The Homeless Man – Flash Fiction for 11/30/12

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Photo Copyright Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

The disheveled homeless man on the street looked familiar. When recognition dawned, it hit me hard.

“Kris, is that really you?”

“I’m afraid it is.”

“What happened?”

“Long story. Homeland Security arrested me at the border. Lost the place up north to foreclosure. The wife ran off, elves went on strike, and PETA took the reindeer.”

“That’s terrible. What are you doing now?”

“Ringing a bell in front of Walmart. Seven dollars an hour. Better than working for milk and cookies.”

“But who’s going to deliver the gifts to the children?”

“Not to worry. It’s all privatized. Big brown truck.”

The Muse – Flash Fiction for 11/23/12

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Photo copyright Joyce Johnson

“What are you doing?” said Thalia. “You’ve been sitting there at the computer motionless for an hour.”

“Trying to write this week’s flash fiction. This photo prompt’s tough and I’m just not inspired.”

“So why don’t you just skip it this week?”

“Can’t do that. I’m addicted.”

“Addicted? Like to a drug?”

“It’s ridiculous how important it is to me. Don’t understand it myself.”

“Writers are a strange bunch, creative but nerdy.”

I looked over at her. She was wearing the black negligee.

“I’ll be in the bedroom if you ever get it done.”

“I’ll be there in five minutes.”

Thanksgiving and the American Holocaust

A few months ago I learned that I am directly descended from a married couple, William and Susanna White, who arrived on these shores in 1620 aboard the Mayflower. While most people are proud to have ancestors who were Pilgrims, I have very mixed feelings about it because I also have a quantum of Native American blood. Here’s why I’m somewhat mortified about my Pilgrim heritage:

In a few days, we celebrate Thanksgiving, and school children will be hearing the myth about its founding, how the Pilgrims and Indians sat down to a meal together as friends and celebrated the harvest.

Like most myths, it has elements of truth, but it also totally ignores a dark side of the Plymouth Colony and other early settlers, the fact that in less than two decades they killed off nearly every member of the native tribes that had lived there for thousands of years and forced the rest onto reservations and stole their lands.

The local Indians were already wary of the English when the Pilgrims arrived in 1620. Earlier exploratory missions had routinely slaughtered the indigenous people and rounded them up to be taken to England and sold as slaves. Squanto, of the Thanksgiving story, spoke English because he had been one of the natives kidnapped and taken to England as a slave, but managed somehow to return home.

The colony’s crops failed in 1621, and they were saved from starvation through the efforts of Squanto, who had managed to grow 20 acres of corn. Though the Native Americans were suspicious of the English colonists, they nevertheless taught them their agriculture and fishing skills. Without these skills, the Pilgrims, half of whom died anyway, would have completely perished. They owed their very lives to the Indians.

Following the harvest, the colonists invited one Indian chief to come for a feast. To their horror, he arrived with 90 of his tribesmen who all joined them for the celebration. The Indians were never invited back and some historians argue that the main purpose of the invitation was to negotiate with the chief for their land.

The Pilgrims also cleverly set local tribesmen against each other, preferring to let the Indians kill each other off rather than doing it themselves. When a chief refused to cooperate with their treachery, he was beheaded and his head displayed at Plymouth Colony.

The Pequot Tribe occupied lands in the Plymouth area. Shortly after the arrival of the Pilgrims, many of the native inhabitants began to fall sick and die. Given the description of their deaths, smallpox was probably the disease which devastated the Pequots. The Pequots were estmated to number about 8,000 when the Pilgrims arrived. By 1637, disease brought by the Pilgrims had reduced their numbers to 1,500.

On the orders of the colonial governor, about 700 Pequots were slaughtered by the colonists in a massacre in 1637. The Indians were holding their green corn festival when an armed band of colonists surrounded the village by night and killed nearly everyone including women and children. Here is a description of the massacre written by William Bradford:

“Those that scraped the fire were slaine with the sword; some hewed to peeces, others rune throw with their rapiers, so as they were quickly dispatchte, and very few escapted. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fyer, and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stincke and sente there of, but the victory seemed a sweete sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to inclose their enemise in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enimie.”

