Surviving The Last Debate

Feel obligated to comment on the last presidential debate, having done so for the first two, but will ditch the running commentary this time.

Trump did what he always does — start off strong, then get rattled and belligerent. He got in a few good digs, especially regarding the Clinton Foundation, but the signature moment of the night is his threat, more like a guarantee, to challenge the election should he lose. He also refused to provide details on his economic plans (not surprising, because they’re pretty much nonsense), and makes a key debating mistake of allowing his opponent to define his ideas for him.

Clinton stayed on message throughout, steady but unspectacular, and had some good responses to several of Trump’s attacks. She didn’t do anything to expand her appeal, but given her current lead, she probably didn’t need to be aggressive.

Chris Wallace did the best job of moderating of any of the debates, and he actually provided my favorite line of the night. When one of his questions to Clinton is abruptly interrupted by Trump, Wallace responds with a curt “thank you, sir.” Couldn’t help but hear a different word, a letter shorter and much less polite, at the start of his response.



An Update on “The Land Without Mosquitos”

This past weekend, I had the second chapter of “The Land Without Mosquitos” (drafted and revised on this blog as a short story, but now being expanded into a novel) reviewed by a peer group of aspiring writers. Couldn’t have asked for a better response; my readers found the story confusing, but felt invested in Jane, the central character.

That’s exactly the response I was hoping to elicit, as the story has a bizzare premise, and I wanted the reader to share in Jane’s confusion as she gradually realizes she’s been suddenly transported into an alternate reality, very similar to the one she remembers but with some significant technological differences.

It’s dangerous, of course, to confuse your readers, as they could easily respond with annoyance (what the hell is going on?) and decide to stop reading. Jane has to capture my readers’ interest, and they have to care about her struggle to make sense out of what’s happened to her. My readers this weekend wanted to know what happens to Jane next; those were very gratifying words to hear, and I intend to submit future chapters to this group (which also, I might add, features a number of writers whose work I admire).

The chapter wasn’t perfect — a frequent observation was that Gary, Jane’s boss and one of the key supporting characters, was too much of a pushover (“he needs a spine,” according to one reviewer; I have my team of fictional surgeons working on him as I type these words). But I am far more encouraged than discouraged by the responses I received over the weekend.

Concluding the Experiment

Sandy withdrew her hand, and told Mr. Jacobs that she wasn’t on the fencing team. His face beamed in reply — “You’ve been here all afternoon, haven’t you? When you were apparently supposed to be somewhere else!” He pointed, without looking, behind him and up at the loudspeaker.

Feeling the wall she had erected was being demolished, Sandy stepped back, said she really needed to go. Mr. Jacobs nodded, but Annie stepped forward, blocking Sandy’s path to the large metal doors to the hallway. “Cassandra, right? That’s your name?”

The freshman nodded, and as she continued backing towards the exit, replied that most people called her Sandy. A dismissive grunt from behind Annie caught everyone’s attention. “They should call you The Bird, the way you jerk her head around.” Sandy remembered this boy with the wild stringy hair and moustache; Annie had all but grabbed him, insisted he demonstrate a proper lunge. He’d agreed, and Sandy had been impressed by the fluidity and power of his body, though she’d been confused by his subsequent complaint, something about having to use the wrong weapon.

Annie waved a dismissive hand in the boy’s direction. “Don’t let anything Double-J says bother you.”

Sandy replied that she didn’t mind (she was actually intrigued by the idea of being called The Bird), but she really needed to leave.

“We’re here every Tuesday.” Sandy liked the way Mr. Jacobs’ eyes seeemed to smile. “See you next week.” He was making demand, not an offer; Sandy thought his words presumptuous, yet also appealing. And as she turned to leave, to return to the guidance office, she began thinking of how she could arrange for staying after school next Tuesday.

Surviving The Debate, Part 2

Like I did for the first presidential debate, I’ll be writing a running commentary on tonight’s debate, which has the potential to be unlike any other in the history of the presidential campaigning in the United States. All times are US Eastern Standard.

