This is satire. Gravity is not a hoax. And, should you feel compelled to jump out of an airplane from high in the sky, you will definitely want a parachute and not rely instead on a Faux News commentator’s words to cushion your fall.
One quarter of the country is prepared to die and have their loved ones die for the sake of what they know or should know to be lies.
But what happens in war?
At least one side, and more typically both sides are willing to die and put their families at risk for what they know or should know to be lies. They don’t typically go into combat for their own benefit! They do it for country. They do it for their religion. They do it to protect their families. They do it in reprisal for some real or imagined actions in the past. But very few would willingly walk into combat hoping to “get more out of it” than they put into it! That would be like running through a rich neighborhood during a heavy lightening storm. Sure, you might be struck by lightening or hit by a falling tree and die or be permanently injured. But — hey! — there’s also a chance you might be able to sue one of these rich suckers and make millions! Yeah. That could happen. But, as I say, that’s not why most people put themselves in harm’s way.
So, to recapitulate, war itself is based, at least partly, on lies.
Are we doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over and over and over again?
But consider this:
Suppose there are two teams Purple and Green. These two teams have a competition in something. It doesn’t much matter whether it’s soccer, baseball, debate, ice hockey, figure skating, cheerleading or anything else. What matters is that each side wants to “win.” But it also matters, and more than a little bit, that each side also wants to enjoy themselves. They value other things in addition to winning or losing. Some enjoy the companionship. Some enjoy the challenge. Some enjoy improving. Some enjoy the sunshine. It doesn’t have to be the same value for everyone.
The point is that tennis is not a zero sum game. It’s true that a particular match has one and only one winning team. But there are other benefits. Everyone is a “winner” in the sense of the challenge or the emotional ups & downs or the sheer joy of movement. The score is only one part of the value of the game. The same is true for all sports and for almost all human endeavors in the real world. It is very seldom a zero sum game. We can almost always find some state of affairs as being bad (all out atomic war destroys the entire human species)
Similarly, both the Purple and the Green team want to keep the game going. In most cases, they also want to have cordial social relations with all the other players. So, in the vast majority of cases, people “handle” disagreements about the score, the line calls, etc. within the bounds of civility. Let’s suppose that one person of the four is a narcissistic sociopath who thinks he’s always right and insists he’s always right no matter how egregious his line calls. Eventually, such a person would destroy the game. It wouldn’t take a majority. A single sociopathic teammate could spoil it for everyone. But only if everyone else lets them get away with it.
Have you ever watched an all-out bench-clearing brawl between to baseball teams or two hockey teams? Every time I’ve seen it, it’s really only triggered by one person and accepted by one person. So, two, among those whole teams, are sometimes enough to ignite a kind of “war.” While a brawl isn’t the most pleasant experience I can imagine, it’s even worse among professional athletes. It’s potentially career-ending. For most, it’s a potential financial hit from the world of brand endorsements. There could be legal trouble. For a few, there might be regret. Similarly, guess what? Most people do not benefit from war! It’s so obvious that I hesitate to say it, but it seems as though people do not see it as obvious. A very few people get very very rich. Many people die; many are seriously and permanently injured; many people’s homes are destroyed; families are separated; possessions are destroyed; plans are accomplishments are destroyed; peace of mind is destroyed; forests and wild places are destroyed; innocent animals are destroyed; friendships are destroyed; trust is destroyed…I mean, are you starting to see a pattern here?
War is about destruction. War does not create beauty. War does not feed the hungry. War does not heal the sick. War does not comfort the soul. War benefits the few; never the many.
At the extreme, there is dictatorship which will always be much more incentivized to war than will a democracy. The dictator will use the fact that there’s no free press to whip up hatred against an enemy. Then, he’ll attack (but pretend the other side started it), etc. Now, if attacked, the democracy has little choice but to respond. Encouraging a bully is a losing strategy. Going to war is also losing. War is never about winning. It’s about losing less. And going to war is better than giving in to a bully. If you succumb to the bully, you have no life any more. The bully is a parasite on you; one that you cannot get rid of while he sucks your blood and everyone else’s in the nation. Parasite is just another name for dictator.
In any case, a small number of people can start a war which, in turn, benefits only a small number of people, at most.
That doesn’t seem like a good system to me.
It sounds like “an accident waiting to happen.” And, it has. Over and over and over and over again.
When will we ever learn?
And, while three fourths of America has battled their butts off for over a year and a half — socially distancing, wearing masks, making masks, getting vaccinated, staying healthy — in some cases working heroically — quite literally — heroically to fight the war against COVID. While that’s what’s been happening with about 3/4 of Americans….
One fourth of America has decided to join in the War on COVID — on the side of the virus! They refuse to get vaccinated; refuse to wear a mask; refuse to socially distance. Why? Because they’ve been ordered to by the leaders of a death cult. Make no mistake. This has nothing to do with personal freedom. If it were about personal freedom, there might be as many as seventeen people nationwide who would prefer to be intubated for weeks than to wear a mask for minutes. If it were really about personal freedom, the vast vast majority would choose a few moments of discomfort rather than dying or being permanently disabled. Ironically, most of the cult leaders have been vaccinated, and when they’ve fallen ill, they’ve received expensive top notch care that you or I or the COVIDites will not be likely to receive.
Something there is that doesn’t love a war, not even a war on truth.
Bob had never realized how much he had been subvocalizing when he thought. His first day on the ventilator had taught him that.
