“I am innocent!” the man protested, unable to rain down his fist for emphasis. The blood dripped from where his finger nail used to be.
His hands were taped down to the kitchen table of his youth. He couldn’t get up. He couldn’t move. A whimper escaped his lips. The Black Mask did not notice.
He muffled an indignant and a righteous howl as the Black Mask unexpectedly reached across the table with both hands and tore the tape away with a speed that rivaled lightning.
“Maybe it’s over.”
The man prayed, thanking his god for rescue. Almost imperceptibly, he lifted his head to get a better look at the masked man and the torture room, once his safe space.
The walls were charred black. The place where the stove used to be–the stove which received his mother’s love, meal after meal of his distant childhood–was now as empty as a reluctant warrior’s gaping chest cavity after receiving an RPG round on a foreign battlefield, in a forgotten war. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, she stood, stable as an oak tree, beautiful as a sunset–and apparently as fleeting–never so much as hinting that the effort she spent preparing his food should cost her more than the mere hours it took.
Before his hands had moved even an inch, an agonizing pain began at his left wrist and tore through his left arm like a tornado through a Texas trailer park.
Then he felt something moist smear across his face.
Then he heard the sound.
Then he saw the instrument.
The head of the ax was buried into the kitchen table. The handle stood cocked like the minute hand of his parents old wall clock, except that this cursed chronometer just announced Pain’s time of birth. And like a watch, it divided his wrist from his hand as cleanly as up from down, as permanently as left from right.
“Where do you think you’re going?!” barked the hot voice, smoke bellowing from beneath the Black Mask.
Time was running short. One hand already lost, coupled with the fact that the Black Mask was running out of torturous tools, the man decided to sing out one final protest. His voice, his majestic, his chivalrous, his heavenly voice–the voice that had drowned forest fires as it chased them down mountains, the voice that had serenaded thunder back into the puffy clouds from where it came–his only weapon.
Attempting to use his body to help elevate his noble cause to the gates of heaven, he began to stand as he proclaimed, “I’m sorry!” He drew his next breath as if it might be his last. “But I am innocent! And I demand you cease these proceedings at once.”
Uninterrupted, he boldly continued his pathetic, and now somewhat benevolent, plea, “And what have you done with my moth-”
But before he could finish a button had been pressed. Straps of scalding, sinewy snakeskin sprung out from the floor beside his chair and wrapped painfully across his thighs. The wooden chair legs groaned under the new, nearly unbearable load.
The man heard what he supposed was a laugh–but sounded more like enemy tank tracks grinding toddlers’ teething smiles into the wood-chips which fill schoolyard playgrounds–flap out from the bottom of the Black Mask as the eye holes sparked flame-red with delight.
The realization that there was no point in protesting hit him like thirteen jackhammers during a construction sign-studded summer drive at five.
Seeking, but seeing no disagreement, he stretched his right fingers out and felt for the brier-barbed pencil.
“Did the Black Mask leak a solitary beam of light?” the man wondered confusedly, his left stub likewise pulling the loose-leaf paper close.
The outside world could have fallen away, burned away, dried away, or shaken away and the Black Mask would not have noticed as he watched the boy sigh and write out for the sixtieth time, “I am responsible for my gloves. If I lose my gloves, it is my fault. I will not lose my gloves again.”
We now pause our regularly scheduled programming (three more Cain and Abel re-writes on their way) to bring you some of Robert Louis Stevenson’s best sentences.
From Treasure Island
Silver was roundly accused of playing double–of trying to make a separate peace for himself, of sacrificing the interests of his accomplices and victims, and, in one word, of the identical, exact thing that he was doing.
From Prince Otto
(This first one hits strikingly close to home–perhaps ol’ Bob stumbled upon Ecclesiastes?)
Do you not know that you are touching, with lay hands, the very holiest inwards of philosophy, where madness dwells? Ay, Otto, madness; for in the serene temples of the wise, the inmost shrine, which we carefully keep locked, is full of spiders’ webs. All men, all, are fundamentally useless; nature tolerates, she does not need, she does not use them: sterile flowers!
And this one (Prince Otto, too) persuades whatever inner-workings lie behind the long development of some men’s seemingly hard, dark faces to rush to just beneath the surface the brightest and rosiest hues of red.
