Posts Tagged ‘United States’

From the Editor’s Perch…

November 15, 2013

Editor’s Note:  Another installment about Failure:

How Much Should a Citizen Be Paid for His/Her Work?

How Much Should a Citizen Be Paid for His/Her Work?

Failure, Slavery and the Minimum Wage


            According to Scott Sandage’s book, Born Losers: A History of Failure in America, the great boom and bust cycles of America during the nineteenth century spawned the need for debt relief legislation.  For every business success to be had, many more failures were spawned.  If “the business of America is business,” as Calvin Coolidge would later say, then the debt-ridden failure was sidelined.  He had no future. 

            Various bankruptcy legislations were tried, and then discarded throughout the first half of the nineteenth century.  The widely held American ideal of a man being the maker of his destiny, reinforced the belief that the ‘truth lies in the man’, and that the roots of failure could be ascertained by a careful examination of the character of the man in question.  Debt relief flew directly in the face of this.  Debt relief would, it was felt by many, just nurture weakness and poor character in the American citizen.  On the other hand, a vast number of the bankrupts – though noting in retrospect many ways in which they might have acted more wisely – complained that the main reason they went bust was because they could not collect from others that which they were owed.  This all came to a head with the advent of the Civil War, when southerners stopped payments on obligations to northern businesses forcing a great number of northern businessmen into bankruptcy. 

            Along with the push for the abolition of slavery, came a parallel cry for bankruptcy legislation.  Their special interest group, The National Bankrupt Association, pushed for this legislation through their leading advocate in Congress, Thomas Jenckes.  Bankrupts complained that their “unpaid debts made them idle”, and “like true abolitionists , members of the association held that freedom was inalienable”.  The movement “seemed to understand that inalienable rights made sense only as a universal standard, not as a privilege of race”.  “To get back on one’s feet was to be emancipated.”  They argued that “When the Thirteenth Amendment brought legal freedom to the real slaves…  The government empowered itself to interfere with property, to redefine citizenship, and to protect individual rights – but not theirs.”  Their pronouncements were “a manifesto about the right to rise.”

            There were still difficulties to getting bankruptcy legislation passed however.  A key Congressman, Thaddeus Stevens clashed with Jenckes.   Stevens and his supporters could not “suffer rebel debtors to benefit from a bankruptcy bill” – which caused the Jenckes faction to complain that while Stephens was happy to free the slaves, he turned his back on the debt-slavery of his own constituents.   Finally, “on the last day of the Thirty-Ninth Congress, on a 2 March 1867, Congress approved both the Bankruptcy Act and the Reconstruction Act of 1867.”


            But the American ideal of “a right to rise” as an inalienable birthright continues to wage war with another American ideal of the right to property.   Currently, these questions complicate the current debate on the minimum wage laws.  Does a wage which is insufficient to live on amount to a defacto ‘slave wage’, which benefits the consumer, at the expense of the worker’s “right to rise”.   If “the business of America is business”, do insufficient wages keep capable citizens idle and ‘out of the game’?  Do insufficient wages constrict the citizens’ inalienable right to participate?  

            This is a discussion that continues, and probably will continue, for a long time.

Photo by Carl Nelson of a model


From the Editor’s Perch…

November 11, 2013

Your Money is Watching

Your Credit Agency Has Its Eye on You

Your Credit Agency Has Its Eye on You


A Descendant of

“America’s First Motivational Poster”


            The first modern credit report was issued by “the first modern credit bureau, Lewis Tappan’s Mercantile Agency”, Scot Sandage  relates in his book, “Born Losers”.   These first modern credit reports were gleaned in the early nineteenth century from far flung sources throughout our burgeoning country.  They were evaluations of a man’s character, credentials and fiscal standing, and necessary in a country where business was conducted at great distances.  Tappan developed sources who could attest to the comings and goings and general fiscal health of far flung business associates.  The local Postal Official often supplemented his income by filing such (secret) reports on the citizens of his community.   These credit ledgers – as collected by Tappan –  were written in longhand and were condensed narratives and appraisals of a man’s life.  Currently, they often make compelling reading;  as piquant as short stories, or cautionary tales.

