Parent / Teacher Conference

The pus green painted cinderblock walls stared back at me. Yeesh, another local government issued cubicle, masquerading as a classroom.

A suspended ceiling lurked above my head. Fluorescent lights in it buzzed angrily, one of which winked like a teenager on his fourth Red Bull. Several off-white ceiling tiles sported round, brown water stains as if needing a pair of Depends. Posters scattered on the wall shouted desperate motivational messages over the ennui of the surroundings.

So, this is where my kid spends two hours of her school day. Very asylum-ish.

“Can we sit down already?” Annie, my goth wannabe, droned bumping against my back.

“We appear to be early,” I said. A group of tables sat to one side of where row upon row of desks marched in formation across the linoleum floor, a dull sea of vaguely beige squares, with mixtures of brown and black streaks across them. I’d seen toilets with that appearance, usually in public settings, and shortly before the automatic flush carried it away.

“C’mon.” I moved to the table, pulled out a chair and sat down.

My hooded vision of fury and apathy glided across the floor, and plopped in a chair next to me. Her glaring eyes swept across the wasteland of the room. “Why are we here, again?”

“The D you’re getting in Government. I want to know what’s going on.”
“I told you already. I don’t care about government.”
“Nobody cares about government. Particularly those running it, but you need to know why you get sodomized every April 15th.”
She cocked her head. “What’s sodomy?”

It dawned on me that this was yet another example of inappropriate topics my wife warned me not to mention to Dark and Stormy. “I’ll explain later.” Yeah, I’m going to parenting hell — as redundant a phrase as there ever was.

A figure appeared in the doorway, dressed in a formal shirt, tie and pressed slacks. I recognized Mr. Cox from the sharply drawn pictures my daughter doodled on her worksheets, minus the devil horns and projectile vomiting. His gray-haired visage pulled up, and he sighed, like a prisoner approaching the gallows, or perhaps a crowded shower.

An artificially whitened smile appeared. “Hello, Mr. Mills.” He extended a hand mechanically.

I pump it. Perhaps the eyes will rotate, or his head will spin, but sadly no such reaction. So, I sighed as well. “Thank you for taking the time to meet with us.”
Mr. Cox slid into a chair without ruffling his starched outer garments.

Truly impressive.

“Not a problem. Always happy to meet the parents of my students.” As Elvira’s gaze continued to laser holes in the tabletop, Mr. Cox attempts to peer past the edges of her hood to make eye contact. “Nice to see you again, Anne.”

This should be interesting, either she’ll shriek and spider-walk out the door, or unhinge her jaw and attempt to devour his soul. Instead, she smiles, or what passes as a smile, and mumbles an, “Uh huh.” The look on her face seems familiar, and I make a mental note to add Miralax to the grocery list.

Mr. Cox, ignoring the daggers being tossed his direction, turns back to me. “Well, let’s get started.” From a manila folder, he pulled a sheaf of paper and slid it over to me.
I look at the missive. “What’s this?”

“Everything we’ve covered.” He pushed over a single sheet of paper, with a large multi-columned table filled with data. “Here are the scores Annie has received so far.”
The data table was extensive and depressing. Poor scores across the board, particularly on vocabulary.

“I see vocabulary is an issue. How is it being taught?”
“Everything is in a PowerPoint. I give printed copies to everyone to put in their binder.”

I’d seen the overstuffed binder filled with grayish pages with thumbnails of slides, eight to a page. “I haven’t seen a textbook come home.”
“We don’t have one. That’s why I use the PowerPoints.”
No textbook? “How does a PowerPoint replace a textbook?”
“I lecture,” Cox replied.

I flashed Annie a glance, and she rolls her eyes, so much that I wonder if she can see the interior of her skull. Nonetheless, based on an unfortunate amount of personal experience, I know lecture bores the snot out of her. “Ah, okay. What are your lectures based on then?”
“The SOLs.”

As I suspected, my child’s curriculum is being driven by Virginia’s Standards of Losers, the locally fermented Kool-Aid and cyanide homage to the federal effort to Leave All Children Behind. I’m torn whether to laugh or cry at the government mandated efforts to transform the next generation into academically hollowed out basement dwellers. “I take it the idea is that everything they learn here will help them pass the SOL test?”

