Monday, August 8, 2016

Freedom Camp

I woke a little before dawn. I usually do. Before I came to the camp, I still woke up early, but not always before the sun rose. I have more trouble sleeping here.
Maybe it’s the lack of beds.
The advantage of turning in earlier is that you can find a spot a little further from the drafts at the doorway. The disadvantage is that you have to crawl over everyone else to get out and pee.
Someone had stolen the shoes I wore yesterday. I’d left them by the doorway to dry a bit in the night air. I should have known better, and kept them at my side while I slept. The risk would not have been eliminated, but it would have been significantly reduced. It was one of those little moments that made me glad I’d been assigned to a camp in a more temperate area, rather than one that had colder mornings. There was no snow on the ground here, not ever, and I knew that if I could keep blood flowing through my toes until mid-morning, they’d warm up to be almost comfortable. I took off my wool socks and stuffed them in a jacket pocket, rather than wear them out on the ground. My feet would heal. I may never replace a good pair of socks. I’d be fine, really. Still, I’d had those shoes for almost a month. I’d grown to like them. It’s so hard to find them in my size.
I peed in one of the collection tanks, faint steam rising up from it in the morning air. About a dozen of us had worked for three months to collect the materials we needed to build it. The water would be distilled out and filtered for reuse. The rest would be mixed with other components to make fertilizer for the garden. I headed to the garden next, hoping that the early hour would mean there’d be some berries left I could grab for breakfast. I could probably find some glop at the commissary, enough to fuel me for a few hours, but even a handful of real fruit was a great joy, and an increasingly rare treat as the days grew shorter.
Mo was already at the blueberry bush. He sat with his legs folded under him on a small blanket, and smiled at my approach. One corner of the blanket had been folded over, and when I sat on the dirt next to him, he silently flipped the corner flat, revealing a generous pile of dark blue spheres, spiked crowns bristling from each one. “Yours, my friend.”
“You’re too kind,” I told him, and scooped about half the berries up in one paw. I ate them slowly, one at a time, as he bowed toward the burgeoning sunrise and recited his fajr.
I didn’t pace myself well. As slowly as I thought I ate, and as briefly as he prayed, my hand was empty well before he finished. I waited, watching the glow of dawn and listening to him speak a language I didn’t understand. I didn’t need to understand it. I didn’t even need to believe it. I just needed to sit quietly and watch the sun rise.
Mo represented only one of many faiths in the camps, but his was the first. Most Muslims were deported or arrested within a few months of the election under the new Anti-Terror acts. Mo was born here, which made him less suspicious, and converted in college, which made him far more suspicious. He would have been deported, but as this was his country of origin, there was nowhere to send him. After Brexit and Europe’s subsequent anti-immigration policies, many borders were closed to exiles. American-born Muslims who refused deportation to Islamic countries--usually because sharia law in such places made it even more dangerous for them--only had one alternative. Freedom Camps.
He settled back, a change in his posture and bearing telling me that he had finished, and eyed the remaining berries. “They are all yours. I have mine.”
“Didn’t want to be rude.” The berries were in my hand before I finished speaking, and in my mouth the next instant. I smiled at him through a chipmunked face. “Breakfast?”
He nodded, rolled up his blanket, and joined me for a walk to the commissary. “Something is different about you. New shoes?”
“Do you like them? They’re all the rage in the East Coast camps this season. I ordered mine right away, and they just arrived yesterday.” I gestured grandly at my bare feet. He chuckled. I had never seen him wear shoes. By now, his feet had surpassed leather for sheer toughness, and I wondered whether he would even notice walking on broken glass. I stepped gingerly, watching so I could avoid the more obvious rocks.
Our Freedom Camp was one of the oldest, meaning it had been hastily assembled without much planning, and no improvements had been made by anyone but the occupants. The sanitation was rudimentary and often needed repair, leading to our own development of the urine stills and composting toilets. They couldn’t handle the volume generated by all the occupants, but it was enough to offset the faulty facilities. A little. We spent a lot of time repairing things ourselves, knowing that in the time it would take for the official crews to take care of things, the camp would have been cleared by cholera or norovirus. Maybe that had been the plan.
Main Street, the broad central corridor which ran the length of the camp, was used primarily by the pseudo-military types who were in charge. They drove back and forth in old military trucks, proudly wearing bastardized uniforms and enforcing whatever new policy of abuse they had for the day. We called them camp counselors. Never to their faces. We avoided them mostly by avoiding Main Street.
Many of the real military abandoned their posts following the decrees after the election. At first, there were some court-martial trials and military prisons briefly filled with AWOLs, but it soon became clear that there weren’t enough personnel loyal to the new regime to maintain the practice. Rumors spread that ships full of naval crews and entire army battalions had either defected or found quiet places to establish small bases elsewhere in the world, retrieving their families if they could, and essentially becoming tiny nation-states. It was hard to tell how much was true. With the stranglehold on the media and Internet, even those outside the camps had to rely upon word-of-mouth for any unfiltered news of the world. Inside the camps, we only got coded messages from our families and friends outside, or reports from new campers.
