Plane Bad Luck

Plane Bad Luck

It was like a scene out of ‘Ground Hog Day’, I opened my eyes and there was my phone on the seat next to me and I would reach for it and then everything went gray and it would start all over again. Each time a little bit more was added to the set, this last time for some reason I caught myself staring at the brochure in the pocket of the seat in front of me, maybe because when I opened my eyes I had been slumped forward and it was the first thing that I focused on. Sometimes shorter, sometimes longer but this time the gray did not come or hadn’t come yet, I saw the seat, I saw my phone and then I felt a sharp, stabbing pain in my abs. The gray began to take me and then receded and the pain returned with a vengeance, I squeezed my eyes tightly shut and waited for some relief.

Still maintaining a shaky balance between pain and nothing I tried to gather my thoughts and ran over some of the details of the past day. I remembered eating doner kebabs at Pasha Turkish and washing them down with a couple of beers at the Boxing Cat before rolling my Smove back to the hotel to rest up for the flight back to Honolulu from Shanghai, twelve hours in the air and a twelve hour layover between. Flight, that was the last thing I remember, I put my thongs in my checked bag so I wouldn’t have to do the dance in security and boarded the plane barefooted. I must have nodded off right after boarding, I don’t recall us taking off, but we must have.

Rain wasn’t the respite I was looking for but the cooling flow of water on my head and shoulders did take my mind off of the pain in my belly. Opening my eyes again went badly. The rain was coming down from above, where the roof of the plane was supposed to be. The rain was also soaking my phone, still in the seat next to me but this time, instead of reaching for it I looked down to see what was wrong with me. We weren’t in the air any more, with the exception of the rain there was no sound, no engines, no people, nothing, we had crashed and in doing so I had been thrown side to side violently enough for the seat belt buckle to open a bit and close down on a bit of belly flab. A two inch white line revealed itself when I opened the buckle and quickly turned an angry, dark purple, at least it hadn’t broken the skin, I guess.

Inventory, inventory, inventory, that was my new agenda, an agenda for survival. Immediately it came to mind that barefoot was great for sleeping, not so much for walking away from a plane wreck, that would be a top priority. I couldn’t see out the window next to me but it appeared that the seat row in front of me was the only one left, just crushed metal in that direction. The seats to my right, across the aisle looked as if a giant hand had grabbed them at either end and pulled and twisted until only mangled metal and bits of cloth were left, an overcast sky replaced the windows of the plane on that side. I finally grabbed my phone off of the seat next to me and turned to look behind me, a near perfect circle of nothing where the tail of the plane had been. I was alone. I did take comfort in the fact that my seat was next to the emergency exit over the left wing, so there was that.

My little piece of heaven had no ceiling and no people, therefore no overhead compartments or anyone to help scrounge together some sort of survival gear, all I had on me was my phone. Aaaand, no service. The GPS worked but without internet the map function was useless, just numbers. I guessed I was on an island somewhere in the South China Sea between Vietnam and the Philippines, several hundred miles from my scheduled twelve hour layover in Hong Kong.

Turning the phone off to conserve the battery(why?) I crawled carefully over the twisted shreds of metal until I was standing on solid, if a little damp, ground. Other debris from the plane was likely strewn about and useful bits might be had before sunset if I was diligent in my search. There was no smoke marking any other sections of the aircraft, I thought that odd but widened my search. We had landed or at least come to rest in a smallish valley, undergrowth comparable to corn stalks or sugar cane, no real trees until you neared a sort of rise on three sides then a belt of canopied forest gave way to steeper rocky grades.

I wandered in a expanding oval of sorts until the overcast broke momentarily and the opening in the sky showed the faint hint of orange signaling the approach of sunset. Surprisingly my bare feet had been spared any rough treatment in my wanderings but fatigue and the onset of dehydration had me more than a little unsteady now. I turned my head at a far off noise just in time to see a glint of metal, just at the top of the foliage, a tiger had lost it’s footing on the smooth metal of the tail and hit the horizontal stabilizer loudly before sliding off onto the ground. A tiger.