“Managing identity meant more than guarding one’s name as a priceless asset”, Sandage also reports.  “Benjamin Franklin supposedly drew that lesson in America’s first motivational poster, “The Art of Making Money Plenty” – the “art” consisting of a rebus (or picture puzzle) with maxims from Poor Richard’s Almanack.  An eyeball stood in for the middle vowel in “creditors”, a reminder that someone was always watching.  Dating from that, it became a popular Currier & Ives lithograph.  The eye of Providence had watched over America, atop the pyramid in the Great Seal that Franklin helped design.  “Making Money Plenty” substituted the eye of commerce;”

            …” besides the creator, “thy creditors” and competitors also observed and judged you.”

Photo from Google Images

From the Editor’s Perch…

October 11, 2013


A Brief Review


History is written by the winners, as they say, but it’s not because there is not lots of material about losers in the public and private archives, says Scott Sandage.  “The voices of and experiences of men who failed (and of their wives and families) echo from private letters, diaries, business records, bankruptcy cases, suicide notes, political mail, credit agency reports, charity requests, and memoirs.”

As anybody with eyeballs is apt to see, failure is the much more likely result of business enterprise than success.  And if we are to celebrate the fruits of a Darwinian process, such as successful enterprise is – then we ought, as a culture, to explore ways to reap fertility from failed enterprise.  Not just economically, but culturally; making use of losers as a cultural resource, a fertile bed from which our next generation of achievers arise.  Just look around.  We paddle through a Sargasso Sea of failures every day.   History is stuffed with the biographies of high achievers whose upbringings came from families of failed patriarchs.   There is good fertile soil here.  But what is done to respect it?

It’s no surprise that our society produces much more failure than success, and much more quiet desperation than joy.  Competition naturally produces many more losers than winners.  And yet, Sandage would point out, we structure our social interchange as if success were the only virtuous possibility.  And in doing so, create a lot of suffering.  (And also, by the way, limit a lot of social potential.)  An interesting example he points out is contractual law.   The act of signing a contract “is a promise to be successful”.   Otherwise obligations could not be met.  Of course, this is preposterous.  Most enterprises fail.

And then, culturally, when we see failure, we look for a “reason in the man”, a phrase Sandage notes often passed around in the 19th century.  But if you examine the victims of the 19th century financial panics, which Sandage does, the most common plea of the pending bankrupt was that, he could pay his debts if only his customers would pay him!  Business naturally placed even the most shrewd and enterprising businessman within a web of contracts which turning together greatly contribute to either his success or failure.  This is as true today.

There is an awful lot more to be said about Sandage’s book, but I’ll close this short review with these two of his comments:  “Nineteenth-century Americans swapped liberty for ambition, adopting the striver’s ethic as the best of all possible freedoms.”  “Soon a man would be nothing more nor less than his occupation.”

But readers!  Hope springs eternal.

My next post reviews an article from The New Yorker about how a new entrepreneurial culture in San Francisco tends “to regard success in terms of autonomy”.  “This braiding of tech-business growth with life-style values and aesthetics – and from there, the world of art- creeps many people out.”

More to come.

From the Editor’s Perch…

October 2, 2013

Editor’s Introduction:  Why are we all so ambitious, nowadays?  What is ambition, anyway?  It seems rather like the Chicken’s Need to Cross the Road.  Who knows why?   The best advice I’ve ever been offered about failure was what I was told about handling disappointment when trying out my act Amateur Night at a comedy club:  “It’s not you they don’t like.  It’s your performance.”  Somehow or other we’ve gotten it all twisted around and have been led to believe that we are our performance.  Perhaps it’s partly the godless times we live in.  God knows your importance, and demonstrates it every day by your presence.  So take a deep breath.  Everything’s fine.



