DARK LANDING

DARK LANDING
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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

NOAH FILM ALL WET

Lord, how could the producers have gotten it so wrong? Well, in their defense, you know how oral traditions drift over time, and Hollywood doesn't  really think through things like that, the actors just read lines from a script and pick up their (massive) paychecks. So I'm not going to take it out on poor rich old Russell Crowe, not that he doesn't look like a founding member of Duck Dynasty with that glorious beard of his. (Maybe he should be selling dove whistles on the side, I hear there's big money in bird calls.)
The true story of Noah and that big old tub of his? Well, truth is, it was never built, though God Almighty did his level best to miracle some sense into that dumb-as-a-brick fellow.


THE LEAP NOT TAKEN
from the Rogue Pirates Bible Heretical


For all intents and purposes, it shaped up to be a night much like any other for that time of year in that part of the world. And yet the farmer squinted at the darkening light to the west, and the worry lines stood out on his face. It was difficult to figure what he might be worried about, for the evening sky had taken on a glorious hue. Clouds were piled high out over the sea, and the last golden rays had faded to amber and then purple as the sun sank down below the horizon. But the farmer had lived long outdoors, and he knew the weather like few others ever could. Then too, he had his special sixth sense. He knew the smell of trouble, and he knew that it was coming.
       “Feels like rain,” he said.
        He spat on his hands for luck, rubbed them together and then rubbed his beard.
        His friend Aton gave him a quick grin and shook his head.
        “Agg, Christ, Noah—it always feels like rain to you.”
       With the warmth of the sun now gone, the wind was chilly and damp, and they had the night to spend outdoors. Aton was big and burly, but at heart he was a bit of a chicken liver, and he hated being uncomfortable. He shivered in his worn wool robe and tried to adjust it a little more tightly about him as they walked along the dirt path to the fields. He wished he could be home, sitting by the fire. He hated the way the nippy wind drifted up his robe to bite him a chill one on his old butt.
        “It’s autumn coming on, that’s the ticket,” Aton grumbled. “We always get rain in autumn, just when we don’t want or need it.
        “Maybe…,” Noah said, but doubt was evident in his voice.
       Aton sighed; he knew where this conversation was going. They were best of friends, sure, but even he could see that sometimes Noah was a bit off in the head.
       “Oh, come on, not again?”
        “Yeah,” Noah nodded. “I had another one.”
        It used to be, Noah couldn’t get to sleep hardly at all. He’d just lie there and the ideas would come churning in his brain, keeping him awake half the night. What if he bought the land next to his? What if the grain got crop rot? Were his sons old enough to till their own land? Was that really a gray hair he spotted in his own head? He had doubted that last one…it was hard enough to catch your reflection in a still pool of water. But when he’d actually pulled the hair to have a closer look, it was gray, all right. In fact, some might even say white. His mind was drifting, another sign he was getting old. What was the point? Oh, right, sleep, and his not getting enough of it. For years he’d been having trouble hitting the sack…but not this last two years. His head would hit the grain sack and bing, bang, boom – he’d be sound asleep. There would be about sixty seconds of divine relaxation, and then the ideas would come rolling in, battering him with their suggestions.
         He couldn’t remember when the change had started, just that it had come on fairly suddenly. And he wasn’t making it up; even tired and overworked Martha, his favorite wife, had noticed.
         “You don’t have time for me any more,” she’d sniffed. “Seeing that tart from the dancing tents again, I shouldn’t doubt.”
        Try talking your way out of that one. But that wasn’t the half of it; actually falling right off to sleep was the good part. There was plenty bad to go along with it. For some reason, his new deep sleep was anything but dreamless. In fact, his nights were more eventful than his days, and the dreams were so real and scary that he was afraid to talk about them with Martha. In fact, Aton was his best friend, and he’d only told him a small part of it. Still, even the little bit he had said was too much for Aton, who—as they say—was born under the rock of disbelief in the shade of the doubting tree.
        “Gaaa—you don’t really believe that spooky stuff?” Aton would say, throwing his hands in the air as if he was talking to a hopeless moron.
        Noah didn’t mind. After all, that’s what friends are for. You talk to them, and they act as sounding boards. You get another opinion, and that’s good. Except that Aton was very heavy about spreading on his sarcasm and that was hard to take.
         “Come on, Noah, what we got here is your old grandmother’s tales, your fairy-tale nonsense, your kiddie booga-booga stories around the night fire.”