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These Are a Few Of  My Fave Things

These Are a Few Of My Fave Things

‘Le Buerre, Le Creme, L’Oeuf’, (pronounced loo-bear, lay-krem, loof) was my current fave resty and I had just finished a divine flamiche, a pie made of brioche dough filled with leeks, bacon, cream and Gruyere, a recipe Chef Demerick had collected from a pair of Picard gourmands during a backpacking trip across the continent several years back. I had just spied the dessert tray and a delightful looking croissant business that simply oozed what I assumed was a blackberry compotey goodness and was beginning to rise and start a silent arm-waving, gesturing to my waiter, bidding war as the woman two tables over had obviously seen it as well, when my phone rang. My waistline would live to fight my wardrobe another day, this call was important, a fave foodie friend who was also a detective was deep in the middle of something, something like murder.

On the outside it looked like a house fire. Flammable bedding caught fire from an as yet unidentified cause, the fire then spreading to window treatments likewise inflammable, etc., etc. All very run of the mill, very explainable, until we look under the hood. You’ll have to excuse that last bit, you see I am a major mystery buff, from reading pulp police procedurals to tightly woven detective fiction to the flood of TV detectives of whom Columbo was my all time fave. You see, Peter Falk proved to us rabid fans week in and week out that all one needed to solve the most complicated crimes was an old Peuguot, a dirty raincoat and half a cigar. And one more question. Worked every time.

The story so far was that Mrs. Rose, wife of Dr. Rose, wasn’t feeling well, had been asleep in the master bedroom upstairs when the fire started, was overcome by smoke inhalation and succumbed before first responders arrived and put out the blaze. A tragedy, pure and simple, how could it be anything else? Indeed.

According to my fave friend and detective buddy, the doctor was in his office when they called him to tell him about the fire. No red flags there. I even recognized the address, I had been in that neighborhood before, pretty swanky too if I remember, the kind of place that doesn’t have lawnmowers in the garage, they show up with large trailers full of grass grooming goodies and several helpers once a week, so the place looks nice for parties. I asked my friend if the doctor and his wife had any children at home and he said that they lived alone, except for a cat. Sounds legit. I told him to meet for some coffee at a local caffeinery that we liked and we could talk some more, he agreed.

One does not simply dive headfirst into convo when at a coffeeshop. One must respect the brew, to become one with the vibe of the place, the ‘roma. We were halfway through our first DV before we dared to speak(OK, you waited, good for you, Double Venti, there, feel better?)

‘Something is not right here. It gives me a funny feeling, you know?’ he started.

I did know, cut and dried was the fave expression. I didn’t like it either. ‘So who reported the fire?”

‘Gardeners across the street were finishing up when they were loading up the trailer, called it in. What are your thoughts?’

‘Nothing yet, first responders have anything to add?’

‘Nothing to hang my hat on, they pulled up, door was locked, cat was out front, you know the rest.’

Hmmm, I hmmmed. ‘Got any pictures?’, I asked. He did. He was enjoying this, I could tell.

Looking through the collection of photos on his phone the scene was pretty straight forward. The smoke blackened master bedroom windows were directly above the front door which was flanked on both sides by immaculately trimmed japanese holly. Inside, the scene in the bedroom was less distinct. What had been very thick, plush carpetting was burned down to the flooring in places, various bric-a-brac and assorted accoutrements were strewn about, ostensibly while removing the remains of Mrs. Dr. Rose, thank you whoever thought to leave that one out of the pile. One interesting thing about the master bedroom, it had it’s own fireplace. Working too, from the tongs and such littering the floor.

‘Can you get me an inventory of everything that was found in the floor?’ I asked.

‘Sure. You think there is something to that feeling I am having?’

