Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The End?

    For whatever it’s worth to you folks, I am 92.4% certain
that the world will not end on December 21. This, in contrast to the 96.8% certainty it won’t happen today. These beliefs are based upon the fact that I have not won the lottery to this point, and the numbers will go way down if and when that ever occurs.
    This being stated, I’d like to take this opportunity to squeeze in one last column before the solstice, just in case.
    First of all, I’d like to say that it has been a pleasure knowing most of you. Others, not so much. And it has been a pleasure being allowed by this fine newspaper to share my aimless ramblings with you for all these years. I was looking back through some of the archives I have managed to hang onto, and I believe that the first Into Focus column I wrote was a piece about the Cuban Missile Crisis, entitled “Armageddon on Hold.” With it being at least one of my first column pieces, I cut it out, framed it, and hung it on my wall. Thing is, I didn’t save the part of the paper that had the date on it, so I’m not sure when it was written. Best guess is around 2002. I’m thinking, if this is the end, wouldn’t it be sort of ironic that I’m looking at that dust-covered thing on the wall as I write this one?
    Next, let me make a pleading to you all that, sometime between now and the 21st, you don’t go all ape-crazy and decide to jump out your windows like those “War of the Worlds” people did in 1938. Remember that you live in Arkansas, and most of the houses here are no higher than two stories. If you jump, chances are you’ll just break your legs or something and you’ll be all gimped up if and when the big day gets here. If you do it sooner than later, you’ll have a bunch of extra medical bills and you might not be in any shape to get yourself over close to the window to watch.
    That’s what I’ll be doing – watching. I’ve got a cooler and a bunch of folding canvas chairs out there in the garage, just waiting for the shindig. There’ll be a few of us sitting out in the yard, probably at my brother’s house, trying (not too hard) to stay sober…and awake. An event like this doesn’t happen every day. My only dilemma at this juncture is whether or not to bother with bringing my camera. I mean, the possibility of some awesome photo opportunities is something to consider; but I don’t know if I’ll have time to look at them before…you know. At least we’ve reached the age of digital photography and I don’t have to drop the film off somewhere and wait an hour to see what I shot. So, I’ve got that going for me…which is nice.
    Regrets? I’ve had a few. But, then again, too few to mention. One thing I can think of is never taking the time to look up a little toad who once set me up to fire me from a job that wasn’t so great to begin with…to properly “thank” him. On the other hand, had I done that, I would probably be in jail and they wouldn’t let me have internet service so I could ask all you nice people to not use whatever time you may have left to enact revenge on somebody, like some idiot mall shooter. If we’re going out, let’s go out with some dignity, shall we?
    If there is a December 22, that day will be longer than the one before it. The next day, longer than that one; and so on until the next solstice. That will be June 21, as I recall. It should be warm then; t-shirt weather. And my hope is that millions of people will drag their coolers and lawn chairs back out into their yards on that longest day of the year to gaze once again into the sky – and that every one of them are wearing the shirts I manufactured, saying “I survived the Apocalypse and all I got was this lousy t-shirt!” They’ll be reasonably priced. Get your orders in before it’s too late.
    In the next installment of Into Focus, I’ll reveal to you all how to turn lead into gold and run your cars on a mixture of water and Johnson grass. Maybe. That’s scheduled for December 31. Stick around.

© 2012, Rick Baber

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Eye of a Needle

You know me, I don’t like to get political, but once every
blue moon something comes up that I find hard to ignore.
This presidential election thing seems to have sparked a
whole conversation having to do with whether it’s better for
us, as a society, to cater to the rich people or to the poor
people…and it’s got to be one or the other. Half of us
contend that the rich guy’s in pretty good shape to take care
of himself, and the other half has come up with this mantra:

“Did you ever get a job from a poor man?”

The thought process behind that profound question is, I guess, that if government (which they say we don’t really need at all, but since it exists…) would protect the financial interests of those folks who have money, then they will, in turn, unselfishly provide for the needs of the rest of us. It’s a beautiful concept, really, that incorporates some basic principles of capitalism: Treat your workers well; pay them enough to survive and remain healthy, and reproduce so they can manufacture children to work for your children – but not so much that they can become independent from you. That way the cycle continues and everybody is happy.

