Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Bob Wire Bandits

This is the first draft of a short story I just wrote, based on a true story.  Quite a bit of artistic license was used, so places may not completely match up with reality.  All of the details are fictional, as are all the names of the characters.

I welcome any feedback you would like to provide, especially concerning the vernacular, which I am still touching up.  Enjoy.

Antwerp is a sleepy little town in northern New York State, bordered to the north by the county line and to the east by the Fort Drum Army base. The village is mainly known for its military heritage and for its petty crime, most of which is unsolved or unreported because of the residents’ suspicion of most outsiders, especially the police.

Dale O’Connor was a descendant of Irish farmers who moved to America to till the rocky soil of Antwerp instead of the rocky soil of the Ould Sod. A ruddy, semi-literate graduate of Indian River High School, Dale, as well as his buddies, lived at home, worked part-time or seasonal jobs, when he could find work, and stayed in beer and pot money by stealing anything not nailed down.

The bulk of the thievery consisted of stealing cash, drugs and other valuables at parties they attended, invited or not (very often Dale and his friends were told NOT to return), and from taking and selling objects from their fellow Antwerpians’ front porches, open sheds and garages – tools, bicycles and the like. One evening, however, Dale and friends decided to up the ante.

“Pass me another beer, wouldja?” Dale, Bob, Harold and Paul stood beside Harold’s ’80 Cutlass Supreme in their favorite drinking spot in a pull-off on Pulpit Rock Road one Saturday night and passed around a joint while gazing at the stars and talking about their two favorite topics, hunting and women. “Here ya go, Dale,” said Paul as he tossed over a can of Milwaukee’s Best, a misnomer if there ever was one. Bob asked, in his North Country nasal twang, “What ya guys wanna do tonight? This is borin' as shit!” “Yeah,” replied Harold, “Let’s hunt some deer or somethin’. I got my guns in the trunk.” “Naw” said Paul. “Ol' Smitty up the road gets pissed when he hears gunshots at night. I don’t wanna get hassled by the cops.”

Bob asked Paul, “You still workin’?” “Just one more week, then that sunna bitch is gonna lay me off 'fore I get my twenty weeks in!” “No unenjoyment then?” asked Harold. “No fuckin’ shit! What'm I gonna do for cash this winter?” exclaimed Paul. “My parents are sick a me bummin’ money offen ‘em. This sucks!” “Hey!” Dale interjected, “Didja hear what Wendell Taylor done? The phone company left a couple spools a wire in the ditch where they’s runnin' it over on Carpenter Road an' Wendell took it, stripped offen the coverin’ an' sold it ta that scrap metal place down in Watertown. Got some pretty good jingle too. Nobody can trace it neither. It’s just bare copper wire.”

“Ya kiddin'?” asked Bob. “What’d he do with all the rubber offen the wire?” “Hell, he just burned it up with the rest a the shit in his burn barrel. Took a while an' that’s the blackest smoke you ever seen”, said Dale. “Damn!” said Harold. “That lucky fucker. I wonder iffen we can find any wire like that around.” Dale replied: “It ain’t gotta be wire. Any kinda metal will do. They’ll buy ANYTHIN’! Ol' pipe – copper’s best – or any ol' steel layin’ 'round. Shit, they’d prolly take this bob wire fence here iffen we cut it down an' rolled it up.” “Ya think?” asked Bob. “Sounds like a lotta work ta me”, said Harold.

Just then Dale got an idea: “Y’know, we ain’t gotta roll up no bob wire; they’s lots a it over at the Agway already rolled up outback the store. All we gotta do is load it up an' take it down ta Watertown when we can.” Paul asked: “No shit? They don’t ask no questions at the scrap yard? Ain’t they gonna wonder 'bout brand-new rolls a wire?” “Nah”, said Dale. “They don’t care where it come from, so long as they can get it cheap. What do ya think?” “I dunno”, said Paul. “What iffen we get caught?” Harold replied: “Who’s gonna catch us? The cops never come through Antwerp an' it’s dark outback a Agway. It won’t take long; just a couple minutes.” “How much ya think we can sell?” asked Bob. “Depends on how much we can fit in the cars”, answered Dale. “Let’s go get my car an' some bolt cutters an’ do it. Agway ain’t open on Sunday, so nobody’ll know it’s gone till Monday mornin’”