Thinking back to the interruption earlier that day, ‘Yes, I do. And it will cost you dessert.’

After he stood up and took a step towards the exit I enquired, ‘Ask the good doctor if his wife was on any kind of medication, will you?’

After running a few errands I drove down to the station to meet up with my fave detective and see if I could get a ride to check out the scene with him. Upon walking up to the front of the house I noticed that the blackening of the window directly over the door was darker than the other side, that had not shown up in the photos, curiouser and curiouser. While my friend busied himself opening the front door and removing some of the police tape around it I noticed something else. I was kneeling down next to one of the holly bushes when he admonished me,’Whatever you are are about to touch, don’t! What are you about to touch, anyway?’

‘Looks like a cat toy. With some sort of thread or string tangled up in it, stuck in the holly bush here.’

‘Let me see that.’ He jostled me out of the way and began snapping pictures with his phone.

We went upstairs and looked at the mess that was once the master bedroom, comparing phone photos of the scene with the actual locations. At one point I asked,’Did you get that inventory?’

Yep. Nothing much there, fireplace tongs, brush, poker, oh and the deceased’s cell phone. Almost missed it too, it was melted into the carpet next to the bed.’

‘Let me guess. Between the bed and the fireplace?’

‘Yes.’ He looked at me kind of stragely, ‘Give!!’ he demanded.

‘Gonna cost you,’ I reminded him. Reluctantly, he shook his head.

OK. Here is what happened, but you will never be able to prove it. The cat did it. Earlier in the day, the good doctor came home to look in on the ailing wife, and make sure she had enough of something to keep her still when the fire started. Removing the back of the phone’s plastic case, he placed it on the floor next to some handy, flammable bedding. Next he arranged the fireplace poker so that it would fall onto the unprotected back of the phone, he tied a thread to the top of it and ran it out of the slightly open window and next to the holly bush by the front door. Then he tied a cat toy, the one I saw earlier, to the end of the string and put the cat outside to complete his cunning plan.’

‘You’ve lost me,’ he admitted.

‘By the numbers, then: 1. Wife is asleep in bed. 2. Cat plays with cat toy, pulling on string. 3. String pulls fireplace poker down onto cell phone. 4. Pointy part of fireplace poker pierces lithium battery in cell phone. 5. This is where it gets all Mr. Wizard-ey, when lithium battery guts are exposed to air they burst into flames..’ He stopped me there.

As he rushed out of the house, I reminded him, ‘Lou Bears, tonight, blackberry thingy, 8 o’clock!’

‘Where did that even come from?’ he wondered aloud.

‘Rube Goldberg’, I answered.

‘What?’

‘Doctors don’t always start out to be doctors. I’ll bet the esteemed Dr. Rose began college as an engineering student.’ I injected. You might just ask him that as you are walking out the door.’

‘You think?’

‘Yep,’ I said. ‘Works every time.’

Little Bird Fly

On a field in Warner Robins, Georgia this Sunday past a group of thirteen 12-year-old girls from Charlotte, North Carolina made a date with destiny. The newly crowned state champion, Rowan County All-Stars were 2 and 0 in the Little League Softball Southeast Regional tournament, set to play the returning championship team from Tennessee, also undefeated in the tournament so far.

Solid, back and forth play from both teams found the score tied, North Carolina at bat in the bottom of the sixth and possibly last, inning with two outs and a runner in scoring position. At bat was my grand-daughter, number 16. Lovingly referred to as ‘the softball warrior,’ she ate, slept and bled softball, playing basketball, volleyball or anything else at a high level to kill the time in between softball seasons.

Living as we did a laundry list of interstate highways apart I seemed to retain the images of our last meeting several years back even in the onslaught of hundreds of social media posts and regular barrages of school portraits and sporting events. She ever remained the small, slender waif with round, rosy cheeks and long, beautiful, brown hair, the apple of her papa’s eye. Watching her team progress through this tournament showed something new, something unexpected.