One problem with that, as I see it, is that there are so few really rich folk, and so many people in the “working class” that the rich have lost interest in the well-being of the workers. They can always get more. I mean, that’s a problem for the lower end of the equation. Not so much for the other. When this is combined with the other problem – greed – the whole principle appears to collapse under its own weight, and we start seeing something more akin to serfdom than capitalism.

The question, “Did you ever get a job from a poor man?” carries the subtle implication that rich people are more important to our existence than working people…better than working people. I disagree.

Whenever I’m pondering one of these questions, I take things to their extremes, just to make it easier for my little brain to figure it out. So, imagine two new worlds, born from this one. The first one has only rich people, who acquired their fortunes paying others to farm their fields, produce their goods and build their spectacular homes. The second has only the working folk who were previously hired to do all those things for the rich. Which of these worlds would survive? I have an opinion on that. Of course, it’s just theory.

Ironically, while writing this, being a terrible speller, I Googled “subtle implication.” Here’s the very first hit: “Do not be overawed when others grow rich, when the splendor of their houses increases; for they will take nothing with them when they die, their splendor will not descend with them.” – Psalms 49:16,7.

Now, I’m not a particularly religious person, in the classical sense, but I find the operative word in that scripture to be “descend,” rather than “ascend.” Just an observation.

Invariably, the debate over the rich/poor issue leads to discussion of “unions.” The folks who support the rich (oddly, most of them are not rich, themselves) demonize unions to the point that they should be abolished completely; that they are the primary reason for the state of our near-crippled economy. What makes those have-nots think they own any right to assemble against our beloved corporate moguls and hold them hostage to their silly desires for more money and better working conditions? If they want nice things, they should be rich, themselves, right? Everybody knows that as wages and employee expense go up, the price of the fruits of their labor goes up accordingly. After all, the businesses paying these workers aren’t going to take that increased cost out of their pockets. They’re not going to sacrifice their yachts and their summer homes just to make lives better for a bunch of ungrateful employees. If they did that, then what would be the point of wealth? Besides, it’s just not fair to gang up on somebody like that. It’s cheating. It’s “gang mentality” and it shouldn’t be tolerated in a decent, God-fearing society like the US of A. Again, one of the two major political parties agrees with and advances this philosophy while the other supports the concept of collective bargaining. Who’s right?

Back up and take a look from the outside. “Political party.” What is that, if not an assemblage of people, brought together to use their collective power to advance their common agenda? A union? A union that expends a great deal of effort trying to convince the people that unions are a terrible idea? Interesting.

I don’t really have a dog in this fight. I’m not poor, and certainly not rich. I don’t have any particular skills that would enable me to contribute to either of the two fictional worlds. Just an observer, a simple writer, outside, looking in, pondering things that most people probably never give a second thought. Trying to figure people out is tough. Like trying to pass through the eye of a needle.

Monday, October 08, 2012


Monday, October 8, 2012. I got up at the regular time
(no need for you to know what that is); stumbled across
the hall to my office, and opened up the computer to begin
another fun-filled exciting day of dealing with crashed cars,
mangled people, and all that entails.

About 2:30 the phone quit ringing for a while, so I
thought I’d take the opportunity to run (no, not literally)
over to the post office, mail some correspondence, and pay
that box rent fee that I neglected to pay at the end of last month – ending up with me getting evicted. Happens every time. They give me the notice at the first of the month for rent due at the end. By the time the end of the month gets here, I’ve forgotten about it completely. Thankfully, they always lock me out of the box within a couple of days, and that reminds me that I need to pay the rent. They’re helpful like that.

But, today, the windows are closed off with that sliding barricade, like they have in the mall. Nobody’s there, save a nice Hispanic lady who’s coming in as I’m standing in the air lock, looking for some sign, or something, explaining why they’re shut down. At first, I thought maybe it was still Sunday and I’d just lost track of time. I do that a lot. Then, I wondered if maybe they’d closed up in celebration of my daughter-in-law’s birthday. The lady could tell that I was confused. She said to me, in broken English, “I think it is Columbus Day.”

“Well…yes,” I replied, “That’s important! Thank you. Thank you very much.”

