Page count in the age of Obamacare

Some years ago, I prepared a computer programming book for a demanding IT manager. The manager insisted that the book must not exceed 500 pages. For an entire weekend I toiled over the electronic copy, squeezing, tweaking, compressing, rearranging – using every trick that I knew of to get that book cut down to a size that my client would accept. When I left the office late on Sunday afternoon, I was frustrated and exhausted, but I had managed to hammer the animal into what I had hoped would be an acceptable 502 pages. On Monday, the manager came to work early and had already performed his review before I arrived. I found the draft manuscript on my desk with a yellow sticky note attached: “This is looking great! Cut 3 more pages and ship.” That is how much of a stickler he was about page count.

As a technical writer I think a lot about page count, usually in the context of “are there too many”. Overly written technical documentation is often as useless to an end user as inadequate or erroneous documentation. Over explain a topic and valuable information may be lost in text. Under explain a topic and the product user may not be able to perform his or her task. In either case, poorly written documentation will always result in the inaccurate depiction of a product, a product that might in all other ways be perfectly wonderful. In extreme cases, erroneous technical documentation has contributed to the injury, or even death of a user (a technical writer’s absolute worst nightmare).

Unfortunately, clear, concise, tightly written, documentation is not the province of legal and legislative documents, which tend to suppose an audience comprised primarily of ivory tower law professors, and the occasional political science PhD. Perhaps used as a tool to control the masses by the educated few, legislative documents are always a chore to read – especially by we laypeople to whom the phrase, ‘passing the bar’, means missing the entrance to O’Grady’s Pub.

All of which brings me to the subject of the Affordable Care Act, or if you prefer, Obamacare. The number of pages in this famed document has been bantered about for the past two years, by the network talking heads, radio talk show hosts (and their callers), in the halls of Congress, and on the Presidential campaign trail. Once purported to exceed 20,000 pages, or a stack of paper 7 feet tall, the document today is nowhere close to that size, but it is still a hefty piece of work. And why not. It covers a lot of ground.

But the frantic hand wringing over the size of the Affordable Care Act document is, I believe, somewhat exaggerated. The point of such hand wringing being:

A.  The document is so long that it is probably filled with all kinds of legal double-speak that is designed to bamboozle us into thinking that it is something that it isn’t, and…

B. Who the  hell could ever slosh through that many pages, and…

C. Short and simple always trumps long and complex. When it comes down to what is good for the common man or woman on the street, Dr. Seuss is always better than Marcel Proust…right? Or so it seems.

Curious as to the size of the Affordable Healthcare Act document, I went looking for it, and I found it quickly. A quick Google search followed by two mouse clicks was all that was required to call up this important piece of legislation that is impacting us all. For your convenience, I shall post a link to the document here.

Officially known as Public Law 111-148, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is available to anyone with a computer, and I urge everyone (well, at least those of us here in the U.S. where the crap is really hitting the fan right now), to bookmark the document and peruse parts of it at your leisure.

Should you be endowed with an endless supply of printer ink, paper, and time, the printed version of the Affordable Care Act will run a printer-over-heating, 906 pages. A big document to be sure, but far short of a 2000 page document that one hears mentioned on TV and radio all the time, and not even close to the 20,000 page behemoth it was touted to be a year and a half ago.

Over the past several days, I have made several visits to the online version of the Affordable Healthcare Act document. No, I have not read it all, not even close. But I do have two initial impressions that I will pass on here.

First, it would not be impossible to read this thing in its entirety, and I assure you that it has been read by many. The legalese language makes for a difficult slosh, but it could be done. Comprehension of the material it contains is another matter, but I feel I might have a better chance with this document than perhaps the U.S. tax code document which I understand exceeds 13,000 pages.

Second, understanding the contents of this document is not as exceedingly difficult as we have been led to believe, and some parts are downright interesting.

So, if your copy of Infinite Jest, or Atlas Shrugged is waiting for you on your nightstand, and you are planning on starting one of these doorstop tomes this evening so as to be able to remove them from your extreme-reading list, I urge you to lay such copies aside for a few days so that you may focus on the Affordable Healthcare Act document. There is no time like now.