A Clown is a Failure with Style

A Clown is a Failure with Style


And How to Be Mediocre Successfully

Thoughts About Failing and Locating the ‘Middle Way’: Part I


            Where I work it’s possible to work a forty hour week and make $125,00/year, if you are good at your job.  But you could also become demonically possessed, work an 80 to 100 hour week, and make over $250,000/year.  Unfortunately, there’s not a choice.  The company makes more money and grows when the employee makes $250,000/year.  The person who makes $125,000/year is under-utilizing their human capital and dampens the company’s prospects.  This is not so different from many other work situations.

More frequently these days it is possible to work crazy hours at a crazy job and make far more money than you need.  Or you can be fired, and find a much less remunerative, insecure, part-time job which pays less than you need and without retirement or health benefits.  Or, you can go to work in the services sector and work crazy hours, and still not make quite enough to get by.  Or you can live on the street or go to jail.  Have I left anything out?

We are an achievement oriented culture.  According to social theorist Judith Halberstam in our culture failure is subversive.  In her book, “The Queer Art of Failure”,  she notes though: “Under certain circumstances, failing, losing, forgetting, unmaking, undoing, unbecoming, not knowing may in fact offer more creative, more cooperative, more surprising ways of being in the world”.   These are some of the reasons failure has fascinated me.  Failure is relaxing.  Failure allows us time to think, to speculate, to ruminate, to sleep…  Failure will slow it all down and keep those damnable over-achievers at bay.  Failure allows nearly any sort of activity short of costing money to flourish – like chatting with your neighbor or chatting up a girl.  Unfortunately failure is also an impoverished, disreputable haven, an Elysian field without food nor drink nor shelter nor audience – a place only poets, hermits and religious seers might court.  But as Quentin Crisp, the famous British homosexual once noted, “If at first you don’t succeed, failure may be your style.”

Failure has a style, yet is egalitarian.  You can labor away at being a failure without ever being hired or having to create a resume or write a job application or appear for an interview.  The hours are right.  And failure completely circumnavigates the personnel department.  Failures needn’t attend meetings.  And for those trapped in those long, tedious, tired workdays in the cubicle farms which cover more and more of the corporate world, failure can look pretty tempting.  Why, it’s not much more than just looking out the window, where you can often catch a glimpse of it, walking by freely having a smoke, or chatting up a girl.  Failure even has its achievements to tout.  When I quite medical school I defended my ‘achievement’ by noting that whereas only 20% of applicants at the time were admitted – only 2% of those admitted, got out.   And moreover, I pointed out that by quitting medicine, I had probably saved more lives than a lot of doctors had by continuing!  My life post-medical career had primacy, some style, and a lot of free time.

Unfortunately, it also paid poorly.  A pure failure is about as rare an animal as the dodo bird.  Most of us are forced to claw our way into some sort of mediocrity in order to survive.  Which, as it has in olden times, aptly describes the post-modern ‘middle way’.

So, though I still harbor a fascination for failure, the thread of this essay is about how to achieve mediocrity, which as I define it is, a more practical, palatable blend of achievement, success and failure, all stirred into a chaotic soup of slacker regimentation aptly anticipating the post-modern ‘middle way’.

Photo of model by Carl Nelson

From the Editor’s Perch…

July 29, 2013


Criticism is Always of Freedom


            Recently I happened upon this North Korean video which a visitor to South Korea claimed was clandestinely slipped to her.  As you can read from the title, this is a “leaked North Korean documentary which exposes Western propaganda and it’s scary how true it is”.

Well, I’ve watched this one video (there’s a package of them on the internet), and I wouldn’t call it Western propaganda.  I’d call it snippets from a Western lifestyle.  And I wouldn’t call it scary.  But, aside from a rather twisted view of racial matters, I’d say a lot of the footage is accurate.  The United States – at least in the media – often looks like this.  They talk a bit about Paris Hilton.  I’ve never met her.  They criticize Madonna, (three cheers!).  But I’ve never met her, either.