By the end of 1637, only a handful of Pequot were still alive. The massacre set the precedent for what would become a more than 200-year genocide of Native Americans. Massachusetts Colony also initiated the reservation system which would become the model for the isolation and deprival of the indigenous peoples.

Perhaps historian Gilbert Mercier said it best: “In other words, celebrating Thanksgiving is as if Germany had a day of celebration for the Holocaust. Thanksgiving is the American Holocaust.”

He said, she said

Photo copyright Sean Fallon

“What’s that?” he said.

“I think it’s called found art,” she said.

“That’s not art, it’s trash.”

“You have to look past the outward appearance.”

“Would you want that on your coffee table?”

“Why not? It has a subtle beauty.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“I think I’ll buy it.”

“Dead batteries? Over my dead body.”

“Look at the price, only four thousand.”

“It’s a piece of crap. Not worth four cents.”

“I want it. I’ll put it on a card.”

“Are you nuts? We can’t afford it.”

“Get over it.”

He clutched his chest and paled.

“I win,” she said.

If you would like to come out and play with Rochelle Wisoff-Fields and the Friday Fictioneers, click here and follow the instructions.

Taking your marbles and leaving

Following the big election 36 states now have secession petitions going, led into this foolishness by the ultra-conservative state of Oklahoma. As of a couple of days ago, more than 13,000 Oklahomans had signed a petition to secede from the United States. The federal government has promised to respond to the petition if and when it has 25,000 signers.

That response will surely be that secession is illegal. Remember the Civil War?

I grew up in Oklahoma, but I’m puzzled as to why Okies are some of the most politically conservative citizens in the country. More than 66 percent of Oklahomans voted for Mitt Romney, and his loss is the most obvious reason some in the state want to leave the union. In 2008, even though he never campaigned there, John McCain captured 65 percent of the Oklahoma vote, the highest percentage in the country with the exception of Utah.

But what would you expect from a state that has given us Oral Roberts, Anita Bryant, and Gary Busey? This is the same kind of thinking that led the Oklahoma Legislature to pass a bill banning Sharia Law.

Let’s have fun with this and pretend for a moment that Oklahoma is its own country. What kind of nation would it be? Here are some Oklahoma laws that might be a clue:

-In 2007, the watermelon was made the Oklahoma state vegetable.

-Females are forbidden from doing their own hair without being licensed by the state.

-Dogs must have a permit signed by the mayor in order to congregate in groups of three or more on private property.

– Oklahoma will not tolerate anyone taking a bite out of another’s hamburger.

-It is against the law to read a comic book while operating a motor vehicle.

-It is illegal to have the hind legs of farm animals in your boots.

-People who make “ugly faces” at dogs may be fined and/or jailed.

-Cars must be tethered outside of public buildings.

-Oral sex is a misdemeanor and is punishable by one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

-It’s illegal for the owner of a bar to allow patrons to pretend to have sex with a buffalo.

Any questions?


A deer on our land

This weekend, an estimated 280,000 hunters are out in the woods in Arkansas trying to kill deer. Deer hunting is a deep-rooted tradition. I’m posting this as an alternative view of deer hunting.

My dad grew up in a desperately poor family in a small town in eastern Oklahoma. My grandfather was a tenant farmer and money was scarce, and even having enough food was a struggle. It didn’t help any that grandpa liked to blow off some of their precious little cash on drinking and gambling.

So, often, whether there was meat on the supper table depended on whether or not my dad or one of his two brothers were able to kill a rabbit or a squirrel. To my dad, shooting, butchering and eating wild animals was just an everyday fact of life.

But I didn’t grow up that way. I was mostly raised on the outskirts of a city, and I never remember going hungry. To me, meat came from the grocery store, not from the woods or fields.

My dad always had guns, but he didn’t hunt much by the time I was growing  up, but occasionally he’d go out to the Verdigris River bottoms east of Tulsa and shoot some squirrels that lived in the pecan groves. I wasn’t invited to go along, but he did ask me to help him clean the squirrels. By clean, I mean butcher. There’s really nothing clean about it.