In so doing you will not only become a more informed consumer (and voter), but you will come away with a feeling of great accomplishment.

In any case, think of how you will feel at the next cocktail party, or backyard Bar-B-Q when that loudmouth from Purchasing denounces the Obamacare legislation as being overly complex, and put together at the behest of a far-left, Nazi, Communist, Moslem, President who cannot prove beyond a shadow of doubt that he is a U.S. citizen…yes that President. You will want to say something, but don’t…not yet…wait for it. Wait until he gets to the part where he asks with that smug look on his face, “well…have YOU read it?”

At which time you may step boldly forth, perhaps quoting from section  6114, titled: “National demonstration projects on culture change and use of information technology in nursing homes.”

Then you may watch his jaw drop…

Tight lines…

–Ed

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Driving fast with guns

I don’t get a lot of satisfaction in seeing people fall, even people who I think deserve to fall. For some reason, I’d rather see people redeem themselves in some small way, but almost always I am let down. One person who I was certain was NOT going to redeem himself in any way was George Zimmerman. Mr. Zimmerman seems to have taken his place as Florida celebrity du-jour when it comes to extending his middle finger to the world after beating a murder rap in an Orlando courtroom last July. Believe me, I use the word celebrity loosely here. A man whose only claim to fame is shooting an unarmed teenager to death is hardly a celebrity, but as our own adopted O.J. Simpson cools his heels in a Nevada pen, and Casey Anthony seems to have faded into deserved obscurity, all eyes are on faux-celebrity Mr. Zimmerman, and apparently there is much to watch.

Since being found innocent back on July 17th, Mr. Zimmerman has assisted at a traffic accident (a good thing, if we believe it really went down the way it was reported, although it seemed as if he went from ‘assisting’ as first reported, to  ‘rescuing’ people as later reported), and he has been stopped for speeding twice – once in Texas while on a cross-country trip, and once in his home state of Florida (doing 60 in a 45 – okay, not death penalty stuff, but you’d think he’d show more respect for the law) .  More recently, he has been accused of attacking his father in law (although evidence seems to say otherwise), and threatening his estranged wife, ostensibly with a gun.  So, does the man brandish a pistol at the slightest provocation? Is he as trigger happy as he seems to be? Is he a lose cannon waiting to go off when it’s least expected? The answers to such questions appear murky at best. Even the police seem to be at odds with initial reports from his wife.

I’m certainly not an expert on marital discord. Within any marriage, my own included, there are only two people who know exactly what is going on. But when a person seems to have repeated contact with the law, one has to look toward a common denominator. I see guns.

I am thinking of the days immediately after Mr. Zimmerman’s acquittal when an absurd call went out for money to help Mr. Zimmerman purchase replacement weapons. Insanity once again trumping prudence.

This is all I can say today on this important topic. I will close here by saying that I am certain that we have not heard the last of Mr. Zimmerman. I only hope that I am not describing the fate of an innocent victim the next time I mention his name.

Mahalo,

–Ed

Boots on the ground

A cranky old friend of mine told me the other day, that the older he became, the more certain phrases annoyed him. He told me that one expression that he was tired of, was the overused expression, “back in the day”.

“That expression really rankles me,” he said.

“That expression rankles you?” I said fumbling through my mental dictionary for a definition of ‘rankles’.

“Yeah,” he went on, “like back in WHAT day. Why can’t people just say something like, you know, in 1967 we didn’t have any frigging internet so we had to get all of our news from Walter Cronkite on the black and white Philco at 7PM sharp! There…saying something like that should make you sound old, and curmudgeonly enough, without saying, back in the day all we had was Walter f___ing Cronkite to tell us what was going on in the world!”

This somewhat bizarre exchange occurred in the break room at the office where I work, and I took a quick step backward as my crotchety coworker brushed past me to thrust his dry Florida Panther’s mug beneath the water cooler spigot. Never get between a hard-core hockey fan and a water cooler.

