Friday, February 18, 2011

The Cold, Dark Night

 Ok, so this is a story I submitted for a writing contest. The reason I did it was to get some practice and to challenge myself. I held off publishing it here because part of the rules was for the story to not be published but since I figured I don't have a snowball's chance in hell of winning I  would submit it to my wonderful readers (all 7 of you). The rules were that is had to be 600 words or less and be able to be read in 180 seconds (you can guess the contest). There were also some other parameters but I'll just let the story stand for itself. Enjoy!

Rumilo Salvetore, AKA “Fat Rummy”, the notorious gangster, sat at the head of the long table in the dimly lit restaurant flanked by ten of his henchmen. The restaurant was empty except for them, a busboy, the maitre d' and Sylvia, Fat Rummy's beautiful, raven haired wife.

Sylvia sat at the end of the table opposite of Fat Rummy. She sat with her elbows on the table staring sadly at her wine glass.

Fat Rummy took a swig from his glass of wine and began to tell one of his terrible jokes. Sylvia despised him and his jokes.

“A priest and a rabbi walk into a bar,” he began. His henchmen leaned in. Sylvia rolled her eyes and sighed and feeling hopeless until she saw the tall man in the dark suit enter the restaurant through the front door.

“And the bartender says, 'You could use a drink', So the priest says...'” , Fat Rummy continued. The henchmen were completely engrossed in the tale.

As Fat Rummy continued the tall man approached the maitre d' who was standing at his podium near the entrance to the restaurant examining the reservation book. He leaned over to the maitre d', whispered into his ear and handed him a folded bill. The maitre d' ceremoniously took the bill, smiled graciously, closed the reservation book, picked up his coat and walked out the front door.

Sylvia could feel the rush of excitement in her chest, her eyes wide as she watched the tall man make is way across the room. He was her ticket to freedom, her chance for a new life. Play it cool Sylvia, she thought. She has to act shocked when it happens, scared, sad. She will have to play the grieving widow. This she can do.

“Then the priest says, 'What poodle?...'” The anticipation was so intense that they didn't even notice the tall man in the restaurant making his way to the busboy, handing him a folded bill and nodding towards the door. The plan was going just as Sylvia imagined it. In a few minutes she would be rid this fat oaf and his henchmen.

Fat Rummy reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a cigar, chewed off the end and spit it onto his empty plate sitting in front of him as was tradition before delivering his punchlines.

“And the rabbi says, 'I know one thing, that sure ain't kosher!'”

The henchmen exploded with laughter, slamming their hands on the table. Sylvia didn't seem to notice. Her whole body stiffened as the tall man, almost out of nowhere, was now standing right next to Fat Rummy's chair.

Fat Rummy searched through his pockets for a lighter ignoring the tall man standing next to him that had reached inside his coat and pulled out a metal object and held it next to Fat Rummy's face.


The tall man lit Fat Rummy's cigar.

“Mr. Bortelli!” Fat Rummy said, “Where have you been? You missed my joke! You know Sylvia right?”, He motioned towards his Sylvia who was in utter shock. She shook and her eyes filled with tears.

“Sylvia darling, Mr. Bortelli will be escorting you home this evening.”. Fat Rummy's henchmen all turned and looked at Sylvia who was now crying. They knew. They all knew.

The tall man reached under Sylvia's arm and escorted her out of the restaurant. As he did Sylvia suddenly felt relieved that it would all be over soon as she was led into the cold, dark night.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Story From My Past #1: How I Learned to Play Yahoo! Hearts

This is a series of stories that I tell people all the time but have never put down in writing until now.

My last semester in college I had a cushy job working as a UNIX computer operator that basically let me just do my homework and watch T.V. for 9 hours a day. The only problem with the job was that it was an hour drive from my house one-way. I was finishing up college and I knew I wouldn't want to move to this area so I had to keep my options open. That was when I got the call from Brian, a friend of mine that I went to college with.

