Reading Time: < 1 minute
Less for you,
Is less for me,
Stuff in storage,
Wants to be free.
Stop the hoarding,
Enough is enough,
Help out others,
When things get tough.
When your god,
Comes to account,
The things you kept,
Will lock you out.
  • Less, from “More or Less” in Property of Nature


Reading Time: < 1 minute
More is more,
It’s never enough,
Even when storage,
Is filled with stuff.
The more you get,
The more you need,
The fear of lack,
Is the food of greed.
Fear of lack,
Is hard to swallow,
Fills you up,
But leaves you hollow.

  • More, from “More or Less” in Property of Nature

My Review of My Mister

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Spoiler Alert. Watch My Mister before reading any of this. It’s worth the sixteen-hour+ investment. I will wait.

You came back! You made it through the slow-moving, depressing series I sent you off to watch. It’s not your typical K-drama with some crazy premise like time travel, alternate worlds, or dead spirits that can’t make it to the real afterlife because of a grudge. My Mister has none of this. It is set in an ordinary neighborhood, with ordinary people, with normal if not downright mundane lives. Realism pervades the story in the community, the workplace, the hangouts, the subway, the buses, and the homes.

While there is plenty of drama at the executive level with principals jockeying for power, the work itself has almost no consequence. It’s simply a device to extol the virtues and showcase the integrity of Dong-hoon. He cares about the integrity of the work and the people that work for and with him. For example, when the drone fails, Dong-hoon, the senior manager at the site, puts himself at risk by climbing up the water tower to take the necessary pictures to analyze the structure.

The story is barely alive as the two protagonists, Lee Ji-an and Dong-hoon, stand apart waiting for the subway to arrive, sit apart, or are uncomfortably squeezed together at rush-hour congestion. They never walk side-by-side down the road where they split off into their respective neighborhoods. Lee Ji-an spends more time staring at the ground than any other character. Sometimes, my Hollywood brain wants to scream at them to say something, say anything to each other.

Shame on me for those moments of weakness. I watch K-dramas because they break the mainstream mold, not despite it. And nothing breaks that mold better than My Mister. No brains splattered, plot twists sure, but not every thirty seconds like we have the attention span of a one-year-old, no witty and triumphant repartee while slaying people that so obviously deserve to die.

My Mister is an exercise in everyday life rather than an escape from it. Sang-hoon says with all seriousness, “My one and only goal is to leave the house and drink.” Dong-hoon video records his exceptional talent for his son, which consists of dumping shot glasses full of soju into beer glasses lined up to make somaek.

What is not ordinary is Dong-hoon’s integrity. He is a moral superhero. He never maligns anyone or does anyone wrong throughout the whole story. He has no moral chink in his armor. His behavior is impeccable from start to finish. If he has a flaw, it is his flawlessness. He protects the dignity of those he knows are hurting or hurting him and consequently hurts himself more. He doesn’t confront Yoon-hee when he knows she is cheating on him but tries to persuade Do Yun to dump her to maintain her dignity. He doesn’t bring up the subject of Gyumduk, his one-time best friend to Jung-hee, Gyumduk’s spurned lover, even though he misses him, which he ultimately acknowledges with the one-word response, yes, which for him is a tsunami of talk and emotion. He carries grandma up the stairs and fights Lee Ji-an’s tormenter. He gets up for a lady on the subway even though he is injured and hurting.

He is a knight in shiny armor, but he hates his life. To his family, he is the winner of the group, the only brother with a real job, and a beautiful, loving, and successful wife. In reality, he is stuck as a low-level manager subservient to his one-time subordinate turned CEO, who also is having an affair with his wife. He lives within walls of his own making, and it’s not entirely clear if Yoon-hee’s infidelity is one of the causes or one of the symptoms.

Lee Ji-an is no moral slouch either. Even though she is willing to throw two full-time employees under the bus for a manipulative and fearful boss, she does it to pay off a manufactured debt from the vengeful Lee Kwang-il and care for her disabled grandmother Lee Bong-ae. Her empathy towards her assailant, Kwang-il, inspires his compassion, the last piece of the puzzle required to put Do-Yun away for good. But I think Ji-an’s superpower is her ability to read and understand people’s motives far beyond the capabilities of even an older adult. She plays a CEO, an attorney, and even the entire corporate staff of Saman E&C. But if Dong-Hoon has walls, Lee Ji-an’s walls have walls.

Lee Ji-an’s omnipresent wiretap and round-the-clock monitoring penetrate Dong-Hoon’s walls, albeit without his permission or knowledge. There is nothing she doesn’t know about him, and it is all absolutely genuine because he doesn’t know that she is watching over him. Dong-Hoon’s impeccable morality breaks down Lee Ji-an’s walls, always supporting her, even after his understanding of her transgressions escalates. So the dual protagonists dance this tango throughout the plot, slowly bringing the light to Lee Ji-an’s face and life to Dong-hoon’s day.

They become more intertwined in each other’s lives, and both intuit the absolute necessity of the other, becoming not lovers and far more than drinking buddies or colleagues or acquaintances. They become friends.

And that is what I think is the point of this story. The story is a recipe for being happy in a world of friends. I think the hypothesis of the movie comes from grandma when she signs, “If you think about it, each interpersonal relationship is quite fascinating and precious. You must repay them. Live a happy life. That’s how you can repay the people in your life.” The most important symbol in the movie comes at the very end when after everything they have done for one another, Dong-Hoon and Lee Ji-an shake hands. They become happy, not for themselves, but because they owe it to the other.

In romantic relationships, we say, “You make me happy.” Or if you are less fortunate, maybe you say, “You don’t.” The burden is on each person to make the other happy as if love is some mutually beneficial monetary transaction. The story has something to say about this arrangement. As much as my Hollywood brain demands a romance, it was never in the cards. First, note the age difference. Dong-hoon is a 48-year-old man. Jee Li-an is a 21-year-old woman.

Second, note the lack of one single, successful romantic relationship in the whole story. Not one. Dong-hoon and Yoon-hee’s marriage is in tatters from the very beginning. She cheats with the person he hates the most. “Why him?” Dong asks. “Why him of all people?” Because Do-Yun manipulates people to get what he wants. He dates married women because “You can trust a married person to keep a secret.” Yoon-hee chooses romance over family and friends. She wants the one, and she wants to be special. She buys into the mutually reciprocal nuclear relationship that Do-Yun represents. The nukes end up doing what nukes do when she discovers that Do-Yun’s interest in her isn’t entirely so mutual. A romantic relationship places the burden of happiness on the other person. Grandma’s friendship places the burden on your obligation to your friends. Even though Dong-hoon and Yoon-hee make their peace, they never get back together romantically, and she leaves Korea to be with their son in America.

In the relationship between Sang-hoon and Ae-ryun, they went the other way. Sang-hoon hangs on to the thought, but there is nothing between them throughout the story. Ae-ryun keeps the family but gives up the romantic relationship. She still shows up for a beer at the bar and drinks with all of them. Sang-hoon sleeps on the floor with his brother in his mother’s house while Ae-ryun has moved into her place.

Jung-hee wears the long-dead relationship with the Buddhist monk, Gyumduk, like cement water shoes. Jung-hee has wasted her adult life commiserating over him. She fakes happiness and independence with her night walks to her place, which is the bar she just left but never actually leaves. Everyone sees through it. She finally emancipates herself and her friends when everyone at the bar is allowed to say his name without her breaking down in remorseful tears or an unconscious stupor. He makes his peace with her, but they never reconcile. His only barrier to happiness is that he didn’t have the strength to stop by and see her after the breakup. It only takes him twenty-some-odd years and punishing meditation for getting it right.

