The Fourth, Revisited

Those of you who haven’t visited the site much probably won’t know about my two “big” Independence Day posts. I thought I’d reprise them today:

  • The first, from 2008, appeared just a few months after I’d started this blog. The subject, in those innocent times a few months before Barack Obama was elected: certain similarities between the political atmosphere then, and the counterpart in 1776… as represented by a selection from the Broadway musical, 1776. The song: “Cool, Cool Considerate Men.” (Just the few lyrics excerpts there should be enough to convince you that not a whole lot has changed since then — at least, not for the better.) On a trivia note: this was the first RAMH post to include a little audio-player thingumabob for embedding music in a blog entry.
  • The second, from 2012, melded a bit of personal history about patriotic parades with some background information about the marches of John Philip Sousa. By that time, as you will see, I’d gotten over all shyness about incorporating music in my posts.

…and of course, if you’re so inclined, feel free to visit my post of a few hours ago. It, too, has some things to say about the occasion celebrated in the US today. Sorry, no music for that one.

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Red, White, Blue: A Holiday Fiction

Red.

The President emerged from his private Oval Office bathroom, rubbing his hands together. It didn’t help right away; they dripped on the carpet. Not his problem, though. He had people, after all — people whose only job was to sop up spills at his feet, dry the doorknobs behind him, hand him towels before he touched anything that might not shed water, or might later reveal a handprint. Documents of state. The hands of dignitaries and friends. Women. Whatever.

It was a problem in this joint, a serious problem if you asked him. Back home, in fact at any of his homes and he had a lot of homes, all right?, back home he had people in the bathroom who’d stop him as soon as he stood up, turned away from the sink, stepped out of the shower, whatever — dry him off, make him presentable to all the squeamish dopes he might come into contact with before the water and other things could evaporate or be patted away. But here in this place, wow, how did his predecessors live like this, anyway for even four goddam years? Probably some rule, some budget restriction that needed approval from the sneaky cocksuckers on Capitol Hill.

Unusually, nobody else was in the Oval Office right then. Good. He needed to pull himself together, get a grip on something before he faced anyone else — the something that had greeted him, shocked the hell out of him, when he peed just now.

The red.

Blood, all right? He knew blood. He was used to drawing it from people who got in his way. He saw it on TV, on those movies they make. Back in his school days, he saw it flowing from the nose and lower lip of a guy who’d jumped him. Yeah. That other guy had hit him first, which nobody else cares about when they tell the story, and he’d just given that guy what he asked for, and yeah, all right?, that guy’s blood was there, then, sure. But blood wasn’t supposed to come from him, the President, the Honcho. If you cut him he’d do only one thing and that was cut you back, and you better believe it, cut you back.

He couldn’t tell anybody about it. He couldn’t see a doctor about this, couldn’t breathe a word of it into the air of anyone who might hear it, which was to say, of anyone. Not his wife or his kids. Nobody. It was like his mentor once said to him: Never let them see you bleed. And then, because that left the door open to other possibilities, he’d added: Never let them know you can bleed. Ice water, not blood, right?

Smart man, his mentor. And he didn’t care what they said, that smart bastard was no queer.

No, he couldn’t mention the blood, because once he did he’d be dead. That person would tell somebody else, or that person would write it down where it could be read by somebody else who would then tell somebody else, all the way up and down the chain. And the way things worked in this fucking city, everybody in the goddam world would know about it by the end of the week, and then he’d be dead. Might as well be. Unfair. Newspapers, fucking media… He patted his jacket pocket, but oh, that’s right — they’d taken his phone away, changed his passwords. No outlet there.

He just had to tough it out. It’d go away. It was just something he ate, something he drank. The goddam food in this place, right? Mexican chef, he was pretty sure, or maybe a Frenchie, Chinaman, one of those. It’d pass, whatever it was. He was the goddam President.

White.

He had a fellow who worked for him now, did all kinds of odd jobs, ran errands, tied his tie, opened doors. Never came with him back to New York or to Florida, just stayed right here and waited for him, the President, to return. He couldn’t take the guy with him to those other places, they wouldn’t understand. They’d talk. Guy was a queer, he was pretty sure — the only person in the White House, as far as he knew, who ever used that goddam creepy transgender bathroom his predecessor had installed. And on top of that, the fellow was black. A Negro, right? African-American. Afro-American, whatever they hell they called themselves now.

