309 Extracted Words – The Tease – February 2017

February 2017

I write flash fiction, non-fiction, essays and novels. This month’s Tease is from a short story.

 

He looks out at the hills across the lake – dark, static mounds that lay waiting for the North Idaho suburban concrete that creeps closer every year. The mammoth, green-gabled condos squatting below on Arrow Point fade between the folds of wandering mist and sleet. A kettle corn glow radiates from the walkway of the nearest timeshare. Electric moose.

He returns his tools and runs a bath for Danny. The little boy usually loves a warm bath, but today he protests, stiffening his legs and then flopping like a wet fish, turning over and over in the tub. He must be pinned against the far wall to finish the rinsing. The anxious child slaps his own head repeatedly and screams – a shrill bellow that simultaneously infuriates and saddens Aaron.

His ears ringing, he tries to remain calm. “Hang in there little guy, we’re almost done. Just a little more. I don’t want it to get in your eyes. Oh buddy, don’t hit yourself.”

He swaddles Danny in two large towels and rocks him on his shoulder until the boy calms – a wilted mass of wet hair and tear-streaked cheeks. He dresses him in a pull-up diaper under sweats, rewinds the video in the VCR, pulls a small globe down from the hallway closet and points to Uzbekistan. “Santa ought to be right about here now. Above the Aral Sea. Probably head west from there.”

The little boy reaches out and whacks the globe, spinning it on its axis. He kicks his feet in delight as the multicolored nations of the world blend in a dizzying blur. When it stops he whacks it again, kicks and whacks it again.

The phone rings. Wrong number. He looks outside at the cross, unwound into the portrait of a one-armed, one-legged stickman, his head bent, lights twisting brilliantly against the black, paintbrush trees and darkening sky.

“I should call her, just to check.”

 

 

 

557 Extracted Words – The Tease – January 2017

January 2017

I write flash fiction, non-fiction, essays and novels. This month’s Tease is from a novel in progress.

As they approached the sleek Swedish-made supercar, she wondered if she still had time to bail, just run, truck on out, get on her Ducati and scorch the canyon road. Or she could take Austin up to his favorite place, Crater Lake. He called it “park”, when he requested it with his computer. Her big boy, always with her, even when he wasn’t, a byproduct of her guilt for leaving him with the Harris family on a day when she could have been with him. But he didn’t mind staying one night because Mr. Harris always made egg toast for breakfast. And she needed her time away, periodically, for their mutual sanity.

Perhaps her escape fantasy was hatched from anxiety about this trip to the ocean. She really didn’t know Max Mann and was taking a chance. Of course, some would say, he was the one taking the chance, letting her drive, letting her near his wallet. Let them talk. When was the last time she cared what other people thought?

They started down the road toward Eagle Point, then followed the river toward Upper Table Rock where they pulled off onto a gravel wayside and switched seats. He had taught her what she needed to know and she took that knowledge out on the interstate.

“Instead of the ocean, we should take this thing east, around Steen’s Mountain. It could open up some real possibilities,” she jibed, gaining a feel for the supercar’s handling.

“And if you get arrested, you won’t have to worry about tonight’s sleeping arrangements,” he warned.

“Not my concern at the moment,” she smiled, crooking her crooked nose.

“Oh really?”

“Hold on to your belt buckle, counselor,” She downshifted, jerking him forward against the three-point harness.

“You’re riding a horse per kilo. Don’t be flippant.”

“No shit?” It was the first time she remembered seeing anything but cool control in his face. She considered backing off for a moment, then slapped the carbon shift knob with a hard palm and pushed it into sixth. They swung south out of Grants Pass towards the state line and then up the grade past the Oregon Caves, toward the Siskiyous and California. They were higher than Deadman, and with the windows down, she felt cooler and lighter than she had in weeks. The Koenigsegg launched them over the divide and as they dropped over the south side, she throttled down and cruised just above the speed limit, knowing that the state bulls tended to gather near the junction with Highway 101, just outside Crescent City.

“Smart girl. You’ve driven this way before?”

“Not for a while, and on the bike. It’s a little different. No shotgun,” she smiled, catching some sandy strands in her open mouth.

“Shotgun? Yeah, I guess I’m not used to sitting on this side either.” He pushed his sunglasses up his tan nose.

As they approached the ocean, she felt the temperature continue to drop. Even with August heat, the air grew dense, almost visible. She wanted to run into the surf, chase an Irish setter, screech like a seagull, skip a sand dollar, sidestep a crab, see her reflection in a tide pool, light a campfire, spot a whale spout, listen to a seal bark and eat clam chowder. Unfortunately, most of California had the same idea, and they were greeted with a traffic jam as they headed north along the coast.