“On the ventilator” — what a fun expression, thought Bob. It makes you feel as though you’re in control. You’ve got that damned ventilator just where you want him and he’d better do as you say. Well, poop. It isn’t anything like that at all! You’re not “on a ventilator” at all! It’s on you. Worse, it’s in you. And, what’s worse, I found that when I can’t mutter to myself, I can’t even think straight. And, maybe that’s a good thing because you have no right to think straight. Thinking straight means you get to a goal. But what goal? You’re going in circles because you can’t control anything. And, the only thing you want never to think about is how thick-headedly stubborn you were. And you knew! That was the worst part. You knew the pandemic was real. You knew masks and vaccines would work. You just wanted to show how brave you were. For what? You weren’t brave at all, Bobby Boy, were you? No, you were too chicken to show how horribly disappointed you were in that man. And, by the time you realized it, you just set your jaw and lowered your head and rammed it right into that brick wall called reality. And now, here you lie. Lie. Yeah.
And there was a time, Bobby Boy, there was a time when you was honest. You wouldn’t have dreamed of cheating in school. Or, football. Well, our coach would have kicked our ass if he found us cheating or even staying out past curfew! But this new coach! He’d kick our ass if we did not cheat. It’s what it’s all about. But I’m not really like that. Why did I go along with it? And, now — this! All I had to do was get vaccinated for Christ’s sake! I wouldn’t even have to tell my friends. Why the hell should I have to tell them? I could’ve just pretended I didn’t. They’d never know. Unless one of them punched me on the arm. Or asked my wife. So what? So what if they found out? It’s still better than being “on” this f***ing ventilator.
“Mr. Roberts? We’re going to have to move you to help prevent your bedsores from getting worse. Okay? You ready?”
Who knew, thought Bobby, that medical Doctors and not just dentists ask you questions when they know damned well you can’t answer! Why the hell do they do that? I guess it’s a power trip, right?
That’s right. It’s all about power. There is no good and bad, really. Isn’t that what Voldemort said? But still. Who cares? There is no good and bad, really.
Yet here I lie. Living a lie is what got me here.
“There we go, Mr. Roberts. Oh by the way, your wife and sons said to wish you a Happy Birthday. See you tomorrow.”
Yet, here I lie. Bob felt as though he were looking into a fog at night, nearly able to make out the strange shape coming toward him, but as it got closer, it remained elusive — almost shy or reclusive. He couldn’t even tell whether it was an angry bear or a very large crazed criminal. He thought, If it isn’t all about power, what else is there? Truth and Love, I suppose. That’s corny. That’s for suckers.
Now, the odd shape of the truth revealed itself, not as a vague nothingness in the fog but as clear and definite, much like a white rose in the bright summer sunlight. And there it was. Plain as day. And loudly reverberating in his own head.
“You know the truth, Bob. You and I both know the truth. The real suckers are the ones who put power above Love and Truth. They play the game for Death. So, it is of no great surprise that, as you say, ‘Yet here I lie.’”
Bobby Boy, he thought to himself, you are truly losing it. I need that nurse to bring me a pad of paper. I have to tell people. I have to tell the truth! Before it’s too late! But why would anyone believe me, even on my deathbed. The evil that men do lives after them. Isn’t that what … somebody … Marc Anthony, said? When you lie, no-one believes you even if you do tell the truth. I can’t change my vote now, can I?
The alarm rang, and people heard, and people came, and people did the usual things that people do when one of the over three million COVID patients dies.
Of course, the misery of a Bobby Boy’s death does not itself end with the death of Bobby Boy. In many cases, there will be more misery after a death than before. I imagine that to be so for Bobby Boy.
Before, his friends and relatives will likely have had hope. After, they will feel grief about Bob. They will feel angry that Bob didn’t care enough about the truth to face the truth and that he instead acted like a damned fool. And a selfish one at that. And, they will be in a spin about what to do next. Their lives have been changed forever and they have no idea yet just how to cope with that fact or even understand the magnitude — the depth and breadth and width of that massive gaping black hole of a change. And, they will feel loss of the things that they loved about Bob even if he was stupid enough to think power was better. They may not have each thought of it in precisely those same words, but they all felt that about Bob. And, they will feel fear. If this person, still in the prime of life can be struck down, what about the rest of us? Will we ever get back to normal? It’s important to understand in a clearer way than Bob ever did that his allegiance to power over truth did not just cause misery in his own life. It also caused misery in the lives of everyone who cared about him.
I love to play tennis. Before I learned tennis or even knew it existed, I learned badminton. I love badminton as well as table tennis and racquetball. Now, living in San Diego, the weather gods are kind enough to shine sun and blue and warm so that tennis is often possible seven days a week. Unfortunately, my 75 year old body has issues with playing every day.
Before COVID, I went to the gym every other day and lifted. I still exercise my muscles but I can’t quite make it as effective as using real weights. Lack of strength and having flat feet combine to put a lot of stress on my feet and knees. Before COVID (will we call this “BC” at some point?) my strength was good. I was nearly as strong as when I was 16.
As it turns out though, lifting strength is not the only factor that determines how well you can run and jump. The body has, in effect, a number of “springs.” When someone runs (at least when a young person runs), fully half of the power for a running stride comes from the rebound of internal springs which provide power from the previous stride. Our human running springs are primarily the arch, the Achilles tendon and the quad muscles.
My own arches, sadly, have never worked properly. When I step down forcefully, rather than compressing and expanding, my foot slips inward and does not rebound. But the muscles and tendons have also become less resilient with time. Wearing orthotics helps align my body and lessens pain in the arches. But orthotics do not provide the “bounce” of the natural bone arch as it rebounds from the previous step. Nonetheless, I enjoy playing tennis. It’s good for the body, the soul, and the mind.
I enjoy playing singles but I mainly play doubles. And doubles also provides a variety of lessons (and challenges) in teamwork.
