Tom and Bill were in the room listening to the radio, both feeling edgy because the weather outside had turned cold and windy. Every few minutes a gust of rain would slam against the bedroom window. Tom was at his desk trying to study, While Bill lay on his bed, occasionally doing a somersault or tangling himself in his blanket. For the second time, he yelled, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” the refrain from a Beatles song that had played earlier.
Tom’s feet felt cold. Why won’t dad turn on the furnace? he wondered. Cheapskate! What good was a house that did not offer warmth? He might just as well be sitting out in the garage. At night there did not seem to be anywhere in the house where he could do homework or just read quietly. His mom almost always sat in the kitchen listening to the radio, talking on the phone or writing letters to her sisters. The worst room however, was the dining room. Mary usually sat at the dining room table doing her homework, but she also had the responsibility, more often than not, of keeping an eye on John. At first she would be patient with him, but her patience would wear thin, particularly when John, Who had a vocabulary of about eight words, would shout, “Floor! Floor!”
Then she is would start losing her temper.
“John, Mary needs to do her homework. No, Mary will not get on the floor! Mary is getting very angry with you!”
Sometimes Tom would feel sorry for John, at which point he might try to play with him. But Mary generally would ask Tom if he could take John upstairs because she was working on a vitally important assignment and it was due the very next day. Clearly, John was not getting enough attention. Tom’s parents had stopped having their weekly “Getting to know you” nights,when they used to spend thirty minutes with Tom, Mary, Bill and John, doing whatever each of them wanted. His father no longer seemed to have time to play hide and seek in the yard with him and his siblings on summer evenings. What scary, thrilling times those were, to be crouched behind the spruce tree or hiding behind the wood pile, hearing the screams of his siblings or of the other neighborhood kids as they were flushed from their hiding places, getting chills up the spine seeing dad approach, Struggling mightily not to scream!
Dad used to be so much fun. Every kid in the neighborhood loved him. Their big backyard looked like a neighborhood park. Kids climbed the big beech trees, tossed footballs, played ghosts in the graveyard, or made up their own games. And on a summer night, after he had straightened out the kitchen, dad would come out to play pick-up basketball games.
Mom always seemed busy, sewing clothes, doing the laundry, packing lunches for school. She often went shopping after supper to pick up clothes or school supplies. But she didn’t have a mean bone in her body. At bedtime, she often sat for a while with each of them, listening to a recap of the day’s adventures. She would rub feet or backs,give reassurance if someone was troubled. By the time she finally got up and turned off the light, Tom would feel cozy under his blanket and filled with her love. Sleep would come quickly. He would have his dreams and then it would be morning, with the sun shining through the windows
“I want my Maypo!” Bill shouted at the top of his lungs.
“Shut up up there!” dad shouted from downstairs.
Messiness did not usually bother Tom, but the room had become ridiculously disheveled. The wet clothes Bill had worn when he was caught in the rain earlier in the day lay in a soggy heap beside Tom’s bed. An empty bag of potato chips, it’s red labeling the brightest thing in the room, lay crumpled by the door. The shoe rack had come loose from the closet door again. Shoes, belts, dirty socks, and everything that had been hung on the rack were strewn about the floor. His Museum of Natural History poster, which hung on the wall by only its bottom pieces of tape, sagged to the floor, presenting it’s blank side for view. However, he could not motivate himself to get up from his desk and straighten things up.
The night was going badly. He was sinking deeper and deeper into the dumps. School would be a drag tomorrow because they were supposed to play soccer in the gym, a sweaty, noisy, foot-punishing game he despised. The day after tomorrow he had a dental appointment. He would surely have cavities filled, and the dentist would fill them with a minimum of Novacaine, thanks to dad being such a cheapskate. His dad had also announced he would give him a haircut on the weekend, a torturous ordeal that rarely was without bloodshed.
Mom walked in. Tom glanced at her, and knew something wasn’t quite right. She looked worried.