There is nothing that so apes the external bearing of free will as that unconscious bustle, obscurely following liquid laws, with which a river contends among obstructions.
Last summer an entrepreneur, friend, and sometimes blogger told me, “If you blog daily for six months, you should have 1000 followers at the end of those six months.” Well, it’s been more than seven months of daily posts on Captain’s Log, and I’m sitting at 199. As is the case with most facts, this amuses me. Just the same, seeing that I am a part of the human race, and therefore partial to round numbers, I’m excited to amass follower number 200. And I’m shameless when it comes to getting what I want. So here’s what I’m offering: the blogger who follows me as number 200 will get a free review of their blog. That’s right. I’ll take some time between now and Monday to peruse your blog and then I’ll write the review for Monday’s post. You can trust that I will be sure to say nice things as well as true things. If you’re on the fence, think of it this way: in return for a simple click of a mouse, you’ll get exposure to 199 readers who possibly aren’t aware of your stuff. Heck, I might not be aware you exist.
This is a one time offer, and it is sure to go fast. A little book called “The Magic of Thinking Big” mentions that “everyone you know craves praise”. Well, I’m offering praise in exchange for bliss. Whatdya say?
Schwartz, David Joseph. The Magic of Thinking Big. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1959. Print.
Here’s the preamble: I once read a story about a Coast Guard rescue swimmer who was being lowered onto a ship to rescue the crew. The rescue swimmer was being lowered from a helicopter and the sea was angry. Next thing the guy knows, it is pitch black and very hot. He recalls that he thought maybe he had died and gone to hell. He was joking of course. Turns out they lowered him directly into a smokestack on accident. Very funny. Now that you know this story is forever in my head, we can continue.
So there I was–pulling cars out of the wash tunnel and driving them into the dry/vac stations as if I was Jeff Gordon pulling into the pits. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that I drive with precision. Back wheel at the vacuum every time.
Then I run back to the tunnel, not quite a full sprint–though faster than I ever thought I’d have to move on the clock–and wait for the next car to make it past the blowers so I can climb in. Over and over again. Then it happened. (Oh, here you should know that I get my kicks out of trying to time pulling open the driver’s door precisely with the door clearing the last blower). I think the particular vehicle in this case was a Land Rover. I pull the handle and jump in. Darkness. Lights out. I can still hear, but I can’t see shit. What the hell?
Of course, my first thought is a reassuring one. I immediately think of the rescue swimmer being lowered into the hot darkness. That calms me as, like it turned out for him, I seriously doubt that the lack of light means I died. Near simultaneous to realizing what happened, a second–more pressing–thought develops: “Is anybody watching me?”
You see, I wear a stocking cap. (First, its winter. Second, I lost my hair in the war and don’t want skin cancer). It isn’t the beanie kind that when pulled on requires no fold, but the kind that when pulled all the way on almost covers your whole face. To remedy this problem, you fold a couple inches of it up. As it turns out, there is no longer any doubt that the blower is strong enough to blow the folded part of a stocking cap down. Please, really, just picture the scene. Don’t stop with picturing a grown-ass man sitting in the driver’s seat of a vehicle with a stocking cap covering his entire face. Actually attempt to see through the fabric and picture my face. The confused look. Then, pure unadulterated joy. I’m still grinning ear-to-ear now. I can’t even remember anything else that happened after that.
Her elbow as the hinge, her hand lowered the phone to the bed after she finished her morning dose of Dieter. She pushed the sheets off her body, bumping him, and climbed out of the bed.
Pulling her underwear followed by her pants over her hips, she remembered feeling the electricity of his fingers as he took them off only hours ago.
Fully dressed, she closed the door to his house and began her walk. Thinking about the night, she recalled her surprise at his home’s level of décor. At the bar, he was nicely dressed, but so were most of her other conquests. She discovered early on that not many men had the stamina to match the presentation of their home to the presentation of their body. But he did. She liked that.
She recalled that the wine he served her was remarkably smooth. “Then again at 2:00 am, (or was it 3?) what wine wasn’t?” she laughed to herself. They drank it in his wine cellar before he led her upstairs. She remembered thinking that she didn’t need the comfort of a bed. Loving how he was so in control, she willingly followed.
