Saturday, September 16, 2017


Dani parked her old Mustang under the big oak on Prairie Avenue and after checking the traffic—there wasn’t any because it was late—stepped out onto the street and shut the door behind her, taking care to not slam it too hard. It was spooky quiet out here, but Leo had asked her to meet him out here, so she had come.

She walked across the street to the old gas station where he had told her to meet him, her shoes crunching on the loose stones on the asphalt. She stepped into a pothole and almost twisted her ankle and muttered, “Shit,” but she was okay and continued over to the station. A dog howled in the distance and it sent shivers down her spine. Why the hell had he asked her to meet him out here? Couldn’t he have just come to her place?

As she got closer to the station, she looked up. The moon was full and shone down on the building, and the security light lent a green glow to the structure. It had a weird metal siding on it and she wondered why people had ever made buildings out of this metal. It seemed to her that it would be really cold in the winter and stiflingly hot in the summer. She had lived in a mobile home for a while and it was like that. But when she looked at the building, she had to admit that it looked pretty cool. The metal seemed to glow under the moon and the greenish tint of the fluorescent security light.

She walked up to the side of the building and wondered what the graffiti scrawled across the metal tiles meant. Before she could think about it too much, she heard a low whistle from behind the garage. She walked over to the corner and peeked around without saying anything. She heard another whistle and then a whisper. She stayed silent and then she heard her name.

“Dani. It’s me.”

She breathed a sigh of relief. She walked around the corner towards the voice. “Leo! What are you doing?” She kept her voice quiet because of how silent the street was, but she wanted to laugh. “You scared me!”

She got closer to him and then he stopped her with a harsh, “No!”

She stopped in her tracks. He was huddled against the building, slumped down in the fallen leaves, in the shadows. “Leo? What is it?”

“Stop. Don’t come any closer.”

“Well, if you didn’t want me to come out here to be with you, why the hell did you call me? And for that matter, why the hell didn’t you just ask if you could come over to my place? It’s not like you’ve never been over there before and it’s not like I haven’t told you that you’re welcome to come over and—”

“Dani,” Leo whispered. “For fuck’s sake. Shut up.”

“Leo, you do not get to tell me to shut up. I came out here to this creepy-ass old gas station at one o’clock in the morning because I thought you might be in trouble and it really is creepy as hell out here and you do NOT get to tell me to shut up!”

She thought she heard him chuckle. “Are you laughing at me, Leo? You had better not be laughing at me!”

Then what she thought was a chuckle turned into a horrible gurgling sound.

“Leo! Are you okay? You sound like you’re choking!” She started towards him and he stopped her with a loud moan. “Leo. You do not sound like you’re okay.”

He coughed and it sounded kind of...clogged. “I’m not okay. I got bit, Dani.”

“Bit? By what? A bat? A raccoon or something?”

He laughed quietly, but it turned into another coughing fit. “No. Not either of those.”

“It was that dog I heard howling down the street, wasn’t it? I bet it’s rabid! It was fucking Cujo, wasn’t it? We have to get you to the hospital!” She stepped towards him again.

“Dani. No.” She could barely see his hand raised to stop her, and then he pointed towards the garbage bag a few feet from him. “There. That’s what it was.”

She stepped over to the garbage bag, broken glass crunching under her shoes. She was glad she hadn’t worn sandals. She toed the garbage bag and it shifted, rolling towards her. It wasn’t a bag of garbage. A human face stared up at her, grey and pockmarked, Leo’s pocket knife stuck in its eye.

She sighed. “Ahhh, goddammit, Leo.” She looked over at him.

He nodded. “I know.”

“You knew they were heading this way. Why weren’t you more careful?”

“Do we really need to have this discussion now, Dani?”

“No. I suppose we don’t. It’s a done deal, isn’t it?”

She saw him nod and then the clouds cleared and the moon shone brightly on Leo’s face. It was as grey as the “garbage bag” a few feet from him.

“Leo. I’m so sorry.”

“I know. Me, too.”

She pulled the pocket knife out of the garbage bag’s eye and stepped closer to Leo.

“Dani, stop.”

“No. I have to.” She took his hand and kissed it. “We had some good times.”

