Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Rocktober: When All The World Was Green

Due to a strange confluence of events, I was encouraged to wear black yesterday, for a "blackout" at a high school soccer match my wife's goddaughter was playing in, and because I don't have a whole lot of black in my wardrobe, I started looking through my drawers for a black t-shirt.  I finally found one in the fifth drawer I looked in (I work at a high school; I have a lot of t-shirts); it was a shirt from the R.E.M. Green tour, a shirt passed on from a friend, and despite the large yellow image in the center, I put it on.

I felt a little like I was wearing Halloween.  My wife thought from a distance that it was a Pittsburgh Pirates shirt in anticipation of tonight's game.  But, it was just a last-ditch blackout shirt.  As I walked out to my car, though, I thought, "Wait a second.  I'm wearing R.E.M. Green.  I have that CD.  I haven't listened to it in a long, long, long time, but this feels like the time.  It's synchronistic."  That's how I think.

And that's what led me to today's reconsideration of Green.  At the time, with R.E.M. coming off of a streak of what seemed like "important" records, like Life's Rich Pageant and Document, that were both redefining what "Southern" music could be and likely setting the stage for the Americana that would follow, Green was as a slight, regressive, overly-commercial offering from a band who had more to say, even when I couldn't tell what that was.

Hit songs like "Pop Song '89," "Get Up," and "Stand" went farther down the popular path of "It's The End Of The World As We Know It" (probably not the actual title), without the lyrical intrigue.  The "deep" songs like "World Leader Pretend" or "Orange Crush" relied even more on the lyrical repetition than earlier songs.

Green, to my 1988-89 ears, was not stripped down as dumbed down.  To make matters worse, I saw the band on this tour, not in an intimate setting like The Grand Old Opry, where I'd seen the Life's Rich Pageant show, but in a basketball arena with swirling, booming acoustics and a lot more distance between me and the band.  I was not impressed by where the band had gone.

So what happened during my re-listen yesterday?  Well, if you're hoping for a revelatory, how-could-I-have-been-so-ignorant re-reading of a CD you probably liked more than I did 25 years ago, you are going to be disappointed.  Still, I was surprised.

First, because those poppy little numbers were, by far, what I enjoyed the most.  "Pop Song '89," ironic title and all, is just a damn good, tight, jaunty piece of musical craftsmanship, with neither a word nor a note wasted.  "Shouldn't we talk about the weather?  Shouldn't we talk about the government?"  Is there a yearning there for something more?  Indeed.  "Stand?"  "Get Up?"  Those songs feel like old friends, friends that I want to sing along with.  And did.

One of the other great pleasures of Green that I hear now is that it uses the backing and alternating vocals of bassist Mike Mills as a counterpoint to Michael Stipe more frequently and, perhaps, to greater effect, than any other R.E.M. CD.

The sadder realization was that I also think I hear in Green now the band's eventual dissolution, and, especially, the seeds of their unsuccessful later work.  At the time, the more acoustic breaks from the rockers ""You Are The Everything," "The Wrong Child") seemed like necessary changes of pace, chances for Stipe to emote instead of spout inane lyrics.  But now, these strummer ballads sound largely tuneless and unnecessary, minor versions of more interesting previous acoustic numbers like "King Of Birds" or "Swan Swan H."

And "I Remember California" has to be the most morose offering the band ever released, a meandering electric drone of a song, maybe some kind of failed encounter with no insight.  Just awful:

I remember traffic jams
Motor boys and girls with tans
Nearly was and almost rans
I remember this, this

Low ebb, high tide
The lowest ebb and highest tide
I guess we took us for a ride
I guess its just a gesture.

At the end of the continent
At the edge of the continent


And, finally, and someone, maybe the band, maybe the marketing director, I don't know how sequencing and such things work, but at a time when the hidden bonus track may already have been fully played out, R.E.M. and co. still decide to sneak in a chipper little tune that takes us right back to the start of the record.  I didn't always get that far in.

Despite the underwhelming title, and the weaknesses I hear now in most of the last two thirds of the CD, "Song 11," this last song, can't help but leave me feeling good about the work that might come.  And there were many more highs to come--Automatic For The PeopleOut Of Time, and especially New Adventures In Hi-Fi.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Epiphany #64: It is almost October, and that means....

...that we here at BOTG will be doing our annual Rocktober month once again.  All music, all the time.  Hopefully, all rock, all the time, unless Billy goes too deep into the 80's, which were indeed something, but maybe not rock, at least not all the time.

