Tuesday, November 17, 2009


How quickly some young adults transition from "Won't it be great having no one telling me what to do!", to "I wish I was a kid again! I can't make all these decisions!"
I'm watching several just-launched independents struggle. We smiled knowingly when they sneered back at us from the edge of the precipice, having enthusiastically jumped ourselves, once. It's amazing how they can thumb their collective noses while freefalling. Observers with vested interest can only watch hoping they'll bounce, then remain ready with restrained support if despair gets the upper hand.
We've been sharing our collection of hardship stories since they were little, but it's nature's way for youth to unhear over-the-hillers so they'll have the courage to create tales of their own. And we are still amazed when they are faced with difficult classes, ominous rent payments, or work, and in spite of our discussions, they whine "This is HARD!"
And so: To the people I know who are newly adults and have yet to "bounce";
Yup. It IS hard. Almost as hard for the people who love you to watch as it is for you to struggle through. But, if you are ready to listen, I can help. My assistance won't be painless, though. It involves being honest with yourself. It means facing some hard realities. And it means spending a few minutes away from the clutter of your day, but that's a big part of my offering - Get rid of most of the clutter of your day.

1: Write it down.

Figure out what matters to you, and put it somewhere you can look at it. I'm not kidding. It may sound like a waste of time, but time is exactly what we're up against here.

Your life is half over. Really. Not measured in years, but measured in growth. Do you remember when you were little, and somebody told you you'd have to wait an hour for something you wanted? An hour was forever. An hour was a thousand toddler experiences. An hour felt like a lifetime. At your age, you are capable of more measurable accomplishments in an hour than you ever were or will be. You can cram four chapters, send fifty texts, type 100wpm (Yes you could!), reach highest score in a video game... and so forth. That's why you need to tackle things like college or a new job now. It doesn't get easier. I'd submit, though, that your mind as a toddler grew more in different ways in the same sixty minutes than you do even now.. Growth defines life in nature. If something (or someone) stops growing, changing, developing, it's dead. You'll be dead soon enough. Resolve to keep growing.
Have you ever been frustrated watching over your parent's shoulder while they slog on the computer, wanting to rip the mouse from their hand to just get the deed done, dying while they suffer through learning new software, setting up a dvd player or a game? Have you heard an older person ask where the last twenty years went? Have you seen them write a check in November with last year's date? It may be funny to you now, but I have depressing news. That's you before you'll see it coming. It seems so distant now...
You've read this far, so there's a chance you'll try this little exercise. List the things that are important to you. Yes, get up, get a pencil, and give up a few minutes to improve the quality of your life. Here's the hard part, though. I want you to be honest. Record the things that are, not the things you would like to be. Nobody but you is going to see the list. Put it in code if you want, but don't lie to yourself. The other thing I want you to be is selfish. I want you to list the things that matter more to YOU now, not what you think should matter, or what matters to anyone who might judge you. You don't know where to start? I'll throw some things out:
God: Once again, be honest. Don't list him because your Sunday school teacher said you should. If religion is important enough in your life that you commit a serious portion of your time and life to prayer and church, list God. If you have faith, but participate sporadically (most of us), that doesn't mean you won't fall back on God at some time in your life. List him. If he plays no part in your life, off the list.
Family: Do you depend on your family? Do you call them daily or on their birthdays? Measure the depth of your concern and communication. Try and feel what it would be like if they were taken from you today. Picture whether you could stand growing distant over time. This is an easy category to underrate when you have just left the control your parents exercised over you, you have sibling issues, or you were abused, but family is on the list for most of us.
Money: List it if your goal is great wealth, or if you are having trouble making payments. If it matters to you, list it.
Country: After 9/11, I felt and noticed a lot of selfless patriotism I didn't know existed. If you feel blessed to be an American, and you are committed to protecting what it stands for, or want to make it better, put it on the list.
Relationships: I'm talking about love interests, here. Casual or life partner, either one.
Friends: Don't underestimate what social animals we are. I hope you have friends, and they are important to you.
Cause celebre: Are you an activist? A politico? An artist? A volunteer?
Body: How important is maintaining your body, brain, and appearance?
Stuff: Flat screen TVs, laptops, phones, play stations, Chevelles, dishwasher... Do you collect? Could you live without it?
Partay!: Do you live for the social scene? Is fun your dominant drive? The pursuit of sex, memories, etc?
Learning for learning's sake, solitude, power, fame, a legacy; if it drives you, write it down.