“Yes, but based on what I’ve seen from Anne so far, she isn’t going to pass.” He passed a bunch of papers. “Here is a summary of what the SOL’s cover. I’d memorize them.”
My eyes strain to make out the minuscule print. “Uh, okay.”
Cox looked up at the clock. “I have another conference in five minutes.”

I glanced out the door, another parent and child are cooling their heels in the hallway. “Let’s go,” I said tapping Annie on the shoulder. She bolts upright and heads for the hallway like her ass is on fire. I shook Cox’s hand. “Thanks, I’ll help her study.” I race after my charge galumphing toward the exit.

Before we reach the door to the parking lot, I catch up with the Queen of Darkness. “Here,” I said, shoving the cheat sheets into her hand. “Memorize this, and you’ll be fine.”

She stared at the papers as if they were used Kleenex. “I can’t force myself to take this all in. None of it sticks.”

Somehow the irony struck me. “Well, at least you know what sodomy is.”

No turning back, again.

The dull orange and yellow Midwest sky glowed through the windows, casting a yellowish hue onto everything in the house. Christine Ritter looked up from the desk she sat behind and admired the pale beauty before her. One last sunset. Tomorrow began a new decade. The end of the 70’s and the start of the 80’s. She hadn’t given the idea much thought, but there it was… change was inevitable.

She tore away from the color streaming through the windows and examined her desk. Envelopes lay stacked in neat piles, some to be paid, others to be mailed, and a few that had to wait. Still, others were stuffed with colored sheets of paper filled with threats. Every month the piles shifted in size and substance, but the last collection continued to grow, despite her best efforts. One envelope with hospital letterhead, sat alone, perched upright, where she had last scanned it. The edge was ripped open, but contents were not read. She already knew what it contained. The pink sheen of the letter inside was telling enough.

She had made a mess of things, once again, and the consequences continued to stalk her. How much simpler it had been years ago, when she was still married to Fred. His government job covered the bills, and then some, so she didn’t need to continue working as a nurse. But the more Fred advanced in his all-consuming career, the more she felt alone, even after the kids were born. Days stretched into weeks, weeks into months until it was hard to tell when one day began, and another ended. Often, it fell on her to raise the kids, Joanna and Jonathan. Her gaze flicked up to a picture on the wall.

Her frozen smiling image stared through the almost translucent sheen of a glass frame. In front of her stood Joanna, sporting a grim look of determination, and Jonathan wearing a typically mischievous grin. Not present, as usual, was Fred, lured by the siren song of a government paycheck to abandon his family. Resentment bubbled up, forcing her to turn away.

But that was a convenient excuse. Even with Fred around, unhappiness lingered like a toxic cloud. He resented her for reasons she had no control over, and no means to correct. Their marriage had been the climax of a whirlwind romance, between a young expatriated British nursing student, and an Ivy League lawyer. Oh, those had been heady days, a far cry from the hardscrabble life back in England, and the venomous relationship with her cold-hearted mother.

But for every ounce of joy she extracted from her existence, there came a pound of misery. The honeymoon ended when Fred took her to meet his family back in the homestead in Massachusetts. Instead of welcoming her as a new daughter-in-law, the Ritters treated her like a mistake and made it clear their son had erred in bringing a British tramp into their private social circle. The resulting crisis isolated Fred from his family and soured their relationship.

The birth of Joanna, and Fred’s success as a government attorney, quickly masked the difficulties they were having. But after Jonathan was born, all the old problems resurfaced, except now, Fred began to treat Christine as if she had somehow ‘trapped him’ in marriage — words Fred’s mother had thrown in her face at their last meeting. The growing bitterness and resentment sent her reeling, not just because it was unfair and untrue, but Fred’s reaction (like his family) had been evocative of how her mum reacted after her father’s death.

Scared, and alone, she escaped with the children. But like many of her trade-offs, the terms were unbalanced. The loss of a comfortable middle-class life was not made up by a paycheck-to-paycheck existence trying to make ends meet on a small-town nurse’s salary. For some time, she considered going back to England, where she’d grown up, and her elderly mother still lived. But there the bridges were burnt as well, and besides, the kids were US citizens, not English.

That always seemed to be the recurring theme in her life. Fate or bad decisions slammed doors in her face, such that once a path was chosen, or forced upon her, the only option was to go forward. No turning back, again.