The camp counselors we had were exactly the sort of people who should never be in charge. Picture people who thought a twenty-foot wall topped with razor wire and sporting sniper towers every quarter-mile along the Mexican border wasn’t enough. Even with a hundred-yard mine field buffer. Picture people who dress in bedsheets and tall, pointy hoods. Even worse, picture people who will blindly follow whoever is in charge, without ever asking, “is this right?” People who have never, not really, made a choice for themselves, instead allowing someone else to pour opinions and attitudes into their ear, and listen to whomever yells loudest, rather than to those making the most reasoned arguments. Then give them power over exactly the people they fear most. That’s why we avoided Main Street. We walked parallel to it, a few blocks to the south, where a careful eye could spot a few scrawled messages reading “Make America Hate Again.”
Most of the Habi-Pods were just shipping containers or old railroad cars. They had been arranged in rows with just enough space between for a crane truck to unload them. Later, that spacing allowed them to be stacked up to four high, with increasingly suspect stairways and ladders leading up from ground level. At first, there were cots, chairs, and some other rudimentary furniture. Later, as population in the camps rose more quickly than the supply line could satisfy, people started making furniture and hammocks out of whatever we could find. Those who got good at it developed a sort of cottage industry, working for trade, but it was difficult to hold on to anything long in the camps. Like my shoes. One of the later decrees was that personal property in the camps was limited to what each person carried with them. I couldn’t really claim that someone had stolen my shoes, because according to the rules of the camp, they weren’t my shoes. They weren’t anyone’s shoes. They were everyone’s shoes. The despot had reasoned that since many of us were essentially socialists, we could share whatever property was inside the camps.
We weren’t socialists. Most of us were dyed-in-the-wool capitalists. There were quite a few former small business owners who had voted for him who had ended up in the camps. They had thought he would be a better choice for them than his political opponent, because he espoused business growth in his campaign. After election, he quickly made several changes which made it obvious that he was only interested in growth of major corporations and heavy industry. Large companies consumed smaller companies, or drove them into the ground. Electric and hybrid vehicles were declared illegal, ostensibly to encourage development of American petroleum resources. National Parks were opened for drilling and mining under the argument that to ignore those resources would be wasteful. Global warming escalated. The small business owners, and any others who opposed the draconian edicts, were given the choice to leave the country or enter the camps. Those who could left. Those who couldn’t afford it, or whose political exile papers were denied by other countries, ended up in camps.
I wasn’t given the choice. I protested the new regime. I wasn’t a leader; I wasn’t an activist. They were rounded up before me. But as the louder voices were silenced, smaller voices like mine became harder to ignore. Soon after the election, the major news networks were threatened with sanctions if they stepped outside the new socio-moral guidelines. Later, specially-appointed Monitors were assigned to each media outlet to ensure that all material was approved before broadcast. That was around the same time that similar censors--call a spade a spade--began trolling the internet with bots and filters designed to eradicate messages which ran counter to the despot or his policies. There had been foreshadowing during his campaign, when he called for the termination of journalists and even judges who spoke against him. At the time, he had claimed that conservative outlets should fully support him, as he was the duly-chosen candidate of his party, and that conservatives speaking against him should follow the party line or be silent. Liberal voices were dealt with more simply, as a petulant child might: he called them names and said they were lying, then yelled until they shook their heads and gave up. After the election and Monitors, he claimed that any dissenting voices weren’t properly supportive of him, and thus un-American. If they were not American, they should leave.
Or go to the camps.
The only problem with attaining total media control across the country was that it was only one country. Media personnel who left the country and continued reporting their views--or worse yet, the facts of what happened here--were beyond his purview. The world was full of places happy to tell others how badly things were going in America. Some felt we were getting comeuppance. A few may have seen us as a dire warning against tacitly choosing totalitarianism. I made some public observations online comparing the media control to that enjoyed by the leaders of China and North Korea, where the populace was fed only what the government allowed them to believe. I had made other dissenting views, but I guess they had already culled the loudest voices, and mine was heard in the relative silence. I was collected from my home, which was seized by the government, along with any possessions I wasn’t carrying, and taken to a Freedom Camp. There was no trial. When I asked, I was told that it was held in my absence. I asked about my right to face my accusers. They told me that I had supplied all evidence against me myself when I posted it online, that I had been found guilty of seditious and inflammatory speech, and that I could say whatever I wanted in the Freedom Camp. That’s why it was called a Freedom Camp. I was free to do as I liked within its confines. I asked if I would be free to have contact with the outside world. One of them struck me with the butt of his rifle. When I woke up, I was laying in the dirt inside the fence. Naked. They had taken what few personal items I’d managed to collect before they took me from my home. Apparently, they were also free to do whatever they liked.