At that time, Brian took  up a job working for the county of Riverside at the Office of Education  managing their computer systems. He really liked working with me on our senior project and we both shared a similar twisted sense of humor. He offered me a little extra money and that was enough to send me packing.

It was my first day and Brian, my new boss and friend, set me up to be trained by Ron. Until I began working there, Ron was affectionately known as the "new guy". Just to give you a little perspective on what I was up against,  Ron was the last guy they hired to work in the information systems department. By comparison to the other people working there he was still just a rookie. He had only been working there for 10 years.

So here I am, exactly half the age of the "new guy" (it is awkward when your coworkers ask you if you went to high school with their daughters) learning the ropes of the information system department's HP-UX server. After a long period of time (approximately 30 seconds) I figured out that Ron knew very little about HP-UX (and computer systems in general).

Ron began by telling me about his daily tasks. He had a cheat sheet that he wrote up so that it would be easy for me to learn and take over his mundane work while he pursued more fruitful endeavors (like playing Yahoo! Hearts).

Every half-hour, Ron had to go to a terminal and enter in a set of commands at the HP-UX command line. This was a simple enough task but the commands were pretty intricate and, once a command was completed, Ron had to write the results down in a "command results log" along with the time and date the command was executed. The commands didn't take very long to run and if there was an error Ron was instructed to just make a note in the log and send the manager an email.

After observing Ron do his routine every half hour (which took about 20 minutes to complete because he had to write out all of the results from the command) I had to ask, what seemed to me, to be an obvious question: Why not write a shell script?

I might as well been speaking Chinese because Ron, who had been working with this very system for only 10 years (and me for about an hour), had no clue what I was talking about. I explained that a shell script  was somewhat like a movie script, but instead of telling actors what to do the script told the computer what to do.

Ron was flabbergasted! This was the most amazing thing he has ever heard! He said, "So all I have to do is run this script every half-hour and write the results in the log".

I said, "Well we can instruct the script to write the results to a file that you can print out at the end of the day. And you don't have to run it every half-hour yourself. You can set up the script in the cron and it will run the script automatically. In fact, we can also set up another script in the cron to print out the results at the end of the day. We can also write into the script to email the manager when an error happens during processing".

It took me about one hour to write and implement the script. Once the script was implemented, it ran like a charm and the mundane part of Ron's job was but a memory.

I said to Ron, "OK, that's done. What else do you do during the day?"

Ron said with a shrug, "Nothing."

"Well then what do you want to do?"

And that is how I learned to play Yahoo! Hearts.

Friday, December 31, 2010

What I learned from 2010: A Retrospect on a Crappy Year

It would be no surprise to me if 2010 did not go down in history as one of the crappiest years ever! I think the animal that should have represented this year on the Chinese calendar was the dung beetle. Rolling up poop, that's what this year was all about. There just seemed to be enough pain, sorrow and despair to go around! If you didn't lost your job you certainly knew someone who did. If you didn't have someone close to you die this year you certainly knew someone grieving a lost love one. The word that best describes 2010: Adversity (and poop).

Adversity, however, has a funny way of being a great teacher. Though this year has been a stinkfest for the record books, I have been able to dig through the manure to find some little gold nuggets I will be able to use for the rest of my life (eww!). Here are just a few:

1. The importance of community
It seems that everyone is talking about community these days. Hard times always bring out the best and worst in people and that usually brings people together. This year saw its fair share of hard times. I got through this year relatively unscathed but I sure did walk a whole bunch of people through some pretty rough stuff. Thank God I had a group of people around me to love and support me so that I could love and support others.Therein lies the essence of community. How do you survive in community?