This wasn’t a child with a bat, a ball and a cherubic smile, but a practiced team player, snagging string-straight liners and making 6-3 putouts with ease. She took practice cuts with the bat as she settled into the batters’ box, ignoring everything around her except the pitcher, 43 feet away. If I was guessing, she never heard the contact but felt it as the ball sailed over the first baseman’s head, landing in fair territory several steps in front of the right fielder. The runner on third had scored well ahead of the fielder’s throw to home and she looked at the crowd gathering around the plate as they and the rest of her team began running towards her, not yet realizing that her hit had won the game.

I stared blankly at my TV as an epiphany began to wash over me. At that moment she would never again be thought of as a child. She had led her team that day, led by example, with singular purpose and fervent resolve. I would forevermore be the student, she was now the teacher. She had flown high up into the clouds and would never be satisfied with the ground again. I chuckle to myself when I think of her older brother’s one word summary of his little sister’s performance, ‘Clutch.’

Just Not Right

Just Not Right

I am used to getting up early but this was way too early and I was way too alert, something was telling me that things were just not right. Edging off of the bed and listening for any sounds that didn’t fit, the feeling was not going away and the voice in the back of my head was screaming, ‘Get smart, fast and don’t be a victim!’ Behind the partially open bedroom door was a bat, used to break up cat fights back when we had a cat, that would have to do.

As if any more adrenaline was needed, there was the sound of a footstep in the living room. One step through the bedroom door put me, unseen, in the back hall, a corner hiding me from whoever was in the living room but also cutting me off from my only means of escape, the front and back doors to the house. My advantage was that as the intruder came towards the bedroom door he would be silhouetted by the dim blue glow of the wifi router on the curio cabinet, at once highlighting his presence and killing off most of his night vision.

I waited in the darkness listening to his footsteps coming towards me and tried to concentrate on my breathing, I would have to be absolutely silent until the very last second. I saw a faint blue glow that put him astride of the router’s light and when his face began to pass in front of me I swung the bat with everything I had, hitting him on the bridge of the nose and then I slammed him into the wall next to the door frame and we both went down to the floor. I hit him with the bat again but the first shot had been plenty. While I was getting myself together I noticed that the dude had a gun. I wanted to go for the lights but I wanted to know if the guy had any friends first.

The scuffle hadn’t produced any kind of an audience so I guessed it was safe enough to make a little noise and found a roll of strapping tape in a drawer and proceeded to tie the guy up as well as I could until the tape ran out, that would hold for a while until I could get something more permanent worked out.

I went through the house and checked as many doors and windows as possible, everything was locked except the front door, nobody lurking about that I could see. There was a car that didn’t belong, a couple of houses down, next to the street light. I grabbed my laser pointer from the bedroom and an orange from the kitchen counter and me and the bat went for a stroll out the back door.

There were three houses between mine and the corner of the street where the street light was, the first two would give me all of the cover I needed to take care of the light so that I could get closer to that car. There was a trick that we used on the fourth of july to make the fireworks show more enjoyable from our front porch, aiming a laser pointer at the light sensor on top of the street light tricked it into thinking that it was daylight and shutting off, making the pretty lights easier to see, the orange makes the pointer easy to aim and holds it still as long as you want.

The driver was alone, engrossed in his phone as I walked up on his side of the car, the street light no longer able to alert him of my presence. The bat made easy work of him as well, I pushed him over, drove the car around the block and parked in the easement behind the house. Then it was time to call ‘the Yard Dog.’

Didn’t See That Coming

The disease didn’t have an established ‘life-cycle’ if you’ll pardon the pun, it was more like walking under pouring water and as the water fell away I was changed, most particularly I no longer had to breathe and I had no pulse. I could think, I was aware, but the ability to react to my surroundings was dulled, no sense of touch, heat or cold, probably the no pulse thing. I could only speak accidentally, without breath to moderate them my thoughts were reduced to ragged grunts and strangled squeals.