Well, this fellow who worked for him was in the Oval Office one day, standing along the wall like he did, at attention or whatever. Like a flagpole. Sculpture. Piece of furniture, something you didn’t have to deal with or even pay attention to. Also in the office at the moment was his counselor, his — what’d the Guidos say? — oh yeah, his consigliere. And the consigliere was going on the way he’d started doing, getting a little full of himself in fact, some days he didn’t think the guy would ever shut up, and jeezus could he have a more annoying laugh? But the guy was going on, blah blah blah, and then he said it. He said: Don’t forget, we gotta give the niggers something, too. And then he stopped and raised an index finger and waggled his hairy goddam eyebrows over the top of his glasses and then he pointed at him, the President, and added, No, correction, you gotta give them something. And then the goddam laugh again.

The President looked away from his counselor, over to the fellow who worked for him. Guy didn’t even flinch. Or maybe he’d flinched already, but fast so you couldn’t catch him in the act. Sometimes they were like that — one way when you’re looking, a different way when you weren’t.

But then the guy did something — maybe it was nothing, maybe it wasn’t nothing, who knew. He didn’t flinch, but he twitched. And not twitched his face, or a shoulder, or his body. It was almost invisible, real fast, just one little flick of that one finger, the middle one… He wasn’t even sure he’d even seen it, and he looked up at the guy’s face thinking he’d catch him looking embarrassed or something. But embarrassed, well, who even knows if they get embarrassed? It’s not like they blush or anything, right?

Tell you one thing. It was funny at first, all right? It was funny and it was fun, this whole thing. Being President. Signing, signing, signing. He was a signing monster in the early days. He’d write his name, hold it up so the cameras could show he signed it himself and didn’t use pre-signed stationery or automatic signing machines or any of that crap. All those people standing behind him, grinning. He got along with those people, with everybody who got along with him, all right? He was a lot more genuine than they all thought. Really real, you know? And so he’d sign all that stuff, and somebody would take it away, and he didn’t know what happened to it after that but the way the left-wing dopes screamed maybe it was being shoved up their keisters. He hoped so. And he could feel the country changing under him, behind him, and that was good, right?

His counselor was still talking. Talk, talk, talk. He waved the guy away, out of the office. Shut the door behind you, right? He looked over to the fellow who worked for him. Still a statue. Not a twitch. Maybe something in his eyes, something the President had never seen in a statue…

But then it was gone, and the President’s attention turned to other things.

Blue.

They all thought he had enemies, the President knew. And yeah, okay, he might even have used the word enemies a few times himself, back in the days when he could still use his phone.

But he didn’t really have enemies. He just had pains in the ass.

And the worst of all the pains in the ass were the liberals, the lefties, the fuckers who controlled the newspapers and the media and the other countries and even the companies and all the people who’d turned against him. They had to be behind it, because who would turn against him otherwise? He was great at what he did, right? Lies. They just lied about him, constantly. All the time. And they were lying about his so-called enemies, but if any of them had said pains in the ass instead, he’d have nodded like he was agreeing. And then he’d have pointed right back at them.

Democrats. Bastard turncoat Republicans, the weak shits. “Independents,” and who the hell knew who else was in the mix. Communists, anarchists, socialists, bomb-throwers, queers and women, African-Americans and Mexicans, Canadians, Muslims, the plain old goddam people anymore — the people who used to talk about him in the old days, talk about him all the time, in titty bars and in their kitchens and at baseball games and after church and in schools…

Ungrateful pains in the ass, all of them. They think he was doing all this for fun? No, he wasn’t doing this for fun. He was doing this for them, and so they’d know he was doing it for them — for their outspoken knowing. Applauding or bitching, he didn’t care back then, right?

The hell with them. He didn’t care anymore, either. Because they didn’t care. They were all talking about other shit. March Madness. Report cards. TV shows, and they couldn’t even talk about his TV show anymore because the bastards had pulled the plug on that two years ago. Food prices, gas prices, toilet fucking paper prices. Didn’t they know who he was? Didn’t they know what he could do to them?

His, what was it, counselor… no, his consigliere had quit, saying publicly that he had personal reasons but privately that he was just “tired.” (Tired, the weakling.) The fellow who used to stand at attention in the Oval Office when the President didn’t have anything else for him to do — he was gone, too. Took a research job with the National Science Foundation, the guy told him with a smirk on his face, he knew it was a smirk, and he didn’t understand that at all because he thought he’d signed something in the early days that canceled the National Science Foundation, hadn’t he? (He himself couldn’t check on the Internet anymore because they still wouldn’t let him have a phone but he’d ask one of the kids to look it up and tell him, answer the question: did he pull the plug on The Egghead Show or didn’t he?) The Vice-President was still around somewhere, but probably out of town the way he always was anymore. Making speeches, visiting Capitol Hill and K Street, with his tie all tied and his hair close cropped and his jacket buttoned in front. Posture of a phony, that one. Keeping his own hands clean, the bastard. Never trusted him. Never.

No. He was alone now. Nobody was looking, nobody was listening.

