Our Lady of Perpetual Motion

(The following text contains blasphemy and deceit, and is not recommended for children nor people who might still think highly of me. Reader Discretion is Advised.)

It all started with the question of the perfect gift. My best friend had moved to the area recently, and I wanted to give him a gift on his birthday that showed some forethought. At the time, I worked a fairly mindless job, so I spent the mental revelries of the next few days pouring over the question: “What do you get a blasphemous Satanist punk that has everything?”

He drove an old Chevy sedan he called ‘Santa Maria,’ white with a red interior, that he was trying to fill with as much religious paraphernalia as he could get his hands on, a preference to Catholic because it was fancier. He had recently discovered a Pro-Rosary group who would send anyone who asked a package of rosaries for distribution. Strewn about the interior of the car were these sturdy plastic and string rosaries, not unlike the ones the Military distributes at Mass, except these glowed in the dark. The door pockets were stuffed full of prayer cards and tracts and a cross-shaped incense box sat in the back window, waiting for a head-on collision to enact blunt judgement for this sacrilege.

The perfect answer sprang into my head and so, after work, I headed out, intending to buy two things: A dashboard hula girl and a dashboard Virgin Mary icon. I had thought that both would be easy to obtain at an auto parts store and, perhaps, back in Arizona where I was living previously, they would have been, but here in the Midwest, they had the hula girl but nothing else. Three more stops told the same tale.

I suddenly remembered seeing a tiny Catholic supply store growing up, and headed off in that direction. My hometown had a distinctly Catholic presence, and the tiny store with the odd name still existed, looking like a tiny stone cottage near the tiny town square. I had never been in the building before, but assumed that it would be like any other Christian bookstore, disinterested staff and a variety of items in bins.

As I popped the door open to the tiny foyer, I quickly realized my mistake. The front room was cozy the way a sitting room should be, dark wood and soft lighting. I almost bolted out the door, but the proprietor had already seen me and was coming around the desk to greet me, so I steeled my nerves, channeled my Protestant upbringing, and continued my quest, still hoping for a quick exchange.

In hindsight, she was probably a Nun, but I saw her as simply a kind older woman, possibly someone’s mother. I quickly doffed my hat, and explained that I was there looking for a dashboard icon. The woman seemed confused by this request, so I quickly amended with my first lie of the day. Namely, that I was seeking the icon for a friend who drove a truck over the road. He couldn’t always make it to church, and I thought that, for his birthday, I would surprise him. She questioned the choice of the Virgin Mary, but I assured her that this would be his preference. When she asked me what type of icon he would prefer, I claimed genuine ignorance.

I was shown to a case of resin iconery of a much higher quality that I had been anticipating, though exactly the right size. I was looking over the selection, judging them by shape, while the woman peppered me with questions. At some point, I must have passed the test because she suddenly vanished, only to reappear with a stack of laminated cards. “Do you think that your friend would be willing to leave these prayer cards when he stops?” I accepted them with thanks, assuring her that my non-existent friend would definitely be into distributing the tracts, so as not to blow my cover.

My heart dropped as I realized how deep in I was. I am not a religious man, and I have been judgmental about other religions in the past, but I try to be a respectful. My quest for a gag birthday gift had lead me to the dark side, and I could feel the flames of Hell gently caressing my saddened heart. At these moments, a man only has two decisions: climb out of the hole or keep digging. I reasoned that I had already come this far, so I took my shovel and dug deeper.

I quickly selected a Mary that I thought would work and attempted to pay for it. I am pretty sure that she discounted it for me, and, as I accepted my change, the woman told me something that chilled me to the very core.

“You should take something from our Gift Wall.”

I tried to beg off, but at her insistence, I found myself standing before a wall of what, at first glance, appeared to be jewelry. Instead, after the Protestant veil was lifted from my eyes, I saw that it was a wall of beautiful, well-made rosaries. Glass gems twinkled in the light of my damnation from chains forged in the fires of my deceit.

I stood before the wall with my head hung in shame, trying to think of a way to extract myself from this horrible nightmare. I realized that I had to take some beautiful chunk of someone else’s religion with me before I would be allowed to leave. I searched for the simplest thing I could find and a tiny chaplet caught my eye. Beads like pomegranate seeds and a chain of tarnished silver, it displayed a crucifix at one end and a saint’s medal at the other.

I held up my selection to the woman, “I think my Mother would like this one, ” I lied about my Protestant Mother.