Long time readers of this blog are wondering, of course, if Bob will finally write his post about the greatest rock band in history, that one named after a dildo in William Burroughs' Naked Lunch.  They also must be wondering what updates to the rock world we will be able to offer in 2014.  Or will we merely wax nostalgic about the past, when rock was young and so were we?  I guess you'll have to read and find out.

Because Rocktober is also the month of Halloween. I suspect we will touch on that pagan subject as well, though I predict that Bob may write about a very sacred subject that will generate a lot of (relatively) mail.  This is the month when he dissed the Stones' work after 1973, a topic which still reverberates around fan sites even today.

Maybe it is also when he shut the Avetts down, too, though that is a less controversial topic these days, since that entity mostly wore itself out with lightweight, overwrought emotional, pseudo-Christian fare.  People who once pledged their eternal love to the Avetts have moved on, as is often the case with eternal lovers.

Rocktober can also be a great tool to discover what might have passed you by.  Music moves fast; unless you have unlimited financial resources or no scruples, it can be difficult to keep up.  Even if you have access to "everything" via Spotify, it can still be impossible to keep up.  More to listen than there is time to listen.

Safe to say that for all of us, there are unknown gems from the six decades of rock that we would be pleased to hear for the first time.  Rocktober is for that.

I also suspect that Billy and I (I'm done referring to myself in the 3rd person) will review a thing or two, despite what Angry Bill or Douchey Bob or whatever that Internet troll's name was and what he had to say about my reviews.  It is a sad world when late-night loners dominate the cyber waves, and those of us with some balance in our lives have to combat that.  And we will.

So even if you aren't crazy about music or aren't interested in keeping up or just plain have moved on to other things, I will promise you this:  we will be entertaining.  Even if you are not particularly interested in our topics, we are good enough to offer a gem of a sentence once in awhile or even an insight that hasn't come to anyone else yet.

We started out writing about music, and it continues to be one of the things that we do best, so hang with us as the air cools and the days shorten and the flavor of pumpkin permeates everything from salsa to beer.  October is a strange month in so many ways, and we are often pretty strange ourselves, so it should be a good fit.

I will finish also with an offer:  Rocktober is a good month to write a guest blog.  If you have some musical insight, we would happily feature your fresh perspective.  The more ears we have attuned to music, the more we learn about it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Epiphany #63: Anger Mismanagement

It is impossible to quantify the impact of anger.  I've spent much of the day trying to do so, but as the hours wind down, all I'm really left with is the fact is that I've spent the better part of a day unable to shake an encounter with anger.

Which wasn't even directed at me.

Still, I stood as part of a conversation this morning that began as a discussion of an idea, a reasonable, if foregone conclusion kind of discussion that pondered and shot down possibilities, but a conversation that, ultimately, became a gun and I pulled the trigger without knowing it by introducing  what I thought was a harmless clarifying detail that nevertheless that led to an explosion of gunpowder and force.

Anger, I suppose, is more like a sawed-off, double-barreled shotgun whose spray scatters quickly to pepper anyone in the vicinity.

Of the three listeners who were blasted by the anger that erupted when I pulled the trigger (I know my metaphor is getting shaky here), one ignored the conversation with stoic silence, one created a false equivalence that gave the owner of that explosive anger an excuse and a way out, and then there was me.

When I was walking my dog this morning, for some reason I thought of those mornings when I had walked unknowingly into a spider web, and how the feeling of that web in my face and hair was almost impossible to shake all day.  It was never quite gone.

That is what anger does.

Anger also makes the witness of that anger feel like a coward, when it is the one who cannot control his or her anger who is the coward, who uses anger as weapon, who creates an environment where the threat of that anger being unleashed is as devastating as the anger itself.  Why should I be a coward for living a daily life where the people I interact with have a decent control of emotions and for expecting that level of human interaction?

I told someone last week, "You know, I find myself really unequipped to deal with people who are professional oars.  That just isn't the world that I live in, and people like that can get the better of me because I am not prepared to deal with them."

The same is true of the angry.  I told a friend today, "You know, if I had any balls, I would tell someone that [this angry person] has hampered all of us for years."  He laughed and said, "You and me go in together?"  "Yeah," I said, "You and me looking for new circumstances together."

It is just like Heart Of Darkness; the person with no restraint, with little self-control, leaves the rest of us at a loss as to how to respond.