The desk was in order. Everything should be where it could be dealt with.  Just one more item to deal with. She opened the drawer and withdrew a handwritten note. Tri-folding the message, she slipped it and a key into an empty envelope. Flipping it over, she wrote on the front, “Joanna” and left it centered on the desktop. After pulling the cover down, she stood and made her way to the kitchen.

Joanna lingered at the sink, drying the last of the plates from dinner. The sixteen-year-old was tall, thin and pale, in every respect like Christine, except for the hair. The long gorgeous black mane hung loose, down to the small of her back. Nothing comparable to Christine’s short red locks. The color and texture were Fred’s, as was her grit and determination to get things completed the way she wanted them done. All Fred. It would carry her far; farther than her own dithering ways had managed to accomplish.

“You finished, love?” Christine asked.

“Yes, Mom,” Joanna answered without looking at her. “I would have been done sooner, but as usual, Jonathan wouldn’t help.” The pique in her voice was evident.

She tried not to laugh, remembering all the times her own brother Sean had mysteriously vanished when chores needed attention. “I will say something to him,” she announced.

“I wouldn’t waste my breath. He doesn’t do anything.”

Because you don’t know how to ask. Ah, poor Joanna, so strong and efficient in many ways, but clueless about boys.

“Not to worry, love. Let me handle it.”

Joanna harrumphed, tucked the last plate away and hung the dish towel on its holder. She turned, and said through gritted teeth, “I’m sure he’ll do whatever his mommy says.” The contempt on her face was unmistakable.

Christine hated that look, reflective of a well-known fact: Jonathan was her favorite. What chance did the straight-laced, humorless girl have against her polar opposite? At least their relationship wasn’t as cold as the one she had with her mother. But even so, it was a tad more than sullen indifference.

Before Joanna could slip past, Christine reached out and touched her shoulder. The girl stopped and fixed her with a questioning look. “I love you.”

The young girl searched her eyes for a moment. “I love you too, Mom.” Then she slipped away toward the stairs.

Christine felt her eyes water but wiped it away. Joanna was strong. Far stronger than Christine had been at the same age.

She walked into the living room, and spotted, sitting sideways in his chair, her youngest, Jonathan. The boy’s wavy hair lay stacked on his head like it was trying to escape the hand running through it. He looked up from his library book, one of several piled near him. “Hey, Mom.”

“Jonathan,” she stated, with as much gravitas as she could muster. “You were supposed to help Joanna with the dishes.”

“I did,” he said with a shrug. “I carried them to the sink.”

“You were supposed to help clean them.”

“Technically I did,” he said looking back at the book.

“Washing and cleaning the dishes involves more than just carrying them to the sink.”

He looked at her sidelong. “Oh, I see. Thanks for the clarification.”

She walked over and stood next to him. “What are you reading?”

“The World According to Garp.”

“What’s that about?”

He stared up at her with an exasperated look. “Why don’t you read it yourself?”

A flare of annoyance sailed through her. That was so much like Fred. “Never mind.”

He quickly backpedaled. “It’s a complicated book to explain in simple terms.”

“I see.” The boy was being pretentious, but not far off the mark. She read out of obligation, not for recreation. But she also saw the hurt on his face, knowing that he had, once again, made her out to be a simpleton.

“Sorry, Mom.”

She patted him on the head, then knelt next to his chair. “Be nicer to Joanna.”

He smiled and rolled his eyes. “What else did she accuse me of?”

“No, Jonathan.” She caught his chin between her thumb and index finger and turned him to look directly at her. The brown-eyed gaze stared at her through thick glass lenses. “I’m serious. She is going to need you, even when she says she doesn’t.”

“Okay,” he answered with a confused expression.

She stood and started to walk away.

“Are you okay?” Jonathan asked.

She stopped and looked at him. “I love you. Good night.”

“Goodnight, Mom.”

With weary legs, she trudged up the steps toward the bedrooms. Jonathan was smart, far outstripping most of his classmates, and had even skipped a grade. He loved the change, but Joanna did not. Now her little brother was in the same grade as she was. Still, she protected her undersized and underage sibling. They were good kids and deserved better. If she hadn’t been so rash to run-off, maybe she and Fred could have worked something out. But she stopped that thought train. Too little, too late.