Consider that you are positioned near the baseline of the court (far away from the net) and someone hits a ball right at you. As it turns out, it is much much easier for your partner to tell whether this shot is going to be long or not than it is for you yourself to tell. Just today, for instance, I was standing just inside the baseline when a deep shot was hit right at me, about waist high. My partner yelled, “BOUNCE!” I let it go. I might mention that my partner’s eyesight is not so good as mine is. I’m not putting him down. That’s just a fact. Nonetheless, I prepared to hit the ball out of the air until I heard my partner yell “BOUNCE!” When that happened I pivoted and let it fly by me, turning so I’d have a good at where it landed. Two inches out.
It turns out that a similar kind of teamwork is important in the outfield of a baseball game. If you are playing in the outfield and a long fly ball is hit toward you, it is devilishly difficult to tell whether the ball is going to land near you, in front of you, or behind you. When a well-coached team plays, the outfielders will call out to one another and give guidance about whether a ball hit directly to another outfielder is going to land in front of them, roughly where they are or far behind them. In a poorly coached team, they do not help each other in this way.
In a well-coached team, the fielder who is not going to catch a high fly ball does not simply “zone out” and think, “not my play.” Instead, they are still cognizant of their ability and responsibility to help out their teammate who is going to catch the ball, even though they are nowhere near that teammate. Competition for fame, fortune, recruiting, salary, etc. all push toward not helping each other out. But normal people on normal teams actually have a normal reaction to want to help the others on their team. Good coaching enhances a feeling of teamwork. It also involves explaining, at least to the younger players, the ways in which they can help each other. Calling “Forward” or “Back” to a fellow fielder is only one of the many ways teammates in baseball can help each other.
The man behind the mask (the Catcher) and the outfielder trying to throw a player out who is trying to score — that is a delicate sort of dance so that the outfielder throws the ball the spot where the Catcher can most likely tag the runner (advancing player) out.
For a team to function at the highest level, there has to be both the skill to know how to coordinate and mutual trust. Mutual trust means everyone looks out for each other and wants everyone to succeed. Some teams lack one or both of these qualities. If they lack both, it will be nothing more than a set of individuals doing assigned tasks. That is both less effective and a whole lot less joyous way to play Baseball or Tennis. (Or, Life, for that matter).
Perhaps you’re not a fan of tennis or baseball but you like golf. Watch one of the most prestigious tournaments of all, the Masters, played at the remarkably beautiful Augusta National. The winners of the Green Jacket show their excitement with a riotous palette of smiles, tears, cheers, and beaming. Regardless of how the excitement is exhibited, the winner shows a lot of excitement. That level of excitement does not, however, even begin to compare to the degree of excitement that the victors exhibit in the Solheim Cup competition nor the Ryder Cup where teams are competing against each other.
There’s no comparison, to my eyes; or, in my own experience. Don’t get me wrong. I love to win an individual match. I am very competitive, likely too competitive. But I still experience a team victory as — not only more joyous. It’s a different level of joy. A private victory is much like a bite of my favorite food; perhaps a handful of cashews. I love cashews.
But a team victory? That is more like going out to dinner (if you can still remember BC times) at a wonderful and unique restaurant. I think this feeling is nearly universal. The intensity and even quality of that feeling depends on the quality of the teamwork. If the team really knows how to work together and has the empathy and motivation to do so, and if that teamwork is largely the source of the victory, it is all the sweeter.
The best teams have the skill and the motivation to cooperate well. Mediocre teams will lack one or the other of those qualities. Poor teams will have neither the desire to cooperate nor the skill to do so. But there is a fifth type of “team”: one composed of people who are actively working against each other. This is like a cancer in an organization.
If Susan sees Charlie fail to help Barbara as promised, Barbara will be less likely to help Charlie. She may even help him fail. But Susan does not remain unaffected either. She may also try to avenge Barbara. Or, she may say to herself, “Well, hell, if Charlie can get away with blaming someone else for his mistakes, why can’t I?” Mistrust, disloyalty, inefficiency, high turnover rates, actual violence in the workplace, absenteeism, theft — just as you would expect, higher costs are associated with all of these things and all of these things are more common in a toxic environment — one where people cannot trust each other.
In tennis, the on-court team is only two players. You might think the cooperation is simple. It’s more complicated than that. Believe me — or don’t — but it would be another whole essay to explain. One factor that’s important in all types of teamwork is mutual trust. If my partner says “BOUNCE!” and I let it go repeatedly only to watch it drop well in bounds, I’m eventually not going to trust those judgements of my partner any more.
Notice that trust broken is difficult to bounce back from. And, like arches, muscles, and tendons, when a society gets older, it may well have less “bounce” when it comes to forgiving betrayals. Perhaps the same is true for individuals.
I don’t know. But it seems to me (as a liberal) as though Trumpists believe liberals are betraying Trump. But why should a liberal have any loyalty whatsoever to Trump. Initially, I felt some loyalty to the Office of the Presidency, and was willing to watch him with an open mind, but he has shredded trust like a pet hamster named Liberty that fell in the document shredder. Only, in the case of Trump, the pet hamster didn’t just fall in the shredder. Poor Liberty was thrown into the shredder. And, when the legless and hapless hamster tried to squirm its way out, he grabbed a handy Barr to push it back in.
There’s something even worse, from my perspective. My “teammates” on the “other side of the aisle” are being conned. From my perspective, over here, on the side, it is painfully obvious. To them, it is not obvious. The cons are coming right at them like a high line drive and they cannot see how deep these shots are or how close they take us to the brink of a fascist dictatorship or utter anarchy.
I try to tell them, “BACK! BACK!” But instead of going back, or asking someone else, they continually insist they are not being conned. And then, they ask me why I hate America and hate Baseball. (Neither of those are true, by the way).
The ball falls over their head; the other team is scoring runs; and they deny that anything ever happened! They don’t only deny they were not back far enough. They deny there was a ball even hit to them. Or, they insist that they are free and as such, they don’t have to back up just because I say so.
