Author Archives: robertlampros

About robertlampros

Robert Lampros is an author of Christian poetry, essays, and fiction who lives in St. Louis. He earned a Bachelor’s in English Literature from Washington University in St. Louis. His books include Fits of Tranquility, Afternoon, Last Year’s Resolution, and Undivided Lines.

Oliver Stone Quotes

“The past assumes the nature of the present.”

“I would vote for the man who’s lived life, who’s done different occupations, who’s been out in the real world and struggled to make a living, struggled to raise a family, struggled with life as it exists. So I’d vote for experience, honest experience.”

“I think experience will teach you a combination of liberalism and conservatism. We have to be progressive and at the same time we have to retain values. We have to hold onto the past as we explore the future.”

“Every day that you get up, it’s some kind of victory if you’re making a good product, or working on a project that can only help mankind.”

“I think you can maintain two tracks. I think you have to. That’s what this kind of filmmaking is about. If you’re not aware of the limitations of what you’re up against… it’s like a general: you have to know your artillery and you have to know your infantry. You have to know what you have. You have to marshal your forces and use them well. It comes down to the personal and the intimate, but at the same time you have to have the big picture.”

“When you look at a movie, you look at a director’s thought process.”

“I think our life is a series of adventures.”

“JFK was leading the world, leading the United States into a new position with the Soviet Union. He was calling for the end of the Cold War. He would have been reelected in 1964 because he was vastly popular.”

“I may have disparaged the idea that people are looking at films on smaller and smaller screens… it’s a shame that people have to watch DVDs with the lights on in a television-type situation where people are wandering in and out of the room. Movies are different from television, and you cannot watch movies like television. It distorts it.”

“Forget the grand plan. Forget the master scheme. Forget control. That is the bleak but true basis of independent cinema. Inch by motherflooging inch we must, because we have no other choice.”

“If you make the movie from your heart and it stands over time, that’s what matters to me.”

“Everyone in the world is impacted by the United States’ Big Brother attitude toward the world. We need countries to say no to the United States. The United States is the dominant power in the universe, with its eavesdropping abilities, cyber abilities. And the world is in danger with our tyranny.”

“You can never judge how the film will be taken; you can only make your best effort, and put out what you feel. How it’s read, you never can tell. Or remembered for that matter.”

“Never underestimate the power of jealousy and the power of envy to destroy. Never underestimate that.”

“I love films. I love fiction films, too. I do. I love making them, but it has to be the right one. Hopefully, I’ll never become a director for hire. It’s horrible to make a film that you’re not really interested in.”

“Hell is the impossibility of reason.”

“I knew that one day I would come to this point that I would make something so outrageous and so ambitious that… it’d be that Don Quixote feeling, that I’d have to tilt at a windmill. Sometimes you’ve got to do it. That’s the only way you can do things.”

“Football is mesmerizing, because it’s a figurative war. You go in one direction till you get there, but you get there as a team, not as an individual. Players bond whether they’re black or white, much as soldiers do.”

“I went to Vietnam, and I was there for a long time. [Using marijuana] made the difference between staying human or, as Michael Douglas said, becoming a beast.”

“We all know what we know. We experience with our minds and breath.”

“Coming Home had been made before and Apocalypse Now and Deer Hunter, different kinds of movies.”

“I’m a dramatist. Dramatists have a right to look at history and interpret it the way they see it.”

“I would vote for the man who’s lived life, who’s done different occupations, who’s been out in the real world and struggled to make a living, struggled to raise a family, struggled with life as it exists. So I’d vote for experience, honest experience.”

 

Unbridled Fire (just a bit more)

The rest of the week passed quietly and slowly.  He spent his free time at home, packing in boxes the things he needed to take with him, looking for apartments online, drinking, reading comics, and watching anime.  On Wednesday night, after basketball and a mildly bitter argument with Susan, Claire called to complain about not hearing back from him after their date.

“Hey, Claire.”

“Jacob.  How are you doing this fine evening?”

“I’m having a bit of a crisis, actually.  I’m having serious doubts about the existence of vampires in animated films and tv series.  They just aren’t scary, and vampire slaying isn’t nearly as cool as ninja warfare, cyborg-tech related espionage, supernatural kung fu battles—I’m doubting whether vampires should have a place in anime at all.”

“Sounds like you don’t understand the significance of vampires in folklore and modern literature.  Were you going to call me again after our date Saturday night?”

“I was.  Of course I was…  You think vampire legends are important enough to make all these boring movies and tv shows?”

“Which ones are you referring to?”

Jacob thought for a few seconds.  “Pretty much every vampire story ever told.”

Dracula is universally considered to be one of the greatest novels ever written.”

“Never read it.  Are you sure about that?”

Nosferatu, Interview with the Vampire, Blade, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, all spectacular films.”

Bloodlust was okay.  I just don’t see the draw for all these fans.”

Claire shouted something incomprehensible, then checked herself and asked, in a calmer voice, “What is it you don’t like about vampire stories?”

“Good question…  I think the bad guys get on my nerves a little bit, in a way they’re not meant to.  Villains are evil, threatening, destructive characters, that’s what makes them villains, but vampires have this weird fog around them, like they’re supposed to be, uh…”

She heard him snapping his fingers.  “Seductive?”

“No, not seductive.  Intriguing.  There’s always some mysterious cloud surrounding them, and we’re expected to be so intrigued by them.  I couldn’t care less what they do in the catacombs of their shadowy old mansions, in Transylvania or wherever.  The main characters seem drawn to them, mesmerized somehow, I don’t get it.”

“You’re not suspending your disbelief.”

“I shouldn’t have to.”

“They can fly, sometimes, turn invisible, run super-fast, they’re incredibly smart and strong, not to mention immortal—”

“Not impressed.  Give Spiderman a few thousand stakes, he’d exterminate every last one in less than a year.”

“To each his own, Jacob.  When are we hanging out again?”

They decided Friday night would be good since he planned to start moving his stuff out the day after.  Because of Claire’s artwork, he thought she’d enjoy a visit to the Art Museum, but the suggestion made her laugh and say she’d seen enough portraits and naked goddess statues in grade school.  In her opinion the Potawatomi Casino was a better place to go.  She got paid on Friday and she’d been working extra shifts to have enough to buy Christmas presents for her family and some of her friends.  Jacob inquired as to whether or not it might be wiser to postpone their trip to the casino until after she had bought the presents, to which she replied by saying she’d be outside his house at eight, and if he wanted to come with, then he shouldn’t be so critical.

 

Unbridled Fire (second part)

It had surprised him that she’d consented to the date so quickly.  Susan treated him like a baby when it came to normal adult activities, like going out to have a few beers with his friends, crashing at someone else’s house for a night, and spending time alone with a woman.  He almost never did these things, but could remember a strange paralysis coming over her, a glassy-eyed intractability, when he wanted to do basic stuff like this in the past.  Last night was no problem for her, for some reason.  Maybe she finally realized he’s a real, live, grown-up human being.  Or was it something different?  Jacob double-checked the alarm time on his cell phone.  It’s possible she sensed the truth about him and Claire, that they were meant to be together, and she didn’t want to mess with fate.  Like playing with fire, he mused, dreaming off to sleep.

To the right of the black marble steps, the ramp led up to the revolving doors in three parallel segments, with a couple feet of space between them.  Pushing hard up the first section of the ramp, Jacob’s arms began to tire, shoulders and triceps aching before turning to ascend the second, which he climbed more slowly, gasping at the start of each new push.  Halfway up the third segment and less than twenty feet from the top, his right arm gave out, and the chair swung back to the left, and struck the metal railing with a low, percussive ring, a sound that tensed and uncoiled, sweeping out through his surroundings and permeating the ground, walls, and buildings as if they were merely air.