She paused at a picture of her mom and dad. As if he was withholding the punch-line of a joke, Joseph Patrick Flannery sported a mischievous grin, like that echoed in Jonathan’s pictures. He was fun, and humorous, in a way she could not resist, making her a daddy’s girl. That stood in stark contrast to the grim visage of Clara, her mother, who stared with dark forbidding at Christine. The look sent shivers down her spine.

When she was sixteen, her father died, and the all the warmth in the family went with him. Clara recoiled when Christine reached out to her and filled the space between them with sullen silence, and stinging rhetoric. Unable to fix what didn’t exist, a few years later she escaped to America to become a registered nurse. Days after finishing her training, she met Fred. A few weeks later, they married. After a quick honeymoon, and he whisked her off to meet his family in Massachusetts. That’s when the trouble started.

Christine sat on the bed, and reread the letter received from Fred on her birthday, the 20th of December. When she had first seen it was from his law firm, a tingle of fear went down her spine. Those fears were confirmed by finding a court order demanding custody of the kids. However, that wasn’t the only malice in the envelope. No, Fred had been busy, thorough, and determined. Other notes included a marriage annulment, and an inquest to the INS to investigate her naturalization status. But the pinnacle of the malicious onslaught was a letter convincing the state to revoke her RN licensure. Like a good lawyer, he had slammed all the doors and shut all the windows.

As night poured into the room, she dropped the papers on the bed next to her and reached for the IV needle. With practiced precision, she found a vein in her left arm and slid the catheter under the skin. No need to sterilize, this time. With her right hand, she adjusted the morphine drip then lay back staring out the open window. The last slivers of light slipped away, and the room and everything in it filled with darkness. No turning back, again.

 

 

 

 

Family Business: An excerpt from Jonathan of Jamesville High

Kip ran sprints alongside Jake. “You ready for Centerville?” Jake asked between gasps.

“As ready as I’ll ever be.”

“I heard college recruiters will be there.”

“Yup, that’s the word–West Virginia, Pitt and Ohio State, to name a few.”

“So which one do you want knocking on your door?”

Kip shrugged. “Don’t care, so long as they do.”

“I hope it’s Ohio State. That’s where I’m going.”

“You’re that sure?” Kip asked, looking at him sideways.

“Hey, I’m a legacy. My old man was in the class of ‘87, and he gives them lots of money.”

Must be nice. “Doing well, is he?”

“People need cars, don’t they?”

Right, and everyone came through Mike DeLong’s Ford dealership. “I guess so.” He stopped to catch his breath.

Jake looked over his shoulder. “Say, is that Megan?”

Kip turned and saw a hunched figure, shivering on the metal bleacher seats. Like a shadow, everything about her was dark–black hair, black clothes, nails and lipstick, except for the eyes, blue as arctic ice, and just as cold. My sister, the human icicle. He walked toward her.

“Come to watch practice?”

She rolled her eyes. “Hardly. I need a ride, and you have a car.”

“Why don’t you hop on your broom and ride home?”

“Hah, hah. Jerk.”

Jake stepped around Kip. “Hey Megs, you’re looking fine these days.”

“Shut up, shitbag.”

Jake raised his hands defensively. “Wow, do you kiss your mom with that mouth?”

Meg’s eyes narrowed, but she said nothing.

Looking at his watch, Kip said, “I have another ten-minutes.” He saw her shiver again. “Here,” he slipped off his sweatshirt and handed it to her. “Put this on, before you freeze to death.”

She looked away, ignoring him. He pursed his lips and looked at Jake. “C’mon, Jake. We have some more sprints to do.” Jake turned and started walking away. Kip draped the sweatshirt across Meg’s shoulders anyway. As he stepped away, she shrugged, and it fell on the bench.

Shaking his head, he turned away and felt the probing fingers of the cold November air. No good deed goes unpunished.

Twenty minutes later, while running sprints, he stole a glance and saw Megan still sitting, but with his sweatshirt over her shoulders.

Honestly. Was that so damned hard?