Talk shows had other things to talk about.

Comedians joked about married life.

Cab drivers bitched about traffic and pedestrians.

Pains in the ass. Everygoddambody. He’d show them yet. He was the President, and they’d remember him all right. He was the President.

He pulled the drawer of his desk open, and reached inside.

______________________

Copyright 2017 by John E. Simpson. Feel free to make use of this piece however you’d like; that said, please include this copyright notice in the reusing work. I’d appreciate it, too, if you could include a link to the story’s original posting on my site, at this URL: https://johnesimpson.com/blog/2017/07/red-white-blue-a-holiday-fiction/ — but I won’t unleash the lawyers on you if you skip that step.

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Winter’s First Week

Cover: 'December,' by George Winston

A bit of a changeup from the usual Friday routine here. Let’s start with a couple of things not from whiskey river (because, well, why not)…

...a song for winter

…and:

Christmas Trees
(A Christmas Circular Letter)

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine, I said,
“There aren’t enough to be worth while.”
“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.”

“You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north. He said, “A thousand.”

“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”

He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”

Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.

(Robert Frost [source])

…and:

December Notes

The backyard is one white sheet
Where we read in the bird tracks

The songs we hear. Delicate
Sparrow, heavier cardinal,

Filigree threads of chickadee.
And wing patterns where one flew

Low, then up and away, gone
To the woods but calling out

Clearly its bright epigrams.
More snow promised for tonight.

The postal van is stalled
In the road again, the mail

Will be late and any good news
Will reach us by hand.

(Nancy McCleery [source])

[Read more…]

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An E-Publishing Experiment (2): Short Holiday Reading for Under a Buck

How It Was: Christmas (cover)Moving right along…

So I’ve had a short story for sale for a week so far, as described in this post. (The book itself can be found on Amazon.com; that’s the Amazon US link, although it’s also available at the company’s UK, Australia, Brazil, Germany, India, [etc.] sites.) At 99 cents apiece (less Amazon’s cut), I’ve sold about a dozen copies of that story to date (one was “refunded,” for reasons unknown — probably a double download).

As I mentioned at the time, I haven’t really done anything to promote it, other than to announce its availability on Facebook and Twitter. I did a follow-up on Facebook, a day or two later, and — for what it’s worth — sold more copies via the follow-up than from the original announcement. I made a point of not urging anyone to spread the word, buy copies for friends and family, and so on; I just announced the story’s availability, to see what happened next.

From this small chunk of data, so far at least, I (not very earth-shakingly) conclude:

  • People who see the announcement are more likely to respond to it. Thus, the timing of the announcement is critical: almost no one can read every single posting in his or her Facebook and/or Twitter feeds. Follow-up can greatly announcements improve the odds of likely purchasers even knowing about the sale in the first place.
  • Since Facebook and Twitter (and RAMH itself, for that matter) are self-selected population samples — only people who “know” me in one way or another — presumably all of those dozen sales so far came not via word-of-mouth, but in direct response to the announcement.

I don’t know how to encourage word-of-mouth sales without constantly nudging the people who’ve bought it so far — remember, people I “know” — and risking wearing out my welcome, so to speak. Especially now, at this time of year, people (even generous friends) simply don’t want, let alone need, to be badgered repeatedly to buy something.

So, let’s move on to phase 2, applying some of these lessons (and leaving some of the mysteries unresolved for now).

You can find my next 99-cent offering here, at Amazon’s US site: “How It Was: Christmas.” If you’ve been reading RAMH for a while, you’ve seen this (both the overall series, and this specific volume) referenced before. One of my very first posts here described the series’ genesis, and what to expect from the individual booklets.

Of all four books, this one is most likely to “sell,” I think — especially at this time of year. I’ve done a couple of things to open it up a little further:

  • I’ve enrolled the title in Amazon’s “Kindle Select”KDP Select” program. This will provide me some promotional opportunities downstream. Chief among these: I will be able to RAISE the sale price, with the intention of immediately offering it for sale at a deep discount back to the 99-cents level.
  • The book will also be available for free “library” lending to Amazon Prime customers. I won’t get a direct royalty from these so-called borrowings, but I will get a small bit from some kind of Amazon’s global library promotions.
  • I’ll do more than one follow-up announcement on Facebook, and also make a point of following up a couple of times on Twitter. (As ever, I don’t want to wear out my welcome. If anyone sees me approaching that limit, I hope you’ll let me know!)
  • A bigger risk, maybe: I’m offering the book free of all digital-rights-management constraints. This means that someone who BUYS a copy can simply turn around and give the book file to anyone else. Of everything I’ve written, maybe, this Christmas booklet is “most likely to succeed,” at some point (perhaps years in the future). To the extent that more and more people read (and of course like) it, future sales of both other How It Was books and everything else I might e-publish might get a boost.

