Capturing my Election Ennui

I’ve checked out of the election, but I did see this video, which made me laugh.

It’s a response to this video, which made me want to throw up. If you haven’t seen the original “don’t vote” condescension from the Gods of Hollywood, then the response video may not make you laugh as hard as it made me laugh. But I wouldn’t encourage you to watch the original, because it may make your eyeballs bleed.

Chapter 4.1

Hello. I’m kind of too distracted to blog much, and I have no interest in politics, so I’m posting more novel chapters. Hope you don’t mind. It won’t be all novel all the time, I promise. But your comments on my book are wildly helpful, and I’m addicted to them.

I’m going back to the original chapter numbering scheme and combining all 12,000 words of the original chapter three into one piece again. This is the first of two parts of the original Chapter 4. It begins with nudity. Enjoy.

__________________

David was naked, and he wasn’t sure why.

He looked down and saw his shoes were gone. He remembered that. His feet had been bulging and his shoes had fallen by the wayside somewhere up the street. His arms had both inflated, which explained his missing shirt. What about the pants? He thought. Even the underpants?

It was only then that he realized that this time, the transformation had included his whole body.

A cloud had lifted, yet David was in a darker place than he had ever been. With unflinching clarity, he recognized the enormity of his sins, and the crushing guilt had returned, ten times stronger than it was before.

Please let someone else have done this, he prayed. Let this be a dream. Or a movie. Or let me take it all back.

And if all that fails, at least let me die.

He had lost both his size and his bloodlust in an instant, the moment he saw his prey vanish into the skies, carried aloft by a brown and gold man with shiny white calves. He had seen a sheet come floating back down to earth and snatched it before it had hit the ground. He draped it around his exposed waist the way he wore a towel after coming out of the shower. He skulked off into a dark alley, away from the prying eyes of the police who had descended en masse on the scene of the crime, along with hordes of vans and cameras and loud, important-sounding baritones, each pontificating to their broadcast audiences about What It All Means.

As he made his way toward an empty alley, he saw a bloody, severed arm trapped between a cement wall and a Chevrolet. It was too much – he threw up and then stepped in the bile as he made his way toward the village outskirts.

The smell of the vomit, some of which still dripped from his bare and hairless chest, may have been what dissuaded most of the passers-by from stopping and questioning him, and given his scrawny, pathetic, half-clad appearance, no one could have imagined that he had been the one hurling cars just a few minutes earlier. One diligent policeman stopped and asked if he’d been hurt, or if he’d seen the incident firsthand. David used the opportunity to stare down at the ground and, when the cop seemed determined to stay put until he got an answer, he held out his hand.

“Spare change, mister?” he asked plaintively.

The cop hemmed and hawed before heading off to something more urgent.

David buried his face in his hands and tried his best not to cry. He failed.

_________________

“Emergency room!”

“What?!!” Over the wind, Jeff thought she was speaking nonsense. Something about mushrooms…?

Clearly exasperated, Lisa motioned downward toward the ER entrance. “There!” she yelled.

Jeff saw, nodded, and slowed down to make a comfortable descent for both his passengers. He floated, feet-first, through the emergency room doors and made a soft landing right in front of the nurse’s station. He stooped to let Lisa slide off his back down to the ground, and she tried to smooth out her tattered skirt, which had not been designed for high-speed air travel.

Jeff spoke. No, he proclaimed. “This…citizen needs a doctor!” He held Vikki in as heroic a pose as he could muster, trying to mimic Superman’s stance as he held his cousin Supergirl after she had been felled in the first Crisis on Infinite Earths. Walthius was right – the classics would guide him through this. He had never used the word “citizen” in formal conversation before, but it seemed like the thing that Kal-El would do. He deepened his voice and was speaking in something akin to an English accent. He thought it sounded commanding.

Yes, commanding. Confident. Captainy.

In his mind, it also made sure that Lisa wouldn’t penetrate his disguise. What it didn’t do was get anybody in the hospital to move. They just stood there, slack-jawed, not quite able to adapt to the process of accepting patients who had just fallen out of the sky. They were gaping at him like he was some kind of mutant.

“Hurry!” he shouted, losing his newly acquired aristocratic dignity.

“Easy there, Jumper,” Lisa whispered softly. She walked up to the head nurse and said, matter-of-factly, “She needs help. Her arm’s broken badly, and I think she’s in a deep state of shock.”

The attending nurse nodded, picked up the phone, and within seconds, a stretcher appeared and whisked Vikki away into the bowels of the hospital. Lisa stayed at the station and started filling out forms.

Jeff took off his glasses and wiped them on his spandex-like uniform, which only smeared the water on them and made the visibility worse. Once he got them back on his face, he struggled with what to do with his hands. He balled them into fists and placed them on the side of his hips, but he wasn’t sure where to take it from there. He wished he had pockets. He finally let his arms dangle awkwardly on either side.

Then he looked around and saw that everyone was still staring. He was all-powerful, yet he felt like a leper.

This isn’t how I wanted to make my debut, he thought.

He found a tissue in a box on the waiting room table, near where a little boy was playing with a small plastic airplane. The boy ran with the plane making jet engine noises, and he almost bumped into Jeff’s knees. Jeff smiled at him weakly, which was too much for the tyke’s agitated mother, who yanked her son rather roughly back to a chair near her, lest he touch the leper and have to end up wearing tights himself.

This wouldn’t do, Jeff thought. It wouldn’t do at all.

“Citizens, may I have your attention please?” he said in his most captainy voice. With a generous dose of bravado, he began his impromptu announcement speech.

“You seem alarmed by what you have seen,” Jeff said, his throat suddenly dry and scratchy. “No need. I serve the greater good.” He coughed. “Excuse me.” He swallowed twice to bury the phlegm, and that helped improve things a bit.

“Um, let the word go forth,” he announced, “that the Captain has arrived.” No contractions in his speech, he thought. Good. No apostrophes. Let each word ring out with power. There was no sting of heroic music to punctuate the moment, although the television hanging in the corner of the room did seem to get louder all of a sudden. Then the kid with the plane zoomed past him, making the appropriate sound effects. And someone else coughed, too, which, in turn, made Jeff hack up another batch of sympathy phlegm.

“Excuse me, miss?” he said, pointing to Lisa. “Could you, by any chance, get me a glass of water?”

Lisa lowered her eyelids halfway and drew her mouth together into a thin, angry slit.

“Anyone? Water?” A nurse with a glass appeared, and Jeff took a healthy swig. “Mmmm,” he said, nodding his approval. “Thanks a lot. Hit the spot. Thanks.” Oops! He thought. Too informal! “I mean, thank you.” Nice save. He made a point of handing the glass to Lisa, who flared her nostrils with contempt.

“And thank you, young lady. You know, I could not have done it without you, Miss…” he said, motioning for her to give her name.

“Sheila Glutz,” Lisa deadpanned.

“Miss Li… Sheila?” He raised his eyebrows, trying to get her to correct the record.

Lisa didn’t move. Jeff shrugged his acceptance.

“Miss Sheila Glutz,” Jeff announced to the rest of the room with confidence. “Sheila Glutz, then,” Jeff said. “A citizen this brave deserves a round of applause.”

Jeff started clapping, and, at first, only the airplane kid clapped along. Then everyone else in the room joined in halfheartedly. Everyone did not include the newly christened Sheila Glutz, who sidled up next to him to put a word in his ear.

“Knock it off, Downey,” she hissed.

Jeff’s blood froze.

Did she just say “Downey?” She couldn’t have. He still had the mask, didn’t he? And the Captain voice was pretty good – the accent was off, yes, but the gravitas was there. Only one contraction, and I fixed it right afterwards. Maybe he heard wrong.

Except didn’t she call me Jumper right after we first arrived…?

This took the edge off of his confidence as he continued his speech. To compensate, he put both of his fists against either side of his hips again, except this time, it had the effect of making it him feel like he had a distended stomach. “Let the word go forth,” he boomed, “that when injustice is, um, near…”

Lisa was subtly, almost imperceptibly shaking her head in disapproval. Jeff was trying to ignore her, but it wasn’t easy. His hands now felt like dead weights, and he kept wishing for those pockets. Except what would it look like for a Kryptonian to put his hands in his pockets?

“When injustice is near,” he repeated, shaking his head back at her tightly, trying to get her to stop throwing him off stride, “when liberty and justice are threatened, and the powers of evil are, um, evil, because injustice is near…”

“You already said that before,” the airplane kid said, before being snatched back and scolded by his mother.

