Thanks for sharing the love with us in 2013. It was amazing!
Thanks for sharing the love with us in 2013. It was amazing!
At exactly 10:00 a.m. the next morning, Bicky arrived at the Tirabi residence uncharacteristically dressed in a pair of khaki pants and a polo shirt. Kori and Jack were sitting at the kitchen table when he knocked at the front door. Kori jumped.
“You expecting company?” Jack asked.
“No.” She had called Jack the minute Bicky pulled out of the driveway the previous night and Jack had picked up on the first ring as if waiting for her call. They’d talked into the small hours where night blurs into day and the grandest ideas are born. After a marathon phone session, Jack showed up on the front step looking hanged-dogged and hopeful. Kori invited him up to her room where they’d continued their conversation, among other things, and now they were pleasantly exhausted. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, the fact that they hadn’t seen each other in a while, or that Jack had made sufficient reparations along with all the right promises, but whatever it was, when Jack proposed that they get back together, Kori acquiesced. And she hadn’t again thought, until this precise moment, about Chris Kane. So while she sat, still as garden statuary, wondering about the odds of him being on the other side of the door, and if so, how to explain it away, Jack got up and answered it.
“Kori’s in the kitchen,” she heard Jack say as he and Bicky entered the kitchen. Kori let out every cubic inch of breath she’d been holding and smiled.
“Good night, I see,” Bicky said. Kori introduced the men.
“I heard all about you yesterday,” Bicky said, extending his hand.
Jack shot Kori a quizzical look and she blushed. “I was dreaming,” Kori said. “I’ll tell you about it later.”
“And I’ll keep all further comments to myself except to say that’s a very special lady,” Bicky said. “Should you have the good fortune for her to turn her unwavering gaze upon you, I suggest you rise to meet it.”
Kori popped up, planting a wet one on Bicky’s cheek. “I take back all the bad thoughts I had about you yesterday” Kori said. She gave Bicky a squeeze which he accepted stiffly, clearing his throat.
“It’s like hugging Gil,” Kori said to Jack. Bicky blushed at his own ineptness.
“They’re out in the barn,” Kori said. “Just Gil and Hart. Avery’s at the library working on the patent.”
Bicky nodded and whispered into Kori’s ear, loud enough for Jack to hear, “I think, my dear, that a mid-morning nap might do you wonders,” and he closed the door behind him.
“I think it’s an excellent idea,” Jack said, pulling Kori close. “No time like the present.”
The strains of Yo-Yo Ma’s cello on the soundtrack to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon filled every crevice, corner and cobweb in the barn. Gil practiced the martial arts techniques he learned from the movie using a broomstick and Max as his opponent. Hart reclined on the hammock, reading a backdated version of Omni magazine, one that waxed prophetically about the brilliance of an as then little known scientist by the name of Marty Tirabi who harbored radical theories and an insatiable appetite for breaking down paradigms. The article, written in 1983, donned Marty the proverbial new messiah of the scientific world, said his star was quick and rising, and that it was just a matter of time before he stood, not only the scientific community, but the world at large on its ear with some scintillating new breakthrough.
Hart stopped to watch Gil who executed first a side and then a roundhouse kick, both flawless. He poked the air with the broom handle while Max chased the other end. Waves of tenderness flooded Hart’s chest and rippled outward to his arms and legs, his fingers and toes, and kept on rippling until he felt the room go electric with it. God had given him back something that he’d been horribly denied, something minute yet infinite, small yet limitless. He breathed in the smell, like the air after a lightning storm, both burnt and wet at the same time, and gratitude filled him up so much that he got vertigo. He tossed the magazine aside and planted his feet on the floor. He felt like he’d received a divine download, a specific, yet wordless instruction from a source higher than himself. With guidance, this child could pick up the mantle his father was so unexpectedly forced to set down. And you’ll guide him…
The knock at the door made Hart jump and set Max to barking, but both relaxed when Bicky walked in. Hart walked over to greet his father-in-law, but Gil bumped past, throwing his arms around Bicky’s neck and his legs around his waist. Bicky reeled, then caught his balance, holding firmly to Gil with one arm and a support beam with the other. It was a light gesture, yet it landed in Hart’s stomach like an unexploded grenade, threatening to detonate with the import of it. The grandson Bicky would never have.
“What took you so long?” Gil yipped right in Bicky’s ear.
Bicky grimaced, patted Gil clumsily on the back, and set him down, slow and deliberate.
“You guys had a good day yesterday, I see,” Hart said. He lowered the volume on the stereo.
“Thank you.” Bicky said, rubbing his ears. Gil’s smile effloresced, a flower in full bloom.
“He’s got all kinds of ideas for marketing the TDU,” Gil said to Hart, “and he said that we can build a special wing in Akanabi and dedicate it to my Dad. Maybe even rename part of the company. But whatever we do, people are going to know all about him. By the time Bicky’s done, he’ll be as big as Thomas Edison.”
“Bigger,” Bicky said.
“Who do you think made the bigger contribution?” Gil said. “Edison or Bell?”
“Those are just the common names.” Hart said. “What about all those physicists, toiling away in anonymity. The ones who come up with the big theories that advance our understanding of the universe. Somebody needs to thank them. It can’t all be about the light bulb.”
Gil sat down on his stool, set his lips in a tight line and moved them back and forth across his teeth, apparently in deep concentration. “I think it’s got to be about the light bulb. Without that invention, everyone else is in the dark. Eating in the dark, swimming in the dark, making phone calls in the dark, even inventing in the dark.” He looked to Bicky for confirmation.
“Then we won’t stop until his name is synonymous with Edison. How’s that?”
“Excellent.” Gil smiled and jumped off his seat. “Let’s get started then. C’mon over.”
Bicky followed Gil to the TDU and stood in front of it. “So this is the machine with a hundred and one uses,” Bicky said. He pulled open the metal door and was met with a full blast of hot air. “Whoa,” he said and took a step back.
