There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.
UPDATE: Added a photo album and map. Also, it appears that the Barracuda Grill has ditched its website.
I've decided that any beach in the continental U.S. is just not worth visiting. My last hope perished in the kitsch of the Florida Keys. You have to actually escape the land in order to feel like you've left behind your every day life: the fishing and diving opportunities are exceptional. That said, I did enjoy the trip. The Keys are great when you have kids. The beaches (yes, there are some) are kid friendly in that there is little surf and the shallow water goes out quite a distance. There is also some great eating. I highly reccomend the Barracuda Grill (try the calamari or snail appetizers and the rare tuna entree) and the Keys Fisheries (try the lobster reuben and the lobster bisque is exquisite). The hunt for a good slice of key lime pie lead, after forays through frozen and fried pies, to the Blond Giraffe. Don't bother with anything other than the key lime pie.
View Key West 2003 Trip in a larger map
The laser ranging back and forth across the landscape betrays its approach. The machine makes no noise as it picks its way through the former suburb on six insect legs, looking for evidence of intrusion. It scans, measuring everything it can, and submits the data to central control. Scan, send. Scan, send.
"ALERT: 30 meters in a heading of 23.3°, investigate car. Current height 3.5 inches lower than last baseline. Threat Assessment: 21% likely; Pre-emptive Action Threshold: 35% certainty."
Backtracking, it carefully moves between the parked cars, trying not to move anything lest another round of detailed measurements are needed. Fully around the car. A probe enters through a missing rear window sniffing the air, scanning for infrared signatures.
"All four tires are now flat. All else appears normal."
"Likelihood that this was caused by intruders: 1.3%. Cease investigation and continue patrol."
Scan, send. Scan, send. No unauthorized personnel have been detected in this sector in over a year. No one's lived here in a decade.
"Implementing standing order 3.A.1!"
A well place grenade fired from its lower 40mm tube takes out the deer as it darts across the street. The windows rattle. You cannot allow potential food sources to fall into the hands of the enemy.
"White-tailed deer – female, approximately two years of age – destroyed."
"Confirmed, continue patrol."
Scan, send. A storm rolled through here a few days back, but anything that would have blown down probably did so quite some time ago. Didn't do much to alleviate the drought, though. Formerly well-manicured lawns are no longer in evidence. Scan, send.
"ALERT: House at 5310 Valley Court registers an anomalous temperature reading 2.8°C higher than accounted for by baseline measurements. Threat Assessment: 80% likely; Pre-emptive Action Threshold: 90% certainty. Execute external inspection."
Robots don't express frustration. This one pauses while it reconfigures to allow for quicker reaction time. Routines loaded into memory, weapons readied.
Scan, send. No explicit heat signatures detected at the front of the house. The right side registers slightly higher, most likely due to the sun. IDS-38-A-5 begins a counter-clockwise rotation around the house. Sending cameras to look in windows.
Scan, send. As it rounds the corner, the machine notes that the skyline behind the house is significantly altered from the baseline. It steps over the back fence and immediately spots a large tree that disintegrated nearly to sawdust upon impact with the ground.
"ALERT: Likelihood elevated temperature in the house is caused by greater exposure to the sun after collapse of the tree: 93.9%. Cease inspection and continue patrol."
There's a lot of ground to cover, no need to follow up low percentage cases.
Scan, send. Scan, send. Scan send.
"God dammit, I told you this was a bad idea!"
"No, no, we're set. Don't you get it? They've accounted for our heat in the new baseline. As long as we lay low, we should be fine for a couple of days."
"Fuck, those things creep me out. We could use the rest, though, and I certainly don't want to return to those hills anytime soon."
"You and me both, now lets go see if there's anything edible left of that deer."
For my undecided friends who are leaning towards Romney, I ask you, beg you, to reconsider. Even if he acts as the moderate he now claims to be, the Republicans will not let him be anything less than the severe conservative he recently claimed to be.
The last four years have not been all butterflies and rainbows, but we experienced our worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Remember, it took nearly 20 years to recover from that. It's unrealistic to expect a return to normalcy after four years.
I've made no secret of my disappointment in Obama. I wish he was the socialist his enemies have claimed him to be, not the moderate Republican he has been in his first term. Still, I'm voting *for* him because he sees the world as the complicated place it is, that there's no easy answers. He's done a good job, so far, with economy, walking the razor's edge between the chaos of Greece on one side, and the two decades of doldrums in Japan on the other. He will keep the austerity zealots at bay.
Also, in a country where it's politically incorrect to utter the words Global Climate Change, he's done as well as can be expected to prepare for what's coming. Granted, it's not nearly enough, but I'm hoping a second term will correct that.
Please, think this through. Obama may not be perfect, but he's the best choice we have.
In any case, whoever you support, please vote.
The old man focused on his breathing.
Timed to the beat of one of the many machines in his room.
He could hear what they said when they thought he was asleep: He's suffered enough; He's lived a full life; and -- his least favorite -- He'll be passing soon. This man will not pass. He will die, but not yet. He has one more thing to do, if only he could remember what it was.
But he will sleep for now.
The old man awoke to the priest thumbing his forehead with oil, mumbling the words absolving him of sins. Hours? Days? He knew not how long he slept.
