into the tube on her left, the other into the tube on her right.

“We have placed both of these androids in the retirement tubes.” Neil said. “With one flick of this switch, they will both be eliminated.”

“Except, we know you can’t harm a human being,” the father stated. “You might say we’re calling your bluff.”

Neil pulled Keri back out into the reception area. “Isn’t there a scan, a remote device, something?” Neil looked at the clock. “There’s only five minutes left.”

“We can send them partway through the tube and see the reaction. Then, when we know, we bring back the human.” They rejoined the others.

“We’re really sorry, but we must follow through on our assignment,” Keri said, with a look of sympathy, before turning to the control panel and flipping two switches, then turning two meters.

The two tubes shuttered then sprang to life with a whoosh of air.

Keri then flipped the switches off and reopened the tubes. The Rachaels were gone.

“Sorry, gang,” Neil said. “You didn’t give us any choice. We had to do our jobs.”

The two eldest daughters immediately hugged, sobbing into each other’s shoulders, while the father and son stared at Neil.

“While you might say you were doing your job, we’d call it murder,” the man stated.

Keri chimed in. “Now that we’re through, which one was the actual human? You know, just for the record, and all!”

The father wiped his eyes and thought. “Who went in which tube?” he thought again.

“Could you please make it snappy?” Neil said glancing at the few seconds remaining.

“In all honestly,” the man said through his tears, “I don’t know.”

A buzzer sounded and two large barrel shaped robots entered the area. They reactivated the tubes and brought the two Rachaels back. Each one escorted them from their would be demise back to the family, then turned to Neil and Keri, each grabbing one and placing them into the tubes and shooting them out before summoning the elevator for the family.

“Wow,” the dad said, kissing his Rachael, and hugging his other Rachael. “I guess those new androids really are human-like!


This story, with apologies to Philip K. Dick, was written for LJ Idol using the prompt: Patchwork heart
penpusher: (LJ Broken)
I can remember, way back to the day when I was setting up my Dreamwidth Journal account. It was during the madness that was the SixApart era, when we all believed that company was going to destroy LiveJournal with advertising and its overt capitalist practices.

Little did we know.

But that threat passed and things seemed to be a bit better when 6A sold LJ to SUP. Sure they were a Russian company, but the two halves of LJ were operated separately and nobody said much of anything to us. In fact, I started to see some Russian posts by users and it seemed like a way of seeing into a different world!

My DW account sat dormant with a single entry for about 5 years until the scramble over the LJ servers being migrated to Russia occurred at the end of 2016. Currently, my DW is *sorta* a mirror of my LJ account. I say sorta because I transferred my account over there via the transfer tool they have at DW. I did a post about the transfer, but to sum up the pertinent points:

1. It was very easy to do.

Despite having 16 years worth of LJ material, the transfer was simple, didn't seem to interfere with my being on the internet doing other stuff while it was happening and, even now, seemed to have gotten all of my entries properly - as well as the vast amount of comments. It took about 3-4 hours for the transfer to go through completely.

2. Could it be because I have a paid DW Account and a permanent LJ account?

I did spring for a year's worth of paid service from DW which I'm sure didn't hurt the process of transferring all my material. I have heard that some people have had problems with the transfer but I don't know a lot of details. It could have to do with other factors specific to those journals.

3. All of your LJ Links are unchanged.

If you reference a link to another LJ post in an entry, the link will continue to point to that LJ link in DW. If you want to make your DW "self contained," you'll have to meticulously go through each and every entry you made with a link to any LJ entry and manually transfer those to your new DW link. Sounds like fun? Try it for 16 years worth of entries.

Of course, that makes sense, because if you're referencing a journal outside of your own, it might not exist on DW or might exist under a different name. But it's just something to remember when you're considering this transfer.

Not to mention the photo hosting, which, if you're anything like me, would require another massive series of transfers and posts, and that's just to get the photos visible! Then, you'd have to link them to your entries.

4. LJ Username links remain unchanged.

This is sort of specific, but if you have referenced someone's LJ username in a post somewhere, and that person changed their name - here on LJ the username is updated to the new name or at least it was... on DW the original username is linked and again, it points to the LJ user, not to a Dreamwidth account. This is more anecdotal than anything because this issue won't come up that frequently, but if you're reading through an old entry, it might be a surprise to see a "former" name listed for a person you mentioned.

5. When you edit your entry on DW, it is automatically updated on LJ!

That's a huge time saver: If you edited a post on DW that was linked to your LJ, it automatically also updated your LJ with the edit! I tested it again and that interface still works. You can still post directly to LJ from DW and make edits. The reason I wasn't sure is because I posted a DW entry that didn't go through to my LJ, but that was because I hadn't yet signed the Russian TOS.