“Tom, Bill, I have some wonderful news for you. We are going to have another baby!
“You told me you were done having babies!” Tom blurted out.
“Well, I did tell you I was done having babies. That is what the doctor told me. But apparently this little one inside me wasn’t listening.”
“Where will he sleep?” I asked.
“Well, it might be a she,” mom replied. “Pretty soon your father will buy a bed for John and then we will move him into this room. Meanwhile, the new baby will spend a few months with your father and I.”
Mary walked into the room. “Did you tell them, mom?
“Yes I did, honey.”
“Mom, Will you rub my feet?” Bill asked out of the blue.
Watching her walk over to Bill’s bed and take his dirty feet into her hands, Tom was reminded of the mother he knew when he was Bill’s age — soft-eyed, smiling gently, a deep well of love, always ready to do whatever he asked, give him whatever he needed, often knowing what he wanted before he could even get the words out. Once he had asked her to rub his back, but she was too busy. She had said that he should ask his guardian angel to rub his back. Dutifully, Tom had rolled over on his stomach and implored his guardian angel to give him a rub. At one point he had imagined feeling the slightest touch of a hand on his back.
Mom stroked Bill’s feet, gently squeezing each of his toes. Mary walked over and sat down on Bill‘s bed beside her mom. Finally, his mom stood up. “A little more, mom,” Bill pleaded.
“No, honey,” she said, softly, “I promised your sister I would tuck her in.” Mom walked over to my bed, kissed me good night, and left the room with Mary trailing behind her.
Tom suddenly felt very tired. He decided to try to finish his homework in the morning. This was a problem because it was a history assignment, And he has already been told by Miss Osterday that he was falling behind in history.
Tom closed his eyes and thought about the black rat snake he had caught last weekend in the barn at French Park. Used to house park maintenance equipment, the barn held a secretive aura, nearly concealed behind a wall of poplars. Boys from the neighborhood loved the barn because their parents told them it was dangerous and forbade them from going inside. Tom and his friends sometimes dared each other to climb the ladder to the hayloft where mice scurried and where swallows built their mud nests.
After exploring along the creek bed for newts, ringneck snakes, and anything else he could find, Tom decided to search the barn. He was not quite ready to go home. A pair of mud dauber wasps slowly circled overhead. He wondered why he was so attracted to old barns, sheds, even outhouses. Some farm tools lay strewn about — rusty saw blades, the broken harrow of a plow, iron hooks, prongs and other implements whose function he could only guess. Entering the barn felt a little bit like entering an empty church, of being in the presence of spirits moving ever so slowly, like the dust motes swimming in the shafts of sunlight.
He detected a movement just over his head. Two large snakes were coiled in the rafter overhead. Frantically, looking for something with which to reach them, he settled on a clothesline pole. He did a little more than annoy the first snake by poking at it before it worked its head through a small hole in the roof and slowly disappeared.
He was able to work the top of the pole into the coils of the second snake, and with a sharp yank he brought it down. The snake, all 6 feet of it, writhed on the floor as Tom tried to pin it. Finally, after it has succeeded in disappearing halfway into a pile of two by fours, Tom threw all caution to the wind and grabbed it by its tail. It’s power was awesome. Tom and the snake were at a stalemate until the snake momentarily went flaccid, and Tom worked it free. The snake whipped twice around his arm and began constricting. At one point the snake managed to bite Tom’s wrist, but it withdrew quickly, leaving tiny pin pricks of blood.With its jet black head and white throat, the snake was beautiful.
Struggling to unwrap the snake from his arm, Tom was able to enclose it in an old burlap bag he found in the barn. He rode his bike home with his prize wrapped around his handlebars. Fortunately, the snake remained still for the last duration of the trip. Once home, Tom constructed a cage using old window screens and nails. By morning, the snake had already escaped.