Already 9:00 am on a Sunday, she was sure everyone driving by could guess how she spent her night. After all, her hair was disheveled, she was in heels, and her clothing was not exactly the type women wear for a coffee run. Let them wonder, she thought. They would never guess everything. They would never know her feelings for him. They would never suspect that afterwards she turned his head–always heavier than expected–so the draining blood wouldn’t soil her half of the thousand count sheets as she slept it off.
The truth? Well, no one ever seemed to want to know the truth. Just the same, the truth was his great-great grandpa was the culprit. Having never met him, of course, he only had heard stories. The man’s name was Pete. In fact, he was named after his great-great grandpa. Apparently this Pete was quite the guy. Loved by everyone; despised by no one.
Herein begins the tale.
Thinning, fine white hair revealed Pete’s old age. A welcoming smile betrayed his young heart. And a never satisfied quest for practical jokes kept him busy even after he was too brittle to work on the family farm.
They say great-great grandpa Pete really was a jokester. He was always catching everyone off-guard, and even though his victims always eventually got over it, his pranks were usually very inappropriate. The legends account for this by telling of his ridiculously strong character. While inappropriate, his making-fun was meticulously timed and delivered. One could only imagine, then, how well-planned Pete’s crowning gag must have been.
It was a large family reunion. Not just cousins, but second cousins, third cousins, and fourth cousins thrice removed were invited and made their appearance. With a guest list that large, quite a few dignitaries and very wealthy people were in attendance. Great-great grandpa Pete would have been banking on this.
On the guest list, a fairly distant relation was former president Rutherford B. Hayes and his wife “lemonade” Lucy, known (without justification) for her role in the temperance movement. To Pete, they were Uncle Rutherford and Aunt Lucy.
It was a warm sunny day in June. June 25, 1889, to be exact. Pete had known the president and his wife for some time. Rutherford and Lucy were just a bit too–let’s say proper–for practical jokes. Just the same, Pete had seen in Rutherford’s eyes something of a sparkle each time he witnessed one of Pete’s masterpieces.
Now, as everyone knows, former Presidents are not to be trifled with. Despite not occupying the position anymore, they are still well-connected to all the right people. Pete would have known this too. Apparently he didn’t care. He had chosen his course, and on that fateful day nothing was going to stop him.
As the first of Pete’s family trickled in, he encouraged the required small talk by talking about his new camera. This camera, he said, was not unlike other cameras of the day, except in one feature. His camera had a timed shutter. He really wanted this affair to be a family only event, and so he didn’t want to hire a professional photographer. He also began spreading that he wanted the first picture taken that day to be a photograph of everyone there.
As the trickle of guests became a raging rapid, so did the story of Pete’s camera. Soon everyone was anxiously awaiting picture time. All in attendance naturally assumed Pete would be the one to press the button then run to his spot in the 4.75 seconds before the shutter opened.
One can only imagine the surprise, then, when ol’ Pete announced to a gathering of 250 of his family members that he was going to give the honor to his “favorite Aunt-who-was-also-a-first-lady” Lucy Hayes. Not being one to regularly indulge in the frivolities and vices of life, the story has it that Lucy succumbed just this once and accepted. They say Pete had a curious twinkle in his eye as he was explaining the task to her.
Straightening up as he finished, he calmly took his place among those about to be photographed.
Trembling with nervous excitement Lucy began to sense the crowd’s growing impatience. She knew she must get it right the first time. She knew that if Pete had to come back and help her one more time, the most distant relatives–already drunk she noticed–would just leave the formation.
The pressure became unbearable and as she pressed the button and began to walk briskly back to her spot, a loud report was heard and as she shuddered in fright, she looked to Pete for reassurance that she didn’t make a mistake. In an instant, Pete tossed her a bottle of whiskey which she caught out of instinct. Turning, she realized she was front and center, looking guilty and holding the substance that she had fought her entire adult life to ban as the shutter opened. A moment later, we’re told that everyone else fell over laughing as they realized Pete had struck again. Everyone but Uncle Rutherford. He was holding his dear beloved who appeared to have fainted. Within the hour she was pronounced dead.