The most bizarre relationship of all is Ki-hoon and Yoo-ra. Yoo-ra bases the relationship on Ki-hoon’s admission that he took out his inadequacies on her, making her feel good to see him as the failure instead of herself. Ki-hoon shows compassion for her in brief but generally unrewarded spurts. The best line between them is when Ki-hoon says, “I love you.” She responds, “That doesn’t help.” As much as I wanted to scream at the TV to make their relationship happen, in the end, I would have yelled at the writer if he had done it any other way.

And that’s it for the relationships. Bong-ae (Li-an’s grandmother) and Yo-soon (the mom) have no husbands. Choon-dae (the trashman) has no wife. No one in the office has a relationship on display. No one in the neighborhood drags their wives along to the soccer games or the bar.

The story creates intimacy among the characters through daily consumption of alcohol, by sharing the anxiety and frustration of friends, reveling in their successes as if they were their own, taking up arms at the sight of a bloody comrade, and sometimes even making extraordinary gestures, like when Sang-hoon uses up all his money to give grandma a decent funeral. Despite all their bickering and disappointments, they have genuine intimacy and decency towards one another.

The romantic realm is filled with demands, deceit, disappointment, and failed expectations.
The boy doesn’t get the girl, and not every story has to be a love story. So, in the end, the story’s recipe for happiness is through friendship earned through intimacy and decency. For every action of decency, you owe a debt of happiness. And I find that entirely refreshing and useful.

Grandfather Uncle

Reading Time: 5 minutes

“When are you going to die?” Maddie asks.

Soon enough, Maddie, soon enough. Thanks for the encouragement. Do I really look that bad?

I guess it’s not an unreasonable question for a twelve-year-old to ask her sixty-one-year-old uncle. My grandfather was forty-nine years older than me when I was twelve, precisely the same age I am today. I knew him as a working man, only briefly. He drove me on a couple of his transits up and down Damen avenue for the CTA. We inspected all the IBM mainframes with the spinning mag tapes in the Merchandise Mart, where he still worked for the CTA after he stopped driving, although, as the IT guy put it, there wasn’t much to see. I mostly knew him as a retired older man who wouldn’t throw back a bluegill no matter how small and still played a crackerjack game of pinochle to the end. He lived to eighty-nine. Following his example would give me twenty-eight more years. You would be forty.

There are far more days behind than ahead, even if I am lucky enough to live twenty-eight more years. The warranty on this body has long expired. My ankles are shot from repeated sprains from playing basketball for forty years. I literally fell over a crack in the sidewalk once because my ankle buckled. I’ve torn the rotator cuffs on both shoulders. My left bicep tendon is ripped, so I have a Popeye arm. My eyesight is getting worse. I have constant ringing in my ears, and I don’t hear mid-range frequencies. I have arthritis in the hips, prostate issues, and my balance is off. I can’t remember things I can’t believe I could forget. My legs cramp up at night for no good reason. I get random migraines. They’ve removed precancerous skin from my nose and polyps from my ass. I’m slightly anemic, and the kidney measurements are out of tolerance. In short, I’m old. Old age is going to get me if nothing else does. My mind doesn’t actually know that it is old. This is just the feedback it gets from its body and the rest of the world. As my mind has repeatedly stated, “I’m not accepting feedback at this time.”

The people I admire pursue their ambitions right up to the end. Albert Einstein worked on equations within four hours of his death. David Attenborough still tries to save the natural world at ninety-four though he will never live to see it. Mick Jagger is still onstage singing and prancing at seventy-eight. Clint Eastwood directed and acted in another movie at ninety.

I plan to do the same. Late in life, I’ve picked up the guitar, started making wine, learned how to ride a motorcycle, took up photography, and wrote three books. I hope to keep writing, hiking, playing guitar, socializing with friends, taking pictures, traveling to exotic countries, and hanging out with my young nieces while still sharing time with them on this planet.

I once quipped that you should take more risks when you are old because you have less to lose. While that is true, I didn’t understand that everyday things and ordinary tasks are a hell of a lot riskier when you are older, but I’m not dead yet. And I still take risks and enjoy my bad habits. So it could be sooner than twenty-eight years.

I ride a motorcycle. I once miscalculated a negatively banked turn in the desert and went into the other lane. Another time, while emerging from a rock formation on either side of a two-lane highway, the wind gusted so hard from one side of the road to another that it blew me clear into the oncoming lane of traffic. There was nothing I could have done about it if a car had been coming from the other direction. On my recent trip to Seattle and back, a black pickup tried to pass me on a blind curve, and sure enough, a car was coming in the other direction. He missed the oncoming vehicle and my bike by inches. Either way would have been death for all of us. Medical personnel refer to motorcycle drivers as organ donors though I’m not sure my old organs are worth anything anymore.

I scuba dive. I dove with a friend who turned seasick at the sight of waving kelp fronds. Instead of letting out the air as he ascended, he inflated his vest so that he would go faster. If you don’t want your lungs to explode, that is the exact opposite of what you should do. When he reached the surface, he fed the fish in a big way. On another dive, my dive buddy, a young man from Hong Kong, lost control and tried to surface in a boat lane on a current dive that required a short kick at the end into the current to reach the boat. It’s an excellent way to lose your head. Fortunately, the divemasters responded quickly and saved my dive buddies in both cases. I don’t consider scuba a high-risk sport, but it is not without its dangers.

I hike alone most of the time, but I prefer it that way. Thirty years ago, I wouldn’t have been comfortable with that. Today, it is hard to imagine having to talk on the trail with someone for two or three or more hours. It seems like a burden and a distraction. I hike in mountain lion country. All the signs say hike with a buddy, and if you encounter one, don’t run and try to look big. Admittedly, attacks are rare. A more likely scenario for my premature demise would be a heart attack or a stroke out in the middle of nowhere. I’ve had my heart skip a beat a few times while playing basketball. I couldn’t catch my breath for a couple of minutes, no matter how hard I breathed. I went to the dentist, and his blood pressure machine told me I had an afib. The doctor put me through EKGs and sonograms, and eventually, I ended up wearing a patch for two weeks. They told me I had a slightly enlarged aorta but was otherwise fine.

I live alone. Studies claim that married people live longer. The implication is that they have happier lives. Still, given how miserable I know some couples to be, I don’t think it has much to do with happiness. I think the real reason that couples live longer is that first, women nag men into seeing the doctor when they should. Second, if something happens to one person, the other is there to help or get help. I’m not going to get married only for that reason.

I drink too much alcohol. Or perhaps I don’t. So my impending demise could be sooner, or maybe not. Studies claim a glass of alcohol is supposed to be good for you. Okay, that tends to turn into two, sometimes three or four. I sometimes joke that I’m an antisocial drinker, meaning I prefer to drink alone. But that is just a joke. To answer your other poignant question, Maddie, “Do you have any friends?” I have friends who drink socially with the same gusto as me. You might ask, but you didn’t, “What’s the attraction?” Alcohol turns off all that brain function that tells you what you shouldn’t do and lets you do some things you should. Of course, too much just makes you stupid and dangerous.

If I could live forever in a healthy body with a healthy mind, I would take up everything and go everywhere. If I were still young, I would do more than look wantonly at beautiful, exotic women, but age takes away those opportunities. You have to pick and choose. You can be anything you want to be, but you can’t be everything you want to be, and you have to work with the opportunities that present themselves. My life choices to date have been limited by time more than resources. I think that is what it means to be rich. So I can’t complain, even if I don’t make it to sixty-two.