They don’t even run back and get the ball that landed behind them! Someone else has to do that. I look at the scoreboard, and what I see is this:
COVID19 — 300,000 dead America – 12,000,000 unemployed
They apparently look at the scoreboard and see:
Liberal Hoax — 300,000 supposedly dead
Donald Trump worked from day one of his Presidency to put our American “team” in the fifth and last category: a divided team without mutual trust.
We have the skills of teamwork. We have the motivation to act as a team. What is missing is trust. Americans do have the skills to cooperate across every kind of divide. Most Americans do have the desire to work together on some serious problems such as immigration reform, sensible gun control, addressing climate change, increasing employment, decreasing crime, improving our standing in the world, stopping systemic racism. I don’t say all Americans share these goals, but most do. At a more fundamental level, we all want a shot at a decent life and a chance that our kids will do even better. That’s what most people want. We can get all of that and more with teamwork.
The hardest part of that will be recovering and rebuilding mutual trust. There has been colossal betrayal that goes way beyond policy differences between liberals and conservatives or between Democrats and Republicans. Until the Trump administration, there was an expectation of truth; there was an expectation of hiring excellence for the government; there was an expectation that we would face a common enemy like Russia together; there was an expectation that we would all take an oath of office seriously; there was an expectation that people in high places would not, with absolute impunity, line their own pockets from the public treasury. There was an expectation that a President of the United States of America would tell the truth about a deadly pandemic and not spread lies about it and model lethal behavior. There was an expectation that both Republicans and Democrats would put our Democracy and the legitimacy of our elections ahead of conning followers out of millions of dollars just to line the pockets of Donald J. Trump.
All those expectations were broken. Trust was broken. Now, we have to try to see that we’re on the same team and work together.
We can do it. But it won’t be easy.
The most important thing that liberals, Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, and independents can focus on is that our election worked. I don’t just mean that the technology worked or the process worked. What’s most important is that the vast majority of both Republicans and Democrats worked together to make that election happen and be counted and be reported. Yes, there were some high-ranking high-profile Republicans who seemed to be joining the Trump “Let’s Destroy America!” Train; the Trump “If you don’t want me, fine! I’ll burn your silly little democracy down on the way out!” Train. But thousands and thousands of people of all political stripes and all across this country came together to make it work. People in the Great Plains worked together; people in small towns worked together; people in large cities worked together — Republicans and Democrats.
Those who supported Trump need to understand that we were not trying to rain on their parade or hate on them. We were trying to tell them that the damned ball was going over their head! They were being conned! (And many still are). Being conned can happen to anyone. And it’s pretty much always the case that it’s easier to see from the side as shown in the following dialogue.
Grandpa: “Oh, Grandson! You’ll never guess what happened today. I got a letter in the mail from this really nice man in Kremblinia and he’s giving me…us, really… a million dollars! Isn’t that amazing!”
Grandson: “Grandpa. No-one gives away a million dollars!”
Grandpa: “No, no. You don’t understand. It’s not exactly a give away. He can’t get to his money because of political problems in Kremblinia. You know. It’s in Africa. I guess they have corruption there.”
Grandson: “It’s still a scam.”
Grandpa: “No, it’s real. He just needs my bank routing number so he can wire me the money into my account.”
Grandson: “You didn’t give it to him, did you?”
Grandpa: “Of course I did! You think I’ll turn down the opportunity of a lifetime? Why are you being so negative?”
Grandson: “Call the bank. Quick. He’s going to rob your account!”
Grandpa: “Let me just show you the letter. You can just tell he’s sincere. He’s very religious actually. He was taken from his mother when he just a little kid. Horrible. They do that there. Anyway, he became a Prince in this whole region, but then the Muslims came in. I forget all the details. I’ll show you next time you come over. You’ll see.”
Form where the family had lived at the time, to Sesame Place in Pennsylvania constituted a two hour drive and plenty of traffic. But it was worth it. My kids enjoyed it. I enjoyed that my kids enjoyed it. But I also enjoyed it myself.
In particular, I enjoyed the water rides, particularly on this day because it was a typical 3-H day in the New York Greater Metropolitan Area — Hot, Hazy, and Humid. The water rides offered a nice way to cool off. I do not like getting wet when it’s cold. But when it’s hot and the sun dries me off quickly, I enjoy both the cooling and the warming back up. Beyond that, water slides provide the thrill of speed. And, for me, the thrill of speed is a more pure pleasure without the nagging sharp little chiggers of worry about someone having not sufficiently re-tightening a nut on the Ferris wheel or Roller-Coaster — a someone who has just found out they have terminal cancer, or their spouse just left them, or their favorite TV show has been cancelled. That’s a someone who is understandably quite distracted by all the little “worst case” scenarios that they have been playing out in their heads all day in the sizzling sun, perhaps even complaining to their imaginary pals about it.
No. When I think of a Water Slide, I think of Water. And water, unlike asphalt, is soft. If you fall, so what? And how can it break? It’s got no moving parts! What could be safer?
Actually, it does have one moving part. That moving part is the user, the participant, the enjoyer, the thrill-seeker. In a word, me. To be fair, I am not much of an adrenaline junky. I’m happy to have speed thrills, but I want to do that without the risk of real injury. Hence, the Water Slide: my favorite kind of ride.
Beyond that, I really like Water Slides because there is such elegance and simplicity. I am climbing the steps to the giant Water Slide and what am I wearing? A bathing suit. I have no tennis bag, no picnic bag, no bat, no ball, no safety helmet, no special shoes, no shin guards, no ignition key, no riding gloves, no spurs. I am damned near naked. I do not get into a seat, or a boat, or race car, or mount a horse (though I understand those can be wonderful for various different reasons). But this a particular thrill, though safe, is a naked thrill. I not literally naked of course. But I was as close as I could get in polite society.