Gil nodded and raised his eyebrows. “Should have warned you. It gets pretty hot in there. Let me show you how everything works and then we can sit down with the drawings.”
“You joining us?” Bicky asked Hart.
“Go ahead,” Hart said. “Gil and I have already talked this through a bunch of times. I would like a fresh pair of eyes, though, in case there’s something we’ve missed.” Bicky nodded.
“Okay, Mr. Bicky.” Gil said. “This machine is small for what we want to do with it. In a real facility, the scale could be increased as much as you want. Twenty to one. Fifty to one – whatever.” Gil said. “In here,” Gil opened the TDU’s door and another blast of heat escaped, “is where we feed the beast. My dad excavated it twenty feet down to a fully-lined pit. Those side doors over there slide open,” he said, pointing to the wall. “We back the ATV into the barn. It’s got this little hydraulic cylinder that raises the front of the trailer bed – just like a dump truck – so the trash slides off the trailer right into the machine.“
“By the way, I called the bank and told them I no longer needed the financing,” Hart said, returning to the hammock.
“Thanks,” Bicky said, flashing a lopsided grimace.
Gil went over every square inch of the TDU. For his part, Bicky was unwavering in his focus and seemed enthralled, both in the presence of genius and in that which genius had wrought.
Half an hour later, Gil finished his tutorial and sat down on the swivel stool. “So. What do you think?” he asked. He pushed off and began spinning.
“I think,” Bicky said, “that this may be the most important, money-making invention I’ll see in my lifetime. It’ll reshape the world. Maybe even put us in Bill Gates’ league.”
Gil’s stopped spinning to scrunch his nose at Bicky, clearly not the answer he wanted.
Bicky let out a long, breathy sigh: “I’m sorry… that I never met your father. What vision. And now his dream — ”
“More like his nightmare, you mean.”
Gil jumped. Everyone turned around to see Jerry Dixon emerging from the shadows in the corner of the barn. “Because if you had the opportunity to shake his hand, well then that would mean he’d be alive and you wouldn’t be taking his product to market for him.”
“What the hell are you doing here?” Bicky hissed.
“Where did you come from?” Hart asked.
“How’d you get in?” Gil said.
“Through the door, buddy,” Jerry said. He walked over to Gil and tousled his hair as if he were a toddler. Gil grimaced and leaned away.
“I’ve been hanging out listening to all this lovey dovey crap. It is indeed heartwarming.” He glanced over at Hart. “No pun intended.”
Gil smoothed his straight hair over to the side- and scowled at Jerry.
“Just came by to see how it all turns out now that everyone’s become such fast friends.”
“Hart, get him out of here,” Bicky said.
“Bicky, what’s going on?” Hart asked.
“I fired him a few days ago.”
“Fired. Just like that,” Jerry said. “Can you believe it, Hart? After thirty-three years of loyal service. And for what?”
“I’m going to give you five seconds and then I’ll remove you myself.”
“I’ll tell you for what. Because Bicky Coleman, our Commander-in-Chief, the man we’d follow blindly into battle without a care for consequence, was disappointed in me. Who knew disappointment carried such a huge price tag?” Jerry huffed, walked over to the wall phone and pulled the receiver from it’s cradle.
“Hello, Operator? What’s the number for disappointment?” He smiled at Bicky, a sardonic, dripping thing, and yanked the phone off the wall, tossing it to the ground. “She doesn’t know,” he said. He shrugged, walked over to Gil and shooed him off the stool.
At first nonplussed, Gil’s confusion over what was happening changed to obstinance. He stalwartly refused to give up his stool until Jerry gave him a shove which sent him spiraling to the floor. Max lunged at Jerry, nipping the fleshy part of his hand, before Jerry managed to put Max in a choke hold and press him to his chest. Max stood with two paws off the floor, alternating between sucking air and baring his teeth.
“I’ll break his neck.”
“No!” Gil yelled.
Hart grabbed Max’s collar and Jerry released his grip. Max collapsed on the floor, panting for air. Hart picked him up, all seventy pounds, and deposited him in the hammock.
“Jerry, what the hell is your problem?” Hart was at Gil’s side, pulling him to his feet, dusting him off. He scooped Gil up and placed him in the hammock next to Max. “Stay,” he said to both of them. Bicky stood in the corner, eyeing the bulge in Jerry’s trouser leg.
Jerry rubbed his temples with both hands as if he had a headache. “Because I had a little dalliance with a woman that he cared nothing for, other than to control her,” Jerry said, responding to a question that no one had asked.
“Dalliance, my ass,” Bicky quipped. “She left you billions of dollars. Billion does not equal a dalliance. Just how long were you screwing her?”
“It really doesn’t matter, does it, Bicky? What matters is money. It’s all that matters.”
“You son-of-a-bitch,” Bicky said. He lunged for Jerry, swung and caught him with a glancing blow to the side of the jaw. It was like hitting granite.
Jerry neither reeled, nor blinked, but caught Bicky squarely with a sucker punch to the mid-section. “Oh, does that feel good,” Jerry said on contact.
Bicky groaned and doubled over, but pulled up and swung again. Jerry blocked Bicky’s fist and returned it with his own while Max barked in time with the punches. Gil watched in fascination as if these were the recorded antics of daytime television. Jerry’s military training gave him the upper hand, but Bicky’s years spent working out with a personal trainer made him a worthy opponent. Hart stared at them, momentarily stupefied, before his brain roused his body to action. The men were locked in an angry embrace, each fueled by years of swallowing their own bitter disappointments. Hart broke up the fight and held them at arms length, a referee between two boxers.
“Knock it off, dammit. There’s nothing to be done,” Hart said.
Bicky and Jerry stood glaring at one another, less than a few feet between them, inhaling each other’s fury, fueling their own. The ambient air, dank and fetid with the ghost of so much lost love, reeked of hopelessness.
“She’s dead. You both lost.”