My job was to hang onto the squirrel’s back paws while my dad did the knife work. He’d begin by slitting the belly, throat to tail, and scooping out the entrails with his fingers. Then he’d cut off the head, the tail, and the paws. After that, he’d grab the edge of the skin at the neck and peel it off the carcass. He’d toss the skinned corpse into a pan and then we’d go on to the next squirrel.

My dad did all this expertly and impassively, with no more reaction than if he were cutting up an apple. But, though I hid it, I was horrified. It felt like he was desecrating the squirrel bodies. Actually, that’s exactly what he was doing. That’s what butchering any animal amounts to. He was desensitized to it but I wasn’t and found it a disgusting violation.

I didn’t object or say anything, because I was afraid my dad would think less of me. I didn’t want to disappoint him, and it didn’t happen very often, so I endured it.

Like all the boys of my generation, I owned a Daisy BB gun and I enjoyed shooting it as much as any other boy. But unlike all the other boys, I never shot at or killed  birds. I didn’t know why I didn’t, but I had a vague misgiving that there must be something wrong with me because I was different.

When I was in seventh grade, we moved to the country, to six acres of prairie a few miles out of town. At some point, my dad described to me how he used to build rabbit traps. It was basically a long wooden box you baited with food with a trigger that dropped a door when the rabbit bumped it. Using my dad’s description, I built one and put it out  in the fields. A few days later I checked it and found a rabbit in it. I grabbed up the whole thing and took it to the house for my dad to see. He came out in the yard, opened the door, grabbed the rabbit by its hind legs and dragged it out. The rabbit thrashed around struggling for its life. My dad gave it a hard chop to the back of the neck with the edge of his hand, using so much force that the rabbit’s head flew off its body and landed over the fence in the field and he was left holding a spasming body with blood pouring out of the neck.

I felt deeply guilty. I hadn’t actually killed the rabbit, but my actions had led directly to its death. I knew these feelings were wrong. I should have felt proud of putting meat on our table, but I felt sorry for the rabbit. Mom cooked the rabbit for dinner and dad urged me to eat some, but I just couldn’t and I never put the trap back out in the field.

I think I might have been about sixteen when we made one of our trips to my Arkansas grandmother’s house. She lived right on Highway 22 in New Blaine, a tiny little town in Logan County. Dad sometimes went hunting with my mother’s brother and her sisters’ husbands, so he brought his rifle with him. One afternoon during our visit, he let me borrow his .22 and go out hunting on my own. I walked through the swampy land behind my grandma’s house to a point where the land began to slope upward and tall pines grew thick and the ground was a soft carpet of pine needles. I hadn’t been out in the pines long before I spotted a squirrel in one of  them. I crept up stealthily, sighted and shot and the squirrel tumbled out of the tree and landed dead in front of me. All that target practice with the BB gun had made me a crack shot.

But immediately, I felt terrible. Here was this squirrel, happily living out its life and I had come from 200 miles away and made the effort to hike into the woods and kill it. Looking down at its lifeless body, I was ashamed of myself. Maybe the worst part was that I knew something was wrong with me for feeling the way I did. Men were supposed to hunt and kill. That’s what men did. What kind of a man was I if I felt guilt for doing what men did? Something about me was definitely off.

I left the squirrel where it lay and walked despondently back to grandma’s house. I didn’t brag about killing it. I didn’t want anyone to know. I felt like a murderer and I also knew that my shame made me some kind of screwed up misfit. But there’s no denying your emotions. I knew right then I wasn’t a hunter and never wanted to kill an animal again. It was the final lesson about myself that I had been moving toward for most of my young life.

Eventually, I figured out that, unlike anyone in my family, I was an animal lover. I had no idea how I got to be that way, but I had a sensitivity to animals that others just didn’t seem to have. When I married, I was extremely fortunate to marry a woman who was, if anything, an even bigger animal lover than myself. We’ve channeled this love for animals into taking in stray cats, so many that we spend way more than we can afford on their care. We also feed birds, deer and raccoons, though I’m not sure feeding wild animals is a good idea because it makes them dependent on humans and perhaps lessens their fear of people and makes them easier targets for those who seek to kill wild animals.