Imagine, if you will, my total shame and humiliation. Here am I – a natural-born, 100% red-blooded American man, and I had forgotten this most holy of holidays! Worse yet, I had to be reminded by an immigrant. It must be true what they say about them having a better grasp of our blessings than we do ourselves. Oh, the shame!

Now, with only a small portion of the day remaining, what was I to do about celebrating it? My Italian sailor suit had never been picked up from the cleaners after last year’s blow-out celebration. There were no ingredients in the house to prepare our traditional Columbus Day meal of pepperoni lasagna and that dark oily sauce that nobody knows the name of, to dip the bread in. Not a single bottle of Limoncello to be found. And the giant blow-up Santa Maria yard ornament was still buried up there in the attic, under all the Canadian Boxing Day stuff. I’d never get to it in time. I could rush off to Wal-Mart to buy the Nina and Pinta to complete the set (about time!), but what would be the use? This late, I was sure, they would be completely sold out.

In my mind’s eye, I could see those post office employees – the ones who weren’t there to unlock my box – gathered with their families, wearing their funny hats, drinking Amaretto and eating pizza, singing “Albachiara” (I guess), giving thanks that the world didn’t turn out to be flat, and telling tales of the sea. Pinching each other’s bottoms – all in good fun. But, not me. No! I am a pagan whose only thoughts on this special day involved getting my work done. My precious work.

I can see it all clearly now. At the end of our lives, none of us look back and say “I wish I would have spent more time at work.” But there will be those of us who do look back, regretfully, and proclaim that, if we had it all to do over again, we would have spent more Columbus Days in joyous celebration, like our brothers and sisters in the US Postal Service. I know that now. I won’t be caught off guard this time next year.

Sail on, my friends. Sail on!

© 2012, Rick Baber

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Moralitical Dilemma

My wife has been wrestling tonight with whether or not it is morally…and … American-ly… correct to oppose Mitt Romney on the grounds that he is of a religion with some pretty “unusual” beliefs and practices.

I tell her “If that doesn’t feel right to you, then don’t oppose him on those grounds. There are plenty of other
grounds on which you can oppose Mitt Romney.”

For one, he is a gazillionaire who has never in his life had to struggle for financial security. This, it would seem, would put him out of touch with about 99% of the population who have had to face financial difficulties in their lives. Further, much of that money he made, since leaving his wealthy parents’ nest, was from off-shoring and outsourcing jobs and putting Americans out of work – in the name of profit for the few at the top of those companies…and, of course, for Romney. Seems like kind of an Anti-American thing to do.

Then, there’s the concept that he refuses to release his tax returns, so that prospective voters can see for themselves how much money he actually made and how he made it, and what kind of “write offs” he used to protect it…how much of it was invested outside the United States, thereby contributing to the economy of those other countries, instead of the one he says he wants to lead.

One could conceivably oppose him on the grounds that he is the ultimate flip-flopper. He rails against so-called “Obamacare,” which was modeled after the plan he pioneered as the governor of Massachusetts. A plan, which by the way, has been enormously successful, boasting a 98% success rate in the number of Massachusetts citizens who are now insured. Contrast that to about 84% of Americans, in general.

Romney seems to embrace whichever of his successes that are beneficial to him at a given time; and then ignore them when they’re not helpful to his immediate agenda. Right now, his agenda is getting himself elected President, within a party whose platform is pretty much built on tearing down President Obama’s crowning achievement – watered down as it was by the Republican congress. He doesn’t like being reminded what a success the “trial” program for Obamacare was…when and where he was governor.

He could be opposed on his selection of a man for his VP who, if one didn’t know better, might be confused for one of his sons. Or, perhaps, a younger clone. There’s not even a veiled attempt there at diversity in any sense of the word; sort of shouting to the American voter “Here I am. Take me or leave me.”

It would be understandable if somebody opposed Romney on the basis that even his own party, who made no bones about disliking him during the primary, just felt compelled to place him as a candidate because he was “next in line” – excluding, of course, John McCain, who proved last time that senility has no respect for even those seeking the top job.

Then, of course, I tell her that she could oppose him on that feeling she has deep down in her gut that Romney will live up to his look and be simply a lackey for the other CEOs of corporations, and one more step toward the eventual oligarchy that science fiction writers have been warning us about for years. Followed by his number two, who was voted “Biggest Suckup” by his high school classmates – and not that long ago.