            How can the North Koreans know us so well?  It’s not like they get out and about so much.  I’d say it’s most likely they are repeating what the Left Wing has to say about the United States on a day to day basis in our own media.  The North Koreans find much to admire in the Left Wing’s criticism of the United States.  And the Left Wing, in return, finds the North Koreans’ criticisms uncannily accurate.    You have to smile.  The Left Wing and North Korea share so many beliefs.  Why can’t we all just get along?


            It’s been said by parasitologists that if you somehow did away with the flesh and bones of most animals and only saw the parasites that inhabit them, the animal would still be readily identifiable.  This probably could also be said about human beings and their sins.    Given unlimited freedom, a human being could probably be identified as much by the innumerable sins he/she commits as by their fingerprints.  Sin thrives in flesh like a virus.  It’s in the nature of being human to sin (or, if you’re not a Believer, to ‘act poorly’).

When you have a ‘free’ country, it would be unnatural not to see all the sins of humankind flourish and be displayed widely.  When our worst natures are given free reign to flourish and to describe us, they do – to a point.  The beauty of the United States is that a person can see themselves – and others – as they descend to become, or by determined self-criticism and effort can make themselves to be, and collectively, through self-imposed laws, continually re-create the free nation we enjoy.

The Left Wing would criticize us and our freedoms until we are beyond something lifelike… until we have become something that only criticism can create, like North Korea.  The Left Wing would take the term ‘puritanical’ to a new level… a North Korean level.  And why not?  They have so much in common.   It’s uncanny.

Cartoon taken from Google Images

From the Editor’s Perch

June 10, 2013

The High Cost of Medical Care

The High Cost of Medicine

To increase the availability of medical care, we must drive down costs.   And I can’t see costs going down until medical consumers begin to shop.  Let me illustrate this with two recent examples.

Recently I had a long standing sebaceous cyst on my lower back removed.  It had slowly enlarged and gotten infected.  The surgeon said it was right on the line between doing it in the office and doing it in a surgical suite.  He would feel more comfortable doing it in the surgical suite, he said.  I have insurance, so it didn’t occur to me to inquire about the cost.

The procedure took 45 minutes of surgical time.  Billing for the hospital surgical suite use was around $8,000.  A bill for $2,000 from the surgeon arrived sometime later.  Sometime later a bill for $1,000 arrived from the anesthesiologist.  This is $11,000.  I had no idea!  After the insurance negotiated and paid their portion, I was still left with around $1600.  out of pocket expense.  This is still quite a bit to have a bump on my lower back removed.

I told my neighbor who said he was in his doctor’s office and showed him a like bump.  The doctor asked him if he’d like it removed?  My neighbor said, “Yes.”  My neighbor said the doctor recruited two nurses and they removed it right there in the office.  He paid $100.  (Whether or not this was the ‘after insurance’ payment or not, I didn’t think to ask.)

In retrospect, if I had stopped to consider the expense of the procedure, I might have done three things.  First, I might have had it removed earlier, prior to its growth and prior to its infection.  Second, I might have opted to have it removed in the surgeon’s clinic offices.  And third, I might have shopped around for a better price.  I told my son, for $11,000 we might both have flown back to Thailand for a week’s vacation, had the lump removed and returned, none the worse.  He’s currently watching me closely for another ‘bump’ to manifest.

My other example is my friend’s experience which I will give you in his own words:

I’ve had a blockage in my left ear since Feb. It was just normal wax
buildup; I tried hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide drops for weeks,
but that only softened it.

I made an appointment for the ear blockage at the clinic where my primary
physician works. They told me they’d clear out the ear canal with an
elephant wash. I asked the nurse how much that would cost, because I’m
uninsured. She said she had no idea and she would check. A day later I
searched for “elephant ear wash” on the web and found the Elephant Ear
Washer Bottle System by Doctor Easy
> . I ordered one with two-day shipping and canceled my

The appointment would have cost $300 for the office visit + treatment.

The Elephant Ear Wash kit cost $30.

It’s nothing more than a spray bottle connected to a very narrow nozzle. I
cleared the blockage in 5 minutes.