Now that I covered the technical, the bones of the story, let's get to the meat: the psychological. Here's where the story gets a little spooky.

Let's be brutally honest. DW is not really a community. It's a storage container. It's an attic. It's a safety net for your words and entries and memories of the glory of LJ long since past. If something were to happen to your LJ account, Lenin forbid, at least you still have the cadaver of what you created. And really that's what it is, because nobody is interacting with your past entries. And the problem is nobody on DW is really posting stuff that's current, unless it's just a mirror of their LJ entries, which people are still reading on LJ.

Several of my friends on LJ opened accounts on DW at the same time as my transfer and for the same reason, but there hasn't been any real interaction between us there. Everyone prefers to stay on LJ because this is home.

Now, I think if LJ actually were to disappear, DW *might* become something like a community. But, for now, that process is like attempting to colonize another planet. Why would you do it if you didn't actually need to do it?

Sure, there are always going to be the daring and intrepid few who are willing to leave behind the familiar and boldly go somewhere where nobody is. But that's sort of the opposite of what a social media site is supposed to be about. You're supposed to go to where people are!


I have an idea. We could make Dreamwidth work. But it would take a drastic step. Here's the plan.

We have to make a pact.

We'd have to agree to go, to leave LiveJournal and we'd have to never look back because that's really the only way we could make it work. We'd have to drink this Kool-Aid together, all of us, or it won't happen.

If we all don't go, it will collapse, because we know that people stayed behind in the old place and the temptation to return would be too great. And once a few people started going back, then everyone would. And it would be over.

Doing this will not be easy. It's going to feel a little bit like killing a parent. After all, we all grew up with El Jay. It's like a constant, always there for us, ready to accept us as we were, to listen to what we had to say, to share our stories with people who cared about them. Now, we're talking about turning our back on it completely? This is a harsh choice.

But LiveJournal isn't that blog service any more. It's LiveJekyll and it feels like it's time to Hyde. Think about it. If you won't go now, with all that has happened already, what would it take to make you leave?

Yes, it's possible that everything will remain as it has. But when they migrated the servers to Russia, we were told that the "western" side of LiveJournal would remain its own entity, and we now know that is no longer true, as we all had to sign that Russian TOS to retain our journals. Who can say what other "adjustments" are on the way?

Okay. I mixed up a batch of Dreamwidth Drank. Here it is.

But, and I'm completely serious about this, we ALL have to drink it, and drink it freely, because we think it's the right choice to make. This isn't an ultimatum. You can still say no and ignore it all. Remain on LiveJournal until Vladimir gets tired of allowing it to exist.

But if you want to retain a blog community on a platform like LiveJournal and be free of whatever Russian influence is about to happen, think seriously about where we're going.

Those are the alternatives as I see them. So tell me. How will this story end?


This entry was written for LJ Idol using the prompt Campfire stories
penpusher: (Pen)
Mike looked out at the auditorium starting to fill. There always were types and they, unsurprisingly, almost predictably, clung to each other as they selected their seats.

There were the people who were here before, ready to jump on the questions as they were asked. They were the showoffs, the people who wanted to be big shots, look like geniuses to the rest of the class here for the first time. Mike had to give them a little due, since they paid yet another fee to attend the seminar. Nothing wrong with that. That cash was twice and sometimes thrice as nice.

There were the folks who really didn’t know if this was for them or not. Maybe they were encouraged to try it by a sibling or friend or parent or lover. They might be good or they might just be killing time.

There were those that were compelled. They knew this is what they wanted, but they haven’t had the chance to get fully immersed. This would be a real test for them.

Mike looked at his TA.

“Thirty seconds!” she called.

Still a number of people chatting in the upper hallway at the top of the auditorium. A few began to descend the stairs and look for a place to sit that would disrupt the fewest people.

Notebooks and pens, and at least a couple of recording devices came out of bags and backpacks.

“Fifteen!” Called the TA. What was her name? Jenny? Jamie?

Mike wandered over to her desk and looked at her very neatly kept notebook. It was Josie, who was holding both hands above her head, fingers spread.

“Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two…”

A beat, and then the class bell rang, right on cue.

Mike moved to center. “Take your seats everyone. Take your seats right now. First available seat. Take it.” Mike watched them scatter like roaches in a kitchen late at night when the lights came on, unexpectedly.

“My name is Mike Ulysses, and I welcome you to the seminar, ‘Writing for Film and Television.’ If this is not the seminar you signed up to attend, please exit as quickly and hopefully a bit more quietly than you entered.”