“Why’d you come here, Jerry?” Hart snapped. “You have a hefty inheritance. Take it and go buy an island somewhere. Have some respect and leave the man to his grief.”
“Grief? The only thing Bicky Coleman grieves for is a bad investment,” Jerry said. He spit at Bicky’s feet, splattering the warm Italian leather. “Nothing else matters to him.”
“Why don’t you say something back” Gil said to Bicky, a note of pleading in his voice. He walked over from the hammock, Max in tow. Both fear and loss were reflected in Bicky’s crystal blue eyes. “Don’t let him say those mean things.”
“It’s you he needs to say something to,” Jerry replied. “Isn’t it, Boss?” Jerry smiled grimly, a gargoyle at the palace gate. “Something he’s going to have a hard time telling.” Jerry shook Hart off and sat back down on Gil’s stool.
Hart turned to Bicky. “What’s he talking about?”
“Still didn’t tell him?” Jerry asked. “Why am I not shocked.” Gil stared wide-eyed, alternating between Bicky and Jerry. Hart moved Gil and Max back to the hammock.
“Get out,” Bicky said.
“You know, son, here’s a lesson for you. Before you go into business with someone, make sure you have a good idea of their character. And barring that, make sure you get yourself a damn good attorney,” Jerry said. “At least do a background check.”
Jerry picked at his nails as if he had all the time in the world before looking Gil straight in the eye. “Do you know if it wasn’t for this guy, you’d still have parents?” He reached down to the leg of his trousers.
“What does that mean?” Gil asked. He turned to Bicky. “What does he mean?”
“Get Out!” Bicky yelled, his rage sputtering up, threatening to blow its sides. He took a step toward Jerry just as the former head of security for Akanabi Oil stood and pointed a 9 mm. at Bicky’s mid-section. Bicky halted in mid-stride.
“I mean, Bicky ordered me to have someone tail your parents the night they were killed. He really wanted those papers over there,” Jerry said, motioning toward the desk. “Told me to use all means, which, of course, I paid extra for.” Jerry cleared his throat. “It was me, by the way, torched your porch. I’m real sorry about that. In hindsight, it was sloppy and uncalled for.”
“You’re lying!” Gil screamed. He jumped down and grabbed the closest thing he could find, a snow globe. It was a clear plastic hemisphere sitting on a pink base and filled with water and faux snow. Plastic tropical fish swam inside and stirred up snow whenever someone shook it. The globe had been purchased during a family trip to Florida and for two months after, Gil slept with it every night. Now he heaved it across the room as hard as he could. It glanced off Jerry’s shoulder, hit the floor and landed with a distinct thud . Water leaked from the newly formed crack in the plastic and spread into a small, round puddle.
Bicky grunted and lunged for Jerry’s gun. Jerry fired and for an instant the room went quiet: the only sounds a whoosh of air as the bullet hurtled through time and space to its target, the sickening sploosh as it made contact. Hart pulled Gil and Max back. Bicky screamed in pain and collapsed in a heap on the ground. Gil’s head poked out from behind Hart’s back, his face a mixture of horror and awe.
Jerry smiled at Bicky, heaped on the floor like discarded packaging, clinging with both hands to his oozing thigh. Blood spread out, covering the distance in phases as it soaked into the fine cotton twill of Bicky’s pants, the smell of it acrid and strong. Jerry raised the gun to Bicky’s head and started to laugh, a maniacal, full-bodied thing that, like the whirling dervishes of Islam, showed no signs of relenting.
to be continued. . .
Hart sat on the bed in his hotel room reading the newspaper behind closed eyelids. Two sharp raps on the door startled him awake.
“Hold on,” Hart called. He rubbed his entire face with one hand before rising to look through the peephole.
“What the — ?” Hart said, throwing the door open.
Bicky held up a hand to silence him. “May I come in?”
Hart stepped aside to allow Bicky ingress. Bicky headed straight to the window.
“I’ve been calling you all day,” Hart said. “What the hell are you doing here?” Hart grabbed two beers out of the mini-fridge, popped the tops and set one down on the window sill next to Bicky. “And what happened to your hand?”
Bicky appraised the appendage as if it were an alien species, but said nothing so Hart switched topics.
“I’ve secured financing. But it means I have to sell out. Completely sell out. Every last stock certificate.” Hart gave this information some time to sink in, but Bicky didn’t answer, just stared out the window, his face glued to the view. “Look, I know what that could do to you…to the company. And I’m not trying to undermine you, Bicky, so if you can get the money together….”
“I spent the whole day with the kids.” Bicky stood as still as Billy Penn atop City Hall Tower, staring out over the Delaware, watching the ships come in. “She came back nicely, didn’t she?” he said, nodding toward the river. “Not even a trace of the spill is visible to the naked eye. And it’s only been what? Two months? He picked up his beer and raised the neck to tap Hart’s own. “To the healing power of nature.” Bicky took a seat on the window sill and turned to Hart, his entire body engaged.
It was the atypical nature of the gesture that made Hart uneasy. “I’m guessing you didn’t come here to talk about nature.”
Bicky shook his head. “I was wrong. Too many times over these years I’ve treated you with less than the respect you deserved.” Bicky picked up the beer, but did not drink. “You’re a fine engineer, and a fine son-in-law. Probably the best I’ve ever seen in both categories.” He set his beer down and stood up. “I just wanted to tell you that.”
Hart stared at Bicky, mouth agape. In the ten years he’d known his father-in-law, Hart had received more than his share of the booty for a job well done: new cars, six-figure bonuses, vacations in exotic settings, even a boat once, but this one small comment, mixed with confession, was the most profound and heartfelt gesture Bicky had ever made. Perplexed and more out of sorts than when Bicky first walked in, Hart stood up, too.
“Thanks,” he said. He looked at Bicky queerly for a moment until Bicky’s words sunk in. “The kids? I guess you’re talking about my kids?”