The fact that the nurse had no idea that their treatment cost 10 times as
much as a perfectly safe home treatment–and the fact that I never asked or
had to ask about the actual cost before–says a lot about the health care

And folks, there you have it.

Photo by Carl Nelson of a scene from the play, Dark Farce, by Freddie Brinster

Update: 8.22.13  –  This article in the Wall Street Journal provides more focus and information:

From the Editor’s Perch

May 31, 2013

REd Blue States

Zoning Government

Lately I’ve been reconsidering the Civil War.  By allowing the South to secede, Lincoln might have not only established a precedent for forestalling conflict, but could have spent the energies of his Administration considering just how this ‘secession’ might be structured – while also laying down a workable precedent for the conditions of a re-union.  Perhaps the Civil War could have been forestalled simply by issuing us all two passports and allowing its citizens to come and go as they pleased, voting with their feet.

After all, what are immigration and emigration but particular bits of secession and reunion?   And we allow it.  In fact, more and more, trading one country for another seems to be the coming trend.  A friend of a friend recently became a Danish citizen and says he ‘loves’ it.  He’s a big fan of their more socialized system.  Relations I have are thinking of relocating to Canada or New Zealand.  And there is still a large queue of people wanting to immigrate to the US.  Why should we think that one form of government will suit all?  And why shouldn’t people be allowed to leave anywhere, whenever they please?  And if we allow citizens to change governments, why shouldn’t we allow regions to do the same?  Mr. Lincoln, (why didn’t you) tear down this precedent!

The populations of the Red and Blue states currently seem separated most by whether they are urban or rural, large government or small government inclined.  Citizens nowadays seem to segregate politically around how much government they want.  What if we could zone government so that people desiring a high level of government involvement could move to the high government zoned regions?  And what if those who would like very low levels of government involvement could move to low government zoned regions?   And we could define low/high government involvement levels by their total/taxed base percentage of the GDP – the thinking being that no animal ever grows larger than the amount of food it eats.

We zone for industrial and retail business, high density condos/apartments, and residential.  We love having more than one cable supplier.  Wouldn’t we like options to our government supplier even more so?  And wouldn’t a healthy competition between government suppliers create better service?  And if governments of the future were forced to complete for citizens (and tax revenue), wouldn’t they naturally become more services oriented, less proscriptive and more enabling?

Certainly world corporations are choosing the governments they prefer, and shifting their incomes thereby.  Highly skilled citizens are already choosing the countries they prefer.  Why wait until we lose our most profitable companies and our most desired citizens?  Why not start government zoning right here and now within our own borders?

Currently, if we would like to change our government or laws to address a grievance, we can vote (least work and least influence), write a letter (more work), buttonhole a congressperson (harder still), find an activist group which wants the same thing and join forces with them (this is like getting married – same amount of work and not easy to find the right fit), or get elected (requires the most work and commitment – and closely resembles a death wish J ).

Even after doing all of this, a steep hill remains in getting your grievance resolved.  The Koch brothers with all their money and influence have yet to be able to shape the government as they would prefer it.  So what are your chances?

Currently our citizen appeal process is like having to change the entire management of Sears in order to get your dishwasher properly serviced.  Wouldn’t it be much easier if one were to just walk over to Rob’s Appliance Repair and hire him to do the job?  This is something zoned government might accomplish.  If a citizen does not like the way their government is performing, they would be able to move where the government services more suit them.  Moreover, a zone of government which is consistently losing citizenry might be much more willing to reconsider the services it offers and the taxes it demands.  And all the citizenry would have to do to feel their grievance met is to move: just enough trouble to eliminate quibblers is my thinking.

Zoning would solve the problem many citizens and corporations are now moving to other countries to solve – without the solution involving the problems of dealing with differing cultures and languages and laws and business practices.  Why not do something more in line with pleasing everyone and quit insisting that one size fit all?

Graphic taken from Google Images

Young Writers

April 26, 2013

Editor:  Yeah, we’re still chasing that youth demographic.  Plus, it’s a change from corpse eating hogs.