A couple of people shuffled towards the exit, but most remained seated, still scrambling to take out pens, paper, computers and tablets.

“A few provisos before we begin. No Videotaping. No audio taping. If I come across anything posted online from this course, or if I hear about someone who didn’t attend able to recite information from this course, I will track you down and kill you with my bare hands.”

Several people around the room put their cell phones in bags and pockets.

An eager young female student raised her hand. Mike saw her in his peripheral vision. He thought he remembered her from a previous seminar. Why wouldn't she know the rules? He did not acknowledge her, but kept staring straight ahead.

“No questions. This is a lecture. If, at the end of the lecture, you do not understand something, I will have a Q and A session, but it’s pointless,” Mark turned and stared directly at the young woman, “to ask anything before we have even begun.” She lowered her hand.

Josie glanced out at the class, scanning to see if any other video or audio devices were visible. She nodded approval.

“It is up to you to be prepared to do the work when you arrive. If you are missing a pen or don’t have a notebook or you forgot to charge the battery of your computer or your phone, Ess – Oh – El. Sit quietly and hope you have a good memory or if you’re friends with someone else, maybe they’ll share their notes, although I don’t know why they would. That would be like helping your enemy gain strength and support when you know they’re going to be going against you later.”

Mike walked back to the center of the stage. “I want you to take a look at two of your neighbors, two people seated right near where you are.”

Mike leaned on his lectern while his audience glanced around at their fellow students. “One of you will never actually use any of the material in this course for anything. One of you will get work in the business, maybe by reading scripts and creating coverage. Maybe by being on staff of a weekly or continuing series, possibly contributing to an episode or writing scripts, solo. And possibly one of you will become a player: someone who creates films and shows, someone who Hollywood desperately wants and needs.” Mike made a dramatic pause.

“Which one are you?”

The same young woman who raised her hand earlier, did so again.He knew she had been in class before, but he didn't recall her being such a troublemaker, previously.

“That was a rhetorical question,” Mike said, signaling for her to put her hand down. She was slower to react, but again, put her hand down.

“Let’s briefly talk about overviews – what are people currently buying?” Mike nodded to Josie who touched a tablet and the projected screen became illuminated with a chart.

“Energy Transfer, people.” Mike paused while his audience scribbled and typed. “If you don’t feel it when you’re writing it, no one is going to feel it when you read it or see it.”

“Okay, two big genres that are ripe for breaking into film are sex comedies and horror.”

Mike paused to let the scribblers catch up.

“Low budget, effective, smart way to get a script up and running.”

Mike paused while Josie flashed to the next slide in the presentation.

“But it’s also notable that a lot of the time, studios are looking for a franchise. Not just one film, but a universe where a series of films can take place. Think of ‘Fast and Furious,’ ‘Transformers’ and ‘Avengers.’”

The same young woman raised her hand again.

“Most studios are looking for material adapted from another medium, because there is an audience built in. Think of ‘Twilight,’ ‘Hunger Games,’ ‘Harry Potter.’”

Mike chuckled to himself that there might be a Stephenie Meyer, Suzanne Collins or J.K. Rowling seated before him. He saw that the young woman still had her hand raised. He rolled his eyes at Josie and signaled for her to go to the next slide.

“There is an old adage – ‘Write What You Know.’ Throw that away. Today, you need to ‘Write What Means Something To You.’”

Mike finally turned to the young woman. "Miss?" and gestured for her to stand. As he did, she dropped her pencil on the floor in front of her. She slowly bent at the waist, giving him a chance to look down her low-cut T shirt.

“Congratulations! You have my attention!” Mike called to her.

“I bet I do!” she exclaimed.

"So, speak loudly enough for everyone to hear what you have to say."

“I have this idea for a sex comedy, where a professor meets a very cute student and they accidentally sleep together.”

“I see,” Mike nodded, trying not to giggle. “I don’t want you to give away the plot of this blockbuster film, so let’s not talk about details. What did you want to ask, or what statement did you want to make?”

Suddenly the room jolted, like a brief but strong earthquake tremor registered. When he looked back at the woman, he noticed the writing on her shirt: “Abandon Hope.” And Mike swore he saw what appeared to be two horns starting to protrude from her forehead.

“Just a statement, Mr. Ulysses: go to Hell.”

A fissure opened in the floor where Mike was standing, with the glow of amber and red. Before he could even make a sound, Mike had slipped into the abyss, sealing itself back up once he was gone.

“I would check with the registrar about getting a refund for this useless class,” the unnamed woman said, walking to the nearest exit. “There’s a special place for instructors like that, and he just found his.”

Josie was the first person out of the room.