Sunshine in a cold, dark room
The familiar alley seems smaller, as if it is closing in on itself, or in possession of a dark secret. Pock-marked ice over the dirt and gravel. Steam pouring out of a basement vent. The loneliness of someone doing laundry at one o’clock in the morning on a Saturday. He enters Jesse’s building. In the dark lobby, a smell of sauerkraut and mold. Pale, rose wallpaper peels off the wall like tree bark. Mildew colors the baseboards. One light bulb shines from a fixture that looks like an ancient Christmas ornament. Flyers folded into the slots of the dented mailboxes lay unclaimed.
Alvin walks the three flights to Jesse’s apartment with the scratched brown door and the imposing brass knocker. He raps on the knocker, and the sound, startlingly loud, echoes in the confined lobby. He has one hope. Oh please let her answer. He is ready to give up when he hears the lock on the other side being unlatched. The door opens. Jesse’s hair, apparently unwashed for days, lays flat along nape of her neck. It still retains the faint odor of her hairspray, one of Jesse’s distinctive scents.
“Hey,” he says.
“What are you doing here?”
What could he say? Alvin had Last seen Jessie six days ago. He had gone to work and returned to his apartment, only to brood in her absence. The first night he had drank half a fifth of rum. Head spinning, He had dropped off into a twilight sleep, only to wake up a little past dawn with a splitting headache. The idea of getting back up in two hours and going to work mortified him, but what else was he to do, mope around in his apartment and obsess over Jesse?
For five more nights he had tried every trick in the book to distract himself. Twice he visited the Barnes and Noble bookstore, Plopping down on one of the store’s signature couches and flipping through books and magazines until closing time. The other night he stayed home and watched TV, willing the time to pass until he could justify going to bed. And finally he had decided that he was going to see Jesse and there was nothing she could do about it.
“ I’m worried about you, “he stammered.
She is wearing a faded and wrinkled kimono with barely distinct traces of what were once colorful birds and dragons. She looks under nourished. Her face is startling to behold, almost aristocratic in its gauntness. Her eyes are big, wet and luminous. They seem to be looking at another world.
“Oh, Alvin,” she sighs, And the unspoken question: “Why are you here?”
Alvin knows that she does not want him, but he desperately needs her. He has no plan to save her or even to console her. He simply needs to be with her.
“Can I come in? “He asks.
suit yourself, “Jesse replies.
A candle burns on her coffee table, wax like cooled lava piled around it. The ammonia scent of an unclean litter box hangs in the air. A radio plays softly — faint, icy jazz with vibraphone, brush drums. Alvin takes in her kitchen, the dented formica breakfast table with the two hand-me-down chairs, And a lone cereal bowl. The door to her bedroom just beyond the kitchen is half open. Her bed is unmade.
Jesse walks past Alvin and slumps into the shapeless chair that has always reminded him of a giant marshmallow.Watching her breasts rise and fall he suddenly feels the maddening desire to protect her dimunitive body, so petite, yet so perfectly formed.
“When was the last time you ate? “Alvin asks her. She shrugs. Jesse has always had fickle eating habits, sometimes craving cheeseburgers and milkshakes, and then unexpectedly only able to tolerate the vegetarian dishes served up by the Blind Faith Cafe.
“Let me fix you a sandwich, “Alvin volunteers.
“I am not hungry, “Jesse says.
What should he do? Insist that she eat? Alvin cannot contemplate arguing with Jesse over eating. He glances at the clock on her wall. 11:20. That can’t be right.
“Are you going to work?” he asks.
“Not the last couple of days. “
“Listen, I am a little winded from trekking up to your apartment. If it’s OK, I will grab a chair and sit down.”
Alvin walks into the kitchen and drags out one of the chairs. He could not figure out how to place it. Should he face her, or sit side-by-side? Finally, he positions the chair so that he is about six feet away, facing her.
