Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Second Most Important Thing

This Christmas finds me selling things no one needs to people who have too much.
 I’m a flex-time Sales Associate in Fine Jewelry at Grackle’s, the department store. There at the mall behind the locked counter in my black pants and black vest, I sell rubies and emeralds and diamonds and pearls. I have buckets of them. Fine watches, too. Though they come with warranties, I offer extended insurance on them. The gems, too.
One recent rainy Tuesday evening, a few minutes before closing at 9 p.m. when the store was bright and empty, except for idle clerks itching to be home, in came the happiest man in the world.
He gave me a sunshine smile. The next day would be his tenth wedding anniversary. He and his wife, the mother of their four children, would fly to the Caribbean at dawn. He wanted to get her something special. He was headed for housewares, but I said, “Sir, tin or aluminum is no fitting gift.”
            Together we browsed the pretty things. His eye fell on the gold necklace adorned with emeralds and rubies. I took it out of its locked case, set it on the counter, and unfixed it from its stand. After laying it on a blue display pad, I unsmudged a ruby. It was his to handle. As in a fairy tale, the moment he touched it, he had to possess it. At $10,000, it was the second most expensive thing in the store.
            This man was lucky, for it was on sale. I totaled the discounts, including one for getting a Grackle’s account and another for joining our “Thanks for Helping” charity program. Lo and behold, the necklace was his for $4,383. There was one catch: It was a pre-sale. To get the deal, he would have to wait several days to pick it up.
            “Not a problem,” said the man, so long as Grackle’s could give him a photo of the necklace. He would give that in its stead to his wife.
            “Not a problem,” I said, dispatching a colleague.
            Now the man’s woes began. We began the check-out process. It is a process because there is much pressing of buttons. Because his account was new, the computer would not approve his purchase.
So much debt for so new a credit customer.
            Downcast, my co-worker returned. No photo. Printer malfunction. A cloud passed on the man’s face, yet he beamed on.
            As I called Grackle’s credit center, the store’s lights, as they do at closing, one by one by one went out. There we stood in near darkness, lit by lamps on the counters, amid purses, pumps, and rings. Finally, the credit center gave its okay. But my register would not accept the approval code: 4444. I called again.
            “I’m sorry, sir, that this is taking so long,” I said, my armpits damp. This was the biggest sale of my short career. My commission would be one percent. “I’ll have you on your way soon.”
            “I’d really like to get home to put my kids to bed,” the man replied.
            In the gloom, I waited on hold. Getting through, once again my register beeped its displeasure at the go-ahead code: 4444.
            “Well, operator, what should we do?” I asked.
             “I’m not an operator,” she replied. “I’m a Grackle’s credit specialist.”
            I called a manager. She came, face blank. Pressing a button to unlock the gate, I buzzed her in to my secure area. Now she called. By now the store had been closed a half hour. Now it was just me, her, and the happy man. Behind him, the store’s undercover dick hung in the shadows by the dresses, grinning.
            As the manager took charge, the man showed me pictures of his children on his iPhone. I saw them. I saw his dog. I saw his wife. I saw his friends. They were all as happy as he was. He kept saying, “I’d really like to get home to put my kids to bed.”
            When all was well, the store had been shut nearly an hour. As we parted in the dark, I shook his hand. “Congratulations,” I said.
            “When I come back with my wife, “ the man beamed, “let’s have coffee from Grackle’s coffee bar.”
            “Yes, sir,” I nodded.
            The thing is, though, Grackle’s doesn’t have a coffee bar. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Principles of Life...From the Book "Shadow Divers"

The 2004 book "Shadow Divers" tells the story of two intrepid scuba divers who spend seven years making extremely hazardous explorations of a U-Boat off the New Jersey shore in an attempt to determine its identity.

Sunk in 230 feet of water 60 miles off-shore and not listed in any WWII histories, the submarine gives up its secrets only after the deaths of several of the divers' companions.

This remarkable tale will be the subject of a movie directed by Peter Weir premiering in 2013.

Here are the life lessons espoused by diver John Chatterton, truths he learned as a medic in Vietnam:

"* If an undertaking was easy, someone else already would have done it.

* If you follow in another's footsteps, you missed the problems really worth solving.

* Excellence is born of preparation, dedication, focus, and tenacity. Compromise on any of these and you become average

* Every so often life presents a great moment of decision an intersection at which a man must decide to stop or go. A person lives with these decisions forever.

* Examine everything. Not all is as it seems or as people tell you.

* It is easiest to live with a decision, if it based on an earnest sense of right and wrong.

* The guy who gets killed is often the guy who got nervous.

* The guy who doesn't care any more, who has said 'I am already dead, the fact that I live or die is irrelevant and the only the thing that matters is the only accounting I give of myself' is the most formidable force in the world.

* The worst possible decision is to give up."

Friday, February 10, 2012

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Sun, New Year

Then from the dawn it seemed there came, but faint
As from beyond the limit of the world,
Like the last echo born of a great cry,
Sounds, as if some fair city were one voice
Around a king returning from his wars.
Thereat once more he moved about, and clomb
Even to the highest he could climb, and saw,
Straining his eyes beneath an arch of hand,
Or thought he saw, the speck that bare the King,
Down that long water opening on the deep
Somewhere far off, pass on and on, and go
From less to less and vanish into light.
And the new sun rose bringing the new year.

