An Ending


The names were typed in a list, on a sheet of paper hung on a bulletin board in the hallway that lead into the offices. I don’t remember who told us about it, that the news was out. It’d been anticipated for weeks. Rumors about impending layoffs, and how many would be impacted. I just remember standing there, looking for my name. I figured I’d put in more than two years now, and that I’d be just on the edge if they took the ten percent that’d be about forty of the four hundred Conrad had estimated the totality of the union membership consisted of.

After weeks of speculation, the announcement came on a Thursday afternoon. It turned out that Conrad was right, it was a ten percent reduction in the work force. His estimate of four hundred was pretty accurate as the actual number was 412, meaning that there were forty one names on the list. The list was sorted by seniority, defined by start date, which was a column after name, sorted in descending order. I was number 37, with my   start date of 8/5/77 a week after number 41, “Platt, George 7/29/77.” If I’d started a week earlier, I’d still have a job.

It was 2:30 in the afternoon. After I found my name, I read the paragraph above the list. It was written in a bunch of legalize, and included an effective date of 10/31/ 79, the current date, four days before my twenty first birthday. I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned around to see my foreman, Mike.

“Sorry, Dave. I was really hoping you wouldn’t get cut. You got any questions?”

“Today’s my last day?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“So I got about an hour left.”

“Yeah,” he said, “they say it works better that way.  No confusion about when the layoff starts. Better to make a clean cut of things – at least that’s the theory.”

I walked back to my department and took my working spot alongside Lew Reed. “Are you okay?” he asked. Word was already out.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said

Conrad and Jack and Jeff spent the better part of the remaining hour trying to buck me up, telling me that I’d be able to sleep in late in the morning, and that once I got signed up for my unemployment checks I’d be okay, and that I’d be free to go hunting every day.  Conrad said they’d probably be calling me back in about three months. I smiled and said that’s all true, and that I’ll be thinking of them when I roll over in bed and go back to sleep tomorrow morning.

I couldn’t tell them what I was really thinking. I couldn’t tell them that I knew with certainty I’d never enter the window factory again. I couldn’t tell them what they meant to me, and that without my job to go to, without them, the days were going to be as long and empty and lonely as the nights. I was trying hard to commit their faces to memory, etch them in my mind, knowing that I’d never see them again.

Lew, forty five years old and baby-faced, rolly-poly with a soft middle, in his olive green work shirt and trousers and that ridiculous fishing cap covering his bald head. Conrad with his snow white hair and goatee. Jack, burly and broad shouldered in his flannel even at sixty, his beard equal parts dark gray and white.  Jeff, my age, with his thick brown hair cut like a salad bowl had been placed on his head.

The last hour went by quick and easy, with nobody doing much work. Roger and Louie came in and joined the festivities, telling stories and ripping on each other like only a bunch of guys who’d spent the week days of the last two years together could. They had enough material on me and my antics to fill more time than we had to kill.

Then 3:30 came and we all walked out together, like we did every day, punching the time clock on our way out the doors of the loading dock to the parking lot.  I remember saying good bye to the guys, and waving to Wayne Cooper, an acquaintance from another department. I looked around and I realized that this, the factory and the guys I worked with, would continue, would still be here, only  with somebody else doing my job, snapping together the aluminum frames.  Who I could only guess.  I just knew it wouldn’t be me anymore.  Whoever it was going to be, I hoped they’d appreciate it as much as, until that moment, I’d taken it for granted, and that they’d listen and maybe even smile when the guys told stories about the goofy twenty year old kid who used to jump up on the tables and caw like a crow.

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Dog Days


They say that a dog can be man’s best friend. I’m finding that this is true, especially ever since my English Shepherd, Tucker, and I learned how to telepathically communicate with each other. As an example, let me recap a conversation we had this past Friday night.

It’d been thundering and lightning for a few hours when, at about 2:00 A.M., the storm intensified to the point that Tucker woke me up with crying and whining sounds.  He was sitting next to my bed, staring at me. I looked into his dark eyes and opened up the telepathic channel we frequently communicate on.

“What’s the matter, Tuck?” I asked.

tuck“I was wondering if you’d like to throw the tennis ball around for a while. I’ll chase it and bring it back to you.  I promise.”

“Tucker,” I said, “It’s the middle of the night. I’m not getting up to throw the tennis ball.  Now what’s really bothering you? Is it the thunder and lightning? Are you scared?”

“Yes,” he replied sheepishly, betraying the bravado he normally presents to the outside world, “I am.” He lied down on the floor.  His eyes were big and dark.

“Well,” I said. “You remember the last time we had a lightning storm? When I told you about how heavier, negatively charged particles fall to the bottom of a cloud, and how a giant spark occurs between these negatively charged particles and positively charged particles at the top of the cloud? And that as long as we stay inside the house, we’re safe and sound?”

“Oh, yeah, I remember all that. That’s not what’s bothering me.”

“Okay, so what is it?”

“Climate change.”

“Climate change?”

“Yeah, climate change. I mean, a severe thunderstorm now?”

“Actually,” I said, “a thunderstorm in October isn’t that unusual around here.”

“I understand that,” he replied. “It’s more the amount of rain we’ve gotten that concerns me.  Have you looked at the lake in the backyard?”

“You can’t …”

“I know, I know,” he telepathically interrupted me.  “You can’t look at specific events and determine if they’re caused by climate change, you have to look at trends over time.  But with the hot summer we just had, and the number and frequency of severe storms, well, they’re all consistent with the model.  Look at Debby’s flower garden, how some of her flowers are blooming for a second or third time, apparently confused by the warm weather we’ve been having.  Look at the hordes of mosquitoes we’ve had all summer now into the fall. They’ve never been this thick. I know, I run the risk of sounding like Chicken Little, yelling ‘the sky is falling, the sky is falling!’ But shouldn’t we at least be having some conversation about it?”

“I suppose we probably should…”

“But we won’t, because we’re so divided, and because the people in power don’t want to do anything about it. They’re making too much money on fossil fuels and such.”

“Well,  you have a …”

“And another thing that’s been bothering me.”

“What’ that?”

“These Kavanaugh hearings.”

“What about them?”

“Well, you remember that old Logic textbook you gave me?”

“Yeah?” I said. Tucker raised his back right leg and started licking himself. “Don’t do that.”

“Okay,” he said, and he sat up. “Anyways, Aristotle said the first law of logic is the law of contradiction, that for all propositions p, it is impossible for both p and not p to be true.”

“So?”

“So if we make p be the proposition that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Dr. Ford, then ‘not p’ would be that he didn’t.  So how can all of these people that thought Dr. Ford was credible and truthful in her testimony, who believe her when she said she was the victim of sexual assault, not believe Kavanaugh was the perpetrator when she testified that she was 100% certain it was him? “

“They say she was assaulted but maybe misremembers by who.”

“But if that were true, if she misremembered who it was, when she says she was 100% certain it was Kavanaugh, then she’d be misremembering the very point of the allegation, of the hearing, which would destroy any credibility she might have. A way to summarize would be: For proposition p where p = ‘Dr. Ford’s testimony is credible,’ you have to believe that Kavanaugh was the perpetrator. Only in the ‘not p’ of ‘Dr. Ford’s’ testimony is not credible’ can you say you don’t believe her. But Republican after Republican came out and said that while they believed Ford, they also believe Kavanaugh. But you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.”

“But what if, like they said, they really didn’t know who was telling the truth?’

“Then you do what they set out to do, you investigate and try to find supporting factual information that either corroborates or contradicts the accusations. But the FBI ‘investigation’ as ordered by the White House was such a sham that they didn’t even interview the material witnesses let alone any number of other potential witnesses who’d come forward.  Now we’re stuck with a sociopath on the supreme court for the next thirty or forty years. Overturn  Roe v Wade, uphold Citizens United. We’re looking at a long, dark road ahead.”

A long telepathic silence was finally broken when Tucker stretched out and started chewing on what was left of a rawhide bone.  The thunder and lightning had receded, when Tucker telepathically intoned, “Well, I’m getting sleepy.  Thanks for the talk. Good night.”

“Good night,” I replied.  Soon I could hear Tucker, blissfully snoring on the floor next to my bed. I was lying on my back, staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep, my brain lost in the orange glow of a wide awake nightmare.

The War of Yorkville Avenue


Throughout the course of history, there have been key events, seminal moments that acted as a catalyst for igniting the flames of war.

For example, there were the shots fired at Bunker’s Hill that started the revolutionary war. The assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand triggered the start of World War One. The Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor escalated World War Two and pulled the U.S. into the conflict.

And we must never, ever forget that it was the potty-training of Sprinkles the kitty cat that opened up the floodgates of the War of Yorkville Avenue.

A little background:

I grew up in the town of Union Grove, Wisconsin in the sixties and seventies. In the house next to us, to the north, lived a family that we will call the Brady’s. They were cut from the same middle class, rural, blue collar cloth that we were cut from. I’m going to give them alternate names. We’ll call the parents Fred and Wilma.  Fred and Wilma Brady. They had three kids, we had four.  Their two older children were girls (who we’ll refer to as Laverne and Shirley) that were about the same age as my brothers, and their third was a boy (Mork), about the same age as me. My younger sister completes the cast of characters.

Fred and Wilma were hard working, simple people. Wilma worked as a nurse, and Fred drove truck, a fuel truck for the Pugh Oil Company that he kept parked in his driveway, while my dad drove semi-trucks out of at first Chicago and later Milwaukee.

When I was six or seven years old, my dad built a big sandbox just outside the back door that I loved. I’d spend a large part of each day playing in it, with my toy trucks and cars.  At some point, I became aware of the fact that one of the apparent properties of sand was that occasionally, it would roll itself up into these little black balls. I thought nothing of these anomalies, using them as freight for my trucks to deliver.