Alvin can think of nothing more to say. But he is in her presence and that is what he has been craving. For the past six months, He has patiently waited for her to grow to love him. He had known that about three months ago she has started seeing Kirk again, but he considered his sentiments toward her too refined to accommodate jealousy. However, recently, maybe a couple of weeks ago, Kirk had mysteriously broken her heart, and he has learned in the scope of her suffering that Kirk, and not he, is the man she truly loves.
“I understand I can’t come for you or help you, “he finally says, gambling on wretched honesty, “But I have to be with you anyway, for my own sake. This is selfishness, Jess.”
“Wow,” Jesse mutters.
“I mean, would it be unbearable to you if I just quietly stayed around and didn’t bother you?”
Jesse does nott reply. Alvin begins to wonder if she is deliberately ignoring him. Finally she says, “Alvin, it’s like I’ve told you before. don’t put yourself through this. You have your own life to live. “
“Unfortunately, I have become addicted to you, “he says, trying to smile.
“Well, why don’t you start considering how you might overcome this unfortunate addiction, “she responds.
Alvin notices that an ashtray next to her candle is overflowing with cigarette butts. Two crumpled packs of cigarettes lay beside the ashtray.
“Would you like a smoke?” he asks.
“Sure,” she replies.
Alvin takes his pack of cigarettes out of his pocket, pulls out a cigarette and lights it for her. She draws deeply on it, letting the smoke pillow slowly from her mouth. “That I needed,” she says.
“If you are willing to put up with me I will gladly share my pack. I could buy you more first thing in the morning.”
Jesse takes another deep drag, seeming to consider his proposition. Finally, She says, “If you could leave me one more, I would appreciate that. “
Alvin is moved almost to tears by her beauty and grace, by the poised way she holds her cigarette, by the delicate turn of her nose, by the fine down of her cheeks illuminated by candlelight. Another piece of jazz catches his ear, a cacophony of cymbals, drums and saxophone. Alvin stands. He has been feeling cold. He notices that Jesse’s window is open nearly a foot.
“I’m going to close the window, Jess,” he says.
Jesse takes one last long drag on her cigarette. She lets the butt fall to the floor. Alvin lingers by the window, observing the flurries of fine powdered snow gusting up the wind shaft.
He turns from the window and moves toward Jesse. He rests his hands on her shoulders. He bends and kisses her cheek. Then he cups his hand under her chin and gently tries to turn her face toward him.
“Alvin, please go now,” she says.
“Let me stay a couple minutes longer, “he implores her.
From the corner of his eye he sees movement. Sunshine has entered the room. Black cat, silent, padded feet, Appearing like a ghost. Jumping on top of the radiator, sunshine proceeds to preen herself, pausing momentarily to contemplate Alvin, one paw extended in mid air.
The candle burns out. Silhouetted against the bamboo curtains, Jesse raises er arm like a shadow bird and then the robe falls. She is nude. She guides him to the floor and then unbuckles his belt, He pulls down his pants while she mounts him. She regards him through half-opened eyes, And Alvin realizes that he can no longer control himself.
He climaxes with a shudder and immediately realizes that he has failed Jesse. He continues thrusting, but it is to no avail. She rolls off of him and sits hunched on the floor. Alvin pulls up his pants and lies back on the floor. Next thing he knows he is dreaming. In his dream, he is trying to meet up with Jesse at the nearby Starbucks. But he can’t figure out where it is. At one point he sees throngs of people moving purposefully, as if they are exiting a subway train. He next find himself in a swank department store trying to get directions to the Starbucks, but to no avail. He feels like he is having a panic attack.When he awakens, a ahaft of sunlight is streaming through Jesse’s window. He realizes that Jesse has gone to bed and closed her bedroom door.
It wasn’t so much that Jesse lied to him about her affair with Kirk. It was that she withheld pertinent details. She did not mention that Kirk works as a barista at Starbucks. She did not mention that after talking to Alvin on the phone she would visit Kirk, sitting at a back table and sipping coffee. (Alvin rarely hung out with her on weeknights because he got up early to go to work.) She did not mention that after the shop closed she would go home with Kirk and sometimes spend the night with him. But then Kirk had broken up with her. He was tall, thin, and blonde, with a trace of a goatee, and he had effortlessly swept her off her feet. When he grew bored with her, he broke it off.