All in all I failed to see how this recent change of circumstance should dampen my spirits. My wife, Karen, did not share my rosy outlook. My recent ‘up-cycle’ had spot-lighted a lack of communications in our relationship and she had taken the opportunity to take up with Chad, the next-door neighbor and owner of the most annoying animal in creation. Part Pomeranian and part Shih-Tzu, the thing was so ugly and deformed you could only tell one end from the other when it was eating. And while I am on the subject, who would intentionally breed an animal called a Shihtzuranian, and why would anyone buy one? Well Chad, of course. I don’t wish to be judge-y but Chad was the most useless person in the neighborhood with the exception of Larry the troglodyte at the end of the street, but I digress.

Things had come to a head between Karen and I the morning Chad’s dog had snuck in the cat door and tried to take off with my fibula, I had had enough. Karen burst into the kitchen as I was finishing him off and informed me that she was leaving with Chad and there was nothing that I could do about it. After twenty years of marriage this is what I get? What did Chad have that I didn’t? Skin? I was an apex predator by Rob! By the time Chad showed up to carry her stuff to the car I was over it, no matter how many times I told her ‘Wharr-blaaa commmbleragh’ she wouldn’t move. Chad bumped into me on the way out the door and I casually wiped some of the dog’s brain batter onto the back of his shirt. He didn’t notice, he just loaded her stuff in the trunk like it was any old day. Larry noticed, he was on him in less than a minute, whoopsy.

With Karen gone my days had settled into a routine and I used the time to reflect on things. I resolved that my dog-mangled leg would not be an impediment, it was not a disability, it was my swagger! And I was not alone, the woman who lived on the other side of me came out to mow her lawn regularly. She was a normie and had become adept at chasing Larry away with the mower if he was about, good for her. I was listening to the rise and fall of the mower’s vibrations, she was making good progress today, and then it stopped. I had to force myself not to watch her every time she mowed, because, creepy, but I had to wonder what the matter was.

There was a knock at the front door, that hadn’t happened in a while. I made my way to answer, making a mental note as I did, the swagger was really coming along. Oh my Rob!!! It was her! My mental excitation did not translate at all, several minutes of trying were required to get the door handle to cooperate. We had never been introduced but I had given her a name to pass the time, Maddy O’Doul-Apollongata, homey and down-to-earth with just a touch of hyphenated enchantment.

I had never seen her up close, she looked amazing. Such a wide forehead and a tiny nose, you know what they say, small nose, small sinuses, more room for you-know-what! I couldn’t help but wonder, I’ll bet they are big. Big and round, nice cleavage, shapely curves ending in a single, slender stem…

“I said, Excuse me!” She repeated. Oh my Rob, I hope she hadn’t caught me staring.

I said/She heard: “What can I do for you today?/Mrrflgoob”

“My mower quit, do you have any gas?”

I said/She heard: “Certainly, just inside the garage door./Grrnddgaabrainnnzzz” I pointed.

She leaned in a bit closer, “What was that?”

I said/She heard: “Would you like me to swagger out there and show you?/shluuudrabrainssss!”

I should have quit when I was ahead. Skinless fingers and polished brass door hardware make for a friction based disaster and I was it, in a pile on my front porch, Maddy long gone now. I don’t see this as a setback in our relationship though, we have time. I know I do.

What A Picture Is Worth

The old man brushed stray grass clippings off of the front of his tan, short-sleeved coveralls, the unofficial summer uniform of all retirees, as he pushed the door of the shed closed on the still warm mower, the tick, tick of it’s cooling metal muffled now in a cocoon of weathered wood. A large, tangled weed grew out of the space between the shed and privacy fence, a space too small to get the mower into but too large to discourage this type of random renegade. With one leather gloved hand he choked up on the biggest of several stalks of the weed and wrestled it out into the light, uncovering an old wooden ramp and a flat, weather-worn basketball that had been sharing the space. In that particular moment the old man thought that he had uncovered a curious picture hidden behind that weed.