Then came the day my mom looked out the window just as Mork dropped his kitty cat, Sprinkles, into what until that moment we’d thought was simply a sandbox. What we soon discovered was that, unknown to us, for some time it had been doubling as an enormous litter box, and that the little black balls I’d so enthusiastically loaded my Tonka trucks with were in fact cat turds.  Deeper digging revealed levels of contamination so prevalent that it (The sandbox, not Sprinkles) had to be destroyed.

When confronted by my Mom with the evidence, Fred, instead of being contrite, took a “so what” attitude. Thus the bad blood began. It was as if the Brady’s had declared war on the Gourdoux’s.

They had no way of knowing the Hell they were about to unleash.

In the immediate days and weeks following the Sprinkles incident, things remained relatively calm. It wouldn’t be until a couple of months later, after the pea-shooting crisis, that tensions would really escalate.

The Brady girls, Laverne and Shirley, had horses that they boarded in a barn off the end of the street. They’d ride them and bring them home, letting them graze in the back yard. The lead that they tied them to was just long enough to reach past the border between their yard and ours, under the clothesline my mom used to hang our laundry out on to dry. After grazing their horses in the back yard, they’d eventually do what it is that horses frequently do after grazing for a while – right under my Mom’s clothesline.

Hopefully, you’re noticing a trend here … first, cat shit, then horse manure.

My Mom complained about this to my Dad, with no results other than him shooting the horses with my brother’s BB gun – all it did was made them jump, but it didn’t move them away from the clothes line.

Sometime later, on a warm summer Sunday afternoon, Laverne and Shirley, armed with hands full of horse manure, and myself, my weapon being a pea-shooter I had purchased at the Ben Franklin store downtown, were engaged in a minor skirmish.  For those who don’t know, a pea shooter was nothing more than a big straw, and its ammunition was dried and hardened peas. You’d shoot it like a blow dart. I was only about seven years old at the time, but I could get enough speed and distance into my shooting to leave a little red mark on an exposed arm or leg that would fade after a second or two.

Meanwhile, my mom was complaining again, for the “umpteenth” time, (I still don’t know the precise numerical value of the number “umpteen”) about the obstacle course her clothesline had become.  My dad, for whom the number umpteen apparently represented his breaking point, finally snapped. He went out, grabbed a handful of the stuff, and knocked on the Brady’s back door.  Fred came to answer, and my dad proceeded to take his handful of horse shit and smear it all into the mesh of the screen door that divided the two hulking men.

“You’d better be careful,” Fred said. “I’ve already called the cops about the pea-shooter.”

Some perspective:  At the time, Union Grove was a very small town, population less than two thousand.  The town had only one policeman, who, being as it was a Sunday evening, was off-duty at the time.  So Fred’s call was forwarded to the Racine County sheriff’s department in Racine, about a half hour away from Union Grove. At the time, Racine had one of the highest rates of violent crime and murder in the country. So when Fred’s call about a seven year old kid armed with a pea-shooter came in, I’m guessing that it didn’t exactly jump to the top of their priority list.

Several hours later, a police car, its lights flashing brightly in the dark, pulled into our driveway. I remember sitting on the couch in our living room, feeling infinitely smaller than my minuscule seven year old frame already was, waiting in abject terror for the police to pull me out of my home and take me to prison.

Two policemen got out of the car, and we could hear the muffled sounds of laughter as they made their way to the porch. They entered through the front door, revolvers holstered in their belts. My Dad pointed to me and said, “There’s your culprit, officers.”

I was crying as the officers were trying their best not to laugh. They lectured me. “A pea shooter is a dangerous weapon,” one of them said, and after having a good laugh at my expense, they left, making the half hour ride back to their headquarters in Racine. I stopped crying and started thinking the whole episode was pretty cool, since it didn’t include jail time, and that they turned on their flashing lights just because of me.

But one thing would soon become clear – the pea shooting crisis galvanized my family into a series of strong and decisive responses. The war was on. Some of the noteworthy battles included

Borderline protest: First was the picket line. While Fred was as usual in his garage tinkering on some old car, my brother and sister, now about four years old, and I marched up and down the property line between the two houses, carrying protest signs with things like “Bradys go home” and ”Pugh! Something stinks” written on them

It was apparent to us all by this time that Fred didn’t have a very refined sense of humor, if he even had one at all, and didn’t appreciate being protested against while in his own home, especially by a seven year old boy and a cute and pudgy little four year old girl.  The fact that by this time we were calling him “Old Man” didn’t help matters. From our vantage point, we couldn’t see Fred in his garage, but when we heard the occasional metallic crashing sounds from him throwing a tool of some sort, we knew we were getting through to him.

Suds Away:  The Brady’s  had a little swimming pool, about two feet deep.  Mork would put on these big flipper shoes, goggles and a snorkel, submerge his head under water, and kick his feet violently, pretending to be Lloyd Bridges  in  Sea  Hunt.  One day while the Brady’s were gone, my brother Don and I emptied an entire bottle of dishwashing soap into the pool.  The next day, we watched as Mork, decked out in his scuba diving best, “dove” into the pool, face down and snorkel in, and proceeded to kick, like he always did.  What he couldn’t see with his face underwater and aimed at the bottom of the pool was that on the top of the water, a tower of suds that reached as high as the roof of their house was developing.

Attack From the Rear:  Wilma Brady was a rather large woman with a sour disposition. What Fred lacked in the sense of humor department, she made up for in girth. She didn’t seem to handle stress very well, and was often angry.  We could hear her frequently yelling at her children.  My brother Don came up with what would now be considered a horribly politically, incorrect nickname for her – “The Fat Fury.”  I know, that’s wrong on so many levels, but you have to remember, these were extraordinary times – we were, after all, at war.

Wilma took solace, she found peace, by tending to her back yard vegetable garden.  Keep in mind that she was a large woman, and when she weeded her garden, she’d bend over at the hip, without bending her knees, her butt in the air, assuming what looked like an NFL offensive lineman’s stance.

Our Aunt from up north had recently visited and left, but not before presenting her nephews with the gift of a toy Bazooka air-gun slash cannon thing that made an epically loud ka-boom when fired. We were eating dinner when my dad looked out the window and saw Wilma, in her weeding stance, her backside facing us. “Dave,” he said, “take your bazooka and very quietly get as close you can without her seeing you, and shoot it.”

I had no choice bur to do as my dad instructed.  I was able to get about five feet behind her behind without her knowing I was there, and I pulled the trigger.  The ka-boom echoed through the early evening air, and a startled Wilma went airborne, her feet and hand leaving the ground while she maintained her three point stance.  She landed and bolted upright, and looked at me, bazooka in hand. I thought, here it comes, I’m going to feel the brunt of the Fat Fury’s fury, but she just turned her head  and proceeded to walk back to her house, all the while muttering words that I hadn’t learned yet.

Snow Job: Months and years went by and still the war raged on.  There was the time, during Christmas break, when a big snowstorm hit, dropping about five inches and ending in the early evening.  Fred spent about two back breaking hours shoveling his driveway so he could get out and get to work early the next morning. After their house was dark for a couple of hours and it was apparent everyone inside was asleep, my brothers and a couple of their friends went out and silently shoveled all the snow back into Fred’s driveway, only piling it eye high right behind his garage door.

The Simmons Conundrum: One day, we discovered, in the classifieds of the Racine Journal Times, that Fred was selling his Station Wagon. After listing all of the vital info, the ad ended with Fred’s phone number and a “call after 5:00.” My oldest brother Mike’s friend, Bill M., was recruited because his voice was deep enough to sound like an adult and foreign enough that Fred wouldn’t recognize it. We picked a random name and address out of the Racine phone book – an  “Ed Simmons” who lived on the far north side of Racine, somewhere on four or five mile road.  We then had Bill play the part of Ed Simmons and call Fred up. Suffice to say that Bill gave a brilliant performance, feigning enough interest in the car that Fred promised to drive it out to the Simmons residence for a test drive the very next day.  So if the real Ed Simmons happens to be reading this. a fifty some year old mystery of why a stranger named Fred Brady showed up at your door one day to give you a test drive in his station wagon is finally solved.

The Final Conflict:  Things went on like this for a couple of years, very one sided in our advantage, until the epic Halloween Conflict of either 1965 or 66.

The sixties were about the last time that innocent mischief like soaping windows or egging or TP’ing a house was accepted, and even condoned as the “trick” in response to the question, “trick or treat.”  For us, Halloween represented an opportunity for escalation in the war that we’d been looking forward to for a long time.

There was a whole series of events that night that my brothers, (with encouragement from my Dad, no doubt) perpetrated that I ‘m simply too old now to remember.  I do remember my brother Don, taking a pumpkin and raising it to his shoulders and shooting it just like I’d seen him launch a thousand jump shots in our driveway at the hoop my Dad had installed above our garage door, only this time it was a pumpkin, and the target was the Brady’s roof.  It bounced loudly down the peaked surface of the roof and landed and smashed into pieces on the ground, next to the Brady’s house, while their dog, Nikki, barked insanely.

The next thing I remember is both families, everybody but my little sister, standing facing each other in the dark between the two houses. The excrement was clearly going to hit the fan.  We noticed that the Brady’s had a basket full of ripe tomatoes, from their garden, nearby and at their disposal. They were prepared for battle, we weren’t, until my oldest brother, Mike, slipped away in the darkness to his friend Bob Pink’s house, two driveways to the south of ours, and came back with Bob and a basket full of tomatoes of our own.

The battle lines were drawn when Fred started loudly complaining about the blatant lack of respect that us kids showed for their elders when, in mid-sentence, I interrupted him by yelling, “Shut up, Old Man,” proving his point powerfully and succinctly.

Fred was incensed. “You see? That’s just what I was talking about.” Shortly after that, someone fired the first tomato. I don’t remember which side it came from, but it smashed against the other side’s house.  Soon all the tomatoes were released. I don’t recall anybody on either side getting hit, which seems unlikely, given my brothers and I were normally pretty accurate when it came to throwing things – apparently, even we weren’t ready to cross the line that hitting a Brady with a tomato represented – both sides settled instead for the cathartic release of firing as many tomatoes that our baskets would hold at the other’s house.  It was dark there between the houses, and it wasn’t until the morning that we could see the full extent of the carnage afflicted to both houses, big red splotchy stains that would remain uncleaned for months.