8:47 — Last time I tried this, I somehow missed Trump’s snide comment on possibly not having paid federal taxes — “that makes me smart” — which became the signature sound bite of the debate. Also didn’t catch Trump’s constant sniffling. I’d probably be more observant if I wasn’t drinking, but I’m not gonna get through these next 90 minutes without some help.

8:53 — Been an interesting last few days, since the publication of that video where Trump bragged about sexual assault. Earlier tonight, Trump conducted a press conference along with four women who’ve accused Clinton’s husband of sexual assault. Never ceases to amaze me how, so far anyway, all attempts to smear Hillary for her role in enabling Bill’s misconduct have backfired; will be interesting to see if that trend continues.

9:04 — Before this gets started, I have to marvel at the format of this debate. Two candidates, one of whom will be elected to the most powerful position on the planet, taking direct questions from voters.

9:05 — The candidates arrive, and they don’t shake hands. That sound you hear is some pundit’s head exploding.

9:08 — Clinton speaks of optimism, Trump says the country’s in the ditch.

9:10 — Anderson Cooper follows up the first question by bringing up that video from Friday (Trump supporters will go nuts); Trump somehow brings Medieval Times into his response, and launches his first sniff. He’s doing his best to brush off his words as locker-room talk (“they’re things that people say”); he’s not doing a good job.

9:17 — Trump brings up Bill Clinton’s crimes, and he’s sniffing like a coke fiend

9:19 — oh you take the low road, and I’ll take the high road, and we’ll get through this damn debate by midnight.

9:22 — the Sniffer is not backing down; full attack mode. Clinton’s not backing down.

9:25 — moderators are not letting Clinton get away from the email server controversy; good for them

9:28 — Trump is rude and petulant (“it’s one on three”); there’s no other assessment

9:31 — Clinton responds to a complaint about Obamacare by talking about its benefits, which seems like a knee-jerk, tone-deaf response. Trump’s response may not be good policy, but may be more effective politically. In response to a follow-up question, Clinton again deflects and avoids.

9:36 — as she listens to Trump, Clinton smiles in a way that seems smug and condescending

9:39 — didn’t expect that Muhammad Ali reference tonight. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.

9:45 — what the heck was that pointy thing Trump just did? Complaining about the amount of time Clinton has to respond? Moderators give in to his whining, and he goes on a lengthy rant.

9:47 — moderator brings up the Wikileaks revelation of Clinton’s speech; Clinton responds by talking about a great Spielberg movie, then suggests Wikileaks is working with the Russians to get Trump elected.

9:51 — Trump just said he doesn’t know Putin or anything about Russia; investigative reporters across the country are going to have a lot of fun with that. And I need another drink.

9:56 — when Trump talks, Clinton sits; when Clinton talks, Trump paces, and at times looks like he just wants to walk away

10:00 — Anderson Cooper just slapped a STFU on Trump

10:06 — Trump promises to escalate the nuclear arms race with Russia; when can this guy go away?

10:08 — Trump just said he disagreed with his running mate’s statement on Syria; I don’t see how Pence can continue supporting this guy

10:13 — Trump’s been complaining about the moderators all night; nobody said running for President would be fair. I would, however, like to see stats on the amount of time each candidate ran over their allotted limits.

10:17 — Clinton made a good decision by not taking the bait Trump offered on her “deplorables” remark. Cooper brings up that remark in his follow-up question, and she wisely offers and quick apology and directs her response to Trump’s rhetoric.

10:21 — Cooper asks Trump about the 3 AM tweet about Miss Universe’s sex tape; he says he didn’t say anything about a sex tape in his tweet. Fact checkers must love this guy.

10:24 — a question about Supreme Court justices. Clinton wants someone with real-life experience, whatever that means. She also wants justices who will uphold abortion rights and marriage equality; Trump declares he wants people who will support gun rights, then questions why she hasn’t contributed to her own campaign (whaaaaa?)