The front entrance had a single automatic door by the top of the ramp, yet it didn’t open when he pressed the button.  Jacob clumsily wheeled in using his elbow to prevent the door from closing on him, rolled weakly past the vacant front desk, and continued across the spacious, warmly furnished lobby toward the row of elevators at the far wall.  The effort required to convey his chair across the floor seemed to increase with each rotation of the wheels, his muscles felt like dead weight, his lungs began to choke on the sour air, and his head, sweating, nauseous, clouded by exhaustion and despair, sank forward and hung limply on his chest.  He kept pushing.  One arm, both arms, one again, both again…  The lamplight in the room grew dim, and in the oaken darkness Jacob sensed the presence of his family and friends, pale, luminous figures, like spectators on either side of him, faces growing clearer, his sister and brother-in-law, with their kids, his physical therapist, his bro Sunny, Mom, Dad, Claire…  They were smiling, and crying, some of them, watching him push.  He raised his head.  The elevators appeared, blurry and quivering, just a few yards away.  The wheels squeaked on the cold tiles as he inched his way forward.  Susan stood to his left, quiet like the rest, silently cheering him on.  He looked at her and smiled, faced forward again, and propelled the chair onward with a final, broken cry.

The elevator doors slid open.  In a moment he was strong again, and wheeled inside with ease.  Four vertical rows of square buttons, twenty-five in each row and numbered one to a hundred, with several for the lower levels below, shone with amber light in front of him.  He pressed the button for floor eighty-two.  The car jolted and rattled into motion, swaying slightly as it rose, while the grid of lights over Jacob’s head cast bright floating circles on him and the elevator floor.

The car stopped and the doors opened.  He rolled into a dim, high hallway where a woman sat at a desk in a cutout to his left.  Her hair was sandy blonde, straight with dark roots, and she glanced up from her computer and smiled as he passed her.  A conference room at the end of the hall, illumined by floor-to-ceiling windows, drew him to its glass wall and door, which he pulled open, awkwardly entering, and wheeling past the empty table and chairs, he parked before the center window and stared out at the city and sunset.

Above the staggered buildings, the clouds swept down in orange, pink, and purple waves, like the break of a cosmic surf, static, though imperceptibly flowing, crashing to the earth from a separate encompassing world.  Within his heart, the softest change, a watered seed first parting, then peace, eternal dreams—

Knock, knock, knock.

Jacob turned as the conference room door swung open, and a man in his forties, eyes brown and steady, stepped in and walked over.  “Hello, it’s nice to meet you.  My name is Buddy.”

“I’m Jacob,” he answered, reaching out to shake his hand.

“Do you mind if I sit down?  I’d like to speak with you for a few minutes, if that’s alright.”

“Your office, isn’t it?”

“No, it’s not,” said Buddy, pulling out a chair and spinning it around to face the windows.  “This is a sort of common space, for people who work in various capacities for the one who owns the building.”

Jacob leaned forward to peer down at the avenues and minuscule vehicles not quite a thousand feet below.  “He must be… rather comfortable, if he owns this place.”

“Well, yes and no,” he said thoughtfully.  “Sometimes I think he’s in worse shape than the rest of us combined.”  Buddy took a second to gaze up at the clouds.  “You could call it a tragedy, and I tend to think of it that way, then, almost as quickly, I realize there was no tragedy, and nothing that happens was ever really tragic at all.”

After a long, unburdensome silence, during which the sunset breathed perhaps its finest breath, Jacob asked, “What the hell are you talking about?”

The man looked at him as though irritated, but not by the question, nor by Jacob himself.  “We only have a little time here.  I’m not sure you’re going to remember this when you wake up.  If you don’t mind telling me, when you were younger, did you have many dreams about running, or flying?”

“Running, yeah.  I still do once in a while.”

“And did those dreams feel very real?”

“Sure, probably the most realistic dreams I’ve ever had.”

On hearing this Buddy turned away, pretending to survey the rooftops, level and angled surfaces to the right of their towering room.

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Everything.  And that’s exactly why you and I are here right now.  You have a terribly important job to do,” he said, meeting Jacob’s eyes.  “There’s an infinity of ways to accomplish this work, but I’m afraid you alone are qualified.  You’re the lucky one who is able to do it.”

“Because I’m special.”

“Yes,” he nodded eagerly.

“Because I’m the bravest boy in the whole world, and God loves me so much and He’s so damn proud of me?  I’ve heard that one before, Buddy.  The lady who said it ditched me to take care of someone else’s kids.  I don’t need to hear that from you, and you know what?  I never needed her, either.  What’s the quickest way to get out of this fake-ass building?”

He didn’t respond, merely watched him for a moment with the same unfocused irritation, before fading away into blackness with the building, the city, and the evening sky.  Jacob awoke to the shrill chirping of birds in the dark outside his window.

The early shift at Makermart was painful on Mondays.  The majority of the flow team, and the entirety of the management, moped through the store on autopilot, performing their duties with alternating vexation and stoic misery.  Jacob didn’t feel too bad on this particular morning, in part because Sunny would be picking him up at two and driving him across the river to Pointer Arena to see the MMA fights that night.  He’d been looking forward to this for weeks, and so had Sunny, who’d studied Jiu-Jitsu and fought in some amateur bouts himself.

It was almost two-thirty by the time he arrived, as Jacob sat in the cold debating whether or not to call Susan.  “I am so sorry, man,” he said, jumping out of the driver’s seat and jogging back to open the hatch of his Sonic LS.

“I was about to give up on you,” he laughed, “thought we were gonna miss the fights.”

“No way.”  He removed a narrow aluminum ramp from the back of the car, anchored one end on the pavement, and did the same with another identical piece.  “My nephew had to go to the hospital, he got food poisoning at school, toxic bologna or something.”

“Is he okay?”

“Now he is, now that he puked his guts out.”

“Thank God…  Beware the poison lunchmeat.”

As they approached the Kilbourn Street Bridge, they decided to park and grab a cup of coffee and some food, and kill an hour or two along the river.  “Sorry I’m such a pain in the ass,” he called back as Sunny unloaded his electric chair in the parking garage.

“You’d be worth the trouble if you bought the food more often.”

Stopping at a Ringman’s not far from the bridge, Jacob paid for their coffee and scones and they strolled down the riverwalk as they ate.  Two young women passed them going the opposite way, walking a black Pit Bull mix.  The taller one smiled at Jacob, who grinned and said, “Hello, ladies,” forgetting he had a mouthful of blueberry scone.

“Real smooth, bro,” said Sunny, and they veered to the right, parked and sat by the railing.  The river wasn’t icy at all, even though he was pretty sure it was below freezing.  The two of them sat quietly for a minute, finishing their coffee.

“I had a date the other night.”

Sunny turned.  “With Claire?”

“Yes, indeed.”

“How’d it go?”

“How do you think it went?  I swept her off her feet.  She’s in love with me.”

“Where’d you guys go?”

“Stayed in, watched a movie.  I cooked dinner while she told me her life story.”

“What about the Sub?”

“She agreed to spend the night elsewhere, believe it or not.”  He glanced to his right.  “Shut up,” he said, shaking his head.

“Tell me you at least kissed her.”

“No—”

“Awww.”

“That would have been nice, though.  No, we just watched the movie, talked a little, and then she left.  She had a good time, though, I know that.”

Sunny peered down at the dark green water.  “And you were worried about that stupid dream you had.  I knew you’d be alright.  When are you hanging out again?”

“We didn’t make plans.  I don’t know, sometimes…”  Jacob’s eyes seemed to darken as he stared down through the bars of the railing.  “I think sometimes it’d be better if I lived alone.  I mean stayed alone, forever.”  He glanced at Sunny again.  “I’m not sure I could make her happy, especially someone like Claire.”

“You said your equipment worked just fine.”

“I hate you, bro.  I’m talking about long term, everyday life.  Do you remember, The Death of Superman?”

“The comic book?”