 

 

489 Extracted Words – The Tease – April 2016

 

April 2016

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI write flash fiction, non-fiction, essays and novels. This month’s Tease is from a novel in progress. April is National ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) Month. To highlight this, I have chosen a piece involving a character with ASD (which was also presented in an earlier Tease, with some additions).

She had to reach up to brush his hair. She wasn’t short by any measure, but he had sprouted to nearly six feet over the summer. Where had her little boy gone? The child she knew had fled, slipped out in the night while she was trying to glue together a life for him. In his place, a stranger had arrived, a lanky, teenage man-boy, with wavy brown hair and tragic blue eyes. Buried inside him was a well-disguised sense of humor, the kind that laughed at curse words (even ones she was certain she’d never exposed him to) uttered in public, often laughing even louder when she reacted to his reaction. The little boy her mind still pictured didn’t know a thing about cussing. Of course, that child also didn’t kick holes in walls, self-mutilate or engage in the worst offense of all, looking just like his father. Every day, he acquired more of his dad’s stoic good looks. Unfortunately, he also shared his father’s pension for escape and his frigorific ability to plunge an emotional pick axe into her heart. The only difference, and it made all the difference in the world, was that Austin didn’t know he was doing it. The other bastard did, and could rot in hell for it.

“What’s it going to be today, Mr. Man? Shower? Bath?” She preferred that he shower, but Austin liked baths. As long as he did one or the other daily, and included a shower thrice a week, she didn’t push too hard. It was a fine line with Austin. The harder she pushed, the harder he pushed back. But he needed guidance and that escalated the tension, creating tough choices. In her parent group, Trish spoke about choosing useful battles, if able. But so often, the battles chose them.

An acquaintance gifted her a parenting book once, when Austin was about six, written by a Hollywood couple with zero child rearing credentials, other than their fame. It only took three pages for the authors to state unapologetically that most kids on the spectrum were misdiagnosed, even suggesting that some parents sought an ASD diagnosis for their personal benefit. She had immediately tossed the book in the trash, along with a spoiled head of lettuce, Austin’s wet bed pads and the scum that she scraped out of the dishwasher tray. The golden couple had their beautiful images plastered all over the cover so she gave them an extra shove into the garbage, face first. There was no incentive for obtaining a fabricated diagnosis. Autism was no bucket of fame. If anything, spectrum disorders manifested in secret, the secrets of parents, siblings and the autistic children themselves. Who could cypher the mysteries inside a child such as Austin?

Her son grunted his choice. Bath. She turned the water on. Hot. He liked it hot, even in August, just as she liked her coffee.

 

 

261 Extracted Words – The Tease – January 2016

January 2016

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI write flash fiction, non-fiction, essays and novels. This month’s Tease is from a novel in progress.

“What’s it going to be today, Mr. Man? Shower? Bath?” She preferred that he shower, but Austin liked baths. As long as he did one or the other daily, and included a shower thrice a week, she didn’t push too hard. It was a fine line with Austin. The harder she pushed, the harder he pushed back. But he needed guidance and that escalated the tension, creating tough choices. In her parent group, Trish spoke about choosing useful battles, if able. But so often, the battles chose them.

An acquaintance gifted her a parenting book once, when Austin was about six, written by a Hollywood couple with zero child rearing credentials, other than their fame. It only took three pages for the authors to state unapologetically that most kids on the spectrum were misdiagnosed, even suggesting that some parents sought an ASD diagnosis for their personal benefit. She had immediately tossed the book in the trash, along with a spoiled head of lettuce, Austin’s wet bed pads and the scum that she scraped out of the dishwasher tray. The golden couple had their beautiful images plastered all over the cover so she gave them an extra shove into the garbage, face first. There was no incentive for obtaining a fabricated diagnosis. Autism was no bucket of fame. If anything, spectrum disorders manifested in secret, the secrets of parents, siblings and the autistic children themselves. Who could cypher the mysteries inside a child such as Austin?

Her son grunted his choice. Bath. She turned the water on. Hot. He liked it hot, even in August, just as she liked her coffee.

 

 

Autism and the Healthcare Profession – Some get it and some don’t.

A holiday experience reminds us that when it comes to helping individuals on the spectrum, some health professionals get it and some don’t.

On December 30th, my son suffered the first seizure of his life. Three hours later, he suffered his second. After two days and a battery of tests at Sacred Heart Hospital, it was determined that his seizures could probably be handled by proper levels of medication without any lasting trauma. (Very good news, considering the litany of scenarios that ran through my mind when I first saw the street in front of his house jammed with aid vehicles and EMT’s). But that horrifying, hectic, fatiguing 48 hours reminded me and my wife once again of something we learned early on in our nearly two decade journey with our son through the world of ASD – when it comes to caring for individuals with autism, it’s clear who gets it and who doesn’t.