 

By a quarter to five, practice finished. Kip couldn’t find Megan anywhere. Maybe she found a ride home? Nah, nobody would take that risk. He walked to his car, a ten-year-old Dodge Charger. The green paint still gleamed, though scratches and rust spots marred the overall finish. I hope to God this thing starts; it hates cold weather. He put the key in the door and a shadow appeared next to him. With a start he turned to see blue eyes glaring at him.

He frowned. “Is there some reason you can’t let people know you’re there? You almost gave me a heart attack.”

“You need to have one for that to happen,” Megan groused.

Kip ignored the comment and unlocked the doors. A sandy colored head appeared on the other side of the car.

“Hey Kip, can you give me a ride? I have to go the gym downtown.”

Kip winced, Sam had known he was going there after dropping Megan at home. It was hard to say no. “Can’t you find anyone else to take you?”

“Of course not,” Megan growled. “No one would be caught dead with a creeper like him.”

Sam retorted, “Since you look dead anyway, it shouldn’t be a problem. What do you say, Kip?”

He sighed. “All right, get in.” Sam flashed Kip a grin and slipped into the front seat.

“I’m not riding with him,” Megan stated.

“Not now,” Kip said. “You won’t be in the car with him for long, and you’ll be in the back seat.”

“No.”

“C’mon Megan, stop being a jerk. You wanted a ride; I will give you a ride.”

“Either he goes or I go.”

“You’re being an ass, stop it.”

Meg turned away and began walking toward the street.

Kip turned and shouted at her, “I’m not the one being unreasonable here.” She kept walking.

Dammit! Serves her right. He opened the door and slipped into the driver’s seat.

“What’s her problem?”

“You, it seems.”

“Me? How so?”

Where do I start? “Forget it. Let’s go.”

Sam watched Megan disappear around the corner. “You know, she wouldn’t be half bad looking if she didn’t dress like a corpse all the time.”

“Shut up. I don’t want you talking about my sister.”

“Sorry.” He dug into his pocket and pulled a small plastic package full of pre-rolled joints. “Since we don’t have Mother Teresa with us, let’s have a toke.”

“No,” Kip said. “You know I don’t do that crap anymore, and don’t smoke in here. It stinks up the car.”

“Man, you’re a downer.”

“Whatever.” I couldn’t give a shit. If you weren’t my cousin, I’d kick your ass out of my car. With a roar, the car started. Thank you Jesus!

The Information Session — Redux

Twenty-two year old Al Huxlee waited in the line leading to a doorway labeled, “BDCS Information Session.”  A silver-haired man stood in front of him, smoking a cigarette.  The gray noxious cloud infiltrated the young man’s sinuses, causing him to sneeze.

The older man turned to look at him but continued to puff away.  Around the man’s neck was a lanyard with a clear plastic pocket.  Inside Al could see a white card with the name “Dan Aligeari” written on it. In his hand was a crumpled looking paper bag, with the letters GM on it.

Al quickly recovered.  “Do you mind?”

“Actually, I do.”

“That’s not very polite, or healthy for that matter.”

“So what, it’s not like I care about either of those.”

Al frowned.  Were all veteran reporters this rude?  He hoped not.  It was at that point he noticed eight holes had been punched through Dan’s plastic pocket and name card.  “Why are there holes in your name card?”

Dan grinned, but it looked more like a grimace.  “You’ll see.”  He turned and made his way into the doorway.

A tall, thin man wearing wire-rim glasses grabbed Dan’s name card pocket and stared at it critically.  “Back again, Mr. Aligeari?”

Dan smirked.  “Dr. Lenny Castro, I presume?” he said, then blew smoke in the man’s face, causing him to gag.  Still, the man grabbed and hole punch another notch in Dan’s name card.

A short bald man stepped out and snatched the bag out of Dan’s hands.  “Thank you for the snacks.”  He quickly disappeared.

With a chuckle, Dan moved past Dr. Castro.

“Next please,” the doctor stated, rubbing his eyes.  Al stepped forward.

Dr. Castro glanced at him.  “Dr. Soros. We’ve got a new one.”

A short, bald, bearded man stepped forward with a plastic lanyard.  “Hello, young man.  What is your name? I’m Dr. Josef Soros.”

“Al Huxlee, of BNW Magazine.”

Dr. Soros scribbled the young man’s name on a white card and inserted it into the lanyard.  “Very good.  Always looking for more coverage,” he reached up and placed the lanyard around his neck.

