An Ill-Conceived Amusement Park

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He decided to call it Squidland. It was to be an aquatic park featuring octopuses, but they could think of no name with the multi-syllabic octopus that tripped off the tongue. The logical choice would be to copy the title of the Beatles song, but the possessive of Octopus was the problem.

Fish are not sexy. Aquariums cannot compete with zoos. Squidland was especially poorly situated, on an outer ring road of Auburn Park, a small city that had failed to meet earlier growth projections. The city fathers had pressured the local banks to fund a business park which had never attracted any businesses. A Dollar Store was the only tenant.

Squidland was behind the business park, a long, thin ten-acre parcel that ran along a creek. The only people who worked there full-time were a groundskeeper and a couple of interns from the Auburn Park community college.

The owner had developed a fascination with octopuses when he was a graduate student in biology. He claimed to have had a one-month conversation with an octopus and insisted they are smarter than us. He also believed that they came from another planet, where they had evolved over a period of millions of years. Freeze dried octopus eggs had floated our way, part of the millions of tons of cosmic dust that rains down on our planet annually.

At present Squidland has no octopuses, just squids. Fifty or so, floating in an almost clean Plexiglas tank. Some of them were dyed different colors in an attempt to make the exhibit more colorful.

Squidland’s founder, J.J. Palmer, suffers from dementia. Most of the time he seems lucid, but when you listen closely to what he’s saying, you realize that he’s faking it. He doesn’t have a clue what he’s trying to say. The words come out all right, but they don’t add up to anything. Fortunately, he still remembers how to simulate the rhythms of normal conversation, so he doesn’t talk too long. He ends his statements by downwardly inflecting his voice, implying that he’s gotten his idea across. Except there was no idea to begin with.

He visits the site every day, often sitting in the main foyer and chuckling softly to himself. The only other sound is the bubbling of the aerator in the squid tank. One of the younger interns tried playing music on a Bluetooth speaker, but J.J. asked her to turn it off. It interrupted his train of thought. She squirmed and finally quit. The noise in her own head was driving her crazy.

Eventually, the time came when Mr. Palmer was no longer able to care for himself. They put him in a home with a lot of other demented old people, and he forgot about Squidland. Once the bills stopped being paid, the employees and interns stopped showing up. The power was eventually turned off, which meant the air bubbler stopped working. And that’s when something strange occurred.

The squid climbed out of the tank and wriggled and flopped their way across the floor. They slid under the front door and out onto the parking lot and into the grass. Fortunately, it was raining.

They stopped when they made it to the base of a tree, and there they combined with worms, snakes, frogs, various fungi, and assorted insects, to produce a large hybrid creature, which quickly evolved in size and intelligence.

Since Squidland was no longer being maintained, it became a refuge for the homeless. A dozen men retired there every evening, and some of them became embraced by the new life form and altered. While generally retaining their former outward appearance, they became subjects of the larger life form, and were released to apply for positions in city government. Several joined the city council, and after a year or so, one became mayor.

It was the mayor himself who purchased an octopus and brought it to live in the tank at Squidland, now renamed the “Auburn Park Aquatic Center.” Soon, neighboring communities purchased their own octopuses, and within a few years, there were dozens of these creatures who appeared to be simply inhabitants of museums and aquatic centers, but who were actually running the whole show.

Once the octopuses gained political power, things went more smoothly than they had in years. Within a decade, the state was running a sizable budget surplus, there were aquatic parks in every community, as well as fifty-meter swimming pools, and almost every child was on a swim team. J.J. Palmer never learned of his success, but that didn’t matter, because he died a happy, if demented, man.

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Down the Drain

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What happens, happens. We can delude ourselves into thinking that we’re in control, but we’re not. Not even close. Things will work out the way they’re going to. We could assume, the way they’re supposed to, but that implies there’s somebody else in charge who knows what’s best.

Recent evidence suggests that’s probably not the case.

The catastrophic and sudden collapse of our government took everyone by surprise, even those who hastened its demise. Trump never expected to win, and when he did, it shocked everyone, even Trump. Well, that shock was nothing compared to the sudden realization that we had lost every bit of democracy and benevolent rule we once enjoyed. Thugs were now fully in charge, and they seemed to enjoy their thuggery.

It was like watching Clockwork Orange, only it was real, and instead of England, it was America. Now there were no longer simple hints of anti-intellectualism, but a full-blown assault on intelligence and reasoning. Truth was an outdated concept. There was only belief and submission to the state. What Mussolini had hinted at, Trump had accomplished.

People had to pretend to be stupid in order to escape being targeted. Suddenly we became a nation of good old boys, Stepford Wives, grinning hayseeds. Rumors of lynchings spread, but none were reported by Fox News. The official face of America, at least the one you could see on TV, looked like the Mormons were in charge. You simply couldn’t be too white.