“Very fascinating family. I’ve been thinking about this all day and I’m prepared to make a deal that benefits everyone. Truly benefits everyone.”
“Tomorrow. Let’s meet at the Tirabis’ in the morning. Say ten?”
“You want to give me a glimpse into the future?”
“The thought struck me that you could benefit from an existing facility, not just for refining purposes, but for transport. We have pipelines all over the country bringing raw crude into our refineries. What if we reversed the process? Instead of pumping to us, we send the finished product, the stuff you distill from trash, away from us to be either sold or further refined around the country. We can run this without the additional capital and I predict….”
Hart’s smile was so wide, Bicky stopped in mid-sentence.
“What?” Bicky asked.
“Had you given me the chance on the phone that night…”
“Oh. You already thought of that, is it?” Bicky smiled, his trademark half-smile. “Thanks for humoring an old man.” Bicky patted Hart on the back and walked to the door. “Tomorrow.”
“The Tirabi kids know we’re coming?”
“Yes.” Bicky stood face-to-face with his son-in-law, his hand on the doorknob. “They are one loyal group. They wouldn’t deal with me at all until you were at the table. You should be proud of that. The ability to engender loyalty is a lost art.”
Hart smiled, but couldn’t formulate a response because of the large boulder in his throat. Bicky squeezed Hart’s shoulder and shook his hand at the same time.
“See you tomorrow, son.”
to be continued. . . .
Here is a writing challenge that is completely over the top: write with your non-dominant hand for one page. No more. More than one page is just torture.
The reasoning behind this exercise is similar to the logic behind writing by hand and not relying on the computer keyboard for one hundred percent of your writing output. Writing with your dominant hand allows your thoughts to flow unimpeded from your dazzling brain, down your graceful arm and onto the page in a liquid script. You learned to do this type of writing so long ago that the muscular memory is well established and you no longer need to think about how to grip the pencil, focus like a mountain lion, rear back, and assault the page. This type of writing is automatic, never requiring a second thought to secure a type of fluency, and elegance of process. You pick up the pen, you write.
When you write with a computer, you access both parts of your brain and manage a fairly linear process of calculating thought, interpreting electronic impulses, dashing off messages with lightning speed. You are capable of producing great amounts of written material quickly; if you are an accomplished enough typist, your fingers can almost keep pace with your thoughts. Likely however, you are able to dash off great tracts of prose produced at a formidable rate, interspersed with small interludes of calm while the thinking apparatus generates more material, whereupon the typing commences at high speed.
Alternately, writing by hand slows you down by a least half. The statelier pace of recording thoughts on the page also slows your mind down, and everything relaxes. Your brain has time to linger over thoughts, to meander down lanes of memory and drowse in the dapple shade of summer trees. You can write quickly, but you are still operating at about half-throttle, and there is a more reflective quality to your thoughts and ideas. You can immerse yourself into an idea, you may actually visualize it, take it in with your senses, spend some time with it, date it, get to know it’s quirks, understand the sweetness of it, savor each nuance of meaning before moving on to the next idea. Writing by hand is a tactile and timely experience. You feel the gravity of each word, pushing your pen around the paper. You smell memories; you taste nouns. The idea in your mind merges with your heart and produces lines on a page that more or less mean something. Writing by hand actually means writing by body. It’s not as if your hand is a separate unit from your shoulder, elbow, neck, or heart. You write with it all; because it’s all connected.
If writing by hand is a physical experience, writing with your non-dominant hand is meta-physical. It requires a concurrent focus just to grasp the pen, to align yourself with the paper, figure out at what slant to approach a line of dictation, how firmly or lightly to squeeze the pen. Suddenly, words with billboard-sized letters loom in your mind, waiting, while you work out the downward loop in your cursive f and move on. What an accomplishment!
Don’t try to be perfect –you’ll frustrate yourself– unless you were born a leftie and a well-intended but completely disconnected nun forced you to be normal by learning how to write and color and cut paper chains with your right hand. If this is the case, allow me to apologize on behalf of teachers everywhere. You were perfect the way you were, and no one had the slightest right to alter your natural impulses.
Write with your weaker hand –and as you do, you will notice that you have to loosen up. At first you’ll be all stiff and stilted, which will be of no discernible help at all. Struggle less, write more. It’s almost as if with less effort your writing becomes more legible, and the mess of spaghetti on the page begins to resemble actual letters connected to convey meaning. Start by practicing writing your name, then the names of the ones you love. Then gradually, work your way up to words and sentences. A paragraph becomes a grand achievement. Once you master the paragraph, work your way up to a page. Don’t worry about speed, it takes as long as it takes, and it isn’t a competition.
As you write with your weaker hand, you may begin to notice simplicity of thought emerging in your writing. As your neural pathways struggle to fire and connect, you may find your writing taking an intuitive leap, a creative catapult toward new meaning. While writing with your non-dominant hand is awkward, difficult, unseemly, unruly, undignified, it is also as unimaginably liberating as a good walk in the summer rain, as a slice of pizza for breakfast.
We all walk around with a virtual circus playing in our heads and hearts. We carry a lifetime of memories, and a universe of potential. We are at once a young child, and a wise mentor. We are co-workers, and doting grandparents. We are friends and dog-trainers. Vegetarians and comparison shoppers. We are none of us completely and one hundred percent just one thing or even the face we show the world. This is maybe just one of the things that make us such interesting and complex individuals. When we write with our dominant hand, our worlds remain intact, there is no color outside of the lines; all personalities more or less behave as expected. When you write with your non-dominant hand, buried thoughts may rise up to the conscious level, may veer outside the lines in splashes of magenta and vermilion. It becomes messy and a trifle chaotic, but it becomes something beautiful, too.
Writing with your non-dominant hand is a bit of a magic trick; now you see it, now you don’t. While you focus on your inelegant claw struggling to grasp a pen, hidden thoughts may trickle in; tiny hairline fractures may appear in the wall you’ve built around the creative juices; the wall itself may start to crumble just a little, and ideas you’d forgotten you had may just trickle in. Et voila! A dove materializes from a handkerchief.
