The Tunnel – chapter 1

Army Special Forces Major, Joe Wilks, has received a phone message. It is the first of three. This one doesn’t provide any clues about the other two. But he knows when Mr. Smith inquires about the family he and his team should prepare for a mission. Within an hour the phone rings again. It’s a vacation package offered by Willamette Ski Lodge. A canned voice gives a long-winded pitch about how they are offering a packaged vacation. Since he stayed with them two years ago they are offering him a special discount. If he wishes to know more he should press numeral one. Following his instructions he learns there will be a shuttle leaving the Eugene airport at 1000 hours sharp tomorrow.

After hanging up the telephone, Joe calls the Portland airport and books an 0700 flight to Eugene. Then he packs clothing suitable for skiing and calls a cab and makes arrangements to be picked up at 0600 hours tomorrow.

The shuttle is actually a chartered Greyhound. It’s packed, mostly college kids from the university, but Joe manages to find a vacant place in the rear. With his bag stowed in the overhead he produces a paperback novel from a jacket pocket in order to pass the slow eighty mile bus ride.

The weather is atrocious – great skiing weather, snowing on glare ice. Apparently the sand truck has not yet visited the highway leading to the summit. They are hardly forty miles from Eugene when the first sign appears: Chains Required. The driver uses the first turnout to install tire chains. Joe heaves an impatient sigh and checks his watch. But the driver is obviously experienced because in less than ten minutes they are once again underway. Traveling at a reduced speed another hour passes before the driver brings the bus to a halt at the front door, using a space reserved for shuttles. The sudden chill of the high mountain summit greets Joe with an icy jolt.

Joe’s been here several times, but he is awed each time by the massive facade, the large native stonework surrounding the entryway. It’s the handiwork of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a remnant of the Great Depression and FDR’s New Deal.

Mounting the two dozen steps, he enters the cavernous room. In the center, a gigantic, blazing  fireplace that is open on all four sides, provides more show than heat. Clutching his bag, he backs up to the flames hoping they will drive the chill away while he decides what his next move should be.

He doesn’t know who Mr. Smith will be this time.



What If

The year was 1958, and Ben was serving in Military Air Transport Service (MATS),  stationed in Charleston, South Carolina. His folks lived in Medford, Oregon, a long haul from that historic town, but hadn’t seen them in two years.

Hitching a ride with a fellow airman got him somewhere near Atlanta. In order to save money he decided to thumb the rest of the way to Kansas City which was a huge mistake. It was already dark when he and his friend had that final cup of coffee and he headed for home. Ben spent hours at the roadside staying close enough to be seen in the headlights without being run down by some dozing motorist. That night and part of the next day were wasted before he reached Kansas City and purchased a ticket on Union Pacific’s Portland Rose.

Sure, he could have flown. But flying is about as exciting as a prolonged elevator ride.

The best part of three more days were behind him by the time Ben reached Portland. From there he took a cab to the Greyhound station and after a few hours wait he resumed his trek toward Medford.

The bus was loaded and Ben took a seat next to an attractive girl about his age who was  headed for a new job LA. She was Her perfume was light, unforgettable. Her silky, dark hair was shoulder length, her voice low and pleasant. Easy to know, the two struck a warm friendship right off the bat, bonded, you might say, talking all the way to his destination. When the bus wheeled into the station she fell silent and her pastel blue eyes grew serious, brooding. It was obvious she wasn’t ready for their friendship to end. Nor was he.

The urge to continue to LA was overwhelming, but his folks were expecting him. Disappointing them was out of the question.

For weeks, even after returning to Charleston, the scent of her perfume shadowed him and he couldn’t help but wonder – what if.

Man Versus Machine

I continue hearing that desktops, keyboards, and laptops will soon be a thing of the past. There was a time when I agreed with them.

As a person who began writing with a Sears portable typewriter back in the early ‘60s such a change could only bring positive results. So in the midst of my 2014 National Novel Writing Month Challenge – producing 50,000 meaningful words within the 30 days of November the middle finger of my left hand went sour. I had succeeded the year prior with 50,254 words in 27 days,) This year, however, switching from 10-finger to two-finger typing wasn’t going to cut it.. Rushing to my neighborhood Best Buy I purchased a Nexus 7 tablet with voice recognition.