When there is chronic anger in a person, it is not deep anger.  It simmers, able to reach a boil in a matter of seconds, or it lurks just below the surface, and no one we know ever knows what will bring it up.  It is a Loch Ness monster-- we don't want to believe that it could exist here and now among civilized people, but when there is a sighting, we must acknowledge that stories of its presence are not mythological or lost in the mists of the past, but that when it surfaces, we are left to ponder a different world than the one we thought we lived in.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Can Find A Better Man

A slightly-altered version of a speech given to the student body on Monday, September 22:

"You boys just get better and better every year."

A longtime teacher said these words. "Yo" said them a lot during his 50-year teaching career. This kind, gentle, loving and wonderful human being liked repeating himself. Even as a student, when "Yo" would say this about me and my classmates, the year after he'd said it about the previous guys and the guys before that, I thought he was, at least a tiny little bit, full of malarkey. Nothing just constantly improves without occasional setbacks, and certainly not entire generations or classes of boys.

Studies indicate strongly that it’s psychologically unhealthy to tell children or teens that you’re smart, or you’re beautiful or attractive, or you’re wonderful. Telling you these things, in fact, can be counterproductive. It tends to limit the chances and risks you take, you restrict your own instincts and potential. You go for the easier challenge so that you don’t let down those who think so highly of you, because you worry that failing at something might damage what we think of you.

We adults have worried a lot in the past two decades about your self-esteem. We often act like you are fragile delicate flowers who can’t handle tough things, and we’ve worried so much about your fragility that we’ve failed to let you fail, to fall, to learn how to pick yourselves back up.

I’m not big on superlatives. Something’s the best, or the worst, the least or the most. The song "Best Song Ever" is not. The best song. Ever. Whatever song the five goobers from One Direction danced to all night is also not the Best Song Ever, I can promise you that much. Superlatives are dangerous and overrated, in general, but especially so in the hands of 1D.

Instead of superlatives, let’s focus on what you are not, as a generation of youth:

You’re not the smartest generation, or the best looking, or the most physically fit, or the hardest working. You're just not.

On the other hand, you’re not the teenage generation doing the most drugs, or having the most amounts of inappropriate sexual activity, or having the most unwanted pregnancies.You’re not the biggest bullies, or the biggest jerks. You're just not.

Here’s what you are.

You are the most scrutinized, supervised, scheduled, managed, tested and watched generation, I daresay in the history of humankind. My generation has done everything we can to shield, shelter, sterilize and spoonfeed you. At times I wonder why we don't insist on kids wearing diapers until you’re 12, or remaining in rear-facing seats until you are 18.

I spent a significant portion of my childhood -- I’m not kidding -- stretched out in the space between the rear windshield and the back seat, and another portion playing with Star Wars figures in the rear floorboard. I don’t think I ever put on a seatbelt until I was 15.

Here was my standard weekend as a kid. Wake up. Watch cartoons. Eat cereal. Leave the house. Play with friends. Terrorize the neighborhood. Watch HBO at a friend's house or bike 10 miles to the East Ridge movie theater where no adult once refused to let us buy tickets to an R-rated movie.

The only rule my parents had for Saturdays was this: Be home for dinner or call if you won’t. That was it. My parents would wake up on Saturday morning, and unless I’d been assigned chores, they didn’t know where I was. And here’s the even more important fact: They didn’t know, and they didn’t care. This isn’t a criticism of my parents. It’s a statement about how our culture has shifted so dramatically in just 30 years. Even as teenagers, if your parents can’t know where you are, to the decimal point of longitude and latitude, in a window of 5 minutes, they worry that you might be kidnapped or shot, that you may have driven off a cliff into the ocean… and we don’t even have an ocean anywhere near here, but it doesn’t matter. None of this is about being logical.

Some parents are so worried about you drinking or making bad choices that they decide to let you drink and make bad choices in their homes, under their supervision! As if letting you do these things under their watchful and worldy eye will guarantee that you won’t do it at other times or in other places. Puhleeze.

Ironically, one of the biggest reasons you are so constantly supervised and watched is because you are so constantly taking pictures of yourselves and announcing your location to friends and family through apps, texts, and social media.

And yet, in spite of all that - I sort of refuse to believe its because of it - you are astonishingly optimistic, hopeful, helpful, generous. You’re genuine. (I love that word, genuine. Real.)