“No need for alarm!” Jeff said, far more alarmed than anyone watching. Lisa rolled her eyes and turned her back on him. Be that way, Jeff thought. At least I can finish my speech in peace.

“Like I was saying to this young man,” he continued, indicating the airplane kid, who was now glaring at his own mother and losing all interest in the Captain, “The power of evil and the doers of evil – evildoers, if you will – will ever be with us.” There we go. He was gaining his confidence back, along with his accent. He started dropping the R’s at the end of his words. “This is evah as it has been, yes, yet not evah as it must be, for I can fight evil, as a Captain among average citizens like yourself.” Lisa was on the other side of the room, and the distance was helping. He was on a roll now. “I, the Captain, will be theah! To right the wrongs! To, uhh…”

He was stalled. He needed another phrase, and he’d already used “right the wrongs,” which was the best one.

“To help the helpless?” Lisa offered sarcastically, her back still turned. Jeff shot her a look, but he wasn’t too proud to use someone else’s material.

“Yes! To help the helpless! And to –“

“Is that you?” said the Airplane Kid.

“Yes!” Jeff said. “I’m the Captain!”

“Is that you?” the kid said again. Jeff nodded vigorously until he saw that the kid was pointing at the television.

On the screen was a special news report with the bold caption TERROR IN WESTWOOD. There were no shots of the giant or the girls. Only a gangly, pasty-thighed goofball in tights trying to shake a pick-up truck off of his leg. He looked angry and frustrated. Ripped from its proper context, it looked as if Jeff were the one throwing the cars, not the giant.

“No!” Jeff exclaimed. “I mean, yes, that’s me, sure, but it’s all wrong…”

Someone in the waiting room yelled “Terrorist!” and everyone hit the floor.

Everyone, that is, besides Lisa Meyer, who leapt onto Jeff’s back and murmured, “Time to fly, Jumper!” She dug her heels into his thighs and made a clicking noise, as if she were trying to kickstart a beast of burden.

“I’m not a horse, lady,” he complained. Then three beefy security guards entered the room, summoned by an unseen alarm no doubt triggered at the nurse’s station. All of them had their hands on their gun holsters.

“Jump now!” Lisa ordered. And Jeff complied, hopping adroitly over the heads of the guards, yet careful enough to keep Lisa from banging up against the ceiling. He slipped out between the last guard’s hat and the doorframe, and, in a split second, he was arcing upwards, back into the night sky.

After they were about fifty feet above the building, Jeff craned his neck backward and shouted, “You mind telling me how you know who I am?”

“What?” Lisa bellowed. “I can’t hear you. The wind…”

“What?” screamed Jeff. Was she trying to say something? He couldn’t hear anything, and he could barely see, either – his glasses had fogged up the moment they took off.

“We need to go someplace and talk,” she shouted.

Jeff couldn’t hear her. This was useless. He decided they needed to go someplace and talk.

_____________

David smashed the window and started rummaging through the empty apartment.

It was the perfect time for breaking and entering. All the cops were otherwise occupied trying to sort out the mess down by the movie theaters, and they’d set up traffic blocks so that nobody could come in or out of the surrounding area. That meant that unlit windows were unlikely to hide any unwelcome surprises.

The first two apartments he’d broken into were less than helpful. Number one was clearly a girl’s place – far better decorated than most, but there were still no usable clothes to be had. Number two was more co-ed with plenty of dirty dishes piled in the sink, yet all the men’s clothing was about two sizes too big. What kinds of girls share an apartment with fat guys? he wondered. Especially slobby fat guys. He’d found cash in both apartments, though – about $50 in the first and a twenty-dollar bill in the second. It wasn’t enough to live on, but it was better than nothing.

The third apartment was the mother lode. He discovered an envelope under a mattress with $200, and the guy was about his size, and with a decent taste in clothes. He put on a red button-down, long-sleeved shirt and a pair of jeans. He couldn’t find a truly acceptable pair of shoes, but there was a pair of dirty old sneakers that would do just fine for the moment. He found a piece of paper and scribbled two copies of an IOU – one for his victims and one for himself as a reminder, taking inventory for everything, including the cost of a replacement window. He was going to pay everyone back. He was going to make amends.

Amends. Sure. Who was he kidding?

Petty thievery was one thing. Mass murder was quite another. He wasn’t sure how to come to terms with any of that madness, but he could at least plant the seeds for some kind of redemption, beginning here.

IOUs are step one, he thought.

Step two, I turn myself in. Let the cops sort it out.

He turned up his collar and stepped out into the night, renewed by a fresh sense of purpose. What was the worst they could do to him? he thought. Kill me? I want to kill myself. I’m not even sure if I can. At least they can lock me up. Or they can try to, anyway.

David wasn’t sure how to deal with all the complications that were sure to arise. Not my problem, he told himself. Just do what you have to do. Plead guilty, and let the system do its thing.

He came up on one of the roadblocks and signaled to one of the officers taking statements. At first, the cop tried to wave him off, but David wouldn’t be denied.

“What is it kid?” the cop asked impatiently as he walked up to David. “We’re kind of busy here.”

“Officer, it was me.” With that out of the way, the dam burst, and the rest was easy. “ It was me. I did this. I threw the cars. I killed all these people. That arm – severed arm. I did that. And I also broke into the apartments up the street. But I’ll pay it all back. I swear.” The words all poured out in a jumble, almost overlapping each other.

The officer smiled wearily. “Kid, tonight’s not the night, okay? I’m taking statements. Go bother someone else.” He turned to go.

David grabbed him by the shoulder and turned him back to face him. Had his hand bubbled up, or had David just imagined it? David mentally willed his hand to stay small. He wasn’t going to go down that road again. Even so, it was imperative that the officer believe him.

“Hands off, pal!” the officer reached for his nightstick. David put his hands in the air. He could feel the beat of his heart, pumping a fresh rush of power toward his limbs.

No. No. His veins were pulsing now. No. Not now. Not ever. Although just one more wouldn’t make that much of a difference, would it? And it might make him feel better, since this guy clearly deserved it…

No. NO! He closed his eyes and managed to hold back the floodgates just a little while longer. His hands trembled, but the transformation didn’t take hold. So I can control this, he thought, basking in the glow of his inner triumph. I can stop it. I’m not really a monster.

“Sorry,” David said. “I just… I want to tell somebody what I know.”

“Yeah, fine,” the officer said. “As soon as I’m done with these reports, we’ll talk it over, okay?”

“Yeah. Sure.” The officer turned to leave. Ignorant, David thought. Nothing but ignorant. He’ll never know how close he came to dying tonight. And David was sure that nothing but a full-fledged demonstration of what he could do would convince any of these pinheads.

He had to talk to someone who might believe him.

That narrowed the list of possible confidants down to one.

Chapter 7, or Chapter 3.5

Okay, this is the last piece of the original Chapter Three. I really recommend reading the whole thing all the way through as one piece, because many of the questions you’re asking get answered in due course. If it feels choppy and incomplete, I think that may have something to do with the fact that the very long Chapter 3 was supposed to be indivisible. The next chapter has no cars, no freeways, and no comic book discussions. 

Anyway, here’s the end of Chapter 3, or Chapter 7, depending on your numbering system:
_________

“Why do I need a name?”

Walthius was insistent. “You know why. You need a name.”

“I already have a name.”

“Not one you can use.”

“Why can’t I use it?” said Jeff. “I’ve used it my whole life!”

“Think, you cretin!” Walthius said. “Think! All the heroes who go public get into trouble! What, you think you’re smarter than Bruce Wayne? Than Clark Freakin’ Kent, for the love of Pete?”

Jeff knew where this was going, and he didn’t like it. “What, I’m going to have a secret identity now?”

“You already have the glasses, man,” he said with a smile. “Take ‘em off, and who’s going to recognize you?”

“Anyone without a severe astigmatism, that’s who.”

Walthius laughed. “It only works for Clark Kent because Lois Lane is an imbecile.”

Jeff laughed back. “And Clark Kent can actually see with his glasses off.”

Walthius was serious again. “Did you put the mask on?”

Jeff looked down and saw a black linen Zorro-style mask at the bottom of the box. He gulped. “No,” he said.

“Yeah, well, that’s why the mask is there.”

Jeff sighed and then dutifully wrapped the mask around his glasses, which didn’t quite fit. So he took his glasses off, put the mask back on, and then put his glasses back on over it. He looked over at Walthius, who gave him a quick once over.

“Needs work,” Walthius admitted.