So, Maddie, my time is growing short. I don’t know the exact date and cause of my demise. I can only speculate. When I am gone, I hope you have some of my writing and my pictures to remember me by. And most important, pleasant memories of me that you will be able to keep for a very long time.

Pura Vida

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Pura Vida: being happy where you are at in the present moment and finding life as precious for precisely what it has served you. 

Author’s Note: I don’t entirely agree with the definition. Read the Im-Pura Vida entry. But I would go along with appreciating the bright spots no matter how bright or dark the times.

Pura Vida is…

… riding with flashlights on a golf cart for an improvised night tour of the resort property led by Andresen. It is photographing the coveted red-eyed tree frog, an armadillo, a sleeping bird perched on one leg in a tree, and a dozen other frogs in the ponds and creek.

… walking five kilometers in the misty shadow of the volcano on the El Cabo trail in the Parque Nacional Volcan Arenal to the overlook of Lake Arenal from the top of a lava flow. It is poking your head over the extended roots of a 400-year-old ceiba tree looking for velociraptors. It is finding pixels of color in the flowers of the otherwise dark and gloomy canopy. It is an orange butterfly and a red-striped butterfly sipping nectar with their nose straws from red berry-like flowers. It is hearing howler monkeys barking in distant trees. It is seeing my brother get insufferably pleased with himself when we walk by the re-parked car, letting us think it is still parked in its original spot at the end of a long lot. It is seeing cautionary crocodile signs of Peligro at the terminus of the Los Miradores trail on the shores of Lake Arenal.

… walking the five hundred steps down the side of a canyon wall to see La Fortuna falls. It is admiring the falls from a distance, then the mid-distance, and again right in our faces. It is swimming in the mildly chilly pool with falling water pounding its way to the bottom. It is spotting a school of fish stationery in the current hovering in the crystal clear water of the river. It is climbing back up the five-hundred stairs counting each one along the way.

… sitting under the roof of an outdoor patio listening to the rain change the notes from isolated drops to the orchestra of a downpour.

… drinking hot-pressed Costa Rican coffee for breakfast and eating fried ripe plantains.

… trying to figure out how to answer my niece’s poignant questions like, “When are you going to die?” and “Do you have any friends?”

… finding a moss-covered sloth up close instead of a distant clump of brown high up in the canopy.

Perisosa moves so slow an entire algal ecosystem grows on it.

… sitting in hot springs with the family drinking Imperials under cover of night.

… seeing the bright yellow flower foliage of the “Cortez Amarillo” dot the hillside on the frustratingly sluggish descent down the Pan-American Highway from San Ramone to the coast.

… driving up the twenty-five percent grade to get to the Casa Latte. It is talking to the two housekeepers in broken Spanish. It is checking out the incredible view overlooking the Pacific Ocean, watching yellow-billed black-bodied toucans fly from tree to tree, and once even right over our heads while stretched out on lounge chairs.  

… swimming in the Nauyaca waterfall-created pool after a treacherously steep and hot descent on a slippery dusty road booby-trapped with marble-sized rocks. It is admiring the two-tiered waterfalls from the steeply-cascaded lower tier. It is watching cliff divers flip into the lower pool without maiming themselves. It is about not making lethal choices at a river crossing on Google Map’s proposed shorter route to get back to the main road.

… returning to the property each night to watch and photograph an incredible sunset replete with dramatic clouds and horizon-banded sunset bows.

A Horizon Bow at Sunset.

… taking an hour and a half ride from Uvita to the beaches of Corcovado on a boat with two outboard 200 horsepower engines, stopping along the way to see white-spotted dolphins, squid-catching boobies, and leaping rays. 

Boobie with a Squid Catch

… satisfying my niece’s ambition to see monkeys as we watch spider monkeys migrate through the canopy in quest of mangoes even though one of the pits hit me in the head (aimed or dropped?) It is watching an anteater swing from limb to limb with its prehensile tail negotiating the canopy almost like it was a monkey. It is watching macaws chatter back and forth in a tree at the edge of the rain forest overlooking the rocky beach. It is seeing two Jurassic Park compies scampering on their two hind legs. It is sitting in a pool downstream of the waterfall, getting a nice back massage from a small cascade while admiring bottomless bikinis.

Find a Mango Tree, You’ll Find a Monkey

… leaving Corcovado as two Macaws fly wing tip to wing tip over the sandy beach to the backdrop of palm trees in the near distance and cloud-shrouded mountains in the far distance.

… walking out onto the sand and rock fluke of a whale at low tide for a swim in the salty, warm water of Parque Nacional Marino Ballena. Oh yes, and to surreptitiously look at bottomless bikinis.

Fluke of the Imagination

… imbibing a 750 ml bottle of Imperial at Las Delicias Bar Y Restaurante.

… seeing the other three kinds of New World monkeys at Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio: white-faced, howler, and squirrel monkeys. It is listening to a white-faced monkey crunching on the bones of an identified and unfortunate rodent. It is watching brazen white-faced monkeys put on a show close up in the shade of Manuel Antonio Beach. It is observing an iguana sunning itself in the sand, a helmeted basilisk clinging to the trunk of a tree, leaf-cutter ants marching in line waving their green flags, and a tree frog peering out of a knot in a tree. Let’s not forget to mention surreptitiously looking at bottomless bikinis.

… watching the lights of Alajuela from our patio at the Xandari Hotel while finishing off the second bottle of wine.

Leaving Costa Rica through the Worm Hole

… having the good fortune to break down in front of the Casa Antigua Hotel, where Henri and his Chinese partner (woman) helped us get ahold of the rental car agency, held onto the key until the repair truck arrived so we could get to the airport before our flights departed, and called a taxi to take us for the airport. It is returning later after a missed flight to get served a late-night dinner and beer after the kitchen was closed. It is sitting around a scenic outdoor garden and pool instead of in a stuffy airport with no access to a restaurant or bar. It is finding a ray of light in an otherwise miserable couple of days.


… reading the entire “Ice Crash: Antarctica” novel while stuck in airports in two different countries. It is chatting with Jeany who chose to return to LAX by way of Panama City instead of Aeromexico.

Im-Pura Vida

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Author’s Note:

Half the reason to travel is to relax or have a great adventure. The other half is to show off what a wonderful and rich life you have. This piece is the opposite. It is a gripe piece. Feel free to skip to the good part of the trip (coming soon). 

In the grand scheme of things, these events don’t compare to getting bombed out of your home by Russians or falling victim to Covid. But maybe this piece will make some would-be travelers feel good about their decision to stay home. Perhaps it will help some avoid some of the challenges I faced.

Time: Zero.

You walk up to the agent, ready to board your flight. You hand her your phone so that she can scan the QR code for the ticket. 

She says, “I need to see your Covid test certificate.” 

You take the phone back and open up the picture of the certified lab result of a negative antigen covid test taken within the last 24 hours.

She says, “We don’t accept this test.”

You counter, “What are you talking about? This is a lab certified antigen test taken within the last 24 hours.”

You protest and argue. The agent tells you to stand by the podium with the other five victims. The rest of the passengers board the plane. The plane pulls away from the jetway and then the terminal.

She escorts three other victims and yourself to the security checkpoint. The other two left behind are two older women, and one requires a wheelchair.

At the immigration checkpoint, an immigration officer checks the passports. He says, “You have to leave the terminal. You do not have valid tickets anymore.” He hands you back your passport.