I walked away shaking my head, hoping that a cool mug of Zephyrhills would return my friend’s blood pressure to at least the high side of normal, and planning a blog-post about the small annoyances that we humans choose to clutter up our lives. Such annoyances cause us to waste precious time on this planet, which could be better spent on more productive pursuits. I was planning on kind of a Zen blog about how we are all killing ourselves by focusing on the minutiae – the trivial. Then I heard President Obama (a President that I have voted for twice by the way), say the following, right there on my old Philco (okay, my 42 inch flat screen), regarding proposed and almost certainly upcoming military action in Syria:

“We’re not considering any open commitment. We’re not considering a boots on the ground approach.”

And there it was: “boots on the ground”. I was suddenly rankled. Since rankled is not a word that one uses, or even sees every day, I shall post the definition here:

to continue to cause keen irritation or bitter resentment within the mind; fester; be painful.

That describes my feeling toward “boots on the ground”, a catch phrase which, of course, refers to launching a real, full-fledged, military operation on foreign soil by sending in soldiers (who usually wear boots), and usually indicates that we, as a Nation, are ready to make a long-term commitment to a country or region, based upon real, though often fabricated evidence. Evidence that is more times than not spoon fed through the media to the general public. In order to keep the boots off of the ground we often instead, launch an air strike.  An airborne attack has the advantage of inflicting massive damage  (shock and awe), while making certain that NO boots touch the ground – supposedly.

Boots on WHAT ground, I always want to say when I hear that tired expression circa. 2002. We have boots on the ground in the desert outside of Las Vegas launching drone attacks in Afghanistan, while we have had boots on the ground for the past decade in the desert in Iraq – fighting in a war that was started on some very shaky, if not downright underhanded pretenses.

So don’t get my meaning wrong  here. I am not saying that there is never a time for “boots on the ground”, and I certainly mean no disrespect to those wearing the boots (anyone who reads my work knows that I am committed to the cause of better treatment for our veterans), but I fear that this Syrian mess is not one of those times, or so it seems to me, and unless I have been inhaling too much Florida swamp gas, it will soon prove itself to be just that.

bootsThis is a debacle in sheep’s clothing and I hope that we discover that before the first boots hit the ground.

Mahalo,

–Ed

My post vacation thoughts…

civil_defense_manualThis blog has suffered greatly these past couple of weeks, as professional demands, as well as lack thereof, have taken a toll on my writing schedule. Translated, that means that after working like hell for quite a while, I went on an eight-day vacation and didn’t write a line. Seldom do I vacate for eight entire days, but this year was an exception, and although I did not travel far (only 125 miles up the Florida coast), I was officially, ‘away’, and when I am ‘away’ I try not to touch a computer keyboard. This year I almost made it through without touching fingers to keys, and if it were not for the need to post an item for sale on Craigslist, I would have succeeded in keeping my vacation ‘computer free’.

I also try not to watch too much network news. I mean is there really any need to be completely informed on all matters at all times. Since there is little threat these days that ‘The Big One’ will be dropped on us at any time, I see no need to stay connected to international affairs 24/7. I recall reading a Civil Defense book that we had in our home when I was a child. I remember the chilling photos of the mushroom cloud rising over a distant city, as a family hunkered down in their well stocked fallout shelter, hopefully safe from annihilation in a wake of a gazillion megaton nuclear blast, that in reality would have vaporized them along with their supply of canned tomatoes and bottled water.

This particular Civil Defense guide went on to suggest that farmers take transistor radios to the fields with them during times of international tension, in order to monitor unfolding events. Presumably, they would be able to get the tractor tucked safely in the barn, should a flight of ICBMs be tracked coming in over the pole. Ludicrous indeed. As time went on, and the sixties unfolded into the seventies, these Civil Defense guides disappeared as we all accepted the grim reality that in event of such a man-made doomsday, there would be few, if not, any survivors.

Today, we seem to have little to fear from sudden and complete annihilation of the North American continent, however, our lives seem to be no more or less safe from destruction by events beyond our control.