I believe in magic. I believe in illusion. I believe that coloring outside the box is not just fun; it’s an innate responsibility of the creative heart. So get out there and write with your less popular, ugly step-sister, non-dominant hand. You won’t like it at first. In the beginning it will be as difficult and awkward as a poodle in a tutu. But once you relax and flow with the process, you’ll learn to know yourself in a whole new way, chances are pretty good you’ll like the other, less dominant you.
and there we were: sisters, sisters, all around.
celebrate winter solstice with a story of the magic of sisters
“All this,” Jack said, placing his hand on Kori’s heart, “is highly combustible. When things heat up like this, it always gets a little dicey.” Jack removed his hand from Kori’s heart and pulled her to him. “It’s all about chemical reactions, Kori,” Jack said. “The most dangerous part of the process is starting up and shutting down. That’s when things are the most precarious.” He squeezed her hand and smiled. “But you already knew that.” She smiled back despite herself.
“Are we starting up or shutting down?” Kori asked. She hoped her voice didn’t belie the need in her.
“That depends on if you can stand the temperatures?” Jack asked.
“Well, how hot’s it gonna get?” Kori asked.
“As much as thirteen hundred degrees Fahrenheit for some of these processes,” Jack said.
“What processes?” Kori asked.
“Refining processes,” Bicky said.
“What are you talking about?” Kori asked. She took a deep breath and rose back to the surface of consciousness opening first one eye and then the other. When she realized where she was, she groaned and squeezed both eyes shut.
“Boiling points, my dear,” Bicky said. “The beauty of crude oil is that it’s not just a single chemical compound but a mixture of hundreds of them. They’re hydrocarbon chains and they each have different boiling points. Refining is simply heating the crude to higher and higher boiling points and pulling off the vapor through the process of fractional distillation. Then you condense the vapor through cooling in the distillation column.” Bicky glanced in the rear view mirror. Kori’s scowled at him, but Bicky continued. “Each different hydrocarbon chain is useful for something. With a chemical process called conversion you can convert the longer chains to shorter chains depending on demand. You can also combine fractions to give you yet more usable products. Of course, much of it needs to be treated, but that’s a small price to pay. There’s a reason why crude oil’s called liquid gold. It’s one of the most versatile compounds known to man. Actually it’s a shame that so much of what we do with it is make gasoline.”
“Now who’s showing off?” Gil asked.
Bicky smiled. “Don’t blink now, ladies and gentlemen or you’ll miss it. To the right is the crude oil distillation unit and to the left is the delayed coking unit. Beautiful aren’t they?” Bicky asked.
“What a geek?” Kori mumbled under her breath. Max’s tail brushed her nose and the combination of smelly dog and too much expensive perfume from the pedantic idiot up front was making her head hurt. She sneezed and turned back to the window.
“Hey, Sleeping Beauty,” Avery said. “Have a nice nap?” Kori stared at Avery long enough to convey her distaste before returning her gaze to the storage tanks that looked like hundreds of giant white gum drops floating by her window. “You were snoring,” Avery said.
“And drooling,” Gil added.
“Shut up,” Kori said. Avery held his hand up for a high-five and Gil whacked it.
“I just want to go back to sleep,” Kori said, desperate to see how her dream would end.
“That’s the tank farm on the left, if you’re interested, Kori,” Bicky said.
Kori couldn’t be less interested. She yawned, rubbed her head and smacked Max’s twitching tail away from her face.
“Knock it off, Kori,” Gil yelled.
“I told you to keep his tail out of my face, you little brat.”
Gil scowled at Kori and pulled Max closer to him. “You better watch it or I’ll set him loose on you.”
“Yeah, right,” Kori snarled.
“No blood, please,” Bicky said. “It’s a rental.” Both Kori and Gil stared out their respective windows.
“So. As I was saying, there’s many different processes that occur in a refinery. There’s separation and conversion, and treating and blending. Crude oil gives us lubricating oil, tar, asphalt, petrochemicals which are used to manufacture things like plastics. And , it’s a model for recycling since many of the end products are used as feedstock to create new products.” Bicky craned his neck to look out the window. “See over there? That’s the catalytic reforming unit. And over there’s the catalytic cracker,” Bicky said.
Kori insulted Bicky under her breath and looked over at Gil to gauge whether he’d heard her, but Gil was listening with rapt attention to every word that came out of Bicky’s mouth.
“So far the TDU only makes oil and gas and there’s some mineral byproducts. But maybe we could make other stuff,” Avery said.
“Are we going home anytime soon?” Kori whined.
“That’s the hydrofluoric acid alkylation unit,” Bicky said. “And over there is the sulfuric acid alkylation unit. And that, I believe, is the light ends distillation unit.”
“Do you know how all these units work?” asked Gil.
“Years ago, when I first started out, I devoured chemistry and I knew the ins and outs of all these machines,” Bicky said. “It’s been awhile, though. I think I may have forgotten.”
“You don’t ever forget, really,” Gil said. Bicky looked at him in the rear view mirror and when their eyes met, Gil smiled.
At Gil’s insistence, they had stopped at Wendy’s for dinner, because Gil wanted a frosty. Although Bicky detested fast food, he acquiesced after Gil reported he was prone to car sickness brought on by a lack of snack food. Bicky smiled inwardly. The kid was clever. Bicky smiled and watched him in the rear view mirror, Gil’s countenance serene in sleep.
Recognition shot a bolt of adrenaline through his solar plexus as memory upon memory of a ten-year old Mason came flooding back to him. Although Gil looked nothing like Bicky’s brother who’d died around Gil’s age, Gil’s canny mind, crooked smile and clever dialogue lent him a whole six degrees of separation aura that Bicky couldn’t shake. A shiver ran through Bicky’s body, as if Mason himself had reached out beyond death to whisper in his brother’s ear. Bicky squeezed his eyes shut to quell the flood of memories, then opened them and focused on the lines in the road.