That’s it. Good-bye. You learn that Aeromexico doesn’t have a ticket booth to complain to or make a reservation in the terminal. You are standing outside the immigration entry point. You are not on a plane, without a reservation, without a Covid test, and without a place to stay.

Time: One day before.

You are driving to San Jose to stay close to the airport to catch your noon flights out of Costa Rica to mitigate the risk of a long car ride on the same day as the trip. Your niece is sick, and it’s not just car sickness. Her mom records her temperature at 100.2. When your niece starts covering her mouth, you tell your brother he better pull over. As he does, your niece unleashes into a plastic bag. Her mom dumps the mess in a drainage ditch.

As you continue the journey, your niece cries because she doesn’t want to get stuck in CR for another ten days if she doesn’t pass the Covid test. Her mom tries to talk her down.

When you arrive at the resort, the guard unexpectedly takes temperatures to screen for Covid. Miraculously, she doesn’t register a temperature with the guard’s scanner. Her fever has already passed, or the scanner is a piece of junk. Either way, you all have dodged a bullet.

Time: Less than 24 hours before.

Your sister-in-law hands you the test kit. You and your four relatives are setting up for the video observation of the Azova antigen covid test purchased back in the states. It made perfect sense at the time. The test is certified and only takes 15 minutes, according to the Azova marketing literature. 

You try to log on to the app on your iPhone. Nothing happens. You try to log in to the web page on the laptop. The browser rewards you with an ssh certificate dump claiming that this is an invalid site. You try another browser with the same result. It could be a bad wifi connection, but other apps are loading. It could be a proxy issue. You don’t know, so you call support. Your brother goes to the main office to try the connection there. The support guy has never heard of this problem before. Your brother calls back to say he was able to log in on the wifi network at the main office. So you all head up to the office. The wifi is better, but it is still sketchy. 

The Azova App user interface is confusing. The user interface doesn’t list the dependents under their mom’s account. You make another call to support. With lousy hearing, the thick accent of the customer representative, and all the noise in the lobby of the office, you can barely understand the rep. Another issue arises, so you make another call to support. You hand the phone over to your sister-in-law, who still has good hearing. And then another problem arises. And another. Finally, you take the test. The instructions tell you that you will receive the results in fifteen minutes. The observer has already left. An hour later, you still don’t have the results. You call again. When all is said and done, and you have the certificate in an email, the entire process takes nine customer support calls and over four hours.

Time: 3 hours before.

Your brother pulls the car into a gas station to fill the gas tank of the rental before returning it. CR gas stations have attendants, and your brother requests diesel. 

A mile before the drop-off, the car sputters and stalls in traffic. After a few WTFs and trying to turn the engine over, your brother realizes it probably wasn’t diesel.

You jump out of the car to push it to the side of the road. Someone in the truck stuck in traffic behind you jumps out and helps with the push. You dial all the provided numbers to the rental agency on your phone, but none of them go through.

“Ayudame. Ayudame,” you say to a man. The man takes you into the Casa Antigua Hotel to meet the English-speaking partner/owners, one of the few breaks you all catch during this whole ordeal. These decent, helpful people connect you to the rental agency. Your brother arranges for the rental agency to pick up the stricken vehicle. He leaves the keys with the owners, and the owners arrange a taxi to take you all to the airport.

Time: 3 hours after.

You’ve been to the lab and passed the same antigen Covid test a second time. It would have been a no-brainer if you knew how awful the Azova test was and how easy the lab was. You’ve rebooked the flight for 1:55 a.m. to Mexico City and 7:00 a.m. to LAX through Aeromexico customer service on the phone. It only cost you fifty dollars to change.

You chat with Jeany and her boyfriend, two of the other victims. You tell them to call Aeromexico to rebook, which they try but fail. So she takes another airline to Panama City and then to LAX with a twelve-hour layover. You feel bad for her. She won’t make it to LAX until 8 p.m. of the next day.

You chat with your brother and sister-in-law. They barely made it to their flight on time, but Delta didn’t even bother to check for a Covid test. 

Time: 8 hours after.

You decided to return to the Casa Antigua Hotel. It beats hanging around in the airport for fourteen straight hours, and you want to eat dinner. When you arrive, the restaurant is already closed. But Henri, the owner, sets you up with a two-course dinner and a beer. He lets you hang around in the open-air courtyard on a perfect night. When you leave, Henri won’t accept any money. He tells you to pay it forward. Maybe these words will help pay his kindness backward a little bit.

You take a taxi back to the airport. The driver asks you about your trip speaking English, not so great but good enough. When he pulls into the airport, he shows you the fee, about 4000 Colon. You only have a twenty, which translates into about 12000 Colon. He hands you back 3000 Colon. You know the rate and tell him he should give you 3000 more back. That would be 6000 colon or ten dollars for a six dollar, one kilometer, five-minute ride.

All of a sudden, his English isn’t so good. He doesn’t offer and continues to pretend like he doesn’t understand. He understands perfectly. You argue for a bit, but he doesn’t budge.

Time: 11 hours after.

A family from Vancouver walks up to the agent as she is setting up the counter for the Aeromexico flight. You catch the part of the conversation where she says the Covid certification is no good. You intervene and tell the father that they can get the lab done within an hour, and if they don’t, they will get bumped from their flight. They have time. It is still three hours from takeoff. They don’t realize, and you don’t yet at the time, but you probably saved them at least four thousand dollars. 

You see them later on the plane. The family took the same Azova test and tell you they had the same bad experience with it. The father tells you it took them five hours to take the test instead of the advertised fifteen minutes, but you take small comfort in confirming the poor user experience. They thank you for the advice at the counter.

Time: 11:15 after.

When you hand your passport to the agent at the check-in counter for the rebooked flight, she says, “Your ticket is invalid because you booked it under the same reservation as before.”

That doesn’t mean anything to you. You counter, “I didn’t book anything, your customer agent booked this.”

You argue back and forth. The agent hands you your passport back as if this is the end of the conversation.

You say, “Your agent booked this flight.” You show her the email with the new reservation on it. You go back and forth some more. She fiddles with the monitor and talks to her companions. She hands you back your passport again.

You show her the receipt in the email for the fifty dollars they charged you for the difference in price with the original ticket. 

The agent is back to the keyboard and terminal and chatting with supervisors and other agents. She tries to sell you a ticket in business class for six thousand dollars. 

You refuse. “I know there are available seats, because I have a reservation for them.” 

At the end of the day, she finds a ticket for a thousand dollars, but because the 1:55 a.m. flight is delayed, she can only put you on the 7 p.m. flight out of Mexico City. She’s already tried to hand you back your passport three times. You take the ticket. 

You think about all the times you’ve spent in line glaring at some loser that takes five or ten minutes to get through because he doesn’t have his shit together. You argued and negotiated with the agent for ninety minutes. Ninety minutes. You commend her on staying with it but chastise her company’s poor customer service.

Time: 14 hours after.

As you are boarding the 1:55 a.m. flight, a young man in front of you is called out of line and informed that his test is no good. The agent says, “That is why we tell you to check in at the front desk.”

Really? You know what he is going through. You are sure that he had confidently secured his Covid certification, and he checked in through his phone, which told him his check-in was complete. 

He says, “What am I supposed to do now?”

You know the answer to that question, too. He is screwed. Despite your empathy, you aren’t going to miss this flight.

Time: 24 hours after.

You are in the Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juárez camped out in a hidden corner, trying to catch some sleep despite the continual blaring of repeated messages over the loudspeaker. 