Part 2: Priorities

Take your draft interests and rewrite them with numbers in front of them. Yeah, I know, you could just slap the numbers on the draft. But rewriting them gives you at least a few seconds to think about them. Again, I don't want you to put them in the order your parents would expect. If the hottie in chem class is THE dominant force in your life, admit it to yourself.
Chances are, you'll have to ask yourself some questions. If your iphone broke, or you found out the object of your desire preferred the other gender, how would your life change? Would your list change? I'm just asking you to order the things that matter to you most right now, considering the flightiness of most of the daily chaos you deal with. Think a bit about what type of events could change your list and what might make you celebrate or break your heart?
Got your new list? If you put yourself into it, you've got a snapshot of your character. You're going to need it. It helps to have an idea of who you are if you are to envision who you will become, and that's what I'm going to ask you to do next.

3: Suit Yourself!

There is one person you owe. If you thought I'd say "yourself", you're right, but with a twist. I want you to envision yourself in one of those forensics aging programs, turning fifty years old. I'm serious. Close your eyes and try to form an image. Design your face, imagine the setting, think of the people in the background. When the image is complete, visualize printing it on the back of your brain. (Hear the paper feed!) I should have warned you, once you capture the image, it's evidence. It's real. The person in that photo is someone you'll have as a consultant whenever there are decisions to be made. They are the person you are responsible to because they are you; and they are not that far away.
Take a look at the person you created. Are they smiling? Intense? Surrounded by family and friends? Do they have good stuff? A nice house, cars, clothes? Try to get into their head. Build a story and a character for them like you were writing a novel. Put some effort into your future self. You deserve it.
And now, treat yourself like an actor in your own movie. Put yourself in character as your future self, and redo your list. Think about how technology will change. Consider how your parents will have aged. Will you have a spouse? Children? What great memories or wisdoms will you have gathered? What will matter in thirty years that doesn't now? What on your current list will be meaningless? Sounds like work? You bet. Maybe more than you know. But what you'll have when you are done is a mentor; someone you can trust when you need advice.
If you pictured your future self behind bars or homeless, kid yourself that you just don't care, don't believe you'll live that long, if you choose not to look because you're scared of what you'll find, or if you accept that you're not worth taking seriously, it's time to grow up, and that's the next step.

4: Grow!
When you were two (more or less), you went through one of the toughest times ever. From the whole world rotating around you and only you, you were shocked into the reality that the planet and the people on it were not created for only your pleasure. Demands and tantrums were ignored or even punished, and you had to start exploring ways of getting by, to make it work for you. If your parents were being parents, they helped you cope, to make that transition more easily. Later they helped you adjust to having people tell you what to do (like teachers and bosses), how to apply yourself to earn what you want across time instead of expecting gifts, and how to compromise to grow relationships. If your parents were really good at their jobs, you didn't even realise you were changing, you were so confident and competent. But, unfortunately, you didn't come with a manual, and the perfect parent doesn't exist. So you may have to fill in some gaps. News flash! You are going through another transition, and you are not the only person to have ever gone through it. Let me define growing up for you. It means taking responsibility for the person you intend to become. Things may not work out exactly as you have them pictured now, but having that vision of your quality future self, putting forth real effort to become them, and making short term compromises and sacrifices to that end are what matters.
Not growing up is not an option any more than not growing taller (or aging), so complaining about it is wasted effort. Excessive worry doesn't help, either. When you are faced with a decision, gather all the facts, consult your future self (and the list), act, and don't look back. Take solace in the fact you made the best decision you could at the time based on all the information you had, and understand you are going to make mistakes. Most of those mistakes you'll be able to fix, or at least overcome. The most important part is that you don't keep repeating them.
Again,that's what growing up really means. Making decisions rather than avoiding them, taking the reins of your life rather than letting things just happen to you. Living, rather than existing. Your future self wants some positive memories, honor, health, and self respect. Why deny yourself?