The Orlando, Florida television stations, in the beachside community where I spent last week, preempted local news in lieu of live coverage of the George Zimmerman trial. Zimmerman, the armed community watch volunteer who seemed to go prepared for trouble, found it, and dealt with it using deadly force, is on trial for (what is effectively) his life. Meanwhile, the distraught family of the unarmed teenager felled by his bullet plead for justice. So it is a dangerous world, where walking in the wrong place, at the wrong time can mean deadly consequences. We are an armed nation, and there are lots of people packing heat and not afraid to use it – or maybe they just use it if they are afraid, who knows. Fortunately, this trial is coming to a head, and shortly justice will be served – hopefully.

Word of the tragic death of 19 Arizona firefighters came to me not over a network news station, but via The Weather Channel (TWC), as I tuned in one morning to ascertain whether or not the line of storms off of the Atlantic coast was a threat to the day’s fishing. I immediately turned to an NBC news report, delivered over my phone.

Finally, the crash of an airliner in San Francisco distracted me from fishing and beach.  As I paused to think for a moment about the two young girls who lost their lives in this ‘routine’ flight, and to consider how vulnerable we all are as we shoot through the skies from city to city aboard a mode of transport deemed safer than driving. Unlike the crash of the commuter plane in Buffalo a few years ago, in which the experience of the pilots is coming into question, this jet from Korea to the US had four pilots aboard for this long-haul international flight. The fact that it could crash upon landing, on a clear day, after making a successful flight across the Pacific Ocean is beyond belief.

The cause of this crash will take aviation experts, of which I am not one, months to investigate before a cause is determined. What I do find interesting is the news media’s continuing disbelief that the shaken passengers took time to gather personal possessions (even duty-free bags), before exiting the burning aircraft, as if these oblivious survivors put Ipods and scotch above human life as they malingered to gather earthly possessions. More than likely, these passengers were is shock in the few minutes immediately after dropping onto that San Francisco runway. I wrote a bit about this several years ago in an article about surviving a plane crash. You can read it here if you like.

So that’s it for now. Vacation is over, and I am back working and blogging. I am thinking about the fragility of life. As a new tropical disturbance crawls through the Caribbean I find myself thinking of how quickly our situations can change. If we are alive and relatively healthy we should consider ourselves lucky.

Stay safe.

Mahalo,

-Ed

Thoughts on Government surveillance

“If this government ever became a tyranny … the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government … is within the reach of the government to know.” – Senator Frank Church

If you are not wondering what the hell is going on with our government these days, or what the hell the government is doing to us, or where the hell all of this is going to lead, then you haven’t been paying attention. But make no mistake about it, this Big Brother, Big Government, Snoop/Spying/Prying into our lives started a long time before a 29 year old Booz Allen Hamilton hacker copied off a stack of his employer’s classified documents and flew west, leaving both his clandestine job and glamorous girlfriend in the jet vapors.

Citizens are now blogging, commenting, tweeting, and using all forms of media to express their shock and disdain for the apparent intrusion of the United States government into their personal lives. The scandal rages. Techie type analysts scramble to educate the masses about the nuances of government eavesdropping, hoping that perhaps a better understanding of ‘metadata’ will help assuage the concerns of The Public. Meanwhile, Edward Snowden, the aforementioned hacker, remains ensconced in a luxury Hong Kong hotel room, sitting high atop his stack of stolen documents as he lashes out at  the Obama Administration for its failings:

“Obama’s campaign promises and election gave me faith that he would lead us toward fixing the problems he outlined in his quest for votes. Many Americans felt similarly. Unfortunately, shortly after assuming power, he closed the door on investigating systemic violations of law, deepened and expanded several abusive programs, and refused to spend the political capital to end the kind of human rights violations like we see in Guantanamo, where men still sit without charge…”

So how could such a condition come about? What of those great ‘checks and balances’ that we learned about in our tenth grade American Government classes? Aren’t those supposed to save us from tyranny? Or, perhaps it was the Bush Administration that set us upon this road to Orwellian doom.