_________

Lisa heard the crash of flying cars before she saw them. So did everyone else in the village, which sent them all scrambling for cover. There was no way to sneak back toward the medical center, which ruined Lisa’s original plan. And it was impossible to come up with a Plan B with in the midst of the pandemonium.

And then Vikki Dennis collapsed in the middle of the street.

“I can’t,” she muttered, “I just can’t.” She was unconscious before she hit the ground. Lisa tried to drag her, but she was dead weight.

As opposed to me, Lisa thought. I’m just dead.

_________

“Back to the name.”

Jeff let out a sigh of his own. “Fine. A name.” He waited for a moment until things got awkward again.

Walthius glanced at him. “Are you waiting for me to say something again?”

“You said I need a name.”

“Yes. That I did.”

“So? What name?”

“Oh, no,” said Walthius. “No, no, no, no, no. I can’t bend the rules on that one.”

“What rules?”

“You gotta come up with that name on your own.”

At this point, Jeff knew better than to ask why. “Fine,” he said. And as he pondered for a moment or two, he said, “Maybe I ought to be the captain of something.”

“Captain?” Walthius asked. “Of what?”

“I dunno,” Jeff said. “‘Captain’ seems to be the rank of choice for most superheroes.”

Walthius stroked his chin. “You may be on to something there, my friend. You don’t hear much about ‘Corporal America’ or ‘First Lieutenant Marvel.’”

“Or ‘Drill Sergeant Kangaroo,” Jeff added helpfully.

“Enough with the kangaroos.”

“I’m just saying.”

That hung in the air for a moment, and then Jeff asked, “So we’re agreed, then?”

“On what?”

“On ‘Captain’ being the way to go?”

Walthius scowled. “That’s not my decision. The name has to be yours.”

“Fine, it’s not your decision,” Jeff said. “But it’s a decision you can live with, right?”

Walthius just snorted.

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

_________

David was a little too distracted with all of his fresh new targets. He’d almost forgotten why he was here in the first place. He had new strength, new speed, and he was eager to flex his muscles. Besides, he knew that sooner or later, one of his cars would hit the mark.

One of the cars even had a couple of people in the back seat.

Tsk, tsk, David thought. In the backseat of a parked car on a dark street? They were obviously up to no good and deserved what they got.

_________

Two more cars and they’d be on the freeway. Finally. Jeff could never get used to freeway gridlock.

“Captain – what?” Walthius asked.

“Huh?” Jeff said.

They were just one car away.

“You can’t just be ‘Captain.’ You’ve got to be captain of something.”

They were in the front of the line, and the on-ramp light was green. But the freeway was jammed, too, and they weren’t moving. “Oy,” Jeff said, in response to the new traffic jam. Walthius clearly took it as something else.

“Why does it always have to be me?” Walthius whined. “All right, fine. You’re ‘Captain Fantastic.’ Satisfied?”

Jeff shook his head. “Sorry. Taken.”

“Ah, there’s where your wrong,” Walthius said. “Reed Richards is Mister Fantastic!”

“Not Reed Richards. Elton John.”

“Who?”

Jeff laughed out loud, which made Walthius even more confused. “”Your knowledge of trivia is expansive, but maddeningly selective,” Jeff explained.

“Elton John,” he said, trying to place the face. “He’s the singer guy with the big glasses, right?”

“Thirty years ago, maybe,” Jeff smirked. “These days, my glasses are bigger than his.”

_________

“Vikki. Vikki, honey, wake up.” Lisa was slapping her face, and even tried jostling her arm once in the hopes the pain would arouse her.

A brand new minivan landed twenty feet away from her.

Lisa briskly reviewed her options. If I leave her, she’s dead. If I stay here, we’re both dead. And we’re probably both dead anyway.

Not good options.

_________

“How about ‘Captain Power?’” Walthius offered.

“Nah.”

“Captain Spectacular?”

“Stupid.”

“ ‘Captains Courageous?’ ‘O Captain my Captain?’ ”

“You’re getting warmer.”

Walthius opened his mouth and then closed it again, as if he were deciding something. Then he spoke. “Look, since you haven’t really distinguished yourself with any particular superlative. Maybe just – The Captain.”

“You said that was bad!”

“I’ve had a change of heart,” Walthius said. “It’s direct, simple, and easy to modify if you do something powerful or spectacular.”

“ ‘The Captain,’ Jeff announced with a booming voice, trying his new moniker on for size. “And I can always change it later?”

Walthius laughed. “If you capture Lex Luthor or the Penguin, you might even get a promotion.”

“I like it,” Jeff said. “The Captain it is!”

Walthius looked unhappy.

“What’s wrong?” Jeff asked.

“Nothing,” Walthius said. Before Jeff could protest, Walthius added, “It’s just –“

“Just what?”

“You should have come up with the name yourself,” he said.

Jeff rolled his eyes and turned back toward the window, where he saw a large Volvo flying through the air right next to the freeway.

_________

David rounded the corner.

There they were, all alone, in the middle of the street.

A smart girl would have run away, David thought. Maybe she’s not the challenge I thought she was.

She was making it all too easy. He reached for the nearest car. A Porsche.

A classy way to finish this.

_________

Having destroyed the handle earlier, Jeff had been forced to kick the door clean off of the passenger side before he could soar out to face the peril of the flying cars. He didn’t take note of Walthius’ reaction, but he was sure he would approve. After all the grief he’d given him, he would no doubt be fully supportive of anything that furthered the Captain’s first mission.

The Captain’s first mission!

Jeff was filled with pride. The greater good is at stake. I can’t be too concerned about a little property damage. I’m a hero now.

Initially, he was sure that there had been some kind of a gas explosion, except, as he got closer to the center of the action, he realized that the site of the car launches was shifting in a linear pattern toward Westwood Village, and still all the cars were flying in the same direction, as if they were somehow being aimed. And then Jeff finally got a look at what was aiming them.

It was a giant.

Sort of a giant, anyway. He wasn’t anything like a Jack and the Beanstalk-style giant. The proportions were all wrong. This guy was a gelatinous, massive, bulbous, pale naked man about ten or fifteen feet tall, lifting the cars like they were so much flotsam, and aiming them at two helpless girls sitting in the middle of the street.

Instantly, Jeff discovered that one of those girls looked an awful lot like Vikki Dennis. And a silver Porsche was about to fall on her head.

There was no time to think. Jeff swooped down and knocked the Porsche with a single blow to the gearbox, and it fell to the ground with a fantastic thud.

Strike one, Jeff thought.

And strike two was already upon him. It was a classic red Mustang convertible, circling lazily as it fell out of the sky. Jeff slugged it just below the bumper, reversing its momentum and sending it twirling off harmlessly into the graveyard to his right.

Then there was strike three. A massive pick-up truck. Jeff hit it squarely in the cab with both hands, punching a clean hole right through the middle. It caught at the bottom of his left leg, and he had to shake it loose, as if it were a boot that wouldn’t quite come off. Once it was free, he had to kick it with his left foot to keep it from landing on the girls. He ripped another hole through the steel as his leg carved through the side of the flatbed on its way to its final resting place, wedged up against an unsuspecting street lamp.

It dawned on Jeff that if he kept this up, someone was going to get hurt.

Jeff scooped Vikki up in his arms and was about to leap into the sky when he heard another, familiar voice yelling, “Me, too!”

He turned to face a frantic Lisa Meyer, who used the confusion to glom on to his right arm right before takeoff. He had to dodge yet another vehicle, which crashed directly on the spot where Vikki had just been.

And then he was in the air, holding Vikki with Lisa Meyer dangling from his right side.

He jerked his arm upward to help hoist Lisa directly onto his back, which almost resulted in shaking her loose. Lisa was somehow able to hold on, and she was small enough that she wrapped her arms around Jeff’s neck without throwing him off balance. The only problem was the nylon cape, which kept flapping in her face., Lisa ripped it off at the seam from the back of Jeff’s neck and let it flutter to the ground.

“Hey!” Jeff protested.

“UCLA Medical Center,” Lisa barked, pointing directly ahead of him. “That way.”

“What?” The sound of the wind rushing past them made it almost impossible to hear. He could see her finger in front of his face, and he thought maybe she was pointing at the giant. As if he wouldn’t be able to see the giant without her help.

Except he couldn’t see the giant, because the giant wasn’t there anymore.

The cars had stopped flying, and Jeff couldn’t see where the giant could have possibly gone. Did he disappear? Was he dead? It didn’t make any sense that he was there to begin with. Then again, nothing that had happened to Jeff made any sense, either.