Alvin hears a soft meow. Sunshine is sitting about 3 feet away regarding him with a level gaze.
“Hey cat,” he says.
Sunshine rises, sidles over to him and jumps on the chair beside him. She rubs her head against Alvin’s leg as he scratches between her ears.
“Are we friends now?” Alvin asks softly. Sunshine begins purring. Alvin has no idea what the day will bring. All he knows is that it will not go well. He relaxes, feeling uncharacteristically content. Sunshine certainly will not be going anywhere soon.
This is not China. This is the tired waters of Lake Louise lapping against mossy stones. Nudist magazines half-buried in the sand under the pine grove. Dragonflies hovering over the cat tails. Ginseng growing on the hill. Ariel says they remind her of mole men with little umbrellas. The outhouse laced with cobwebs — a clump of toilet paper in the corner (been there so long it has osmosed with the gray wood.) In the outhouse I am reminded of other small rooms— sheds, attics, tool rooms—where the play of dust with the light that shines through gray windows or cracks in the wood suggests places that exist on another plane.
I think, “this is not China. “An image of a watery mountain comes to me. The mountain ripples like a slow, heavy ocean. I hear the locusts outside, a sound like machinery winding up in the dull heat, and then winding down. But this is not China. It’s heat and stillness, and the sky like a bowl over us.
The outhouse door is half open. I look outside and it seems as if there are millions of glimmering, microscopic creatures swimming through the air. I think of what Lee asked me yesterday.
“Winston? “He asked, not looking at me, but looking instead into the near-empty bottle of Nehi he had been sipping on,“Do you suppose you could create something out of nothing, you know, like maybe you could breathe life into a lump of clay. What would you do to it? Would you torture it?”
“When you were a kid, Lee,” I replied, “did you ever spend hours building something like a sand castle or a model airplane and then kick it to pieces when you were done with it?”
“I don’t like it that you said that, Winston,” he replied.
Suddenly, the outhouse door is flung fully open. “You in there, Winston?” Lee sticks his head in, squints his eyes. “Is that you, Winston? “
“Lee,” I say, trying hard to control my anger, “didn’t I tell you about the time when I demand my privacy? “
“Right, Winston. “One of ‘ems when you are sitting on the can, and I can’t think of the other one.”
“When I’m jacking myself, Lee.”
“That’s right. Now I remember. “
“Then will you give me a minute? “
“Oh, sorry, Winston “
Lee shuts the door. I hear him walk away. Something thumps against the door.
“For God’s sake’s, Lee! What are you doing? “
“Just funnin’ Winston. Practicing up on my fastball.”
“What the hell you throw? A rock? “
“Just a dirt ball, Winston.”
when I step out, everything seems white, translucent. Lee has walked down to the lake. He is skipping stones across the water.
“A swim is in order,” he says, as I come up behind him.
“Not a bad idea, “I say “except I heard someone got sick from amoeba in there.”
“What’s amoeba, Winston? “
“Well, have you ever seen a jellyfish? “
“I’ve seen of them”
“Okay, just imagine a jellyfish about the size of a grain of sand. Imagine one of them crawling up your butt hole and eating into your liver. That would be an amoeba. “
“What happens then, Winston? “
“Well, you could die. “
Lee steps back from the water, rubbing his hands in his pants.
“Come on, Lee, “I say, “let’s go up to the barn. “
Path of dirt, clay and dust winding through overgrown pasture. Straight ahead, the hill. At the top of the hill, the barn. Once used for curing tobacco, it is now little more than lengths of wood under a roof of tarpaper. I put key to padlock and swing open the door. A black snake slithers out.
“Watch it, Winston! Snake!”