The following is a chronological step-by-step listing of individuals (caretakers, first responders, nurses, doctors and techs) and how they handled their encounters with my son on December 30th and 31st. Each is followed by their grade [get it/don’t get it]. If it helps, think of this as pass/epic fail.

His staff during both seizures – calm, effective, empathetic – get it.

EMT’s in home – overwhelming, far too concerned with procedure – don’t get it.

EMT’s in transport – Caring, helpful, able to adapt to my son’s needs – get it.

Emergency Room, adult side – Doctors and nurses, confident, competent, helpful. – get it.

Emergency Room, pediatric side – not helpful, annoyed (many sighs, frowns and rolls of eyes), couldn’t stop staring, blamed the system for delays and setbacks, worst experience of the entire two days – don’t get it.

Eighth floor nurses – helpful, underestimated his behaviors but quickly learned to value our assessments – get it.

In-hospital transport – careful, fun, attendant – get it.

MRI nurses – helpful, listened to our advice on his behaviors when waking up from sedation – get it.

Dr.Hasan – quick, direct, caring – gets it.

Hospital Doctor doing rounds attempted to interrupt EEG procedure (even after being asked by one of the techs to wait a moment), reacted childishly to being told her paperwork would have to wait. – doesn’t get it.

My son’s doctor – got him admitted quickly during a code red – always gets it.

I really didn’t want to start my new blogging year with a negative post, but hopefully, those who don’t get it will learn from my words or, at the least, re-visit the reasons why they joined their profession in the first place. And for those of you who do get it, words can not express our gratitude. Thank you.

 

Puzzle Peace

Mixing puzzles, autism and photography.

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My son, like many kids on the spectrum, enjoys puzzles. Perhaps it’s the spacial relationships. Or, perhaps, the finality. When it’s done, it’s done. No abstract finish line to interpret. There’s either a hole somewhere or there isn’t.

I like my camera. Well, I confess, I like puzzles too. Here’s what happened when we decided to mix the two.

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Forceful.

Hardest one yet.

Hardest one yet.

 

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Our Morning Routine – Code Name Cat Ballou

Why getting my son on the school bus is like preparing Kid Shelleen.

My fifteen year old autistic son likes his routines. He relies on them. The one that has evolved during his nearly twelve years of exposure to the public education system is lengthy. During a recent execution of this morning ritual, it struck me that our dance quite resembled the preparation of Kid Shelleen in the famous 1965 western, Cat Ballou. All that was missing was the matador music.

See the original Cat Ballou trailer here.

If you haven’t seen the movie … What?? You haven’t seen the movie? Well, you should. It’s a raucous romp through the old west  with an eclectic cast which includes Lee Marvin (Oscar for Best Actor), Jane Fonda and Nat King Cole. Those of you that have seen the flick will remember the scene in which Kid Shelleen, the washed-up, drunkard gunslinger, is resurrected by his attendees through a process of long baths, hot towels and clean clothes. Although my son doesn’t drink, he is quite groggy in the dark, early, first minutes of a school day.

It starts with the alarm. Then I run a bath. While he is bathing he receives his meds and vitamins. He gets out and dries off without help, but I must unplug the bathtub and pull the shower curtain closed. Sometimes  he also insists I dry his neck and shoulders. I always am the one that hangs up the towel. He can dress himself, but I must buckle his belt and tie his shoes. His shoes must be double-tied. We do this once on his right shoe and three or four times on his left. Then comes his teeth, his chapstick and his hair.

Ahhhhhhh. His hair.

It must be sprayed with water, brushed then wetted down by hand. Next, I draw a brush stroke across his forehead and five down the back of his scalp. They must be counted out in cadence, 1-2-3-4-5. Then he runs his hand through his bangs and we start all over again. At some point the coif meets with his approval and we move on. On good days this can mean as little as two or three repetitions. On bad days, it never ends. When this occurs, I must move him along, at the risk of a meltdown, promising to revisit his hair after we have completed our other tasks.

Next comes his coat, backpack and checklist. We check off all the steps we have completed and one we have yet to complete, going out and waiting for the bus. But first comes my routine. My coat must be zipped all the way to the top, my hat and glasses put on. Then every door that is open must be closed. Even some that are already closed must be opened and then closed again while he supervises. At last we are free to go outside. We wait at the end of the driveway until his ride arrives. When he gets on the bus, he always stops on the first step, gives me a peck followed by four quick pseudo cheek kisses. To the neighbors, we must look like a couple of old Frenchmen meeting on the streets of  Paris.

Then comes the hardest task of all, watching as the bus pulls away and out of sight … hoping I have entrusted him to people with the care of a father and the humor of Cat Ballou.