        “Well, sometimes…”
        Noah started to explain his feelings, but his friend cut him off. “Look, Noah, how many times have we gone through this? I tell you frankly, I’m glad you don’t talk to other people about this…somebody like Father Zev down at the temple might not understand. You might find yourself an outcast, hanging out with the lepers and the Samaritans.”
        “Oh, come on…” Noah protested softly.
         “Hey, look, Buddy-boy; everybody has reoccurring dreams. But yours is that The Big Guy In The Sky comes to visit you personally and he tells you it’s going to rain…I mean, rain a lot. Don’t you think that’s a little weird?”
        Noah nodded with a sheepish grin. By now they were near the edge of the fields. They would sleep nearby, so they could chase the crows at dawn. Lately, if it wasn’t the crows, it was the locusts. A farmer’s work was never done.
        Aton shook his head, “And that’s a big So what? My wife Rutabaga has this flying dream, and her sister has nightmares that wolves are eating her feet and cousin Ralph dreams he’s falling down the big stone stairs in Bethlehem City.”
        “It seems like more than a dream. I mean, it’s like I’m really there—in the dream, sort of…”
       “What, now you’re believing this stuff? You think The Big Guy is really talking to you?”
        “Well…I don’t know. When it happens, it seems so real. And it’s always the same, the exact same dream.”
        “What does the Big Guy look like?”
        “Well, I don’t know…”
        “Oh, come on, Noah, I can’t believe that. The Giant Lamb Chop comes down from the pie in the sky and you don’t know what He looks like?”
         Noah pondered for a moment. Aton had the feeling he was holding something back.
        “Come on,” Aton prompted, “I promise I won’t laugh.”
        Noah gave his friend a look that said he’d hit the mark. He sighed and nodded. “Okay. Just don’t tell anybody, okay?”
        “I swear on my mamma’s bloomers.”
       Aton made a complicated sign with the fingers of his left hand that symbolized the purity of the bloomers and the sanctity of motherhood and that he could be trusted.
        “Well, from what I can tell, He’s sort-of fierce and fiery. I’m actually afraid to look right at Him.”
        “Afraid of what?”
        “Well, that He might beam me with death rays or something…I get the feeling you really wouldn’t want to piss Him off.”
        Aton took a bite from a green apple he’d brought along.
        “Unreal,” he said, shaking his head. “Death rays. Next thing you’ll be talking flying saucers and space alien babies and immaculate conceptions. I’ll tell you what’s real, pal. Forget about the crows—they may peck a bushel or two, but if it rains, we lose half our barley. And if it rains real hard, we lose it all.”
        “I know, I know…”
         Aton glanced over at his friend’s long face. It was clear the silly schmook was taking his dream seriously. This was going to require special attention. Noah tended to be moody, and Aton even suspected him of being at least mildly maniac-depressive. Nothing a little cow dung smeared on his ears or St. John’s Wart in a cup of tea wouldn’t take care of…but try to get a guy like that to a shrink, much less take a few meds! Lord knows he’d tried to persuade Noah to go and see the magic maker man, but there was always some excuse. The cows have to be milked. Got to clean out the chicken coop. There’s barley to be stored. The problem with most rural folks Aton knew was, they were too self-sufficient, and they certainly didn’t know what was good for them. Time to bring out the comic relief.
        “Okay, Captain Noah, how are things on deck?”
        Aton assumed a big, booming voice, and dramatically raised one hand like he was shielding his eyes from the sun. He had never been on a boat, but neither had his friend, so this shtick always seemed to work.
       “Oh, I don’t want to go there,” Noah said with a dismissive wave of his hand.
       “No, no, Captain—there she blows, off to the starboard side! I do believe it is a sea monster!”
       Instead of cheering his friend, the little parody seemed to deepen his depression.
       They walked along in silence, and after a while Noah spoke again, this time in a worried whisper, “But…suppose…I mean, Aton, just suppose the dream is real?”
        Aton paused and gave Noah a grave look, as if he were actually giving the crazy possibility serious consideration. Then he winked and shook his head, utterly dismissing the idea.
        “Right. Real dreams. Look, I know you, Noah. You’re a farmer. You once built a barn, and a lean-to chicken coop or two, but that’s about the extent of your skills at carpentering. The barn, if I recall correctly, leaks like a sieve—and leans towards Jerusalem, to boot. And The Big Guy Upstairs is going to call on you to build a canoe?”
        “An ark. He called it an ark.”
        “Okay. A big, leaky canoe.”
        Noah was a quiet fellow, a decent sort, really, and not anything like a troublemaker… but he had Aton plenty worried. A few weeks ago, smack in the middle of the dry season, they’d been knocking back a few at Mac’s place to get the dust out of their throats and Noah, who’d maybe had one brew too many, started in on old Maccabee, telling him about his latest rain warning; and then, before Aton could stop him, Noah had pulled out this little matchstick thing, an actual little toy boat made all of thistles and straw and bits of twig. And it was actually a little beauty!