“Yes, the comic book.  It starts with a spiked fist beating the hell out of this thick iron door.  A big dude in a green jumpsuit busts out, and starts tearing through the forest.  Well, the Justice League hears about the damage he’s doing, and they come to bring him in, but he starts pummeling those guys.  Later Superman shows up, and Doomsday punches him in the stomach, then turns around and kicks him through a house, clean through a house.  Superman.”

“What’s this got to do with Claire and you?”

A flash of anger reddened Jacob’s face.  “Because no matter how they try to crush him, the dude keeps getting stronger.  Even Superman can’t stop him, unless he dies too.”  He searched Sunny’s eyes again.  “I feel like that some days, like Superman in that story.  Or maybe like Doomsday.  I don’t know…”

He watched the current a second longer, reached over and squeezed Jacob’s bicep.  “You might be like Supergirl in that story.  Come on, let’s go.”

Less than half the seats in Pointer Arena had filled up by the starting bell of the first fight.  Their tickets had only cost thirty-two dollars a piece, which bought them a view from about three hundred feet away from the ring—worse than most of the people there, but neither Jacob nor Sunny was too disappointed.  The first bout ended quickly, the favorite, whose reach gave him a dominating advantage, kept his stronger opponent out of range with his jab, and when he began getting tired hammered his head and face with hooks and crosses.  The next few bouts lasted longer, the fighters more evenly matched, and the last fight they saw raged for all five rounds.  One of the guys could draw and dodge punches with blinding speed, then he’d either counter or take his opponent down to the mat, but the guy kept breaking free, landing elbows or kicks while he got away, and the process would start over again.  Both fighters were swollen, bloody, and barely conscious by the end of the fifth, when the faster guy won by decision.  Sunny admitted on the ride home he probably couldn’t have beaten either one of them.  As Jacob rolled in the house at just past nine, Susan asked if it was a fun trip to the art museum.  “Sure was,” he nodded.  “You’d be amazed how exciting flower paintings can be.”

His morning routine the following day took an extra twenty minutes, since he slipped off the seat in his shower as he was reaching for the conditioner, and in his efforts to pull himself back up, his foot got caught in the plastic suspension bands, and he fell onto the shower floor again trying to free his leg.  Once he had, Susan knocked on the bathroom door in a panic, asking if he was okay.  Jacob inhaled and exhaled five deep breaths before answering, “Yes, I’m fine.  A minor accident, that’s all.”  He lay still a while on the floor of the shower, until he was reasonably sure that she’d gone away, then resumed the attempt to climb onto his shower seat.  By the time he’d finished getting ready for work, and wheeled out to the kitchen, Susan had prepared a fresh, hot breakfast of steak and egg whites, scalloped potatoes, and avocado salad.

“This looks delicious,” he said, surprised.  “I haven’t lifted for a few days, I don’t need that much protein.  Thanks, though, I appreciate it.”

“Figured I might as well,” she smiled from the sink, “having awoken to a loud, mysterious thud in the direction of your bathroom.”

“Yeah, I slipped off the seat trying to reach my conditioner.  No permanent damage.”

Turning off the water, she placed the last pan in the dishwasher and came to the table to sit with him.  “Why don’t you keep it where it’s supposed to be?”

“I do, usually.  I was…  Never mind, please.”

Susan gazed out the window, through the open blinds at a sparrow perched on the bird feeder hanging from a lower limb of the pear tree in their backyard.  A female cardinal soon alighted upon the opposite side and frightened the sparrow away, and a minute or two later a round gray dove appeared and scared the cardinal away.  She let her eyes drift down to Jacob beside her, dividing the last of the egg whites with his fork.  Her left hand flew out to brush the damp yellow waves of hair back over his ear.  His arm shot up to block hers and force it away.

Please don’t touch me.”  Swallowing the food in his mouth and setting the plate and utensils aside, he looked down at the table, turned to her and said, “Will you help me pack my stuff this week?  I need to move out.”

Susan flinched, almost invisibly, and sat up straighter in her chair.  Regarding, briefly, the kind certainty in Jacob’s face, and focusing on the bird feeder again, vacant now, the seeds reduced to dotted, uneven sand between the glass, she covered his look with her own, replying, “Only if you take me with you.”

 

Unbridled Fire (Buddy Glass scene)

Jacob turned as the conference room door swung open, and a man in his forties, eyes brown and steady, stepped in and walked over.  “Hello, it’s nice to meet you.  My name is Buddy.”

“I’m Jacob,” he answered, reaching out to shake his hand.

“Do you mind if I sit down?  I’d like to speak with you for a few minutes, if that’s alright.”

“Your office, isn’t it?”

“No, it’s not,” said Buddy, pulling out a chair and spinning it around to face the windows.  “This is a sort of common space, for people who work in various capacities for the one who owns the building.”

Jacob leaned forward to peer down at the avenues and minuscule vehicles not quite a thousand feet below.  “He must be… rather comfortable, if he owns this place.”

“Well, yes and no,” he said thoughtfully.  “Sometimes I think he’s in worse shape than the rest of us combined.”  Buddy took a second to gaze up at the clouds.  “You could call it a tragedy, and I tend to think of it that way, then, almost as quickly, I realize there was no tragedy, and nothing that happens was ever really tragic at all.”

After a long, unburdensome silence, during which the sunset breathed perhaps its finest breath, Jacob asked, “What the hell are you talking about?”

The man looked at him as though irritated, but not by the question, nor by Jacob himself.  “We only have a little time here.  I’m not sure you’re going to remember this when you wake up.  If you don’t mind telling me, when you were younger, did you have many dreams about running, or flying?”

“Running, yeah.  I still do once in a while.”

“And did those dreams feel very real?”

“Sure, probably the most realistic dreams I’ve ever had.”

On hearing this Buddy turned away, pretending to survey the rooftops, level and angled surfaces to the right of their towering room.

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Everything.  And that’s exactly why you and I are here right now.  You have a terribly important job to do,” he said, meeting Jacob’s eyes.  “There’s an infinity of ways to accomplish this work, but I’m afraid you alone are qualified.  You’re the lucky one who is able to do it.”

“Because I’m special.”

“Yes,” he nodded eagerly.

“Because I’m the bravest boy in the whole world, and God loves me so much and He’s so damn proud of me?  I’ve heard that one before, Buddy.  The lady who said it ditched me to take care of someone else’s kids.  I don’t need to hear that from you, and you know what?  I never needed her, either.  What’s the quickest way to get out of this fake-ass building?”

He didn’t respond, merely watched him for a moment with the same unfocused irritation, before fading away into blackness with the building, the city, and the evening sky.  Jacob awoke to the shrill chirping of birds in the dark outside his window.

 

Kind of Blue (Miles Davis)

Kind of Blue (youtube/complete-album)

Jazz originated in New Orleans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, evolving to produce some of the most creative and varied music the world has ever heard.  Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue holds the honor of being one of the most highly valued jazz albums, and one of the most influential records of any musical genre in history.  Recorded in New York in 1959 and released that year, the album features Bill Evans on piano, Jimmy Cobb on drums, Paul Chambers on bass, John Coltrane and Julian Adderley on saxophones, Miles Davis on trumpet, and pianist Wynton Kelly on one track.

The use of improvisation makes jazz unique, gives the music life and power, and carries an emotional energy through the sound waves like currents of electricity.  The solos on Kind of Blue feel like echoes of an invisible music more real and powerful than the notes we hear from the trumpet and saxophones.  The drums, bass, and piano maintain a gentle structure for the horns to dance over, trancelike, then more upbeat, alternately crying and singing, sadness, weeping, fusing into mellow joy.

A departure from the style of his earlier work, Davis shifted from hard bop to modal jazz with Milestones in 1958, furthering his experimentations with modality on Kind of Blue.  At a time when American music, culture, values, and society were rapidly changing, artists like Davis cleared new paths for others by simply doing what they loved.  The Sixties saw wave after wave of brilliant, unprecedented, soulful music flooding out of the United States and Great Britain, a creative movement founded on the bold work of fearless artists of the 40’s and 50’s.  Popular music contributed a uniquely powerful voice to the national community, a vitality which healed and bonded people when bitter disagreements kept trying to make our nation split.