But, I tell her, if you can’t oppose The Mitt on any of those grounds, and feel “clean” doing it…well, then, you should vote for him.

© 2012, Rick Baber

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Hype & Circumstance

The Great Poultry Revolution.

Lawdy, lawdy! Have we got us a bunch of worked up folk around here or what? Today, as I write this, it’s
Wednesday, and there’s boatloads of folk hittin’ the couch, right about now, bellies full of yummy chicken
sammiches. May they rest in peace.

It all started when Mr. Chicken makes the announcement that he’s all against folks of the same gender being allowed to get married to each other, because that’s what it says in the Good Book, and, by golly, if it says it in the Good Book, he’s all for it. Or, uh, against it. Well, that angered some of those selfish folks who would like to live with their life partners and enjoy the same rights and privileges under the law as Mr. Chicken. And because they were angered, the folks who were of like mind with Mr. Chicken were angered too. So everybody, being on one side or another of the issue was pretty much, you know, angered.

Some mayors said if Mr. Chicken is gonna be talking like that, then they don’t really want his stores in their towns. Like they could do anything about it.

Then, our own resident preacheritician, Mr. Huckabee, comes up with this big idea that everybody who doesn’t want to have to marry somebody who uses the same restroom they use oughtta go out on Wednesday (today) and eat a chicken sammich in the name of truth, Jesus, and the American way. So, out they went, lining up in the hot sun to buy something they could get pretty much anywhere else by just driving through a short line in their air-conditioned cars. But, because dudes didn’t want to be forced to marry dudes; and dudettes didn’t…well, you know, they spent their money to help this poor fellow out, and pretty much secure themselves a place in Heaven. It was kind of rapturesque, in a way, but nobody floated up into the sky, best I could tell. Not yet, anyway. But, the way I understand it, a chicken sammich bought today was pretty much the same thing as a ticket for later on.

Now, a cynical person, such as I have been accused of being, on occasion, might start to thinkin’ about all that money that went through those registers today. A man couldn’t come up with a better publicity stunt if he tried. It’s like if the Beatles played a free concert from a New York City rooftop, or something. And an even cynical-er person might wonder if the right reverend Mr. Huckabee could be getting, say, 2 percent of the take from today’s traffic. I even asked Mr. Huckabee that question on his Facebook page, but it was only a few minutes before my comment/question was deleted – so I guess that question was not supposed to be part of the conversation.

Seems to me that Mr. Chicken oughtta have a right to believe as he sees fit, even if he does seem to be confused on which issue of the Good Book his stance comes from. And he ought not to be threatened with being run out of town by those mayors. And, by the same token, those folks who ain’t allowed to get married, it would seem, have a right to be upset about the guy’s position, and his actions regarding keeping them from getting married. People are people, after all, and there’s nothing a person enjoys more than being able to get upset about something. Following, I guess if other folk want to show their support for Mr. Chicken’s anti-support of those disenfranchised single people by all showing up in the hot sun to make him a little bit richer today, then that should be OK, too. I wonder how many of those folk are divorced from somebody who uses the other restroom.

Far as I can tell, there’s no rules in the Good Book – even that older version that most folk figure obsolete – against eating a bird as long as it’s clean. Of course, if you live where I do, you wonder how clean those birds are. But that’s all up to our individual interpretations, I guess, the same as it is on which of those older version Good Book rules folks are going to line up in the hot sun to show their support for. But, as the cynical one who likes to find the humor in every situation, I am just saddened that the fellow who started all this didn’t own a chain of BBQ pork restaurants.

Maybe he and the Huckster will buy one with today’s profits.

© 2012, Rick Baber


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Multi-Author Book Signing Event, Batesville, AR

If the Lord’s willin’, and the creeks don’t rise (as my grandpa used to say), TigerEye Publications is going to be presenting a special event at Elizabeth’s Restaurant on Main Street in Batesville – 11am ‘til 2pm, Saturday, June 23. It’s a big ol’ book signing that will feature seven (count ‘em, 7) Arkansas authors, plus pre-signed books from two more; and we’d like to see as many of your friendly faces there as possible. All-in-all, there should be something like 17 different books available – from children’s books to tweens to poetry to historical fiction. Something for everybody.