5: Getting Started
If your future self didn't make a list yet, tell them to get busy. You need concrete terms to live by.
Next, you'll need a routine. Remember I said your life is half over and that time is the enemy? Taking control of your time is the hardest part of being an adult. A century ago, most people had lives ruled by routine, but you are lucky enough to have been born into a wonderfully complex age, full of opportunities, but also chock full of distractions from what you need to be accomplishing for your future self.
Make a schedule. Write it down. Reserve time for your needs, first. Make yourself understand that sleep, diet, and exercise are time stretchers, rather than time wasters. You'll function better every day and for a lot more days if you take care of yourself. Don't deplete your sleep bank, but don't use sleep as escapism, either. Wake up at a regular time. It's easy when you get used to it. Have you noticed how many people complain about jet lag when daylight savings changes their schedule by an hour? Circadian rhythms are real, and fighting them makes you less alive.
Exercise is simple. Reserve time to move. What you don't use, you rapidly lose, and your future self doesn't want to do without.
Nutrition is trickier. You can make a production of a meal that is less nutritious than some fast food. Generally, though, you intuit what you need and what is good for you. Reserve the time to put together the right number of decent meals and snacks. You really are what you eat and so many of us are, well, crap. Make up your mind to eat well. Like every routine, diet may be hard to establish, but after a few repetitions, becomes automatic.
Lay out your hygiene needs, clothes and and other personal routines. Keep it simple. Try to create efficiencies.

START NOW! Choose the clothes you'll wear tomorrow morning. Set out your toothbrush, towel, etc. Think about your meals. Block time to move. Resolve to do these routine things every day until they become so automatic you can do them in your sleep. Some day you'll have to.

After your needs routines come your responsibilities. Try to think of your responsibilities as creating a body of work, like a resume. Showing up for work (on time), studying, paying bills, personal finances, growing professionally, and keeping a decent household and vehicle. Responsibilities are fulfilling your contract, doing what you tell others (and your future self) you'll do. Like a credit rating, think of it as an honor rating. Depending on your priority list, you may consider maintaining certain relationships as responsibilities as well. Only you can weight them. But the point here is to take care of your responsibilities before you move on to other things, like wants. I'm not saying your future self is so rigid you can't take a personal phone call before folding the laundry, but if you feel a tinge about leaving necessary tasks, you need to take care of business. Things undone clutter the brain. They nag at you and waste thought and time. Save yourself the trouble. Get it done on a schedule and then go enjoy yourself.
Now the hard part. Wants. With small children, it's all about wants. Part of growing up is learning to weigh our desires against their cost. We should learn early on the value of paying up front with money we have earned ourselves, but we live in such a land of plenty that for generations the American dream has been so easily grasped that many consider it a birthright. Stuff and entertainment dominate our lives. Marketers have trained us to the point of addiction, spending our resources (money and time) on new technologies and distractions to the point we have little time for anything else. An average American spends 4 hrs daily with the TV on. Video games are the new bonding medium for males. Texting, Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace interrupt the flow of hundreds of millions of otherwise productive days. My point here is that only you can decide how important it is to read your "friend's" post that they are going to the bathroom, but if it is distracting you from your adult responsibilities, then you have a problem you need to deal with. If you play video games or surf for more than an hour per day you probably have an addiction. If your passion is porn, methamphetamines, or Halo, you are cheating your future self.
I'm not saying you should not have wants. If your future self would value a high game score over a backpacking trip or a night out, or a credit rating, or... well that's between you and them.

6: Success and Failure

Traditional success may not be your thing, but I'll tell you why it matters. Doing what you should do now opens doors for what you want to do later. When that great investment opportunity or bargain pops up, you need cash in the bank to take advantage of it. When the job you love becomes available, you need the skills and history to land it. When things happen in life that require strength or resourcefulness, you will be glad for having gathered some. If you have to rely on friends or family for support, those relationships will only be as strong as the foundation you've built. Take an honest look, and judge for yourself how much you've contributed to your own future. I can almost guarantee the future you envision won't be the exact reality you'll find, but thinking about where you are headed and moving that direction will make where you DO end up a much better place. Failure is allowing yourself to become stagnant, giving up on yourself. Picture your future self as someone who likes who they've become, rather than someone who "didn't pass the IQ test."