But it all springs out of  something that is a good quality, I believe, the desire to see animals live and thrive, instead of the desire to enjoy seeing them die. And I don’t  think of myself as having anything wrong with me anymore. Just the opposite. I think people who want to go out and kill wild animals have something wrong with them and I don’t understand how they can take the life of a wild innocent animal and feel good about it.

They don’t need the meat like my dad’s family did when he was growing up, it’s not a sport when the hunter has a deadly weapon and the animal only has teeth and claws and it’s not wild animals that are overpopulated, it’s people.

The Ice Storm – Flash Fiction for 11/9/12

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Photo copyright Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Buzz stepped out of his cabin into an icy glaze. Nobody about, perfect weather for what he was doing. He hiked toward the lake, leaving no tracks on frozen ground. The lakeside chalet was dark just as he’d thought. City people came only in the summer. Last winter he’d ripped off enough guns to keep him solvent a month. This time, he found the same window unlocked. City people were foolish. Ice coated the window and he couldn’t see the string that led to the shotgun trigger. When he pushed the window open, the blast hit him in the face.

Why Your Vote May Not Count

Even the name is misleading. It’s not a college.

Remember the 2000 Presidential election, Gore v. Bush? Vice President Al Gore won the popular vote in the country by a margin of more than half a million votes. But George Bush became president because he won in the electoral college.

This year, there’s a chance that could happen again. Statisticians say it’s only a 7 percent chance, so it’s unlikely, but possible. If it happens, the most likely scenario would be that Mitt Romney wins the popular vote but President Obama would win a second term.

With the technology we possess, it just  seems wrong to have someone become president who came in second in the popular vote. Back in the 1700s when the system was set up, it wasn’t possible to hold a national election. Now it is and we should.

There’s another negative aspect to the electoral college that seldom gets mentioned. It damages voter incentive. For example, why should I go out and vote Tuesday in my state when it’s already clear who will win? My state will be voting for Romney, and all my state’s votes in the electoral college will then go to Romney.

You vote counts only if you live in one of the eight states still in play. That’s why the candidates in these final days only campaigned in the states that were close.

But if we had direct popular vote for president, my vote would mean something. It would also mean the candidates would have to bring their message to every part of the country, not just concentrate on the swing states. With direct popular election, a vote has the same value, no matter what state it’s in. I’ll vote anyway, but with direct popular vote, I’d  be a lot happier.

There also is a significant group of disaffected voters who have dropped out of the political process. For the past two presidential elections, voter turnout  rate was 64 percent. Which sounds pretty good unless you think about the fact that over one third of voters who could vote choose not to. I know many of these types. Some of them think all politicians are corrupt. Some just don’t see a choice they like. Some are trying to send a message that they are angry by not voting. They are a large group of Americans who no longer believe in the system.

There has been a tremendous amount of coverage by the media of a tiny sliver of undecided voters. But I’ve yet to see one reporter talking to someone who does not plan to vote. Though this is a group of more than 30 million people, the media has ignored this issue.

Maybe one reason for this is that our political system no longer seems to be able to get much of anything done, even something that makes a lot of sense like getting rid of the electoral college. You would have thought that the 2000 election would have changed attitudes, but no change has happened.

My biggest fear is that, no matter who becomes president, there will be four more years of gridlock in Washington with nothing getting done to move the country forward.

These Humans – Flash Fiction for 11/2/12

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These humans are difficult to understand, intelligent yet contrary. Their customs are peculiar. They wear protection for their eyes against the sun when their sun is not in the sky. They inhale smoke from burning plant matter. They drink light beer. They worship screens of flickering colors.

But this exploratory survey mission is worth it for the meats. The humans have meat and fish in abundance, beef, pork, chicken, mutton, goat, turkey, duck, venison, lobsters, oysters, meats that have not existed on our planet for centuries. And of course the sweetest flesh of all, a freshly roasted Johnny or Jill.