Perhaps a good place to begin to understand our recent condition is by reading “The Puzzle Palace”, by James Bamford, an amazingly insightful and well researched book about the National Security Agency (NSA). This book takes the reader inside the NSA’s Ft. Meade, Maryland facility and documents in detail, the NSA’s intrusive, albeit effective, role in monitoring, if not influencing, international events, including the Iran-Contra affair, the downing of KAL flight 007 over the Kamchatka Peninsula by the Soviets, and the first Gulf War. It is important to note that this book was published in 1983.

Have our God-given rights been taken from us, in one fell swoop. Did the erosion start with a Republican President riding a nationwide ‘save-us-at-all-costs’ attitude that came about as a result of  the worst terrorist attack on our soil in history? Were those same policies given a wink and a nod by our current POTUS?

I think that the march of the government into our personal lives has not happened suddenly. It is just that are many more opportunities today for governmental abuse of power. In 1983, the internet was, for the average citizen, non-existent. Today we have cellular phones that revel our whereabouts, Facebook pages that record the minutia of our daily lives, and Linkedin pages that document business associates, and organizations. Mysterious magnetic strips on credit cards, and driver’s licenses, hold facts about us that sometimes even spouses do not know about. Our medical histories, where we spend our money, and where we travel to from the assumed anonymity of our computers, is all meticulously recorded and available for tracking should the ends justify the means.

This did not happen overnight. Many of us have remained silent for decades, not taking the opportunity to lash out when we could. Perhaps requiring urine testing as a condition of employment for even the most low-level, non-governmental position, was an intrusion we could have stopped had the outrage been great enough. But as a friend of mine smugly told me after submitting to such a test in order to get a relatively mundane clerical position, “I have nothing to hide. They can test me all they want.”

Meanwhile, in a report that I read today, Mr. Snowden still remains in hiding in his Hong Kong hotel, doing what he believes to be right and waiting for the fallout. Interesting, in a brief description of his days in hiding, it is reported that when he logs into his laptop, he does so under a hood, so as not to give the prying eyes of the NSA the opportunity to discern his password. And so the paranoia shall grow.

Mahalo

–Ed

Medical weed on the ropes in FLA…Bong ban goes into effect July 1

I suspect that some of you may imbibe from time to time in a bit of the ganja as you surf the blogosphere. For that reason, I thought that a few words about what is going on here in Florida may be of some interest to you, regardless of where you reside.

Before I get started, I want to make it clear that I am not a pot apologist. I am far from it, but I do think that the drug laws in the United States need to be overhauled. Especially those laws related to marijuana. So let it be known that I am not a cannabis user. At least I don’t plan to use it unless I find myself afflicted with one of several chronic diseases, the pain of which seems to be markedly lessened by a daily dose of marijuana (a joint or two).

Should I find myself in constant pain brought on by one of these diseases, I would think that I would have enough to worry about, without being concerned that the authorities could descend upon my home at any time and seize my plants. The plants that I had nurtured since they were seedlings in the privacy of my own home; the ones that I lovingly cared for in the privacy of my own home; so that when they were mature, I could pluck forth a few leaves and dry them, and then in the privacy of my own home, smoke said leaves, and in so doing achieve some relief from the pain associated with my disease.

You’d think…

Which brings me to Parris, Florida resident, Cathy Jordan. The 62 year old Jordan suffers from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Confined to a wheelchair and barely able to speak, Ms. Jordan, with the help of her husband, Bob, grows her own marijuana, or at least she used to grow it, until deputies from the Manatee County Sheriff’s office raided her home and confiscated her plants, seedlings and all.

Ms. Jordan, who is a high-profile activist for legalization of marijuana for medical purposes, was given three to five years to live back in 1986. Today, by her own admission, she has outlived many of the doctors who treated her – a fact that she attributes to her daily cannabis regimen.

Today, Senate Bill 1250, the Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act, is slogging its way through the Florida legislature, probably not destined to become law anytime soon, if ever. If enacted, this law would have allowed folks like Ms. Jordan to legally grow up to 8 marijuana plants for personal use. Frankly, it does not look good for this important legislation during this session. If you reside here in the Sunshine State and you believe that this measure is important enough to warrant a few minutes of your time, please contact your state legislator and voice your support.