Crossover Dribble

Crossover Dribble

Life Is a lot Like Basketball, the More You Learn the More Difficult It Seems.

by Thawit Nelson

I moved to US in the beginning of June. I didn’t know any English. The only word I knew was “Hello” or “Hi”. After about a week I started school. It was pretty difficult, because I didn’t know any English. I went to school about a month, and the last day of school was the twentieth of June. Where I live, which is up above the hill from Stillwater Store, I have two friends that played basketball who were my neighbors. They played for fun, and they wanted me to try. I tried to shoot, but the ball was hard to shoot.

At first, I dribbled the ball back and forward.  But where I come from there is no such thing as basketball.  It looked like a fun sport.  Still, I didn’t know about basketball.  The only thing I knew was that it was dribbling and shooting.

Summer 2011 I went camping with my parent.  And everywhere I saw basketball courts.  I started to play basketball on January 23, 2012.  There were lots of people making fun of me when I started playing basketball.  But I kept practicing and practicing until I felt like ‘I’m a lot better than the others that think they are good.’

I started to play a year ago, when I was thirteen, because I was adopted by then.  The first day I moved here, I touched the ball.  I didn’t know how to dribble or shoot the ball.  A couple months later we went camping and every time I saw a basketball court, I asked my parents to let me play there.  But I didn’t get a chance.


In the beginning of 2012 there was basketball activity at school and I started to play.  I didn’t know how to shoot, layup, dribble.  It seemed very hard.  I was always the only one who got bullied.  I was pretty upset.  I never said anything to fight back because I was still learning the language.  About 20 days later, I asked my parents for a basketball driveway hoop.  And I kept practicing and practicing.  Then I attended the NBC (National Basketball Camp), which was a good camp for me.

Knowing more basketball made it harder and harder.  There are so many moves, fakes, layups, crossovers, and all kinds of footwork.  Now, I’m 15 and trying to get up to speed so that I can play for the High School.  But there are lots of players who started playing basketball when they were little.  And some of them are big.

I hadn’t realized how hard being good would be.  But each day I wake up and continuing trying.  Just like Michael Jordan says, I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying. 


Photo by Carl Nelson


Murders in Progress… by Eldon Cene

December 7, 2012

Elderly Woman Working Jigsaw Puzzle3

Ramey Gets Interrogated

(Episode 17)

            Ramey had emptied two bottles of wine getting through the rape kit procedure and was now fast asleep under the sheet, head lolling off the table top, his breathing ragged with glottal stops and gasps.  It was annoying.  And it was interrupting Leland’s conversation with Agent Hailey.  So Leland shoved Ramey’s head roughly back onto the table.  “Shut up Ramey.”

Ramey murmured something dental and vaguely offensive, took a lazy swat at the air, missing Leland by a foot, and rolled over.

“I scraped his nails, took a buccal swab, and checked him for cuts and bruises, scratches, the works.  He’s clean as a baby’s butt, and with hands just about as soft,” Agent Hailey said.  “It makes no sense.

Leland snapped himself from his reverie.  The woman was just so damned beautiful he felt as if he were watching a movie.   “It does if he’s just a dentist,” Leland said.

Agent Hailey moved them quietly out of Ramey’s hearing.  ‘All they needed was soft candle light,’ Leland thought sadly, with the regrets of someone who feels he is going to miss that train.

Agent Hailey frowned.  “Usually there’s a telltale.  You don’t just drag a struggling woman 50 yards through undergrowth, in the dark, to a spot where she’s beaten and raped after meanwhile taking several shots at you, without some kind of abrasive evidence.  It doesn’t add up.  Even the most careful killers usually have some kind of scratch to explain away, or forest dirt under their nails, or hair or blood splatters, or knuckle abrasions, or clothes to dispose of.   It just doesn’t make sense.”

Unless he’s the mild-mannered dentist who didn’t do it.”

“How could he have known all of this beforehand, if he didn’t do it?”