“But the gift was intended for you,” the Nun insisted.

Suddenly, like an epiphany, the right answer fell from my lips, “My gift is the giving.” I could tell by the look in her eyes that I had angled her into the end of our transaction. I wished her a good day and escaped as quick as I could.

When one of my Ukrainian co-workers caught me hack-sawing a Virgin Mary statue in half, the look in his eyes felt like the dismissal of a monkey playing with filth, and I knew it was deserved. I felt a frantic energy and just wanted the thing to be over with. The resin was excessively dense (quality) and I ruined three blades before the task was complete.

The gift was well received. ‘Our Lady of the Perpetual Motion’ was a hybrid hula dancing Virgin Mary, and she was quickly mounted to a place of honor on the Satanist’s dashboard. Sadly, the sun through the front window of the car was too much for the epoxy I had selected, and the incredibly dense Mary top turned out to be too heavy for the gift to function properly.

The desecration that ensured my place in Hell was regaled to a glove box and forgotten.

No picture of ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Motion’ actually exists, to the best of my knowledge, but the end result looked something like this:

hulamary

I carried the Chaplet for years, to the point that the silver chain was polished bright once again. When I discovered that one of the beads had chipped, I retired it to a box of mementos. In recent years, I have taken a respectful shine to St. Jude and various icons of the man sit in various parts of my house, but I still like to take the chaplet out and look at it, remembering that I am something of a better person now.

I still have it, though I think that one of my children has hidden it somewhere. It looks a lot like this chaplet, though the white beads on this one are clear and prismatic on mine. Mine also did not have a “Made in France” tag.

St. Philomena Chaplet

My guilt was recently salved by the knowledge that the Saint on the medal, St. Philomena, is not actually considered a Saint and her followers are considered something of a sub-sect cult in Catholicism.

I doubt that this relieves me of my sin, but it does mean that this blasphemer made the right choice from the Gift Wall.

Russian Roulette

You learn the odds, but the dice decide. Buy the ticket. Take the ride.

One in Five are the current odds, delivered by the top of his field. What does my researcher do? She puts in a call to the top researcher in that field to rate those odds. All while holding her own against brain surgeons and an intellectual in pain and losing hope.

If you ever need a patient advocate, you’ll find no better than my dear friend. This wasn’t going to be an easy trip even if everything went perfectly.

The surgeon is saying that the success of this surgery is 20%. He has completed this exact procedure successfully more times than nearly every surgeon in his field at an Earth-shattering seven. The surgeon called for a review of those odds _has_ written books on this and is an internationally recognized expert on surgery of the cranial nerves.

Our expert surgeon is calling an extremely rare neurological disorder, in this case, ‘atypical.’ He says that the success rate does not justify the risk. He also said, “I get paid, and I love doing the procedure,” which means a book deal or, if unsuccessful, at least getting published somewhere. This is a medical unicorn. The chances of it even existing are as rare as a child being born three months premature, with cerebral palsy, thriving and raising a family. My wife, Tracy Spangler, is a miracle already… Do you test that kind of luck?

What do you decide? How can I even advise on that? These are higher stakes than I ever thought possible.

To My Dear Husband

My sweet wife. I’d walk through Hell for her, so taking care of kids and a sick lady aren’t really asking much. In less than 2 weeks, she leaves to go cross country to her second brain surgery. A dear and trusted old friend will be accompanying her to this engagement in my stead, but when you have a choice of a humble farmer and a medical researcher as your options, you don’t make the emotional choice. Plus, my spine has become so erratic with weather changes that I might risk ending up trying to make sense through a migraine while evaluating a brain surgeon.

Somehow, this woman still loves me and does not see my shortcomings.

When I got out of the Army, I had been on crutches for a year and been to Walter Reed twice. I had a paper in my pocket that we called ‘The No-Breathing-Hard’ profile that said I wasn’t to stand for longer than five minutes. I was retaught how to walk and issued a cane.

When I got out, I ditched all of that and lived my life. I walked for miles. I carried my own body weight in Merry-Go-Round horses for a summer. I carried weights in the top of a theater and threw road boxes around.

I keep this show on the road when I keep moving. This sedate home-care stuff has to be, at least, part of the problem. When I stop, I fall back apart.

Today was my birthday, and I wished on my 38 candles to get moving again.