Again, let’s just see how things play out. And I’ll report back on this phase, too, at some point.

Thanks as always for reading anything at all which I’ve written… and of course, thanks extra if you’ve paid for it, and/or encouraged someone else to do so. ;)

 

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(Belated, But Timely) Midweek Music Break: Fifes and Drums

'Yankee Doodle,' a/k/a 'Spirit of '76'

It can be hard to take the music of fifes and drums seriously. Unlike Sousa marches, which I wrote of last year at this time, these marches have never had one single person’s name — a pop-culture champion, if you will — associated with them. They never even constituted a uniquely American genre: the form sprang from the battlefields of 17th- and 18th-century Continental Europe. Yet you almost never hear it played at other times of the year, only around July 4th*.

In the logbook of human civilization, the United States hasn’t even existed that long. Nevertheless, what we commonly refer to as the Revolutionary War feels like ancient history to us. Anyone who lived through it is long dead, and the manner in which it was conducted scarcely feels like warfare. In some engagements you could probably almost count the shots fired as they were fired. Total deaths on both sides together (considering battles only, not illness, starvation, and other war-related deaths) apparently numbered “only” in four figures. It almost feels like… well, like a toy war.

The sound of fife-and-drum music, to ears accustomed to the window-rattling brass of martial celebrations, itself feels like the perfect music for a toy war. Given enough schoolchildren who know how to whistle, and given enough empty picnic tables to slap their hands on, you could pretty convincingly recreate the sound (if not the discipline) of a fife-and-drum band. Wikipedia says that the flute “sounds an octave above the written music”; even someone musically unsophisticated can see a hint of, well, unseriousness in the instrument so described.

[Read more…]

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Holiday Traditions: “The Christmas Date”

Not even remotely our 'Asian fusion' experience on 12/23/2012

[Scene from A Christmas Story. The Peking duck no longer smiles at the Old Man.]

In 1993, The then Missus-Eventually-To-Be and I went on our first one of these, and we’ve done so every December 23rd since. (Which, yes, made 2012 the twentieth time.)

That first year, we had a few things generally to celebrate, aside from the holiday itself. Eleven months before, on January 1, I’d moved sorta-kinda-ever-so-cautiously to this area, from the Richmond, VA neck of the woods, expressly to be closer to her. I didn’t move straight to this city, mind you, but to a town about forty minutes away — one with the small-town feel I was used to, and hoping to continue. I was jobless and all but flat broke then [*], so I took as a priority the getting of work… Yet, y’know, a common downside to small towns is that most of the work to be had must be had in nearby cities. So I eventually scored a series of part-time/temporary jobs down here, and by the fall was working enough that a date-date didn’t feel like an extravagance. Indeed, in October we’d abandoned all pretense at tentativeness and moved in together, to our first house: another thing to celebrate. And we had rich creative lives, as well, especially thanks to The METB‘s course of studies for a Masters degree in English (“creative writing emphasis,” as the University said).

So we splurged, that first year, on a meal at a splurge-worthy downtown restaurant called Chez Pierre. It was then a small, elegant, intimately lit, fireplaced and stone-walled nook of a place on the same block as the old Federal courthouse, and it was easy to love: the service was personable, the atmosphere relaxed — take as long as you want! — and the food spectacular. (When they had to relocate a few years later, to a giant sprawling brick pile in the area known as Midtown, we never did get used to the changes; Chez Pierre finally changed hands, and then, after what was widely felt to be a slow decline, finally went out of business last year.)

But — and this would become the enduring (and to me, endearing) little hook to the Christmas-date tradition — The METB did not know in advance that we’d be eating there. She knew only that we were dressing up (if not strictly, given our circumstances, upscale). And en route to dinner, I drove a circuitous route, expressly to keep her guessing…

[Read more…]

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Don’t Panic — But Happy Towel Day!

May 25, as of course you already know, is celebrated worldwide as Towel Day*. Whatever you do, do not forget your towel today. If you cannot be properly entoweled, you might consider alternatives… carrying somewhere on your person folded-up paper towels purloined from the restroom, say.

The point is, do not go about unprepared. Because, well, you never know.

Per Wikipedia, here’s the passage in Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy encouraging towelage:

A towel, [The Hitchhiker’s Guide] says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Note: The image at the top of this post is but one of thousands of Flickr images tagged “towelday.” (Edit to add: …to say nothing of YouTube videos.) The photographer, one per_p, helpfully reminds us that inanimate objects, too, deserve protection. Especially sentient inanimate objects.

________________________

* Or, as it is known in Colombia, Dia de la Toalla.

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