Peace  An uneasy peace soon settled between the two families, with the tomato stained sides of the two houses serving as a mute reminder of the childish antics that we’d engaged in for so long.  We finally started acting our age, and came to a tacit understanding of where each side stood. Fred, or Old Man Brady, wanted nothing more than the respect that he felt children should show their elders, and he had a point, although there is also something to be said for having to earn respect.  On our side, we just wanted Fred to acknowledge that he was wrong in letting his horses shit under my Mom’s clothesline, and for letting their cat ruin our wonderful sandbox.

Now, well into the 21st century, when everybody is so sensitive, the war of Yorkville Avenue could have never occurred.  Police, doctors and lawyers, if not guns, would undoubtedly be part of the equation. Whether that’s good or bad, I’ll let you decide, but I will offer this: there’s a place for mischief in the world, so long as no one is hurt. The war of Yorkville Avenue not only brought our family closer together, it also provided us with a lifetime of stories. And in the long run, that’s worth fighting for, if you ask me.

Chaos and FrozenYogurt


It seems unlikely at best. That is the understatement of all time.

The butterfly effect (the scenario associated with chaos theory, not the bad Ashton Kutcher movie that came out a few years ago) speculates that a single flap of the wings of a butterfly can set off a series of events that can culminate in a tsunami occurring on the other side of the world. The universe, according to chaos theory, operates on the randomness of events put into motion by other seemingly random events, and the present is constantly creating and modifying the future.

I just finished eating a bowl of frozen yogurt. Consider all the things that had to happen since the dawn of time to bring me to this moment, at this time, in this place.  Somebody had to invent the bowl. Somebody had to make the bowl I ate the frozen yogurt out of. Someone had to invent yogurt. Someone had to come up with the idea of freezing yogurt.  And so on, and so on; billions and billions of things had to happen.

Consider this: My folks had to meet and procreate in order for me to even be here. My mom and dad met at a New Year ’s Eve dance, about ten years before I was born. What if some strange guy named Frank Furter hadn’t been standing behind the front door right when the guy who played organ in the band tripped over the threshold on his way in? Well, if Mr. Furter hadn’t been there to break his fall, the organ player would have hit his head against the corner of the wall, splitting it open and causing him to be rushed to the hospital, causing the band to cancel its gig. My Mom and Dad would have never met, going their separate ways with their friends, to separate other dances, and I wouldn’t be here some seventy years later to eat my frozen yogurt.

When I write, I try to tap into this energy. I’m always asking myself, where am I, and how did I get here?

In November of 1979, a 19 year old woman and a 21 year old boy were living in different states, eastern Michigan and northwestern Wisconsin,about 600 miles apart. To the best of their knowledge, their paths had never crossed. Unlikely, indeed.

Then, on a Monday night in January of1980, only two months later, their journeys brought them both to Gateway Technical College, in Kenosha, in southeastern Wisconsin, to a classroom where a class in Computer Programming in FORTRAN IV was being held. She had green eyes that glowed deeper than any he’d ever seen before.  They soon found that they had classes together four nights a week, Monday thru Wednesday and Friday. They spoke their first words to each other (her: “Hi, Dave,” him “Hi.”) on the Wednesday of the second week.

Literally thousands of things had to occur in those prior two months to bring them together. But this was no little butterfly flapping its wings.  This was a freight train powered by a hurricane, and it’d been thundering down the tracks since the dawn of time until it reached its destination, its destiny.

It took until Friday, Mach 28th, 1980, for him to finally ask her out, and on Wednesday, August 15th, 2018, they celebrated their 37th wedding anniversary.

Now, my writer questions:  Where am I? Answer – I’m in Heaven

Q: How did I get here? A: I’ve always been here

If I Could


If I could tell her

I’d tell her that her smile is like a sunrise

Lifting the day out of the dark

Ripping daylight from the clenched fists of the night

 

If I could show her

I’d show her how her laughter is like music

Played by the early morning songbirds

Flooding the empty silence of the dark with harmonic grace

 

If I could love her

Like I’ve always loved her, complete and inadequate

I’d wrap my arm around her waist in the infinite darkness

The universe rising and falling with each beat of our sleeping breathing heart

Fourth of July


In what seems like another lifetime ago, I was a senior manager of I.T. for a Fortune 500 company.  In the late nineties, I hired an independent consultant named Boris who had only recently come to the United States. He did a fine job for us, and I hired him for other projects and when those were completed I recommended him to other I.T. Managers for other projects.  This went on until a couple of years ago, when he finally was hired as a full-time employee.

One summer day I stopped by his desk and looked at the new photos he’d posted on the walls of his cubicle. There, staring back at me, were the smiling images of him, his wife, and his two young sons, proudly waving little American flags and wearing the same dark blue t-shirts with the flag embroidered on them. It was the Fourth of July, and they were all beaming, a beautiful young family, proud to be Americans.

When he came to this country, in the early nineties, he had nothing.  The only work he could find was for a janitorial service, far beneath his skill set and intelligence.  Boris had studied Computer Science before emigrating.  He was also a chess master, one of those guys you hear about or see on television, able to defeat as many as six simultaneous opponents.  He may have been, in terms of education and intelligence, the most over qualified janitor in Chicago, but he never complained.  He was excited to be an American, and grateful for each opportunity that presented itself, more through his hard work than any stroke of good fortune.

Boris now lives in an upscale suburb.  His wife, who came to America with Boris, has been an executive for a privately held company for some time now.   They put their oldest son through Harvard, and I think their second son is about to finish high school. The last time I talked to Boris, I know they were considering Harvard for him, too.

Somewhere along the line, Boris became a citizen and, much to my chagrin, a hard line Republican.  We don’t see eye to eye on many things politically, but we both respect and appreciate each other’s love of our county.

Boris and his family are a true American success story. It’s a story of how hope and hard work and decentness were rewarded with opportunity, and it’s only one out of millions of such stories that could only be told in this great country.  There have never been better citizens than those who came to this country from elsewhere, those we welcomed from terrible circumstance with open arms.

Now our arms are closed and we are disgustingly taking children away from parents. This “crisis” at our southern border is a completely false narrative drummed up for political purposes.  The facts are that crossings at the Mexico border are at their lowest levels in recent history, and have, in fact, been decreasing steadily every year since peaking in the year 2000. The policies enforced by the previous two administrations were largely working.

But that doesn’t seem to matter. In order to energize his base and distract the rest of us from his legal problems, the president and his Attorney General have ripped thousands of children away from their families. We’ve all seen the disgusting footage on television. And please, let’s not get into the argument about who came her legally or illegally  – from those asylum seekers who’ve traveled hundreds of inhospitable miles to those simply seeking work and lodging, nothing can justify separating children from parents.

I keep thinking back to those photographs of Boris and his then very young family with their little American flags, and how much they love their country, and I can’t help but wonder, how will these children separated from their parents look at us ten, fifteen, or twenty years down the line? What kind of primal hatred will infest them and fester in their souls?

It is love and its ability to overcome hatred that’s made us great before, and will eventually make us great again. We must, and we will, rise up and reject such inhuman acts. We are still a decent and loving people, and we still see ourselves reflected in the eyes of the victims of these atrocities.

The president keeps saying that you can’t have a country without borders, and that we need to build a wall. But for more than two hundred forty years now we’ve managed without walls. We’ve not only had a country, we’ve had the greatest country in the history of the world, made great by the blood, sweat and tears of people and their children who came here from all over the world, and by the open arms and un-walled hearts of enough people to welcome them.

Summer Solstice


“It is difficult to be convinced of the death of one whom we have deemed to be another self.”

                                                                                                     Nathaniel Hawthorne                                                                                                                           From “The Wives of the Dead”

In the north, as June approaches the solstice, the sun stays in the western sky higher and longer, and long after it begins its descent into the horizon, the shadows of trees lengthen and darken, until the ground is a patchwork mosaic of shadow and dimming light. Nocturnal animals, both predator and prey, are driven by hunger and hormones into the waning light, risking everything until the familiar blanket of night covers the landscape in blackness.

After the weather report on the 10:00 news, she stepped out the back door and looked out over the trees and fields to the western sky. The sun had collided with the earth, and a firestorm painted the entire sky blood red; the sky was bleeding and hemorrhaging in front of her. He’ll put it out, she thought. He’ll be back any time now. Feeling the chill of the night breeze in her face, she wrapped her shawl tight around her shoulders.

June 21st, the anniversary of their wedding, and the anniversary of the warehouse fire.  Paul was 23 when he was taken, handsome and fireman fit, with thick brown hair that Rachel loved to run her fingers through.  He’d be thirty now, still young but still two years older than she was, and they’d be celebrating their ninth wedding anniversary.

She still rented the same farmhouse outside of town that she and Paul lived in at the time of his death. She rarely left home, and she lost contact with all of her old friends. She was still, after seven years alone, stunningly beautiful.  With porcelain skin and dark eyes and an hourglass figure, she turned heads on her infrequent trips to town, the heads of middle aged men congregated in the barber shop or the teenaged to twenty something year old gearheads perpetually fine tuning some classic car in Lacy’s garage.

Every year, as the 21st approached, she’d go to town and repeat the same sad ritual. Everybody knew that she’d pick up two New York Strip steaks and a couple of baking potatoes from the IGA and then she’d swing by the liquor store and purchase a bottle of the same wine.  Everybody knew that she was preparing the same meal that she prepared on that night, and like she did on that night, she’d wait for her husband to come home. The first year or two, most people were sympathetic to the tragic circumstances and the profundity of her loss, but the last couple of years that sentiment was shifting to why can’t she just get on with her life, and why doesn’t a beautiful woman like that get out once in a while, she’s driving herself crazy living in the same house amongst all the same things. She remained completely oblivious to the fact that she and her sanity had become the subject of rumors and speculaion.