"Good afternoon, Bill. I'm glad you're awake."
The old man nodded. The priest was his only regular visitor. His wife died decades ago and he'd outlasted all his friends, even his children.
"Maddie gave birth to a son this morning, in this very hospital. You're a great-great-grand father now. How about that?"
He grunted, but his mind shot elsewhere. He remembered now. The boy, if he lasts as long, will easily make it to the 22nd century. This is it. He gathered his breath and let loose a whisper:
"Bring the boy to me."
"Of course, Bill, of course. I don't expect it will be anytime soon, but I will make sure he visits."
The old man was surprised by the relief he felt. He closed his eyes.
The priest blessed him one more time.
"Bill, offer up your suffering to The Lord. You shine a beacon for us all."
"Bugger that," the old man thought, thankful he couldn't speak it aloud, and he drifted off to sleep again.
He swam up, reluctantly, from a good dream: the house by the lake, a cool October morning, sipping a cup of coffee with Kate.
"Go, Bill. I'll wait for you."
"PaPa, look who's here."
The old man opened his eyes, but could only see a football-sized roll of blankets in his grandson's arms.
"They named him after you. William. Billy."
"That's your name, too," he rasped.
"Convenient, isn't it? He looks like you." The younger old man tilted the bundle up.
No, not like me, the old man thought, but he does have Kate's eyes.
He lifted his hand up to the boy, touching his little palm, tiny fingers wrapping around his. The connection was made. No, the boy won't remember, but that's OK.
"Thank you," the old man said in a surprisingly powerful voice.
Maddie coming into view -- "PaPa, how are you?" -- but he didn't take his eyes off the boy.
"Fine, just fine." He lowered his arm, spending more energy just now than he has in months. "You done good, girl."
He closed his eyes.
"Let's go, he needs his sleep."
He died that night, but it really was more of a passing.
He picked up his still warm cup of coffee.
"You should have seen him, Kate..."
For having only 6 letters, my last name has been pronounced an infinite number of ways. I can still hear Coach Silly Bean (what was his real name, Sylvester? No, wait, I was never on the Cheerios) shouting at me in 7th grade PE:
la-NEER, get over here!
I'll answer to any, but the following two are the most correct:
leh-NWAH: Obviously the name is French and if I want to put on airs, I'll pronounce it so. Problem is, my accent is horrible.
My wife, whose first language is French, cringes when I try. The opening syllable should almost, but not quite, get caught in the back of your throat. You should tease me with the accented second syllable, will you pronounce the "r" or not? No!
Indeed, my paternal lineage traces back to France. From what I've heard, somewhere in Normandy. Being Protestants, we were kicked out after the Wars of Religion and landed probably in Charleston, SC.
le-NORE: It's been centuries since my father's gene pool mingled in the home country, so I'm about as French as Taco Bell is Mexican. My last name is usually barked out with no pause between the syllables.
My father's father was born in Lenoir City, TN, a town named after two of his great(+) grandfathers: William Ballard Lenoir and his father, General William Lenoir. Lenoirs are pretty thick in eastern Tennessee / western North Carolina.
People get pretty creative with my last name. It's usually a good way to screen out those who don't know me. Here are some other variations:
- LEN-wahr: The American French pronunciation. This is also how computers pronounce my name. Alas, this is how I have to say it when voice dialing anyone in my family.
- LEE-nore: People who use this seem to realize, once the sound has passed their lips, that this is incorrect.
- len-ner: This is said without any emphasis, it's almost hard to hear.
- le-NOY-er: Rhymes with annoyer, which I may very well be.
- le-HORE: From my childhood, an attempt to purposely mangle my last name as a dig at me. Never worked, I always thought they were talking about that town in Pakistan.
It took me 7 hours to get home during the epic thunder snow of January 26th, 2011.
2 hours on the train
F-ing Metro was single tracking both Red and Orange lines for non-snow related reasons.
1.5 hours waiting for a bus
My toes began to freeze. Many people were not adequately dressed. Needed to pee, but no bathroom or convenient tree.
2 hours on the bus
Couldn't get off the first two exits because they were blocked by accidents.
When we're still on 66, at the nearest point to my house, someone shouted, "Let me out here." I laughed, but then the driver opened the doors. A dozen people bolted, myself included. Stupid thing to do, since we had to cross 2 lanes of traffic, but we would have easily been on the bus for another 2-3 hours with no guarantee that I'd be any closer to home and the traffic was at a dead stop anyways.
We had to scale a fence to get off of 66 (we were behind the Fair Lakes shopping center). I go over, then help others, including an old man who nearly fell off. The police show up and demand that we stop. He grabs 2. The rest of us flee like migrant workers from La Migra.
1.5 hours to walk 1.5 miles home.
I help 4 people dig their cars out. Someone offered me food (I was tempted, but refused). I checked half a dozen stalled cars to see if anyone needed help. Only one was occupied, he'd been waiting 5 hours for his mother. Witnessed a nasty accident on Stringfellow. No one was hurt.
I arrived home just in time to direct the ambulance to a neighbor's house (She's OK now).
Call me Odysseus.
UPDATE: Col. Drinkmore offers some sage advice, but did he have to be so mean to me?