But do not think our Florida lawmakers are sitting on their hands waiting for the session to end, oh no.  They have pushed through a new law to take effect on July 1, 2013 to help protect us from the evils of pot. As of that date we Floridians shall be forbidden to purchase ‘bongs’, or those pipes especially sold to smoke weed. Well…they are sort of banned. Sale of bongs is now relegated to only those establishments that derive 75 percent of their income from selling tobacco products.

Mahalo,

Ed

Thoughts on: The TSA’s decision to allow small knives on airplanes

When I first heard of the Transportation Safety Administration’s decision last week to allow passengers to carry small knives on airplanes, my knee jerked and I had a reaction — “what the hell are these guys thinking,” I said out loud. Then I recalled something that happened to me a few months back.

My wife and I had just returned to Florida from a trip to New Jersey. Our flight had taken us through both Ft. Lauderdale Hollywood International airport, and Newark Liberty International airport. We’d just gotten home and I was in the process of unpacking my carry-on bag, when for some reason, I opened one of those zippered exterior pockets, even though I hadn’t recalled packing anything in it. You know those pockets, they’re too small to stash a magazine, and too big for a cell phone, so they are rarely used.

“Hey, look what I found,” I said to my wife. “Right here in this seldom used exterior pocket in my recently landed, carry-on bag.” Well, I said something like that.

“Isn’t that your ‘road corkscrew’,” she said, recognizing the dangerous instrument immediately. She looked at me like I’d just pulled a loaded Glock 9 out of the bag.

Now just a bit of background – my ‘road corkscrew’ had been missing for quite some time. I had purchased it in an outdoor store in Springdale, Utah, just outside of Zion National Park, years before. It had a really nice wooden handle with a corkscrew that snapped securely into place when extended, not like those cheapo $1.99 throwaways you can pick up by the beer cooler at 7-11. No, this one was nice, and it had served me well. I had taken it on camping trips, business trips and road trips. Anyone who has ever found themselves staring down an unopened bottle of chardonnay in a remote Econo-Lodge in central Nebraska, on a rainy night, after a long day on the road, will appreciate the value of a ‘road corkscrew’.

Anyway, the other end of my road corkscrew’s handle contains a folding knife. Not a locking blade knife, but a very sharp knife. It can make fast work of even the toughest lime – its blade is just a bit under 2.5 inches.

“How long has that been there?” asked my wife. I could only shake my head, because I had to think about that one.

For the record, neither my wife or I are frequent fliers. We are far from it, but we do make, on average 4 – 6 trips per year by air. But, as nearly as I could determine, this instrument had criss-crossed the United States multiple times in my bag, passing through not only Ft. Lauderdale Hollywood International and Newark Liberty, but McCarran International in Las Vegas.

This isn’t a knock on the TSA. These guys have a huge job on their hands, and in spite of the bad rap they get for strip searching us, rummaging through our bags and confiscating our shampoo, they’re all just trying to make sure we all get to our destinations in one piece. So for that I applaud the TSA.

I also am well aware of the fact that the biggest weapon in the 911 hijacker’s arsenal was one of surprise. It think it is highly unlikely, if not downright impossible, that an airliner will be taken by anyone with ‘road corkscrew’, or a pair of nail clippers. What I do see, however, increasingly, are unruly passengers. Justifiably, the folks most upset about this new ruling are the flight attendants. They have to deal with the surly, obnoxious and most often inebriated passengers. I’m talking about the arrogant jackass who just polished off six rum and cokes at the airport bar and is enraged when the flight attendant refuses to serve a seventh to him at 35,000 feet.

It seems to me that keeping this ban in place just makes sense. I mean, we are already scanning and confiscating an assortment of other items. Until someone ensures me that an air marshal is riding on every flight, then the sky is a rather lawless place to be–and just for the record, my ‘road corkscrew’ will be traveling in my checked bag from now on, or it will be staying home.