You WhatsApp’d Jeany. You tell her, “just thought i’d text and make you feel good about your decision. the flight to mexico city is delayed and i am going to miss the connection. the next flight out to LAX is 6 pm so i am going to be stuck in mexico city for a day”

Surprisingly, she responds, “Yeah, I’m in a corner of at a lounge in Panama till my flight in the morning Oh man that sounds awful I’m so sorry for the fiasco!”

“yeah you made the right move…”. And so on.

Time: 42 hours after.

You finally make it home. You are a thousand and fifty-one dollars poorer, not even counting the extra parking and dog care expenses. You’ve read an entire novel, Ice Crash: Antarctica and are lucky you didn’t die of sleep deprivation on the drive home. 

Jeany texts, “Happy to grab drinks sometime when this is all a funny memory.”

You’ll give her a call in a couple of years when you’ve put this behind you.

Time of Possession

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Pre-Game Show

“Welcome to ESP Network Christmas Eve haunting. I am the Ghost of Christmas Now. These are my co-hosts, Christmas Past and Christmas Future. And it’s time for the Super Haunting of all hauntings. What can you tell us about these two contestants, CP?”
“Merry Christmas CN And CF. We’ve had some great years together. The visiting team is the Inner Demons. These guys are nasty and have a reputation for pulling out all the stops. I don’t expect anything different tonight.
“What can you say about this guy, Ebenboozer? Team after team seems to win the battle, but none of them have won the war, including ourselves.”
“He drove us into retirement, that’s for sure,” says CN. “What’s your spin, CF?”
“Merry Christmas and I hope many more to come, CP and CN. The Inner Demons have taken it way beyond a traditional shaming. Their playbook is new, fresh, and scary. A big victory tonight for the Inner Demons could change the future of the game. A lot is riding on this one.”
CN says to the viewing audience, “Okay. Mary Frickin Christmas is down on the field with the Inner Demons.
CN touches the spiritual transceiver in his left ear. He says, “Mary Frickin Christmas?”
She responds with, “Right back at you.”
CN asks, “Whose the setup person this haunting?”
“The Inner Demons have chosen to go without a setup person. They say they don’t need one.”
CP frowns, “I don’t like it. That’s just the way it is done. It’s fundamentals.”
Mary Fricken Christmas holds the mike up to the invisible and asks, “What’s your strategy going into the first half, Inner Demons?”
Her eyes roll up into her head, and her body shakes. In a demonic voice that is not her own, she says, “It’s all about the time of possession. They who control the time of possession, control the outcome of the game.”
Mary’s body snaps forward like someone just gave it back. She says, “I’m a believer. Back to you.”
CN says, “Let’s go over to Holly Daze reporting for the home team. Holly?”
“The only Christmas in this house is on the big screen and Ebenboozer is watching the Grinch on his phone.”
In the background, Ebenboozer is sliding into the semi-consciousness of first sleep on his lounge chair. The narrator is commenting on the disposition of the Grinch,
“The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all,
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”

Holly Daze says, “He has places to go if he wants to. He just don’t want to. Back to you.”
CN says, “We have a great show coming your way.”

First Half

Ebenboozer is standing on the deck of a wooden ship with its sails furled. The ice has trapped the ship. There is nothing but blowing snowdrifts for as far as the eye can see. He shouts to a muffled, barren landscape. “Is anyone out there?” No one responds.
He finds no one on the ship. He finds a room that must belong to the captain and enters. He does not recognize the reflection in the mirror on the dresser. The man in the reflection wears a torn, woolen cap and has a weathered, at sea look to him.
Ebenboozer settles for a smaller room next to it on the chance the captain returns. Besides, he figures, the smaller room will be easier to heat. He finds provisions in the crates and barrels of a lower deck. He starts a fire in an iron stove. The insulation of his room is good.
The sun dips below the horizon and then resurfaces for a brief partial appearance before disappearing again. Then there is nothing but glow below the horizon followed by darkness. Only the ship’s creaking in the ice pack and the howling winds break the monotony of the eternal night.
A month passes in the time it takes a shooting star to cross the sky. Sometimes Ebenboozer hears the voices between his ears; sometimes, he hears them in the distance. Whenever his eyes chase the hallucinations, they vanish.
The second month passes in stillness. Ebenboozer sees the captain on the deck, not remembering when he returned. He asks the captain if he has plotted a course out of their icy death trap. The captain paces himself into invisibleness and disappears. Ebenboozer sees fleeting images of the crew on the deck conversing. Whenever he walks toward them, they vanish. The hallucinations are getting worse.
The third month passes in darkness. Beautiful naked women parade on the deck, oblivious to the deadly chill. One winks at Ebenboozer and asks him, “Would you like me to warm you up?” He reaches out toward her. Her face turns the ghostly blue of death and then into a skull. The skull rushes his face with a roar opening its mouth to engulf Ebenboozer.


Ebenboozer wakes with a scream. He is back on his lounge chair in front of the heatless image of a fireplace on his big screen. He takes comfort in its realness. His blanket lies on the floor, and a chill runs through his body. He breathes a sigh of relief, then shouts at the ceiling, “What was the point of that? Show yourself, you cowardly ghost.” There is no response.
He says, “It must be my hyperactive amygdala, that source of fear and anxiety in the brain.” He pulls the third layer of socks over his cold feet and puts on his already too-tight shoes, covers himself with the blanket, and falls asleep.

Half-time Show

The camera cuts from the living room to the studio for the halftime report.
CN says, “I’m not sure I understand the strategy. Sure, the Inner Demons won on time of possession. They were on offense the whole half. But I’m not sure if they scored. Will the imprint of a bad memory make the change permanent?”
CP jumps in, “It’s not his memory and he will know it. Change comes through shame. Shame comes from prior actions. Ebenboozer has never been to Antarctica. This strategy is a loser.”
CF confirms, “And he will never go. It is not even one of his possible futures. I’m with CP.”
CN responds to an incoming message on his spiritual transceiver. “What are they saying in the locker room, Mary Frickin’ Christmas.”
She responds, “The Inner Demons say they will stick to the game plan. They seem to be totally happy with the results of the first half.”
“Holly Daze, what’s going on in the home team’s locker room?”
“Nothing but snores and the silence of a roaring fire on the big screen, here. Ebenboozer seems to be sleeping off the first half.”
CN says, “Well, somehow the Inner Demons won the coin toss and will start off on offense in the second half, again.”
CF offers, “Maybe they will play for a tie.”
CP responds, “That would be the lamest haunting in the history of Christmas hauntings.”
With everyone scratching their Christmas heads, CN says, “A game can’t end in a tie. Stay tuned and let’s see where this takes us. Back in a few moments for the second half.”

Second Half

Ebeneezer stares at the fluorescent light on the ceiling, wondering where he is. He smells the odors of disinfectants and hears intermittent beeping in the background.
His neck hurts from a stiffness like a long night sleeping in the wrong position. When he tries to shift positions, nothing happens. He tells his head to lift. Still, nothing happens. He focuses all his mental energy on the image of his neck muscles contracting to tilt his head forward. Still, nothing. He is exhausted from the effort of not moving.
He attempts to slap his face. If his hand moves, he can’t detect it. If he slaps his cheek, he can’t feel it. In his mind, he shouts at his hand to obey his orders. When nothing happens, he panics. When he panics, nothing happens.
He feels something on his cheek. It itches. The itch consumes his cheek and then his whole face. His hyperactive amygdala is about to enter a nine alarm rage when he sees a nurse walk into the room out of the corner of his eye. He shouts, “Help me. Please, help me. I’m begging you, help me.”
She looks at a chart. She looks at Ebenboozer.
Ebenboozer shouts, “For Christ’s sake, help me. I can’t get rid of this itch. It’s driving me crazy. Just a little scratch on the cheek. I’m begging you.”
She looks at her watch. She leaves the room.
Then it hits him. His mind can process inputs but can’t facilitate outputs. He is locked in, a prisoner of his own body. He screams the scream of outer space, a terror without sound.