The commissary was a quonset hut, a long, semi-cylindrical building with large overhead doors at each end and harshly buzzing lights high above the concrete floor. Mo and I got in line, received our trays, and found a pair of seats in an acoustic irregularity we had discovered. Large television screens at both ends of the hall continually broadcast messages from the despot and his advisers. Reminders of how we were expected to behave, reports on new policies outside the walls, news of dubious factual value. Our spot was in a small pocket where the broadcast was almost silent. It was our favorite place to sit in the commissary.
Supplies for the camps, including food, are mostly the cast-offs of the outside world. Meat that didn’t quite meet the standards, produce that had gone a bit soft, three-day-old bread. Sometimes, we’d get lucky and positively identify the contents of our meals. More often, it was the formless stew we called Glop. It made the gardening efforts that much more appreciated. In a few rare cases, people managed to bring in some livestock and maintained tiny breeding populations. They were jealously guarded, and it was always easy to find volunteers to help care for and raise the animals, because helping in any food production effort inside the camps was the best way to gain yourself a share of the yield. Any food you could recognize was a rare luxury.
After we returned our trays, we headed toward Zeke and Margarita’s place. They kept a small herd of goats by the east border of the camp. I helped tend the herd. Mo was trying his hand at making cheese. A sudden pain in my foot sent me hopping a few steps, and I doubled back to collect the framing nail whose head had driven its edge into my heel. I carefully nudged Mo down a shoulder-width gap between shipping containers, and crouched near the far end. He leaned casually against one of the containers, blocking view of me from that side, while I scratched “Make America Hate Again” into the brightly painted metal under a large hashtag mark. “Some day, they will catch you doing that,” he warned, his voice casual.
“They’ve already caught me.” I stood and followed him out of the gap. “Good thing, too. I’m a dangerous man.”
“Full of dangerous ideas.”
“Like freedom of the press.”
“There is no press here.”
“Freedom of speech, then.”
“And religion?”
“Yup. Wacky stuff like that.” I chose not to linger on that topic. He had been here longer than me, and was wary of showing any signs of faith in front of the counselors, knowing that they’d shout “terrorism,” and he’d get disappeared to an even darker hole.
“Truly revolutionary ideas.”
“Me and Tommy J, buddy.”
We bumped fists, knowing it would piss off some of the counselors. Here, that gesture wasn’t just a greeting. It was a reminder of a time when the word Freedom still meant something, as recently as the former presidency. A man the despot actively sought to discredit, defame, and unseat throughout his terms. The henchmen who served the despot remembered, and minor accidents commonly befell those who showed support of the former president, or either of the despot’s greatest opponents during his election bid.
There was a subtle irony there.
The election should have been closer. The despot had gained support from many people who were so upset that their candidate didn’t do better in the primaries that they switched parties. Mistakes made by party personnel were blamed on the other candidate. Many people who had thus voted for the despot were now in the camps with the rest of us. Maybe they just weren’t “real American” enough.
Others had fled, seeking asylum elsewhere. Short-sighted anger, like that shown by the despot, had cost us everything, not just an election.
Many had hoped that we’d only have to put up with him for four years, eight tops, but the changes he wrought even before launching weapons against supposed enemies will have ramifications for generations. That was before he instituted martial law and suspended further elections. Congressional opposition was handled as he had handled detractors to his campaign: with abuse, harsh criticism, and tirades. Whenever possible, he would find ways to push them out of office entirely. His favorite line was an old catch phrase: “you’re fired!” Several were in camps. More, we suspected, were just… gone.
A whining, petulant, bully of a man-child had been elected to the most powerful office in the free world, and still there were people who seemed surprised when his presidency continued just as his candidacy had. Healthcare decisions were made by appointed committees, carefully governed by insurers, and individuals could not choose their care options. LGBT communities were forced into actual, physical communities much like the Freedom Camps, but where many suspected they were subjected to reeducation and chemical treatments to “cure” them. Corporations were given limitless power, and individuals were robbed of their rights. Anyone who spoke out against his atrocities were exiled or locked up because they were inciting unrest, or acting in a seditious or treasonous manner.
We put a bully in office, and he took everyone’s lunch money.