We can follow its progress by the rustling of the weeds. Lee draws his gun and fires into the brush
“Lee! “I scream The sound of gunshots reverberate around us like the sound of a distant avalanche.“This is not China! “
“No shit. “
inside the barn: shafts of light in a crosshatch pattern. hundred of squares of light on the floor. Wasps flying over our heads. On the dirt floor Ariel lies bound and gagged.Her shimmery blue caftan is coated with dust and dirt. She stares up at us, expressionless.
“Untie her, Lee. “
Ariel stands. She sways. I move toward her, catching her in my arms. Her waist-long hair. Her exquisite, oval face. Her green eyes.I cup her face and look at her. I disappear in her eyes. “Ariel,” I whisper. She does not answer. She looks away.
“I am very calm. My hands are steady. Now please listen carefully. In the trunk of my car I have a case of Dom Perignon. I would like to share a bottle with you.”
she blinks. Her mouth quivers.
“But first, I must ask you a question, and you must answer. Ariel, is this China?”
Did she just murmur? Did she just sigh?
“What, Ariel? What did you just say? “
she closes her eyes and bows her head. My head begins spinning. My stomach tightens.
“Lee! “I shout. “Take Ariel and make her swim in Lake Louise! “
The two of them walk quietly past me, Lee supporting Ariel by her elbow. A couple of minutes later I step outside to check their progress. No one is there. I run down the hill. I run through the pines. I run across the road. I stop breathless by the railroad tracks where the marijuana grows wild. I sit under the giant willow where Ariel and I once flirted. She told me that ginseng — the amulet against barrenness — was good in tea. Suddenly, I see the ginseng, Bulbous roots in the form of little men. They wear bonnets of leaves. They are marching down the hill. They are marching along the creek. They are marching
across the tracks. As they stream by, I get back on my feet and retrace the path to Lake Louise. In time the lake comes into sight. Quiet water. Small frogs, some still with tails, hang suspended in in mats of algae. I have not seen Lee o r Ariel. Instead, under the sky like a bowl, I see ginseng, bulbous little men with bonnets of leaves screaming as we pulled them from the earth. Now I have to ask you. Is this China?
First, a confession: After my wife, Suzanne, and I signed up for the Clare-Galway-Connemara — Wild Atlantic Coast Tour, I seriously began to question why a physically disabled person such as myself would choose a tour that enables one to, “Experience the lush green hills of Clare; its majestic cliffs and rugged islands, to the rustic and stunning beauty of the Connemara mountains, to the Irish-speaking towns of County Galway, visiting the gorgeous lakes, castles, monastery ruins, and early settlements of this ancient Irish Province of Munster in the Wild West of Ireland.”
Tour organizers Michael Regan-Waugh and Trish O’Donnell-Jenkins seemed to capture the essence of the tour, and I could easily imagine their evocative imagery stirring the blood of virtually anyone in search of the soul of Ireland. As for myself, a stroke survivor with significant left-side mobility challenges, the prose was a thinly veiled taunt: “You will hike until you drop, only to lie stranded and helpless until some rugged fisherman stumbles upon you.”
Seeking reassurance, I contacted Trish by phone, who reassured me that the tour was structured so that I could experience it at my own pace. She seemed to take it all in stride, which was in sharp contrast to all the administrative concerns for my “safety” at the high school where I had happily taught until I
recently announced my retirement.
So my wife and I threw caution to the wind and booked the tour, at which point, the jitters associated with my initial concerns about the tour were seamlessly supplanted by those forebodings of doom characteristic of one contemplating a flight overseas.
As if my stress wasn’t already through the roof, the first leg of our flight, from Chicago to Newark, N.J., was delayed thanks to a wholly unanticipated, fast-moving storm front that compelled our pilot to fly circles around Newark’s congested airport as he awaited his turn to land — that is, until he announced the plane was running out of gas! Two hours later, after refueling in Harrisburg, P.A., we were finally back in the air — about the same time that our connecting flight to Shannon Airport was lifting off.