It was after 10:00 p.m. when Bicky pulled into the Tirabis’ driveway.
“Sorry about the time,” Bicky said. “I didn’t realize it was so late. You’ll be tired in school tomorrow.”
Avery shrugged and looked at Bicky with kind eyes. Any malice he felt for the man had evaporated like distilling crude oil. “Thanks for showing us the refinery…how everything worked.”
Bicky dismissed the thank you with a wave of his hand. “You’re most welcome.”
“Kori could probably have done with something less than a marathon tour,” Avery said, but she’ll get over it.”
They turned to glance at Kori who, along with Gil and Max, was fast asleep in the backseat.
“He’s got a huge appetite,” Bicky said, watching Gil.
“Oh, yeah. Thanks for dinner.”
“Stop thanking me already. That’s actually not what I was talking about. It’s his voracious appetite for knowledge.” Bicky turned back to Avery. “You all have it.”
Kori snored, a small, inconsequential noise, but a snore all the same. Avery raised his eyebrows and looked at Bicky for confirmation.
“Yes. Even Kori,” Bicky said.
Kori issued another strange, guttural sound, waking herself up.
“We’re home?” she asked.
“You spent most of your day sleeping,” Avery said.
“I dreamt we were little. Before Gil was born. The three of us were asleep in the backseat. Gil wasn’t even born yet. Dad said he and Mom should carry us all in at once so no one would be left alone. Mom said she’d wait with two while he brought one in, but Dad said that still left someone alone, but on the inside. He hated to see anyone be alone.” She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and yawned wide, opening a fissure as deep as the Grand Canyon. “Mom had Robbie and Dad already had you Avery, and was leaning in, trying like hell to pick me up one handed. I peeked and he saw me, so I shut my eyes real quick, waiting for him to say I should walk inside since I was awake. But he didn’t say it – just carried me in, pretending I was still asleep.” Kori’s gaze grew wistful and her head lolled back against the seat. “Weird. The stuff you remember.” She got out and offered Bicky her hand. “Thanks for dinner. Sorry about how I acted before.”
“My pleasure,” Bicky replied his gaze falling once again on Gil. “How about I carry him?” He looked at Avery and then back at Kori and smiled. “You, on the other hand, will have to walk.”
to be continued. . .
read what led up to this state of affairs
sometimes you love your sister. sometimes you don’t.
sometimes love and denial get all mixed up together.
a guide to writing
The beauty of the journaling process is that it can be simple or it can be complex in a way that reveals itself as a personal, daily, moment-by-moment choice. What enriches the journaling experience (if you’re willing), is variety, is texture.
Imagine eating the same salad every day of your life. You can argue that rich, leafy greens provide minerals and nutrients essential to optimum health. You can also argue that periodically a bowl of thick, smooth, mocha fudge ripple ice cream has the capacity to transport you to your happy place, to a time when summer afternoons sprawled under the shade of a leafy maple counting squirrels in the branches above was the most important assignment of the day. Variety. Texture. Sometimes the best you can do is bolt down a protein bar on the run. Other times, you want to immerse yourself in the sensual, primitive pleasure of a feast of market fresh produce, a plate of pasta cooked perfectly al dente and smothered in an aromatic sauce of eggplant and basil and roasted peppers.
Sometimes your journal is where you lock in and unload your thoughts of the day, the dramas of your life, your hopes for your lover, your future, your Self. Sometimes your journal is a train and each entry is a station. Sometimes the station is the destination, sometimes it’s the jumping off place, the place where adventure begins. Neither place is superior to the other, it is enough that they are what they are. However, this journaling assignment is about the jumping off place, about getting to the end of everything you know, standing poised on the edge with your toes hanging over, a yawning expanse of never been-there-but-open-to-the-possibility. This is the station where you disembark the train and immediately jump into a waiting cab and vanish into the landscape.
This drill can be accomplished using any number of ordinary household items, a hammer, a clothes pin, a plum, or in this case; an orange. Choose any orange you like; choose a sweet as candy Clementine, sometime that rests in the palm of your hand like a tiny jeweled box. Or select a bouncy navel with its nubby button and thick peel. A secretive blood orange, interior cloaked in a plain wrapper. Don’t agonize over the choice; one is as good as the other. Remember, this isn’t about the orange. The orange is only the station platform, the way in.
Remember before, when I suggested that you enter a room and stay there until you’ve achieved the mission of full emotional disclosure? Of going to that place where you blink into the darkness, open your ears to the music of the silence, of letting the air move over the surface of your skin and registering the sensation with words on a page? This is more of that. It is probably easier to make this a timed writing, because the level of difficulty might otherwise persuade you to pitch in the towel long before you get to the juicy bits, the place where you discover something new. With a timed writing, you are not focused so much on the content of the writing, as in the endurance of the time.
A funny thing happens with the timed writing exercise. Generally, you take off with great alacrity, writing everything you know about a subject. Interestingly however, if the time is of a challenging length, the writer finds that she runs out of known material in a relatively short period of time. She finds she has a surplus of minutes, and a surfeit of words. How does this happen? It is a trick of the mind. No matter, this is where it gets interesting.
Find a quiet place to write, free of distraction. Set a timer and begin. First, pick up your orange, close your eyes and inhale its tart-sweet fragrance. Really smell it. Roll it over the skin of your throat, across your chest. Toss it from one hand to the other, examine the surface of the peel, each dimple, every blemish. Experience the orange with your senses as fully as possible, then set it down nearby and begin to write. You may begin with a literal description, and you may actually get a paragraph or two from the physical presence of the fruit, the weight of it. Then what? Then we meet the cousins of “reality” namely imagination, and memory, we are about to move beyond what is and approach what if.