“We did. You know what you need to do now.” His voice had become more guttural. “You know the plan. You have the supplies.”

“Yes. I’ll do what I need to do. Good night, Leo.”

He nodded. “Good night, Dani.” He kissed her hand and she tried to ignore how slobbery his kiss was.

She did what she needed to do. She walked around the front of the gas station and looked up at the green glow of the corner of the metal building. She walked rapidly back to her Mustang and headed back to her place.

It was a whole new world.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Education saved the day

Well man built a boat and he learned how to sail
And he traveled far and wide
Then he looked up above saw the stars in the sky
So he learned how to fly
And the inventors with their high I.Q.s
And the professors in their colleges
Trying to feed me knowledge
That I know I'll never use
Thank you sir for the millions of words
That you've handed me down and you've told me to learn

~~ “Education” by The Kinks

I read something the other day that really dismayed me. NBC conducted a poll asking whether people thought a four-year degree was worth the cost and it turns out that there has been a sharp drop-off in those who feel that it is worth it.

You’ll get no argument from me that college is quickly becoming out-of-reach for far too many. This is certainly something we need to address and I wish that every person, no matter their age, would have access to affordable college classes. It is also hard to argue with the idea that many who graduate aren’t well-equipped with skills that will result in an immediate, good-paying job.

But what really bothers me here is that there seems to be a deepening notion that an education isn’t really needed. I’m not saying that college is for everyone and I am totally on board with vocational schools that teach much-needed skills. In fact, there are a lot of high-skilled jobs out there going unfilled and that is bothersome.

I also know that college is a lot more expensive than when I went to school. A lot more expensive. I don’t remember the exact amount, but I was able to get a Bachelor’s degree for under thirty grand at one of our state schools (Ball State...go Cardinals!). I am also really fortunate in that my folks saved for my education and with the help of some small scholarships, some loans, and some strategic T-bill investing (and high interest rates at the time), my college was paid for. Believe me, I know just how fortunate I am and I am grateful every day.

Ball State isn’t an Ivy League school, but I got a degree that helped me get a job (Medical Technologist/Microbiologist) that I found very rewarding and interesting. Because it was a four-year degree, I also got to take electives that didn’t relate to my major and I enjoyed those very much. Psychology, Sociology, Archaeology, things like that. In retrospect, I wish I had taken some literature or art history courses, but that’s where online classes come in now. I still love to learn and enjoy taking the occasional course (I’m about due for another one!).

The experience of getting a four-year degree and living on campus taught me more than information. I grew up in a small town and getting away to meet new people and experience new ideas was a gamechanger for me. It exposed me to so many different concepts and ways of looking at things and taught me to see other viewpoints. Not everyone gets to go live on campus but taking different courses in a community college or local university can still give you insight into the experiences of others. This was invaluable to me and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without it. I’m certainly not a perfect person but the education continues. There is always more to learn!

It makes me sad that the value of education has dropped so low. Maybe a lot of these people still want to learn and just think that a four-year degree isn’t the way to go about it. I’m okay with that. But I think this survey shows a little more than seems to show that knowledge is no longer a valued commodity.

This is dangerous. The successful operation of our society and our republic depends upon an educated citizenry. When education is not treated as a top priority, and is sometimes even ridiculed, we have a problem.

This can’t end well.

Monday, September 11, 2017

He thrusts his fists against the posts

The old fortune teller lies dead on the floor
Nobody needs fortunes told anymore
The trainer of insects is crouched on his knees
And frantically looking for runaway fleas
Let's all drink to the death of a clown

~~ “Death of a Clown” by The Kinks

I know that there is plenty of serious shit happening today so please don’t take this post as ignoring that stuff. I’m not ignoring anything and have had a quiet day of listening to news and reflecting on things. I’m watching for friends and family in Florida to post that they are okay and so far, so good. Others have written quite eloquently about the serious things, more than I ever could, so I’ll go with writing about some pop culture news.

We all cope in our own way and I’m not one to question the validity of anyone’s coping skills. Whatever works for you, as long as you don’t harm yourself or others, is okay with me! One of my ways of coping is to immerse myself in something else, something that brings me joy. It’s often music (and I’m listening to some Kinks as I type), it’s often books, and sometimes it’s favorite shows or movies.