Homosexuals, intellectuals, people of color, and immigrants kept their heads down. Better to blend in than to attract attention. Maybe this was just a phase we were going through. Maybe this would soon blow over. Somebody pointed out that’s how the rich Jews felt when they didn’t abandon their homes in Poland, Belgium and France. When they didn’t get out while the going was good.

The startling fact was that no one was making this happen. This wasn’t a conspiracy, a plot by the Deep State, but simply mob rule. The Madness of Crowds. When 330,000,000 people decide to swerve, it’s a change with momentum behind it. Maybe unstoppable momentum.

The fact that the friendly neighborhood policeman had been replaced by a hormone-hopped hulk dressed in camouflage and body armor hadn’t really caused alarm until now. Now there were unmarked buses with blacked out windows moving about, taking somebody somewhere. Rumors spread that the FEMA camps were filling.

Popular entertainment and broadcast journalism simply ignored the phenomena. Movies starring superheros continued to be made and distributed. Sometimes that’s all you could find at your local cinema. Nobody complained, at least not out loud. Studios and cinema owners were happy because audiences kept coming. Not just teenagers, even adults.

The last symphony orchestras and dance companies folded quickly and quietly. Universities shut down programs that didn’t attract grant funding. Since most jobs had already been sent abroad, there wasn’t much for most young people to do. Almost half of the people under thirty were in drug treatment or prison.

And this was just the beginning.

It got worse.

It wasn’t just America that was in crisis. Europe was roiling with social unrest. Huge numbers of immigrants were no longer even the least bit welcome in their host countries, and yet they had nowhere to go. You can’t very well send someone back to Kenya or Nigeria who spent his life savings traveling across Niger and Libya to board rubber raft to take his chances crossing the Mediterranean to get to Sicily and then up to France where he hoped to hop across the English channel and take his seat on a cardboard box next to the homeless in London. You can’t simply send them home. There are too many of them, and besides, they’d just return.

All of a sudden, any progress mankind seemed to have made or have been making disappeared. We were heading down, straight down, swirling down some sort of cosmic drain, and the process seemed to be accelerating. Some people offered solutions, but nothing stuck. Some people claimed to know who was at fault, but a strange lethargy took over, and no meaningful actions were taken.

 

Then the plague started. It moved with lightening speed, killing half the population of China in a week. India and Africa were next. No one was certain how many had died, because the scope and scale were unheard of. The first peaceful use of nuclear weapons was to incinerate huge mounds of bodies. Burial was unthinkable. Disposal at sea unacceptable.

With so many dead, the support structures of these countries collapsed as well, leading to waves of subsequent deaths due to famine and cholera. All borders were closed. Air travel had ceased.

For some reason, only the United States and Western Europe seemed to have been spared, but then their turn came. Fatality rates of eighty percent. Much higher than Ebola.

By now the rich and powerful had long ago disappeared into hidden bunkers. Since they were hiding they weren’t communicating with anyone, so no one was sure they had survived.

Someone who still managed to reach an audience compared the collapse of civilization to a motor that had been allowed for all into disrepair. At first it wobbled, groaned, screeched, and finally ground to a halt. No amount of kicking or prodding got it running again.

The collapse of the power grid, food distribution, water treatment, transportation continued. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did.

Deaths mounted.

Finally, Donald Trump surfaced. He appeared on the only television channel still working, Fox and Friends. He blamed Obama and Hillary Clinton for what had happened, and claimed that if people had only trusted and respected him, we would by now have been enjoying the great future he had planned for us.

Then the picture went dark and people who had been watching continued to stare at the dark screen for a very long time because they had no where to go.

The Coat of Many Colors

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It takes effort to pull your head out of the gutter and smell the roses. After an hour or so on social media, I feel like I’ve witnessed an especially gory traffic accident. Most of what passes as discourse in media is blame and finger pointing.

 

Living in such an environment is like growing up in an alcoholic household. You know something is badly wrong, but you don’t know what can be done about it, and more specifically, what you can do about it.In most cases the answer is, “Nothing, but you can take care of yourself. Ask yourself what you want to do with your time on this planet. Then go about doing that.”

 

I no longer take delight in watching the train wreck of our government, our foreign policy, the lies told by the liars we have empowered to speak and act for us. It’s certainly not morally uplifting. Saying “I told you so,” isn’t much of a payoff. Blaming North Korea or Iran for having nuclear weapons is kind of pointless when we know that Israel has had them since 1960, but refuses to admit the fact.