People talk about jazz’s quality of incorporating “wrong” notes into the music, pressing on through failed attempts and using the rhythm as a platform to speak hints of some far greater truth, so that really there are no mistakes in jazz, no “wrong” notes, because it’s all one big try anyway.  The musicians get together and give it their best shot to reach the unreachable, maybe they come close and maybe they don’t, but at least they gave it a shot.  Miles probably wouldn’t care too much that the Library of Congress selected his album for the National Recording Registry, or that Rolling Stone ranks it among the top 20 albums of all time, but he definitely does care that his music speaks truth to people, revealing the eternal.

America has a lot of music playing today, jumbled, broken music, jagged signals flying around and scattered voices trying to sing along.  The invisible music of truth gets drowned out by all that noise, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still playing.  Another thing people say about jazz is the most important notes are the ones you don’t hear—not that those notes aren’t being played, only, silently.  Miles teaches us the best thing one can do in life is miss.

From Intended Consequences:
Available at Amazon.com

 

Unbridled Fire (short story in progress)

Here are the first ten pages of a short story I’m writing, about a couple who go to Las Vegas and get married.

Unbridled Fire

Jacob sat slightly higher at the table than his friend, Sunny, with whom he was speaking.  Sunny’s hands were placed flat on either side of the cloudy orange tabletop as he listened intently to the dream being recounted.

“She was waiting for me in the back of a small restaurant, kind of like this one, at a table, opposite an empty chair, and her friend Barbara sat to her left.  She was smiling a hidden kind of smile as I walked up to her.”

“You could walk, in the dream?”

“Yes,” nodded Jacob, “and when I sat down Claire leaned back and crossed her arms, like this.”  He folded his arms against his chest and tilted his head back, peering at Sunny through distrustful eyes.  “I don’t remember how it got started, but I had a book in front of me, uh…”

 After ten seconds or so, Sunny said, “A textbook?  A paperback?”

Jacob raised his eyes to meet his friend’s.  “No.  A schedule book, you know, a—what do you call those things?”

“A day planner?”

“Yeah, one of those, all filled with events and plans.  Every day had a box filled with notes, the entire year was mapped out for us with dates, vacations, parties, family visits and stuff, even big celebrations like New Year’s Eve in Times Square.  I kept flipping through the book for the best days, and reading the day’s events to her, trying to convince her, but she didn’t smile or move really.”

“Convince her of what?”

“I don’t know,” he laughed.  “Impress her, maybe.  To make her fall in love with me.”

“What was Barbara doing?”

“She might have been helping me look for days.”  Jacob stared down at his plate, at the half-eaten pile of french fries and swirl of ketchup.  “I woke up before Claire gave me an answer.”

Sunny followed him past the counter and register, then helped push his electric wheelchair over the ridge in the doorway.  They listened to the Classic Rock station on the ride home while Jacob nodded to the music, throwing punches at the air and shouting, “Alright,” when the songs got good.

“God bless you, brother,” Sunny waved out the window and sped away, the taillights blinking on in the blue evening haze.  Jacob watched the grey Chevy shrink and blur into the stream of humming vehicles, then spun and motored up the walkway toward the ramp and front door.

 All he had to do for the rest of the day was shower, get dressed, eat dinner, and go to sleep before ten o’clock.  His job at Makermart required him to be there at six sharp so he could scan the boxes after the flow team unloaded the morning deliveries.  After work he had basketball practice on Wednesdays and Fridays, and if he didn’t get enough sleep he’d be drowsy and lagging on the court.

The simple task of showering and putting on clothes took Jacob approximately three to four times longer than an able-bodied person.  Once he completed this process, he checked his phone, and seeing no new messages or calls, wheeled over to his desk, removed a bottle of tequila and plastic lime from the drawer, and commenced watching an episode of Attack on Titan on his laptop.  A team of warriors flew through the trees raining hell on a malevolent giant who had the power to regenerate his limbs and organs.  Jacob poured another shot, threw it back, and squirted some lime juice in his mouth.  His thoughts drifted to Claire and the dream again.  There may be some truth to it, he thought.  Sometimes he felt like he was trying too hard, and if she wasn’t into it, so what, there’s plenty of fish in the sea.  Then the green of her eyes washed over him, melted his indifference into a renewed determination to win her.  “I love her,” he’d say to himself, “but she better know I’m liquid metal.”

The boxes dropped onto the conveyor and slid over the silver bars, the worn cylinders roaring, then faintly whistling, as the cardboard rolled past, and Jacob’s coworkers loaded the pallets on either side of the line.  He used his manual chair there since it was easier to maneuver in close quarters.  Once a pallet was ready to go out to the floor, the worker would raise a hand and he’d shoot over and scan the bar codes on each of the boxes.  Not the most awesome job in his opinion, but at least he could listen to music, and the people weren’t all unbearable.

“But it don’t make no difference,” he sang under his breath, “Cause I ain’t gonna be easy, easy.  The only time I’m gonna be easy’s when I’m, killed by death…”

“What you listenin’ to today, Jake?” his friend Shane asked, but he just kept singing and scanning the boxes.

When ten-thirty came around he grabbed his lunch and rolled outside to the employee smoking area on the south side of the building.  Early December in Milwaukee, the clouds of vapor billowed out from Jacob’s lungs as the turkey sandwich on his lap began to freeze.  He watched the cars gliding past beyond the creek encircling the hill on which the Makermart sat, and let his eyes drift down to the icy water.  The edges were frozen, jagged white borders constricting the dark green current, winding through the dense woods before the highway.  He didn’t move for a while, only sat, listening.  Then, at ten fifty-five, he quickly ate the frosty sandwich and wheeled back in to help stock and zone items on the lower shelves.

The Dial n’ Go shuttle picked him up at two and took him straight to basketball, and his mother’s friend, Susan, the woman he lived with, picked him up from there.  “How was practice?” she asked, folding the wheelchair and preparing to stow it in back of the van.  “You look exhausted, did you eat your lunch?”  Jacob hoisted his right leg inside and reached out to close the passenger door, pausing a moment to consider answering her question.  “Never mind, then,” she said when the door slammed shut.

“I got you those elbow sleeves you asked for, the kind with the pad.  They’re on your bed,” she called from the kitchen.

His head bowed, almost dropping on the empty plate.  “How many times have I told you—politely—to stay out of my room?”

“Oh, I know…”  Her attention focused on the task at hand, cracking and straining the yokes out of five large eggs for Jacob’s dinner omelet, part of a high-protein, low-calorie diet he’d started for basketball, and to help him get “insanely ripped” by New Year’s.  “I thought it’d be easier than having to carry them yourself.  Couldn’t help seeing those empty bottles in the trash.  I wish you’d quit drinking so much, young man.”

He raised his head, stared wide-eyed at the ceiling.  “Nine years, I’ve been old enough to drink.  I’ll be—”

“Thirty years-old in March,” she finished the sentence with him, rounding the counter with a plate of turkey bacon and a glass of milk.  “Please take it under advisement,” she smiled gently, “you drink enough tequila to drown a mariachi band each week.”

“And she’s racist, too.”

“Winters are rough sometimes,” she said, returning to the kitchen.  “The soul tends to weep and yearn for light.  Spring will be a time of waxing joy and renewal.”

“I’m happy to hear that, Susan.”

He deliberately waited until 8:05pm to call Claire.  She picked up the phone after one ring.  “Hey, Jacob!”

“Claire, how’s it going?  How was—”

“Not bad, you know—sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt.  I’m in the middle of inking the next SkyWench issue and it’s stressing me out.”

Jacob paused a second.  “I saw the sample pages on your blog the other day.  It looks amazing.”

“Well, thank you, sir.  Should be one of the best ones yet.  Now all I need is some readers.”