Pete had finally done it. He had finally picked on the wrong person, at the wrong time. By the end of the day, despite former-President Hayes’ insistence that the incident be kept a family matter, word had spread. Naturally, like all stories, the listener heard what they wanted to hear. Couple this with Rutherford demanding Pete hand over the single piece of evidence that proved it was all about Lucy’s obnoxious stance on liquor, and the story really scrambled to build a foundation. In the end, the story that spread throughout the country was that Lucy died because she used an unfamiliar camera to take the picture at the family reunion.
While you may never have heard of great-great grandpa Pete, or Lucy Hayes, you surely have experienced the result of this rumor. Even to this day, when relatives handle camera’s unfamiliar to them, they do so with great trepidation. They cannot shake the fear that something terrible may happen as they take the picture. Little do they know that it wasn’t the use of an unfamiliar camera that killed Lucy, but irrational shame.
At least that’s what I tell myself to explain why we’re so afraid of other people’s cameras at family functions. Can you explain it?
The sound of the car door closing should have woken them. In any case, he was too excited to care. Up the stairs he went. Listening first for what he hoped to never hear, he finally knocked on their door.
“What?” his mother asked.
“I’m home.” he replied opening the door.
“Good…” she acknowledged.
“‘THE MATRIX’ IS THE BEST MOVIE EVER!!!” he burst.
“That’s great. Tell me about it in the morning.”
“No, you don’t understand, I have to go see it again. You have to see it. Dad, what are you doing tomorrow night? I mean, I could feel my jeans shaking from the bass it was so loud.”
That was me. April 1999.
In the fall of 1999 I learned that the ancient Greek’s had mused that we could all really just be brains in jars being stimulated to believe life as we know it is happening. Wow. I cannot tell you how powerful that one fact was. That begged the question, “What else did people thousands of years ago think about that is being presented as new today?”
Around the same time, this knowledge became slightly depressing. If “The Matrix” was actually thousands of years old, what hope did we have for ever thinking something new?
A decade later, I stumbled upon Heidegger. Intense. Taken together, Heidegger and a plagiarized Matrix have revealed how wrong the famous “to remain ignorant of history is to remain forever a child” saying is.
Love history, study history, worship history; just don’t believe that you’re somehow better for it. More and more it is becoming clear to me that “life” is perfectly synonymous with “now.” Simply acknowledging this gives me all the hope I need. Anxiety disappears.
For the doubtful reader, the best argument I can muster is the following personal story.
I attended college from 1999-2003. I am back in college for kicks right now. If you’ll allow my other writings to qualify me to make an observation, it seems US universities are really only interested in one thing: “How to Prevent the Holocaust.” The Stanford Prison Experiment. The Milgram Experiment. Professors and students alike stand in awe of their revelations. Somehow they miss the elephant in the room. They miss that humans are totally capable of taking part in another holocaust. This direct attempt to prevent the holocaust will not work. To accomplish the goal, universities would be better served if they backed up a step and challenged students to accept responsibility for the present. As I’ve written before, this idea of building a [fill in the blank] future is fundamentally flawed.
The only way I see to prevent another holocaust is to live for right now. I’m not talking about “immediate gratification.” I’m talking about an idea I first heard from Peter Drucker. In his book “Management,” he discusses that the Hippocratic Oath doesn’t apply only to the medical field. In his book, he makes the case that managers in any business have to live by it as well. I’d go a step further and say everyone should use it as a guide. Drucker paraphrases the oath down to, “Do no knowing harm.” Implied is you can’t “do” the future. You can only “do” the present.
By way of example, while deployed I hung on my wall some of the Samurai’s Bushido-type sayings. One was, “Courage is living when it is right to live, and dying when it is right to die.” I can tell you I have put a lot of though into it, and if the situation presents the “my life or me taking another’s life” dichotomy, I’m choosing the bullet. The German people chose poorly. They seem to have thought, “Even though this is wrong, if I do it now, at least I’ll make it to the future.” Wrong. No way am I making the same choice. Only someone avoiding “the now” could murder on command. Personal story turned rant over.
To recap, (“The Matrix” + Ancient Greek Philosophy + Martin Heidegger – Cicero + (Two x College) + Peter Drucker + Bushido) x Me^Infinity = Philosophy or interpreting existence is fascinating to me. What’s your story?