“That way!” Lisa shouted. “The hospital is that way!”

Something about a hospital, Jeff heard. Good idea. He dutifully followed the finger.

He looked down at the traffic below and tried to spot Walthius’ car. I’ll be home before you will, he thought, even with Lisa Meyer on my back.

Lisa Meyer on my back and, impossibly, Vikki Dennis in my arms.

Stallion Checks Out

I voted last week. Now I’m done.

I remember election night in 1994, living in DC and calling my brother across the country and gloating as the Republicans came storming out of nowhere to recapture Congress. It was such a delight to watch all the supposedly objective news anchors aghast with horror as America threw the bums out.

In 2006, when it was clear that the GOP had abandoned its principles and America was abandoning the GOP, I listened to Christmas music all the next day. I felt much, much better.

Well, that was then. This is now. 2008 is going to make 2006 look like a Republican Wonderland.

We’re turning ourselves into France. I suppose that’s not all bad – I’ve been to France, and they have nice crepes. But that’s about it. Their economy is stagnant; their entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t exist, and freedom has given way to a false security induced by governmental largesse. All of Europe is going down that road, but it’s been okay, because they’ve had the big, bad US to stand ready to do violence on their behalf should things go wrong.

Now, with supermajorities in both houses of Congress and the most committed Leftist president in the history of our republic, Barney Frank’s vision of a 25% cut across the board of our military forces is about to become a reality. As old entitlements metastasize and consume our entire federal budget, new entitlements that will be impossible to kill are coming down the pike. New rights are going to be invented by courts that are sensitive and caring about everything except the actual language of the Constitution. Our economic downturn is going to be deepened and widened by elected officials who trust themselves more than markets, which means they’ll screw things up with the best of intentions.

It’s going to suck. So I’m checking out.

I’m done with politics until it’s safe to come out of my virtual bomb shelter. I’m going to stop checking political websites; I’m going to turn off the television. No radio, unless it’s Christmas music. KOSY 106.5 starts playing Christmas music on Halloween. My radio is going to be set permanently to that station until I can stomach seeing the political wasteland my country has become. I have no interest in seeing the same news anchors who wanted to shoot themselves in ’94 gloat with delight as all their statist dreams come true in 2008. I don’t want to hear anything that Barbra Streisand has to say.

This blog will be politics free for quite some time now. (That will make Thursowick happy. )

So enjoy it, leftists. It’s your world now. As for me, here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus, right down Santa Claus lane.

Chapter 6, or Chapter 3.4

Precursor to the actual chapter:

My wife, someone who’s actually spent a good deal of time working as a physical therapist in Los Angeles’ medical facilities, pointed out after reading the last chapter that the UCLA Medical Center would be directly visible from where Vikki and Lisa crashed, and the idea that they’d head to Westwood instead of the hospital is ludicrous. (You were right, Heather! Who knew?) 
So I’ve mapped out Lisa and Vikki’s route via Google Earth, and I’ve rewritten pieces of the last chapter posted, as well as much of the stuff going forward. It doesn’t require huge revisions and doesn’t redirect the plot at all, but I thought that before I post the next piece of my original Chapter Three – I really think it needs to hang together rather than be split up like this – I ought to give you the revised chunks from the last chapter so you can make some sense of everything going forward. (In addition, I discovered that it’s the West Gate of Bel Air, not the South Gate, that exits out on to Sunset. I’ve changed that in all the necessary places, too. I won’t post those changes. Just… please make a note of it.) 
Here are some revised pieces from the last chapter:
_______
Not enough people were on the UCLA campus on a Friday night, Lisa thought. A crowd was the only way to hide. Either that, or a building. But none of the buildings were open this long after dark.

Except the hospital!

There it was, shining in the distance. The UCLA Medical Center. It wouldn’t take too long to get there, either. They were moving much more quickly now since Vikki had picked up the pace and toned down the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. It was probably because her arm, which had no doubt been at least bruised in the fall back at David’s house, was now seriously broken and misshapen. She was in real pain, and she couldn’t afford the energy to sustain her previous performance.

“Just a little farther,” Lisa implored, even though Vikki’s stride was longer than Lisa’s, and the shorter girl had to scramble to keep up.

Yet Vikki’s eyes were starting to glaze over. I’ve got to keep her moving, Lisa thought. She’s going into shock.

“How… how much farther?” Vikki asked, her voice tiny.

“Just until we can get to the hospital,” Lisa said. “It’s just up ahead.”

“How far up ahead?” There was a note of muted panic in her voice. She thinks it’s too far, Lisa thought. And she’s probably right.

“It’s where you need to be, sweetie,” Lisa reassured her, trying to sound as soothing as possible.

“This sucks,” Vikki sulked.

Lisa nodded. “It sucks big time,” she said, all the while trudging forward.

____________

The girls passed a handful of people along the way, and none of them volunteered to help them, despite the fact that Vikki clearly needed medical attention. She was starting to weigh heavily on Lisa’s tiny frame, and Lisa wasn’t sure how much longer they could maintain forward motion. They were passing under some fairly bright street lamps, which was not, in Lisa’s mind, a good thing. It made them more visible then when they had walked past the dimly lit running track. Lisa would have stopped to rest, except she knew that Vikki was being propelled by pure inertia now. If they stopped, she would pass out, and this would all be over.

Lisa kept scanning behind her, praying not to catch a glimpse of David, or, at the very least, to see him before he saw her. She did her best to stick to the shadows. Part of her brain was telling her that surely they were safe, that David had lost their trail and given up.

Her gut told her otherwise, so they kept moving forward toward the bright red sign.

“He hurt me,” Vikki muttered to no one in particular, no inflection in her voice. She was on autopilot now.

“I know, honey,” Lisa said, sympathetic for the first time. “He hurt a lot of people.”

And he’s far from being done, she thought, as they made their way forward.

_______________________
[Okay? Got those chunks in the brain instead of the old stuff? Just to clarify – they’re on their way to the UCLA Medical Center, not Westwood Village. Excellent.]
Now, without further ado:

CHAPTER SIX – i.e CHAPTER 3.4


The truth was that David had just about given up.

It wasn’t because he had lost his murderous intent; it was that there were simply too many places they could have gone. He was slightly worried about the scene back on Sunset, but he thought it highly unlikely that he would actually be caught. The police would have a hard time imagining that a scrawny kid could have tossed cars aside like playthings. They might, however, want to ask him some questions, and he was in no mood for interrogations. The guilt he had wrestled with back at his father’s house had receded into memory, or someplace deeper. He felt none of it, anyway, and it was almost as if it had belonged to someone else. In a few more minutes, it would be gone completely. David already had a hard time even recalling what it had felt like.

Instead, he was enjoying moving beyond David, or beyond what David had been before. Now he was something Other, something new, yet ancient, something with a destiny he could embrace, or, at the very least, a destiny that had embraced him. There were no more doubts. All that was left was a bright, shiny purpose, gleaming like a diamond in the noonday sun, leading him through the darkest places of his soul.

It all begins, he thought, with the death of those girls. Then we’ll see where the wind takes me. He smiled as he savored the possibilities. There was no door closed to him now. At least, no door that he couldn’t rip and tear and power through with his bare hands.

There’d be time for that later, he said. First, I’ve got a couple of girls to kill.

Wait a second, he thought. Is that a hospital up ahead?

________________

“Look, I’m not trying to make fun of you,” Jeff assured Walthius. “I know this is serious.”

“Serious as a heart attack, my friend,” Walthius agreed. “If you’re going to do this hero thing, you’re going to do it right.”

“Okay,” Jeff said. He stepped back from the fantasy, with the option to return when the moment presented itself. “So now we’re talking,” he said, as much to himself as to Walthius. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”

“So, with all things considered,” Walthius continued, “it sounds like you’re going to need some help.”

“Right.” Jeff was nodding vigorously. “That’s right. Help. So what do I do?”

“Well, step one is pretty obvious,” Walthius said.

“I know it is.” He breathed out a sigh of resignation. “I just have no idea what to say to her. ”

“Her?”

Her? You idiot! Not her! Think, Jeff, think!

Walthius regarded him coolly. “Say to her? Say to who?”

“Say to them!” Jeff said.

“Who’s them?”

“What do you mean, who’s them?” Jeff said, far too defensively. He needed a “them,” and then he came up with one. “My parents! Them! I totaled the car! And soon everyone at school is going to hear about this. You should have heard Lisa Meyer after I fell off the bleachers. ‘You sure are a good jumper.’ Like I’m a kangaroo or something. What a –“

Walthius interrupted him with a clean slap across the face.