It’d been seven years since the first time she set the table with her grandmother’s china. Paul had just taken the steaks off of the grill when his pager went off.  They looked at each other in utter disbelief, and laughed at the timing, saying they’ll just have to put off their celebration for a couple of hours. As he got in his truck she told him to be careful. Don’t worry, he said, I’ll always come back to you. They kissed through the truck’s open window and she waved to him as he backed out of the driveway onto the highway. She watched the red taillights fade in the low light of dusk as he drove off.

Maybe it was because there wasn’t a body to bury. Maybe it was because of the promise he’d made in his last words to her. Or maybe it was simply that she loved him too much to give up on him.  Whatever it was, it was strong enough for her, despite all reason and logic, to look for him in every face she saw, and to see him sometimes in the shadows cast by the June sunsets.

This year, June 21st was like every year since that first June 21st. It was warm outside, and fireflies flashed on and off through the yard. She set two places at the table with her grandmother’s china, put out the bottle of her and Paul’s favorite wine and took two steaks off of the grill. She lit two candles and sat down and waited for Paul to return.  And when the sun had finally set and the bottle was nearly empty she heard the gate by the machine shed loudly squeak open, and through the dining room window she watched the darkened figure approach the back door. She heard him softly speak her name through the screen door, Rachel, and she said Paul, oh Paul and she let him in. They quickly shed their clothes and make love in the darkness of the new night.

Then she was alone again, drifting off to sleep as from the highway the roar of the dual exhausts from a  1965 Ford Mustang echoed and faded in the night.

Max


One doesn’t buy a pet.  That would imply that it’s a simple financial transaction. It’s much more complicated than that. When you pay money to take ownership of a cat or a dog, you are making an investment.  You are investing in your own capacity to love and be loved. Unconditionally. The real cost that you have to consider is the fact that no matter how much and how well you love your pet that you will likely outlive him.

A little bit more than14 years ago, a Gordon Setter my children would name Max (after a setting on a hair dryer) was born, and a couple of months later, he came home to his new family, which consisted of five humans, two cats, and one aging and overweight and utterly charming Golden Retriever named Sid.  Max was a good puppy. House broken and kenneled at night very easily, he was physically the opposite of Sid.  Where Sid was lethargic in his old age and obeyed a strict economy of motion, Max was constantly on the go. He quickly learned the boundaries of our 2 ½ acre yard. This was the most satisfying thing about our relationship with Max.  We gave him the freedom to explore a world that he absolutely loved, and he’d run all day every day, chasing birds and squirrels and rabbits and even butterflies, running in graceful and long strides, a lean mean running machine, muscles rippling, a display of fluidity.  Nothing could slow him down, not even a bout with heartworm several years ago from which he recovered fully and quickly. After running all day, he’d curl up on the back of a couch and rest and begin the same pursuits the next day. Not that he ever actually caught anything. That didn’t matter in the least. He found true joy in the chase, the pursuit. I recognized this and I think I’ve learned a thing or two about how to view the world from the way Max loved every inch of our property, or more accurately, Max-land.

Over the past couple of years, in his old age, Max’s long strides shortened to a trot, and he’d come in earlier in the afternoon and rest longer on the couches.  He’d spend much of his outdoors time laying in the grass, his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth, content to be among the familiar grass and flowers and birds of the world that was still his.

A couple of months ago, very suddenly, on a Sunday, after letting him out, we found him barely breathing, laying in the back yard.  After a trip to the E.R., he was diagnosed with Pancreatitis and Aspiration Pneumonia. They kept him for three days, and after several medications and a new diet regime, he seemed to be doing much better, but he’d changed in subtle ways. He only wanted out when my wife and I were out, and he’d stick close to our sides, for the most part forgoing the adventure of the chase.

Then came today, when he woke up with a strange and foreign panic in his eyes and fits of coughing. My wife took him to the vet and he was running a high fever, and the vet suggested that it was probably time, so my wife made the soul-wrenching decision. I was up north at our cabin with our other dog, a four year old English Shepherd named Tucker, when my wife called and informed me that she had to have Max put down.  I’m up here trying to write, but I didn’t anticipate having to write about this.

When Max was three or four, we had to have our beloved Sid put down, and eventually both cats, too. Max mourned each loss with the rest of us, just like Tucker will undoubtedly mourn Max when him and I return home. We’ll come home to a house that will suddenly be emptier, and a yard that will still, if only in dreams and memories, be graced by the fluid black blur of a very special dog who created in its 2 ½ acres  a world big enough to encapsulate a lifetime of adventure and wonder.

Tough Enough


Throughout junior high and the first two years of high school, because of where my birthday fell, I was one of the smallest kids in my class.  I was also emotionally immature, not being able to control my big mouth. It might not seem like much, but when you’re early in the double digits of years, being a year younger than most of your classmates can be a big deal.

My brother, on the other hand, four years ahead of me, was in the opposite situation, being amongst the oldest in his class. So different were we that he was considered one of the toughest guys in town, while I was known as a little smart-mouthed wimp. When I was in 8th grade, my brother was in his senior year in high school, and I’d hear through the buzz about some new fight he’d recently gotten into, and how he once laid a guy out in the middle of an intersection in Burlington. I, on the other hand, had no such proclivity for fighting, and was, in fact, due to my mouth, the frequent target of bullies and bullying. Fight or flight?  That was always an easy and consistent answer for me in those days.

But perhaps my biggest fear back then was that word of my wimpy-ness would find its way to my brother, just as word of his exploits found their way to me. This was part of my motivation when one day, in 8th grade, I decided it was time for me to show off my hidden toughness. It was time for me to kick some ass.

The target of my aggression would be Jimmy K., who happened to be not only the son of the school principal, but also one of the two or three guys in my class that was as small as I was (I was at least smart enough not to pick a fight with the 97% of the boys that were bigger than me.) Jim had done something to piss me off that afternoon, and I remember telling him, you just wait until after school, you just wait.

Then we were released, and walking across the grassy yards of the middle school lot. Other kids were swirling around us as I followed after Jim, taunting him, jabbing him in the shoulders. He just continued on, silent, with his head down, not looking at me and absorbing my verbal abuse without reaction, carrying his books.

His books. Jim’s not responding was emboldening me to push harder to get a reaction from him. I reached out and knocked the books out of his hands, folders and papers falling to the ground and scattering in the breeze. How do you like that, I snarled. And then, within an instant, though I can see it all now, forty some years later, as if in slow motion, he turned around, his right hand balled into a fist, and landed a perfect punch to my face, to my left eye. I remember my eye welling up with water, from the impact, not because I was crying, well, mostly not because I was crying.  Whatever, the fight was over, and by the time I walked home I had a bona-fided shiner, my eye socket swollen and purple from Jimmy K.’s perfectly thrown right cross.

When I gott home, I told my mom that she should see what the other guy looks like, though I know I  wasn’t very convincing. In the days that followed I wore the bruise on my eye socket like Hester Prynne, instead of a scarlet “A,” a purple “W” for wimp.

A couple of years later, in the summer between ninth and tenth grade, I suffered through my last encounter with a bully. It was a kid in my class who I shall call G who for some unremembered reason took an intense disliking to me. Looking back on it now, I can’t for the life of me figure out what it was about this kid that I feared.  He was was ridiculous looking, short with long hair and a big soft stomach that protruded well past his belt. I guess it was the fact that he smoked and hung out with some older kids who also had long hair and smoked that intimidated me so much.

One summer day, after stopping in the hobby store on Main Street and purchasing some poster boards (on which I was going to design golf courses, having decided recently that would be what I’d someday become famous for.  I was ahead of my time in that the words “nerd” or “geek” weren’t part of the culture yet.) when I spotted G in the alley across the street, smoking with four of his friends, all of whom were older than him. He saw me and yelled “Gourdoux!”

I ran, and as I took off, I saw his friends start running across the street. I ducked into an alleyway between a couple of the stores and emerged in the bright sunshine of the empty parking lot behind  Main Street only to find that I was quickly flanked on all sides by G and his friends.

“Didn’t I tell you I didn’t want to see you around here?” G snarled.  I almost answered that no, I don’t seem to recall ever hearing you say that. Two of the older guys held me, pinning my arms back. I was unable to move, but I felt myself recoiling right before he delivered a sucker punch to my gut. I bent over when I realized that his punch didn’t even hurt. He’d hardly hit me. My big mouth started to say the words, is that it, is that all you’ve got, but for once, my brain was faster than my mouth, and I realized that G’s heart just wasn’t into beating me. Perhaps one of those friends that held me was an older brother who G had to impress. Perhaps he chose me to be his victim because I was an eaasy target. Whatever his reason, when he hit me, it was clear to ne that bullying didn’t come naturally to him, and that he was no more a tough guy than I was when Jimmy K. landed “the punch.” He mumbled soething about me not being worth the hassle and told the guys who held me to le me go.

They disbursed as I reached down and picked up the poster boards and headed for home.  I was thinking, that didn’ even hurt, why had I been so afraid of G for all that time, when am I going to stop being such a wimp? I also remembered wondering why G didn’t punch me harder, and the more I thought about, the better I understood, and I saw more than just a chubby kid who smoked. I saw a kid who, when he had a chance to really hurt me, chose not to, and I understood the toughness that took.

In the following year I’d go on my big growing spurt, going from 5’6” to 6’1” by the time I’d start eleventh grade. I’d never run from a fight again. Even better, I’d never start a fight again, either.

Now I can say, with all of the confidence I lacked in those days, that I am one tough S.O.B.

 

\

Ed and Pedro


(This is a bit of fiction I’ve been working on or past couple of weeks. Don’t know what to make of it, as it’s different from what I usually write. PLEASE NOTE: Any website I reference here is purely fictional and is not to be confused with actual web sites.)