I could see them clear as day, but it wasn’t his eyes. It wasn’t one feature. While menacing, his eyes weren’t what caused me to not look to my right. Or to my left. Or down the ladder. Or in my child’s room. His eyes weren’t what caused me to turn on the lights in the bathroom, which I never did at this early hour.
The thing you must fully internalize about my relation to my family members is that I have worn them down over the years. They used to put up a fight, but beginning as early as high school, their resolve weakened.
“Sure. Whatever you say. Can we just not argue about it?” had become their standard response.
On this night, I wanted to play with the Ouiji Board. That’s not quite true. I could care less about the Ouiji Board, it’s foolish. What I wanted was to make my mom, dad, older sister and younger brother uncomfortable. I wanted to see them squirm.
My brother had that same bone in his body, so we went first. The joy of playing a Ouiji Board with others comes from the fact that everyone wants to believe that you’re telling the truth when you convincingly declare that you’re not moving the planchette.
“Oh, come on. I saw your fingers extend!” could be heard from the peanut gallery.
“I swear I did not move it!” I responded. “What you saw was me trying to not break contact with it. It’s the difference between action and reaction.”
“Fine,” my sister conceded with a voice that betrayed her hope I was telling the truth.
Upon turning down the lights in the basement, the general mood in the room began to shift in my favor. My brother and I made sure that we offered no more than a good tease. Soon my sister wanted a turn.
I didn’t lose ground, but I didn’t gain much either. As a neutral participant, she proved a difficult partner. She lacked the intention of causing our parents fright, but her skepticism wasn’t perfect either.
My mom, never one to turn down a challenge, now wanted a turn. Despite bringing me in to this world, she had a capacity to revert to childlike wonder in a moment. I was in full control now. We asked our questions, the board answered them. My brother even flashed me a questioning look as if to ask, “You’re still just playing with us, right?”
My lying eyes bedded down his fear. My own fear, on the other hand was growing.
The truth was, I was no longer controlling the game. When I am afraid I usually want to cry. Right then, I had to muster all my energy to not begin to cry. Out of nowhere, a remarkable thought came to me, “Is my mom cool enough to turn the tables and fool me?”
I wanted the answer to be true. The thought was at least intriguing enough to hold back my tears. But there was still one more player.
You must understand that my father was literally an altar boy as a child. Only people who have a first-degree connection to an altar boy can really understand what this means. No matter what books he’s read, no matter what life experiences he’s had, no matter how hard he may try to convince you otherwise, he is a believer through and through. And believers don’t fuck with evil. Suffice it to say, he didn’t want to play.
Fear became an ancient memory; I couldn’t even remember tears as my resolve to accomplish my mission was renewed.
“Dad. For real. It’s just a game. What are you afraid of? If you really get scared…I don’t know… just call on Jesus to help you. Isn’t he supposed to rush down in your defense?”
I could tell that I pushed just hard enough, so I stopped. Just because he was a believer, didn’t mean he wasn’t still a man.
Mano y Mano. Father v. Son. I couldn’t help but feel pride. Yet again, I got everyone to do what they didn’t want to do. I had wore them down. They were so weak. Discreetly, as the board spoke to us, I gave my brother a quick smile which he replied in kind.
It was a singular feeling. A light pressure against my fingertips. I figured my dad must be moving it towards me. I released any tension in my fingers. The feeling did not go away. The planchette would not release my fingers any more than the board would release the planchette. My brother’s expression released my tears. My dad’s terrifying scream is what woke me.
Awake, I did not want to open my eyes. Exhilarated, I had to. Moments like these did not give themselves to me very often. Moments where I was awake only in the strictest medical sense. Darkness and fear still remained. A chance to test my manhood. Laying motionless, I hoped to ally the windows dim predawn light to my purpose. I turned my head to the right and opened my eyes. Shuddering with fear, I saw him beside me.
“This can’t be,” I thought.
Hoping that evil can only see motion, I laid perfectly still except for my widening eyes. Finally more light. Looking back now, I can’t blame the stuffed pink penguin my daughter had left in the bed yesterday morning for shedding a tear. I doubt poor Pingu had ever imagined the depth to which a man’s vocabulary would dive upon realizing he’s a fool.