Of course, you’re not required to buy any of the books; and there’s no admission charge. If you’d just like to drop by and say hello; meet the authors; talk with us about publishing your own book; or just have yourself a great Elizabeth’s lunch and watch the goings on, please, come on down!

Appearing will be the prolific Ila Clements, author of “Mist Over the Marshlands,” “Love & Deception in Carolina,” “Living Well in Carolina,” and “Return to Carolina.” Ila’s got a thing for Carolina, in case you couldn’t tell, and she’s passionate about her novels. She’ll have all four of them there to sign if you want to pick one up.

Kenton Adler, the infamous guitar-pickin’ mad piper from Lyon College, will have his first young adult novel, “The Silver Pipes of Tir nan Og.” plus his excellent illustrated (by Jody Hughes) children’s book “An Alligator in Your Yard.” For those with young children, an autographed copy of this book would be a wonderful keepsake.

Lena Ogilvie Byler has penned a beautiful book of inspirational poetry, with illustrations by Jamie Kelley, called “Fireflies in a Jar.” This one will bring smiles and tears to even old cynical coots, such as myself. Great gifts for your loved ones. She’ll be there to sign them.

Camille Nesler, one of our newer authors, is coming up from Benton with her book, “No Vaccine for Stupid,” which chronicles her experiences as a school nurse. You’ll be entertained by the creativity of some of these kids when coming up with ideas to go home “sick,.” as well as the complicity of some of their teachers and parents.

From Melbourne comes our very own high school novelist, Hannah Qualls. No, not a novelist who writes about high school – a novelist who is IN high school. About the time most of us were becoming fascinated with things like pogo sticks, Hannah was publishing her second novel. Hannah was chosen for 2012 as one of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s “20 to Watch.” We’re thrilled to have her attending with her first two books: “Jack or Hyde?” and “The Ghost of Hyde.”

I just found out that our most recent author, Cat Bounds, from Cabot, spent about 14 years in Batesville, where she was known as Cathy Finley. She taught English at BJHS. My wife is currently reading Cat’s first novel, “Going Over Jordan,” and giving me a bit of a complex with all her raving comments about the book – as did Vaughanda Bowie, my editor, when we were publishing it. I fear we may be losing Cat pretty soon to one of the big publishing houses, so come see her while you have the chance!

I’ll have four of my own books there as well: “Dinner With WT – 10th Anniversary Edition;” “Purity;” “Darker Tales;” and the latest one - “unrighteous god.”

Twyla Gill Wright has a conflicting engagement on this Saturday, but she has graciously agreed to have a friend appear with pre-signed copies of of her first book, “The Scarlet Glass.”

Also, Teresa Burns Murphy, who lives way out yonder in Virginia, has sent some signed copies of her popular novel “The Secret to Flying” to me to make available at the event.

We know that there are talented, undiscovered writers still out there, and TigerEye Publications would like to find them before somebody else does. So, if you’ve got a manuscript of your own that you’d like to have considered for publication, come on down and tell us about it. Vaughanda Bowie and I are anxious to discover the next best seller.

I suppose, with the excellent reputation Elizabeth’s Restaurant has, there’s no need to list the address for the locals, but I’m going to do that anyway for the folks who’ll be coming in from out of town: 231 E. Main, Batesville, Arkansas. We are so thankful to them for hosting this event, and would love to see their lunch business on Saturday June 23 go through the roof. I mean, have you eaten there? Lawd, them’s some good vittles!

Come see us, will ya?

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Bottom Line on Gay Rights

Here it comes – the end of the world.