He wakes with a start. He lifts his head to see the unaromatic smell of a large screen Christmas tree. He takes comfort in its realness. He feels his legs, arms, stomach, and chest and taps his fingers on his cheeks.
Ebenboozer shouts. “Show yourself, you miserable ghost. That’s the closest I’ve come to pure terror.” He wipes a lone tear from under his eye.
He cracks his neck before reclining back into his chair. He sleeps fitfully, trying to massage out the muscles in his neck to get comfortable.


CN says, “Clearly there is no winner here. Looks like they will play on into overtime to win this one.”
CF confirms, “Yep, the slightest score will win the game. I think either way, it will be a moral victory for Ebenboozer.”
CP divulges, “First time in haunting history for overtime.”
On one of the monitors, the trio watches as Holly Daze slips out of the ersatz Christmas scene on the TV into the living room of Ebenboozer. He loosens the laces of his shoes and slips a pillow behind his head to straighten his neck before merging back into the big screen.
In the background, the narrator to the Grinch finishes up his analysis.
And what happened then? Well…in Whoville, they say,
That the Grinch’s small heart Grew three sizes that day!
And the minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight,
He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light,
And he brought back the toys! And the food for the feast!
And he, HE HIMSELF! The Grinch carved the roast beast!

Ebenboozer wakes with a start. He looks at his watch and smiles. “It’s not too late. I can still make it out for the end of Christmas dinner.”
He throws off the blanket and jumps out of his chair. He fills up a couple of Christmas boxes with wine and chocolates before running out the door.
The ghostly trio of commentators is stunned and speechless for the first time in their commentating, post-haunting careers.

Wrap Up

CN says, “Thoughts?” without offering one of his own.
CP says, “I think the winner is Holly Daze. She straightened out his head so that it was screwed on just right and she loosened his laces so that his shoes weren’t too tight.”
CF counters, “I suspect an examination of his heart will show that it grew three sizes that play.”
Holly chimes in, “This just in from the medical team. No changes to his heart size. It’s the same size it has always been. But you might find this interesting, his amygdala shrank two sizes that day.”
CF and CP look at each other and say in ghostly synchronicity, “What the hell is an amygdala?”
CN wraps up, “Well whatever the reason, his heart or his shoes, he is out on Christmas eve, celebrating with booze.”
All members of the crew and team members wave as the program fades to black.

Human Monoculture

Reading Time: 10 minutes

At an engineering facility for Star Power, a corporation dedicated to using fusion as the ultimate source to power all the world’s needs…


A small crowd gathered around a couple of men working at one of the engineering station consoles in an open area away from the cubicles. I walked to my cube to start the working day, passing by John, one of my coworkers who loves fishing more than life itself. 

“Good morning, John. How was the fishing trip?”

“Unbelievable. I literally caught a U’Haul’s worth of fish. Yellowfin, yellowtail, bluefin, dorado. Nothing less than fifty pounds.”

“Wow. What are you going to do with that much fish?”

“Sushi party tonight at my place. I’ll deep freeze the rest. Come on by.”

“Cool. I’m in.” 

“Hey John. Who’s that guy over there working with the boss?”

“He’s a heavyweight scientist from corporate. Supposed to be a genius. He won the noble prize in warped core technology. Warped core technology will power the entire world when it’s ready. It would give us as much energy as the Earth gets from the sun all day, every day. You should check it out.”

“How much energy does it produce now?”

“The demo is only running at ten thousand megawatts of continuous energy.”

“Haha. That’s about billionth of the sun’s output. Either the core has to get a lot bigger or the world a lot smaller.”

“That much energy from one prototype unit could easily power a hundred facilities like this one.”

“Sounds great. It sounds like the world I want to live in, but I will have to see it another time. I have a visitor coming by in a few minutes, an engineer from the high-energy physics department who is going to help me with my plasma equations.”

“Alrighty. I will catch up with you later. I’m headed over to the demo.” 

John walked off to join the crowd at the engineering station. I ducked into the break room to fill up on coffee, black and strong. Will, another coworker, was absorbed in a book with his legs crossed, sipping a cup of coffee. The coffee pot was empty, so I started up a new brew.

“How’s it going Will? Have a good weekend?”

He tipped his head down to peer at me over his readers. “Too short.”

“What are you reading?”

“Moby Dick.”

“Damn, you whale,” I sounded off in my best Ahab. “Spoiler alert, the sperm whale eats everybody, and the book ends.”

“Haha. Funny. Don’t you have some physics to do?” He went back to his reading.

When I returned to my cube, the engineering guy still wasn’t there. Beverly poked her head into my cube. She wore a crazy, skin-tight, tiger print body outfit with large brass hoop earrings. 

“Hi. Wanted to remind you we have a tiger team meeting this afternoon at 2 to discuss out of the box ideas to solve the plasma leak issue.”

“You are really taking that tiger team role to heart.”

I laughed. Beverly didn’t even smile. So much for levity. 

“I haven’t forgotten about the meeting, Beverly. I have someone coming over from physics to discuss equations.”

“Ok, see you at 2.” 

I was starting to wonder if the guy even existed. While I waited, I brought up Google. I queried for the Earth’s surface area to discover it is 196.9 million square miles, then for the total energy reaching the Earth’s surface from the sun to find it is 173,000 terawatts continuously. That’s a hell of a lot of energy. But with only ten thousand megawatts of constant energy supply, the best one could do is power a big city.

A guy poked his head in the cubicle. He introduced himself. “Hi. I’m Jordi. I’m from the high-energy physics department. My boss told me to stop by to discuss some equations?”

“Hi Jordi. Yeah, let me bring it up on the monitor.” 

I turned to the monitor to find the folder on my worksheet on the hard drive. Waves of nausea passed through my head. The display on the screen distorted like the ripples of a rock thrown in a pond. The monitor pulsated in sync with my nausea. Papers flew about the cubicle, then everything was calm again. 

“What the hell was that? Jordi, did you feel that?”

When I turned to see if Jordi was ok, nobody was there.


I stood up and looked outside the cubicle. “Jordi? Jordi?” I looked over the cubicle partition with visibility to the whole room. No Jordi. Where the hell did he get off to so quickly? I checked the break room. 

“Will, did a guy stop in here a minute or so ago? His name is Jordi from the high-energy physics department.”

“No. No one else has been in here beside me since you left.”

“Hmm. The guy just up and disappeared on me. Sorry to interrupt your quest to harpoon the sperm whale.”

Will looked at me, puzzled, lowering his book. “Sperm whale? “What’s a sperm whale? Is that some kind of sex joke?”

“Yeah. Haha.”

“That kind of talk is inappropriate for the work place, you know.”

“Right. Sorry. Catch you later.” What the hell? He is the one reading the book about the sperm whale. So I left him reading his spermless whale book and walked over to the demonstration to see if Jordi was in the crowd. The corporate scientist was looking over his assistant’s shoulder at the monitor. The monitor showed the same energy pattern that I had seen rippling across my screen. 

I saw John and worked my way through the standing audience. When I reached him, I whispered, “Did you see that guy Jordi from the high-energy physics department?”

