26 December 2013

Old Men, Old Books

By Bud Koenemund

  The old man – despite the protestations of his home nurse – struggled to throw off the blankets and stand. Teetering slightly, he shuffled across the thick carpet deliberately. Reaching one of the many dark cherry-wood bookshelves lining the walls, he lifted a thick tome, and then slowly returned to stand beside my chair.

  Watching him move, I prayed silently he would not fall.

  He held out the book in both hands, as if offering it to me.

  "See this?" he asked, opening the cover and pointing at its publication date. "1912. More than 100 years old."

  A whistle of sincere appreciation escaped my lips.

  "I doubt anyone will ever read on a 100 year old electronic gizmo," he said with a laugh that quickly turned into a choking cough.

  The nurse reached out for him before I could stand to help steady his frail body.

  "You take it," he said, thrusting the book toward me, when he finally caught his breath.

  "Oh, Sir; I couldn't take your…" I began.

  "It's not mine," he interrupted. "And, while it's filled with his words, it's not William Shakespeare's either. Though, he and I will be discussing it very soon."

  I smiled.

  "I'm not its owner any more than you will be. Those of us who love books – those like you and I – we're more like caretakers. I'm not its first, and I want to make sure I won't be its last. Take it, read the words; turn the pages, let them slip over your fingertips; savor the scent of it.

  I reached out for the book he still held.

  "I'm about to shuffle off the mortal coil, as Will would say," he croaked, "and, I don't want that lost in a dusty library basement, or hidden away in the private collection of some pretentious schmuck."

  I laughed as my fingers caressed the century old cracked leather cover. I fought the urge to open it immediately.

  "You could leave it to your family, or donate it, or have it put on display," I tried to counter.

  "Take it," he ordered. "Someday, when your time comes – and it will come – pass it on to someone else."

  "I can't thank you enough," I said, while his words turned over in my mind.

  "I've spent a lot of years trying to figure out what it is about books," he said. "The books we give as gifts mean something, I think. Maybe they say something about who we are. Or, about who or what we want the recipient to be."

  He turned back to his bed. As he climbed into the pile of blankets and pillows, I collected my things. Knowing it unlikely I would see him again – at least in this world – I thanked him once more for his time, and his gift.

  I descended the stairs haltingly, wanting to go back and ask one more question. I exited the front door meditating on what he'd said about books, and wondering what he wanted me to be.

07 December 2013

Microfiction Combo Pack

  Here are three microfiction (100 words, or less) stories written over the last two weeks (OK, I wrote two of them, and came up with the third by re-working an older story). They were written for a contest run by a friend on The Facebook.

  I don't usually write this kind of stuff, and wasn't going to enter the contest, but a few ideas popped into my head (you never know when, where, or how inspiration will strike). Each story had to contain the words "rattling" and "wall."


- Bud


To Be, Or Not To Be

  Every day, for as long as he could remember, Bartleby awoke with the same questions rattling against the walls of his weary brain: Would a person be considered suicidal if he simply didn't care if he woke up in the morning? If he were disappointed by the realization he had to struggle through at least one more day before he could finally lie down and die, ending the spiral of pain and confusion life had become? If he sometimes contemplated an act he knew himself too chickenshit to actually commit?
  Grudgingly, he rose to endure yet another day of emptiness.

Those Who Cannot Remember the Past
  The insatiate gathered above Wall Street, on gilded balconies overlooking the rabble – the indebted; those without jobs; those left homeless when the housing bubble burst, and so many banks collapsed, rattling the economic security of the middle-class – the self-proclaimed 99 percent. They laughed, took pictures, and mocked the people; toasting the disaffected with champagne sipped from crystal flutes. They were among the elite in a world of margins and algorithms; puts and calls; dollars and cents. But, insular, and blinded by their greed, they could not feel the heat of a fire whose glow already lit the horizon.

Fallback Guy

  "Please," she cried, grabbing him.
  He avoided her gaze as her fingers sank into the fabric of his jacket.
  "Please, kiss me," she pleaded. "I know I hurt you. But, I love you. And, if you kiss me right now everything will be OK."
  He looked into her eyes. Everything he'd wanted stood before the wall he'd built; the words he'd desired to hear rang in his ears. And, the memories of every time she'd hurt him; of every time she'd disappeared; when she'd chosen someone else, rattling his sanity, flowed through his brain.
  "I can't," he said, turning away.

29 August 2013


By Bud Koenemund

  $569,000. By government standards, it's not much; not when compared to our national budget. It amounts to less than two/tenths of a cent for every American. Indeed, it's barely a drop in the bucket when compared solely to the defense budget.