“Ow!” Jeff said. “That really hurt!”

“Yeah,” Walthius said, “it hurt me.” Walthius was now clutching his own hand in agony.

Jeff rubbed the side of his face with his hand where Walthius had made contact. Of course it hurt! Didn’t it? He couldn’t tell. If there had been any pain, it was gone now. Maybe he only thought it had hurt because Walthius had taken him by surprise. And Walthius was now opening and closing his fist, apparently trying to shake off some of the sting. “If someone doesn’t believe you, just have them slap you. One time. That’s all it takes.”

“What did you do that for?”

Walthius started wincing. “I may have broken something.”

“Focus, Walthius!”

You focus!” Wealthiest shouted back before returning to wincing. “Focus on step one,” he said in a pained voice.

“I am.”

“No, you’re not. You’re blubbering about your little personal kerfuffles. I’m talking about step one.”

“All right,” Jeff said, humoring him. “I’ll bite. What’s step one?”

“Step one: tights.”

“WHAT?!”

Walthius reached under his seat and, with his good hand, he pulled what looked like a shirt box. He tossed it into Jeff’s lap.

“Open it,” he said. Jeff complied, and then he gasped.

He lifted out a gold and brown unitard with a large sunburst on the chest. It was attached to a white, nylon cape. Jeff let out a long, low breath. If anything, this was an even more surreal moment than the first time he flew.

“So?” Walthius asked. “You like?”

Nope. He didn’t.

________________

Lisa kept glancing behind herself. Did she hear something? Was she being followed?

She had tried to stay off the main path, cutting through bushes and the darker parts of campus. She knew she had gone too far when she hit Sawtelle, which was too far west. To the right of the girls, bathed in creepy moonlight, was the veteran’s cemetery, which struck Lisa as a bad omen. She could see the edges of nearby Westwood Village and the throngs of people crossing Wilshire from the Federal Building. She felt her heart skip a beat as she realized she was probably more exposed than ever, and too far away from her goal.

“Are we there?” Vikki breathed, barely able to get the words out.

“We’re almost there, honey,” Lisa lied. “It won’t be long now.”

Vikki ignored her and kept going straight on her originally programmed course. Lisa had to grab her to get her to make the sharp turn back toward the hospital. She shifted her sideways, which jostled her broken arm. Instinctively, Vikki let out a blood-curdling scream.

They could hear that from a mile away, Lisa thought.

________________

“Where did you get this?” Jeff demanded. They were about a mile away from the Wilshire onramp, just on the other side of the Federal Building.

“I didn’t get it. I made it,” Walthius said. “That’s bending the rules, I know. Even Peter Parker made his own suit. I should have let you make it. But circumstances being what they are –“

“You made this?”

“You can’t get something like that off the rack,” Walthius said. “You gotta have your own colors.”

“You made this,” Jeff said again, still disbelieving. The thing was, it was actually pretty good. It had clearly taken some time and effort – more time and effort than Walthius would have had after he had gotten the phone call.

When did you make this?” Jeff asked.

Walthius shifted in his seat. “You don’t like it.”

“No, that’s not it. It’s just –“

“It’s the school colors, I know. I should have picked something else. And that sunburst on the chest. Let me explain. It seems a little gaudy, I know, but it will come in handy if you have to -”

“What are you talking about?”

“Look, if you don’t like it just say so.”

“I didn’t say I don’t like it. I just don’t understand-”

“Did you see the mask, too?”

“Mask?”

“At the bottom.”

Jeff fumbled around the bottom of the box and found a black, Zorro-like linen mask. Walthius had clearly thought of everything. It made Jeff unusually queasy.

“Something wrong?” Walthius asked.

“Yeah, there’s something wrong!” Jeff blurted. “I’m supposed to wear this?”

“What did you think you were going to wear?”

“Well, unlike you, I hadn’t planned all this in advance.”

Walthius let out a sigh. “Do not tell me,” he said impatiently, “that you’re not willing to do the tights.”

“How did you know –”

“Never mind that!” snapped Walthius. “It’s the tights that matter.”

Jeff just stared at him with his mouth hanging wide open. Walthius broke away from watching the road and stared back. Jeff thought for a moment that he could establish some kind of psionic connection, where he could scour his friend’s brain and discover something that might explain all of this. Maybe this is just one more of my superpowers, Jeff thought. I’m sure it is. I know I’m feeling a connection here…

Then Walthius blinked. “So that’s a no, then?”

“A what?” This didn’t jibe with the psychic readings he was getting.

“A no. On the tights.”

“Really? That’s what you were thinking?”

Walthius turned back to the road and rubbed his face with his hands. “You can’t read minds, you idiot.”

Jeff’s pride was bruised. “Who said I could?”

“The tights, you moron! You’ve got to wear the tights!”

“Why should I?”

“Because.”

“Because why?”

Walthius began to sputter. “Because… because…”

“Why?”

“Because it’s the tights, man!” Walthius said. “That’s self-explanatory.”

“Not to me, it isn’t,” Jeff said, “Why should superheroes was all feel this unyielding urge to dress up in silly clothes?”

“They’re superheroes, you dolt. That’s what they do.”

“Well, yeah,” said Jeff, “I mean, sure, they can move mountains and everything, but can’t you do that in a pair of jeans instead of a leotard?”

“Look to the classics, my friend.” Walthius said. “The classics. If you’re going to quote Peter Parker, you have to dress like him.”

“But I don’t look like him.”

“So?”

“So he’s got muscles that ripple when the wind blows. I’m six foot four and weight 165 pounds.”

“So?”

“So who wants to see a guy with a caved-in chest and a pair of chicken legs in a unitard?”

“Are you going to take this seriously or not?” Walthius asked. They were finally at the onramp, at the end of the line to get on to the freeway. Jeff decided that the rest of the ride might go more smoothly if he played along.

“Yeah, I guess so.” Jeff sighed, giving in. “Fine. What’s a pair of tights between friends?”

“Good,” Walthius said, satisfied.

“Yeah, good.”

They drove in silence for a moment.

Then Walthius spoke. “Well?”

Jeff stared at him. “Well, what?”

“Well, nothing!” Walthius shot back. “Aren’t you going to put them on?”

Jeff looked like he’d been hit in the head with a frozen duck.

________________

David turned to face the noise. That was a girl’s scream, he was sure of it. And it wasn’t that far away.

David ran out to the end of the street and turned on to Sawtelle, where he saw two girls crossing the street before the lights had changed.

They were at least three football fields away from him. So close, and yet so far. Too far to run and catch them unawares.

But close enough.

________________

Jeff kept protesting, but once he realized that Walthius would not be denied, he began undressing in the passengers seat. His legs were too long to fully extend them as he removed his jeans, so he arched his back up and slid the wet, heavy denim off his legs. He was left in his soaking wet underwear, and realized he would have to take that off, too. He looked left and right, as traffic was moving too slowly to prevent any curious onlookers from peeking in on him. As soon as he was convinced that none of the other drivers were paying attention, he ripped off his undies and with lightning speed, he yanked on the tights, flailing against the space constraints and smashing his elbow through the window, sending shattered glass out into the street.

“Watch it!” Walthius shouted.

“Sorry!” he said to Walthius, and then “Sorry!” he said to the car next to him, waving and grinning sheepishly before slinking down and ducking his head below the window. He tried to scoop up the bits of broken glass that had fallen inside instead of out, and then he went to open the door to dump it all into the road. In his frenzied state, he lacked the control to keep from ripping the door handle clean off the side.

“Oh, that’s real nice,” Walthius moaned. He had to moan pretty loudly, too, since the newly absent window was welcoming in all of Santa Monica’s nighttime cacophony.

“I said I was sorry!” Jeff yelled. “I didn’t do it on purpose!”

“Of course you didn’t,” Walthius yelled back. “Anyway, how do they feel?”

Jeff looked down at himself. The truth was they felt pretty good,. They were dry, anyway. And while there were no rippling muscles to speak of, his skeletonic frame meant that there were no unsightly bulges, either.

“They feel good,” Jeff said. “They feel really, really good.”

Walthius smiled. “I thought they would,” he said.

“Where do you want these?” he said, dangling his shredded briefs in his hand.

“Oh, man!” Walthius said. “You were supposed to leave those on!”

Jeff laughed. “What, you think Superman leaves them on?”

Walthius shook his head. “Superman wears those yellow things on the outside.”

“Yeah, great,” Jeff said. “I’m not wearing these on the outside.”