Castro seized hold of the lanyard card pocket, hole punched it and the name card inside.

Al glanced down at the name card.  “What is the hole punch for?”

Dr. Castro yawned.  “Quality control.  Next please!”

Dr. Soros seized hold of Al’s arm and dragged him into the large conference room.  “Have a seat.  Good day.” He let go and turned away.

Al rubbed his limb and surveyed the room.  Most seats were filled, but most everyone was slouched over, with a glazed look in their eyes.  This first magazine assignment was proving to be a real chore, and not at all what he’d hoped it would be.  Even worse, the only seat available was next to Dan, but at least he no longer sucked on a cancer stick.

Oh well, let’s get this over with.  He slid into the seat next to the reporter.  The man looked at him. “I see you got tagged too.”

Al nodded, but then his stomach grumbled.  His early morning Starbucks coffee continued to grind away at his intestines.  “Is there anything to snack on around here?”

Dan waved at a table set by the wall.  “Over there, but don’t eat the green wafers.”

“Why?”

A grimace-like smile once again appeared on the older man’s face.  “Because it might disagree with you.”  With a barking laugh, he nearly fell out of his chair.

Al turned away and walked over to the table.  The man is frigging nuts.  Several rows of water bottles stood next to a picked-over pile of bagged pretzels, and a huge stack of green wafers.  He latched onto a water bottle, and a pretzel bag.  Peripherally, he also eyed the wafers.  What is wrong with these?  He chose one and sniffed it.  An odd sickly-sweet smell came from it, as well as a strong feeling of unease.  With a toss, he flipped the wafer back on the pile and returned to his seat.

As he slid in, Dan looked over.  “Good choice.”

A thump echoed from the back of the room, Al turned just as Dr. Castro and Soros bolted the doors shut, and walked past to stand on either side of a huge projector screen.

Dr. Soros spoke up.  “The presentation will start shortly.” He turned to Dr. Castro.  “If you will do the honors, sir.” He handed a small black remote to Dr. Castro.  The man took it and stared at it blankly.

Dr. Castro banged on the device. “It won’t turn on, Soros.”

Dr. Soros gritted his teeth. “Try pushing the red button.” Castro stared at the remote blankly. “Use the other side.”

Castro flipped it over. “Right you are!” Instantly the projector whirred, and the screen filled with the image of a slide labeled, “BDCS — an information Session” He looked up pleased with himself, before turning to address his audience. “Welcome ladies and gentlemen to today’s disease of the week. Today I have a video presentation covering a newly discovered syndrome called BDCS or Brain Dead Conservative Syndrome.” Castro glared at the laser pointer and started pushing buttons. A red light shot out and struck Soros between the eyes.

“CASTRO! You’re going to blind me!” Castro glanced around perplexed but swiftly redirected the pointer to the screen, but not before nearly blinding the front row of his audience.

“Ahem,” Castro continued, “This syndrome first appeared in 2008 during the Presidential election, and has pronounced symptoms and sadly, no known cure – not even a full frontal lobotomy can eradicate it. The following video will illustrate the effects of the disease.”

Castro pushed a button on the remote, and a video segment began of a neatly dressed woman sitting in a restaurant. A waiter approaches the table.

“Ma’am,” the waiter began, “Can I help you?”

The woman looks up. Castro pauses the video. The screen image freezes on the woman’s face. “Notice the crossed-eyes; this is caused by only being able to see extremes and nothing in the middle.” The video plays again.

“Are you talking to me?” the woman replies. “Because I don’t like your tone.”

The waiter pauses. He glances about and then shrugs his shoulders. “Would you care to hear the specials?”

“Are you trying to limit my options? Did the government tell you to say this?” The video pauses again.

“Note the victim’s intense paranoia and overly sensitive nature. This makes simple conversation almost impossible.” The video advances.

The waiter clears his throat. “Our special today is spaghetti with …”

“Are you saying my spine is like linguine?”

“No ma’am spaghetti is just the special.”

“Okay, I’ll have the fish. Does it come from the Sea of Galilee and was it prepared by a rabbi?”

The waiter stared at her a moment. “Um, no, it came from the Atlantic, and Jose, our cook, prepares it.”