Here are possible ways to go from here. Write about:
You see -it’s not really about the orange. At least, not necessarily so. The orange is a trigger; it is the beginning place that has the power to transport you to another time and place for the duration of whatever time you establish at the beginning of the writing.
It’s important in a timed writing to stick with the intended time. If you establish a fifteen or twenty minute limit, stick with it. If you find you run out of preconceived ideas of what you think you should be writing about, stick with it. Let go of the idea that you choose the words to commit to the page. Let the words choose you. Let the idea pick you up and shake you loose of everything you thought it should be. When you come to the place where your treasure chest of “good” ideas is empty, be patient. Be calm. Wait. Let the ideas float into your mind and don’t judge them, don’t try to shape them. Write them down. Let the ideas flow and allow the gentle waves of the stream of consciousness lap gently at the shores of your mind. This is the place where new ideas are birthed. This is the place where imagination and memory merge, form something new, and your job is to write it down. It sounds simple; it is. It sounds difficult; it is not. All you have to do is be willing to let your subject: the orange, the plum, the paper clip -reveal a story to you, and then your job is to introduce it to your journal.
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Gil, Max and Kori sat in the back seat of Bicky’s Lexis so Avery could sit up front and “talk business.” Bicky set the cruise control and the car glided north on I-95 at seventy-two miles per hour.
“Why seventy-two if the speed limit is sixty-five?” Avery asked.
“The police don’t stop you for a five-mile transgression,” Bicky said. “I like to push it the extra mile or two.”
“Guess you get a lot of tickets.”
“I haven’t had a ticket since I was twenty-five.”
“Guess you’re lucky, then.”
Bicky raised an eyebrow and smiled wryly.
“So. Have you figured out the parameters of the deal you’re offering or are you waiting to see how sophisticated we are? The ‘Louisiana Purchase’ comes to mind.”
“I’m not trying to bilk you with a handful of beads, I assure you. My money’s as good as the next guy’s. I just have more of it.”
Avery checked off a note made on a small legal pad. “If we made a deal, we wouldn’t be interested in a lump sum payment. We’d want royalties. And if the stock goes public, we’d want dividends. We’d also want to retain a large portion of the interest. The controlling interest.”
“I’m confident I can meet all your needs,” Bicky’s eyes didn’t leave the road.
“Max, knock it off,” Kori snipped from the back seat. Max flipped his giant fluff of a tail in Kori’s face, his hair snaking its way into her mouth and nose. She pushed his tail aside and rubbed the itch from her nose.
“What about the requirement that Hart still be involved?” Avery asked.
“I told you, Hart works for me. He’s my Chief Engineer right now. Perhaps I could move him up to Chief of Operations for this project. Let him work solely on this.”
“You ever going to give this dog a bath?” Kori asked Gil.
“Let’s see how it sounds to Hart before we make any decisions,” Avery said.
“Because he stinks,” Kori said.
“He doesn’t stink,” Gil said. “He just needs a biscuit for his breath. He had garlic last night.”
Kori shoved Max’s tail out of her face again. “Get that dog’s tail out of my face, before I cut it off,” she snapped. As if in response, Max wacked her in the face again. She sneezed. “Gil, I swear to God…”
“Your sister sounds annoyed,” Bicky said.
“She broke up with her boyfriend this morning,” Avery said.
Bicky nodded slowly as if all had been revealed. “I know a little about that.”
“Come here, Max,” Gil said, pulling Max down to him with one hand. The other hand gripped an open package of Pop Tarts which Gil bit into two at a time. He broke off a piece and handed it to Max who inhaled it, swallowing without even chewing. Gil then stuffed Max’s tail underneath his body. Thus, both chastised and sated, Max put his head on Gil’s lap and went to sleep. Gil took another pass at the twin pop tarts. “I’m thirsty,” he said with a mouth full of wild berry.
“You should have brought a bottle of water with you,” Avery said.
“But I didn’t.”
“We’re on I-95,” Kori said. “Not a Wa-Wa for miles. Guess you’re just going to have to suffer.” Kori flashed a smug smile and turned to the window to watch the industrialized landscape glide serenely by. Gil flashed his food-laden tongue at her, but she didn’t see it.
“I can’t wait, Avery,” Gil said. Avery turned around and gave Gil a sympathetic shrug. Bicky watched Gil in the rear view mirror, clutching his pop tarts and looking retched. He grabbed his own bottle of Perrier, sitting in between the console, and handed it back to Gil.
“Thanks,” Gil said with a full mouth. He took a swig and handed it back to Bicky. Bicky took one look at the minute traces of Pop Tart, swirling around in the bottle, suspended in crystal plastic and shook his head.
“You keep it,” Bicky said.
Gil nodded and smiled. When he finished the last bite, he said to Bicky, “Do you know that bottled water is responsible for an increase in tooth decay?”
“Well it’s a good thing you didn’t bring any more with you. We wouldn’t want your teeth rotting on the way,” Bicky said.
Avery chortled. Even Kori smiled at Bicky’s quick retort.
“Did you know that in 1990, a little over two billion gallons of bottled water were sold in the U.S and that it’s going to hit over seven billion gallons by the end of 2005?” Gil asked. “And that retailers sell more bottled water than coffee or milk or even soda?”
“That’s a lot of water,” Bicky said.
“Yeah, and you know where it comes from?”
“From natural springs?”
“Yep. From natural springs fed by groundwater that belongs to everybody,” Gil said. “Did you know you were paying for water that already belongs to you?”
“How’s that make you feel?” Avery asked.
“Cheated,” Bicky replied.
“That ground water that used to be going somewhere else, like to somebody’s well, or to feed a wetland is now being diverted to a little plastic bottle that sells for $1.19 in WaWa.” Gil held up the bottle by way of demonstration. Pieces of pop tart floated in silence.
“Who ever came up with that name anyway? WaWa?” Bicky asked.
“I think it’s the name of a type of Canadian Goose,” Avery said.