You'll hear adults and older people weep for you and tell you how awful kids these days are. Forgive them. They conveniently remember only the times they were angels and heroes and forget the burning crosses, the campus shootings and riots, the homegrown terrorist bombings from wackos all over the political spectrum, the separate drinking fountains, the abused or neglected spouses and children. They forget when they were bad. And they - we - adults - we're bad a lot. And frequently. We still are. We have the capacity to be good or bad, just like all of you. Except we're older and supposed to know better.

Regardless of adult opinions - and for better or worse, good or ill - you will soon be men. You’ll be on the other side of that fence. Many of you think you already are, and to that I say bravo and good luck. There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so, Shakespeare says. Attitude is everything, in other words. I reckon manhood is like that as well.

If you're wondering what being a man entails, or what you must do, or sharpen, or learn, or develop in order to truly become a man, then obviously, look at me. I’m sort of the expert on it.

But let me share what I spent my whole weekend reading. The October 2014 issue of Esquire magazine. The issue theme is HOW TO BUILD A MAN. Great read. Several really powerful features on the topic, and it's pushing the notion of mentoring in big-time ways.

No matter how controlled or supervised you are right now, and no matter how little control you may or may not have over the day or precise moment you become a truly independent person, a Man with a capital M, know that the day is coming, and know that you can dread it, anxiously await it, prepare for it, or deny it. There is nothing about becoming a man but thinking makes it so.

What kind of man do you want to be? What kind of man does the world need to make it a better place than what we adults have wrought?

If you care, and if you want to begin or continue the process of taking the steering wheel of your fate, putting your foot on the brake, accelerator and clutch of your own growth to becoming a man, I recommend taking opportunities, when they present themselves, to be mindful of this. Read a magazine about it. Follow The Art of Manliness on Twitter. Put some of your brain and skin into the game of becoming the man you dream for yourself.

Most important, listen to one another when you’re on this big, intimidating stage, and listen to what you value, to what’s important to you, when you have this mike. When your classmate stood up here a week ago… I mean wow. He opened his heart and soul up to his brothers. Not for sympathy or pity, and not to be a hero. He did it because he hopes hearing his words might give some of you in this room a moment to pause and possibly redirect your lives. His words were uniquely his, but the power of his talk was just one in a chorus of brave guys standing here and sharing something priceless.

I’ve witnessed over 20 years’ worth of talks in this Chapel. Y’all dread them; I love them. The bad ones just serve to remind me of how often they’re good. The adult ones, like mine, just remind me of how powerful a 17- or 18-year-old boy’s words or songs can be when you have the courage to take this stage, the courage to lay your heart and beliefs out there for your brothers to witness and learn.

We can try to teach you. We can tell you things, fill you with advice and our words of wisdom until your ears bleed. But you know what I believe? I believe you already know what a good man needs to be, what it takes to become a good man, even at 8 years old we know.

The only question, and it's an important, lifelong one: Are we willing to do what it takes, what we can, to become the men we want to be?

I believe the answer, for most of you in this room, is Yes. "Yo" was right. He really was. You boys just get better and better every year. And I can’t wait to see what kind of men you become. The world needs more good men.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Epiphany #62: A Mother's Revenge

Were she still alive, my mother and father would have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary last week.  Instead, I suppose each of my family members had his own quiet reflection, but the occasion got me to thinking about the past, especially when we were very young.

My brother and I got the better of my mother one time.  It involved our allowances.  I don't know if parents even dole out allowances anymore, but ours tended to be based on our completion of an amorphous, loosely-supervised series of "chores" that we were expected to complete each week, things like cleaning out the garage or the basement, maybe taking out the trash or raking leaves, and some other mix of ways to help out sometimes.

And then there were our beds.  Neither one of us liked to make our beds, and we did so only very reluctantly.  So, in order to encourage us, one day my mother informed us that she was going to dock our allowances a quarter every time we didn't make our beds and pick up our rooms (it does need to be clarified that a quarter was a decent amount of money back then; in fact, it was the exact cost of a full-size candy bar at the drugstore uptown where we would stop after school most days).

A quarter deducted from our allowances also had something of an impact.  It was not insubstantial.  But, here was the problem for my mother: both of us decided that it was worth it to lose $1.75 each week and never make our beds or straighten our rooms.  Who knew that pre-teenage boys knew how to do a cost/benefit analysis of such sophistication?  For several weeks, in her clear handwriting, she would include a sheet to go with our cash allowances that clearly showed what had been deducted.  We accepted the money with a couple of shrugs, maybe even a smug comment or two.  Maybe we even began learning how to budget.