I contacted our tour guide, Derek James Browne, with what I assumed was the worst possible news: We would not be in Shannon to hook up with our tour at the appointed time,
Not to worry, Derek reassured me.
Sure enough, when we arrived at Shannon Airport fully a day later than scheduled, Derek was there, along with fellow toward member, Cynthia Owens, to greet us. I couldn’t help but wonder whether Derek knew what he was getting himself into when I realized I could not even lift my foot high enough to step into the tour van. This is when Derek first demonstrated his knack for creative problem solving. He looked at me, and then at my stroke-paralyzed left leg, and then back at me. I could almost see the cog wheels turning in his brain.
“Lift your right foot and see if you can get it on the first step,” he suggested.
It took a little effort, but I could do it.
“Now, lift your left foot.”
Before I could say, “That’s a no go,” Derek had lifted my left foot and placed it next to my right foot.
“Suzanne, do you mind if your husband falls on you?”
Looking bemused; Suzanne, who was already in the van, said, “Why not? “
“Now, Tom, say a little Irish prayer and let go of the door grip.”
I took a leap of faith and let go. Gravity took over from there, and I dropped gently onto Suzanne’s lap as Derek simultaneously coaxed my feet up over a small second steps so that both were resting over the floor of the van. At that point, it was easy to assume a sitting position where I was meant to be — beside my wife.
We actually got quite good at that maneuver, always in good humor, and with Derek bestowing upon me the lion’s share of credit,
Derek and I hit it off quickly because we both shared a well-honed, self-deprecating sense of humor. Although, if I had been a more dour sort of fellow, I’m sure Derek would have responded accordingly.
One of the items on the trip itinerary that most worried me was the Burren guided tour. Retired School principal and naturalist extraordinaire, Pius Murray, had been contracted by Wild West Irish tours to take us on a hike of several kilometers through the starkly beautiful, rock-strewn National Park.
Upon arrival at the Burren – after Suzanne and Cynthia stepped out of the van to stretch their legs, Derek turned to me and said, “We are going to have our own fun.”
What a relief! Given that I am a hard-core nature nut, I knew I couldn’t have hiked more than ten or so meters into the park
When Pius pulled up to the parking area, Derek announced, “While you are taking the ladies on the hike, Tom and I are going to find a pub and catch the rugby championship.”
Sure enough, within 20 minutes, Derek and I were comfortably seated at the Champions Pub, soft drinks in hand, watching the Irish National Men’s Rugby team overtake the favored Australian team 20-16.
Amidst the raucous cheering of the crowd, Derek turned to me and said, “You just watched history in the making. That is the first time Ireland has beaten Australia on their soil since 1976. “
I should note that I had asked Trish and Michael prior to our trip if they could possibly arrange a fishing excursion for me at some point during the tour. They were only to willing to accommodate me. So they contacted Derrick, who in turn contacted noted fishing guide, or “gilly, Bartosz Schoen, who promised to take me out to stalk the outsized northern pike for which Ireland is known. Fully appreciative of the anglers’ knack for embellishment, I offer this proof of how the trip went:
As invaluable as Derek was to me, I would do him a disservice if I did not acknowledge that he was equally accommodating to Suzanne and Cynthia. I am convinced that each of us believed that we were Derek’s favorite. Indeed, Derek was greeted with warmth and affection by people everywhere he turned up, be it at some remote Galway Cove or at a Clare County folk music club, where the owner caught the essence of the esteem in which Derek is held by exclaiming, “What a wonderful man! And a brilliant man too! “
So Trish and Michael, there is no doubt in my mind that people who contract with tour guides of Derek’s caliber, are people who seek out only the best. Having said that, I proclaim that Wild West Irish Tours is decidedly disability friendly!
Remembering those fearless journalists who sacrificed their lives in war-torn arenas where regimes have generated “fake news” long before it became fashionable, and where the concept, “freedom of the press,” is a mockery.