The woman glared at the waiter. “Jose? I see. He must be a Canadian illegal. Can I see his green card?”

The waiter began tapping his pencil on his order pad. “Jose is from New Jersey. He was born here.”

“I need to see his birth certificate.”

“I understand.” The waiter shook his head. “That is not going to happen.”

The lady waggled a finger at him, “The Constitution says I have that right.”

“You’ll have to show me that passage then,” the waiter continued.

The woman paused. “It must be in the Bible then.”

“Somehow I doubt that. Do you still want the fish?” The video pauses again.

“Notice how the syndrome twists the thought process to assert beliefs contrary to facts, and the reliance on the Bible when the victim’s logic trail becomes unsustainable.” The video begins again.

“Yes,” the woman replies, “but I see the price is ten dollars, yet I only want to pay six.”

“I can give you a half order if you like.”

“No, I expect a full order for just six dollars.”

The waiter snapped his notepad closed. “I’m sorry, but that can’t happen. Would you like to speak with the manager?”

“Yes, I would, and in particular I want to know his plans to redistributing my wealth to the other customers.”

“Oooookay,” the waiter replied. He turned and walked back to the kitchen. After a few moments, he returned with a supervisor.

“Ma’am, what is the problem?”

“Socialism and high taxes,” the woman replied.

“I don’t see how this is relevant to you completing your order. Can you please …”

“I SAID SOCIALISM AND HIGH TAXES!” the woman shouted.

The manager jerked back, “I see no need to start …”

“THIS IS A SOCIALIST PLOT TO TAKE MY MONEY!”

“I’m sorry, but you need to leave,” the manager shot back. She looked at the waiter and gave him a thumbs-out signal. The waiter pulled the woman’s chair away from the table.

“LOOK! ABUSE! I AM BEING DENIED MY RIGHTS! THE BLACK HELICOPTERS ARE COMING FROM THE UN; MY NAME IS BEING ADDED TO THE DEATH PANELS!” After much scuffling, the woman, dragged by the waiter, disappears into the background. The video stops.

“As you can see, attempts to converse with individuals suffering from this disease usually ends up in shouting matches,” Castro said. “Any questions?”

Silence greeted them before a hand tentatively rose.

Dr. Castro perked up.  “Yes?”

“What can be done to fix this problem?”

Dr. Soros interjected.  “I think the only solution is to ask the government to study the issue, and in four to five years legislated ways to liquidate such thoughts and ideas out of existence.”

Dan nudged Al.  “Watch this.”  He raised his hand.  “Given the current monetary situation in the US, how do propose to pay for this?”

Dr. Castro answered, “Clearly, if the money is not available, Congress should impose a tax. I would call this a freedom tax to free us from people who believe differently from the accepted norm. Because as all of us in academia know, we need to protect the general public from people who believe that the government is the enemy because clearly, the government is not – the only enemy we face is the thoughts and opinions of those that can’t be controlled.”

Soros stood up. “Yes, and if we are successful, our next step is to revisit our patent on lying.  We had hoped that would have enhanced our revenue stream, but we ran into an intractable problem.”

Dan spoke up.  “Which was?”

“No one believed us.  That said, however, we should have better success with our infringement lawsuit against Fox News, for their blatant attempts to usurp our patent to deceive the public.”  Soros turned to Castro.  “Would that be fair to say?”

“Yes,” Castro replied, “and balanced too.”

Dr. Castro pointed to a long table along the opposite wall from the snacks.  “Well everyone, time for evaluations.  See the feedback forms on the table.”

Dan stood up and filed over the table.

Al followed along slowly.  What is this nonsense?  He checked his watch. Man, I wish I could have the last half hour back.  No wonder no one wanted to come to this session.  To add to his disgust, by the time he reached the table, Dan was smoking another cigarette.  Oh, crap, not again.

Dan turned and handed Al a feedback form.  With a frown, Al read it:

I believe that BDCS is a disease that should be eradicated through government interdiction and this document is an affidavit that whatever measures are necessary to accomplish this have my full support.  I hereby waive all my rights under the Constitution.  Sign here.

Al looked over at Dan, was rolling the wadded up form around in his hand.  “What the hell is this?”

“It is the future,” Dan replied.

Dr.  Castro checked his watch.  “Sorry folks, we are out of time. Please line up at the exits.”