Flipping open the lid of the city can that held the grass from that morning his hands made short work of the dried, spindly weed, snapping it’s skinny branches easily and letting them fall into the can. He tossed the faded carcass of the ball onto the pile and paused, remembering the last time he had seen it, years before it had found it’s way here.

He was a rescue dog, left to fend for himself at barely a month old, if he had any hair it would have been black, mange had been hard on the little one. He didn’t appear particularly sickly otherwise but he did take his time getting up and around and that is how the pup got his name, ‘Old Jim’. He got big and he got strong and he loved to play. His favorite toy was an old basketball that the man had found somewhere, he loved that ball. He would chase it back and forth until he had worn tracks into the yard in several of his favorite places. Over the years the ball would get lost in a neighbor’s yard or lose a bit too much air and Old Jim would get just the right bite on it and tear a hole in it and then it would go away, a new one replacing it but Jim never seemed to notice the difference. The only thing the dog seemed to like as much as that ball was riding in the old man’s truck, the words ‘ball’ or ‘ride’ would guarantee Old Jim would jump up instantly, ready for action. Until the day that he didn’t.

Months went by, trip after trip to the vet. The old man had built the ramp so that Old Jim could get into the truck, he could no longer jump and the old man couldn’t lift him. Months went by but in the end he had to say good bye. In the intervening times he had sometimes thought of getting another dog but knew that it was a long commitment, one that he wasn’t sure his body could honor. There were times like these when he would be presented with a picture of the past and he would remember that big, black dog fondly and the pressure would build in his chest until it felt like it would overwhelm him. It began again now and he began to smile, so great a kinship, a love, leaves a mighty vacuum behind, but it was only a reminder, he knew, and the pressure turned to warmth as he let the lid fall shut and he turned and walked back to the house. To the old man the memory of ‘Old Jim’ was not just a picture from the past, nor would a thousand words ever be enough.

Do I Really Need This?

“Hello?” I say into my headset. “Is this the main computer user of the house?” Following my script to the letter.

“Yes, it is.” A male voice answers.

“My name is Bob Smith from Microsoft, we have been noticing virus activity on your computer and I would like to help you to remove these viruses today.”

“‘The’ Bob Smith from Microsoft? Microsoft the very, very, very big computing company in the Redmond, Microsoft? Viruses, you say? That is no good! No good at all, we must removing them in an immediate way. Will you be helping me with this virus removing, Bob Smith from Redmond?”

I was sure that this was an American when he answered the phone, now he sounds more like my idiot cousin Najeeb from Mumbai! “I am here to helping you now sir.” Still following the script on my desk. “Are you where you can see your computer, sir?”

“I am seeing very much from it being right in front of me, yes.”

This guy is sounding like he is trying to speak with a mouthful of curry. “Is your computer on, sir?”

“It is very much on, it is on a table, a very good table. My wife bought this table for only a few rupees and I told her that I am sitting my computer on it and there will be no argument about the thing…”

“Can you turn the computer on, sir?” Najeeb is sounding smarter and smarter. I cannot believe that I gave up the Hot Curry Pedi-cab job for this, it is a hard way to make a rupee to be sure.

“The computer switch is being in the ‘on’ position now. Tell me, Bob Smith of Microsoft, how will we make the viruses to stop coming from the computer now?”

Finally he calms down. I am thinking that I am having a live one at last. “Can you see the box in the bottom right hand part of your screen, sir?”

“Is this the one where you get remote control of my desktop and download a virus onto it and then charge me to get rid of it?” The line goes dead, disconnected.

-sound of dialing-

“Hello, Najeeb? You must leave Mumbai at once. Come work with me at the call center, rupees are falling from the skies…”