--Idylls of the King
Alfred Lord Tennyson

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Over the World a Star

"We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south,
probably in polar orbit....Looks like he might be going
to re-enter soon....I see a command module and eight smaller 
modules in front.The pilot of the command
module is wearing a red suit."

"Stand by. He's trying to signal something."

-- Command Pilot Wally Schirra
Gemini VI
December 1965

The trajectory of the spacecraft traces the number six
on the mission's official patch
The brightest stars in the constellation Gemini 
Castor and Pollux appear inside the capsule.

When you find Gemini in the night sky, 
the direction you are looking in is 
towards the outside of our galaxy.

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, contains about 500 billion stars, according to 
the Khan Academy video above.

Andromeda, the galaxy nearest to us, (above) 
is 2.5 million light years away.
It may contain one trillion stars.

There are about 500 billion galaxies

The universe, as we know it today,
has a diameter of 26 billion light years.

If you do the math, 
this is a whole lot of zeros
that add up to something.

O, Holy Night!
The stars are brightly shining.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Art of Mooknar

The Art of Mooknar (a.k.a Margaret Spencer)
For more, go here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Vollis Simpson — "Junkyard Poet"

Dubbed the "Junkyard Poet of Whirligigs" by The New York Times
Vollis Simpson, 92, comes to work every day in Lucama, N.C.
holding court for visiting video crews, all 
while eating a lunch of Nip-Chee crackers and Pepsi. 

He curses like the B-29 airman he once was. 
He spins a bawdy tale about a miniskirted visitor. 
He worries about thieves coming to 
steal his metal. He tells a visitor 
he'll jump them, if he gets the chance, 
the same way he tackled a shoplifting customer.

His mind is sharp, his body strong. 
Vollis will be king of his spin-dizzy kingdom
for years to come.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Still Life

Turtle Joke

Turtle crawls into a police station. Head is bruised, shell dented.

Cop says, "What happened?"

"Ittt wasss awwwfulll," says the turtle.

"Whaddaya mean?" replies the cop.

"Ohhhhhh," says the turtle. "I wasssss mugggged."

"Who did it?" asks the cop.

"Threeee snailsss," says the turtle.

"Snails! What did they look like?" asks the cop.

"I don'tttt knowww," the turtle replies." Itt alll happenedddd soooo fast."

Action Adventure

Can't You Just See the Sunshine?

"Carolina On My Mind"
The Insteads

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Lime Lizard

I went into the woods yesterday to eat lunch and read. I found a spot by a fallen tree and put my sweater against the trunk and my jeans jacket down so I could sit on it. Next to me I put my white plastic Apple backpack that contained my lunch. I read the newspaper. Sad to read about Steve Jobs' passing. Then I had lunch---salad and tuna fish.
            After that, I picked up my book "In Love and War," a memoir in alternating chapters by a Naval aviator and his wife. He was shot down in 1965 shortly after the start of the Vietnam War. He was the highest ranking officer held as a POW and was tortured, held in solitary confinement, and remained a prisoner for seven years while his wife raised four children and led a national campaign to raise attention to the plight of her husband and other American servicemen. It is hard to imagine such courage. And for seven years. 
            After some time passed, I thought I noticed something on my backpack. At first I thought it was a leaf. Then I looked again. It was a five inch long brilliant lime green lizard, probably an anole. It whip-like tail was three inches. I thought it wanted to sneak in my bag to eat a crumb. I stayed still, sitting on the ground, my back against the tree trunk, legs stretched out in front of me, the book open in my lap. 

          After a few minutes, to my surprise, the anole leapt down to the ground and sprang onto my thigh. It climbed up my leg until it poised by my right hand at the edge of the book. I think it liked the warmth of my leg. Maybe it sensed the heat from several inches away.  
           It crouched there. I could see how thin, even emaciated it was. It is not easy living in the woods. Down the center of its spine ran a grey stripe. On top of its head I could see how its green coloration fractured into plate-like shapes. Its toes were long and terribly crooked. 
            More time passed. I noticed that to the side of my right thigh I had kicked away leaves and disturbed the earth. Where I had done so, ants had crawled in. A one-inch long worm writhed terribly in the soil from their many bites, and the ants tormented it. 

            From where the lizard crouched, the eye on one side of his head looked at me. The other eye could see the ground. I wondered if he could see what I saw. The one eye I could see looked very wise. Shrewd even. 
            With sure movements, the lizard sprang down, landing first on a leaf sprouting up. Soon enough, he had the worm between his powerful jaws.  Chomp, chomp, and the worm was down his gullet. A merciful death. 
            To my surprise, he hopped back up on my thigh. He breathed heavily, his sides moving in and out like a bellows. There he rested to digest, partly under the shadow of the bottom edge of the hardback book. I think he was considering whether to go underneath this giant overhang.  Instead, after a while, he skittered down my legs and rested at the top of my hiking boots. I think he also was deciding whether to explore inside my shoes. 
            Instead, he marched back up the tops of my thighs. By now, I knew what he was going to do. He jumped up on my open book and stood astride its pages, somewhat looking up at me. From there, there was no question he was going to sit on my left hand in my lap which was clasped on top of my right hand, enjoying a commanding view. In my right hand I held a pen. Next time, I will get him on my pen.             
         But this was not enough, and quick as lightning he ran up my bare arm,  jumped onto my T-shirt sleeve, then to my shoulder and leapt onto my  sweater which lay on the downed tree. From there he headed up a dead tree limb which stood up almost directly behind me. Perhaps he wanted the best possible vantage point. 
            I turned back to my book. No bird saw him.