After a fun weekend in Chicago (although we witnessed an absolutely brutal Cubs loss to the Brewers), which included a couple of visits to an actual speakeasy (too cool for school!), we headed back early so that we could catch a late afternoon viewing of the movie “IT.”

I had been hearing good buzz about it and every friend who saw it said they really enjoyed it. Any Stephen King fan knows how hit-and-miss the productions of his novels can be. Some hit it out of the park (“The Shawshank Redemption,” “Stand By Me,” “Misery,” “The Shining,” although SK himself wasn’t a Number One Fan of the latter). Some are cult favorites and we love them even though they’re not the greatest of productions (“Pet Sematary,” the TV miniseries of “It” and “The Stand”). Some are just not very good, and “Maximum Overdrive” is the poster child for that category.

I’m always cheering for a movie or TV show based on one of his productions to be good. I’m not an unbiased critic because I really love seeing a beloved book come to life and I usually find something to enjoy in it, even if it’s mostly kind of bad. Based on the early buzz, I had high hopes for this current ITeration. (Get it? Get it??)

I was delighted to find out that not only was it not BAD, it was genuinely GOOD! Like crazy, fun, scary, exciting good! It adheres to the book fairly faithfully but with a few differences that don’t take away from the enjoyment if you’ve read the book. Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise is a creepy, drooly, fangy mess and while I think Tim Curry will always be the quintessential Pennywise, Skarsgård makes him considerably more menacing compared to Curry’s somewhat campy clown.

The true star of the movie is the kids, though. The Losers Club. I loved every single one of them, from motormouth hypochondriac (by his mother’s proxy) Eddie to the comic relief Richie to the lovely, mighty Beverly. They were the embodiment of every single one of us who has been bullied or put down or abused and who finally said “Enough!” and fought back. Enough abuse, enough humiliation, enough fear. The kids had the courage to make their stand and I loved them all for it. The actors who played the kids were so good that you cheered for them almost immediately and wanted them to not just be okay, but to thrive and be safe and free from harm, whether it was from the town bullies or the murderous clown.

I’m a lifelong horror movie fan so it takes plenty to genuinely scare me. This movie did not genuinely scare me although there were plenty of oogy parts (to borrow one of Annie Wilkes’s words). There were the usual startling moments but the ones that made me go “Ewww” the most were the pharmacist Mr. Keene going all creeper on the pubescent Beverly and even worse, her own father doing the creeping. There are many dangers in this world for kids and killer clowns are but one of them.

They balanced the creepiness with strategically placed comic relief, usually in the form of Richie and his voices and jokes, but occasionally in Eddie. I won’t give away the joke but one moment that made me laugh out loud was when he confronted his horrid mother about the pills that he’d been taking for years, after finding out from one of the girls at the pharmacy that they were placebos and always had been. It is a rare thing to be able to balance what is really a pretty serious moment with a tiny little line that can make you laugh.

So major props to everyone involved in the movie, because twenty-four hours later, I’m still smiling about it. Not because it’s a feel-good movie, although for a movie about a murderous clown, it made me feel surprisingly good! It’s just a great adaptation and it will be a true pleasure to revisit our Losers Club in a year or so when we find out what they’ve been up to and how they have fared as adults.

And for those parents who brought young kids to this movie? What in the holy hell were you thinking? I’m not going to totally judge you because I realize that some kids can handle horror and separate fantasy from reality better than others. I was one of those kids and I grew up to be totally normal.

Wait. What? Why is everyone laughing? Stop it!

All kidding aside, this really is not a movie for young kids. I was seeing a few that were maybe 8-years-old, if that. There are some truly disturbing images in this movie, ones that made even jaded horror aficionados like me and my sister Diana look at each other and go, “Gahhhh!”

So really, don’t take kids to this movie. But everyone else should go see it because it is a total blast! From what I’m reading, it’s a genuine hit, and our theater at 4 PM on a Sunday was pretty full. Big box office on opening weekend! You might even say it…


Bahaha! Beep beep, Richie!