Gypsy Rue

Today is my husband’s birthday. This year, like every year he said to not buy him gifts or bake him treats. I bought a couple gifts anyhow, and I looked forward to making him one of his favorite desserts. We are on a tight budget due to my brain surgery in Pittsburgh in exactly 2 weeks, but our pantry is full and I was exciting about making something just for him.

Instead I came face to face again with my disorder, disability, non-stop pain and the exhaustion so all encompassing that it becomes it’s own entity- the ghost owner with the switchblade stabbing into my right ear with each beat of my heart takes it one step farther and presses the fast forward button on my anxiety as well. I find myself awake, pleading with my body to shut down and nap for at least a short time, so I…

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Success in Genetics

You always find what you were looking for when you stop looking.

I recently declared the farm finished. My body is wracked with pain, my wife is flying out of state for a second brain surgery, and a lot of the care for our animals has fallen on my kid. I have arranged to start moving the extra birds to other farms (when I finally feel good enough to catch them) just as soon as I can get some apple boxes. (That’s a pro-tip, there.)

Then, I saw this rooster. Look at him!

new rooster

This Rooster is an Easter Egger. His mother was a non-breed standard Ameraucana I got in a hatchery liquidation and his Father is my glorious throwback Auburn Java Rooster, Big Red Oed.

Now, for a little background so that you can appreciate what this 4 month old rooster represents.

My plan has been for a stirring of genetics to achieve a perfect desert chicken. I wanted a dual purpose chicken, which isn’t easy to do in a Subtropical Desert. When the weather leans toward dry and high heat most of the year, the lean, efficient eggers are the breeds that excel because the pickings are scarce and the desert is dangerous.

Big Red Oed represents a branch of Java that was believed to have died out in the 1870’s after founding most of the Red Continental breeds. Mine is from a Black line, so his genetics still produce black offspring a quarter of the time, though he lends the regular black a deep, rich beetle green, even when paired with Dark Cornish.

Javas are smart and friendly, which is a strangeness in chickens. Usually, you only get one or the other. The problem (probably due to the impressive intelligence) is that they are slow maturing. At 6 months, adulthood for chickens, Big Red Oed still looked like a hen with a fancy tail.

young red

The Ameraucanas I got grew up half wild, like Big Red, but came out a little crazy. The flock had colors all over the board, some with the necessary cheek puffs, some without. I sold them off, and only kept a few. For some reason, they refuse to sleep in the coop (probably the established females drive them away) and opt, instead, to sleep on the peak of my small barn. The birds I kept were a watery red and rich blue and their eggs are about the bluest I have ever seen.

I wasn’t sure that they were even having anything to do with my rooster until they each went broody and showed up with a couple of chicks. The hens were lousy first time mothers and, since they avoid the rest of the flock, did not gain the benefit of Big Red’s fathering instincts as much as other birds.

I haven’t been out there much in the past couple of weeks due to the Monsoon season playing havoc with my spine, so when I went out a few days ago, I was startled to discover this fine rooster.

He matured quickly. That’s a good sign.

The red from his mother gained the richness from his father and it shines in a fiery orange that my pictures do not do justice to, and his blue tail is solid, only showing the a transition of blue laced red feathers on his chest and a deep red on his back, as well as blue wings with red wingtips. He does has cheek-puffs as well, which are an Ameraucana breed standard.

I could show this bird. That’s a good sign, too.

Now, how do you get people to pay for eggs when a dozen will cost you $2 at the store? Novelty! I had originally bought the Ameraucanas for their blue eggs, and as I said, these birds had the bluest eggs I have seen. Blue enough, I can assure you that, out of that motley bunch of discount birds, this is what the hatchery was working to perfect, the rest of the bird be damned.

This rooster comes off of that line… I wonder how strong his egg color would be, genetically. Will he still cause blue eggs or will it wash out to the green of an Easter Egger chicken?

The final piece is that I try to pasture my birds, which in the desert means that I lose a lot of birds to predation. Only the smart and strong survive here, as well as the quick.

This rooster sleeps outside. In a night blind rooster, that isn’t the best trait, but it also means that he is smart enough to survive outside the protection of the flock.

This is going to be a fine rooster.

This is the chicken I was trying to cause. Big and smart like his father, fast maturing like his mother, with a gimmick worked in to sell the eggs. There are still unknown variables in this equation. Will his genetics lean toward the mediocre egging ability of the Java? I know the dominance of the Auburn Javas Red plumage quite well, but how strong is this blue? Could I breed this true? The cheek puffs that the Ameraucanas have comes from the South American Aurcana (also where the blue eggs come from) and are a lethal gene that lowers the hatch rate by 25%. Would that affect this bird’s offspring?