10:34 — great question to end the debate; what’s one thing you respect about the other? Clinton says she respects his kids (for being able to survive their father, I guess); Trump says he thinks she’s a fighter, which is one of traits I also admire about her.

10:37 — and they end by shaking hands.

Experiment, Part 6

Sandy stood up abruptly, pointed to the loudspeaker near the ceiling on the far end of the cafeteria wall, and announced to the group that had been slowly gathering around her that she was being called, and needed to leave. She was immediately filled with relief, as if the words she’d just spoken had formed an invisible shield around her, protecting against the attention that had been descending upon her.

“Very well.” The bearded teacher kept approaching, breaking through her shield. “I saw you working with Annie earlier — ” he nodded in the direction of the pony-tailed sophomore — “I didn’t want to interrupt, but did hope to at least introduce myself before you left.” He stepped forward, right hand extended. “Jacobs. Dan Jacobs.”

Sandy stared at his hand a moment, knowing instinctively how she should respond but pausing out of surprise, as she could not remember anyone, certainly not a man, ever offering to shake her hand. She blinked, then suddenly reached out and grabbed his hand. It was warm, slick with sweat. She then told Mr. Jacobs that it was a pleasure to meet him.

“We’re not in class now, my friend.” Before she could pull her hand away, she felt him squeeze firmly, then suddenly clap his other hand on top of their shake. “This is practice, for the fencing team. And during fencing time, I prefer to be called Coach Dan.”

Experiment, Part 5

Sandy’s outburst hit Annie like a shove, sending her back in her squat and forcing her to lay her right hand back to keep from falling. Juan, standing above Sandy, remained motionless, as the red-headed boy next to him took two steps back. Their attention was focused on Sandy, making her uncomfortable — and her discomfort grew upon realizing that the other students in the large room had also heard her outburst, and were now coming towards her, as was the teacher, the fencing coach, a concerned look on his bearded face. “Is everything all right?”

She wanted to leave, disappear, eliminate the attention that was now bearing down on her, but were she to turn and run they would certainly follow her, and they were stronger and faster and —

YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE. Sandy recognized the admin’s voice, booming down from the PA loudspeakers on the ceiling. CASSANDRA WERNICK, PLEASE REPORT TO THE GUIDANCE OFFICE.

The Experiment Continues, Part 4

Sandy’s mind was like a blender, thoughts whirling furiously, colliding, blending. She she was supposed to be in the guidance office, her mother was coming, but what if she had already been there, would she have left, wait she’d told the the office admin she was going to the cafeteria, but that was, she didn’t know how long she’d been there, she’d told the admin she wanted a snack and that didn’t take long, what if the admin forgot, would her mother have assumed Sandy had gotten a ride home, that’s what happened one time last year —

“Juan, what’s going on?” Mask in left hand and foil in the right, Annie approached and glared at the tall Asian boy, who was still looking down at Sandy.

Sandy’s mind was stil racing — the time, the office, the admin, her mother, she got mad at her for that ride home, even though it was the parent of a friend from down the street —

Juan shrugged. “Your friend here, looks a little confused.”

— it’s not like he was a stranger, I couldn’t reach you, Juan doesn’t sound like an Asian name, why wouldn’t the admin tell her mother to look in the cafeteria  —

Annie squatted down, let her equipment fall gently to the tiled cafeteria floor, laid her forearms on her knees. “Don’t worry, we’re all friends here.”

The words erupted from Sandy’s mouth. I CAN TAKE CARE OF MYSELF!

Part the Third of the latest Experiment

The pale red-headed boy lifted his fencing jacket at the waist, exposing a pocket on his track pants. He then reached into the pocket, pulled out a paper sheet folded in quarters. He then handed the sheet to the other boy, along with a command — “Give this to your mom tonight.”

Mother. Sandy realized suddenly where she was, or rather, that she wasn’t where she was suppossed to be, where her mother — she looked quickly to her right and up, saw the large analog clock hung above the windows leading to the kitchen. 4:10. Sandy’s mother said she’d be at the school by 4:30; the teen sighed audibly.