The guys hopped in Harold’s car and spun out, leaving beer cans, cigarette butts and chip bags in their wake. On the way to Dale’s house, Bob asked: “What’s the plan? How we gonna do it?” “Easy”, Dale replied. “We back the cars up, with the lights out, ta the fence near the wire, cut a big hole or two in the fence, load up the cars an’ drive out ta our wood lot off Austin Road an’ dump it in the bushes till we’re ready ta take it ta the scrap place.” “Wait a minute!” exclaimed Harold. “We ain't loadin’ nothin’ in my car. That bob wire’ll tear up my seats an’ I gotta buncha shit in the trunk.” Dale retorted: “Fuck! We’ll load up MY car then – front seat, back seat an’ trunk – my seats are vinyl anyhow. Just leave me enough room ta drive. You guys can all folla me in Harold’s car.”

Shortly after picking up Dale’s car and just before reaching the Agway store, Harold and Dale shut off their headlights while Bob and Paul jumped out to help the drivers back their way slowly in close to the fence and switch the cars off. “He he,” laughed Dale quietly as he got to work with the bolt cutters, “we’s cuttin’ through bob wire to get ta more bob wire!” “Shh!” Paul hissed. “I don’t wanna get caught.” “Quit bein’ a pussy, an’ let’s get ta work”, whispered Bob.

The men hauled a few rolls of the wire through the opening in the fence and set them down by Dale’s car. “Lemme pop the trunk”, Dale muttered. As the trunk swung open and the trunk light shined on, Paul almost screamed. “Shit! Get that light out!” “Quiet!” hissed Dale as he reached in and yanked out the bulb. “Yer yellin’s worse’n that light!” Paul whined back: “Sorry, I’m just spooked.” “Well, get UNspooked and let’s load up”, Bob replied sarcastically.

After the trunk incident, Dale knew enough to disable the dome light in his car to avoid undue attention. “SCREECH!” went the first roll as a barb scraped noisily across the rear bumper. “Jesus! You guys fuckin’ stupid? Careful with that!” exclaimed Dale. “Okay, Okay. We’s tryin’!”

The rest of the loading went quickly and uneventfully as they crammed wire into every inch of available space in the car. Barbed wire was hanging out of the trunk and out three of the open windows, leaving just enough room for Dale to squeeze in. “Dammit! I’m gonna need a shoehorn ta get my ass in here”, said Dale. “You guys got somethin’ ta tie the trunk down so's it don’t bang?” “Lemme go cut some a that balin’ twine over there”, Bob said. So Bob and Paul swiftly tied down the trunk while Harold and Dale waited in the cars; then they started up and slowly pulled away.

As they headed out, Dale decided to keep his headlights off in an attempt to be inconspicuous. Harold, seeing that Dale kept his lights out, did the same. Unfortunately, inconspicuous they were not as they rolled through the still streets of Antwerp with no lights on and with rolls of barbed wire sticking out all over, as they found out soon enough.

“WEEEEOOOO!” sounded Deputy Sheriff Reed’s siren as he pulled out from behind the Town Hall and hit his lights. Reed had been contemplating the inside of his eyelids when a short squawk on his police radio startled him awake just in time to see Dale and Harold’s curious little convoy roll by.

“Goddammit!” yelled Bob as his head spun around. “I knew it!” yowled Paul “I KNEW we’d get caught!” Knowing there was no chance of getting away, Harold and Paul both meekly pulled over and rolled down their windows. “What’s going on boys?” inquired Deputy Reed as he strolled over to the parked cars. “Plan on doing some fencing tonight?”

A month later Judge Knowlton glared down at Dale and rumbled: “Mr. O’Connor, you know I can lock you up for a long time because of your record, don’t you?” “Yessir, I do. I’m sorry”, Dale sheepishly replied. The judge continued: “I am only doing this because you come from a good family, but I am going to give you one last chance to straighten up. I will suspend the charges if you agree to compensate Agway for the damages to their fence and immediately join the Army. Perhaps that will teach you some discipline and respect. At the very least it will keep you out of our hair for a while. However, if you do not complete the entire enlistment period, I will reopen the felony charges against you. Understand?” “Yessir. Thank you very much, sir.”