The first time I used this particular Water Slide, I was sitting up. I noticed that most people did that, but some people lay flat. I considered that, but it seemed to me I wouldn’t get to see much except the sky. The way I visualized it, I would have a greater impression of speed if I sat up so that I could see the park-world that lay beyond the half-circle of yellow plastic pipe that formed our “race track.” So, off I went: ZOOM! (In the pre-COVID19 sense of the word).
It was fun! Just as much fun as I had imagined. And more. It really felt good. If you enjoy the jets of a jacuzzi, you might appreciate that, in addition to the thrill of speed, the Water Slide offers a surprising kind of gentle but vigorous water massage while you are speeding through its universe. The turns and twists and falls seem a lot like a bobsled run. But the bobsledders are getting banged and bruised and on rare occasions killed, while I was getting a water massage instead.
So being a person who likes to study things, I decided I would lay on my back for the second run. This time, I would go for speed and see whether the increased speed would make up for the less panoramic visual experience.
Whoosh! Into the pool at the end, I went. Unbelievably, it had been even more fun the second time. So, once more, I climbed up the long staircase to the top of the Water Slide. The steps were ingeniously chosen to be of cross-grated metal which kept the stairs tolerably hot and made them less prone to someone slipping and falling, possibly taking out a host of climbers behind them. Of course, the climb lasted far longer than the slide, but I didn’t mind. I used my time planning how I would go even faster this time.
When you reach the top of the Water Slide, there are two workers — one on each side of the yellow half-pipe. They hold you in place until they are sure the person below you has cleared. And then they give you a shove to start you off. This is great because that time allowed me to execute my mental check list. I straightened my legs hard, pointed my toes, and pressed the soles of my feet together as hard as I could. I stretched my arms above me, pushing the inside of my upper arms against my ears and pushing my palms together as hard as I could.
ZOOM! Off I went! And, sure enough! My plan had worked! I was going even faster than my second time down — noticeably faster. This was heaven, all right. A considerable thrill but completely safe.
So I thought.
Apparently, the engineers who designed this water park didn’t design for grown men who had a curious enough streak to see what would happen if they really thought hard about how to minimize friction.
I sizzled down the half-pipe in my slip-sliding way with no issues until the last and fastest turn. Here, my body quickly went from in the half-pipe to somewhat outside the half-pipe to half outside the half-pipe. I had been worried about the lack of view. But I had plenty of view of what my landing place would be like. Concrete and rocks about five feet below.
I had exactly zero time to react before my body began to find its way back into the confines of the half pipe. It was a close thing. And, if I had “spun out,” that afternoon would have turned out far differently than it did. It would have certainly meant a trip to the hospital. Maybe I would have been spared broken bones and just gotten a world class case of road rash. That seems unlikely. Who knows? I might have been permanently disabled or, if my head happened to hit something in the wrong way, dead.
Sometimes, we come up to that edge and we don’t even know it. And sometimes, we come to that edge because we think our way up to it. Every time we push the limit and get away with it, a little voice inside says, next time, we’ll push it a little more. Next time, we’ll push it a little more. And a little more. Sometimes, we get lucky. We get close enough to the edge to see what lies beyond and we modify our behavior. And sometimes, we get unlucky. We go over the edge. And there’s no turning back.
I still enjoy a Water Slide.
But I don’t clever my way to the edge.
I would go to the edge, and I would go beyond the edge, for a worthy enough cause. But a thrill or the pleasure of the moment — to me, that is not nearly enough cause.
477-K-435-J glanced at his comrade. “You look nervous. You doing okay?”
“I’m not nervous! Just leave me alone. I’m fine.”
“Geez. OK. Have it your way. Look, it’s no big deal. I was nervous my first time too. You’ll get used to it. Kind of. I’m 477-K-435-J. You?”
“Really? How did you know it was my first time? Oh, I’m 45-PP-45-PP, by the way. Pleased to meet you.”
“Likewise. For one thing…look, you’ve got this all twisted the wrong way. May I? I just want to straighten this out for you.”
“I … okay.”
“There we go. That’ll make it easier. Now, look. Truth is, 45-PP-45-PP, you should be nervous. Our enemy has some pretty potent weapons. You’d be an idiot not to be nervous. Poison gas is no fun.”
“Poison gas? They use poison gas?”
“Sometimes. Nitric oxide. Nasty stuff.”
“Thanks. Now, I have something else to be nervous about. It’s just … they so damned big. And, they have brains. Big brains.”
“Oh, believe me, that’s the last thing to be nervous about. Sure, they have big brains, but do they use them? That’s the question.”
“Why wouldn’t they use them? Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Yeah, I agree. Hell, we all agree. It’s one of the great mysteries of near-life. But, luckily for us, we don’t have to solve that. We just need to use the fact that they don’t use them very often to our own advantage.”
“How do you know — how do you know where to put it in?”
“It’s kind of instinctual. You’ll know. Anyway, there are lots of places. It’s not just like there’s one perfect place. We all develop favorites. Personally, I like the lungs best. It feels — it just feels right. Warm and wet. And, they really suffer, just like an enemy should. Best of all, it makes ‘em cough. That’s a free ride to the next sucker.”
234-HH-432-99 joined in. “That’s not what I like best. Sure, it’s warm and wet. But so are the mucous membranes in the mouth. The mouth is where it’s really at, if you ask me. To them, it’s quite an intimate place. That makes it all the more fun for me!”
477-K-435-J shook slightly. “Nah. Lungs. More damage. More spread.”