“You OK?” The taller boy had come closer, was standing above her now. He seemed suspicious, as if he didn’t trust her being there. 

The Experiment Moves On To Part 2

[In Part 1, I had called one of my characters The Bird, a nickname she will be given and gleefully adopt in the novel only after the events of this scene. In this and subsequent parts of this experiment, I’ll call her Sandy, the name she is most often called at school.] 

Despite her curiosity, Sandy had entered the cafeteria tentatively. There were seven students, four engaged in two fencing bouts at the center of the large room, the other three observing; the teacher she’d met at the assembly was the only person she recognized. Every person in the room, even the ones who were just observing, had seemed to her large, powerful, and filled with a poise that made them seem alien. She had watched silently for several minutes, succeeding in her effort to to avoid being detected, until Annie had seen her, pulled her in from the dusty edges of the room, invited her to participate in the team’s practice with a voice that wouldn’t accept refusal.

That had been an hour ago, and as she sat among the team’s equipment sacks, Sandy felt tired, and a little overwhelmed by the abundance of information she had absorbed — her exhausation had motivated her refusal to observe Annie’s practice bout. Sandy’s curiosity about this unusual sport, however, remained strong, and she looked forward to watching the bout from a distance.

“Hey.” The voice was followed by the sound of approaching footfalls; Sandy twisted to her left, saw two boys approaching. She recognized one, from the assembly, pale skinned and curly red hair, but didn’t recall his name. The other was taller, Asian, black hair wet with perspiration, his athletic body reminding Sandy of the basketball players she occassionally saw at school. 

Another Untitled Experiment, Part 1

[I’m starting a short narrative today that may find its way into my novel, perhaps in chapter two. Like I did with “Giving Voice,” I’m beginning with the hope the title will come to me at some point.]

“Come watch.” Her thin, powerful legs pushing up from its squat, Annie kept her eyes on The Bird as she rose above the khaki sacks that contained the equipment used by the Bark Bay High School fencing team. The sophomore then pointed with her right thumb behind her, as her brown pony-tail drifted off her left shoulder. “Rex and I will trade a few touches, and we can talk to you about what we’re doing.”

The Bird did not move from her seat on the tiled cafeteria floor. The freshman looked up at Annie, and asked if she could watch from where she was. Annie pursed her lips, peeked behind her at the floor, then called to Rex — “We’ve got space, over here.” She then walked into the center of a rectangle of white tiles, one of several in the sea of the floor’s black tiles. Rex was perhaps a dozen yards away, in a different island of white, having just finished a bout with Juan. The tall junior waved Annie over to him, as if he hadn’t heard her proposal.

Annie began to repeat herself, but The Bird softly objected, said she could watch the two of them fence where she was. “Hey” — Annie turned, nodded in acknowledgment of Rex’s call, looked back quickly at The Bird — “It’s your first practice. Just watch, make a mental list of questions, we can talk about them when I’m done. OK?” The Bird said she would try, and Annie, swiftly picking up a mask and foil from the equipment sacks, hustled off towards Rex.

The Bird was glad that Annie had spent so much time with her alreadty. Her appearance at practice that afternoon had essentially been an accident; she had attended a tutoring session after school, and had been given permission to stay in the building until her mother arrived. Sitting in the guidance office, she had grown hungry, and asked if she could get a snack from the vending machines in the cafeteria; a bored administrative assistant replied by wordlessly twitching her head toward the door. Walking down the wide hall, The Bird then heard the sharp tinging of thin metal and sneakered feet thumping on tile, and immediately recognized the sounds, from the assembly the previous month, when those two boys fenced and that teacher talked about the fencing team.

She didn’t know why she had approached that teacher after the assembly, and hadn’t given fencing any thought since then; she didn’t even remember the teacher’s name. But when she’d heard those sounds echoing up from the cafeteria that afternoon, she’s felt the same mysterious draw of irresistable curisosity that had struck her during the assembly.