We should have seen it coming.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Mission Log 3

Mission Log, Day 61

There are many important examples of the interactions between the primary bipedal species and the numerous animal species of the planet; few exhibit the level of ceremony and ritual as that of the annual Poultry Sacrifice.
Harvest festivals are common among agrarian societies, and the Poultry Sacrifice seems to be a carryover of an earlier stage in the development of the bipeds’ civilization, when scarcity was more common. It hearkens back to another, rather counter-intuitive, commonality among more primitive peoples: sacrificing something dear to ensure its later availability. Presenting grain at the altar of a grain god in hopes of a bountiful harvest, for example. When these sacrifices involve animals, or even people, the sacrificial individual is often given a high standing and exemplary treatment, to emphasize or even heighten the value of the sacrifice.
In the example of the Poultry Sacrifice, size is an important consideration. Bipeds will often compete with each other in their food distribution centers for a prized specimen of the avian in question, and even reserve a sacrificial subject with the merchant weeks in advance. The sacrifice is a family event, with some members of biped extended clans traveling great distances; the size of the gatherings often results in multiple sacrifices.
Curiously, sacrificial events when the avian begins the proceedings alive are incredibly rare, even unknown. Instead, this large species of avian is killed, deflocked, gutted, and in many cases frozen well in advance of the ceremony.
The purpose of the ceremony itself is perplexing. If it involved the ritualistic slaughter of the avian, then it would be natural to assume that, like the example of grain sacrifices cited above, the intended goal would be to entreaty some higher power for a bounteous hunt, or otherwise successful procurement of edible supplies in the coming winter months. Instead, the ceremony seems to be an attempt to restore life to the avian; perhaps this is the goal, with the belief that by restoring life to the avian, even symbolically, the bipeds will be restored to health, or guaranteed bounty in a perceived future life or afterlife.
First, the avian is cleaned, and in recent years, an additional step has become popular: to soak the avian’s body in a saline solution to symbolize a return to the seas where life first evolved on this planet. Thus the sacrificial specimen is cleansed, renewed, and the bipeds are vicariously renewed with it. When removed from the saline bath, it is rubbed with fragrant herbs, spices, and oils, much as the bipeds themselves are known to douse themselves with fragrant oils and floral extracts.
Second comes the ceremonial feeding, wherein the avian is hand-fed great quantities of bread, fruit, vegetables, and nuts, all of which are symbolic of life and food in general across several biped cultures. I find this step especially puzzling, as even I, a stranger to this world, can tell that they are feeding the wrong end of the creature. I have yet to determine the ceremonial significance of this oversight.
Third, the avian is placed in a great incubator, or ceremonial womb, in which it is heated for several hours, and treated to frequent re-applications of the same oils and herbs used after the bathing. Many biped families choose a different method for this stage, using a smaller incubator filled with oils to save them the trouble of re-applying them manually. They claim this method is superior, but the number of biped dwellings which fall victim to fires related to these devices suggest that whatever higher power they seek to please with the ceremony may not be convinced of the sincerity of their efforts.