“Hey, Claire.”

“Yeah?  Present.”

“Would you want to have dinner with me Saturday, at my place, maybe watch a movie after?”  He almost added, “I can cook a mean roasted chicken with sauvignon blanc,” but kept his mouth shut.

A few hours passed, and Claire said, “Sure.  I’d love to.  What time should I be there?”

“Eight, eight-thirty.  I’ll start cooking around eight.”

“Sounds great, Jake,” she said, possibly smiling.  “I’ll see you, Saturday night.”

After work the next day he hit the gym, but not too hard since he had practice the day after that.  He wondered if Claire might want to go to his game Sunday.  Depending on how their date went, asking her to the basketball game could be a smart move, but if he came on too strong she might brush him off like a charity case who got too clingy.  “Cute little Jacob,” he groaned, pulling himself up into a seated position on the workout bench.  “He thinks Claire’s gonna be his girlfriend.”  Opposite the incline and decline presses, a woman in dark grey spandex pants and a sports bra was doing alternating curls and watching herself in the mirror.  He eyed her for a moment, checking out her body.  Curvy and muscular, a large chest but not huge, a moderately pretty face, and straight black hair.  She caught a glimpse of him, glanced at his shoulders and arms, and smiled.  He smiled back, then her eyes moved to the wheelchair parked beside his bench, she flashed a confused expression, stole a glance at his legs, and turned back to her own reflection.  Jacob lied down and started his next set.

Tired, tired, tired.  So tired of this…  Waking up to pitch black alarm, smelling filth in a soiled diaper, dragging self out of bed, washing, grooming, dressing, for another day like every other God-damned day.  Another day of crawling.  Susan loves, cares, and toils for him.  Sunny loves him like a brother.  Claire laughs and gazes at him from time to time, soft beaming starlight in her eyes, soon to fade, or fall, displaced by cloud or shadow, unknown amusement shaping lips into a grin.

“Hold up, let me scan those,” he barked at Richard, who’d started jacking up a pallet near the back of the truck.

“Sorry, Jake.  Kind of want to get these done in a hurry.  They should let us scan our own boxes, it’d be way faster.”

“Management wants it this way,” he said quickly.

“You’d be out of a job though, huh?”

“And what a tragedy that would be.  Kay, you’re good to go, Dick.”

Half of practice was drills, exercise, and strategy, while the second half was a scrimmage game.  His team went all out during practice games unless they had an important real game in the next few days.  Sunday afternoon they were playing the West Allis Porcupines, so no one on Jacob’s team was very worried.  The scrimmage began as usual in a fun, even brotherly spirit of good-natured competition.

“Once in a while it’s the right play to pass the ball, lame legs.”

“I’ll make sure to tell your mom that later.”

“At least Jake actually makes a shot sometimes, Danny.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah,” his teammates laughed.

Jacob spun and launched down the left side of the court, hoping to snag a rebound and sail the ball to Nick or Max for a shot.  He locked chairs with Elliot at the three-point line and fought to break free, but by then his team had possession, storming up the court where Max lobbed one in from under the basket.

Susan waited in the parking lot at four, folded his chair, stowed it in back, climbed into the driver’s seat, and started the van.  “Your friend dropped by today,” she said quietly.  “She left you a comic book.  Said you’re cooking her dinner tomorrow night?”

He rolled down the window, spat on the pavement, and rolled it up again.  “Is that alright?”

They already had the soy sauce, vinegar, and carrots at home, but they still needed soy beans, soba noodles, and salmon filets, so they stopped at the EarthWay grocery by their house.  He had found the Ginger Salmon recipe on a gourmet cooking site, he told her, and thought a Japanese meal would go well with the film they were watching, plus Claire liked anime, sushi, and some Shibuya-kei music.  He appreciated Susan taking him to buy the groceries.  He also appreciated her finding someplace else to be tomorrow night from seven o’clock onward, so he and Claire could have the privacy they’re entitled to as responsible, non-threatening adults.

The comic she’d given him, the latest issue of SkyWench, wasn’t her best work, although Jacob respected what she was trying to do.  Previous issues focused more on the clashes between Mina’s skyborn clan of sister warriors and the rock-dwelling Scorporanths that fed on human beings, often indulging a nigh unquenchable thirst for human spinal fluid.  In this one all she did was fly from mountain to mountain on her Sordes, with a few of her warriors, on a quest to locate a floating island where the land was fertile and the Scorporanths couldn’t reach them.  Mina ends up finding it, then changes her mind, saying life there would be, “A thunderless dream, and hence a virago’s nightmare.”  Claire’s other readers might enjoy it, either way he intended to keep any negative opinions to himself.

She showed up just after eight while he was grating the carrots.  On his way to the door he hit play on the stereo.  He had considered listening to an album that he knew Claire liked, Stereo * Type A or This Will Destroy You, but before he started cooking went with Use Your Illusion I, not wanting to look overeager to make her happy.  She stood on the doorstep, smiling, for a couple seconds, and he said, “Hey, Claire.  You look…  Hazardous.”

Black sweater unbuttoned down the front, white v-neck t-shirt, faded jeans, frayed at the bottom, over a new pair of sambas.  No purse in her hands, gently resting at her sides, and a calm, radiant, almost sarcastic look in her emerald green eyes.  Dark brown hair streaked with blonde fell over one side of her face, curled slightly beneath her chin, and flowed in a crescent to the back of her neck.  Pale rose lips, round above with softly dimpled corners, delicate, ivory cheeks, and the faintest freckles on a nose sloping bravely from the quiet shadows round her eyes.

“Invite me in at your own risk,” she said impatiently.

He poured her a glass of the Merlot that Susan drank, set it on the counter in front of her, and resumed prepping the ingredients.  Most of the tables and counters were about half a foot lower than usual, part of the renovation done after Susan bought the house.  In spite of this, and the feature of Jacob’s electric wheelchair allowing him to elevate or lower himself somewhat, he couldn’t shake a nagging embarrassment as Claire watched him cook and talked about her friends, the work they were doing, their plans for the future, and hers, which were more like vague wishes really because she still didn’t know what she wanted to do, but she’d rather live overseas and teach English than keep slanging shirts and keychains at the mall, and listening to the same fake-azz pop songs all day.

“Don’t you have to speak a foreign language to be able to teach overseas?”

“Not really.  Besides, I could always learn.”

“Where would you want to live?”

“Europe, China, South America…”

“Why not Japan?”

“I think most people already have a working knowledge of English there.  If not they probably don’t need more teachers.”

“Wouldn’t you miss this place?  Milwaukee isn’t the best city in the world, but it’s way better than Chicago, or St. Louis.”

Claire laughed a single, ecstatic, “Ha,” and let her head fall on her forearms, lifted it again, and finished her wine.  “I just know my life here has been a tragedy.”

They ate quickly, laughing now and then at each other’s jokes.  The salmon was delicious, perfectly cooked according to him, though Claire thought it was too well done.  “I agree,” she told him, “couldn’t be better.”  The tv in the living room emitted an obnoxious buzzing sound when the previews started.  He nearly fell out of his chair trying to get to the entertainment center to adjust the wires.  Unplugging and plugging them back in fixed the problem, and the film began.  The Wind Rises, directed by Hayao Miyazaki.  He’d almost chosen Ninja Scroll, but after some deliberation ordered this one, not wanting to risk Claire getting freaked out—uncomfortable, rather—due to the abundant violence.  The movie amazed her right away, she slid over next to Jacob, who’d moved from his wheelchair to the couch, and put his arm around her.

“Farewell, Mina,” he called from the doorway, instantly regretting it until she turned, laughing, and blew him a kiss.  Later, as he was falling asleep, he assured himself that it was better not to have asked her to go to his game on Sunday, better still not to have made any plans at all.  Their date was good.  Maybe in a few days he’d call her again.