This short story was written for LJ Idol, using the prompt: Abandon hope, all ye who enter here
penpusher: (Travel Channel)
It happened very fast. I came home from school and I only had a little bit of homework, and it was a nice day, so I was going to go with Diego to the beach and look for shells and coins that the turistas lost in the sand.

But just as I put my bookbag down, Mama made me change into pants with extra pockets and a t shirt and a sleeved shirt AND a jacket AND a hat! And she made me put on boots.

Hace mucho calor por este,” I told her.

“Where we’re going it won’t be too hot,” she said.

Then we ran away from the beach and towards the middle of town.

Mama told me there would be a day when we would leave here. She said it many times, but it seemed like a dream that would happen maybe when I grew up.

A freight train was stopped near the town square, and as we got there, I could see some people climbing into one of the cars. A man with a straw hat and a scar on his chin helped Mama and me inside.

It was a little dark but I could see there were maybe veinte other people in the car. The man who helped us didn’t get in. Suddenly, the train jerked and we were moving.

Mama breathed a sigh of relief and nodded at me. “We’re on our way!”

For the longest time there was nothing to see except trees, vines and sometimes a train going the other way.

“Everything will be fine, once you get across the border,” Mama said, smiling at me. “Your Tío and your primos will be waiting on the other side.”

“Once WE get across the border,” I said as the train entered a tunnel.

“Yes, darling,” Mama said, pulling me close to her. I squirmed away.

“I’m not a baby anymore, Mama. I’m nine years old. Almost ten.”

“Almost ten,” she said, just to remind me I still wasn’t. “I know you’re not a baby. That’s why we’re making this trip!”

Mama wanted me to focus only on what was ahead, not what was behind us.

In order for us to go, I had to leave all my things. Mama told me this many times before when we talked about it. I didn’t have many things, just some clothing, my soft blue slippers that I liked to wear when I got out of the bathtub that Mama gave me two Christmases ago. My racecar collection, but I did sneak a couple of my favorite cars in the pockets of the pants I was wearing before I left. My fairy tale book, and a few others, including my diary. And of course, Osito.

I tried hard not to think about Osito. He was always waiting for me on the couch where I slept, always ready for un abrazo. He wasn’t very big but he was too big. We couldn’t carry anything, not a suitcase or even a shopping bag. But, Mama promised that once we got across the border, there would be even more wonderful things waiting.

Giving up Osito was the way of proving I wasn’t a baby anymore.

There were other kids riding along with us. A few were younger than me. I wondered if they got to say goodbye to their other relatives and friends, or if they left without even an hasta luego, like Mama and me. There was almost no talking. I could see the faces of the adults were afraid. Mama just kept smiling at me, so I knew everything was okay.

“Maybe they don’t have un Tío waiting for them.” I said to Mama.

“We’re very lucky,” Mama smiled back.

The clack clack sound of the tracks was loud, and I knew we still had a long way to go. When Mama fell asleep, I crawled over to try to say hello to a couple of the other kids. One boy who caught my eye smiled at me. I took out one of the cars, it was the car from “Volver Al Futuro” and his eyes got big! I guess he saw the movie, too! I rolled it over to him. He caught it! Then, he rolled it back.

We were rolling the car back and forth and it was fun, but then the train started slowing down, and his parents pushed him away. He smiled at me. I rolled him the car back. He picked it up as I crawled back to Mama. He was going to throw it back to me, but I shook my head no. He smiled again and his parents put him between them.

We had to be totally quiet as the train came to a stop. I had practiced not moving at all so I was el mejor. It seemed like we were there for a long time.

We made three stops like that on the way and each time everything went fine, except the second to last, when a little baby started crying. His mama took out her breast and put it in his mouth and that kept him quiet. I laughed a little, but Mama told me not to look.

Maybe the train made another stop or two when I went to sleep. But the next thing I knew, it was morning and we were coming into a big rail yard with a lot of other trains around us.

Mama was looking out and around to see where we were. She took an envelope out of her pocket and looked at a map inside. She showed it to me. It was a hand-drawn map sent by Tío Manuel. We had to go North, toward a barb wire fence. Tío would meet us and get us through!

When the train stopped, Mama waited. The other people quickly left, right away. Mama told me to not move and we stayed quiet, right in the car.

A few minutes later we could hear the sound of people running, horrible screaming, and the call of policía.

Mama shook her head and I understood. Those people were caught. They might be going to jail, even the boy with my car.

As their voices went away, Mama hopped down to the ground, then turned around and reached up for me. I hopped back into her arms and for a moment she squeezed me so tight, I thought I would pop!

We started weaving between the train cars, she was in front, making sure there were no other people in our path.