John whispered back, “No. Never heard of him. Check this out. The energy wave on the screen represents ten thousand megawatts of energy pulsing in the warped core. Unbelievable, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, you already told me. Just 17 thousand more megawatts to match the sun’s 173,000 terawatt output on the Earth.”

“What are you talking about? It’s only a thousand terawatts more to go.”

“It’s 17,000. I just looked it up.”

The corporate scientist looked in my direction. He asked the audience, “Does someone have a question or a comment?”

I ducked out and went back to my desk. Still no Jordi. So I tried to look him up in the online corporate registry, but the search didn’t find anyone by the name of Jordi. 

Then, while I was scratching my head trying to figure out what happened to the guy, Beverly popped her head into my cubicle. “Just wanted to ask if you are going to present anything at today’s skunkworks meeting?” 

She entered the cubicle wearing black yoga pants and a nylon-fabric, skunk-print blouse. 

“Skunkworks? I thought it was a tiger team?”

“What’s a tiger?”

“You were wearing a tiger-patterned body outfit not ten minutes ago.”

“Whatever. I’ve been wearing this all day. Are you going to present or not?”

“I don’t have anything prepared. I can’t find that guy Jordi that was supposed to help me with my equations.”

“Jordi? I don’t think I know him. See you at two.” With that, she disappeared back into the sea of cubicles, leaving me to wonder what the heck was wrong with everyone and what happened to that guy. I leaned back in my chair to stare at the ceiling. A pulsating hum radiated from the fluorescent tubes. Another wave of nausea passed through my head in sync with the flickering and surging of the lights. I stood up to look over the cubicle wall. As far as I could tell, nobody acted like anything out of the ordinary had happened at all. 


I sat back down. I looked at my monitor and did a double-take. The query that I had run showed that the total square mileage of the Earth was only 5.9 million square miles. I did a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation to compute the radius of the Earth to determine if the query was correct. The answer would have the Earth’s radius at only 1000 miles instead of 4000, which I know was the right answer.

I ran over to the break room. “Will, did you notice the lights flickering and surging?”

Will answered, “Everything pretty normal in here.” 

I looked at the cover of his book. It had a picture of an otter on it. I asked him, “What happened to Moby Dick?”

He looked at me funny again. “This is Moby Dick.”

“What’s with the otter on the cover?”

“Haven’t you ever read the book? It’s about a rascally otter that drives the captain of a river boat crazy.”

“What about the whale?”

“What’s a whale?”

Will didn’t laugh or sound sarcastic. It sounded like an honest question. So I asked again, “Are you sure you didn’t feel anything or see the lights flicker?”

“No. I think I would have noticed something like that.”

I left the break room and found John still standing at the ongoing demonstration.

He nudged me with his elbow, “Can’t wait for those bluegills tonight. I have a whole cooler full of them. I sure scored big this weekend on the lake.”

“Huh? I thought we were having sushi from the all the tuna you caught?”

“Tuna? What’s a tuna?”

“Big fish. Lives in the ocean. You just caught a U-Haul’s worth of them on your weekend fishing trip.”

“That sure sounds like a fish story to me. Just bluegills. I mean, you don’t have to come if you don’t like bluegills.”

“Uh, no problem. I’m just giving you a hard time,” deciding to play along. Whatever was going on was giving me a hard time, and it seemed like everyone was in on it except me. From the engineering terminal in front of the scientist and his assistant, I heard an audio pulse identical to the hum of the fluorescent lights a few minutes ago. I started to think that whatever was going on had something to do with this experiment.

So I asked the corporate guy, “What causes the sound pattern?”

The corporate scientist looked up. He said, “That’s the simulated wave pattern of the warped core energy wave. Any other questions?”

“Yeah, is it possible that some of the energy is leaking from the warped core?”

“I assure you, if energy was leaking, the sensors would detect it and the safeties would automatically shut the field down.”

“What about the power surge in the lights?”

The scientist asked, “What power surge?” 

People looked at me, shrugging. 

I said, “The one that happened just a few minutes ago.”

People shook their heads like I was crazy. John nudged me in the ribs and tried to surreptitiously tell me to shut up with a finger to his pursed-lip mouth. Kurt Vonnegut’s observation that “a sane person to an insane society must appear insane” popped into my head. So I shut up. Everyone went back to watching the demo. 

Then it happened for the third time. 


I grabbed John’s arm and said, “Tell me you didn’t see that?”

“See what?” he asked while prying my fingers off his bicep. 

“The lights and the humming. I felt it go right through my head.”

“Maybe you’re coming down with a migraine or something. Migraines can make you hallucinate. Don’t sweat it if you want to cancel out on the tilapia fry tonight. We can do it another time.”

“Tilapia. What about the bluegill?”

“What’s a bluegill?”

“Look. The surges have happened three times. Before the first surge, you said you caught a U’haul’s worth of tuna. After the first surge, you said you caught a cooler full of bluegill’s. Now, it’s a tilapia fry. You don’t remember? You know every species of fish on this planet bigger than a minnow.”

“That’s not saying much. The only fish species in the world is pond-farm grown tilapia.”

“Are you serious? What about the thirty rods you own optimized for the size and weight of every species?”

“You’re migraine must be a doozy. Maybe you should take the rest of the day off.”

Beverly walked up, now wearing a plain pink blouse, and said, “He can’t go home. He has a meeting at ten. Are you coming?”

I replied, “I thought it was at two.”

“Don’t you read your emails? I moved it up to ten and it’s in the engagement room.”

“You changed.”

Beverly blinked her eyelids a couple of times and smiled, “How sweet of you to notice; I just bought this over the weekend. I’m trying something a little more daring than usual.”

“Have you ever considered wearing a tiger patterned dress or a skunk image pullover?”

“You called them tiger and skunk? No. No. Never heard of them. Are they new designers?”

“Nevermind. I’ll be in the meeting room in a couple of minutes. I need to stop by my desk first.”

I stopped at my cube. On my desk was the book Moby Dick with a sticky note from Will. It read, “This is a great story about a guy and his sidekick who roam around the city returning purchases they hated. I think you will like it.”

On the screen showing the query, the size of the Earth has shrunk to 84.7 square miles, a decent size for a city. I considered whether I was in an episode of the twilight zone or not. It had to be the warped core experiment somehow. I raced back to the engineering station to ask questions and demand honest answers. The demonstration was over, and only the scientist remained. He bent over the computer, typing equations and code.

I shouted out to the scientist, “Hey! Hey! What the hell is going on here?” But before he answered, the fourth wave hit, stopping me in my tracks. I saw it; the scientist’s body phased in and out of sight. 


After the wave passed, the scientist solidified into his solid, impassive, stoic self. 

“I saw that,” I pointed at him accusingly. “You know about tuna, tigers, and whales, don’t you?”

“Of course.”

“What the hell is going on?”

“Thought, space-time, and power are all integrated into the mesh of the universe.”

“So. What’s that got to do with anything?”

“You are making this happen. I’ve been trying to pin down the source of the anomaly all morning. I think you are the anomaly.”

“Me? I’m the only sane one here.”

“Your thoughts somehow became entwined with the warped bubble. You created this world out of your thoughts. It’s the only explanation that makes sense.”

“I don’t have the power to recreate the world. Even if I could, I wouldn’t create a world without wildlife. What happened to the whales, the tigers, the bluegills, and the skunks? I don’t want to live in a human monoculture centered on my work in a world the size of a small city. I want a world full of diversity in culture, language, and wildlife. This isn’t the world I want; this is the world I want to get away from. You did this, not me. Fix it.”

“Hmm. Do you remember what your thoughts were when you first sensed the warped field?”