“Toss them in the back, then,” Walthius ordered. “It’s time for step two.”

“This thing is okay now, but I’m pretty sure that when I stand up it’s going to start riding up my crotch,” Jeff complained. “And it’s not long enough.” He looked down at his exposed white, flabby thighs, and it undermined his confidence to leap tall building without looking like he was waiting for a flood.

“Who cares. We’re at step two now.”

“All right, fine,” Jeff said. “Step two.”

“Good.”

Jeff tilted his head, “There’s a step two?”

“Step two,” Walthius said. “A name.”

________________

There was a line of parked cars all along Sawtelle, the last bit of free parking available before heading into Westwood. David started running down the side of the cars, and in an instant, both of his arms had ballooned to giant size, along with, for the first time, his feet, which burst out of their shoes. They provided the power to dash down the hill at breakneck speed. He was definitely running faster now, picking up cars as he went and throwing them as he gathered steam.

He got it down to a pattern: two steps, throw car. Two steps, throw car. Soon he was lost in the rhythm of it.

The girls were entering the village now. He couldn’t see them. He did see a few horrified people on the other side of the street, which made for good target practice.

You should all feel lucky, David thought. You each get a car of your own.

Science for Girls: Smart, not Clever

I recently discovered a very cool new music album, produced by a very old friend. It’s called Science for Girls, and, despite the title, it’s not an educational children’s CD. Instead, it’s a collection of songs written and produced by Darren Solomon, a New York-based musician who spent a good deal of time touring with Ray Charles and Barry Manilow and who may now be the finest bassist on the planet. (Remember, John Entwistle is dead.) Darren’s also the guy who long ago taught me how to do armpit farts, but that’s not what makes his music so good.

Spinal Tap’s David St. Hubbins once famously remarked that there’s a “fine line between clever and stupid.” I think he’s right, but there’s an even finer line between clever and smart. I don’t think that “clever” is necessarily a good characteristic in an artist of any stripe. Being clever always involves showing off and calling attention to yourself at the expense of the work. And one of my biggest problems as an actor and as a writer is my propensity for cleverness.

If you’re reading my novel, then I’d cite a phrase like “paroxysm of panic” as an example of clever writing on my part that’s not really good writing. It’s alliterative; it uses a big word, and it calls attention to how brilliant I think I am, but it’s also clunky. It yanks you out of the story and asks you to applaud the guy writing it. That gets very tiresome very quickly. I’m a big fan of Douglas Adams, author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but I’ve never been able to get through his detective novel The Long, Dark Tea Time of the Soul, which opens with perhaps the cleverest line I’ve ever read:


It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression “As pretty as an airport.”

That made me laugh. In fact, I’ve used that line on several occasions. But as the Adams book progressed, every line after that tried too hard to be just as funny. Some of them may have been, but I ended up so exhausted trying to keep up after a few pages that I put the book down, never to return to it.

Musical Theatre is filled with Clever. Stephen Sondheim has made a career out of it. I love a lot of Sondheim, but I also recognize why he’s so off-putting to Mrs. Cornell, among others. He dazzles you with odd syncopations and clever rhymes, but he also purposely distances himself from you at the same time. That’s because “clever” almost always ends up being condescending. In order to appreciate the genius of the Clever Artist, you have to be looking up at him to do it.

Where am I going with this re: Science for Girls?

Darren Solomon is a very, very bright man and musician. And very talented. But you never get the sense, in Science for Girls, that he’s showing off. The arrangements and melodies feel simple and effortless, despite the fact that they’re actually quite complex, both in terms of the hardware and the songs themselves. iTunes lists his music as part of the “Electronic” genre, yet the songs feel very intimate and personal. You can listen to four of them on Darren’s MySpace page. I’ve heard the opening track, “14 Days,” a zillion times now, and I never get tired of it. It feels so breezy, but it’s really a stunning piece of work underneath it all, complete with key changes and chord shifts that flow perfectly from beginning to end.

Darren’s not being clever. He’s just being smart. There’s a fine line between the two, and Darren always stays on the right side, armpit farts notwithstanding.

Bigotry

Bigotry.

What is it? Well, it’s bad. I know that.

People refer to conservatives as bigots on a regular basis, and they’re not being especially kind when they do it. It seems we on the Right fit the dictionary definition of those with “stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.” As opposed to the tolerant, kind, and loving Left, who call us Nazis and Neanderthals, or, as we were recently called by a Proposition 8 supporter in California, “orcs” inflicting their “vampire-dripping heterosexist nightmares” on everyone else.

I don’t live in California, but Proposition 8 has become a big deal, since my church officially supports it and is helping to lead the charge to solidify the traditional definition of marriage. This has led to angry words, which invariably include the charge that those of us who support traditional marriage do so out of bigotry. To those making the charge, there can be no other explanation.

Consequently, even the most reasoned, dispassionate response is dismissed out of hand, because it’s hiding how we bigots “really” feel. See, we try to sound sort of reasonable in public, because if we let the electorate know how dark and vile our souls really were, they’d recoil in horror. But when we’re alone, we let down our hair and burn pictures of Harvey Fierstein and let the expletives fly. It’s kind of like that old Eddie Murphy SNL skit where he dresses up as a white guy and discovers that white people give things to each other for free when there are no black people around.

I’ve written extensively on why I think redefining marriage is a terrible idea, and I’m not interested in rehashing that again – you can find my original thoughts on the matter here and here. Instead, I want to make the case that bigotry, as a charge, does not constitute argument, and is, in fact, a substitute for it, used primarily to just shut people up.

All the cool people know this when they’re talking Right-on-Left bigotry. Call a Lefty “unpatriotic” and anyone who’s anyone won’t let you get away with it. But call us Righties “bigots” and you get thoughtful questions like “what do you think made them go so wrong? Are they evil, or just stupid?” Suddenly, whatever was being initially discussed is taken off the table, and the Righty has to defend his motives. That’s how the well gets poisoned. Even if a Righty is correct on the facts, they can be dismissed, because nothing good can come from a bigot.

Once you discredit the messenger, you can ignore the message completely.

A relatively benign example of this can be found in my own weird little online world. Back when Battlestar Galactica was being revived, many of us geeks were posting in various online enclaves that the reimagined version proposed by Ron Moore was a bad idea, and, instead, the revival ought to be a continuation of the original series. Unfortunately, we were joined in our cause by a loon named Languatron, who insisted – and still insists – that anyone who disagrees with him is on the payroll of Universal Studios, that God Himself will smite the head of the SciFi Channel if she doesn’t comply with his demands, and, by the way, gay people are scum.

Reasonable voices no longer mattered once Languatron took the stage. As far as anyone in Moore’s camp was concerned, all of us original series supporters were a bunch of Languatrons, and we didn’t have to be taken seriously.

Are there bigots on the Right? Yes, of course. But I will only concede that point as long as those on the Left recognize they have their share of bigots, too. I don’t know if their share is larger or smaller than ours. I do know that they’re far more effective at using our bigots to dismiss our arguments than we are at doing the same.

Case in point: Almost anything that the McCain/Palin ticket says or does to fight back is portrayed as an appeal to conservative’s latent racism. They’re not saying bigoted things overtly, but apparently they’re using “code words” that sleeper-cell racists recognize. This puts the GOP in a defensive crouch, because not only do they have to defend their charges against Obama, they also have to defend their motives for making the charges and prove they’re not bigots.

This wouldn’t work with a principled, persuasive conservative a la Ronald Reagan, who would ignore the charges with a twinkle in his eye. But John McCain is far more concerned about what the New York Times thinks of him than he is about what his own party thinks, so this tactic works well against him. He’s constantly on the defensive as he tries to assure the cool people that he’s one of them.

He’s also losing. There’s a direct correlation.

Chapter Five

“He hurt me! I can’t believe he hurt me!”

Yeah, well, believe it, Lisa Meyer thought, as Vikki blubbered in the passenger seat of the Dennis family’s brand new Jeep. Vikki was still cradling her arm, which seemed, at various times, to be hurting in different places. Drama queen, Lisa thought. Lisa had no patience for drama, at least not for the manufactured, adolescent kind. This moment was fraught with plenty of drama all by itself. It was all she could do to focus on the task at hand.

She knew it must be David’s car directly behind her, driving erratically. He knew his way around the maze of Bel Air better than she did, and he would have caught up with them by now if Lisa hadn’t ignored every stop sign in Bel Air and sped like a maniac. She also knew, sooner or later, that whether David caught up with them, or whether she rolled the Jeep through careless and reckless driving, both she and Vikki would end up just as dead.