As we got close to a fence, I could see there was a very dangerous looking man standing, and I jumped back, just as the man turned towards us.

Mama grabbed my hand. “That’s your Tío Manuel! Run to him! ¡Arriba!

It was just straight ahead, and I don’t think I’ve ever run faster. But then, from behind me, I heard Mama.

¡Aquí estoy!” She screamed as I got close to the fence. “¡Aquí estoy, Ven a encontrame!

A guard who I didn’t see near the fence moved towards her voice. “¡Ella esta aquí! ¡Ayuda!

I started to scream out “Mama! Mama!” but before I could, Tío put his hand over my mouth and pulled me through the fence. He put me into a sack and the next thing I knew, we were moving fast. I could peek through the top of the sack and see I was in some sort of truck or van that smelled like fruit and dirt, flying away from the train. After awhile, I fell asleep.

Now I am here. In a place I do not know, with people I do not know, with things I do not know. They promised to take me to La Tierra de Disney and that we could see a movie every week. And that I can have three meals every day. And they bought me new toy cars. And I share a bedroom with two other primos. I do not care about these things. I want to go back to Diego and look for shells on the beach. I want to find Osito waiting for me when I get home from school. I want Mama.


This story was written for LJ Idol, using the prompt Take a hike
penpusher: (Trump)
It was the Spring of 2015 and Tronald Dump angrily marched through the Art Deco lobby of 30 Frockareller Plaza. His once popular reality television game “The Annoyance” had hit a low for Nielsen ratings and the network expressed their intention to cancel it.

“I’ll get them.” Dump muttered to himself as he pushed his way through the revolving doors onto the crowds of tourists. He could have taken the limo but the warm spring day felt like a stroll back to Dump Tower would clear his head.

A flea market was set up on a side street near the Dalworf hotel and The Tronald, uncharacteristically, was drawn to it. Or maybe it was the attractive raven haired woman, wearing a harem style costume, who was operating a stand in front of a tie-dye tent that drew him over. Their eyes locked and Dump was compelled to approach.

“This is a great, great tent.” Dump nodded, looking around. “May I come inside?”

The woman gave him a look of suspicion. “I don’t think you know who I am.”

“I don’t think you know who *I* am!” he responded.

She backed away; he pursued. Inside the tent he backed her against a table. Then, without a word, still staring into her eyes, reached his fingers between the folds of her pants and started to rub back and forth.

“No. NO!” She cried.

“Don’t worry. I have a very light touch.”

“Ahhhh!” she screamed.

“Hey. There’s something hard down here.”


Mr. Dump stepped backward and when the woman moved, he could see what he was actually rubbing: the nose of a brass lamp. It resembled the sort of ancient lamp that people in ancient times used to provide light.

Sir, you have rubbed my lamp. I am a genie and I now am duty bound to grant you three wishes.

“Really? That’s terrific,” said The Tronald. “I could use some help getting revenge on some TV people who did something very bad and very stupid.”

“What can I do for this?” she asked dutifully.

“I’d like to..." Dump grimaced, which was his version of a smile. "I'd like to run for President of the United States.” Dump mused aloud. “It would make me world famous which would mean I would be able to make better deals with higher profile people, I would be on a first name basis with a lot of world leaders and that would tremendously help everything I’m working to achieve: making my bank account the biggest and the best in the world.”

In a flash he was in the lobby of Dump Tower, making the announcement that would change his life.

“Today I officially declared my candidacy for President of the United States.”

In the weeks and months that followed, his television persona, his stance and his constant repetition of the few things he did know kept his campaign afloat.

By the following summer, he became the Republican nominee, and all was well.

One evening, after the Republican Convention had concluded, Dump took a dinner with the woman.

“Everything went better than I expected,” cheered Dump, toasting her with a glass of grape juice, since he didn’t drink alcohol. “Now let’s talk about the next wish: getting me out of this campaign, favorably!”

“Mr. Dump, there’s something you should know.” The genie paused and breathed a sigh. “When you make a wish, you are not permitted to wish for something later that will interfere with that wish. It’s called ‘the non-contradictory clause.’”

“There’s nothing non-contradictory here!” scoffed Dump into his Sirloin.

“Your wish was to run for President!” the genie insisted. “Anything that interferes with that element will prevent the wish from coming true! I can't change that.”

Dump frowned, thought about it for a moment then stood up, wiping his mouth on the linen napkin and tossing it at her. “You’ve been no help to me whatsoever.”

“You can always quit the campaign of your own free will!” the genie tried.

“And lose all of the credibility I’ve gained from running?" he called as he walked away. "That’s no help, whatsoever!”