  $569,000, or thereabouts, is the cost of one Tomahawk cruise missile – reportedly the weapon of choice for our upcoming attack against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. The attack is, according to many in the media, a foregone conclusion. One report speculated dozens, even a hundred, of the missiles may be used in the assault.

  I said thereabouts when referring to the price because the true cost per missile could be as high as $1.4 million. But, just for laughs, let's go ahead and believe the government is currently getting the low end price; presumably for models without a CD changer, power windows, and a rear defroster.

  Considering the sheer number of missiles, and the cost (in dollars and lives), think about how much good could be done with those dollars.

  For $569,000 (remember, the cost of just one Tomahawk), we could:

  Through UNICEF, feed 1,138,000 children for a day. Or, feed one child for 1,138,000 days.

  Pay for a school term for 284,500 Ethiopian children.

  Buy equipment for 11,854 classrooms in Afghanistan.

  Pay for a year of schooling for 16,500 girls in Afghanistan.

  Build 334 wells in countries around the world.

  Provide 2,076,850 meals for kids in India.

  Buy 38 generators to provide power to entire rural communities.

  Provide a year of schooling for 22,760 Tanzanian children.

  Run 52 street children's hospitals for a year.

  For the price of just nine Tomahawks, we could do everything on the list. And, if the true price of each missile is the higher number I quoted, we could do more than twice as much. We could even save some elephants in Kenya, and maybe a whale or two.

  Now, some will say, "Why should I care about kids in Afghanistan or Tanzania? We have our own problems right here."

  You're right. We do. I used examples from around the world because we're going to expend those missiles overseas. But, we have bridges falling down, roads crumbling; all kinds of infrastructure that could benefit from having more dollars available for repairs.

 There are still people losing their homes because the housing bubble burst. Any number of schools and hospitals right here in the US could use that money.

  That money could be used to help fund national healthcare, or help pay college tuition, or help fund the arts – there are hundreds of theater companies starving for the funding which would enable them to continue providing culture to people at little or no cost.

  Of course, there are political considerations. But, you must realize Syria is a no-win situation for the United States. We will be damned if we do, and damned if we don't. If we attack, the US will be criticized for bullying yet another Middle Eastern country. If we don't intervene, the US will be criticized for allowing men, women, and children to die.

  But, we've been doing that all along. There are people dying around the world, right now! They were dying long before Bashar al-Assad. They were dying before Saddam Hussein began filling mass graves with 15,000 of his own people. They were dying before Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi, and many other dictators around the world.

  Whether our Tomahawk missiles remain in their launchers or not, people will continue to die, because poverty kills more people each year than any of these men could ever hope to.

  The answer is not killing foreign leaders – merely allowing the next strongman to step up – or destroying what little infrastructure these countries have. The answer is more education. It is access to food and clean water. It is access to medical care. It is exposure to cultural events which teach we're not all that much different from each other.

  The United States can help provide these things, and for surprisingly little cost when you look at it in terms relative to what we spend to kill people.

27 June 2013


  He washed away the excess shaving cream, rubbing his fingers together under the weak stream of hot water. His father had tried to teach him, of course.

  "You only need a little bit," he'd said. "It goes a long way."

  It'd been foam back then; not the expensive, moisturizing, sensitive skin care, cocoa butter-infused gel he slathered on now.

  This stuff was supposed to help his complexion, or so the writing on the side of the can promised. In truth, it only served to remind him of what William Shakespeare writes in Henry V: "The elder I wax, the better I shall appear: my comfort is, that old age, that ill layer up of beauty, can do no more, spoil upon my face."

  At 44, he'd been shaving for 25 years.

  "More than that," he sighed. "Closer to 30."

  In all the days of his eclectic, though admittedly incomplete, education, he'd somehow missed learning about Newton's law regarding the dynamics of gel expansion, of that he was sure.

  He still used too much. Well, if he hadn't figured it out by now…

  He looked in the mirror as the remains of the glycerin goop slipped down the drain. The blue eyes looked the same – his vision the only part of him, it seemed, not yet compromised by age. The face itself had changed; the skin looser; he had a wrinkle or three, and a couple old scars.

  Raising his glance, he again read the two quotes he'd long ago taped at the top of the glass – one a Latin phrase, the other he'd read in a Tom Clancy book.

  "Memento mori;" Remember you will die. He'd intended it as a motivational tool; to make him write by reminding him his time on this planet is limited.

  Each morning, it made him feel guilty when he thought about how little he'd accomplished the day before. And, too frequently, it elicited an empty promise to do more today.

  He noticed the slowly increasing number of gray hairs on the sides of his head…and the quickly decreasing number of hairs on top of it.