I sell the gun…and have some misgivings…

Note to my readers: This is part 4, the last part of a ‘serial-blog’.  A serial-blog is something I wanted to try, but might not attempt again. But you never know. Without reading the first three parts, it probably won’t make too much sense, so if you are new here (or just showing up late), please scroll down to Part 1 and read the blog posts in order. In a nutshell, this is a short story that is intended as a personal commentary on gun control. The experience is true, or as best I remember it. All names and some inconsequential details have been changed, so if a character sounds like you my friend, there is a good chance it is.

PART 4

…I continue…

Dean White had it made. Or so I thought back then. If there was ever a guy who was truly his own man it was Dean.

About fifty years old at the time, he looked older. He had a long salt and pepper beard almost to mid-chest, and long grey hair almost to mid-back. His hair was always pulled back in a pony tail, held in place with one of those turquoise Navaho hair clasps. He also wore a turquoise ring on his little finger and always wore a turquoise bedecked belt buckle on a hand tooled belt. Dean hadn’t an ounce of Native American blood in his veins but he apparently liked the jewelry.

Dean made his living with a small printing business that he ran out of the basement of his house. He printed labels for catalogs and fliers and usually worked all night. This left him free all day to hunt and fish. Dean was married to a girl named Suzie, who was at least twenty years his junior. Suzy had platinum blonde hair and had worked as a stripper at a club in Kansas City before she left that world behind to marry Dean (or so I heard).

In addition to his printing business, Dean also was an accomplished gunsmith. He was known to buy and sell guns too, so he wasn’t surprised when I showed up at his house one morning with the .22 High Standard, wrapped in cheese cloth, and stowed in a shoe box. Someone had told me that as long as a pistol was contained in a box, any box, that it wasn’t considered a concealed weapon and you could carry it on the car seat beside you (sounds like hooey to me now that I think about it).

Dean was coming off of an ‘all nighter’, having just finished a big print run for an Omaha department store, and he still had 250 bulletins for the First Presbyterian church to run off before services next day, so he was a little grumpy. Suzy was pleasant though and brought us both steaming mugs of hot coffee.

Dean unwrapped the pistol, and inspected it like he knew what he was doing. While he was looking at it I gave him the condensed version of how Lenny and I had tried the gun out on a firing range, conveniently leaving out the fact that the range was on Earl Hackelman’s farm, and not only had we trespassed, but we’d almost been run down (or gunned down) by Hackelman himself. I told Dean that the gun shot right and high.

Dean laughed at me. “This ain’t no target pistol, son,” he said. “Now if it’s targets you want to shoot…” He got up and went into another room. He came back with a long oak box with a fancy inscription carved into the lid above a carving of an eagle with outstretched wings. He sat the box in front of me.

I opened the box. Inside was a true .22 caliber target pistol. I handled it carefully. It was perfectly balanced and the difference between it and the gun I had purchased from Harry was as pronounced as the difference between my 1969 Plymouth and a racing Ferrari.

“How much?” I asked Dean, momentarily seeing myself entering professional shooting competitions.

“Three seventy five,” said Dean, “but I could allow you fifty for your gun, so make it three twenty five and it’s yours.”

“Kinda out of my price range,” I said, as I laid the target pistol back in its ornate cradle. “What can you give me outside of trade.”

“Thirty bucks,” he said without hesitation.

“Thirty bucks,” I said, “wow, I paid fifty.”

“You got screwed,” said Dean.

“How about forty then?”

Dean smiled and pulled a turquoise money clip from the front pocket of his jeans. He counted out thirty five dollars. “Take it or leave it,” he said.

I took it.

*

A few days after I sold the pistol to Dean, I ran into Lenny’s brother Rick at the County Line Tap. I hadn’t spoken to Lenny since the day he approached me with the offer to buy the gun. Lenny had left town for California without saying goodbye to anyone.

I walked over and asked Rick if there was any word from Lenny.

“Didn’t you hear,” he said.

“Hear what?”

“Lenny got robbed, that’s what.”

“Where…when?” I asked.