As the campaign progressed, Dump tried to do anything and everything to get people to detest him. He shouted racial slurs about people of other countries. He demonstrated a severe lack of knowledge about the most rudimentary foreign policy decisions. He even secretly leaked his own tape to the press showing him engaging in a conversation about abuses of women he had previously committed with a gossip show host. It got his buddy fired from his tabloid TV job, but had no apparent effect on his popularity.

On Election night, Tronald Dump watched as state after state voted for him to win the nomination, but stayed philosophical. Maybe this will be even better than I thought!

That changed immediately when he learned that he must reveal his tax forms to the American public. He ran to the bathroom to empty the contents of his stomach. But then, he learned he also had to divest himself of his company. He ran back to the bathroom to empty the contents of his bowels.

“No to the taxes! No to the company!” Dump screamed at the RNC honchos that visited his penthouse the Monday after the election.

“Sir, we're sorry. There’s nothing anyone can do.”

Then, a lightbulb.

Dump raced back to the tie-dye tent. “I can’t give up my company. That was the whole point of me running for this stupid office in the first place! And I DEFINITELY can't reveal my tax records!”

The genie nodded. “I’ve got you covered.”

Suddenly, magically, the tax problem and the conflict of interest issues about his business were rendered moot.

President Dump now had a path that was free and clear to do as he pleased. And he started signing executive orders, repealing people’s healthcare insurance, making an oil company CEO Secretary of State and having a grand old time with the Grand Old Party.

But all was not perfect. Hundreds of people began to protest Dump’s actions. Maybe it was thousands of protesters. He didn't count. But no matter the number, being popular was crucial to being successful! It was time to use that final wish to make himself the most beloved Commander in Chief in history!

Tronald Dump, heart light as a feather, raced on heels that flew back to the flea market, but the tent was gone.

Another merchant was slowly taking down his booth. Dump grabbed him by the shoulders.

“Please! What happened to the lady with the tie-dye tent?” Dump begged.

The gent paused, looked Tronald Dump right in the eye and said “She went home to visit her family, but then wasn’t permitted to return to the United States because of a travel ban. When she was forced to go back, she was killed in a terrorist incident.”



This story was written for LJ Idol using the prompt: Where I'm from

Also Note: this is Tronald Dump's second LJ Idol appearance. His first occurred during Season 9:

Week [8] - Be Careful What You Wish For
penpusher: (Universal Header)
Eight AM and Wayne stared at his IMDb page. One credit: his appearance in the action adventure film “Plants Are People Too 2,” not the original bio-friendly theatrical tale. His was the straight to video sequel with none of the actors from the first film, except for Dustin Diamond who reprised his role of Dr. Screech.

Wayne didn’t have a scene with Diamond, but saw him on set, when the actor was grabbing a burger at the craft service table. Wayne was too nervous to even say hello, and Diamond brushed past him as he went to get a bottle of beer before rushing back to the safety of his trailer.

Wayne dreamed of a career... )
penpusher: (SciFi  honoring <lj user=melodymuse>)
Jailee was still assessing the whole Berg affair and taking inventory about her feelings. She was somewhat responsible for the death of another person. Well, yes and no. If he hadn't taken the bait, hadn't tried to break out of the cell he was in, he would still be alive. But wouldn't anyone have tried to escape, Jailee found herself asking her reflection as she got ready to go out at sunset? It's a choice that really was no choice at all.

Jailee couldn't help but feel guilty about it. Yes, Wilfred did contact him when he was asking a lot of probing questions around the markets, and brought him to Oorsfeld specifically to keep an eye on what he intended to do. When it was discovered he was some agent from The State, the options were few. See if he would have been understanding about who Jailee was and what the community here was. And every benefit was extended, every opportunity given for him to renounce his assignment and understand what was happening was something more. Even though he still chose the work of The State over what he could see, even though at times his actions and reactions ran counterpoint to themselves, he left little choice. He needed to go.

So creating a ruse, making him believe he was working with a spy that had infiltrated the group and getting him to list his reports to Wilfred as if he were a superior was just protection, a way of understanding what he intended to share when he got the opportunity to report his findings.

But now, now that Berg was dead, that can only mean that if more agents weren't on the way, there would still be some kind of pressure to find her and attempt to question her about what happened to Berg and possibly threaten her friends at Oorsfeld.

Jailee knew exactly what that meant.

So, tonight was going to be as special and as splashy as she could make it. It was going to be her first Poetry Tsunami!

Something that was popular in history was what was known as a "Poetry Slam," where people would recite how they saw the world through the use of beat and rhyme. Jailee thought to revive this by making it a Poetry Tsunami, something that would have more meaning and maybe even more power. It would be a new wave of creativity, a subversive voice calling out against the establishment.