7: Education and Altruism

Look at education as a way to listen to dead people. Humans have been heaping this huge mound of information throughout history, and universities glean and concentrate the best stuff so that you don't have to. You can't learn everything about everything in a lifetime. You can't even learn everything about one topic in a lifetime. All you CAN do is pick a pile of knowledge you think you can use and tackle it the best you know how. You have to trust the dead people, at least a little, to give you mostly truth without too much extraneous BS. You can't learn it all any more than you can finish the internet, but the system is there for a reason, and one reason is to help you succeed. But there's a problem. Educational systems also exist for other reasons. They block stamp needed "professionals", and they do research to further expand human knowledge and experience. Sometimes students are lost in the cross purposes.
A degree defines you as someone with the basic theoretical skills to do a job society needs. The paper also tells the world you have the discipline and self respect (grown upp-ed-ness) it takes to wade through all of the structural obstacles and bureaucracy the system will throw at you. The degree says you weren't sitting on your butt for the last few years. What a degree does not show is whether you have acquired the social skills required to get by in the real world. It doesn't say you've made goals, or you're competitive, or that you care about others, or you have ambitions to change the world. Of course the lack of a degree doesn't demonstrate those things either.
One of the most successful people I admire believed that "school got in the way of his education." He never got a diploma, but studied literature on his own, traveled, and lived one grand adventure after another. He knew he wanted to write. He woke up every day reminding himself of the writer he wished to become and the stories he wished to tell. Others saw him as a renegade, a free spirit, a person living without structure. Actually, he was very disciplined. He worked for money to live and money to move on to the next adventure. He played hard, studied books, and studied people. He was blessed with the ability and desire to keep learning and growing throughout his long life. He's proof that you don't require a paper of approval from a university to succeed if you are sufficiently talented, and lucky.
For most of us, though, it's easier to work within the system, making it work for us, to get what we want. What all of us want is to have our basic needs met first, like food and shelter. That takes money, but it's amazing how little of it, if we choose to live simply. Next we want freedom and love, an interesting contradiction that takes at least the effort required for money. And when those needs are met, most of us crave purpose.
It's tough when you are young to consider your immortality. But growing up requires you to do just that. Some day you'll wake up dead, and you will have made a difference in the world, or not. I hope you will leave the world a better place for those that follow. I hope you will add to the big ol' pile of human knowledge and understanding. It's up to you. It's a choice. It starts now.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


I am not joking, she was naked. I don't joke about nude women, you know my situation.

The bumper was pushed into the body just enough to make it worth a claim, and she ran into me! I heard the tire slide shoosh on the ice, and that sick thoonk of deforming plastic, and I knew I'd be late for work again and my insurance rates were going up. I thought she must have seen the scowl on my face as I got out of the car, because she had rolled down the window and was holding a hand toward toward me in the classic crossing guard STOP position. She yelled, "Wait, Please!"

I stopped. She was frantic, tearing at the passenger seat with her free hand, still holding me at a distance with her palm hung out in the frigid air.

"Oh fiddlesticks, I. don't have time for this'" I muttered and walked a few steps toward her before the possibility of her digging for a pistol stopped me again just paces from her windshield.

She was having no success ripping the cover from the seat, and she hadn't noticed my approach. She mumbled a gentle curse, and sat up. She saw me, and I saw her. Our faces expanded together into silent screams. She ripped her arms across her chest, and I mumbled a little curse of my own. It seemed a long time, but surely just a moment, we stayed frozen that way.

She composed herself before I could. "Um... I'm not wearing any clothes."

"Yes," was all I could manage.

"Do you have a blanket, or something..."