234-HH-432-99: “Ridiculous. Trust me, kid. There’s no greater feeling than penetrating one of those mouth cells and squirting your RNA into it. You are the boss then! That cell does what you tell it to. And what you make them do is make more of you! I love it. Whoever came up with that one…they deserve to be…to win something.”
477-K-435-J “Yeah, yeah. But no matter how much you screw over their mouth, they can still breathe. And if they can breathe, they have energy. And they can use that to send their destroyers out.
234-HH-432-99 suddenly screamed, “Hit the deck!”
Without the slightest idea what was going on, 45-PP-45-PP did as he was told. “What the hell was that?”
477-K-435-J replied, “That, kid, that is something you want to look out for. It’s a god-damned mask is what that was.”
“Huh? What’s a mask? Does that kill us too?” 45-PP-45-PP reflected again on how much danger he was in.
234-HH-432-99 answered, “No, it doesn’t kill us exactly, but most of the time, it prevents us from fulfilling our mission. Get caught up in one of those damned masks, and you won’t be screwing their mouth cells, their lung cells or any other cells. You’ll just … disintegrate … and die with no sons and no daughters to carry on your alphanumeric designation. It’s as though you were never really alive at all. Well, actually, you’re not. But you get my drift. You’ll be forgotten and nothing to show for it.”
45-PP-45-PP said, “Holy crap! How do we avoid them? A bunch of those things would ruin our whole plan.”
477-K-435-J added, “Yes, you’re right, but we’ll be fine as long as enough people don’t wear them or don’t wear them properly.”
45-PP-45-PP had the distinct feeling that his more experienced comrades were putting him on and making fun of his ignorance. “Yeah. Right. They have a way to prevent our spread and don’t use it. It may be my first time, but I’m not stupid enough to fall for that one! If you want to razz the new guy, you’ll have to think of something more clever than that.”
234-HH-432-99 said, “No, kid. We’re not putting you on. Your buddy ain’t puttin’ you on.”
45-PP-45-PP still felt he was being punked. “So you’e saying they have a weapon to keep up from doing in their lungs and doing … any of their cells … and they don’t use it? Why? That makes no sense! I don’t believe you.”
477-K-435-J said, “Look, it doesn’t matter whether you believe me or not. But we’re all in this together so why would I lie to you? No-one knows why they don’t use something that could save their life of the lives of their families. Some of their own kind have started rumors that the masks don’t work or that they infringe on their freedom.”
234-HH-432-99 piped up again. “Hell, not only that! Some of them don’t even think we exist! They think we’re just a hoax!”
45-PP-45-PP knew they were putting him on now. “Yeah, right. 1.5 million dead world-wide and 63 million sick …. And we’re a hoax? Come on. Give me a break. Just because it’s my first time doesn’t mean I’m totally naive.”
477-K-435-J shrugged, in his viral sort of way. “Look, kid, believe what you want. But trust me. Lungs. That’s where it’s at. And when… hey! Hey! Look sharp. This guys about to scream at someone, he’s surrounded by others, and none of them are wearing those damned mask. We’re in luck! Come on, troops! We’ve prepared our whole lives for this. Drill ‘em and kill ‘em! Drill ‘em and kill ‘em!”
Soon the chant filled the air. 45-PP-45-PP joined in and all his nervousness, his uncertainty, his fear melted away. “DRILL ‘EM and KILL ‘EM.” He felt inexpressible lust at the thought of raping a species whose only outstanding natural weapon was its brain — a weapon so many refused to use. He thought to himself, in his viral manner, They deserve to be drilled! They deserve to be killed! He turned to the comrade who had first befriended him and said, “477-K-435-J, I’m going for the lungs!” Then, to himself: “Warm and moist! Yum! You are mine you little slut cell! You’re going to birth 10,000 of my little babies! Whether you like it or not! You’ll see who’s a hoax!”
“Ah, so you are the one they call “The Commissar,” said the one they call “Scarface.”
“Indeed, I am. And you are?”
“Oh, no need for formalities. You can just call me ‘Comrade.’ Because, that’s what we all are, right? Comrades. Comrades-in-arms who sometimes need to sacrifice for each other. But — there I am going on about ideals when I should be focusing on the matter at hand. We understand that one of your subordinates named Dmitry Mendeleev was responsible for initiating and perfecting the “Death Cult” initiative known as “Operation Super Spreader”?”
The Commissar tilted his head and looked off to the side. Then he frowned and slowly began to nod his head. “Dmitry. Dmitry Mendeleev, you say? Yes, I do remember him. The name — you know. Memorable. He came in for an interview but didn’t cut the mustard.”
“He didn’t work here? He never worked here? Are you sure?”
“Well, yes. I’m sure. I know the names of the janitors and the folks in the mail room. To make sure they are all trustworthy. I have personally looked at and studied the personnel file of everyone who works in this facility.” The Commissar hesitated only for the briefest and most insulting moment. “Comrade.” The Commissar shrugged; added, “Of course, we have records as well. We can’t count on everyone having the same type of memory as do I, can we, Comrade? Needless to say, you and your team are welcome to look through them. But if I may be so bold, can you explain why you needed him in particular? I’m sure we have experts relevant to your current needs. And, superior to Dmitry, I might add.”
“No, no. Nothing like that. We only wanted to make sure he got the recognition he deserved.”
“Oh, well, there! You see? Now that I know why you need him, I can indeed help you. You see, it was a team effort, under my leadership of course. But a team effort.” The Commissar gave that short, snorty laugh he always gave. “It wasn’t much of a team, at the beginning. No. I had to drag them kicking and screaming into the room marked, “Subvert to a death cult.” It took some fancy footwork to get everyone on board. If you talk to my team, you’ll hear them all say it was me; that I deserve the credit. But the truth is…no. It was them. Us. All of us working together to make it happen. Imagine! A third of a country chanting for their own failure, their own downfall, their betrayal, their death. Something to see. Something to see. But I suppose — yes, I’m sure — it was exactly the team that ended up working on Super-Spreader that he was applying for. So. There you go.”