So many variables… A masterwork, painted in birds.

Sadly, as I said, my health is just not up to the task at the moment. I already have too many roosters and not enough hens, and I am forced to downsize.

So, here’s the deal. I could easily sell this bird for a tidy sum, but since I want to see what happens, I’ll make you a deal. If you can present me with a suitable breed program to put this bird to work in, I’ll give him to you for free. (Please allow 2-4 weeks for delivery as he sleeps onto of a building and is skittish around me, so my crotchety old frame is going to have a heck of a time catching him.)

____

As always, the link to our brain surgery fund: http://www.gofundme.com/likeaholeinthehead

Thank you to everyone who has donated so far. We have a surgery date of October First, 2000 miles away. I hope we can make it.

Tock, Tock, Tock

(This is my first attempt at a short story in a very long time. Thank you for your patience and understanding)

Going to the fortuneteller had probably been a stupid idea, but he had been young and curious. At the time, it had been easy to dismiss, an event so far in the future it had almost been non-existent, and those psychics are full of crap anyway, right? Yet, he had paid his money, gotten his reading and now, at long last, his appointment had come, and all the time in the world had not gotten him ready for it.

The damn clock on the wall kept ticking, loudly counting off the moments to destiny. What had ever possessed him to buy a pendulum clock? Before now, it had seemed like a quiet thing, barely noticeable, but now the pendulum arm beat a steady staccato as loud as any marching band. For a moment, he considered taking it down, silencing it, smashing it against the wall, but instead, it remained in its place, reliably doing its duty.

He took the gun out of his shoulder holster and laid it on the desk in front of him, musing on its well-worn grip. He had had this piece for a very long time, and occasionally done things with it that he wasn’t proud of. He barked a mocking laugh before dragging a hand across his face. Who was there to kid now? He had done things with this gun that had destroyed lives and hurt people, things that he really shouldn’t have, and one day he was going to pay for it.

He could still recall the day he had bought it out of the back of some guy’s car. It had been his first one, and it felt like he had gained some godly power, the heavy weight of death in the palm of his hand. There had been many others since that day, but this one had always remained, a dark talisman for his evil luck. Immaculately cleaned and cared for, gleaming like a storm at sea, but he could still see his every sin in its shine.

Some people had bad luck and bad things happened to them, but he had made an almost conscious effort to do everything wrong that he could. There was a thrill to breaking society’s taboos, and he had loved the ride.

tock-tock-tock

The clock broke his revelry to remind him the time was passing. It seemed a million years and it was all going by way too fast.

He had decided on the dark blue suit for his date with foreordination. It was a strange mix of inevitably mixed with the need to control something, shaded with a hopeful disbelief. He felt foolish for even giving it as much thought as he had, as if his concern could empower the foretelling, but he couldn’t stop himself and he had given it more thought that he felt comfortable admitting to himself. Something about the blue suit always made him think, in another reality, he would have been a better person, somehow. The midnight color brought to mind a police officer when he caught a glimpse of a sleeve, but not in a way that made him nervous like he normally did when thinking of authority.

The memory floated to the surface about that one girl who had mistaken him for a cop when he wore his blue suit. There was nothing in particular that actually made him look like a cop, short of the color, but she had run to him and called him ‘Officer’ and for a minute, he longed to feel like that trust had been justified.

He shooed the thought away as if forgetting it would mean that he could escape the justice for it. It had not been a good night and it had not ended well.

His eye rested again on the cold, dark comfort of the deadly steel in front of him. Had there ever been a time where his fate could have been changed? Maybe if he had not gotten to the meet in time, and had never bought this gun, would he have been someone else?

The familiar dream overtook him and he was standing in front of a yellow clapboard house. It was his favorite daydream, always the same but always slightly different. There was a woman who loved him, who could make his difficult days disappear with a smile. She was smiling at him now, like the sun through the clouds. Here were his children, two girls with shining hair and welcoming smiles, coming around the house over impossibly green grass. They were glad that he was home and glad to see him, just like they were everyday when he came home, running out to meet him as if waiting for him to come inside was just a few minutes longer than they had wanted to wait outside his company. In fact, he had never actually seen the inside of the yellow clapboard house…

tock, tock, tock

He inhaled sharply, like someone had dashed him in the face with icy water. His mind grasped after the gossamer strands of the dream but the magic had already broken in the harsh light of reality. There were times it had felt so vivid, looking through the eyes of someone else though they were still his eyes. The comfort he gained from this moments never lasted long under the weight of the Is.