101 Word Fiction – Fog

Flash fiction can appear simple, but that doesn’t make it easy.Below is my entry in the Inlander’s 2011 short-short fiction contest. It made the first cut, but not the last.

FOG

He is a good father but his son never speaks. Despite their immured dialogue, he attempts to teach the boy the names of stars.

Sirius. Polaris. Betelgeuse.

But even the father’s immense paternal love can’t bridge the chasm between them. And yet, during rare instances when their eyes lock, understanding breaks through like crystal beams from a crescent moon, slicing october clouds. For a precious temporal dimple, the fog lifts, the boy smiles and the man and his son understand each other as well as any father and son ever have. Such muted endowments remind him, autism is just a cloud.

If you are curious to read the entries that did make the cut, go to www.inlander.com

Perception.

First He Thought He Was Roosevelt – Now He Thinks He’s Truman

OBAMA USES TAX COMPROMISE TO PREPARE FOR “DO NOTHING” CONGRESS

When Barack Obama took office, many historians, including the President himself, drew a parallel between his position and that of Franklin Roosevelt. But having brought the country back from the brink of disaster apparently wasn’t enough to prevent a self-proclaimed “shellacking”. His crime: not lowering unemployment enough and not spurring a quick enough recovery. How soon people forgot the six figure monthly job losses under Bush. How often do we even speak about Iraq or Afghanistan anymore? No, today’s battle is about maintaining tax reductions for the top two percent of the country while cutting unemployment benefits for the jobless right before Christmas.

Yes we can.

With our country on the brink of economic collapse and fighting wars on two fronts, Obama looked to the past to guide our future. He read books on FDR and quoted him. There were even rumors of a fireside chat resurrection.

Faced with this new dynamic, it appears Obama has changed his choice of posthumous advisor. Now he is channeling Truman. Anyone who actually listened to what the President was saying during the mid-terms (instead of getting distracted by witches and tea party nominees that think autistic children are “faking it”) knows that this compromise is basically the agenda he put forth on the campaign trail. Having signed health care and small business legislation into law, he said we must focus on extending unemployment benefits and tax cuts for the middle class. He also wanted acceleration of the tax shelter for depreciation and other small business incentives. All of that is in this compromise. The only thing he didn’t want was the extension of tax cuts for the super-rich, and since his own party failed to engage in that fight last summer when he wanted them to, it was something he had little problem letting go of.

Why the comparison to Truman? Truman won re-election against Dewey in 1948 running against what he called the “do nothing” congress. He railed (literally) against the opposition’s tactic of hamstringing his every proposal, not even supporting the more moderate portions of their own presidential candidate’s platform. With Mitch McConnell’s proclamation of ousting Obama as job one, it appears one historical slot has already been filled. It’s only natural that Obama take the part of Truman and Palin or Gingrich step in as Dewey.

While radicals on the left are ready to storm the Bastille and radicals on the right are happy to pour boiling oil on them while they do it, the other seventy percent of us want a democracy that works. Obama has moved in that direction with this compromise and helped millions of Americans in the process. He has also positioned himself as the one trying to get something done in Washington. (Despite what Fox  and the Republican leadership want to tell you, this was the actual message sent in November, stop fighting and move forward). The economy is still growing, slowly, but in the right direction, people are starting to see the benefit of the medical reform law, the pump has been primed for small business and taxes have not been raised. That’s not at all a bad record to run on, especially if the unemployment numbers show any movement down in the next two years. If the Republicans want to do nothing, Obama is now in position to play right along. But since they are the one’s with the “change” ball in their court, they had better show some results. Otherwise, their recent triumph will soon be remembered like a really bad episode of Sesame Street, brought to you by the word “no” and the letter “tea.”

 One last parallel. Under Truman, the U.S. armed forces ended segregation. Though unpopular at the time, it was the right thing to do and eventually offered a place where merit and promotion could be color blind, no small contribution to the legacy that was fulfilled on Inauguration Day, 2009. Perhaps within the next sixty years we will see an openly homosexual woman or man elected to the highest office on merit of leadership, and not rejected by prejudice, due in some part to the ending of “don’t ask, don’t tell” under Obama. I think that is a comparison he would be happy to live with.

Whidbey and the Winery

Thank you to everyone who came out on Sunday to help raise funds for the Northwest Autism Center. I was honored to appear along with fellow authors Eileen Garvin and Tom Weddle. Reading my work alongside other writers is always a surreal, humbling experience.

Whidbey

 

The event was held at the lovely Caterina Winery. After the readings, there was a live auction and music. Proceeds were also raised through a silent auction and wine sales.

The beautiful Caterina Winery.

Thank you again for helping raise funds and awareness. For more information on the event or the Northwest Autism Center itself, go to www.nwautism.org.