Al shrugged and turned toward the door they come in.  But it remained locked.

“Nope, the exit is over here,” Dan said behind him.  Al turned and found everyone lining up at the door in the far corner.

Dan and Al walked over and stood in line.  Dr. Castro stood next to the doorway, his hole punch in hand. As each person handed the feedback form, Castro examined it.  For some, the man hole punched the name card pocket, for others he took the lanyard and handed the person a green card.  Everyone disappeared through the doorway.

Dan stepped up.  Castro put his hand out, and the older man dropped the wadded up form into the palm of his hand.

“I see,” Dr. Castro said, a thin-lipped frown on his face.  “Give me the lanyard.”

Still puffing on his cigarette, Dan pulled off the lanyard and dropped it into Dr. Castro hand.  The doctor dug out a red card and handed it to him.

“Thanks,” he said, blowing smoke into the man’s face.

Coughing, Castro waved him through the doorway.

Al stepped up and handed Castro his unsigned form.  The doctor looked it over, frowned, grabbed the lanyard, and yanked it toward him.  Clip.  Another hole appeared in the name card.  What the hell?  “What is the hole punch for?”

“You’ll find out.” The doctor pointed toward the doorway.

With a shrug, Al stepped through into a darkened hallway.  A light further down the passage revealed a door with a glowing “Exit” sign above it.  But in the center of the hallway, just before the exit was two doors, opposite each other, where a security guard stood under a dim light.  Some else stood in the hallway, a short distance in front of the guard.  From where he stood, Al could not see who it was.

As Al approach, he could see that the person was Dan, and he was fiddling with a pack of cigarettes.  “What’s going on?”

Dan turned and held up his red card.  Al noticed a strange light in his eyes.  “I’ve got to go, but I want you to have something.”  He handed his cigarettes to him.

“I don’t smoke.”

“Doesn’t matter, you will eventually.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ll find out.”

“Everyone keeps saying that, but I’m no closer to understanding what that means that I was, to begin with.”

Dan shrugged and nodded toward the cigarettes.  “You will.  See you later.”  He turned to face the security guard and held up his red card.

The guard, so far soundless and with a minimum of movement pointed to Al’s right, toward the door which was black and had the label “D527” on it. Dan pulled it open, stepped inside, and turned around to look back the way he came.

Al waved, but Dan didn’t respond.  He closed his eyes as the door slid shut.

“Weird,” Al replied.  He tried to step around the guard and head toward the exit. The man put his arm out and stopped him.

“You don’t have a green card, so you must wait, then go there,” the guard pointed to Al’s left, toward a wooden door labeled CR.

“What am I waiting for?”

A deep hum erupted from the walls, along with an ear piercing high pitched wail.  While the security guard did not react, Al had to cover his ears.  Good God, that’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard.  Thankfully, it did not last.

The guard turned and opened the door marked D527.  A brown bag sat on the floor.  He picked it up and turned to Al.  “Take this, and go.”

Al turned and stepped through the CR door.  He blinked.  The conference room entrance was just to his right, along with a long line waiting to enter.  Many had lanyards, but some did not.  Dr. Soros grabbed his arm.  “There you are, get in line.  The session begins in five minutes.”

“But I just attended the session a few minutes ago,” Al retorted.

Dr. Soros did not answer. Instead, he sailed through the conference room door.  In his place stood Dr. Castro, hole punch in hand.

What was going on? Everything was repeating itself, except this time, he had a lanyard, and a bag, like Dan, did the last time.  Wait.  The bag.  He looked at it.  The letters DA was stamped on it.  He opened it.  Inside were some green wafers.  How strange.  He picked one up and sniffed it.  It had the same sickly sweet smell as the wafers he had found earlier, along with some else, something he could easily recognize – cigarettes.

“Back again?” the doctor said, looking at his name card.  He grabbed it and punched a hole.

Dr. Soros snatched the bag out of his hand.  “Thanks, I’ll take that to the snack table.”

“Next.”

“Wait a minute. Why am I going through this again? When do I get to leave?”

Dr. Castro smiled thinly. “When you are properly re-educated.”

“Re-educated? What are you talking about?”

Dr. Castro smiled at him. “You’ll see.”

Al felt the sudden urge to light up.