Being in community is not as easy as you think. Just because you join a club, a church small group, a team or any other organization, doesn't mean you get a free ticket to do whatever you want and everyone has to automatically accept you for “who you are”. People will tolerate you if you are a complete jackhole, but it doesn't mean they will accept you. It is not the job of the community to accept and love you. They could be just as messed up and dysfunctional as you (and chances are they will be, maybe worse). It is your job to add value to the community you become a part of. It is also your job to be open and honest with the members of your community and to lean on them when you need to. You don't have to go it alone.

2. Just because you don't like someone, it doesn't make them a bad person
I think this is what Jesus was talking about with all of that "love your enemy" stuff. Somehow, this year, I learned that I was not the utmost authority on what goes on in a person's head! Wow, that was a huge burden off my shoulders! You can never tell what is going on in someone's heart so it is impossible to judge the intentions behind the actions of another human being.

But we have a funny tendency to put ourselves in the center of our own lives. To be honest, we tend to put ourselves at the center of THE universe! When we do that, every slight against us, perceived or otherwise, becomes a full on assault on our world. That's a pretty small world you are a king of your world and you become a petty tyrant. We need to think of ourselves more holistically, like we are part of something bigger than ourselves rather than the center of the universe. That is when you truly experience growth.

3. I learned how to say the word "no"
Easy word to say right? Won't get you a great score on Scrabble but man it can sure help get you out of a pinch! The word "no" gets a bad rap. Say it enough and you become Mr. Negative, but if you never say it at all you will lose all credibility or become resentful, burning yourself out. I used to think that people would not like me if I told them “no” or that I would miss out on some great opportunities. Well if someone isn't going to like you for saying "no" they probably didn't like you too much in the first place. And the truth is, me saying “yes” sometimes made me miss opportunities! Great opportunities!

On that same note, people are going to say “no” to you and if you don't like them anymore, you really need to check yourself, your heart and your intentions. Remember, it is not a full-on assault on your being, it probably means either they have something they seem to think is more important (see “you are not the center of the universe”) or they just don't want the added responsibility. And if they don't want
it, do you really want to depend on them for it?

I might add more to this list later because, like I said, this year has been one for the record books of crappy, no good years and through it I became a better person.

So raise your glass to 2011, the year I hope I don't learn a DAMN thing!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Angel on Top of the Tree

Have you ever wondered how the angel came to be on top of the Christmas tree?

It happened one Christmas eve long ago. Santa Clause and his elves were hard at work in Santa's workshop making toys for all of the little girls and little boys around the world. Santa wanted this Christmas to be extra special because so many boys and girls had been good. So Santa and his elves doubled the amount of toys they were making. This made Santa and the elves fall a little bit behind. The elves needed a break so Santa told them they could take a break and have a snack of milk and cookies. Then, it was back to work making toy trains and dolls and bicycles for all the good little boys and little girls. While the elves took their break, Santa went back to his house next to the workshop to plan the long night of delivering gifts.

While the elves were on break, one of them found some special eggnog that Santa Clause and Mrs. Clause drink to celebrate the sunrise on Christmas morning to mark another wonderful year of making the dreams of children come true! When the elves drank the eggnog, it made them a little bit clumsy and mischievous and they began making a merry ruckus all throughout the workshop!

The reindeer in the barn became curious because of all the sounds of laughter and rough play in the workshop so they came inside to investigate only to find the workshop now resembled a great ballroom where elves were dancing and singing and bringing all sorts of good cheer! The reindeer couldn't resist, they joined in the  Christmas eve festivities!

When Santa Clause came back to the workshop, the party was in full swing! Elves were swinging from the rafters, reindeer danced and flew around the workshop knocking over tools and unfinished toys. The whole place was in complete chaos!

Just then Mrs. Clause walked in to find the same scene. She was furious with Santa Clause for allowing all of this to happen! She shouted at him, asking him how he could let this happen and that he is going to let all of the good little boys and girls around the world down if he doesn't pull this crew together and get the job done!

By this time Santa Clause was furious himself! And just before he could raise his voice and bring the whole party to a trembling to a close, there was a knock at the door and when Santa Clause answered the door he shouted, "What is it that you want? Can't you see we are busy?"