        That turned Aton’s head around a little. You could know a guy all your lifetime, and never realize he had a knack for making miniatures. A Phoenician trader snapped it up before you could say blood on a turnip, gave Noah three silver pieces and a handful of coppers, and said he’d be back in the spring, and he would buy everything Noah could make between now and then.
        After that, Aton had seen Noah try little wheel barrows and tiny Greek war engines and big four wheeled carts like the Egyptians used, but they were so badly done you couldn’t even tell what they were.
        Close as Aton could tell, his pal Noah was a one-trick pony; it was boats, boats, boats… or nothing. The whole thing was a total crock, anyway. If Noah had actually interpreted his dream right (always a question about that one), he was going to be at sea for a matter of some months or even more.
       “It just doesn’t make any sense,” Aton snorted. “Think about it. What are you supposed to do for food?”
        “I don’t know, He said bring lots of animals. I suppose I could eat them.”
        “That’s going to be a real zoo, man. You can’t be taking any of this seriously.”
        They walked along in silence. After a while, Noah shook his head in sad agreement.
       “No, I guess not. Not really.”
       But that was a lie. The truth was he spent many afternoons doodling in his workshop at the back of the barn, drawing sketches of what his big boat might look like. It seemed incredible, impossible. He would have to sell his fields to get the wood, the iron fasteners, the caulking he would need. Silly. He knew next to nothing of boats, and yet, his sketches had spun like intricate spider webs from the charcoal in his hands, fully complete and detailed.
        He had hidden them in a grain bin, afraid Martha would find them. His favorite wife also happened to be a no-nonsense sort of gal. She’d send the kids over to the neighbors and have him committed to the crazy house before he could say Nebuchadnezzar.
        All that, and still…if The Big Guy In The Sky didn’t have a hand in this, then who?
        Aton could see the wheels turning inside Noah’s head as they walked along. He’d known Noah since they were kids, knew him so well he could almost read his thoughts.
        “Oh, come on, Noah, crack me a smile, and give me a little laugh here.”
        Aton broke into song and did a little skip-dance as they walked along the dusty path.
        “Sailing, Sailing, over the bounding main. It’s many a day and many a year ‘til we come back home again.”
        “’Main’ and ‘again’ don’t really work together,” Noah said.
        “Oh, now the man’s a lyricist,” Aton laughed.
        And so, in his own inimitable way, he gradually brought his friend out of the dumps.
        By the time they reached the fields, they were both loudly reciting, “For I must go down to the sea again, the lonely sea and the sky…”
       Aton clapped his friend on the back, “That’s more like it! Christ, I thought you were really going to be singing the blues tonight.”
        Noah found a familiar spot on the ground under an old olive tree. He spread his blanket and, as was his habit, gave one last squint up at the night sky. The clouds they’d seen at dusk were moving in from the west, covering the stars one by one. There was a cold moistness in the air, one step away from a mist. Actually, it did feel like rain. But, as Aton had noted, that’s what the weather was like at this time of year.
       Noah yawned and gave Aton a mild look of mixed approval and curiosity. “Who is Christ, anyway?” he asked.
        “I don’t know,” Aton said, settling in his own spot and pulling his robe over his head like a blanket. “It’s just an expression.”
        Their lives were simple, but not easy. The two men had worked long and hard from sun up and throughout the long day. Now it wasn’t more than a minute or two and their breathing assumed the slow and steady rhythms reserved for the sleep of the just and the innocent.
        Meanwhile, over a thousand miles to the west, the tiny new stream that had breached the Isthmus of Gibraltar widened, thickened and gathered strength in the night. Age-old boulders loosened, gave up their rest, and tumbled down what, a few weeks before, had been a dry ravine. The energetic young stream rooted up trees and gouged its way through soft deposits of silt and loess. It swiftly became a torrent, a steadily widening fall of salt water tumbling hundreds of feet down into the fresh water lake that had been the Mediterranean.
       Mist rose, and the new falls grew steadily, thundering and roaring in the dark like the all-consuming monster it was becoming. But even that awesome bellow could only carry so far in the night. Far away in Israel, on the other side of the great sea, Noah slept on. And for the first night in many a moon, his sleep was both deep and dreamless.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Thursday, November 21, 2013