Here’s a confession: I am still stunned when I hear people, from our president on down, rail about “fake news.” Indeed, in the eyes of more than a few of my friends, the descriptor “fake news” encompasses entire media operations (i.e., CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post).
I earned a degree in journalism at Northwestern University in 1981, and worked in that craft, primarily as a magazine editor, for 24 years. Based on my experience in the field, I can attest to the two things that journalists most fear:
1. Putting a “story” or “piece” (the generic labels for every variety of journalistic output) into the public domain and realizing you, along with those charged with proofing your copy, have omitted some piece of vital information (i.e., a subject’s age in an obituary, or a spokesperson’s job title in an unsolved murder case).
2. Getting a fact wrong.
The initial reaction of a reporter upon seeing his or her piece in the newspaper or on the Web, and realizing that a key fact is wrong is generally as follows: “Holy Shit! Now I have to face the music. I don’t want to face the music! Maybe I should just resign!”
Fortunately, (because, otherwise, newsrooms would be emptying out) editors recognize that numerous factors, particularly deadline pressure, virtually assure that even veteran reporters will occasionally “get it wrong.” Rest assured, however, everyone in the newsroom is keeping score. Reporters who force an undue number of “retractions,” likely will find themselves covering high school sports or having to accept reassignment to the features department, home of the “puff piece.”
Which brings us back to “fake news.” In my opinion, when most people dismiss a piece of reporting as “fake news,” what they are really saying is that they feel the piece is biased one way or the other. Fair enough! We all understand, for instance, that CNN “tilts” liberal, while Fox News “tilts” conservative. In fact, I’ll go a step farther and assert that the world as perceived by viewers of Fox News is radically different from the world as perceived by viewers of CNN. But, c’mon folks! Neither Fox News or CNN traffics in
“fake news.” When these respective cable news stations transition from reporting the day’s news to convening their panels of “experts” they are sending a clear signal to their viewers: Okay, you just heard the news, some of which turns our stomachs, but, hey, what can we do? These are the facts as we know them, but please relax dear viewers, because now we are in “opinion” mode. Couch-riding Television news junkie that I am, I sometimes have to remind myself
that what attracted me to journalism in the first place is the promise that if you are persistent, patient, and in some cases, courageous, you will find the truth of something.
Journalists plying their trade in the U.S are relatively lucky. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), from 1992 to 2017 only seven have been killed in the line of duty, two of whom were killed by a disgruntled colleague recently fired from the same station in which they worked. (Adam Ward and Allison Parker, WBDJ Television).
Reporting on the news elsewhere in the world is considerably more dangerous. According to CPJ, 2,192 journalists working outside the U’S. ( including American journalists posted overseas) have lost their lives in the line of duty since 1982.
Those of you who, emboldened by the man currently occupying the White House, relish mocking and marginalizing members of the press need to be aware of two things:
- Our Founding Fathers took pains to enshrine in the very first of their amendments to the newly minted U.S. Constitution what they considered the most fundamental of our god-given liberties, the twin pillars of which are freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
- Political leaders, whether freely elected or dictators and regardless of ideology,are powerfully vested in self preservation. Hence, they are not inclined to share that which they wish to to remain secret. Those of you who follow world events likely will agree that the first recourse of despotic regimes under threat is to stifle their news media, which can range from censorship to imprisonment to murder.
The journalists honored in my blog were fearless. They chose to work in the world’s most volatile regions — Central America, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan, the Ukraine. Their determination to strip away the hubris and uncover the truth of a thing, whatever the cost, explains why I feel so hopeful about journalism’s future. Do you presume for a moment that these courageous men and women cower over threat and intimination? And for that matter, do you presume that the thousands of working journalists here and abroad wil stop doing their jobs because mobs of wannabe petty tyrants are out for their heads? Well, if I can just step out of retirement for a moment and pin my press credentials back on…Try us!