“Still, what’s that have to do with a convenience store?” Bicky said.
“Don’t you even care that you’re paying $1.19 for somebody else’s groundwater, and that that somebody isn’t even getting the money?” Gil asked. “Instead some multinational corporation is.”
Bicky turned to Avery. “Is he always like this?”
“He’s just getting warmed up,” Avery said.
“Fascinating,” Bicky said. “Maybe there’s a way we can bottle him.”
“What kind of water do you prefer, Mr. Bicky?” Gil asked. “This?” Gil held up the Perrier bottle.
“It’s true. I confess. I’m a Perrier man.”
“Did you know that Perrier has been sued by citizens of several different states? People are mad because they say Perrier’s using up all their groundwater. Perrier says that doesn’t make good business sense – to use up all of the resource that they’re selling – isn’t that what the oil people do?” Gil mused. “They sell fifteen different brands of water, you know, and pump it from like seventy-five different spring-fed locations. They sell more bottled water than anyone else in the country which means they pump more water, in some cases as much as five hundred gallons per minute from their sources – taxpayer owned sources.”
“Do you know who owns Perrier?” Avery asked.
Bicky shook his head.
“Nestle. The largest food company in the world. A multinational megacompany.”
Bicky looked at Avery as if he’d just thrown up a hair ball. “What is wrong with you people? You’re children for Godsakes. Children don’t behave like this. They talk about things like baseball and the latest creature feature at the cineplex.”
“You don’t have to dry up the entire aquifer in order to dry up your neighbor’s well,” Avery added.
“Did you know that after a certain point an aquifer loses the ability to recharge itself?” Gil said. “Do you think it’s possible Nestle knows what that point is?”
Bicky glanced in the mirror to find Gil looking at him with large owl eyes, unblinking and full of certainty, the way Bicky envisioned owl’s must look before they’re about to pounce on a tasty bit of prey. For the first time in years, Bicky thought, he might be out of his league.
“The thing is, if you watch a water commercial, they’re selling health. Health, health, health,” Avery said. “Pure, crystal-clear, uncorrupted health.”
“Did you know one company pulled water from a well in a parking lot adjacent to an industrial facility that had traces of hazardous chemicals in it?” Gil asked.
“Oh, come on. Now, you’re making this up,” Bicky said.
“Am not,” Gil replied.
“I’m sure there are water quality standards,” Bicky said.
“Huh! You wish,” Avery said. “The EPA regulates tap water which, except for a very few places, is really safe. But it doesn’t regulate bottled water. The companies regulate themselves. “Get it?” Gil said.
Bicky saw Gil wink at him in the rearview mirror, an action so exaggerated it looked like his whole face was winking.
“The FDA’s supposed to regulate bottled water, but they don’t interpret the regs the same way and even worse, they don’t even have a full-time staffer dedicated to overseeing the whole bottled water craze,” Avery said. “EPA employs hundreds of people whose job it is to regulate tap water. Do you see a dichotomy there?” Avery pointed a finger at Bicky. “On any given day a water authority has to give you a list of what’s in the tap water you’re tied into. It’s required by law. Not so for the bottlers. They don’t even have to answer your letters. And tap water isn’t allowed to contain even traces of e. coli, where bottled water has a limit.”
“Oh, this is ridiculous. You’re telling me that bottled water contains e. coli,” Bicky said.
“I’m telling you it may contain traces, and it wouldn’t be prohibited by law,” Avery said. “The National Resources Defense Counsel, that’s the NRDC, they tested a hundred and four brands of bottled water over a four-year period and found about a third of them contained things like arsenic and other carcinogenic compounds. Odds are, tap water is safer than bottled, but people don’t find it as appealing.”
“It’s because the water authorities don’t advertise,” Kori said.
“Another country heard from,” Bicky replied, glancing in the rearview mirror at Kori who didn’t take her eyes from the window.
“She’s sort of in advertising,” Avery said. Bicky shook his head and huffed.
“They say that if bottled water sits on your shelf for more than a year, it might go bad. Whoever heard of water going bad?” Avery asked. “I think it’s the plastic leaching.”
“Do you know the worst part?” Gil asked.
“No, but somehow I think you’re going to tell me,” Bicky answered.
“The worse part is that thirty million bottles a day go to landfill. Only one out of ten bottles is recycled. Did you know that it takes a thousand years for plastic to break down?”
“Enough. I get it. You’ve managed to depress me sufficiently to last for the rest of the millennium. So can we talk about something else?”
“Sure,” Gil said. Name a topic.”
By the time they arrived at the Akanabi refinery, Bicky was more thoroughly drained than a kitchen sink after a visit from the Roto-Rooter man. The car ride with an adolescent, a teenager, and, from what he could tell, a scorned and scornful young woman had left him jittery and out of sorts. Hart was right. These weren’t normal kids. Perhaps he’d need to turn to contingency plan B before the sister – the putative leader of the group got bored and called the whole thing off. Bicky felt his blood quicken as he stepped out of the car. His mouth was dry, his tongue felt thick and spongy, and he wished for about the third time in the last half hour that he hadn’t given his bottle of Perrier away even if the little Einstein was right and the bottle, because of its very existence, would smother the earth’s surface. Who the hell cared? We may be unearthing and chopping down our collective resources at unprecedented rates, but he’d be dead by the time we managed to pave over the entirety of the Eden we called the United States.
Bicky parked and checked the rearview mirror. Kori was asleep, her head resting against the window, her eyebrows furrowed in concentration. On the opposite side, Gil stared wide-eyed at the tank farm directly across from the parking lot. Bicky cut the engine, but made no move to get out, just continued watching the sleeping Kori and insatiable Gil.
“We ready?” Avery asked.
Bicky turned to the third of the triumvirate. “You know what? Since your sister’s asleep, let’s drive the tour route. You can stop me whenever you see something you might want to investigate further.”
“Okay,” Avery said. “Vamanos.”
to be continued