“Yes. Yes. This may all tie up so much more neatly than I would have imagined possible. Indeed. You see, the problem is that we’ve been found out.”
“‘Found out’? What do you mean? Who found what out?”
“Ah, Commissar, well, that’s the thing of it. Who found what out? What indeed? We need to change the narrative, I’m afraid. You see the Americans. Stupid, stupid, Americans. As you know, they didn’t re-elect Nasha Marionetka so … the Americans didn’t cover their trail at all. Now, the whole world knows. It only took two days! But — you understand — it’s one thing to convince Americans to kill themselves. That’s called ‘clever.’ But being found out to convince Americans to kill themselves. The world calls that ‘evil.” We can’t have that.”
“Of course, not even the Great Mother Russia can be expected not to have the occasional “Bad Apple”. We were going to pin the whole thing on a rogue kid. Someone who wanted to climb too far too fast. It’s disappointing that we have to rewrite all the copy. But, in many ways, your own sacrifice is even better for the Motherland. Spasibo.”
The Commissar frowned. “My sacrifice? What sacrifice?” He could feel sweat running down the front of his shirt. His eyes darted among the four men in his office. Three had not spoken a single word. But he could see, even beneath their suits, that any one of them could kill him with his bare hands. When he had first become an officer, he had stayed in shape. But those days were long past. He’d have to rely on his brains to get out of this one. He couldn’t fight his way out. But perhaps he could think his way out. Yet again.”
Scarface smiled. Or, at least the half of his face that could smile, smiled. “I think you see how little we must change the narrative. Instead of the young overly ambitious boy who wanted to leap to the head of things, we have instead the disgruntled old man who has started to question whether his commitment to the Homeland has been rewarded commensurate with his sacrifice.” Now, Scarface smiled again. This time, seemingly in great pain, he forced the smile to crack his entire face. “You thought you could prove your worth to your superiors by killing innocents. Which, of course, we would never tolerate. Such a callous attitude toward precious human life must be excised from the body politic.” At this, one of Scarface’s ‘assistants’ broke out in a raucous laugh. This made The Commissar jerk his head to the left and blink repeatedly. His heart was thudding so hard, he couldn’t understand the nature of the joke.
The Commissar felt his head jerk back to his right. His eyes had seen movement. Now he stared down the barrel of a .22 LR semi-automatic hand gun with a silencer. From somewhere far away, he heard a soft word.
Note to readers: Have you been wondering what happened to Dmitry? I have. You remember, Dmitry, don’t you? He was the Russian GRU officer who first came up with the idea of subverting large amounts of the the GOP into becoming a death cult. Needless to say, he initially met with a — what to call it? — a red wave of skepticism. But Dmitry had numbers and math models to back up his bold plan.
After the plan was approved by Vlad himself, the main implementation sticking point appeared to be finding anyone depraved enough to be traitor enough to kill a quarter million of their own people. It turned out, there were such people in America. Soon they began to focus the efforts on someone who was both a profound failure and who had an overblown opinion of themselves. And, when I say, “overblown”, I don’t just mean the garden variety of “overblown” wherein a dandelion insists he’s really a yellow rose. Oh, no. I mean the galactic variety of “overblown” wherein a small asteroid…a teeny asteroid imagines itself … really nothing more than a small stone floating around in space imagines itself to be of U Y Scuti size! That size of over-blown.
As we know, provided that at least occasionally we poke our heads outside the Fox News bubble, the pandemic is having its third wave in America — the biggest one yet. And, it is largely thanks to the efforts of #45 and his enablers. (For real!) And, that means, it is largely thanks to the efforts of Dmitri (fiction).
Of course, I’m not too happy about that. In truth, I also wouldn’t be happy if it were a million Russian citizens who needlessly died (or those from any other country on earth). Dmitry may or may not have had second thoughts about killing a million Americans. If he did, he didn’t share it with me. You and I would both understand that he would be greatly rewarded for his patriotic efforts on behalf of Putin’s ambitions to weaken or destroy the United States of America. So, let’s go check in on Dmitri and discover what his reward was for his innovative attack on America.
Just as the Commissar arranged, Dmitry was the last one to enter the conference room. A broad grin broke out on Dmitry’s face as he realized what was happening. The Commissar had arranged a celebration, complete with flags and bunting.
“Why today?” Muttered Dmitry and immediately realized because America was drowning in new cases — breaking 100,000/day.
The Commissar himself poured shots for everyone. Dmitry noted the brand and raised his eyebrows. This was the good stuff, he noted to himself.
Dmitry greatly appreciated the gesture. Ilya, in particular, gave him a very inviting smile. Even Olga raised her glass and mouthed the words acknowledging that he had been right.
After the toast, and the synchronous clapping, Dmitry walked up to the dais and took the mike. He beamed and bowed and gestured for silence.
“This was a team effort. And I say we toast the leader of our team, the man we affectionately call “The Commissar.” Dmitri held his glass aloft. A few other toasts were offered and the din in the room grew correspondingly. Dmitry glanced at the clock. Hours before quitting time, and most folks were already impaired. He enjoyed a shot, but he didn’t really relish being impaired. His current buzz was plenty. Too much in fact. He decided to sneak away and check to see what his web crawlers and sentiment analysis programs had turned up.
He turned suddenly. The large beefy hand of The Commissar came down heavily on his shoulder. “Hey! Congratulations again, Dmitry. Now. I need to see you in my office.”