“He didn’t know all of it beforehand.  He just knew her name.”

“Then how could he have known her name.”

“I don’t know.  Maybe he overheard it from some gassed patient blathering on under the effects of an anesthetic which stimulated his already overly excitable imagination,” Sheriff Leland got a little excited himself, “… into a formed narrative of great moment?”  Leland smiled.  Agent Hailey looked at him funny.

“Then how could he know all of it afterward?”  Agent Hailey pursed her lips, leaning in.

Less impossible…”

“Not much.”

Leland paused before answering.  Agent Hailey was actually hissing softly.  But the difference between hissing and puckering for a kiss was spatially pretty much similar.  Leland angled his head this way and that, considering which attitude most got their noses out of the way.   It was mostly a matter of attitude,  Leland considered… and remained lost in these considerations until she kicked him.

“Ow!  I don’t know.”  He rubbed his shin.  “And kicking me usually doesn’t make me any smarter.”

“Fine then.  You talk to the guy a while, while I go through the house.”

“We haven’t a warrant.”

You haven’t a warrant.  He signed one for me.” Agent Hailey gave a pert flip of her head.  “Actually, she signed one for me.  But I’m thinking it’s probably valid, given the circumstances.”

Leland waved her off.  Agent Hailey was really interfering with his focus.  And he figured it was about time to interrogate Ramey, anyway.

“So.  Ramey,” Leland called out to the bleary dentist after he had rousted him and administered some strong, hot coffee.  “What’s been going on with you?”

“Oh, Leland.  You wouldn’t believe…”  Ramey’s head snapped back and a sharp, crisp demanding woman’s voice issued from the other side of his mouth.  “Have you caught my rapist yet?”

Leland was caught aback, even though he had been expecting something of the sort.  Ramey’s whole aspect seemed changed.  “Ma’am, I realize you probably have a lot you will want to tell me, but I would like to speak with Ramey, the dentist, first.”

He wasn’t raped.”

Leland next expected Ramey’s head to turn entirely around and to vomit green goo.  But he remained firm.  “The dentist, please.”

Ramey’s head snapped back, and it was the Ramey Leland knew.  “Oh, Leland,” Ramey began again.  “I feel as if I’m married, only I’m 25 years in and we’re really getting on each other’s nerves.   She won’t leave me alone!  She wants this done.  She wants that done.  Nothing’s quite right.  She just doesn’t seem to be able to be satisfied.  And she’s got all this anger, which I feel she projects onto me.  Who I feel she doesn’t really know, or actually care to know.  I finally had to give up and started drinking.  How do married men take it?”

“I don’t know, Ramey.  I’m not married.”

Ramey nodded.  “Why do men ever enter into such a state?”  Ramey whined.

“I don’t know, Ramey.  I think maybe sex has a lot to do with it.”  Leland put his hand on Ramey’s shoulder.  “At least, it seems responsible for a lot of the crazy things I see in my line of work.”

“Yeah.”  Ramey nodded.

“Look, Ramey.  I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner.  Okay?”

Ramey rolled his eyes.

“But I need to know.  What is this thing between you and Nancy Loomis?  How are you two connected?  How did you know she was going to get murdered?”

“I didn’t know she was going to be murdered, Leland.  All I was doing was mowing my yard!  Even now.  You see how it’s half done.  Did you even notice the mower left out there?  I was mowing my yard when suddenly, I received these horrific visions, and the name “Nancy Loomis” sounded in my ears.  You remember when I realized your 13 year old dog, Lucy, had been hit and killed, and then drug off into the woods by a coyote, and I knew just where to find her?”  Leland nodded.  “It was just like that.  So I called Ruth – who was as officious as ever.  Leland, I have to say, that woman is not to be trusted with power.  Do you know she calls your Sheriff’s office a department, when you aren’t looking?”

“Yes, I know this Ramey.”