  Shades of gray, he thought.

  "Today you can be a man of honor; or you can not," the second quote read.

  It wasn't that easy, he knew. When he was young, everything had been simple. To a kid it's all black and white; good and bad. You're either G.I. Joe or Cobra; cowboy or Indian.

  But, a man's world is full of grays – colors that had to be dealt with, and consequences to be endured. Decisions often had to be made without the luxury of experience or knowledge. Best possible choices made in a moment, and years of memories lived with.

  Is this what it means to be a man? he thought, making the first pass with his razor. To struggle forward, while always dwelling on the mistakes of the past; trying to accept things that can't be changed.

25 February 2013

Satire and "The Line"

  As a writer, I am always leery of passing too harsh a judgment on other writers; especially when it comes to attempts at satire. As George Carlin says, "I think it's the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately."

  I've written my share of satire. I've toed – perhaps even crossed – that line more than once. I've made word choices for effect. But, what The Onion did last night during the Academy Awards – what they called Quvenzhané Wallis, a nine-year-old child – was well over any possible definition of "the line."

  While I certainly am not the final judge of what is or isn't funny – at least not for anyone but myself – I think any rational person would be offended by The Onion's insulting remark regarding Ms. Wallis.

  Because she was seated at the Oscar ceremony, waiting to find out if she won the award for Best Actress, I'm sure Ms. Wallis did not see the Twitter post from The Onion. And – though it may be naïve of me – I hope she does not see the apology they posted soon after. I hope no one has to explain to a nine-year-old what The Onion said that required – that demanded – an apology.

  I believe in the First Amendment. The Onion has the right to write whatever they please. I, however, am not forced to agree with them. Nor, am I obligated to continue following them on Facebook, Google+, Tumblr, and Twitter.

  I have, therefore, expunged The Onion from each of the social media platforms I use.

20 February 2013

Shakespeare the Critic

Hmmm, great indeed! "So we beat on..."

I thought this was about last night's wine-fest! Oh, my poor head!

This dude scares the $#!^ outta me! Ed, let's go get a drink and talk about it!

Well, maybe not the complete plays. (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)

This one writes pretty well...for a chick!

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was an age of wisdom, it was..."
 Blah, blah, blah!

Seriously, John?! As they say (or, will say in the future), less is more!
 Have you thought about trying a sonnet? Come on, 14 lines...

14 February 2013

The American Family Association is Unpatriotic and Ungrateful

Arlington National Cemetery (photo from Army.mil)

I rarely comment on the things I post on What Are You Really Afraid Of? (http://whatareyoureallyafraidof.tumblr.com/) The stories and pictures I choose usually illustrate the bigotry, intolerance, and ignorance of the "anti-gay rights" movement better than my words can.

Today, however, I must sound off.

The American Family Association (AFA) is angry that gay soldiers might be buried in the "hallowed ground" of Arlington National Cemetery.
First, I find it sad that the leaders and members of the AFA have nothing better to do with their lives than trying to deny honor to people who fought and died for their country; to people who fought and died for the AFA's right to even exist and espouse their ridiculous beliefs!
Second, I find it funny that the AFA doesn't realize there are already gay people buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Our country's fallen heroes have been buried at Arlington since the Civil War. Gay people have been around since the beginning of time!
Does anyone truly believe none of the gay people who have served in our military were killed and buried with honor at Arlington?
Now, I challenge the AFA to look at the rows of headstones lining the rolling hills of that cemetery, and tell me which of the fallen were gay! And, then, tell me why it matters?
In addition, I challenge them to look at those who visit the graves and tell me what their relationship to the fallen is? Is it a father, a mother, a brother, sister, husband, wife, son, daughter, best friend, lover, comrade?
Is the sacrifice made by a gay soldier somehow less than that of a "straight" soldier? Is the pain and loss felt by those left behind any less for a same-sex mate?
I served in the U.S. Army. In Basic Combat Training, by the simple logic of the Army, the man in the bunk next to mine was my "Battle Buddy." He and I became fast friends. We endured the physical and mental tests of BCT together. After training, I went to Panama, and he went to South Korea.
Years later, after we'd both left the Army, we found each other on Facebook. That's when I found out he is gay. You know what? It doesn't matter. I don't care that he's gay. It doesn't make a bit of difference to me. He remains my friend and battle buddy.
How does who a person loves affect the honor they receive for serving their country? For giving -- in the words of Abraham Lincoln -- "the last full measure of devotion" to the United States.
The AFA is not only bigoted, intolerant, and ignorant, but also unpatriotic and ungrateful for the sacrifice made to protect their freedom.