“Modesto, California,” he said. Then he told me that Lenny had stopped at a burger joint to get a bite to eat, and when he came out his car was gone.

“They stole everything he had,” said Rick.

“Everything?”

“Yeah, everything. All he had left were the clothes on his back. They found the car the next day stripped and burned.”

Careless Lenny…I thought of the gun that I almost sold to him.  Would I have put a weapon into the hands of a criminal, had I sold the gun to Lenny? Could the gun – my gun – have been used to rob, intimidate, or even kill?!?!. The answer was an unequivocal yes.

I was haunted by my ‘almost sale’ for some time afterward, and in my mind’s eye, I could  see the look on the face of  the happy car thief, after finding the loaded .22 pistol carelessly left in the glove compartment of Lenny’s unlocked vehicle. I could see the evil glee in the man’s eyes as he slid the piece into the waistband of his jeans. Later I could see the look of terror on the face of the liquor store clerk as the gun brandishing robber demanded the cash drawer. Maybe she would resist, or perhaps a feigned gesture would be misinterpreted as resistance. Maybe the thief would panic, pressing the trigger just a bit too hard…this target would be much closer than the one in Hackleman’s cow pasture. At two or three feet it wouldn’t matter if the gun shot right, or high. I would hear the sharp crack of the .22, and then I’d see blood on the face of the store clerk, and on the thief, and then on myself…after that I would awake covered in sweat.

THE END

Countdown to the END on December 21?

The other morning, I watched with great interest a news report on the upcoming, much hyped, “End of the World”. Of course, I have played into the hype in my own miniscule way – note the countdown clock on the right hand side of your screen. The date in question, December 21st, 2012, is the end of the Mayan Long Count Calendar. Some say the world will end that day in some sort of global cataclysm. According to the news report, NASA is besieged with inquiries. People want the down-low on the END, and who best to answer that question than the space guys themselves. Assuming the END will come from out of the sky with our little planet taking it head-on with an asteroid or comet, then the NASA guys are the ones who ought to know. The Near Earth Asteroid Tracking (NEAT) team, under the auspices of the U.S. Air Force has been tracking nearby asteroids and comets for years. The last time I checked, the only civilization altering object in our neighborhood, an asteroid scheduled for a flyby in 2028, has now been re-categorized by NEAT, and now poses no danger at all to us.

According to the news reports though, some folks are not convinced. They’re stocking up on provisions – food, medical supplies, and most importantly ammunition. Some people don’t want to be caught under a five hundred foot tidal-wave unless they are well armed.

Besides creating a group of paranoid adults, the December 21st date is causing countless school-children (much more understandably), to lie awake nights worrying about the END, instead of focusing on Christmas 4 days later.

Perhaps the children would feel better about things if they were told that the Mayan Long Count Calendar consists of a timekeeping system started (roughly) around 3114 B.C.E. Since we know that it is impossible that the earth was formed at this early date we must ask ourselves if these Mayans are all that reliable in the first place. They seem to know when it all ends, but they have no idea when it started – no creditability I say.

The Mayan Calendar is divided into 394 year periods called baktuns. On, or around, December 21st of this year, the calendar will have completed its 13th baktun. While the number 13 held special significance to the Mayans, there is still little evidence that the calendar ends on December 21st  because after that time we shall have no more need for calendars!

Listen to the Mayans themselves. Present day Mayan priest, Miguel Angel Vergara, says the December 21st date is not to be feared. Instead he says, we should welcome the end of the Mayan calendar. According to Mr. Vergara, on or somewhere around, December 21st, we will be entering a time of great spiritual transition as mankind throws off the shackles of “greed and darkness”. Ah…so that’s what all this hokey-pokey is all about.

So you see…it may not be that bad.

Personally, I’m not so sure that I buy into the fact that shaking the shackles of greed and darkness is any more likely than getting struck by an errant comet.

Still, you never know. On November 26, New York City reported, for the first time in as long as police can recall, no one was murdered, shot, or stabbed during a 24 hour period. There was, as I understand, some sporadic gunfire but apparently nobody was hit.

It is a start.