I woke from my trance and started thinking again. I crunched back to my car, glancing down at the licence plate, repeating it to register in my muddled mind. If this was an escape ploy and she took off, I'd need more for the police than "Find a crazy woman with perfect auburn hair, fresh makeup, and an ample chest responding to the crisp morning!" They'd probably throw me in jail.

There was nothing in the car to use for a cover. I did look. I wasn't even wearing a jacket, just a flannel shirt. So I took off my shirt and walked back to the scene of the accident. Averting my head, I handed it through the window. I heard a shuffle, then she thanked me.

"I'll want it back," I laughed, but the cold was already biting at me.

She had a sheepish little smirk. "I really am sorry. Haven't had a chance to mount the studded tires, you know."

"Okay." Oh yeah. The accident. I'd almost forgotten. "We should probably pull into the parking lot there and swap information."

She nodded and drove into the lot while I repeated her tag number one more time. I followed, and we parked in front of the coffee shop I'd left just minutes before. My glove box had my insurance info and a pack of post-its, but no pen. My cell phone had 2 missed calls. That would be my buddy at work, telling me to get my rear in there before my supervisor missed me.

"Do you have a pencil?" I asked, waving my post-its.

"Sure! Right here in my p..." She reached for the purse that wasn't there, stopped, then turned back, slowly shaking her head.

I thought for a minute, then remembered the coffee shop waitress with the embroidered name tag. Amy. She'd been my surly waitress and snippy cashier, resentful that I hadn't tipped after she'd left my cup empty, then responded with sarcasm when I refilled it myself from the waitress station. But she had a pen. I extended my "wait-a-minute" finger to the naked lady, and went into the cafe.

I've been through those doors a thousand times, and I'd never noticed that little No shirt, No shoes, No service notice. Honesty in advertising should require them to add that service is not guaranteed, however, even to those in tuxedos. Shirtless through the doors I went, and there stood a glib Amy, one hand on her hip and one hand in the same traffic cop stop the naked lady had used.

For all the customers to hear, she read the sign in a sing-songy twang, then pointed to the door.

"No wait, I don't need service. I just need to borrow a ..."

"I saaaaiid...," she interrupted, "Noooo shirt..,"

I walked out. Then I remembered my oil rag. Perfect. Wrapped around the jack stand in my car was a filthy torn t-shirt I'd long ago tossed into the cleaning bin, and eventually stuffed in the car to quiet rattles and wipe the dipstick when I checked the fluids. I put the god-awful rag on, winked at the naked lady, strolled right past Amy (wiping the smugness off her) and went straight to the cashier desk. I'd remembered using a pen there. I hadn't remembered it being on a chain.

Amy walked over. "Do you have a pen?", I asked. She just nodded at the chained pen.

"What kind of waitress doesn't carry a pen?" She just looked at me.

"Alrighty then." I tried to remove the pen from the chain, but the damn thing wouldn't release.

"How do you get this blasted thing off?", I said to myself.

"S'bove my pay grade!", Amy said as she wheeled and walked away.

Then there was a knock on the glass. The naked lady had evidently seen my dilemma, dug in her car, and found a pen. She was standing in the full length window in my shirt waving the pen and knocking. Every face in the place was glued to the action. If I hadn't been too much of a gentleman to notice, I'd seen she had long shapely goosebumped legs that, as my father used to say, went aaalllll the way down to the ground. When I didn't respond right away, she came through the door. All the chatter and silverware clanking stopped.

"I found one!" was all she said.

I caught Amy checking the woman's feet. The woman had evidently watched the shirt&shoes exchange, then donned a pair of ice grippers found when searching for a pen. They weren't exactly shoes, just friction strips that strap over normal footwear, but evidently they were shoe-ish enough to pass muster with Amy.

I couldn't help but think ' this woman has no winter tires or underpants, but she's got a shirt (borrowed) and shoes. (after a fashion)

I don't know why we got a table (booth, actually), but it was warmer inside, so we swapped info and got a cup of coffee from Amy to justify the use of the table. When she sat the shirt hiked up a bit and she politely spread a napkin and put it in her lap. An eight year old still got cuffed by his mother for leaning to gain a better vantage.