Goddamn stupid clock.

The office was painted in neglect and nicotine, with dreary light through dirty glass a grimy orange of the streetlight directly outside the window. He rarely came here, really nothing more than a mailing address, but here he sat in the creaking office chair no one had sat in since he had put it behind the gray metal desk. For a minute, he checked the empty drawers for some distraction. Every moment was precious, but he didn’t want to think about it.

There were plans and there were plans, but this one had been a work of art, lovingly created and every detail polished. Every contingency had been accounted for, every mishap anticipated… Well, except for one. He wasn’t sure who had rolled on him, but even the most perfect plan is going to have its flaws, especially if they are being broadcast beyond the intended recipients.

He could still recall the exact moment he realized that something was wrong, five minutes after the point of no return. There had been a moment of fluttery fear that pierced his soul, as he suddenly cast about for an exit, but at that point it had already been too late and nothing more to do than to keep going until it had all fell apart. Just as quickly, he had dismissed his doubts. He had had them before but pressed on and it had all come out all right, but this time was different, and it shoved a glass sliver right into his heart. When it fell apart, it fell apart quickly with screaming, blood and light.

He had always been sure-footed and quick on his feet, but a slip on the wet pavement sent him sprawling, and was all that had kept him alive. The initial volley wiped out most of his crew in one pass, and he lay as still as the grave for a moment, for a thousand years, waiting. Then, the light twitched and he had oozed down an alley as quickly as he could with a bullet in his leg. He hadn’t even noticed it was there until his leg began refusing to take his weight, but his knee suddenly gave out and sent him sprawling once again, though this time directly into the red burning hate of a gunshot wound. A few more steps taught him the new rules of injury, and he managed to hobble clear.

The clock was staring at him and he couldn’t decide if it had sped up or slowed down.

Why had he missed the cues that were now so obvious in hindsight? Is this how premonitions came true, because they made the event happen? If he had not visited the fortuneteller a million lifetimes ago, would this still be happening?

Now he was staring at the pendulum of the clock, its gentle swaying giving his eyes something to do, the ticking was distant when he was a thousand miles away.

He searched the faces of his crew in his mind’s eye; rebuilding telling ticks or misspoke words for the guilty party. The faces blurred after a bit, and he saw the ones he had left behind, people who had once thought that he was better than in a distant egotism. He could see moments that he had not thought of in years, happiness that he had turned away from, offers of help that might have saved him from this moment. He desperately wanted someone to blame, but in the end, he was looking at the one who carried the weight of that guilt, the man with his face and his life, more than he had ever intended and less, somehow. Inevitability has a way of bringing things back into a sharper focus.

He spent another few minutes with these ghosts from the past, wondering where his plan, the ultimate plan for his life, had gone so, so wrong. The faces streamed by in intricate detail, moments of tiny victories and defeats painted the picture of his soul until he was left with a blued hunk of metal on the desk in front of him.

He hefted the weight of the gun in his hand and considered the clock. Too soon and too late, but the weight of the weapon gave him a momentary comfort of being prepared and meeting his fate head on, not hiding in the dark, powerless and alone.

When the door burst open, he had already fired his first shot. In a thunderous booming second it was done. The floor was now glowing red with the warm blood of others and a few dark shapes were sprawled on the floor.

“Ha!,” he shouted, the happy relief was plain in his voice. “You were half right.” For the first time, he realized that he was still sitting, and he bounced from the chair with another whoop. “Goddamn fortune teller! You were half right!” He was around the desk in a flash, looking down at his grisly work in wondrous amazement, chuckling in relief. Counting his downed attackers as if confirming a miracle, he closed his eyes like a man in love. The time, the day, the circumstance, even the number of foes against him had all been right. “You were only half right.”

When he opened his eyes, he saw a dark shape in the door. He quickly brought the gun up, but he couldn’t remember how to make it work anymore. The shape in the door was an unmoving weight of darkness, and his mind reeled in shock.

“You were waiting for me,” it rasped like nightmare lacerations.

He glanced back to see that he was still seated in the old office chair, and the weight of the desk was all that held the bloody mess in place.

tock, tock, tock

Frame from stock footage. (Source: http://stock-clip.com/video-footage/stark)

Frame from stock footage.
(Source: http://stock-clip.com/video-footage/stark)