Finally, when the flesh of the avian has darkened and become aromatic, it is removed from the incubator and devoured by all those present, to infuse their own bodies with the symbolic life they have striven to instill in the avian. This is commonly followed by a couple hours of quiet meditation for each biped, sometimes while listening to the broadcast of bloodless gladiatorial combat which I shall explain later.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Due to unexpected developments, I won't have time to write anything for a while. One month, maybe two, and then hopefully I can spend some quality time with my keyboard. Until then, find your own adventures.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Trick Arrrrrrr Treat

It is October in Northern Virginia, and that means one thing above all else: the pirate house has gone bananas*.

Why, yes that IS a life-size Johnny Depp figure atop that throne. Doesn't everyone have one of those?
We make it a point every year to see the display. There's a neighborhood contest for Halloween decorating, and this house is so far past what anyone else does that they've taken themselves out of the contest after winning so many times that it just didn't seem fair to compete anymore. This year, there was a small sign in the yard indicating that the house was in the neighborhood Hall Of Fame; I've never heard of such a thing, which leads me to believe that they invented a new category of prize just to have something worthy of presenting to this display.

We've watched the pirate house Halloween display grow for three years. This is a new feature.
I've been there in the evening, usually on trick-or-treat night, when there is a police presence directing traffic on the street, because otherwise cars will just stop and stare, and nobody can get through. Even the cops I've seen on this duty will spend a lot of time looking over their shoulder, as though they still haven't managed to take in everything.

I think the bar is also new, but some of the patrons are regulars.

Two animatronic skeletal pirates flank the sidewalk to the front porch. Trick-or-treaters have to make it through that gauntlet.
On Beggars' Night the homeowners have a party for their friends, everyone in costume, and they take shifts handing out candy while the rest of the guests stay inside, enjoying whatever pirates enjoy. We want to become their friends just to get in on the action. Outside, the yard gets methodically trampled as hundreds of people wander through, gaping and taking pictures. The display takes at least a month to install, and nearly as long to get re-packed after Halloween. (I have seen the pirate ship re-fitted as an enormous Santa Sleigh for Christmas)

Even the ship has grown over the past couple years.
A couple years ago, Hurricane Sandy slapped the bejeezus out of the East Coast. We didn't get the worst of it here, but we still had our share of ridiculous rain and lots of wind. The timing was really bad for the pirate house; they had almost finished the display when the storms began, and they had to hurry to get everything inside and protected. We happened to walk by the next day and saw a woman on the porch, shaking her head and looking tiredly at the sodden figures left on the lawn. I was impressed more with how they rallied: the storms abated about a day and a half before Halloween, and by the time the trick or treaters arrived, you couldn't tell anything had been removed. The entire pirate-witch-zombie-skeleton crew had been restored to their positions, and all the light and sound had resumed. I can only assume they had lots of help from their party guests.

In addition to the yard full of pirate madness, there's also a coven of witches cackling off to the side, welcoming victims/guests to their cauldron.

* this is the same as going apeshit, but with less processing.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Old Man and the Cave

When I was a kid, our parents would occasionally take us on "mystery trips." This was the height of weekend excitement. We rarely knew what the trip was, but we always tried to wrangle information that would help us guess. What should we wear? What should we bring? Have we been there before? Often, our destination was a museum or zoo. Sometimes, it was just a nice place to hike or play outside. One of my personal favorites was visiting Old Man's Cave, in Hocking Hills. I even have a vague memory of visiting in the fall, and convincing myself (I may have had help) that it was haunted, because I love Halloween.

Last weekend we went to Detroit for a friend's wedding. On the way, we stopped in Ohio to visit The Girl's brother, who wanted to go hiking with us. I was secretly thrilled that the destination they chose was a favorite of my childhood. I had forgotten how beautiful the area is.
According to a 12 year old we met, you can tell this is a female by the eye color. Yes, I was disappointed in myself for not already knowing.