The game was a blowout, as expected.  His team, the Badgers, dominated the West Allis Porcupines for a 43 to 17-point win, then Jacob and a few of the guys drove to a nearby sports bar for burgers and beers.

“I’ll buy the drinks today, boys,” he said as they rolled up to their table.

“Why you gonna do that, Jake?” asked Nick.

“I feel like being nice, since when do I need a reason?”

Danny eyed him for a second.

“In that case I want the most expensive whiskey they’ve got,” laughed Tyler.

“Did you get lucky last night, bro?” asked Danny.

Everyone at the table stopped talking, and looked at him.

“I told your mom to keep quiet about tha—”

“Yeah, yeah, just answer the question.”

He stared back at Danny and looked around at everyone.  “None of your business, but yeah, I had a date last night.”

All the guys said, “Oooooh,” and started making dumb jokes, when the server walked over.

“You sound like a bunch of tween-age girls,” he yelled.  “Look, the waitress is here.”

They ate, talked, and laughed for almost two hours, watching the Admirals and some other games on tv.  Jacob and Danny drank shots of Jack until Danny threw up a little on his plate and disqualified himself.  At home later, Susan asked how the date had gone.  He declined to answer, only said, “Thank you,” and wheeled into his room.

 

Fits of Tranquility (poems)

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

“A great sense of connection with human nature and the human condition which I found refreshing…  A delightful read.  5 stars.”  – Lauren, LivingABookLife.com

“This book made me feel overwhelmingly good.  As a religious person myself, I felt like there were some lines that really resonated with me.  Even if you’re not religious, a lot of the poems deal with nature and the spiritual experiences that being outside can bring…  I definitely recommend.”  – Ashley, What’s She Reading?

“Each poem offers the reader something to reflect on that will lead to other meditative thoughts.  If you enjoy poetry, you will enjoy Fits of Tranquility.”  – Terry Delaney, Christian Book Notes

“Containing over 20 unique poems and short stories, this book ranges in topic from inspiring images of nature to thought-provoking stories filled with charming dialogue and everything in between…  I would recommend giving Fits of Tranquility a try.”  – Prairie Sky Book Reviews

“Ideas of hope, healing, joy, and faith mirrored in poems about family, lightening, life, and wilderness, the second part is comprised of prose about falling in love…  A book for avid poetry readers.”  – Jen Pen, Savurbks.com

“I enjoyed many things about this book, foremost is the author’s tone.  It is understated, but capable of conveying some deep thoughts quite effectively…  There is a religious perspective in this book, expressed with artistry, understatement, that avoids sentimentality.”  – Arthur Turfa, author of Places and Times

“One of my favorites is ‘Family,’ it describes the value in a heartfelt and touching way.  I also really liked ‘Invisible Arms,’ a vivid picture of how God protects us from physical and emotional harm.  I am a hopeless romantic so I appreciated the sweet moments described in the short stories.  I would recommend this book for anyone who enjoys reading smooth thought-provoking poetry.”  – Ivory M, Beautyful Word

Fits of Tranquility contains a variety of styles and structures which makes this collection immediately more appealing to the poetry connoisseur.  Lampros’s poetry contains a sensitivity and emotional eloquence which flows gently through his work…  Fits is a superior collection and I recommend it to those readers who want to read beautiful, family-safe poetry.”  – Karen Jones, The Poetry Bookshop

 

Soft on the Devil, Chapter 3

Available at Amazon and Barnes&Noble.com

From Soft on the Devil:

Chapter 3

     September turned into October and St. Henry got cold.  If you’ve never lived in the Midwest, our summers are super-hot and our winters are super-cold, and the temperate seasons of Spring and Fall don’t seem to last more than a few weeks.  I try to make the most of Fall by doing outdoor stuff like hiking or walking around one of the parks in town, chilling with a book on the patio of the coffee shop by my work, or going to one of my old high school’s football games.  Soccer’s my favorite sport but I like those games, it feels good to support their team, and I get to see my teachers and occasionally my old friends.
     A week into October, I went to see Meremac South vs. Concordia Academy, a team we usually beat pretty bad.  I sat next to my history teacher, Mr. Samuelson.  “What’s up, sir?  How are classes this year?”
     He squinted at me beneath his bushy caterpillar eyebrows.  “Ian Phillips.  Nice to see you again, young man.  Classes are fine.  The students… don’t change very much.”
     “Is that good or bad?”
     “Neither.  Both,” he laughed.  “I don’t know.  I have just as many slackers as I had when you were enrolled here.  I can’t remember, were you a good student?”
     “You gave me a B-.  I think you were being generous.”
     “What was your term paper on?”
     “The Civil Rights Movement, tied to the necessity for compassionate politics in present day America.”
     “There’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one,” he laughed.  “You might as well extol the benefits of waging peaceful wars.”
     “Speaking of politics, what’s going on with those fraud charges?” I asked.  “I saw something about it on the news back in June, but haven’t heard anything since.”
     “Hey, I just work here,” he said, turning up his palms.  “I’m happy to have this job.  Plenty of teachers like me have gotten the boot to make room for kids like you.”
     “Twenty-four isn’t a kid.  I wish it was, my parents might still give me gas money.”
     “How are they doing?”
     “You’ll have to ask them.  See you later, Mr. Samuelson.”
     Standing in line at the concession stand to get a pretzel before kickoff, I recognized the girl beside me from back in the day.  She’d gone to one of the other Meremac schools, North or East, I couldn’t remember.  I thought her name was Amy.  “Hey, it’s Amy, right?”
     She turned quickly, her reddish-brown hair whipping the front of her face.  “Yes!  Hi, and you are?”
     “Ian.  I used to go here, I graduated in 2011, the same year as you.  We had some friends in common I think.”
     “Sorry, I don’t know you.”
     “Like I said, we had some friends in common.  You went to Meremac North, right?”
     “How’d you know that?” she asked suspiciously.
     “We saw each other at parties and stuff.  We even talked a few times.  Ian Phillips.  You honestly don’t remember me?”
     “No, I honestly don’t, and I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t bother me again.”
     “Sorry, Amy, I had no idea I was bothering you.  I was just trying to be nice.  I won’t speak to you again.”
     We waited in line for another two minutes or so, side by side, extremely awkward.  She stepped up to the counter and ordered a hotdog and Diet Sprite, which was a relief since I half-expected her to ask the concessions guy to call security.  I stepped up to the counter as she was getting her change, and started to order a Diet Sprite too, because that’s what I always drink, but stopped in the middle of the word “diet” for fear she’d accuse me of being some kind of soda-order-mimicking-stalker or some bizarre thing.  “Di… et Pepsi,” I said, “and a pretzel with light butter, please.”  Amy walked away with her food.  After getting mine I went to sit on the upper bleachers where it wasn’t too crowded.
     The game was closer than I’d expected, with Concor-dia coming back strong in the second half.  A field goal in the final minute put them in tying range with thirty-four points to Meremac’s forty-one.  Our defensive line held like a brick wall, though, and my alma mater brought home the win.  On the way to my car I saw one of my old friends, Claire Hendel, talking to Amy as they walked toward the parking lot.  “Hey, Claire,” I yelled, running up and giving her a big bear hug, picking her up and spinning her around.  “It’s so good to see you!”
     “Ian,” she laughed, “put me down, you lunatic!  How are you?  Why don’t you come to The Haus anymore?”
    “Why, so I can get wasted and crash my car?  I just wanted to say hello,” I looked at Amy behind her, “since we were such good friends back in the day.  It’s great to know we all still love and respect each other, isn’t it?”
     “Let’s get coffee sometime, the three of us.  You know Amy, right?”
     “I do know Amy.  Hi, Amy,” I waved.
     She nodded silently.
     “Take care you guys.”
     “Bye, Ian.”
     About this time last year I started noticing symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder creeping into my daily routine.  When I woke up each day I felt obligated to perform my morning activities in the same specific order.  I’d wake up, use the bathroom, wash my hands, brew my cup of coffee, fix breakfast, take a shower, brush my teeth, apply deodorant, and get dressed.  If I started brewing coffee before going to the bathroom, or putting on deodorant before brushing my teeth, I’d be forced by an irresistible compulsion to stop what I was doing and return to the normal order.  One day I forgot to brush my teeth and apply deodorant before heading to work.  I didn’t realize it until after I’d arrived and clocked in, and all of a sudden it was like a door slammed shut, locking me in an airtight room.  I couldn’t breathe or talk or think straight.  Walking out from behind the café counter and back out of the store, I got in my car and started driving home to brush my teeth and put on deodorant, but made a U-turn around the circle and parked again, realizing they might fire me for bailing on them like that.
     Other weird stuff started happening at about this time, not only psychological stuff but also strange occurrences involving people I knew, and events in the world.  I had more bad dreams about Cindy showing up at my apartment and jumping out of shadows.  Some-times I’d think I saw her from a distance while I was awake, catch a glimpse of her rounding a corner, or looking out a window, or leaning against a building far away.  The people in my apartment complex gave me weirder vibes than usual, too.  That guy, Gary, who I chatted with on occasion, started saying scary stuff about the people he called, “the powers.”  He meant the government, the rich, the people on tv and in the news, and he’d talk like they were the enemy, saying things like, “America won’t last much longer,” or, “Someone better stand up to the powers real soon.”  It might not sound scary when I say it, but the way Gary said it felt like something horrible was going to happen.  And he wasn’t the only one, I sensed a dark, lurking anger all over town.
     This was around Thanksgiving of last year, ironically.  I remember thinking, if every city is feeling like St. Henry’s been feeling, maybe America really isn’t going to last much longer.  I kept on waking up, driving to work, and reading the Bible at night, which helped me to not worry so much.  I knew that the only true power is God power.  The devil can lead people astray from time to time and cause a fair amount of trouble, but at the end of the day it’s still the Lord’s world, and Christ alone is sovereign here.  I switched from reading Jeremiah and the Prophets at night to reading the Gospels, to coincide with the holidays coming up.  Having Christmas around the corner helped also, not just me but everyone.
     I saw the dark-haired lady, Mrs. Romero-Newstead, parked outside my work a few more times, just sitting and staring.  I didn’t go up and talk to her again in case she’d tell her husband a man at EarthWay was hassling her, and then I might have two groups of thugs to be paranoid about.  With the amount of money Mr. Newstead had you’d be able to order any kind of malevolent treatment you could imagine—not that he would, necessarily.  He may have been a perfectly nice and gentle person, I’m just saying what he could have done. 
     I saw Amy again around Thanksgiving, the week after in fact.  My old buddy, Scott, showed up at EarthWay to meet Claire for lunch one day.  Almost a year had passed since the last time I’d seen him, and he looked healthier than I remembered him, brighter, like an actor in the final shot of one of those prescription drug commercials.  Vera let me have a five-minute break to catch up with him.  I told him he looked good, like he was doing well and all that, and he said he’d given up booze and smoking and had started doing yoga, which had helped his aura considerably.  He said he’d been working for his uncle’s real estate company and had scored big on a couple good sales over the summer, and he’d leased a condo for the following year out here in the county, in Marine Echoes, a pretty affluent part of town.  He asked if I wanted to stop by that Friday for a dinner party he was hosting, with a few people from school and some other friends of his.  I said sure.
     The wine section of my store was having a sale on Cabernet Sauvignon, so I picked up a bottle to bring to the party.  It was between that and the Pinot Grigio, but the description on the label swayed me.  I have a bottle of the same wine right here.  “This selection offers a quintessential incarnation, complex in character with an inky hue, flavors of cherry, eucalyptus, and black plum.”  The condo Scott was leasing turned out to be right next to the lake, less than a hundred yards from the water.  Most of the leaves had fallen off the trees by then so you could see the reflection of the distant windows and passing headlights on the surface of the water.  The humming of voices and deep rhythm of a jazz record escaped through the windows and walls as I climbed the steps.  No one answered when I knocked so I turned the knob and entered.  Crowded room, twenty or so, a few of them looked to see who I was.  I made my way into the kitchen with the bottle of Cabernet.
     “You made it,” Scott greeted me.  “Thanks for the wine, looks nice.  Make yourself at home, bro.  We’ve got apps on the table, beers in the fridge, mixed drinks at the bar.  You know most of the people here, right?”
     “Yeah,” I nodded without looking around.
     “Sweet, man!  Glad you could come.”
     A second later he was gone.  I grabbed a can of Blue Moon out of the fridge and stood near four people by the front door.  A tall blonde woman without any makeup was talking passionately, saying, “It’s get what you can as fast as you can, legally if possible, or a way you won’t get caught.  We’ve actually gone back in time a hundred and twenty years with regard to regulations, and the majority actually thinks it’s a good thing.”
     “What do you think should be done about it?” asked a guy with a Jaxon hat and Elvis-style sideburns.
     “Honestly, we need people to step up and hold the frenzy feeders accountable for their actions.”
     As she was talking someone to my right called my name.  I turned and it was Amy.  “I was very rude at the game that day.  I’m sorry,” she said, almost shouting over the music.
     “Yeah, you were kind of rude,” I said, walking over.  “No big deal though, it’s not like we were best friends back then.”
     “I’d be highly offended if you had treated me like that.”
     “Really, it’s okay.”  Noticing the absence of a drink in her hand, I asked if she wanted a glass of wine.
     “Sure,” she smiled.
     Using a corkscrew on the counter I opened the bottle and poured a glass right away.  I know you’re supposed to let red wine breathe for a few minutes but that wasn’t really an option given the potential awkwardness of the time we’d spend waiting.  She took the glass and sipped the wine.  Over her shoulder some guys I didn’t recognize were staring at us from the opposite corner of the room.  The music was loud, dark, slow jazz, sax and trumpets moaning in ever-rising platforms of rigid sound.  “Do you want to take a walk?” I asked.
     “Yeah,” she nodded.
     We got our coats, walked down the steps, and down the drive toward the lake, the gravel crunching beneath our feet.  “I like the cold,” I said.  “I used to hate the winter.  Now it seems quieter, more peaceful.  You?”
     “No,” she shook her head.  “I’ll take a sunny day at the beach over a cold peaceful day anytime.”
     “The closest beach is a thousand miles away.”
     “That’s probably why,” she said.
     The shore was mostly sand and gravel, with fallen trees here and there, farther back from the water.  Amy and I sat on one of the fallen tree trunks.  I breathed a giant cloud of steam into the air.  She breathed a smaller cloud.  “Just sad,” she said.  The lighted windows of the houses on the other side of the lake bobbed and swelled faintly on the black surface of the water.  I sidestepped toward her, sat next to her on the tree.  I looked at her cheek, the reddish-brown waves of her hair, pure black in the night, she looked at her hands, then up at me, I leaned over, and kissed her.

 

Film Review: Romance, Deception, and Destiny in My Cousin Rachel

As the title of the film suggests, the plot of My Cousin Rachel centers on the character of Rachel Ashley, the recently widowed wife of a man whose cousin, Philip (Sam Claflin), suspects her of poisoning him.  His estate in Cornwall, England, passes entirely to him on his twenty-fifth birthday, by which time Rachel, played with soldering torch intensity by Rachel Weiss, has endeared herself to him, having come to live in Cornwall after Philip’s cousin dies.  Intriguing performances, masterful direction, and evocative cinematography enrich this adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s 1951 novel.

Among Du Maurier’s other works adapted for the screen are Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, Hungry Hill, Don’t Look Now, and The Birds, all films conveying a powerful current of suspense.  My Cousin Rachel begins by introducing the protagonist, and then his cousin’s mysterious wife whom he hears about through a series of increasingly ominous letters from Ambrose, accusing his new bride of murderous intentions.  Once Ambrose has departed, the presumed result of a brain tumor, and Rachel settles in at the estate in Cornwall, Philip can’t believe such a spirited, captivating woman could be guilty of so diabolical a crime.