“Well, anyway.  So I’m trying to tell her what I know, but I need to know what I know for certain before I commit myself because, as you know, in these small towns it’s very hard to preserve your reputation as a professional.  You’ve just got to watch it like a hawk!  So I try to ask Ruth what she knows about a ‘Nancy Loomis’.  But she says she can’t reveal any information about an ongoing investigation.  So I say, “So there is an ongoing investigation regarding Nancy Loomis?”  To which she says, “I can’t say.  We can’t reveal information regarding any ongoing investigation either factual or fantastical”.  You know how bureaucrats talk and repeat the same things with that kind of nasal thing going when they’re trying to dish you?  Well, Ruth does that too, Leland.”

“I know, Ramey.”

“And then pretends like she doesn’t know me.  I’m her dentist, for Pete’s sake Leland.”

“I know, Ramey.  I know.”

Ramey sighed.  “So I tell her to have you call me.  And of course you don’t call me.  And the rest is history.”

“I’ll say I’m sorry one more time, Ramey, and then that’s it.”

Ramey nodded.

“You haven’t taken me up to the part where you got married.”

“Married?  Oh yeah.”  Ramey shook his head, rattled it, actually.  “There wasn’t much to it.  I go to bed.  And the next thing I know, I wake up.  And there’s this partly naked woman in a ruined dress in my head with me.  I mean, she’s a mess!  And she’s pissed as hell.  It’s like one of those Las Vegas wedding things I’d guess, where you head out drinking, and the next thing you know you’re waking up in some strange motel room with some woman you don’t recognize – who smiles at you with just these awful teeth – who says you’re married.  I mean, it’s a mind blower Leland.  And you’re left just casting about for landmarks.  Which, again, is why I called you.”

“I know.  I know.  And I’m sorry, Ramey.  But I’m here now.”


“Look.  Maybe it’s time I speak with Nancy…”

“It’s Ms. Loomis to us Leland.  And I think that’s a good idea.  And while you’re at it, could you just tell her that I didn’t have anything to do with whatever has happened to her, and so perhaps she could just calm down a little, at least with me?  It’s a small space in here.  I mean, inside my head.”

“I’ll do what I can Ramey.”

“Thanks.”  Ramey’s head turned, and the fish wife re-appeared.  “That took you long enough.”

“Well,” Leland said, “Ramey had some concerns.”

“He’s a fucking dentist.  Who cares what concerns a dentist can have?”

“Well, to a “fucking dentist”, strange as it may seem, their concerns sometimes reign uppermost, in their minds.”

“Well they shouldn’t.  Because, God knows, I’ve been complaining loud enough.”

“He agrees, which gets us to something he wanted me to bring up with you.”

“I’m in his own head, and he needs an intermediary?”

“Well, perhaps you come on a little strong.”

“It’s a man’s world!  How would you expect me to come on?  Do you know how hard it is for a woman to make a go of it in the kind of ‘Good ‘Ol Boy’ business climate there is that exists out there?  Do you think I just got given a 5 million dollar industry to run?  No!  I didn’t think so.  I had to build it from scratch.  From the mixing bowl up!  And after all that, all that toil and sweat and after breaking the glass ceiling all on my own without any help from you or any other man, do you know they call me?  The Muffin Lady.  Well, you know what?  I wear that moniker as a badge of pride.  Go ahead.  Call me the Muffin Lady.  And I’ll call you and raise you 5 million dollars.  What do you think of that?”

“I think that you’ve shown a lot of pluck.”

“Luck?  Luck?!  What’s luck got to do with it?”

“I said, pluck…  PLUCK!”

“Okay.  Well, good then.  He must have messed up my hearing when he punched me in my good ear.”

“That’s probably it.  Now if we could just get to your recounting of events?”

“I would love to go there, finally, for Christ’s sake.”  A tear trickled down Ramey’s cheek.  “You’re going to help me nail this bastard?”  Leland felt some sympathy rise up.

“We’re going to blow a big wide hole, right through him.”

“That sounds good.  That works for me.”

Leland nodded, and they began their interrogation.

Photo by Carl Nelson

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