Vikki, on the other hand, didn’t seem to know much of anything beyond her own pain. “Why did he hurt me? Why?” she moaned in anguish for the umpteenth time. That proved to be the final straw for a harried Lisa, who had just skidded over a curb and almost popped a tire in an attempt to avoid a jogger.

“Look, will you shut up?” Lisa yelled. “I’m trying to drive here!”

Vikki recoiled as if she’d been slugged in the stomach. She drew in a sharp breath and then turned her head histrionically, refusing to bear any further indignity.

Fine. The Queen of Sheba can hate me all she wants, Lisa thought. Just as longs as she lets me drive.

David’s car was never quite able to overtake them, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. He got close enough at one point to nudge their bumper, which threw Vikki into a loud paroxysm of panic.

“Shut up, already!” Lisa barked. Now David was trying to pass them on the left, and the road was barely wide enough to accommodate a single car, let alone both. As the road narrowed quickly, David swerved his car hard enough that he would have hit them if Lisa hadn’t punched the gas going into a sharp right turn. She took out a mailbox on the corner, but she was now a car length or two ahead of him. Except the mailbox collision had made Vikki squeal again, and Lisa would have hit her if she hadn’t been clutching the steering wheel for dear life.

There was another car ahead of her, which she managed to pass on the left, barely, and sped on ahead. David’s car came slamming into the other car and sent it fishtailing off to the side of the road. David’s bulky Buick weathered the blow, but it had lost a few seconds, which allowed the Jeep enough time to turn the corner without being seen. Any moment now, he would come bearing down on Lisa, who now faced a terrifying, split second decision.

The Jeep was careening toward the south Bel Air gate, which emptied out directly on to Sunset Boulevard. Sunset, as was to be expected on a Friday night, was a bumper-to-bumper barrier of automobiles, and, at the speed she was going, there was no way she could merge into the traffic without plowing into the side of a solid wall of cars.

I can’t do that, Lisa thought. Even if I could get in somehow, he’d expect it.

What wouldn’t he expect?

Knowing she had no other choice, she made an impossible left, turn, tires screeching, directly into the oncoming traffic, at a tight enough angle that she found herself driving on the grassy shoulder and praying that David wouldn’t be able to follow. She miraculously avoided a head-on collision, but they only made it about half a mile up the embankment before the Jeep rolled over and hit a tree. Thankfully, the front of the car took most of the blow, and, while the girls were now upside down and Vikki was out of her wits, their seat belts had kept them relatively unscathed. Lisa had the presence of mind to look behind them.

David’s Buick was nowhere to be seen.

“Come on!” she urged Vikki, as she fumbled around to release her belt. She didn’t know how much time her little stunt had bought them, but she sure wasn’t about to waste any of it. Vikki was screaming louder than ever, her sobs punctuated by tiny squeaks in between breaths. Lisa was somehow able to block it out as she reached over her shrieking banshee companion to pry open her door, which she had to kick with all her might to get it fully ajar. Then she crawled over Vikki and, fumbling to unbuckle her seat belt, too, managed to release her and pull her out of the car onto the grass.

“My arm!” Vikki’s volume had gone down, but she had lost none of her intensity. She was crying real tears now, Lisa knew. But she didn’t have time to care.

“Can you walk?” Lisa demanded to know.

“My arm!”

“I’m not talking about your arm. Can you walk?”

Vikki’s face was a mess of tears, spittle and mucous. She was incoherent. Lisa dragged her to her feet and draped Vikki’s good arm over the back of her shoulders.

She suddenly heard horns honking wildly, and she had a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach that they were signaling the approach of two more headlights plowing up the side of the embankment.

If they stayed here, David would get them.

Lisa and Vikki ran into the slow-moving traffic and managed to cross Sunset between the cars. When they got to the other side, Lisa looked back and expected to see David Chakiris’ eyes blazing with fury in the reflection of the oncoming headlights.

He wasn’t there. But Lisa knew he would be, soon.

With Vikki in tow, she scurried toward the lights of the UCLA campus, running through the landscape and staying off the road. I want to live, she told herself. That’s not what David wants.

That thought kept her focused as she forged ahead.
________________

“So the real question is – what are you going to do now?” Walthius asked. They were marginally closer to the freeway, but Jeff was sure they’d have been there sooner if Walthius hadn’t decided to take a shortcut up to Wilshire Boulevard, which was, if anything, even busier than Santa Monica.

“I’m not going to get home anytime soon, that’s for sure.”

“I’m serious,” Walthius said.

“Yeah. So am I.”

“Ha ha.” Then, in a voice of concern, Walthius asked, “You gonna to tell your parents, then?”

Jeff shrugged. “I don’t know. I haven’t figured it out yet.”

“You’ve got a lot of options, you know,” Walthius offered. “You could sign up for the NBA.”

Jeff grunted.

“What?” said Walthius.

“You don’t just sign up for the NBA.”

“Stop and think for a second,” Walthius countered. “I don’t know basketball, but I’m pretty sure if you show up at a Lakers game and fly the ball down the court without dribbling once, they’ll sign you up pretty quick.”

Jeff considered this and then asked “Why basketball? Why not football? Or baseball? Lots of interest in baseball.” His voice wandered off at the last sentence as he started looking around the back seat. He was starting to get hungry.

“Lot of cash in baseball, too,” Walthius agreed. “And you’d save a lot of money on steroids.”

“Good to know,” Jeff said as he scoured the floor to find any more food. He struck gold, or, at least, green. There were two more Granny Smith apples in a plastic grocery bag.

“You going to eat these?” Jeff asked, apple in hand.

“Help yourself.”

Jeff took a bite of an apple and looked out the window. Baseball. I could be a baseball star. Or football. And I wouldn’t even have to go pro. I could be a Topanga Titan and consign Stallion Cornell to the second string, both on and off the field.

He felt a rush of wild excitement as he dared to name his deepest desire.

I could date Vikki Dennis.

All of a sudden, this was getting good.

“Nah, it’s no good,” Walthius said.

Jeff chuckled and took a bite of his apple. “No good, huh?” he said, not convinced. “And why not?”

“It’s the Peter Parker temptation,” Walthius said simply, and Jeff, like any comic book aficionado, knew exactly what he was talking about. Spider-Man had started out trying to get rich, but after his selfish behavior led to the death of his uncle, he decided that he had to use his powers for the greater good.

“With great power comes great responsibility,” Jeff quoted.

“Look to the classics, my friend.”

Yeah, great, Jeff thought.

Except Peter Parker had never met Vikki Dennis.
________________

David surveyed the wreckage of the Jeep, but he knew even before he looked that the girls had escaped. He thought, for a moment, that they might have tried heading up toward the Sunset Strip, but they would have had too far to travel. That would have made them easy targets. That might have been what Vikki would have done, but the little blonde girl was smarter than that. It had already taken him at least five minutes to figure out that Lisa had made a crazy left turn. Smart girl. He found himself, in the midst of his wrath, filled with admiration for her.

That would make her death even more satisfying.

He looked across the street, which is where he was certain the girls had gone. How long a head start did they have? How soon before they were out of his reach? Best not to take any more chances.

As soon as he decided on his dark purpose, his hand swelled out to meet the task it had been given. Without thinking, he grabbed one of the slow moving cars and flung it out of the way, end over end, as if it had been a Matchbox toy. That got him out on the street, into the first lane. He yanked another car out of the second lane and pitched in into the opposite direction. Four more lanes of Sunset, four more cars. Two flung left, two flung right. He cut through the traffic like a knife through butter, leaving another scene of automotive carnage in his wake.

There, he said to himself as he reached the other side and smelled the smoke rising from the wreckage behind him. He watched his hand shrink again, its task completed.

That ought to make up some lost time.
________________

“Well, then what about your civic duty?” Walthius asked.

Why does he care so much? Jeff thought to himself. He picked a piece of apple out of his front teeth. “I didn’t know I had a civic duty,” was Jeff’s answer. As far as he was concerned, the conversation was essentially over. He wondered if it was typical for teenage boys to plan their own weddings. He didn’t care about the caterer or the guest list – Vikki could pick the colors and everything, but, still, he wanted to have the ceremony outdoors, early summer, maybe late spring…

“Of course you have a civic duty,” Walthius said. “Think about it. Some fanatics got a hold of some hostages? People hijacking planes or blowing things up? You’ll have all the bad guys on the White House lawn in twenty minutes, and you let the Secret Service have a go at them.”