My first surprise was to learn it didn’t speak English. It had to be taught. So I read a novel to it. When its vocabulary equaled mine I put the novel away and my 50,000 word challenge…sort of.

My second surprise came when I discovered I didn’t pronounce some words clearly. When this occurred the Nexus 7 ad libbed. The results were a disaster.

My third surprise came when it was time to edit. It was no longer man versus story. It was man versus machine. If you think I’m exaggerating, imagine a Bostonian and a Charlestonian sharing a voice recognition machine. I wasn’t writing a horror story, but that’s what I had.

I suppose if I had stuck with it I would have eventually developed a stilted lingo this machine could deal with, but fighting a two-front battle – a machine and a story – brought the words of either John Steinbeck or Ernest Hemingway into very sharp focus: The secret to good writing is effective editing. Those words caused me to learn two-finger typing on my Nexus 7.

Eventually, my finger healed enough where it will tolerate a couple of thousand words before sending me back to the tablet. So I alternate between the two.

Reflecting on my personal experience, I’ve concluded that the folks who are predicting the demise of the keyboard have never met a deadline head on. They’ve never tried what they preach

If I visit another man’s home and I know he expects me to remove my shoes at the door I should honor him in doing so.

After some lengthy, serious thought I could produce a list of how one should conduct themselves while visiting another country.

When President Trump and his first lady stepped out the door of Air Force One her head was uncovered. Perhaps she put something on later. I don’t know. If she did, that would help, but she’s already voiced how she feels about the traditions they hold dear.

Hosts may remain silent, but they are watching. In my opinion, she should humble herself. There is no second chance for a positive first impression.

A Hog and Iced Tea

Riding  across Utah, headed west

About nineteen and eighty-three

Looking for a place to rest

And a glass of cold iced tea


I’d ridden from Denver

On a Harley that ran just fine

Listened to the motor purr

Following that yellow line


I was relaxed and half asleep

Steering with my throttle hand

Abruptly my Harley leaped

Heading straight for the sand


I’d been hugging that center line

When the wind caught me unaware

Making me a busy fellow

Dragging all the iron I dare


Was pushed ‘cross the white line fast

Didn’t want to go that way

But it seemed my lot was cast

To route in the sand and clay


Wind gave me a second chance

To straighten up that old hog

Bring her to a center line stance

With room ‘tween me and that fog


‘Tween my teeth was Utah sand

In my nose sweat and steel

With disaster close at hand

I stayed astride my wheel



Then I saw the West Winds place

And folks fixing ice tea

I swung into an empty space

A mighty nice place to be

Where Did They Go?

This is msuĺi delivery at Pie Town, New Mexico during the late 1930s. The flat crates tied on the back are baby chicks traveling as parcel post, probably 60 to a box. As you can see, mail arrival was like a circus coming to town.

Before and during World War II my home was on a Missouri farm. Life was simple but effective. Our heat source was wood, our lights were kerosene lamps, our water came to the kitchen sink from a pitcher pump, and hot water came from a tea kettle. The needs we could not grow or manufacture we bought from Collier’s Mercantile – groceries, shoes, stocking, boots, and heavy work clothing. Everything else we ordered from the Sears Roebuck catalog.

Anything and everything ca me from that source – baby chicks and ducks, mules, plows, tools, radios, phonographs, records, furniture, and more.

Baby chicks were delivered by the mail carrier. Heavy stuff like mules and plows, cars, and motorcycles traveled by rail. Sears had a system that worked.

But now Sears is going bust. Why? They invented the system. Basically, in my opinion, there is little different little difference between a paper catalog and a computer monitor. Sears made the transition from mail order  to brick and mortar.

Whatever became of the decedents of those creative people?

Love Letter to Myself

I’ve rebooted this.

Confessions of a Reborn Girl

Dear Jasminder,

I’d like to let you know that I’m supremely uncomfortable doing this. My insides are churning and I can’t bear the thought of my music quieting down enough that I can hear my thoughts. But I digress…

I know that you’re bitter. I know that you’re angry. I know that you’re afraid. You don’t have to hide it from me. I’m not here to tell you the right one will come and I’m not here to tell you to stay open to love.