 

They are also by far the largest recipient of foreign aid. So I guess we really bought them their nuclear weapons. Laughing at a mob lawyer for taking money to provide access to our President who most closely resembles a mob boss in his manner of governing is only a cruder version of the Clinton Foundation or Clinton Global Initiative.

 

Why else would Quatar donate millions to an American charity? Yes, Trump is shockingly crude and transparently sneaky. Ever since the Bible story of David and the coat of many colors we’ve known that if you favor one son at the expense of his brothers, they will hate him and eventually do what they can to get even.

Que sera, sera

QUE SERA, SERA

There’s something badly wrong but we can’t expect the authorities to fix it. In fact, they won’t admit there’s anything wrong. They’re afraid to publicly acknowledge what everyone already knows. There’s a shit storm on its way. If they admit this, then we’ll expect them to take action and get shitty themselves.

 

It all started with a blah feeling that everybody experienced at the same time. It’s a “why bother?” thought that comes over you so suddenly and strongly that you can barely make it out of bed much less leave the house.

 

And so the streets have become very quiet, because everyone is indoors, lying down and staring at the ceiling. Most folks aren’t even watching TV. That would take more oomph than is readily available. Some glance at their smartphones, trying to distract themselves with social media, but it’s hard to get excited or pay attention to any one thing.

 

The next day a smell arose. It’s like that of a wet dog, a not terribly clean one, at that. At first the wet dog smell seemed tolerable, but by the end of the day people were losing it. The smell has become oppressive and there is no easy way to mask it. Adding fragrances just makes it worse.

The announcements began the next morning. “There has been a significant event. In the days that follow, most services and rights you have taken for granted will not be available. Some will return, but others will not. Things have changed. An explanation will follow.”

 

We have been waiting but so far nothing more has been said. It seems that nobody cares enough to demand an explanation. No one has enough drive or conviction to protest. It’s like that Doris Day song from a long time ago. “Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be.”

 

The language changes have come about so gradually that not many noticed at first. Because there are few Bulgarian speakers living in the West, the gradual substitution of Bulgarian words and phrases for English hasn’t drawn much scrutiny. Nobody reads much anymore, anyway. After six months or so, about ten percent of all printed vocabulary is Bulgarian, but in Roman type, not Cyrillic.

 
Likewise, radio stations are programming Ghanian music at a steadily increasing rate, supplanting whatever they had been playing before. By Christmas, half the carols will be in Ghanian dialects, with West African instrumentation and beat. Again, no one seems to notice because no one is really paying attention.

 

When Burger King stopped serving beef and filling its Whoppers with thick slices of beets, people just assumed they were experimenting with a new menu. Fast food restaurants do that sort of thing all the time, to test customer preference. With enough ketchup, mayo, lettuce and onions, customers rarely complain. Besides, everybody knows a vegetarian diet is good for you.

By now, the re-broadcast of movies and TV shows from even a year ago requires subtitles for some people to understand them. Is this the exciting new future that we had been promised all along? It’s hard to know where the boundary between ruinous change and exciting progress lies.

Upon close inspection, our top government officials have been replaced by look-alikes. These are actors who resemble the people they are standing in for, but only as closely as B-list TV actors resembled the A-list film stars they were meant to imitate in the past. No real effort has been made to cosmetically or surgically make them the spitting image of our often-photographed public servants. Again, no one cares to look closely at anything anymore. As we rapidly scroll down our smart phone screens in hopes of finding something worthy of our full attention, it becomes habitual, automatic, and so we scroll even faster. We’re in a hurry to ingest as much fabricated nonsense as possible, before the gig is up. Before the whole thing blows up. Before the whole system collapses under the weight of so much trivia.

 

So we are in a hurry to get nowhere. If we arrive, will we know it? Or will it simply seem another roadside rest stop on the way to a roadside attraction that no one is really sure exists?

 

If, for some reason the Internet is down, we blame ourselves. Why didn’t I buy a better computer or router when I had the chance? Why don’t I understand more about electronics? And cars…don’t get me started on cars. If only I were rich, or happily married, then I wouldn’t be having these problems. We hear rumors of blackouts and food shortages in nearby counties. They say that refugees from nearby states are being stopped by the National Guard at our state’s borders. At night the railroad tracks are full of boxcars with the word FEMA written on the side. Helicopters hover over our city parks.

 

Time passes. We are standing by for that official announcement, that explanation we were promised.

 

We were as surprised as anyone by the closure of our national parks. At first they said it would be temporary, allowing for deferred maintenance, but now we have learned that during that interval most of the land was sold to corporations who built lavish resorts for their highest ranking executives.