Eventually, as parents do when they are beaten, she ordered us to make our beds, but that was never accomplished with any regularity for the rest of our childhoods.

Tonight, I spent the evening cleaning up a room in my basement, a room that some, including me, might call a "man cave," although the various women in my family spend plenty of time here, too.  I ran the dishwasher twice, took out the recycling and the trash, scrubbed the countertops, vacuumed the floor, wiped away cobwebs, arranged the contents of cabinets, scraped off a table, put dishes away, sharpened knives and organized pots and pans.

It is all of the things that I do when I've done a lot of cooking at once and the space gets away from me, when I've been using any flat surface as a workspace, and when I need to take control of the room again.

To spend an evening engaging in these mundane activities has become an incredible pleasure of my later life.  To have a place that I can get cleaned and organized and set up the way I want it so that, when someone else comes in, the space is accessible and inviting, is a rewarding use of time.

What is worse is that the physical act of cleaning, the evening with no goal greater than making a space tidy that will only become untidy again, not unlike a made bed which will only become unmade within a few, short hours, is its own, definable joy.

Who knew that my mother's revenge would be so complete?  Now I realize that the unmade bed, the uncut grass, the untrimmed hedges, the unwashed clothes, the dirty dishes, the peeling paint, the cluttered car are all acceptable only to the carefree laziness of youth, and I no longer have that.  No, now, anything that brings a certain order to a chaotic world seems both desirable and worthy of the time and effort.  And though she might once have paid me for it, now I gladly do it for free.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Bottom of this Swamp

Like any good (or bad) teacher, I'd like to stop class for a few moments to watch some video clips. For the good of our education. First, a scene from Monty Python's classic film:



Let us now watch the trailer for the 1998 film version of Arthur Miller's greatest* moment, "The Crucible":



It's not a subtle theme or lesson, I admit, but right for the present day.

This is going to anger a lot of you, dear readers, and for that I apologize. But someone reasonable needs to write it, or say it: we are Witch Hunting two men in the NFL.

If you think this means I'm defending Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson, then I would politely wish a pox on your house, because this isn't about defending them as decent or good people. It is about fairness, selective justice, and bloodlust, and in these regards, we as a culture should be ashamed of ourselves, except we’re too busy judging others to remove the planks from our eyes. We are the lynch mob. We are The Ox-Bow Incident writ large.

Ray Rice was caught on camera hitting his wife, and we want to string him up, beat on him like a pinata, and preferably let him rot in some jail cell. At the end of the day, he didn't do a single thing some untold number -- can we just agree upon "hundreds"? -- of NFL players have done over the last 20 years. The only thing he did differently is be drunk or stupid enough to hit her in a casino elevator in the TMZ era. Burn the witch!

Wanna hang him? Fine. He did a horrible thing. But we’re acting like he's Patient Zero in an epidemic, like if we can just make enough of an example of this one guy, the disease will be cured.

Even more disturbing, we have expressed outrage that Roger Goodell didn't respond in measure with our own judgment until he saw the video of The Punch. And why are we outraged now, all of a sudden and out of nowhere, when the incident was first reported months ago? Because -- shocker -- we saw the video of The Punch. We are angry that Roger Goodell has reacted exactly the way our entire culture reacted: once seen, it cannot be downplayed or excused away.

And then there's Adrian Peterson, exacting a deranged and grotesque version of punishment some 75% of everyone over the age of 40 received at some point in their childhood, and we want him banned from the NFL forever and ever and ever. Or put to death. Burn the witch!

These are not exaggerations, by the way. There's people all over Twitter and Facebook with reactions about Peterson’s child abuse charge that make my description of “deranged and grotesque” read like excerpts from a 1952 Disney cartoon.

The simple act of me accusing the media and social media commenterati of hysteria risks making me appear as an apologist for a man who assaulted his 4-year-old child and called it “discipline.” That I take such a risk by writing anything shy of full condemnation of the man speaks -- screams -- to how binary our intellectual discourse has become. Someone must either Good (Adrian Peterson before these charges) or Evil (Adrian Peterson after these charges). Anyone who dares question these extremes in judgment, these absolutes and non-negotiables, is labeled Part of the Problem.

We’re picking and choosing our demons not with rational contemplation, but rather on the whims of the latest video or Facebook thread. We want to hang these two football players for acts of person-on-person violence while the Minnesota Vikings’ owner carries on about his business, while the Cleveland Browns’ owner carries on about his business of making more millions.