I know that you’re tired of walking off the pain. Your mask keeps darkening by the day and it worries me. You keep saying that you only wear it for fun now, but I wonder if that’s really the truth.  Just promise me that you won’t give up on the person underneath.

I know that you’re afraid you’re broken for life. All those knives in the…

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DNA Memory

If what I’m about to write were any less scientific we would call it fiction. So I’m calling it conjecture.

A long time ago a four-year-old boy living in New England got up one morning speaking perfect German. His parent nor the child in question had ever set foot outside the borders or the United States.

I laughed it off.

A couple of years later an adult seemed to be aware of events and situations that were impossible for him to know. I considered it fake news, a good story. He claimed to have been a fighter pilot.

How could such things be possible. The brain dies and that’s the end of the line, as I know it.

A couple of years back I read a novel that was set on the Scottish Coast near a ruined castle. A young lady, a college student came there for the summer. She was drawn to the castle. After a time she began having flashbacks – names of people who lived in this castle during the 14th Century, a lover, a marriage on a bridge that crossed a stream. These fragments of knowledge dragged on much of the summer. Eventually, she visited a local, retired physician. After a brief examination he assured her she wasn’t losing her marbles. Instead, she was experiencing the effects of DNA Memory. Of course, having not heard this term mentioned, she questioned that diagnosis.

He agreed there was not much evidence backing it up, but he considered it, in many cases, true. He pointed out family traits handed down through generations in spite of there being no physical link to the past. “How can we account for a person inheriting given characteristics such as hair color, eyes, voice, dispositions, height, weight?” he asked.

The author’s explanation was so convincing I looked into it more thoroughly. And I’m convinced there is some truth to this theory.

One spring morning of 2017 I found my answer while observing house flies.

On this given day the humidity was extremely high, maybe a point or two short of rain. And the flies were terrible. Out of self-defense I located last year’s fly swatter. As soon as I picked it up the flies vanished.

Did they recognized the fly swatter? How? Not a solitary fly could have survived the winter and then drawn the 2017 youngsters into a huddle to pass along last year’s knowledge.

Is it DNA Memory, wisdom embedded in the eggs, and one fragment of that knowledge explains the fly swatters?

I’m asking.


meatloaf surprise


part two: the price of not failing

de bill, K7WXW

I make awesome hard boiled eggs. Seriously. People love my hard boiled eggs. I could have a website or a cookbook cover devoted to them. It was not always so. I have ruined uncountable eggs. Under-boiled. Over-boiled. Hard to peel. Mushy. Chalky. Rubbery. Whatever sort of badly made egg you have ever eaten, I promise you I made one (or two or ten) of the same kind. I am the king of bad eggs.

Early on I was taught that failure was the province of losers and fools. My schooling and professional life were grounded in that idea. Badly-made eggs were not tolerated, let alone eaten. Good jobs, promotions and stock options were the province of people that did not make mistakes, at least publicly. So, like many of my peers, I became a guy that had to know how something was going to turn out before I tried to make it happen.

This approach got me the stock options, paid for with a bland, cooking-to-eat world. I seemed to be rewarded in direct proportion to how often I said no. Being a winner was equated with avoiding failure, which is synonymic for not taking chances. It worked, in the sense that I looked like the kid with the cake, but little that I did – designing a new product, cooking a steak, making a new friend – meant much because I was always pretty sure how things would turn out before I started.

Figuring out how to make a reliably good egg – or almost anything else – involves making some bad ones first. You have to try things, take chances. But if you can’t abide failure, you don’t risk bad eggs and you either give up eating them or have someone who makes a good egg make them for you. You do eat and don’t fail but live a bland life.

When mistakes are okay, an untasty egg is a provocation. You bite into one and you think, egg, water, fire. How hard can it be? You give free rein to curiosity and think about why and how and when (does it make a difference that I use an electric stove? how fresh are the eggs? how big?). You might even ponder big questions, like how does Anthony Bourdain do it?

Curiosity, the ability to think about the big picture and the willingness to learn from others is what makes good eggs, elegant designs, and lyrical translations. If all your projects have good outcomes – if you are almost always that kid – it is highly likely your recipes require little or none of these three ingredients. As I learned, stock options or not, it isn’t a very tasty sort of winning.