"I guess I ought to explain," she started, flipping her hands.

"Gotta admit, I'm curious," I said.

"I was just going to check the mail. No wait, let me go back. I was getting dressed, I had my face done, my hair done, and my underwear on. I had laid out my favorite blue power dress because I've got a meeting today with the board. I set everything on the counter last night and I didn't realise my cat had slept on them until I started to put the dress on. There was white hair everywhere."

A pair of prim ladies stopped at the table on their way out of the shop. "I have never needed coffee THAT bad!", one of them said. "Here, dear", she offered, "I always carry an extra pair.", and she put a little bundle in the naked lady's hand. After they'd left, the naked lady opened the packet, and laughed at the tiniest thong either of us had ever seen. She discreetly slipped them on, commenting on beggars being choosers, then continuing with her story. The eight year old was piqued again, and his mom tweaked his ear and changed places with him, probably because she wanted nearly as badly to see what was going on.

"I put all my clothes in the dryer to fluff the hair off them. I keep one of those tape hair removers in my car, so I went into the garage to find it, but while I was there, I saw the list I'd made the day before, and got distracted."

A great big guy in old work clothes slowed down as he walked past our table. I glared at him, but she just smiled and went on about her clothes; or lack thereof.

"On the list was 'deposit paycheck'. I was really worried about my paycheck. It always shows up on Thursday, even though it's dated Friday and the bank won't cash it until then. But it wasn't in the box. That's the first time. I've been meaning to get direct deposit, but I still don't trust them, you know? And I still like the feel of it, in my hand."

The big guy was back, and he was carrying what looked like a pile of black canvas. "Ma'am? This here's just a set of bibs. They won't fit, but they'll get you by 'til you find your pants. My name's in 'em. I'm just down the road."

"Bless you!", she said. He absolutely glowed as he cuffed my shoulder and strode away.

"So! I'm in the car, worried about my check, and I'm late. The sun's not up yet, I have tinted side windows, and the mailbox is just two houses away! I fire it up and go for it!"

She's sliding the coveralls on, now, and the little boy sitting backwards in his seat is heartbroken. She doubles the cuff twice, but a satisfied sigh says they'll do.

"I get to the mailbox and my neighbor, Ernie, is just coming off the bike trail. He sees me and waves, then starts going through his mail. He can't see into the car, but I'm not stopping. I flip a youie, and wait for him to leave. I forgot, though, that now the box is now on the wrong side of the vehicle, and I never went after the mail without clothes on, so now I have to drive completely around the neighborhood to get back to where I can get at the box. My neighborhood is steep, and I wasn't aware it snowed. The first time I slipped, I thought I'd better give up on the mail and take the gentler hill back to the house. So now I'm in traffic. And I'm hiding. And I hit you. And I'm so totally embarrassed."

I followed her home. The car did fine. She returned my shirt. I smelled like used oil for a week. I wish I could tell you we got together, had twelve kids, and lived happily ever after, but I didn't see her again. I got written up for missing work, the deductible was higher than the damages to my car, and my rates went up anyway.

I see the big North Slope worker once in a while. He got his bibs back the same day. Said she was a really sweet lady. He introduced me to his friend as his hero; the only guy he's ever known with naked women chasing him down the public thoroughfares.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Death of a Woman

You can knock off the good cop bad cop grilling routine. If you'll shut up and listen, I'll tell you my story, then you can decide if I need arresting, or what.

I've had a carry permit for six months, not because I see myself as a superhero or some sort of right to arms ideologue, but just because I thought it would be a cool thing to do, and because I believed a few people would back away from violent crimes if enough of us are packing. Looking back, if I'd known what a pain in the ass it is, the classes, giving up private data and biometrics for FBI files, the cost, the liability; I'd have run from the idea. But I didn't. So there I was, sitting in the lecture hall, bored to death listening to the whiny foreign grad student monotoning the same stuff I'd read online, my little Beretta (a lady's gun, ironically) tucked in the shoulder holster, when a crazy looking bald dude ran in waving his own pistol and screaming his head off.