Then Santa Clause saw, standing in his doorway, was the most beautiful angel he had ever seen! She had a long, white, flowing gown that sparkled in the light of the workshop. Her hair was golden blond and her eyes were as blue as the sea. In her hand, she had the most magnificent Christmas tree Santa had ever seen in all the houses he visited in all the world! She said to Santa Clause, "Santa, you should not be angry, you have a very important job to do tonight! Now you get right back in your workshop and make this the most special Christmas ever! Now to help make this more special, I brought you this beatifuly decorated tree for you to behold and cherish on this Christmas eve. Where would you like me to put it?"

And Santa told her where she could put it.

Merry Christmas everybody! May God bless you and your family!

This is our God

This is the God I worship.

The God that created the blue jay and taught him to sing his song is the same God that has gingerly placed every maggot on every rotting corpse on every battlefield from the open field battles of the Philistines and Israelites to the back alley slums of the Mexican drug cartel wars. He is there when the bride decides to marry the man kneeling before her and He is there when the serial killer chooses his next victim. Every leaf that has fallen off a tree, every dew drop that has moistened the ground and every piece of shrapnel that has every torn through human flesh have all been chosen by God to rest where they do. There are no coincidences and no accidents for the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord (Proverbs 16:33). He is the God that chose both Abraham to bless the world with his promise and the God that chose Judas to kiss the cheek of Jesus and send him to the gallows. The God that created Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler. This is our God.

This is the same God we call to at ever meal. We hold hands around the table and summons Him to join us. We never ask where He’s been or what He’s been up to because we either never think about it or we don’t really want to know. We know He does such dirty work, but we never ask Him to wash His hands. His hands are clean. The work of being God is both delightful and horrific. God is there at the birth and death of every human being. He stands in quiet dignity as both heros and cowards take their last breaths. He knows the deepest desires of their hearts. This is our God.

So why worship this God of sorrow and joy? Why worship the God of duplicity? Because his cause is great. Each life that seems to be torn down with total disregard was given by Him for His purpose and taken at a chosen time that is beyond our understanding. The same God that created the mountains and the sky, the same God that poured the sea into the depths of the earth is the same God gave us the passion to create and gave us the greatest gift of all: Love. The God that brought us death so that we could experience life. Isn't it just like the personality of God to bring us eternal life and eternal life abundantly through the horrific death of his only begotten son? This is our God.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hack Your Soul: Opening a Window

Hack Your Soul: Opening a Window: "Steph and I left the house last night and took off in two totally different directions. I took my oldest son out to dinner while Steph took ..."

Opening a Window

Steph and I left the house last night and took off in two totally different directions. I took my oldest son out to dinner while Steph took my youngest to a rehearsal for our church's Christmas program where he plays a "wood's child" (what ever that means). My oldest son and I ended up getting home first and upon arriving home I noticed several of our windows were open.

Now it wasn't like we were gone very long, maybe two hours, but I felt the possibility of our home being violated. Before doing anything else I went around the house and made sure all of the windows were shut. It was a little unnerving.

So I started thinking about those people who love to sleep with their windows open. They love to hear the sounds of nature. It relaxes them. Oh the joy of an open house where wild fragrances are invited to rush in by our own little portal to their world. The great, majestic outdoors.

There is a funny thing we like to ignore about nature. Every living, breathing creature and plant outside of your window would love nothing more than to see you dead. The romantic notion of the "circle of life" boils down to kill them before they kill you or run like hell! When you walk out your front door (and even while you are in your home if we are being honest here) you enter into a world where doing harm to you has a favorable outcome to every creature you come in contact with (especially other humans). To be human is to be ruler nature, the top of the food chain, which means inherently you are despised.

We love to have our windows open in our home, but once things go a little south, it sure is nice to be able to slam them shut!