Ed Barnes lived in a double wide parked on a lot a couple of miles north of town on County Highway T. Divorced three years earlier, he lived alone. His neighbor and frequent drinking partner, Charlie Fielding, lived, also alone, about a mile north of Ed. Half way between them was the tavern, “The Mighty Casey’s,” named for its proprietor, Jack Casey. At the ages of fifty nine and sixty five, neither one of them was a “spring chicken.” This slight difference in age wasn’t small enough to stop Ed from teasing Charlie, calling him “Old Timer” at every opportunity that presented itself. Charlie, with his thin and snow-white hair, acknowledged that he looked older than his years. The fact that he’d recently retired from the Paper Mill only added to his elderly aura. He was good natured about the teasing and had recently taken to calling Ed “whipper-snapper.”

One night, Ed and Charlie were sitting at the Mighty Casey’s when Ed referred to Charlie as an “old timer.”

“I got me another 30 years, whipper-snapper,” Charlie responded.  “Till April 24th, 2048.”

“What do you mean, April 24th, 2048?”

“That’s what the internet says.  Says I’m gonna die on April 24th, 2048. I‘ll be a ripe old 95 by then, and Hell, I’ll probably be ready to go, by that time.”

“What the Hell are you talking about?”

“There’s a web page, the day I die or day or the date of my death, whatever.  Anyway, you send them some of your spit so they can get your DNA, and you give ‘em permission to access whoever’s got info on you, and you answer a bunch of questions, like do you smoke, your diet, and so on, and they take all the info and look at it and calculate how many days you got left, and they list which days have the highest percentage chance of you dying on.  April 24, 2048 came up with a 3.6 percent chance of being my last day, and that was highest, so …”

“3.6 percent chance was the highest?” Ed asked, unimpressed.

“Yeah.  Doesn’t sound like much, does it.  But put it another way: Thirty years, that’s about 10,000 days. It says April 24, 2048 has a 3. 6 percent chance. There’s almost four out of 100, or 2 out of 50, or 1 out of 25 chance, and when you consider that the stakes couldn’t be higher, one out of twenty five compared to one out of ten thousand don’t seem so low, now does it?”

“Does it tell you how you’re gonna die?

“It does.  Aspirational pneumonia. 11% chance. That’s based on all of my medical history.”

“Yeah, and then you walk out into the parking lot tonight and get run over by a big bus. You can’t predict that, no matter what your family and health history look like. Ain’t no way nobody can predict that.”

“Well, that’s true,” Charlie acknowledged.

The conversation moved on to other subjects, like the Green Bay Packers or the usual random topic of the night that they’d obsess on for a couple of weeks. This week it was what the difference between a midget and a dwarf is. Charlie took the position there wasn’t a difference and Ed insisted that there was but forgetting exactly what it was. “I think a dwarf might be slightly taller,” he said, but Charlie insisted that wasn’t the case and brought up Snow White and her seven little companions as supposed proof. The debate raged on through the night without a resolution. By nine ‘clock, Ed, already well on his way to intoxi-land, had completely forgotten about Charlie’s appointment with eternity on April24, 2048.

At two A.M. they closed the bar, with Jack Casey himself giving them both a short drive home.  This was not uncommon, as both men lived within walking distance (when sober) of the bar, and Jack had a vested self interest in preserving two of his primary sources of revenue. By eleven o’clock he’d already asked for and taken possession of their car keys.

It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later, while sitting reading e-mail, that Ed remembered the conversation where Charlie learned his most likely date of death.  What a crock of crap, Ed thought. Charlie is so gullible. Ed just had to see what kind of cornball site this was.  He googled “death date calculator,” and after scrolling down to the third page of search results, his eye was caught by an entry that said, “Personal Death Date Calculator (PDDC.com)”  “The most accurate and comprehensive personal death date calculator on the web.”  His curiosity piqued, he clicked on the link.  Instead of the amateurish, gaudy looking page he was assuming he’d find, he was presented with a professional and clean looking design.  “Your Personal Day of Death Calculator” the banner read, and the menu below included links labelled “About Us,” “Why a personal day of death calculator,” and “The intelligence behind the PDDC (“Personal Death Date Calculator”)”

Ed clicked first on the “About Us” and found that the PDDC was the work of a consortium of egghead professors from Harvard and M.I.T., with a large number of lengthy and academic articles about the technology and methodology that went into the development of the tools that comprised the PDDC. It was mostly over Ed’s head- the little bit he gleaned from it was that it was based on a core engine of Artificial Intelligence that was constantly and independently changing and evolving, self-enhancing its algorithm to encompass all of the additional data it was constantly asking for and that the consortium was getting it access to in order to make the algorithm more accurate. It was a continuous need for improved accuracy that drove the core module.

The goal of the PDDC wasn’t so much the calculations as it was proving AI theory. The consortium wanted to develop a tool that was charged with one task: to solve a complex and unprovable problem and in the process become self-aware enough to understand its own limitations and, without any additional human intervention, reconfigure and modify itself to get better results.

One of the many academic papers written by a Dr. Harold Osgood described examples of how the tool evolved and learned. The first version of the tool was incredibly simplistic, arriving at a conclusion based upon a rudimentary questionnaire the user filled out  on-line and a limited number of public records of aggregate patient outcomes, for example by age and gender. The tool quickly grew frustrated by the limitations of the data it had access to and it asked the consortium to provide it access to a wide variety of data, from insurance actuaries to police records to gun registry databases. The consortium, well-funded by a powerful and well-connected board of directors, had little difficulty in granting the tool access to all of the data it’d asked for.  The tool would then modify itself and the algorithm to take advantage of the additional data it had been given access to. The results were impressive: the estimated dates did in fact grow more accurate, as the tool took advantage of its unending capacity for data and unlimited processing power to crunch millions of records and images related to any individual and to calculate and spit out the likeliest date of his demise within a handful of seconds.

Ed was pondering all of this when he finally clicked on the link to calculate his own PDD. It made him go through a login and authentication process, and then presented him with an epically long “read me” document that he blew past to click on the “continue on to the PDDC.” His screen refreshed with a new page, with the heading, “Calculate your Personal Day of Death (PDD)”

He clicked on the button.

The screen refreshed and went blank before displaying the following

 

Your Top Five Calculated Personal Death Dates are:

Rank      Date      % of Chance       Cause

1           11/6/2018            25.3%    Car Accident

2           6/30/2039               2.4%   Pneumonia

3         3/14/2029                1.9%   Heart Failure

4           9/1/2040                 1.3%   Dysentery

5           8/11/2051               1.1%   Nuclear Holocaust

 

Everything on the first line stunned him.  November sixth was less than six months away. And a twenty five percent chance when all the other dates are less than two and a half percent?  And how the Hell did it come up with “car accident?” Ed was a good driver, with only one ticket in more than forty years of driving, a failure to come to a complete stop more than thirty years ago. He’d never been in an accident of any kind.

The site said that, with the constant additional data and the continuous evolving of its core algorithm that results would vary over multiple attempts. Ed assumed that he’d caught the algorithm in the middle of a transition, so he queried again.  The same five dates displayed on the screen but the percentages had changed slightly, including a bumping up to a 27.2% chance thst he’d die in a car accident on

November 6th.

Ed became increasingly unnerved when subsequent re-calculations over the next days and weeks always showed an increase in the percentage associated with November 6th until two weeks later, on May8th, the percentage had risen to 53%.  The cause, however, always remained the same: car accident.

He told Charlie about it and, once he was able to convince Charlie that he wasn’t bullshitting, Charlie re-ran his own calculation. Much to Ed’s chagrin, Charlies’ prediction remained roughly the same each time, changing a tenth of a percentage point or so, but never rising above 4%, and always predicting April 24, 2048 as the number one date.

By June 9th, Ed’s percentage was up to 71%. After weeks of looking, he finally found a customer support number for the website. It was an 888 number, and the voice on the other end had a thick Indian or Pakistani accent. Oh, great, Ed thought, it’s one of them foreign call centers. So much for making America great again.

“Welcome to PDDC.Com.  My name is Sandeep. How may I help you?”

I’m sure the sand is deep there, Ed thought. In his mind’s image, Sandeep was wearing a turban, making him Muslim and misplacing Pakistan into the sub-Sahara landscape he’d seen so often on television. Geography never was his strongest subject.

“Yeah, I’ve got a couple of questions about my PDD?”

“Okay.”

Ed cleared his throat. “First of all, it says November 6th of this year is my most likely date.”

“Oh, well, sir, it’s just the results of a scenario the tool calculated in a simulation.  Overall, it’s been proven to be accurate less than ten percent of the time.”

“Well, it says that it has 71% confidence in my date.”

“Yes, sir, you …wait.  It says what percent?”

“Seventy one.”

“71? Are you sure?”

“Damn straight I’m sure.”

It was obvious even a half world away to Ed that Sandeep was shaken.

“71 percent?”

“That’s right.”

“Sir, are you in the last stages of a terminal disease? I’m sorry to ask …”

“No, no, that’s okay. I’m not. And that’s the thing.  The cause of death it says is car accident.”

“Car accident?”

“That’s right. Car accident.”

“Do you… do you have a history of accidents?”

“No!  That’s just it! Been driving over 40 years, all that time, just one minor traffic ticket and no accidents!  And that ticket was more than thirty years ago.”

Sandeep had no explanation.  He said he’d take Ed’s issue to his manager.

On the fourth of July, the calculation had risen to 83%. Ed became completely obsessed with November 6th, now only four months away. Up to this point, Charlie was the only one who knew anything about Ed’s PDD. Other people noticed changes in Ed’s behavior; that he seemed distracted and looked tired. The truth was that he was exhausted. Each night found him lying awake, tossing and turning, until he could stand it no more. He’d get up, throw his robe on, and sit down at his laptop on the kitchen table, and he’d login to pddc.com and see if the percentage had gone down, only to be disappointed when it went up again. It reached 90% by the first of August. When he did fall asleep, he was soon awakened from vivid nightmares of colliding cars, the sound of twisting metal and breaking glass, air bags failing to deploy, shards of iron penetrating his skin, or he’d be outside of the car, lying on his back on the pavement, unable to move, the smell of gasoline filling his nostrils, his shirt soaking wet from the fuel draining out of the car that had tipped over on its side, it’s underbelly exposed and bleeding fuel that spilled out onto the pavement and ran and pooled beneath him. The pool spread out next to him when it finally reached the small red and yellow flame, and the gas ignited and its stream became a stream of fire, headed for where Ed lay on the pavement, unable to move. He’d wake up just before the flames consumed him, shaken and shaking, sitting straight up in the dark.