 

The sudden increase in airfares took everyone by surprise. We had become used to the idea that a person of normal means could fly anywhere, but now only the super rich can fly, go on vacation, hunt or fish. Professional sports teams were bought by these same corporations, and seats for the games are now reserved as VIP perks for people who mattered. Private audiences with celebrity athletes have become a part of the athlete’s job, for which they were well compensated. Convention centers and stadiums that had been built with public bond issues are now accessible only to the very wealthy or well-connected.

 

By now we have stopped pretending that health care is a right available to all citizens. Huge public hospitals with waiting rooms that seat five hundred people are now the norm. The rich frequent private clinics and research hospitals. At last, we have universal coverage, free for all, but you get what you pay for, and what is free is hardly worth taking.

 

These changes have come about so quickly that most people became aware of them after it was too late to do anything about it. The few newspapers and television stations that aren’t owned by the same media conglomerate report watered-down criticism, while the rest parrot only happy news.

 

Strange new expressions creep into daily speech. “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on” is popular with the teenage crowd. “Tan my hide and call me a boll weevil” can be heard among young divorcees. Middle-aged men, usually immune to fads in anything but business-speak, are now spouting “I’m as horny as a priest at a playground.”

 

Pizza for breakfast is the latest substitution for what had been the norm. Soon it will be hard to find a breakfast menu with anything but pizza on it. Tennis has fallen completely out of favor, replaced by a sudden fascination with badminton. Now, everyone is playing badminton, everywhere. Celebrities endorse high-end badminton rackets. The most popular names for baby boys have become “Buster” and “Howard.” For girls they are “Daphne” and “Clytemnestra.”

 

Many people hold themselves awkwardly and the few who walk in public are often tilted to one side, the downward arm dragging on the floor or sidewalk. When anyone tries to bring this to public awareness, that person is attacked for making fun of the handicapped, so few bother to comment. Drooling and projectile sneezing are also a fad, especially at formal occasions.

 

About this time a new superstar has arrived on the international scene, a very tall, skinny man from Ghana, who calls himself “Der Bingle.” He sings in a smooth crooning style which recalls the late Bing Crosby. Partnered with a chubby comedian of no apparent talent, they have resurrected the Crosby/Hope “Road to…” movies of the 1940’s and become immensely popular worldwide, almost overnight. Even though most people in the world have to read subtitles to understand their comic sketches, they surpass even Mr. Bean in most markets.

 

The more improbable a development, the more likely it seems. It is now apparent that something is going on that is novel, twisted, askew, perhaps broken, maybe malevolent, and many fear that means forces of darkness are behind it. Rulers have vowed zero tolerance, promising trials and executions, if necessary.

 

There is nothing anyone can do more than accept the current situation. No amount of wishful thinking or power-driven effort will effect substantial change. Sure, certain efforts might result in sporadic and superficial improvements, but they will soon fade.

 

Some contemplate suicide. Others act on it. No one is keeping score, but most agree that hopelessness is endemic. In the contest to win hearts and minds, despair is clearly winning.

 

By now young people no longer make plans of any kind. The most ambitious of them confess to have been “thinking of selling stuff online” but have gotten no further than that. Many teenage boys now think of themselves as gender-less, while girls have become super-bossy. In one European country, scores of teenage girls drowned themselves en masse in a local river while their teenage boy friends lounged on the banks watching passively. The boys twirled their parasols in reaction to the loss of these girls, and giggled en-masse.

 

The authorities are understandably concerned, but no action has yet been taken because any proposals are shouted down for supporting outdated sexual stereotypes.

 

There is finally a statement from the authorities. It seems that two-thirds of the population has dropped dead overnight. Morning found them dead in their beds. They had simply stopped breathing during the night. Survivors note that most of those who died had been noticeably listless and actively bored. It is thought that they no longer cared to go on living. The effort to breathe was simply too much to ask, so they stopped asking.

 

Survivors are scrambling to incinerate an absurd amount of bodies at once, but eventually nuclear fires will be pressed into service, and the ash will be disposed of as safely as possible, given the abrupt nature of this last turn of events. Within a few months, government psychologists assure us that we will forget about those who are longer with us. Initially these psychologists were called “Grief Counselors,” but now they are called “Attitude Adjusters.”

Portraits in a Selfie Age

Most people don’t enjoy having their picture taken. Or at least that used to be the case. Now, at least among Asians, there’s a mania about it. At least where I live, the women take twenty pictures of themselves a day, always making the same expression. They also photograph their food as its served in a restaurant, before they dig in.

 

I take a lot of pictures of myself because no one else will show up to let me photograph them. I’m interested in lighting, photo-editing, and the technical aspects of photography. I also enjoy having a good portrait I can send off if the need arises.

 

OK, so I’m not as photogenic as I was thirty or forty years ago. Who is?

 

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