Upper Falls

I love this bridge. The portions are not connected to each other.

Old Man's Cave.

Lower Falls
The CCC carved the stone steps throughout the park--and this long tunnel leading up to the top of the gorge.

Cedar Falls
We also took this excellent photograph of her brother and his two clones. Hurray for exploiting technology!

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Cutting

“Where’s Morris? Is he coming?”
“Yeah, I saw him by the copiers just a minute ago.”
“Did you remind him about the ‘meeting?’”
“Of course I did! I wouldn’t want him to miss this!”
A ripple of hushed laughter cascaded through the packed conference room. Chairs had been pushed to the walls, and usually people would sit there first, but everyone stood today, to make sure they could see. When Morris arrived at the door, three minutes late (as usual), the room erupted into a ragged, off-key chorus of Happy Birthday.
“Sorry there aren’t any candles to blow out, Morris, but the building’s fire code prohibits any open flame, you all remember that from Stacy’s aromatherapy candle incident.” A low titter bubbled in one corner of the room while Stacy turned a brief, bright shade of crimson in another corner.
Morris continued to hover at the doorway, stretching and craning to see past the taller people in front of him. “Is there at least some cake?” he asked, barely audible through the chatter.
Marjorie Plim raised a slice of cake on a paper plate, high enough for Morris to see. “Of course there’s cake! Oh, but don’t come in just yet--we took a head count a little bit ago, waiting for you to arrive, and we already had ninety-seven people in here, and the conference room is only rated for an occupancy of ninety-five, so we’re already a little too full. Just give a moment to clear out a little, ok?” She handed the plate to Ted from Accounts Receivable, and having served one row of the cake faster than anticipated, expertly sliced the rest of the cake into equal portions and began setting them on plates as quickly as Phyllis from HR could hand them to her, plastic forks already in place.
“Phyll, let’s try it without the forks already on the plates, ok? They shift when I put the cake on, and it’s all I can do to keep the forks from falling onto the tray. Just jab them in the top when I hand them back, alright?”
“Oh, uh, yes, of course.” Phyllis thus began losing ground in the battle to keep up with Marjorie, and soon became very flustered trying to separate the paper plates with one hand while jabbing forks into cake with the other, then handing the forked cake to the next set of hungry hands.
“Not so hard, Phyll, we don’t want to drop the cake off these flimsy plates, do we? Who bought these, anyway? Just another minute, Morris, we haven’t forgotten you out there!”
Phyllis was relieved to see Greg from Arbitrage step in, hoping that he could take over fork-jabbing duties, which was really a two-hand job, but he stayed only long enough to intercept the next slice of cake, grab his own fork from the table, and slip away again to join the small crowd around that skinny bitch Jeanine, who was currently regaling her audience with stories of the yoga class she taught on the weekends. Whore.
Morris continued to hover just outside the doorway, peering around shoulders and occasionally lifting up on his toes, wondering why nobody ever took their cake back to their desks. If only three people would leave, then Plim would let him come in and get some of his birthday cake. He hoped it was chocolate. His favorite was chocolate with peanut butter frosting, but they couldn’t have peanut butter frosting anymore now that Jim had transferred in from Toledo, because Jim was deathly allergic to peanuts. Still, chocolate with white frosting would be ok. Was he the only one who ever ate cake at his desk??
“Oh, just a half-slice for me, Marjorie, I’m watching my carbs.”
“I watch my carbs, too. I don’t want them to get away! Ha ha!”
“Give me the other half of Dan’s slice. I’m still trying to drop some of this baby fat.”
“Ooooh, do you have more pictures of little Calliope?”
“Is this cake gluten-free? Does anyone know? It isn’t? I can’t believe we’re still eating that poison!”
“Did someone grab a piece for Victor? He’s stuck in a WebEx with San Francisco.”
“I’ve got his right here. I’ll run it out in a moment.”
Marjorie worked silently through the mindless chatter of the drones, quickly and efficiently delivering every last piece to a paper plate before setting down her knife and picking up the last corner piece. She really only wanted one bite, anyway. Chocolate cake was gross. Next time, she’d remember not to trust that idiot Phyllis to order. She noted that the gluten-free zealot also took a corner piece, scraped off all the icing, and dropped the cake in the trash. She ate her bite of the cake, just to prove herself better. After work, she’d run ten miles on the treadmill to eradicate the icing calories before they had a chance to settle in for the long term. She scowled across the room at the trash can by the door. It was obvious by how the plates were heaped (and from two of the plates on top) that many people weren’t finishing their cake, and couldn’t be bothered to at least TRY to get the plates to stack up in the trash can. There would never be room for all of this mess.
“Ted? Ted! Ted, can you empty that trash and bring us a new liner? It’s already full, and we don’t want it to spill onto the floor, do we?” Why didn’t anyone else notice these things? Did she have to take care of everything? She turned and dropped her own partially-eaten cake into the bin behind her, then stabbed the plate down the side of the trashcan, setting an example she knew would be ignored. A glance at the clock told her it was nearly quarter after, and she knew from experience that if someone didn’t take charge, the drones would loiter and gawk in here as long as they could instead of getting back to work at their desks.
“Ok, everyone!” She clapped twice to get their attention. “This has been fun, but I know we all have a lot to do out there, so let’s get back to it, right?”
Phyllis turned so nobody else could see her eyes roll. Did Plim actually just wave her hands, like she was shooing away ducks or kindergarteners? The way that woman regarded other human beings was deplorable, and to make it worse, nobody ever said anything to her! Even as Phyllis silently fumed, she found herself swept out the door by the human tide.