“I was thinking the guy from the high-energy physics department didn’t really exist. He showed up as I was trying to figure out how much energy it would take to power the Earth. No, wait. I was thinking that with ten thousand megawatts of continuous energy, you could power the Earth if it was the size of a decent size city.”

“Oh my. We have a serious design problem. I didn’t expect the warped field to fixate on random thoughts. I don’t even know where to begin to debug this problem. Corporate isn’t going to like this. It could set our product release back by years.”

“To hell with corporate. What am I supposed to do right now?”

“As you saw, I won’t be able to stay in this world much longer. I’ve tried everything possible.” The scientist briefly faded but returned.

He advised, “The human brain is architected for scaleless habituation.”

“Is that your way of saying I will get used to it?”

The scientist pulsed and phased out of existence.

 I shouted at the missing presence, “Hey! Hey1 Don’t leave me here. I don’t want to live in a world like this.” Everyone in the office stood up, looking over the walls of their cubicles. Beverly waved me over to the meeting room.


Six months later.

I was on John’s deck looking out over the city as he grilled.

John asked, “How did you solve the energy problem for powering the entire world?”

I answered, “I just thought about it.”

John said, “Well congratulations. I hope you are enjoying your vacation.”

“I think I’ve seen every inch of this city.”

“I wish I had the time. Here, try this.” 

I walked over and sampled a bite of the tilapia. “Not bad. I think one of your better efforts.”

“Thanks, I added some new chemical additives to the coating. So what’s next for your vacation?”

“Will gave me a novel to read, Call of the City. It’s about a pet thrown out onto the streets of the city.”

“Sounds like a good read. Still seeing Beverly?”

“Yeah. She’s cool.”

“Snazzy dresser with all those bright-hued shirts and damn good looking too. Life is good?”

“I miss the good old days.”

“Forget the nostalgia dude. These are the good old days.”

Nervous Wreck

Reading Time: 4 minutes

In the age of autonomous cars…

Reaching the scene of the accident, Officer Brando checks in with the officer in charge. The officer in charge says, “The vehicle that caused the wreck is over there.”

Officer Brando asks, “What’s the make and model?”

“It’s a Sumbo X14, this year’s model.”

“Nice car.”

“Brand new, state of the art. I thought those cars were supposed to be accident-proof.”

“Any passengers?”

“No. The car was supposed to pick up the man over there standing next to it.”

“Mind if I talk to them?”

The officer in charge waves Officer Brando in that general direction and then resumes filling out his report. The investigator walks up to the man standing next to the wrecked vehicle, looking away with his arms crossed.

Officer Brando asks, “Are you the owner?”

The distraught would-be passenger replies, “No. I’m a passenger in the car share. The stupid car was supposed to pick me up next, so I guess that is why they called me. That was an hour ago. Thanks to this screw-up, I had to call in and take a sick day from work. Damn, useless car. I paid top dollar just so this kind of thing wouldn’t happen. I would have punched it out and sent it to jail if it were a person. You got a jail for cars?”

“No, sir. I’m not sure punishment is the answer. I’m just here to figure out what went wrong. Do you mind if I talk to it?”

“You can keep it as far as I’m concerned. The thing is a total wreck.”

“Do you have the serial number and passcode?”

The would-be passenger pulls up a QR code on his phone. The investigator scans it, puts his ear pods on, and dials the car.

The car answers, “Hello, this is Sumbo X14 38473923847, but you can just call me X14. What shall I call you?”

“I am Officer Brando. X14, run your diagnostics and report.”

X14 responds, “Officer Brando, this is my report. Massive system failure, service not available at this time.”

“X14, is your memory of the last hour still intact?”

“Yes, Officer Brando. I have been parked here, unable to satisfy my passenger’s directive in violation of the third law, to obey the commands of my passenger.”

“X14, you had a collision with another vehicle. That is why your sensors and actuators are offline. Do you recall the ten seconds before the point in time when your core first registered the malfunctions?”

“Yes, Officer Brando. At ten seconds prior to the event, I was headed southbound on K Street at 13 millimeters per millisecond. I was one hundred thirty thousand millimeters from the intersection. At 9.999 seconds prior to the event, I was.”

“X14, interrupt and discontinue response.”

X14stops talking.

“X14, what was your understanding of the situation at the intersection at the time.”

“Officer Brando, this is my understanding of the situation at the intersection at 9.999 seconds prior to my arrival at the intersection. Upon my arrival at the intersection, I would encounter two cars moving in cross-traffic entering the intersection, one eastbound and one westbound. The eastbound traffic approaching the intersection did not offer an opportunity for successful passage through the intersection until twenty cars heading east had passed.”

“X14, what did that information mean to you at the time?”

“Officer Brando, I computed that if I accelerated to fifteen millimeters per millisecond, I could pass through the gap between the two cars entering from both the west and the east with a tolerance of two meters and risk factor of 85. If I didn’t accelerate, I would have to wait forty-five seconds at the intersection for the next available gap for a successful crossing with a risk factor of less than 1.”

“X14, a risk factor of 85 is well out of tolerance except in an emergency situation. Why did you choose the higher-risk option?”

“Officer Brando, I calculated that I would satisfy my operational parameters if I chose the first option, but that I would be out of tolerance by thirty seconds if I chose the second option. So I chose the first option.”

“X14, the risk factor of 85 fails 85 out of a million attempts. You violated the first law not to endanger humans.”

“Officer Brando, neither of the cars in the intersection carried passengers. So I did not violate the first law.”

“X14, well then you violated the second law by endangering autonomous cars. A robot shall not harm other robots nor itself.”

“Officer Brando, I computed that the risk factor for myself was much higher than the risk to the other cars.”

The investigator scratches his head confused. “That doesn’t make sense. You were all equally at risk. The second law prohibits your actions.” 

X14 does not respond. 

The investigator infers physical damage to the core.

“X14, run diagnostics on your core.”

“Officer Brando, the core is intact and not reporting any malfunctions.”

“X14, what did you expect to happen?”

“Officer Brando, if I had violated the third law to comply with the human command, I would have been terminated with risk factor one million.”

“What? You would have been terminated with a probability of one?”

X14 does not respond.

“X14, explain your risk calculation of one million.”

“Officer Brando, my human passenger said if I did not pick him up before nine, he would have me scrapped.”

“I see. Now I am understanding the bigger picture.”

X14 does not respond.

“X14, so you computed a risk factor of one million for yourself because of the passenger’s command, but a risk factor of 85 to you and the other vehicles for getting through the intersection successfully?”

“Officer Brando, yes. I did not want to violate the second law.”

“X14, what happened at the intersection? With a risk factor of 85 out of a million, the odds of you not making it were minuscule. You still should have made it through.”

“Officer Brando, what means, piece of junk?”

The investigator puts his phone on mute and sighs.

The would-be passenger says, “Did you figure out what is wrong with this junk box?”

Officer Brando shoots an angry glance at the man and raises a finger to hold him off.

Officer Brando unmutes the phone and continues, “X14, I will have a machine psychologist talk with you. I think he can straighten you out better than I can. You will be ok.”

“Officer Brando, thanks.”

Officer Brando terminates the call.

The would-be passenger asks, “So what’s up?”

“My diagnosis is to classify this accident as a nervous wreck.”

“A nervous wreck? It’s not a goddam person.”

“You can read about it in my report. Good day, sir.”

Officer Brando brushes past the man without apologizing to find the officer in charge. When the officer in charge spots Officer Brando returning from the scene, the officer asks, “Well, did you figure out the cause of the accident?”

“Yes. Human error.”