From worry to hate

It is all, need I say it, in your point of view. When you enter the story, or how much you know when you enter, or whether it’s a new story or a continuance.

For instance, Gus’s point of view in Trafalgar Square on July 21, 2005.

Gus was 16 the summer we visited London. There is no doubt he was old enough to ramble at will in the part of London we were in. Leicester and Trafalgar Squares and the areas between them held no danger, but a world of experience. There is also no doubt that I was not old enough for him to roam at will. A drawback, I suppose, to having only one child.

Gus carried one of the cell phones, Deb and I the other. Chris, her son, eight months older, was on his fourth trip to London and could draw the tube map from memory. He had gone to the hotel to read or rest, and Gus was wandering, a notebook and pencil in hand, with a book to read when he tired of writing his impressions of London.

He recited the conversation to me later. Although I don’t specifically remember it, it doesn’t seem out of character and he’d have little reason to make it up. (more…)


September 6, 2012 at 8:57 am Leave a comment

The Logistics of Illusion

Across the kitchen at the remote mountainside retreat center, a fellow Catholic was pouring rocks into the dishwasher.

We were on the side of Massanutten Mountain in northwest Virginia, preparing for another day of a retreat designed to recruit new members into a lay prayer group. Five years later, statistically, about a third of them would still be active in the group, but for this weekend, deep male camaraderie and an atmosphere laden with the rich symbols of the church helped us all see God in one another. He may have been there, or it may have been an illusion, fostered through forced isolation and enhanced brotherhood.

The rocks were part of the logistics of illusion. Chunks of landscaping marble, purchased in a heavy plastic bag at a local hardware store, went through the dishwasher. The cleanest and whitest were picked out and sent through again, so that each retreat participant would receive one during a candle-lit ceremony built around the text of Revelation 2:17: “I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” (more…)

September 6, 2012 at 8:55 am Leave a comment

Being an observation about the nature of bureaucracy:

In a well-functioning bureaucracy, no decision of any importance shall be made until it has been elevated sufficiently that the person making it has little enough knowledge of and interest in the issues as to render the decision inoperative by the people who can understand it and are at the level where it must be carried out; the only exception to this rule shall occur when the decision is critical enough and delayed long enough that a person at a low enough level of responsibility must make it on an emergency basis without all the facts at his or her disposal and without sufficient authority to carry it out effectively.


(Persons knowing of a significant exception to this rule are invited to inform the site’s owner.)

September 6, 2012 at 8:47 am Leave a comment

The Ballad of Jeremiah Curley

Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer” starts off with a preacher before a battle asking that “an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory –”

Then a spoilsport stranger comes in and rephrases the plea. “Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded,; help us to lay waste their humble homes; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst.”

I’m reminded of that when I read about a school child being given bread and milk because the cafeteria account wasn’t up to date, or a home in Tennessee burning down because the fire department tariff wasn’t paid. It’s the answer to the prayers of a particular group of people. They’ve prayed for a government that teaches individual responsibility, and doesn’t tax its citizens, and protects taxpayers from lowlife chiselers. In the county that’s by any measure one of the most conservative in the state, a kid was pushed out of the food line because he or she hadn’t paid. The local outrage is not surprising. Many rural conservatives will give you the shirt off their backs but won’t support a subsidized thrift store. Because they want to choose who they help. When they vote against high taxes, and against food stamp fraud, and against welfare, they think they’re taking something away from black kids in Philadelphia or brown kids in Houston, if they think about it at all, but they’re surprised when it happens in Rockingham, and they want to take up a collection to help this one specific family.


April 7, 2012 at 5:12 pm Leave a comment

1985: Late Precincts and Worst Election Karma

(As a reporter, editor, candidate, party hack, election judge or volunteer, I’ve been involved in more than 40 elections. The one in 1985 was one of my favorites. That’s why I call it the Worst Election Ever. Originally posted elsewhere in June 2010.)

The worst election I ever dealt with was probably the one where everybody got sick. Or maybe it was the one where Sid thought he’d won. There are so many different layers and types of worst that it’s hard to cut it fine enough. And there are too many ways to define awful.

But here’s one way. Stuff kept being stolen from my apartment in Petersburg. I hadn’t known my girlfriend that long and was starting to wonder if maybe I shouldn’t have given her a key. But it turned out that someone had a key to the vacant apartment next door, and was climbing into that attic and through the connecting space. I finally found out what was happening after I nailed the windows shut. The thief couldn’t get out the windows, so he had to scramble back out of the tiny attic opening in the bathroom. He turned over a set of shelves on the way out, and left footprints on the wall, evidence he’d never left before when he was dropping in and walking out onto the top of a connecting porch.


April 7, 2012 at 4:55 pm Leave a comment

Parts and Soul

I took 17 days at Christmas to finish writing a novel. I had a couple of ideas I wanted to write up first. And then a couple more. And then I had this collection. I haven’t finished the novel yet.

April 7, 2012 at 4:15 pm Leave a comment

Eating the Bait Afterword: November 2009

(The version of Eating the Bait I’m selling on Amazon is little different from the one posted for years on my website. I added what’s below in 2009; I ran and lost in 2010.)

During the 2002 City Council election I met and fell in love with Deb Stevens, now Deb Stevens Fitzgerald. It was during one of our earliest long conversations that I began to realize how much of a story there was in my vote to continue the golf course. She asked me in disbelief if I had really not decided until that day to vote for the golf course, if I had really done it on the spur of the moment. “Not exactly,” I told her, and exactness wound up taking the 20,000 words you hold here. Deb and I married in 2003, after the end of a marriage that may or may not have been doomed before I ever decided to run for City Council. It seems that way now, ten years out, but I don’t claim to have known at the time.


April 7, 2012 at 3:59 pm 1 comment

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Parts and Soul

Eating the Bait

Previously . . .