I don't flinch much anymore. Maybe my fight 'n flight sensors have died, or perhaps I've just learned that you panic in the wrong direction often as not, but I didn't budge. I do remember the rest of the class all sucked in their breath; all together, you could hear it. If my brain had clicked right then, I might have been able to stop the whole thing, but it'd be my luck that I'd shoot some squirt gun prankster. I started gathering it in. Say what you want about when and how you think you'd act, but until you've got some wired asshole waving a cannon in you're face, don't presume. What? Yeah, it was a 45. Looked like a cannon from my angle.

A wide eyed kid next to me tried to sneak a pic with his cell phone but the gunner saw him and ran growling over. He raised his gun like he'd hit him with the butt, and a bunch of folks screamed. But he grabbed the phone instead and smashed it. That's when he noticed me. I probably stood out, older than the rest and wearing a blazer.

He said, "Do nothing stupid. I will kill you." He was standing over the kid, but he was looking straight into my eyes. I believed him.

When the gunman backed away, I checked on the kid. He was in a trance, frozen, staring at the crushed phone on the carpet.

What did he look like? Jesus. Where do they find you guys. Come on. You know what he looks like. Come to think of it, he looked like Jesus. A bald Jesus with the back half of a mullet. No, I didn't recognise his accent. Could have been any guy, El Paso to Montreal, I don't know.

Anyway, he made everybody stand up and moved all the women over near the side exit, and roared at them to sit down. He was watching me again. I might have been able to draw my weapon in the shuffle, but there would have been folks between us, and I never saw an opening. Even if I could have got the jump, I don't think I'd have fired at that point. I'd have just told him to drop his firearm. I still didn't know the situation.

Some of the women were cowering, and some were glaring. The men just sat helplessly, staring at the floor like kids in class, afraid they might have to answer a question.

Then a tear rolled down his face, and he spoke to the women, emphasizing his points by wagging the barrel, moving it from face to face.

"Look what you have done." He raised his arms. I might have been able take him then, with his vision blurred, but I wanted to know what this was about.

"My Serena left me. She took my babies. And it's YOUR fault!" He screamed the last part, then refocused.

Aw for cryin' out loud, I thought. All of this 'cause his girlfriend left him? "Dude," I wanted to tell him, "get over it. You're blowing your life up over a woman. That's the way it goes today. You're just a sperm donor and a walking wallet." But I didn't say anything.

"Feminists!" He almost spit the word. "You are hate mongers! You are destroyers of civil society!"

So that's where we're going, I thought. I've got to admit, I've had similar thoughts. Women's rights started with voting, grew into the workplace, and changed dramatically with access to contraception. Equal opportunity was the goal. It has morphed, at least in its more radical form, into a movement bent on destroying half of our population in order to achieve a sick balance of power that demeans us all. None of these women were alive of course, in the twenties, or the sixties, when the real and necessary gains for women were made. The female rights bus has left the station, in my opinion, but women's studies programs at many a college are popular and profitable, so they won't go away soon. But waving a gun in these women's face won't change any of that.

"Serena took a vow. All she wanted was to be loved and to raise a family. She had that. But now, no. She wants to 'experience' other men. She wants to have more money and time. She dresses my daughter like a whore. She 'understands' why the teachers in my son's school ignore him! And I can't negotiate these things!"

Wow. Welcome to the real world, dude. Did you not watch 'Sex and the City'? Size matters. Every woman wants Mr. Big. Big dick, big portfolio, big jerk, but that's unimportant. Your little girl is just modeling today's successful woman, and your boy will get little from today's public schools. Look at the test scores. As to compromise in a relationship, geez, what fundamentalist country have you been hiding in?

"She has a lawyer. Thirty percent of what she takes from us will go to the lawyer. I will get the kids occasionally if I can afford to travel to them! Child support will keep me from doing that."

There are women who make a living marrying dolts and breaking them. I knew a case where she didn't get the house, but took the fixtures. In our state, child welfare folks will garnish your wages for twenty seven percent of your pre tax income for two kids. Forget ever owning anything or getting to see your children. Prenups dull the romance, but what's the value of romance today? God. I'm actually listening to this... terrorist.