The President of the United States has come out of the closet and admitted that he is gay. His marriage to the lovely Michelle was a sham. Now, before we can blink an eye, he’ll be issuing a presidential decree that all of us who are married to people of the opposite sex will have to get divorced and marry somebody who uses the same restroom in gas stations. Practical, in a way, if you think about it. Maybe we should demand to see his marriage certificate.
I blame Abraham Lincoln. If he had not come up with that silly Emancipation Proclamation back in 1863, we’d still be a happy nation of white men voting – just like God and Rick Santorum intended. Our women folk would be home in the kitchen, doing the things that women folk should do. Ironing, and stuff. Our “domestic help” would simply do as they’re told…or else. And there would be no radical black man in the White House, coming up with these crazy ideas like giving equal rights to dudes who don’t dig chicks; or chicks who do.
History will judge Obama harshly, just as it did with Lincoln.
It was only a scant seven years or so after that bearded radical pulled his little stunt that black men were lining up to vote, all over the country. Of course, Jim Crow took care of that problem for a long time until LBJ went crazy in 1964. And, in the meantime, 1920, even women got the right to vote. Women! You know it had to go badly after that!
Now, sure there were plenty of right-minded people back then speaking out against these horrific changes in America but, like today, their voices were quashed by the radicals on the left. Those are the people we need to look to now, in this desperate hour, to find strength; and a way to stop this terrible event before it’s too late.
Look at it this way: we’ve been more than leanient with who we allow to get married. Serial killers and rapists and molesters of children can get married. Meth cookers and dope smugglers and speeders and people who park their shopping carts in parking spaces can get married – as long as it’s to the opposite gender. They can enjoy the tax benefits and insurance benefits and all the other benefits of a legal union between two consenting adults. Are we asking so much?
The bottom line (if you’ll pardon the pun) is this: It’s going to happen sooner or later. But do we want our childrens’ children to look back at us and see us as the generation that lost the battle to deny equal rights under the law to one of the last oppressed factions of our civilization? To see us as losers?
Then again, given the nature of how this procreation thing works, and that we’ll all, by law, have to be paired with people of the same gender, it is entirely likely that there won’t be any more generations to look back upon us with scorn and disdain.
I just hope my dude doesn’t snore.

© 2012, Rick Baber

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Update From the Hill

In case anyone is interested (and I’m beginning to doubt that anyone is), the sequel to “Purity” is completed and on the market. The plan was to finish the book before my granddaughters’ first birthday so, right on schedule, I got ‘er done a matter of weeks before their second.

Apparently, I had no concept of what it was going to be like finishing a novel while simultaneously working a day job as an insurance adjuster and a night job as a publisher of books for other people.

Another complication, albeit a happy one, is that “Purity” is currently in the hands of a Hollywood executive producer who is interested in turning it into a pilot movie for a 13-episode TV series. He asked me if I could convert it to a screenplay and, of course, I said “sure!”

Now, understand, before that telephone conversation I had never even seen a TV or movie script. So I got online and downloaded scripts from movies I had seen and went to work on it – thinking that it needed to be done quickly to impress the producer. I got the whole thing completed in a week or so, and emailed it back to him. He called and told me it was “the best adaptation I have seen in a long time.” So, I had that going for me, which was nice. It seemed then that I was going to be watching my story on a big screen in no time flat.

It doesn’t work that way.

The wheels of Hollywood turn very slowly, I’ve learned. Friday, four or five months after I started packing up my flip-flops and shorts, the dude (a fantastically friendly “regular guy” by the way) called me with his verbal “notes.” There’s work to be done, particularly, cutting the script down by about 12 pages to make it the optimum length. He told me to not get in a hurry, and do it right. Time now to actually read those scripts I downloaded, it appears.

Meanwhile, I finished this sequel and put it up on the market and am wondering if I made a poor choice in naming it “unrighteous god.” Some people I’ve spoken with about it seem reluctant to read the book, perhaps fearing that as a result of doing so they’ll be cast into the fires of Hell or, at the very least, struck by lightning. I have to explain to them that the title is not an editorial, but rather a quote from the antagonist in the book. That doesn’t seem to make them feel any more at ease. They still step back a few feet while we’re talking and I catch them, every once-in-a-while, glancing up toward the clear blue sky…nervously.

In short, the story isn’t an indoctrination into some unholy cult, as some have apparently gleaned from the title. It’s about a northwest Arkansas private investigator, trying to catch a serial killer who is, like most serial killers, just a little on the whacky side.

If it’s any comfort, there have been a few people who have already read the book and, as far as I know, none of them have burst into flames. For those not afraid to live on the edge, the paperback is available at Amazon.com, and other links are provided on my website: TigerEyePubs.com.

Next up: We’re gonna try our hand at stage plays. Got an idea after seeing “Book of Days” at the Arts Center of the Ozarks, and anxious to get started on it. So, if you’re a community theater director, gimme a call!

Meantime, Fan, keep those beach clothes handy.