WISDOM FROM THE MOUTH OF COMICS

"This isn't a particularly novel observation, but the world is full of people who think they can manipulate the lives of others merely by getting a law passed. There are large groups in America who, if they could swing it, would prohibit the use of everything that they didn't personally approve of - smoking, drinking, dancing, going to the movies, eating Italian salami and, if it cold be regulated, even love. 
" Well, we now know how successful the Eighteenth Amendment was.  It not only didn't stop anybody from drinking, but it helped to create the big-league hoodlum who today is almost as powerful as the government."

      - Groucho Marx, Groucho And Me, pub B.Geis Associates, New York, 1959.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How did we get in this mess?

If you are going to believe in change, be careful which messiah you allow to choose you. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

FULL CIRCLE

As we get closer to the Holiday Season, the anti-God people are once again going activist against the Christians, the Jews, and, I suppose, the Muslims, the Hindus and all the other great faiths on the planet.  Maybe it's me, but it feels like the atheists have become more bilious over the past few years, demanding equal space for anti-nativity scenes and bible-scoffing scrolls and suing that the well-lit trees be removed from public view.  Interesting, that people who don't believe in any sort of a god-thing can be so strident about getting space to inform everybody else how foolish it is to hope for some sort of cosmic destiny, and all because they themselves are sure there's nothing out there.  They haven't any proof, but it's not a crime to be stubborn about these important matters.  They have a right to their opinion, and yes, they have it thought out in a way that makes perfect sense to them.  In short, they have a religion of their own.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO EXPLAIN IT

Early on, I wrote a science fiction novel, titled Mission 998, in which, in the not-too-distant future, overpopulation on Earth drove mankind to build giant craft to cross the vast emptiness of outer space to reach other star systems.  When such a craft approached a planetary system that its sensors calculated could support human life, frozen embryos were inseminated and babies were artificially nurtured, born and raised until they could be dispatched to the lucky new planet.  Well, in my story, the new-born babies, coming down the line were analyzed and either approved or dispatched due to weaknesses, genetic imperfections and the like.  And, as there was an ingrained bias against Jewish people, the computer driven ship attempts to do away with the hero of the mission, who has a fraction of Jewish DNA in his genetics.   

Well, my agent howled at me that this would never do for the future of mankind, for, to his way of thinking, I had created a “Nazi state”.  I had created a state where necessity forced robotic decision-making, and in this case there was a well-documented anti-Hebrew bias, but I didn’t see it as the main thrust of the piece.  A ship launched by the Chinese would probably have a higher percentage of Chinese DNA on board, and since the Chinese are not consumed with brotherly love for the Japanese, one can see how a son of the Land of the Rising Sun might have the odds stacked against him.  I couldn’t believe the odd turn the discussion of this project had taken, and ultimately the agent and I parted ways. 