Jailee wondered if giving her friends a week to write their entries and perform them would be enough. It seemed odd that she even was worried about the fairness of this considering the other circumstances. Still, she was trying to retain a sense of normalcy in a world that seemed more and more threatening. But she couldn't wait longer than this.

Inventory. Jailee went through her room and scoped out anything that could be associated with her or finding keepsakes she wanted to retain. It was time to pack what she wanted to keep and recycle all of the rest.

In a moment of impatience or just understanding the need to travel light, she took everything that wasn't a fixture, instant recycled it all and made her way to work, with only her single case of clothing and a small bag of accessories.

Jailee was eager to set up the stage for the Tsunami. There would be ten readers, a really good number, and there would be prizes for everyone. This wasn't really a competition, it was just a way of sharing thoughts about the world, the community, each other. Jailee had high hopes for a good night.

Focusing lights so that the reader would be illuminated without blinding so they could read their poems took a bit longer, and people began to arrive before Jailee was done. She immediately stopped what she was doing to greet guests one by one. At twenty-one hundred, it was time to begin.

Jailee played the host and introduced each reader in turn.

The shortest piece was a couplet presented by Wilfred himself:

"For this, I must tell the truth,
I'm simply too long in the tooth."

And based on the reaction and the feeling she suddenly had, Jailee got on stage, looked out at the gathered group and stated:

Hi. I'm Jailee.

Ring the bell
Break the spell
all is well
can't you tell

In a place
with a space
you can't face

I can't be
you can't see
trouble free
is not for me

There's a stranger
there is danger
But no ranger
to be a changer.

We all must know
how this must go
the common foe
just has to go.

So don't be mad
And don't be sad
this isn't bad
It's all I had

So have some fun
Before it's done
Remember one
Is more than none.

Jailee's bright eyes lit up in the beam, as the crowd reacted with applause, slaps or grunts. She dashed off and programmed a message into the bar system, designed to play at exactly zero hour.

The Poetry Tsunami was, as Jailee hoped, a great success. The fun of writing rhymes to make statements was an immediate hit and people started trying to have conversations with rhymes. Jailee took a look around the room at how the interactions were going and how much fun everyone was having. She told Wilfred that she was going to the back room for a bit, but that wasn't the direction she was headed.

At the zero hour, the recorded message Jailee made automatically played for the patrons.

Each screen lit up with Jailee's face.

Hi, It's Jailee again. I have one more poem to share.

The crowd got silent, anticipating more inspiration for their budding rhyming efforts.

Some of you know I have the ability to dream.
Some of you know just what that can mean.

Last night I had a dream that I can't save
I dreamt a possum swam over my grave.

When I have a dream that I can't understand
It means I need to get out of this land.

The State has tried to rid itself of trouble
And so it's time for me to leave this bubble.

You have all been so good and sweet and kind
That's why I must now leave you all behind.

I wish there was some other. better way...
I hope to come back here, again, someday.

Each screen faded to black.


This story was written for LJ Idol X using the prompt: Possum ran over my grave.

Jailee's previous LJ Idol Appearances

Season 9

Week [3]
Week [15]
Week [16]
Week [23]
Week [26]

Season X:

Week [1]
Week [2]
Week [3]
Week [Holiday Break] Part 1
Week [Holiday Break] Part 2 and
Week [Holiday Break] Part 3
penpusher: (SciFi  honoring <lj user=melodymuse>)
Peter stared at the padded ceiling of his padded room.

At least the floor was comfortable. But, of course, when he could have used a blackout and a time jump ahead, to get to a new situation, there were none to be had. He was sitting in this room for, he guessed at least twenty-four hours and counting. Even his brief naps refused to send him into a new place and time.

Berg thought about his current circumstances. He figured that the answer he provided must have been right, or close enough to right that it concerned his captors. Telling the Blue Girl and the Walrus he was under the Great Marston Sea was simply a guess to his location. He had no idea where he was. But he knew that the fall he took was a long one to get to this cell, and it was nearly a lock that he had to be underwater in a circumstance like that.

Where, specifically, under the Marston was the question, and that was something he did not know. He also was out of communication with Sector. That meant it was assured that they didn't know where he was, either, for at least the time period that preceded his most recent memory lapse episode.

What were these blackouts? What caused them? Why was he having them and were others also experiencing time shifts where they don't remember swaths of their lives at a go? What was most disturbing to Berg was that he was, to the outside world, living a life, probably conversing with people, doing things, going places, and he remembered none of it. Even the people at Sector, who were trained to notice anomalies, had no clue that he was experiencing this.