After successfully completing basic training, Dale found himself out in the field for his first assignment with the Army. While explaining the circumstances of his enlistment to a fellow newly-minted private, Dale exclaimed, “I hope I never see no more bob wire the resta my life!” Just then their sergeant called the unit together. “Okay, gentlemen, we’re having trouble with deer entering the range, so I need a detail to install the barbed wire fencing in that truck right there, starting at that pole. It should only take a few weeks. Estevez! Jackson! O’Connor!...”

Friday, April 23, 2010

Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" Series

I'm currently buzz-sawing my way through the seven books in Asimov's classic Foundation series.  I read the original Hugo-winning three books - Foundation; Foundation and Empire; and Second Foundation - many years ago, and didn't realize that additional books had been added to fill in the gaps, so I decided to go back through the entire collection chronologically (to the story, not in the order published).

The series chronicles the fall of the Galactic Empire, in the distant future, after twelve thousand years of domination, and Professor Hari Seldon's prediction of the collapse using the field he created called Psychohistory, which is a form of mathematics that allows the prediction of general changes across worlds and the galaxy.  Psychohistory also provides the foreknowledge to shorten the anarchy subsequent to the collapse by a factor of thirty, from thirty thousand years to only one thousand years. 

Seldon uses his knowledge to create two "Foundations", which will serve to replace the Galactic Empire after the fall.  One Foundation is tasked with documenting all of human knowledge so that it will not be lost in the anarchic period.  The Second Foundation is comprised of humans with special mind powers, including Seldon's granddaughter, who are to combine their powers to create a sort of "universal consciousness" to benefit humankind.

After several future "Seldon crises", as they are called, the two Foundations eventually confront each other to determine which will actually end up being the core of a new empire.  Along the way there are confrontations with the dying Empire and a mysterious mentalic called "The Mule".  And the series concludes with the rediscovery of Earth, the origin of human life, which has mostly been forgotten over the millennia and is thought to be only a myth.

In going through the books, I am glad to see some of the gaps filled in, especially the history of Hari Seldon, although there is a lack of continuity in several places.  If you are willing to ignore these inconsistencies, though, you'll find a very entertaining classic science fiction story by one of the masters of the genre.

Monday, April 05, 2010

East of Eden

One of my all-time favorites, by John Steinbeck. I’ve probably read it five or six times over the last thirty years, starting in my high school Modern Novel class, where we also watched the mini-series starring Jane Seymour (the start of my love affair with her).

Each time I read East of Eden it’s like reading it for the first time. The book continues to surprise me with its depth and descriptiveness. The characters are multi-dimensional and lifelike – bad people aren’t completely evil and nice people are not completely good – although some people would cast the main antagonist, Cathy/Kate, as pure evil. I prefer to think of her as a sociopath, though: probably not truly evil, but rather a person who is missing something in her, through some combination of her genes and her upbringing. Steinbeck seems to feel the same way about her. When Kate finally realizes she’s missing something, she ends her life rather than feeling like something less than human.

What can be said about this classic novel that hasn’t already been said? It’s a retelling of the Cain and Abel story, over two generations, first with brothers Charles and Adam Trask, and then with Adam’s sons Caleb (Cal) and Aron. Many themes mirror the biblical account: just like Cain is a “worker of the ground”, so Charles is a hard-working farmer and Cal becomes an investor in bean crops; Abel is a “keeper of the sheep”, while Aron goes to school to become a priest (commonly compared to shepherds); God rejects Cain’s gift, but accepts Abel’s, while Charles’ and Adam’s father, Cyrus, accepts Adam’s gift of a puppy but rejects Charles’ gift of a hard-earned expensive knife; also, Cain kills Abel, while Charles attempts to kill Adam and Cal’s treatment of his brother leads to Aron entering WWI and getting killed.

The primary theme of East of Eden, however, is that the vast majority of us have the choice to be good or bad. Adam, his cook Lee, and their neighbor Samuel Hamilton extensively discuss what the moral of the Cain and Abel story is and it is eventually arrived at by some of Lee’s philosopher relatives that the moral comes down to the Hebrew word “Timshel” in the Bible, which means “thou mayest”, as in “thou mayest rule over sin.” This gives us control over our actions, rather than fate or an order to obey. Timshel recurs throughout the book, and plays particular importance at the end.

Some find East of Eden to be depressing, but I find it quite uplifting, regardless of many of the events that occur. Ultimately it is about making good choices and forgiveness - things that most of us would agree are of utmost importance to being a good person.