Today, being much older and a little wiser, I think I would have tried to explain the do-or-die necessity of the process of selection a little better.  How could my novel be anti-Jewish when my hero wins out over all odds?  Explain it, you see.  Explain without being boring or pedantic.  It’s not easy with your agent running like an ant from boiling water. 

Which brings me to a recent novel I wrote, The Rogue Pirates Bible Heretical, this one published by Double Dragon.  I sold it as science fiction - the tales from the bible once again handed down from generation to generation as oral history, this time by descendants of survivors of a space ship crashed on a distant planet ‘far out of the ordinary shipping lanes.’  You see, I took great care to disguise the underlying idea of the novel, that oral histories shift over time.  Still, it wasn’t enough.  I get emails from outraged readers who dislike the work for a variety of reasons.  But they never touch on what is really bothering them, the notion that I am messing with the word of God.  Interesting, when emotion and belief systems get involved, a writer can be mistaken as anti-Bible as easily as pro-Nazi.  So, my advice to fellow authors: if you want to please all of the people all of the time, stay away from subjects that trigger instant emotive response.  As to characters, use power-gays, strong women, sensitive male heroes and good dogs. Perhaps the giant spaceship in Mission 993 could have a side-pod where they raise all the imperfect children and allow them to live out their lives, and maybe my hero should be British and of royal ancestry, accomplished at knitting, cooking and gardening as well as aikedo.  And, considering the widely held rock-bound belief in the testaments old and new, I probably shouldn't have written my Rogue's Bible in the first place.  I doubt explaining it a little better would make any difference. 

 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD


Sometimes they are not actual railroads.  It could be a border guard on the rim of Europe, catching a few coins and looking the other way while a truck chugs in from Bulgaria or some other odd place with a load of people hungry for a better life.  Here in California and nearby Arizona, the long, desert Southern border is a sieve and there are guides and paths and even water bottle sites to prevent unpleasantness along the way.  So naturally we get a big percentage of Mexicans in the mix of illegal aliens that includes everybody from every continent in the world.  Still, let’s take a closer look at one of the little known underground railroads. 

I had my bi-annual hair cut at the local shop a few weeks ago.  The owner doesn’t like me much, because he doesn’t approve of such long durations between clippings.  So he gives me to one of his apprentice clippers.  This time I got a lady from Nicaragua.  They know I am a writer, and one of the other cutters started pestering me to write up the story of his ‘best friend’, who was serving a life sentence for participation in a murder he didn’t commit. 

“That is a nothing story,” my lady from Nicaragua said.  “You should tell my story.”

“Which is?” I politely asked.  You don’t turn surly when the sharp blade is inches from your throat.

“I was raped over and over by Mexican soldiers.”  The clippers zoomed and dove in a menacing pattern over my head.

“Oh,” I said, hoping we’d come to the high point in her agitation. 

“Then I get here, I cross the border and am robbed of my last money by guides and dumped on the street in San Diego.  I get picked up by an old lady.  I work like a slave for six months, no pay, no time off, doing everything, and then when I show I am with baby, I am dumped on the street in front of a hospital.  I end up with no baby, naked, selling my body for dinero.”

Lurid as that sounds, I was the ultimate captive audience.  “How did you get to the States in the first place?”  I was thinking about the tough Mexican border to their south.  If you were caught trying to get into our Southern neighbor, you were beaten, jailed and if you were lucky, booted back to your own country.  And it is thousands of miles from there to San Diego. 

“I pay the Mexican soldier.  They rape me, but they take my money for transport.”

I promised I would look into it, but once I was free I scooted for the door.  It was only later that I paused to think the waitress at the nearby Pollo Amigo  was from Panama.  And my own gardener was from San Salvador.  Since he was coming to clip the hedges the next day, I asked him if there was a way to get across Mexico. 

“Sure,” he said.  “Mexican underground railroad.  More expensive than it used to be, but they still do it.”

So there you have it.  Our neighboring country to the south shows outrage that we not treat our Hispanic illegals with more courtesy, dignity and free health care and education, and they have a hidden railway to transport unwelcome immigrants across Mexico and into our country.  So the next time you are considering nations from the Mideast, Africa or Asia as your friends, look a little closer to see what that really involves.