"I can't earn enough money to make her happy. Five times I've been passed by for promotions by women less qualified."

Yup, The legendary glass ceiling has been shattered. Only three percent of CEOs nationwide are women, but fifty two percent of upper and middle management jobs are now filled by females. Considering the different career choices females make, it's hard to argue the equal pay for equal work take. I asked one of my coworkers why so many women seemed to carry a chip on their shoulder where men were concerned. She told me the chip had been put there back when she took a position in a traditionally male industry. I suggested that thirty years was a long time to carry a grudge against half the people she'd meet. You've got to be careful, though. Women are a protected category in the workplace. She can tell all the dirty degrading jokes she chooses in whatever company, but I'd be fired. I'm wondering though, what does this guy expect to gain by complaining here?

"Serena watches talk show television for women and sitcoms where men are all idiots. She goes to a women-only club. She gives money we need to politicians, breast cancer research, and women's support groups. She says 'You Go Girl!' for every woman's success and scowls at every man in the news."

Sounds to me like this guy's wife is addicted. He's slowed down now. More sad than angry. Maybe he'll just say his bit and leave. Some of the women are sobbing; more from fear, I suspect, than anything he is saying. One woman with very short hair starts to speak, but he cuts her off.

"Are you gay? Maybe you are, born that way. But most people who say they are, aren't. They play at being gay because it's fashionable. You recruit them into your lifestyle. You gain numbers and power. You deprive their future partners of their soul mate."

Uh oh. He's winding up, again. Pacing now.

"Serena disrespects me. All I have ever done is love her. But she treats me like a date rapist or a child molester. I can't horseplay with the neighbor kids because some might get the wrong idea. I cannot tease the cashier at the store because I could appear to be letch. I can't have spontaneous sex or share a romantic moment with my own wife. She acts like I am using, taking advantage of her. Our children are her children. My input is unwelcome. I am a man, but if I act like one, she ridicules me. I get angry, but she knows I could never harm her. I have no leverage. No power. She has emasculated me."

He swings the gun our way. "Go, all of you over there. Get out!"

Several of the younger students bolt to the top of the lecture hall and out the doors. The rest of us file slowly up the aisle. The kid who lost his phone looks sadly back at it, gathers his backpack and study materials, and follows up the stairs.

What? What do you think I was thinking? I had actually listened to this guy's speech, and I was LEAVING. I was justifying my inaction, telling myself I hadn't managed a clear opportunity, that the police would handle the hostage situation better than I could, that I'm abandoning those poor women, that chivalry is dead in me, that I'm a coward, that I'm still unbelievingly walking away for my own safety...

"And that," he said as I reached the top step, "is the saddest part of what YOU have created. I'm not alone. Look at them. They are sheep. They used to be conquerors and guardians. Fathers, heroes. Look at them now."

Yeah. That stopped me. I thought, "You bastard. When the SWAT team blows through that door, I hope they take you out!" And I kept walking.

I'd barely made it through the door, I could see flashing lights silently approaching in the distance, and there were screams, followed by two thuds, then several more. I think I screamed myself. It felt like the adrenaline exploded in my head. I ran back into the building, pistol drawn. I dove halfway down the steps, pulled up behind the mixer table and took aim. He was just firing into the group of terrified women, the deafening shots and echoes dulling the groans and screeches from the huddled students. I fired twice, changed position, then fired twice more. He didn't stop except to slap another magazine into his pistol, which thundered again and again compared to the hand clap of my little gun. I thought he might be wearing a vest, so I shot him in the leg, and he stumbled. He looked over at me, and without raising his gun, mouthed "Thank you!" I put my last round into his neck, and he collapsed. Then I noticed the seeps where he bled from my first ineffectual shots. I went to help the victims. I remember there was so much blood. I remember the deceased had a N.O.W t-shirt. I remember one lady shot through the arm told me she was pregnant, and she didn't want to lose her baby. I remember suddenly being surrounded by cops and medical personnel. It happened so fast, and I'm remembering more, and I don't want to...

Still pretty drafty fiction.