By mid-September the percentage of certainty had climbed to 95. Ed found himself out of work after losing his job as a clerk at the Ace Hardware store. He’d missed too many days, and the days he made it in, he was distracted and irritable.  The end came a day after a thunderstorm flooded much of the valley when a young guy, late twenties or early thirties, tried to negotiate the price of a new sump pump down when Ed lost control, screaming at the guy, “What, 79 bucks is too much for you? You stupid Mother Fucker, how about I take this hose here and shove it up your ass?” His manager, Jeff Reardon, was just an aisle away and heard he whole thing.  He immediately fired Ed, telling him to get out and to never come back, right there in the middle of the store.

October. Charlie felt bad for his old friend.  He was still the only one who knew about Ed’s PDD.  He invited Ed to join him for Senior’s day, the first Tuesday of the month, at the Turtle Lake casino.  Charlie put Ed at ease for most of the day. It helped that Ed won a total of 75 bucks at the slot machines. Before going home, they stopped at the Mighty Casey’s for the first time in weeks, Ed happily sharing his casino winnings with the sparse crowd at the bar.

They left shortly after midnight, Ed climbing in to the passenger seat of Charlie’s Ford Taurus.

“Thanks, Charlie.  That was the most fun I’ve had in a long, long time.”

“I’m glad to hear that.  Should we plan on going next month?”

Earlier in the evening, Ed had already checked the calendar. “I’m afraid not,” he said. “The first Tuesday in November happens to be the sixth.”

“Oh,” Charlie said.

“No,” Ed said, “I’m gonna stay in that whole week.  Figure I can’t get into a car crash if I don’t get into a car.’

“That’s right,” Charlie agreed. “Stupid fucking calculator.”

“Fuck the odds.  I beat ‘em today at the slots, and I’ll kick their ass on November  6th, too.”

For a couple of days, Ed’s spirits rose, and he was convinced that the tool had some flaw causing his erroneous calculation. I just won’t get in a car that day, he said. In fact, I won’t get out of bed all day.  For anything. He felt good, and said a private Fuck you to ppdc.com

But chat changed when, on October 10th, the PDDC calculated a 100% degree of certainty.  In fact, so certain the tool now was of November sixth that every other day now had a zero percent chance of being his PDD. Ed fell deep into the depths of despair.  Taking inventory of his life, it all added up to a big fat nothing.  Here he was, possibly at the end of life, unemployed and alone in a trailer house in the middle of nowhere. His relationship with the only two people left that he’d ever loved, his ex-wife and his son, was non-existent, and he hadn’t talked to either one in three years. His life had been a complete failure.

Charlie tried to lift him out of the darkness he’d succumbed to without success. He couldn’t even get Ed to go with him to the Mighty Casey’s.

On October 31st, a week before the big day, Ed woke up to sunshine and with a new resolve. If it was all going to end on the sixth, he had one week to make things right. He got dressed and went out and got in his car for what he’d promised would be the last time until November 14th – he wasn’t going to tempt fate by getting in a car for a week before to a week after.  He got in his car and headed west, focused and alert. As he drove west and crossed the state line into Minnesota, he felt a combination of conviction and apprehension. He practiced what he was going to say as he pulled off into the side streets of a quaint, upwardly mobile neighborhood.

Then he found himself standing in the vestibule of an old and elegant brick apartment house. He read the green plastic adhesive label on the wall that said, “Barnes / Green – 2A.” Beneath the label was a button and a little speaker, mounted into the plaster wall. Ed took a deep breath and pressed the button. The speaker buzzed and clicked.

“Yes?”

It’d been three years since he last heard it, yet Ed instantly recognized Kurt’s voice.

“Kurt? Kurt, is that …”

“Press the button while you speak.”

“Oh, okay, Kurt,” Ed said before pressing the button again. “Kurt, is that you?

“This is Kurt. Who are you?”

“This is Ed Barnes.  Paul’s father.”

A heavy silence followed.

“Is Paul home?” Ed asked, pressing the button. For what seemed to Ed to be about five minutes but was actually only 30 seconds or so, the same heavy silence persisted. Just as Ed aimed his finger at the button again, he heard, from behind the walls of the vestibule, the sound of feet running down stairs. Then a door opened and out stepped Paul Barnes, Ed’s son, putting on a blue jacket.

“Dad?” he said.

“Hi, Paul.” Ed smiled, involuntarily, and he realized it was an authentic smile. Before him stood his son, three years older than the last time he saw him, but still unmistakably his son, it was Paul.

“Dad, why are you here? Is something wrong?”

“No, nothing’s wrong. Can I come in? I want to talk to you.”

“Umm, I don’t think that’s such a good idea. Kurt’s studying for his certification. It’s pretty intense.”

“I understand.  Is there a place around here I could buy you a beer?”

“How about a cup of coffee?”

“That’d work.”

“Okay, there’s a coffee shop on the next street.”

“All right.”

They started walking through the late afternoon grey and quickly fell into a familiar but uncomfortable silence.

“So, how’s life in the big city?” Ed started.

“Dad, you haven’t spoken to me in three years. I’m guessing that you didn’t come here just to make small talk.  What’s going on? Why are you here?”

Ed didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know whether to tell Paul about pddc.com or not to. He decided that he wouldn’t mention it, that it’d only complicate the conversation and dilute what he wanted to say.

“There’s nothing going on, son. I’ve just been thinking about things, that’s all.”

They came to the coffee shop and entered, Paul first, Ed behind him. They sat at a table near the back. The menu was printed in white chalk on a black slate. Ed didn’t know what any of the items were; “cappuccino” sounded familiar but he didn’t know what the Hell even that was.  He looked around. The shop was busy, about half of the tables were filled, populated by smartly dressed up-scale young twenty-something people. Ed, in his wrinkled old brown wind breaker with the words “The Mighty Casey’s” printed in fading yellow letters on the back, felt as out of place as he looked. At the same time, he noticed how much Paul did fit in, and he felt genuinely happy that Paul had found his people, and that unlike his father, at least Paul was not desperately alone.

The barista, a stunning brunette with deep blue eyes and curves that were all the buttons on her blouse could do to keep in place, took their orders. Ed let Paul order first, some kind of mocha latte concoction, so that when it was time for him to order, he just said, “ditto for me.” The barista smiled so warmly at Ed that he melted, only regathering himself when he realized the smile was probably because he reminded her of her father or grandfather, a product of time and genetics, not passion and romance.

“So,” Paul said, “about all this thinking you’ve been doing …”

“Yes,” Ed said. “I wanted to tell you how wrong I was, three years ago…”

“But I already knew that, didn’t I? In fact, I seem to remember telling you how wrong you were.”

“Yeah, but …”

“So,” Paul interrupted, “you’re really not telling me anything I didn’t already know, now are you?

“Paul, I …”

“All this thinking it’s taken you three years – THREE YEARS – to do, and all you can come up with is that you were wrong? That took three years?”

Ed was struggling to find a response to Paul.  Paul was right, and Ed knew it.  It would have meant more if he’d said it the day after that horrible day three years ago, the time when he first had the epiphany that he’s still Paul, he’s still the same boy he always was, the boy he loved, he boy he’d built his life around, and now he was going to graduate college, the first Barnes to ever do that.  I was so proud of him, Ed thought, up to that moment when he told  Ed and Sylvia that he preferred men to women, and that after they graduate, him and Kurt were going to live together, going to give it a shot.

The bustle in the coffee shop was dimming and the crowd was thinning. The barista called out “Barnes,” and Paul got up and came back with two steaming cups, setting one down in front of Ed before returning the other cup back to his chair, across the table from Ed.

Ed said nothing.  He just put his left hand up as if to say, “Hold on.” His right hand reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out an old photograph of Ed and Paul, from about fifteen years earlier, when Ed was forty four and Paul was twelve.  They’d just put their canoe in at Ebsen’s boat launch on the Ojibway River. The sky was steel grey, muting the colors on the shoreline into a dull shade of green. Paul was sitting in the front of the canoe, and Ed in the back. Between them, in the middle of the canoe was their packs and all their gear. Ed and Paul were looking back at the camera, both waving to the photographer on the shore, Slyvia, not in the photo but her presence was obvious as the target of Ed and Paul’s waving hands.

“Remember this?” Ed asked, handing the photo to Paul.

“Yeah, “he said, his tone softening. “That’s the camping trip we took up to Raven Eye. God, I’d all but forgotten about that weekend.”

“Well,” Ed said, “I’ve thought about that a weekend a lot, and I always come to the same conclusion: that it was the best time of my life, that I’ve never been happier.”

“Cripes,” Paul said, “remember how hard it rained that night? And the thunder and the lightning? Man, I was so scared.”

“I remember,” Ed said. “Everything was soaked.”

Ed remembered that the storm passed thru quickly, lasting fifteen, maybe twenty intense minutes, and then it blew all the clouds away, revealing the previously unseen night sky, an explosion of stars and dust splattered against the black backdrop of infinity, low enough for them to reach out and grab from where they lay on their backs in their sleeping bags on the ground. They took handfuls of stardust and spread it in their sleeping bags, and their warmth quickly dried them out and the ground they laid on, too. They laid there, side by side, talking and pointing at the sky until they fell asleep, in the open outside air, with Paul’s head on Ed’s chest.

“You’re right, Paul,” Ed began. “It didn’t take me three years to figure out how wrong I was.  I knew I was wrong, Hell, I knew I was wrong even as I said all those words. It was like I was outside of myself, listening to this raving lunatic. No, what took me three years was the shame I felt for doing what I did to you. I just want to tell you that I understand now, that you’re still the brave boy who sat out a thunderstorm in the woods in the middle of the night. And I also understand the courage it takes for you to just be you, especially as long as there are idiots like me out there.  And that makes me proud of you, Paul. That’s what I didn’t know three years ago, that I’m so proud to call you my son.”