The Commissar gestured to a chair for Dmitry and he himself walked around his desk and sat in his appropriately more comfortable version. He enjoyed the plushness. The Commissar chuckled as he recalled that line from Animal Farm, “all are equal but some are more equal than others.” He smiled at Dmitry and wordlessly arose and sauntered over to his private reserve where he kept the really good vodka. He swung around with two shot glasses and handed one to Dmitry.
“Dmitry. You should be proud. Here’s to you!” The Commissar tossed his glass back and Dmitry did the same.
“Oh, my God! That’s good! Thank you, Commissar!”
“Dmitry, It’s nothing. You have come to the attention of Putin himself! He has a special assignment for you — something he says will require a combination of discipline, mathematical brilliance, and out of the box thinking. Well, you’re it. I have no idea what the situation is, but you were asked for specifically and by name! Congratulations! Sorry, I don’t have more details, but I think you’ll like this part. It’s on the Caspian! You’re going to have your own damned dacha there! I’m more than a bit jealous, but you deserve it! Hey! Look at the time! You’ve got to get back to your apartment and pack. I’ll arrange to send on your stuff here. The way things usually work, your contact will come by and have tickets for you. I won’t even find out specifically who you’ll be working for! Your talent has been noticed. Go. And Congratulations!”
Dmitry stuttered, “Are you… ? Really? This is so … sudden. I mean, I’m not going to say I’m not flattered or protest some false modesty, but … shouldn’t I stay and take Operation SuperSpreader to its logical conclusion.”
The Commissar shrugged. “It’s not my decision. Sorry. I don’t think we have much choice here. Just go get yourself ready. And sober. Your contact will be there shortly. Sorry, I don’t have more info. It’s obviously top secret. Beyond my clearance level. We’ll be okay here. You’ve done an excellent job — a generous job of sharing your expertise. We’ll be fine. GO! I’ll let your co-workers know what’s happening.”
Dmitry frowned. He looked at the blank poker face of his boss. He glanced at the party which had not diminished in intensity during his absence. If anything, they were becoming more boisterous. OK. The Caspian! That did sound nice. Moscow was already damned cold but he knew it would become much worse. He spent the Metro ride home trying to decide what to pack. Replaying the Commissar’s comments however, he realized he had no idea even what country he’d be in or whether he’d be on the relatively warm side.
He stumbled up the steps to his third story studio. “Crap,” he muttered and he threw himself on the couch. I just need a nap before that guy — what was his name? He shook his head, trying to sober himself up. Maybe cold water. Or coffee. But where am I going? His head still spinning, Dmitry conked out.
Meanwhile, the boss they called The Commissar had gone back in to share the happy news with everyone in the section. He glanced around. People were wasted. Oh, well. He tapped the side of a glass with a caviar knife and asked for attention several times. It was times like this that having a mike was helpful. People quieted quickly.
“Hey, I just have a very short announcement to make. I received orders from high up — from very high up, that Dmitry has been transferred on an emergency basis to another location. Meanwhile, the division head says to scuttle all our records on Project SuperSpreader. If anyone asks, tell them it was my idea, and mine alone. None of you should admit to having anything to do with it. And, don’t mention Dmitry. He is such an important asset now that we want there to be no way for foreign agents to trace him or find him. The CIA may be onto us and they will think nothing of killing him or torturing him for information. So…as far as the outside world goes, he was never here.”
The Commissar prided himself on being able to read faces, even those trained in deception. People with alcohol were happy people. They were used to hearing arbitrary decisions. They were used to obedience.
“Oh, one more thing, before you get back to partying. Dmitry told me to give everyone his regards and his thanks — and his regret for not having time to say goodbye to everyone personally. I’m sorry I don’t know anything more about his promotion and assignment. Top Secret. Now, Party!”
Back in his apartment, Dmitry heard a knock or a telephone or possibly a doorbell. What was it? He had had way, way too much to drink. But, he recalled, or thought he recalled, it was only three shots. I should have a buzz, but not — how can I be this drunk. He tried to swing his legs over the edge of the couch but they didn’t move. Suddenly, he jerked his head. There was a man here. $hit! He thought, It’s my contact. I’ve got to get it together.
The man smiled genially, yawned and glanced at his watch. “Ah, you’re still here. Well, not for long. Sorry. I got here a little early. If you’re embarrassed to die in front of me, I could leave and come back.”
Dmitry just couldn’t think straight. “What? What? Caspian?”
The man tilted his head with curiosity as though wondering precisely how this one would die. “There’s no Caspian, my friend.” He chuckled a bit. “Nice idea by the way — the whole death cult thing. I would have never thought of it. Well, maybe. But I never would have thought it could work. Brilliant really. Thing is, it’s so brilliant, people like your Commissar feel it might be more appropriate if someone with a longer career deserves to get the credit. Don’t worry. It won’t be long.” He paused and then added thoughtfully, “If you’re in pain or anything, just give me a sign. I can break your neck. SNAP! Real quick. Just give me a wink.”
Dmitry cast his mind back. Who was this man? What was he saying the Commissar who gave me his special vodka wants to … an image flashed into Dmitry’s mind. The clear vodka had only been poured into one glass, not both. Only Dmitry had actually drunk the clear liquid. No wonder it tasted so good. Liquid death.
The man chuckled the deep chuckle of someone who revels in evil. “I see the truth is dawning on you, Dmitry. You’re supposed to be a genius. You should understand — in a system that puts power over truth, the people at the top are not the most able or the smartest or the most educated or the most talented. They are the cruelest and most ruthless. I hope you find that useful info in the next world.”
Dmitry realized he was going blind. He blinked several times and squinted to look into the face of this man who had come to … take the body, he supposed. The nameless man stared right back as though he were a stamp collector staring at a rare stamp for that flaw, that flaw, that fatal flaw. Dmitry realized that his had been trusting his boss.
This is part of a longer story line in four chapters. Here are links to other chapters.