Peter sat up straight and looked as nonchalant as possible as he watched Jailee approach the door of his cell. As long as they believe there are others that know what I know, I should be safe, he thought to himself.

The surprise was that instead of the expected inquisition, asking him about what he knew, who he was working for and what his intentions were all about, Jailee opened a small frame under the door and slid a covered tray through it. The door closed and she walked away, wordlessly.

Peter stood up and watched her leave, walking through a rounded hallway, disappearing beyond the curve of the path.

Then, he realized he was smelling something very familiar. He lifted the steel curtain off of the tray.

Sure enough it was a rare delicacy, that Peter loved: Brothless Burgers! Many foods, especially meat based foods, had some form of gravy, water or sauce. But these did not. They were solid meat on freshly baked bread. Each little burger was a bite sized treasure, and there were so many of them! For a few moments, Berg forgot where he was and just indulged in the wonderful treat.

Later, after his belly was full, he turned back to his mind, to try to make more sense of the circumstances and to review what he had learned, or what he remembered, about Jailee.

He thought that Jailee was a kind of kindred spirit, a different version of himself, Peter remembered. So, perhaps if he put himself in her place, he would know what she was planning.

Peter made sure not to speak aloud. He figured the very first thing they would do was have nanocams positioned around to see, hear and record any word or sound he made.

Now. She knew that he was an adversary. How would he handle that? Well, she did set a trap, the fake "emergency exit" and captured him. But he would be working her over, trying to find out every piece of information available. So far, since the first discussion, there hasn't been a word. Why is that?

Do they already know what they need to know? Are they going to try to score a ransom?

Peter didn't know much about Jailee's monetary circumstances, or whether she was trying to become wealthier to buy her way out of investigations or private situations. Was she just working in that place or was she the owner of it? If she were the owner, how did The State not have some record? Then again, where was this location under the sea?

What about those talking aquatic animals? How did they exist? Did The State know about them? Probably not because they likely would have been destroyed or at least herded for research.

Peter sat in silence playing out the various scenarios in his mind, until a robotic arm came and took the serving tray back through the slot in the door, paused and provided a new tray.

Berg once again lifted the lid, this time to find Bradshaw Stew, a mix of tender cube-cut meats and rice in deep brown gravy with still warm biscuits on the side. The serving looked like it was meant for at least four people but there was no one to share it with, Peter thought as he breathed deep the aroma of the dish before savoring the flavor.

As he was dining, a stray thought came to Peter. What if...

He blinked and suddenly, he was large. he could barely fit into his pants. his shirt was ripped in the front. There were stains of various sorts on all of his clothing. Another time jump. He had been doing nothing but eating, sleeping and going to the bathroom in the sani-corner which auto-rinsed itself clean, for how long, he didn't know. There was no way to measure it. He had no memory of the enjoyment of the meals he ate, aside from the two first ones. But he saw the results. He had put on maybe a hundred kilos?

Berg was disappointed in himself. He never did things like this. Or he never remembered doing things like this. And with no way of exercising, he would not be able to lose this weight easily or with any speed.

Jailee appeared at the window again. The robotic arm retrieved the used food tray and replaced it with a new one as she walked away.

Peter considered not eating it but it smelled so appetizing. It was a pizza covered in bacon and extra cheese.

An hour later, after the pizza was consumed, Berg looked and noticed the tray had slightly propped open the door that the robotic arm used to remove used trays.

The arm itself was slightly extended into the room and its pincers were solid and tight. He managed to use a thumbnail to unscrew them from the arm and work them towards the hinges of the door itself. Working patiently and diligently, Berg made progress, getting first one hinge, then the second hinge detached from the door frame.

Peter had no idea how much time he had, if Jailee would return soon, or if any alarms would be triggered, so he realized he had only one chance. He was able to open the door wide enough for his old self to fit through. That wasn’t good enough. He heaved and pulled and threw the full weight he could behind it and was able to get the opening wide enough for him to squeeze through.

At long last, Peter stood in the hallway where he saw Jailee eyeballing him all this while! Rather than going to the right, as Jailee always did, he would go left.

Peter took no more than five steps before he fell into a hole in the floor and again started sliding downward. He built up some momentum and then splash! He hit water. His muscles atrophied from no exercise and the extra weight he was now carrying caused him to flail around.

The last thing Peter Berg saw was the mouth of a Great White Shark.


This story was written for LJ Idol X using the prompt: Kummerspeck.

Jailee's previous LJ Idol Appearances

Season 9

Week [3]
Week [15]
Week [16]
Week [23]
Week [26]

Season X:

Week [1]
Week [2]
Week [3]
Week [Holiday Break] Part 1 and
Week [Holiday Break] Part 2


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