Jeff raised his eyebrows. This made sense. And it was helpful besides. No doubt about it. Maybe he could squeeze some heroing in while Vikki was off working – she’ll be all the more impressed when he got back…

“You like that, huh?” Walthius asked. “And I’ll bet the reward money would be pretty sweet.”

Why does he keep talking about money? Of course Vikki would be impressed by that, too, Jeff thought. Power. Money. Either one alone would be helpful. Together, he’d get the girl for sure.

As a dreamy smile crept over his face, he looked over and saw Walthius shaking his head.

“Don’t even think about it,” Walthius scolded.

“What?” Jeff protested. “You just told me to think about it!”

“You’re not thinking about it the right way.”

“You don’t know what way I’m thinking about it!”

“You think Steve Rogers would do it like that? That he’d be willing to be a government stooge the rest of his life?”

Again with the comic books, Jeff thought, exasperated. Steve Rogers had volunteered for an experimental super soldier serum and became Captain America. At the end of World War II, he was frozen in an iceberg and, after being de-thawed, went on to fight crime freelance, including battles, at times, with his own corrupt government.

Jeff took a leisurely bite of his apple. “Steve Rogers doesn’t exist, Walthius.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Sure,” Jeff said, humoring him, realizing that all this thinking about Vikki Dennis might require him to freeze himself in an iceberg before too long.
________________

Not enough people were on the UCLA campus on a Friday night, Lisa thought. A crowd was the only way to hide. Either that, or a building. Except none of the buildings were open this long after dark.

They were moving much more quickly now since Vikki had picked up the pace and toned down the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. It was probably because her arm, which had no doubt been at least bruised in the fall back at David’s house, was now seriously broken and misshapen. She was in real pain, and she couldn’t afford the energy to sustain her previous performance.

“Just a little farther,” Lisa implored, even though Vikki’s stride was longer than Lisa’s, and the shorter girl had to scramble to keep up.

Yet Vikki’s eyes were starting to glaze over. I’ve got to keep her moving, Lisa thought. She’s going into shock.

“How… how much farther?” Vikki asked, her voice tiny.

“Just until we can get to the village,” Lisa said. “It’s our best chance.”

“Westwood Village?” There was a note of muted panic in her voice. She thinks it’s too far, Lisa thought. And she’s probably right.

“It’s the only place where we can find a crowd of people,” Lisa reassured her, trying to sound as soothing as possible.

“This sucks,” Vikki sulked.

Lisa nodded. “It sucks big time,” she said, all the while trudging forward.
________________

“I’m warning you. You simply cannot be in this for the money!” Walthius scolded.

Jeff was almost done with the apple. “And why not?” he said languidly, tossing the core to the floor of the car. Vikki wouldn’t tolerate this kind of slovenliness after the wedding. Oh, Vikki, Jeff thought. Don’t try to change me, baby.

Walthius sniffed.

“What?”

He sniffed again.

“I said what!”

“I think you know.”

“Just for the sake of argument,” Jeff said, “pretend that I don’t.”

“Money will destroy you if you go down that road. Peter Parker learned that on his first day.”

“There’s no such thing as – “

“Right. I know. ‘No such thing as Peter Parker.’ But you were the one who quoted him.”

“ ‘Cause you’re the one who seems to think there’s a reason for everything,” Jeff said.

“That’s right.”

“Well, who gets to decide what the reason is?” Jeff was agitated now. He wasn’t about to let Walthius become the homewrecker of a perfectly good fantasy. “Why do I have to be the role model who fights badness all the time? What if I choose to be a, a – football star, or something? What if that’s how I want it?”

Walthius thought for a moment.

“You are here for a reason,” Walthius said, “and I don’t know what it is, exactly, but I do know this much: it’s not to score touchdowns.”

“Glenn Ford,” Jeff noted, recognizing the reference. “Pa Kent. Superman: The Movie. 1978.”

“Good job,” Walthius said.

Jeff scoffed at him. “I passed again, did I?”

“I didn’t say that,” Walthius said, scowling. “You’ve still got a long way to go.”
________________

The girls passed a handful of people along the way, and none of them volunteered to help them, despite the fact that Vikki clearly needed medical attention. She was starting to weigh heavily on Lisa’s tiny frame, and Lisa wasn’t sure how much longer they could maintain forward motion. They were passing rows of well-lit apartments, which was not, in Lisa’s mind, a good thing. It made them more visible then when they had walked past the dimly lit running track. Lisa would have stopped to rest, except she knew that Vikki was being propelled by pure inertia now. If they stopped, she would pass out, and this would all be over.

Lisa kept scanning behind her, praying not to catch a glimpse of David, or, at the very least, to see him before he saw her. She did her best to stick to the shadows. Part of her brain was telling her that surely they were safe, that David had lost their trail and given up.

Her gut told her otherwise, so they kept moving forward toward Westwood Village.

“He hurt me,” Vikki muttered to no one in particular, no inflection in her voice. She was on autopilot now.

“I know, honey,” Lisa said, sympathetic for the first time. “He hurt a lot of people.” And he’s far from being done.

Scary Pumpkin and Funny the Marble

Once upon a time, there were two friends: Scary Pumpkin and Funny the Marble. They were a good pair of buddies. They played football together. And they also were really good at football. They both got touchdowns a lot.

Once there was a time when they got tackled ten times. It was scary. The bully is the one who tackled Scary Pumpkin and Funny the Marble. The bully was so scary that they fainted. Then they got up and ran away for their life. Funny the Marble thought that was soooooo funny that he peed his pants. Then Scary Pumpkin stopped and started to laugh his head off.

Both of them started laughing so hard that Scary Pumpkin’s eyes and nose and mouth started to glow. Then they ran over to the bully and said stop being mean to me and my friend or we will punch your head off, and that is what they did.

Then they said the same thing sentences over and over again. The bully was getting so annoyed the he ran away from them. They said go away and never be a bully again.

“OK,” said Scary the Pumpkin.

“OK,” said the bully.

The end.

Who cares about Colin or Oliver?

Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama has me scratching my head in the same way Oliver Stone’s new movie W. does. In both cases, I have to ask myself: who are these people trying to influence? In the case of Powell, I think the endorsement is certainly a blow to McCain, as it adds stature and gravitas to his inexperienced rival, and it gives the Obama camp some bragging rights.

But is there a voter out there who was waiting to see what Colin Powell was going to do before casting their ballot?

If there is, I just don’t know who it would be. This is the first election when I’ve ever had the experience of being a somewhat undecided voter, and Powell’s endorsement does nothing for me one way or the other. Then again, I know something about Powell’s politics; despite his party affiliatiuon, he leans left on social issues and has said that he’s concerned about what two more Republican appointments to the Supreme Court would do to the country.  That actually pushes me toward McCain, as Powell has more faith in McCain’s conservtive judicial street cred than I do. Maybe he knows something I don’t. Somebody certainly does. 

I don’t think I’m the average undecided voter. I’m a disaffected conservative who would desperately like to vote for a traditional Republican, and I find myself having to struggle with what to do when that choice is denied me. Is that the standard template? Or are there people who really look to see what the cool people are doing and decide to do that? I get the sense that that might actually describe Powell. Waiting this long to endorse, and then demurring when asked to actually campaign for his guy, suggests he was waiting to see which way the wind was blowing. Would he be willing to do this if his guy was losing to McCain as badly as McCain is currently losing to Obama? I don’t know, but I doubt it.

I suppose there are some completely nonideological voters out there who just want to jump on the bandwagon of a sure winner, and Powell may be the thing that finally pushes Obama into inevitability. I still cling to not just my guns and religion – I have no guns, actually, but never mind – but also to my respect for the American electorate. Surely not that many of us are that shallow and vapid in their political decision making?

Are they?

I’ve been wrong about everything else this election cycle, so I’m probably wrong about this.

I was certainly wrong about the box office appeal of Stone’s new movie, which I thought would sink like a stone. Honestly, why would anyone want to see this movie? If you hate Bush, I guess, there may be some vicarious thrills in seeing Stone do his usual leftoid hatemonger hatchet job on the guy, but I hate Clinton, and I’d just as soon hit myself in the head before paying to see anything about him, fictional or otherwise. And I can’t imagine any Republican wanting to sit through anything Oliver Stone has to say, regardless of how they feel about the president.

Proves I’m wrong, though. W.’s doing great at the box office.

I have never felt more disconnected from the pulse of my country’s political life than I feel right now. Even during the Clinton years, I felt there was a cohesive opposition that I could support. Now, I feel completely and totally adrift.