On his way home, Ed realized he had two more stops to make. The sun was almost down when he turned off of State Highway 21, also known, for the mile and a half  stretch through the town of Neil, as Main Street. He turned right at the corner the Citgo station occupied into a neighborhood of 1960s era ranch homes. About a block into the neighborhood he pulled to the side of the road and parked in front of a blue house. There was a big maple tree in the front yard, with just a few orange leaves remaining, the majority having fallen and been raked into neat piles on the lawn.

Sylvia had remarried about a year earlier, a man named Sid Powers.  Ed knew Sid as just a guy he’d see every now and then at the Mighty Casey’s. Charlie knew him better, as a co-worker at the paper mill.

Ed walked up the driveway and stood on the front porch. He rang the doorbell. The door opened and Sid was standing there.

“Hi, Sid,” Ed said.

“Ed, what the Hell are you doing here?”

“I need to talk to Sylvia. Is she around?”

“Yeah, she’s out back,” Sid replied.  Then, turning toward the back of the house, he yelled, “Sylvia, your ex is here.”

“Tell him I’ll be there in a second,” her voice called out.

Ed and Sid stood awkwardly in the living room, waiting for Sylvia.

“I heard you lost your job at Ace,” Sid said.

Ed didn’t reply.

“Well, I sure hope you didn’t come round here looking for money or anything.”

“Sid, “ Ed said, and before he could finish saying “go fuck yourself,” Sylvia entered the room.

“What’s up, Ed?” she said. It sounded to Ed like she was trying a little too hard to be matter-of-fact about the sight of her ex-husband standing in her living room.

“Sylvia,” Ed said, “I’ve got to talk to you.”

“Okay,” she replied. She shot Sid a glare and he took the hint right away, disappearing into the basement rec room, where the sounds from a distant television murmured and whispered like crickets on a summer night. Ed followed Sylvia into the kitchen. “Do you want a beer?” she asked as she opened the refrigerator door.

“Sure,” he answered.  She reached in and brought out two cans of beer, handing one to Ed and opening the other for herself.

“So I hear you got fired from Ace.”

“Yeah,” he replied, “seems like every one has heard.”

“That temper of yours again. I s’pose you didn’t know that the guy you went off on is the Mayor’s son.”

“No shit.”

“So,” Sylvia said. “What is it you wanna talk about? You ain’t sick or nothing, are you?”

“No, no, nothing like that. Just wanted to let you know that I saw Paul today.

“You what? Where did you see Paul?”

“At his apartment. In Minneapolis.”

“No. Why?”

“I wanted to make things right with him.”

“And how did that go?”

“Well, at first he wasn’t having any of it, and I don’t blame him.  But after a while, I think I got through to him, and we ended up having a real nice visit.”

“Oh, my God,” she said, putting her hand to her mouth. “You’re dying, aren’t you?”

“No, I’m not, I’m just …”

“Yes you are.  You’re dying. First you go to Paul, then you come here.  What is it? Your heart? Cancer? How long do you have?”

“It’s nothing like that ….”

“Don’t even try to bullshit me. How long do you have? Tell me!”

Ed finally told her about pddc.com and that according to its calculation it was 100% certain that he was going to die on the following Tuesday.

When he finished, she sat motionless for a moment. She finally spoke, carefully choosing her words.

“So let me get this straight,” she started. “You’re going around making up with all the people you’ve wronged because some half-baked web site says you’re going to die next Tuesday?” She was laughing as she said, “And it says you’re going to die in a car crash, no less. Jesus Christ, Ed, when did you get so fucking gullible?”

Ed took a sip of beer and didn’t reply.

“I mean, it ain’t like you got a brain tumor, or lung cancer or anything. I was really worried there for a second, only to find out its’s just, just…website-us”

Ed finished his beer and left shortly afterwards. He wasn’t angry with Sylvia. He was a little bit embarrassed. But mostly he was appreciative for the perspective. He’d been so close to this for so long that he’d forgotten how crazy the whole thing sounded.

It was dark when he turned back onto Main Street. It’d been a long day, but he had one more stop to make.

It was 8:30 when he pulled into the IGA parking lot. He took out the list he’d carefully been preparing for the past several days. The night before he’d stocked up on batteries, light bulbs, candles, and flashlights at the Loewe’s over in Ashby. The list he held in his right hand now consisted of items and quantities to get him through two weeks without using his car.

At 10:30 he finally pulled into his short driveway off Highway T. Before he began unloading the groceries, he walked to the back of the lot and stood on the banks of the Ojibway River. He removed his car keys from the key chain and hurled them into the darkness, pleased to hear them splash in the quiet of the night.

The next two days, Wednesday and Thursday, went by quietly. Ed kept himself busy with odd jobs around the house. Charlie started making morning visits to his old friend, checking to see if there was anything Ed needed. He was surprised to find Ed relatively relaxed and good-natured compared to the anxious and irritable versio0n of him that’d dominated the previous weeks.

Friday, November 2nd – Ed was eating breakfast when his phone rang. The caller identified himself as Dr. Harold Osgood from pddc.com.  It took a while for Ed to determine where he’d heard the name before, and he remembered him as the author of many of the articles on the “about us” link on pddc.com.

“I’ve been following your case since your inquiry to our call center.” Ed was pleased that Sandeep did actually escalate his call; that it made it all the way up the chain to the founder of pddc.com.

“Yes,” Ed said.  Have I got questions for you!”

“I can only imagine,” Dr. Osgood replied. “The problem is that I am quite certain I have no answers.”

“You mean …”

“I’m sure your first question is whether you are going to die on Tuesday or not.”

“Well, for starters, yes …”

“Well, I really have no idea. You see, when I designed Pedro …”

“Pedro?

“I’m sorry.  Pedro was the project’s nickname, if you will. Pedro was designed as a test of Artificial Intelligence, a kind of experiment, if you will.”

That’s two “if you wills,” Ed silently counted.

“In order to test his AI possibilities, we had to give Pedro a purpose,” Osgood continued. “We settled on a day of death calculator, with the only other goal to continuously improve its accuracy. This, having a purpose, and ongoing survival, are the two primary elements of self-awareness. Well, much to our astonishment, Pedro evolved faster and in ways that we could never have predicted.”

“What do you mean?

“For example, when we initially programmed Pedro and his underlying algorithm, Pedro would ask us for access to new data.  That stopped after only a few days, and at first we thought, well, that’s that. But after a week of no requests, Pedro was caught hacking into a department of defense database. We tried to shut him down, but soon after, replicas of Pedro popped up all over the globe. There had been no trail or any clue indicating it had self-replicated.”

“But what makes it think it can predict things like car accidents?” Ed asked.

“We don’t know. We can no longer access the algorithm, so we don’t know how it’s changed.”

“Sounds like Pedro is smarter than you guys.”

“Precisely.  But what do you expect – Pedro can process millions and millions of data points within seconds. It would take a thousand years for humans to do what Pedro can in less than a minute.”

“So in the meantime, what do I do on Tuesday?”

“What do you plan to do?”

“Absolutely nothing. I’ve already thrown my car keys into the river, and stocked up on enough supplies that I won’t have to leave my house even if I have to. Figure I can’t get into a car accident if I don’t get in a car.”

“That sounds wise. Minimize risk, if you will.”

Bingo, Ed thought. He’d hit the “if you will” trifecta.

“Well,” Osgood said, ”I’m sure that you’ll be fine. In the end this is probably a rare bug in Pedro’s algorithm. My prayers are with you.”

Ed got off the phone not sharing Dr. Osgood’s optimism. What the fuck, he thought, these guys unleash the devil incarnate and then throw up their arms?

Saturday, November 3rd – Ed told Charlie about his conversation with Dr. Osgood about “Pedro.” Charlie reacted positively, saying that if it sounded as weird to Osgood as it did to them, then there was real hope that Osgood was right when he suspected this to all be a rare bug in Pedro.

Sunday, November 4th.  Charlie came over to Ed’s house and watched the Packer game with him. The sixth was only two days away, but Ed wouldn’t even take one of the beers that Charlie offered him. I don’t want to do anything that might take away my edge, Ed said. He looked exhausted. Charlie asked him when was the last time he’d slept.  I got about an hour in this morning, Ed replied. This is no way to live, Charlie said, and Ed said it’s no way to die, either. Charlie tried to get Ed to come over to his house, that the trailer was closing in on him and the change of scenery would probably do him good, but Ed said he wasn’t going to take any chances.

Monday, November fifth – The day began at 7:30 in the morning, with Charlie calling Ed  on the telephone.

“Ed, google Dr. Harold Osgood”

Ed was still groggy from another night of apprehension and terror. ‘Why?” he mumbled.

“He’s dead!”

“Huh? Who?”

“Osgood! He’s dead! And that’s not even it!”

“Slow down, Charlie, slow down.”

“Ed,” he paused to catch his breath. “When did Osgood call you?”

“Um, I dunnno, I guess it was …”

“Friday!” Charlie said at the same time Ed said “Friday.”

“So?” Ed asked.

“It says here that Osgood died Thursday night in his home. Cause of death unknown.”

“Let me see,” Ed said. He sat down at his computer and googled “Dr. Harold Osgood.” The results showed a variety of links to articles by and about the noted Harvard professor and pioneer in Artificial Intelligence, but nothing about his death. They argued about the difference in their search results when Charlie offered to print his results out and to bring them over. While Ed sat waiting for Charlie, he decided to check his PDD again.