Set in the late seventeenth century, the story was inspired by a portrait Du Maurier saw of a lady named Rachel Carew, and while the mystery unfolds eerily, almost dreamily, it also sustains an air of historical fiction.  Philip’s experience of falling for, then later suspecting, and finally, perhaps, despising his cousin’s widow, feels like a true story, vividly recounted by Philip himself with faintly dreadful undertones.  He strives for freedom and fulfillment, but his pursuit is obstructed by a cloud of impatience, youthful boldness, and lurking fear.

Award-worthy performances from Weiss and Claflin in the leading roles, as well as fusion zone supporting work from Holliday Grainger as Philip’s longtime friend and would-be fiancée, Iain Glen as his quietly protective godfather, and Pierfrancesco Favino as Rachel’s companion, Rinaldi, exalt this film to the realm of true greatness.  The question of whether or not Rachel poisoned her husband, Ambrose, remains unanswered throughout the time of her stay with Philip, leaving him, and the audience, torn between the elegant vitality of her character, and the possibility of a lethal darkness at work behind her eyes.

The question of Philip’s destiny plays a significant role, in his moments with Louise (Grainger), prompting us to wonder if she isn’t the one he should be pursuing.  Her love for him is unwavering and evidently more true than the hesitant affection of his cousin Rachel.  At the film’s conclusion, we have to ask not only what really happened when no one was looking, but also what might have happened if Philip had looked beyond his more compelling desires to find a more complete truth.

 

Mere Christianity: The Three-Personal God

From Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis

Beyond Personality: Or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity

2.  The Three-Personal God

The last chapter was about the difference between begetting and making.  A man begets a child, but he only makes a statue. God begets Christ but He only makes men. But by saying that, I have illustrated only one point about God, namely, that what God the Father begets is God, something of the same kind as Himself. In that way it is like a human father begetting a human son. But not quite like it. So I must try to explain a little more.

A good many people nowadays say, “I believe in a God, but not in a personal God.” They feel that the mysterious something which is behind all other things must be more than a person. Now the Christians quite agree. But the Christians are the only people who offer any idea of what a being that is beyond personality could be like. All the other people, though they say that God is beyond personality, really think of Him as something impersonal: that is, as something less than personal. If you are looking for something super-personal, something more than a person, then it is not a question of choosing between the Christian idea and the other ideas. The Christian idea is the only one on the market.

Again, some people think that after this life, or perhaps after several lives, human souls will be “absorbed” into God. But when they try to explain what they mean, they seem to be thinking of our being absorbed into God as one material thing is absorbed into another. They say it is like a drop of water slipping into the sea. But of course that is the end of the drop. If that is what happens to us, then being absorbed is the same as ceasing to exist. It is only the Christians who have any idea of how human souls can be taken into the life of God and yet remain themselves — in fact, be very much more themselves than they were before.

I warned you that Theology is practical. The whole purpose for which we exist is to be thus taken into the life of God. Wrong ideas about what that life is, will make it harder. And now, for a few minutes, I must ask you to follow rather carefully.

You know that in space you can move in three ways — to left or right, backwards or forwards, up or down. Every direction is either one of these three or a compromise between them. They are called the three Dimensions. Now notice this. If you are using only one dimension, you could draw only a straight line. If you are using two, you could draw a figure: say, a square. And a square is made up of four straight lines. Now a step further. If you have three dimensions, you can then build what we call a solid body, say, a cube — a thing like a dice or a lump of sugar. And a cube is made up of six squares.

Do you see the point? A world of one dimension would be a straight line.  In a two-dimensional world, you still get straight lines, but many lines make one figure. In a three-dimensional world, you still get figures but many figures make one solid body. In other words, as you advance to more real and more complicated levels, you do not leave behind you the things you found on the simpler levels: you still have them, but combined in new ways — in ways you could not imagine if you knew only the simpler levels.

Now the Christian account of God involves just the same principle. The human level is a simple and rather empty level. On the human level one person is one being, and any two persons are two separate beings — just as, in two dimensions (say on a flat sheet of paper) one square is one figure, and any two squares are two separate figures. On the Divine level you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who do not live on that level, cannot imagine. In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube. Of course we cannot fully conceive a Being like that: just as, if we were so made that we perceived only two dimensions in space we could never properly imagine a cube. But we can get a sort of faint notion of it. And when we do, we are then, for the first time in our lives, getting some positive idea, however faint, of something super-personal — something more than a person. It is something we could never have guessed, and yet, once we have been told, one almost feels one ought to have been able to guess it because it fits in so well with all the things we know already.

You may ask, “If we cannot imagine a three-personal Being, what is the good of talking about Him?” Well, there isn’t any good talking about Him. The thing that matters is being actually drawn into that three-personal life, and that may begin any time — tonight, if you like.

What I mean is this. An ordinary simple Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get into touch with God. But if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him to pray is also God: God, so to speak, inside him. But he also knows that all his real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was God — that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray, praying for him. You see what is happening. God is the thing to which he is praying — the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on — the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. So that the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers. The man is being caught up into the higher kind of life — what I called Zoe or spiritual life: he is being pulled into God, by God, while still remaining himself.

And that is how Theology started. People already knew about God in a vague way. Then came a man who claimed to be God; and yet he was not the sort of man you could dismiss as a lunatic. He made them believe Him. They met Him again after they had seen Him killed. And then, after they had been formed into a little society or community, they found God somehow inside them as well: directing them, making them able to do things they could not do before. And when they worked it all out they found they had arrived at the Christian definition of the three-personal God.

This definition is not something we have made up; Theology is, in a sense, experimental knowledge. It is the simple religions that are the made-up ones.  When I say it is an experimental science “in a sense,” I mean that it is like the other experimental sciences in some ways, but not in all. If you are a geologist studying rocks, you have to go and find the rocks. They will not come to you, and if you go to them they cannot run away. The initiative lies all on your side. They cannot either help or hinder. But suppose you are a zoologist and want to take photos of wild animals in their native haunts. That is a bit different from studying rocks. The wild animals will not come to you: but they can run away from you. Unless you keep very quiet, they will. There is beginning to be a tiny little trace of initiative on their side.

Now a stage higher; suppose you want to get to know a human person. If he is determined not to let you, you will not get to know him. You have to win his confidence. In this case the initiative is equally divided — it takes two to make a friendship.

When you come to knowing God, the initiative lies on His side. If He does not show Himself, nothing you can do will enable you to find Him. And, in fact, He shows much more of Himself to some people than to others — not because He has favourites, but because it is impossible for Him to show Himself to a man whose whole mind and character are in the wrong condition. Just as sunlight, though it has no favourites, cannot be reflected in a dusty mirror as clearly as a clean one.

You can put this another way by saying that while in other sciences the instruments you use are things external to yourself (things like microscopes and telescopes), the instrument through which you see God is your whole self. And if a man’s self is not kept clean and bright, his glimpse of God will be blurred — like the Moon seen through a dirty telescope. That is why horrible nations have horrible religions: they have been looking at God through a dirty lens.

God can show Himself as He really is only to real men. And that means not simply to men who are individually good, but to men who are united together in a body, loving one another, helping one another, showing Him to one another. For that is what God meant humanity to be like; like players in one band, or organs in one body.

Consequently, the one really adequate instrument for learning about God, is the whole Christian community, waiting for Him together. Christian brotherhood is, so to speak, the technical equipment for this science — the laboratory outfit. That is why all these people who turn up every few years with some patent simplified religion of their own as a substitute for the Christian tradition are really wasting time. Like a man who has no instrument but an old pair of field glasses setting out to put all the real astronomers right. He may be a clever chap — he may be cleverer than some of the real astronomers, but he is not giving himself a chance. And two years later everyone has forgotten all about him, but the real science is still going on.

If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.