Hit a child? Burn the witch!
Embezzle or steal or defraud millions of dollars from people? Nothing to see here! Carry on! White collar crime!

Because it’s just not fun to watch TMZ video of someone defrauding people. It doesn’t feed our need to feel superior.

People might not like it, but Charles Barkley was right in his comments. Cris Carter was even more right in his, and Carter deserves the attention and praise for the level of emotion and righteous anger he expresses about the Peterson incident. (There’s an almost-reasonable breakdown of both here, including some insightful statistics and charts.)

But here’s the question Cris doesn’t answer when he talks so emotionally about his own upbringing: did his mother deserve to go to jail for her use of corporal punishment? What would the effect of such a consequence have been on him and his siblings had she been criminally charged for what she did?

I’ve spanked my children. Many close friends would disagree entirely with this choice.

I once grabbed my daughter’s arm so tightly in anger and frustration that I left the slight bruise mark from my thumb. When I was a kid, my friend Lance came to school bruised because he told his dad “That didn’t hurt” after the first round of a spanking.

At our dinner table as we discussed this topic, my eldest daughter said, “I’d rather you hit me than yell at me. I can still remember almost every time you yelled at me, but I don’t remember but one time you ever spanked me.”

And then: “Most physical wounds heal, but emotional ones don’t.”

To be sure, these are the comments of a daughter who hasn’t been permanently scarred with switches, or had her mouth stuffed with leaves, or been concussively knocked in the head for disobedience. These are the comments of a mostly well-treated daughter, physically (and, I’d like to think, emotionally) speaking.

But what if her words are still true? What if the anger and the yelling we express as parents do as much damage as those spankings? Will we as a society seek to criminalize anger? Or yelling? Will I find myself in jail one day because I shout something critical at my child? (Alec Baldwin is still making good money, to be sure, and I’m not sure how much higher up on the Decent Human Being Ladder I’d place him than Peterson or Rice.)

Is this really where we want to go with our judgments? Are we getting too comfortable with our own bloodlust in the guise of thinking we're good people calling for the guillotine?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

False Alarm, Don't Look Up

FALSE ALARM

The fire alarms in our house have gone off almost two dozen times in the four years we have lived there.

Not once was there a fire. On one occasion, there was smoke. The rest of the times, nothing.

To make matters worse, the alarms prefer waiting until everyone in our house is asleep. At least three-quarters of these false alarms have occurred between 1 - 5:30 a.m.

We have trained ourselves, through no fault of our own, to believe our fire alarm means nothing. It is an electronically-implemented Boy Who Cries Wolf, wired into our living space. We are now Pavlov’s dogs, and if God forbid a fire is ever creeping its way into our home, we’re so trained for false alarms we’ll be doomed.

In a twist of bitter irony, the single greatest threat to our surviving a house fire is our screwed-up fire alarm system.

Well, and me, the dad who keeps saying he oughtta do something about that but instead just writes about it.


DON’T LOOK UP

"Don't look up," I heard her say.

I'd stopped in a Walgreens to pick up a few sundries on the way to a social gathering. Generally, the faster I can get in and out of drug stores in Chattanooga, the happier I am.

Unlike, say, Target, where it's easy to let your feet and eyes wander into purchasing considerations that can delay even the most urgent traveler, most of the drug stores here are Xeroxes of one another. They somehow manage to seem, simultaneously, sterile and seedy.

When I heard this woman's voice, I instinctively looked over and saw her at one of those photo monitors where you pick the prints you want printed from a CD or flash drive. Two small children, in the 5-7 range, sat one on each side of her, on the ground.

"I told you look down," the mom said, loudly. "Don't make me tell you again."

Of course it wasn't my business, but I couldn't help but look. Those two kids looked so sad. Forced to sit next to their mother but not allowed, apparently, to do anything other than state at a boring tiled drug store floor.

I made eye contact with the little girl and winked at her. My unofficial translation of the response her eyes gave me was this: "Strange man, you cannot help me. And this scene you're witnessing is nothing. I will get in more trouble before this day is done; the only questions are when and how."

Walking past them on the way to check out I couldn't help but notice the screen. On it were pictures of this woman, their mom I'm assuming, in a variety of poses on a bed, clad in various states of undress, but mostly in black lingerie. Bra, panties, some kind of hose and garters. There must have been dozens of pics, perhaps hundreds.

Once back in the privacy of my car, I just sat quietly, pondering in park while the A/C hissed. Unfortunately, we don’t always have to read the whole book because we really do know how the story goes.