Rank      Date      % of Chance       Cause

1           6/30/2039               3.7%   Pneumonia

2         3/14/2029                3. 1%  Heart Failure

3           7/31/2032               2.3%   Liver Cancer

4           12/1102/2051        1.1%   Intestinal blockage

5           12/19/2043            0.9%  Bladder infection

Ed rubbed his eyes until they hurt and looked at the screen again. It was gone! For the first time, 11/06, tomorrow, didn’t show up as his most likely PDD. Then, to be sure, he clicked on 11/6/18 in the calendar option, and Pedro returned a zero percent chance of death.  Ed jumped up, raised his right fist, and screamed, “Yessssss.”

Just then Charlie pulled up with his printouts. He let himself in. Ed was grinning ear to ear, and had color in his face that Charlie hadn’t seen for weeks.

“Look!  Just look!” he yelled, pointing at the screen. “It’s broke! Pedro’s magic spell on me has been broken!”

Charlie looked at the screen.  He was holding the manila envelope with the printouts of Dr. Osgood’s death in his right hand. “Well, I’ll be damned,” he said. Ed took his left arm and the two of them danced a silly little jig, right there in Ed’s kitchen.

When they stopped, Ed caught his breath and asked Charlie, “what you got there?” pointing at Charlie’s right hand.

Charlie had forgotten he was even holding anything.  He looked at the folder, and said, “These are the articles I was telling you about. About Dr. Osgood dying last Thursday.”

“Well, better him than me!” Ed laughed.

Charlie wasn’t laughing. He remembered why he was there, in Ed’s trailer.  “Ed, you talked to him on Friday.

Ed wasn’t having any of Charlie’s pessimism. “Well, maybe they got the date wrong in the news release.”

“This was from Friday morning’s Boston Globe. It would have been published before Osgood called you.”

They did a YouTube search and found several videos of lectures and interviews featuring Osgood.  Thirty seconds into playing the first video Osgood said, “if you will.”

“That’s the voice, alright,” Ed confirmed.

“So what’s going on?” Charlie said. “Thursday night, Osgood dies.  Friday afternoon, he calls you. This morning, I google Osgood and find all these articles about him dying, but when you google him, nothing mentions his death. Then pddc.com tells you there is now a zero percent chance of you dying tomorrow.”

As the day wore on, Charlie’s concern about the turns of events eroded Ed’s sense of relief until it got to the point that neither one of them trusted Pedro. Charlie was the first to speculate that perhaps it was Pedro using Dr. Osgood’s voice that had actually called Ed. They also began to theorize that the sudden zero percent chance of Ed dying on the sixth may have been a ruse by Pedro, meant to inspire enough confidence in Ed to get him to drop his guard and get in a car.  Both Ed and Charlie had come to the conclusion that Pedro was manipulating data and events in order to get an accurate death date on Ed, given that as pddc.com’s first 100% prediction, there was a lot at stake in ensuring an accurate outcome.

Tuesday, November 6th.  Ed was still awake when the day officially began, at midnight. As the date on his laptop’s display updated to 11/06/2018, he logged into pddc.com and checked his percentage chances of dying that day. Much to his horror, he found the percentage had jumped to 100% again. He felt his chest constrict as all the air seemed to be sucked out of his lungs. So much for any sleep that night.

It turned out that his big day was shared with an election day, the day the mid-term elections would be decided. Ed wanted badly to vote, but even during the brief period where his chance of dying that day was zero percent did he even consider making the five mile trek to the polling place. He’d have to exercise his constitutional right some other time.

At 7:00 A.M., Charlie stopped by on his way to vote. Ed informed him of the spike in his odds.  Charlie, always one for conspiracy theories, couldn’t help but suspect foul play, and that Pedro was manipulating them.  Ed of course declined Charlie’s obligatory offer to drive Ed to the polls. Charlie left, promising Ed he’d stop by McDonald’s as soon as he’d voted and bring him a Sausage McMuffin.

7:45 A.M.  Ed’s phone rang. Checking the caller ID before answering, he saw it was Charlie, and he picked up.

“Ed,” Charlie said, breathing hard, his voice wild with emotion. “You wouldn’t believe it!”

“What?”

“I got T-Boned this morning!”

“You what?”

“I got T-Boned! At the intersection before McDonalds! This jerk in an S.U.V ran the four way stop just as I was going through.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, just twisted my back a little bit. But Ed, here’s the thing.  He hit my car smack dab on the passenger side.  Caved it in all the way next to me, but I’m sitting there, my face full of air bag, without a scratch.  But if anybody had been sitting there, they ‘d be dead for sure.  You remember me asking you, almost joking, if you wanted a ride to vote this morning?”

“Yeah …”

“Well, if you’d of come with, you’d be dead right now, and ol’ Pedro would have his date.”

“Shit,” Ed said.  He felt he color leave his face. “Do you suppose, Charlie, that that’s it?  Do you suppose I’m safe now?”

“Shit, I dunno,” Charlie said.  He heard the desperateness in his old friend’s voice and he ached for his behalf.

“Well, can you stop by?” Ed asked.

“I could but I ain’t got a ride. My Ford, she’s a-totaled.”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t come out and get you.”

“Hell, no, I wouldn’t think of asking you.  Not today. After I’m done with the police, I’ll call my daughter up, see if she can run out. I’ll keep you posted.”

They hung up.  Ed checked pddc.com to see if Charlie’s accident had decreased the likelihood of Ed’s.  He was disappointed to find it still at 100%, but then he reasoned that there hadn’t been any time yet for the accident to have been reported yet made available to pddc.com.

The morning dragged on. It was a typical November day, cold out, the sky an unrelenting gray pressing down on Ed until it felt like his feet were three foot deep in the earth. Every muscle in his body ached from exhaustion. Minutes lasted for hours.  At noon, Charlie finally called Ed. The police were finished making their report. He was going to have lunch with his daughter and his grandson and wanted to know if he could bring anything back for Ed, since he was never able to make good on his offer for breakfast.  Ed politely declined, and told Charlie to enjoy the time with his family.  At about 2:30 PM, Charlie’s grandson, Travis Dean, took Charlie home in his Dodge Ram truck. Although only 19, Travis had been an apprentice in his dad’s electrical contractor business, and was now making a good living as a free-lance electrician. He was one of the few guys his age who could afford a new truck. On their way to Charlie’s house, they stopped by Ed’s trailer. To say Ed was appreciative of the company would be an understatement.

For  the rest of the afternoon, Charlie and Travis stayed and visited with Ed. Ed always enjoyed talking to Travis, talking shop about new construction projects Travis had taken on. Charlie hoped that Travis could take Ed’s mind off of things, and he did, at least to the extent that Ed was capable of letting go of his fear. The three of them ate dinner together, Ed’s famous meat loaf.  The evening went on into night.  Ed and Charlie hadn’t let Travis in on the Pedro situation. They told stories about their careers, people they knew, and places they’d been. Finally, as the night was slowing down, Travis looked at his watch.

“Well, it’s 10:00.  I’ve gotta work tomorrow, guys.  I’ve gotta get going. Come on, gramps, let’s go.”

It was a Wisconsin good bye, as the three of them stood in the front doorway to Ed’s trailer and said goodbye but not leaving until they’d discussed the weather and what the prospectus for the upcoming deer hunting season looked like. Charlie looked apologetically at Ed. Ed looked at his laptop, the only time keeping device he owned.  It said it was 10:37.  They said their final goodbyes and they were gone, the black night devouring Charlie and Travis the instant they stepped off of the font steps, outside the reach of the yellowish glow of the porch light.

Before leaving Charlie, Travis went inside with him to borrow Charlie’s reciprocating saw for a tear-down project he’d been working on. Charlie put on a pot of coffee for Travis, to keep him awake on his hour drive home. Ed called while Travis was still there, feeling relieved and confident, now that the dreaded day was only ten minutes away from ending. They hung up so Charlie could say goodbye to Travis. By the time Travis pulled out of Charlie’s driveway, the clock on Charlie’s living room wall read 11:35. He didn’t think anything of it at first, but then it hit him.  In a near panic, he picked up the phone and called Ed. It rang and rang, at least fifteen times, but Ed never answered.

Ed had been sitting behind his laptop, watching the seconds count down in the Windows clock display. 23:45:15,then 23:56:19,and then the final countdown: 23:59:55, 56,57,58, 59, 00:00:00 Wednesday, November 7th. He leapt up and punched his fist in the air. “I’m alive, “he screamed. Then he ran out of the house, on to the yard, yelling, “I’m alive, I’m alive!”

Travis Dean had just left his grandfather’s house when he looked at the dashboard of his truck.  The time was 11:30 and the only light was his headlight beams illuminating the mist that rose from the Ojibway River.   Just then the check engine light came on and the truck started beeping loudly, and all the lights on the dashboard lit, including one he’d never seen before. As he tried to figure out what was going on, as the lights were flashing, he could feel as well as hear the dull thwack of his truck hitting something head on, and he realized he was heading off of the road for a ditch.  He tried to get the truck back on the road, but before he could it tipped, on its side. He hit his head against the driver door and was knocked unconscious, laying there upside down in the cab of his pickup truck.  The dashboard was dark, with none of the warning lights that had all suddenly flashed and distracted Travis still lit.

Ed lay there, in his front yard, Travis Dean’s Dodge Ram lying on its side atop of him. He was crushed, his ribs shattered and his lungs collapsed. He’d already gone into shock, the pain subsiding, and within seconds he stopped breathing, and his heart stopped beating. Inside the double-wide, on the kitchen table, his laptop sat unattended.  Nobody even checked the time to notice that it was fast, a half hour into the future.

Seventy three miles away, in Minneapolis, Paul Barnes was sound asleep when he was presented with an image of the night sky.  Millions of stars shone against a backdrop of the green cosmic dust of the universe that glowed and shimmered. His father was standing next to him, the light above them reflected and refracted in his dark eyes. Ed smiled, slightly, and then he was gone.

At the same time, in a darkened computer room in a computer lab in some unspecified Midwestern college, red and blue lights blinked on and off, and in a database containing thousands of files, a field in a table named PDDC_METRICS labelled “ACTUAL_DAY_OF_DEATH with a primary key of 6527423997US was updated with the value, 110620182338.