Morris was forced to step aside, into the corner formed by a nearby potted plastic plant, as his co-workers filed out of the room. Marjorie spotted him as she exited at the back of the crowd, having successfully flushed the room, and set a firm hand on his shoulder. “Well! That was fun, wasn’t it, Morris? So glad we could celebrate with you, but it’s back to work now, isn’t it?” As she steered him away from the conference room, he managed to look over her shoulder at the sheet of waxed cardboard that had held the cake, empty now except for the knife, two forgotten plastic forks, some smears of icing, and a sprinkling of chocolate crumbs.

Monday, October 5, 2015

bike building

Two weeks ago, I got to help with a very cool program. The DC Public School system, with support from the DC DOT, decided that every kid should know how to ride a bike. They could teach it as part of the PhysEd curriculum, and aim at second graders, who would be old enough to grasp the basics without being old enough to fear falling or looking silly in front of their friends.

The problem was getting enough bikes.

That's where the crowd of volunteers came in.

Revolution Cycles, a local chain of bike stores (I feel like there's a pun in there, but I'll let it slide), took the lead in ordering the bikes and organizing the work force. They recruited several of their customers and staff to build bikes for a week in August (I was out of town then) in a hot, breezeless warehouse in northeast DC. Last month, they built the second round, and I was there for it. So were many more volunteers. More, even, than Revolution had expected. On the first day, we built four hundred balance bikes (no pedals, no brakes, no problems) and over 120 sixteen-inch bikes (pedals and coaster brakes).

The storage room looked like Christmas morning.
These took more time to unpack from the boxes than they took to assemble.
For the next two days, we built sixteen- and twenty-inch bikes (the twenty-inch bikes introduced hand brakes), bringing the week's total to 875 bikes, almost twice what was built in August. The build was such a popular project that the woman in charge of recruiting volunteers was contacted by half a dozen people Tuesday night asking if they could come help, too. The Washington Redskins wanted to build bikes, but by the time she heard from them, we actually had more help than we needed. In fact, we finished the build two days earlier than expected.

We built so many bikes so quickly that they ran out of room in the warehouse, and had to begin distributing the bikes to schools just to make room for us to continue working. For me, the funniest part was that the work I did was mostly taking boxes from pallets and moving finished bikes to storage. I only built one bike, at the end of the last day, when the pallets were empty and we had started storing the finished bikes in our build room, because we were once again out of storage elsewhere. Still, I had a lot of fun helping, and every time I see a news item about the kids getting to learn to ride because of that week of work, it makes me feel really good. Bikes are freedom.

(I am not artful enough here to properly embed the video, but one of the other volunteers made a time lapse of part of our last day of building. You can see it here.)