Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Square Peg – We’re All Going to Gitmo

The Square Peg – We’re All Going to Gitmo
© S. Bradley Stoner

Well ol’ Duncan and Bingo Bob were going at it again yesterday. I swear those two live to argue… at least with each other. They can fight about almost anything and they can get LOUD. Folks who don’t know these two might be tempted to call the cops on them. Of course, they don’t know that Duncan is a retired cop. I wandered over. Sometimes I just can’t help myself.

“So what’s this all about?”

“This moron,” Bob jabbed a finger at Duncan, “doesn’t believe in the Constitution.”

“What?! Of course I do, but at least I understand it. I don’t think you’ve ever read it. Do they even teach English in New Jersey? I’m pretty sure they don’t teach American Government.”

“Watch it, bub!”

“Okay… okay, let’s back it off a notch,” I interjected before this deteriorated any further. “What’s this all about?”

“Apple,” Duncan said.

“The company or the fruit?” I asked.

“Geez, don’tcha watch the news?!” Bob shot.

“Must be the company,” I conceded.

“They’re not cooperating with the Feds in an investigation. How un-American is that?” Duncan said indignantly.

“It’s as American as APPLE pie,” retorted Bob. “Right to privacy and freedom from illegal search and all that stuff.”

“Been on that militia site again, Bob? The Fourth Amendment says, ‘"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.’ I learned that in high school” I threw in.”

“To-may-toes, to-mah-toes,” Bob returned.

Duncan’s face was beginning to flush. I was expecting steam to come out of his ears soon. “Let it out before you blow a gasket,” I said to him.

“Look,” Duncan said through gritted teeth, “There was a crime… more than that… a terrorist act. There’s probably important security info on that iPhone. They’ve got probable cause.”

“In this case, that’s true,” I replied.

“Geesh… you guys always gang up on me,” Bob whined.

“Hold on,” I said. “I said in this case… but what the FBI wants is a special back door to get around all passwords. I think that’s a dangerous proposition. It’s like a John Doe warrant… and in my view those are unconstitutional.

“Yer takin’ Bob’s side?!” Duncan asked incredulously.

“In this case, yes.”

Duncan just shook his head. “And you all want law enforcement to keep you safe… then you take away our tools to do that.”

Bob, who had been darting looks between Duncan and me, now focused. At least I thought that was the case, but he asked in a lost voice, “What’s a back door? Something they can rear end us with?”

Duncan slapped his forehead. I just stared.

“Well?” Bob demanded.

“It’s a special access point to the program… programmers almost always leave a back door only they know about so they can fix problems… bugs… in the code they write.”

“Geez, if they give the Feds that, we’re all in trouble. What if the bad guys start using sports stats to send messages? Huh? If they do that, we’re all going to Gitmo. I’d hate to get tagged as a terrorist for texting my golf scores,” Bob moaned.

“Wish they’d send you to Gitmo,” Duncan mumbled under his breath.

I didn’t ask him whether he meant Bob or me. I didn’t want to know.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Garage Sale

 The Garage Sale

© S. Bradley Stoner

The old man sat on a broken down lawn chair beside the tables holding his life’s collection of this and that. People milled about, picking up an old tool here and there, or perhaps some knick-knack from a distant land. A young fellow seemed taken by an old, worn Army uniform, it’s patches faded and the brass dull.

Ordinarily I don’t stop at garage sales. I used to. I found it interesting to see what others had collected and were now discarding. You can read a lot about people in their cast-offs. For some reason, this sale caught my eye. It wasn’t the array of items. It was the old man. His hands were gnarled, his face lined and his pate sprouted a shock of pure white hair. I could tell he had once had a powerful build. Nature had wronged him, it was plain to see. He seemed a shadow of what once he was, but his bright blue eyes still danced in the sunlight. I stopped.

“Good morning to you, sir,” I smiled as I approached. “How goes the sale?”

He looked up at me with a puzzled expression. It was clear nobody had bothered to greet him in this, or any other manner. A woman walked up. Interrupted. Offered a dollar for an item tagged at three. The old man just nodded, took her dollar and pur it in the coffee can at his feet.

“It could be better,” he replied after the interruption. “Nobody thinks my stuff is worth much.”

“Well, that always seems to be the way. I’ll have a look around.”

The old man simply nodded and I took my leave. I was curious about the uniform. Probably more than the kid who still fingered it, looking at the row of ribbons above the left breast pocket. The first thing I noticed about the uniform was the Screaming Eagle patch of the 101st Airborne Division on the left sleeve. On the right sleeve was the unit patch of 1st Bn 501st Infantry Regiment. I glanced at the ribbons the kid was fingering. Noted the Combat Infantryman’s Badge above them. Among the ribbons arrayed in two rows, I recognized the Purple Heart with two stars, the Silver Star, the Vietnam Service, and Vietnam Campaign medals. The price tag said $50.00.

I walked back to the old man. “When did you serve?”

He squinted at me. “Sixty-nine and seventy.”

I took out my wallet, withdrew $50 and offered it to him. “Here’s the fifty... but you keep the uniform. There are some things you just don’t sell.”

I shook his hand again, bade him a good day and walked away without looking back. As I drove home, I had the jarring thought that the “old man” was probably the same age as I. A glance in the rearview mirror reflected my image back at me. I swore at nature and cursed time.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

he Square Peg - The Great Spring Expedition

The Square Peg - The Great Spring Expedition
© S. Bradley Stoner

I woke up this morning to bright sunshine, warm temperatures and singing birds. Yep, it’s turning spring in Texas. Not that this is a big deal... it’s been spring-like for most of the winter. I mean, we’ve had maybe two freezes, albeit short lived, since last October. So, it isn’t the weather per se... maybe it’s the inclination of the sun. That does it for the birds, so why
not me?

Anyway, it was time to plan my springtime expedition. This IS a big deal. It takes days of planning to get it right. First, I’ve got to clean out the Explorer. That’s not such a big deal since I’m not a teenager or twenty-something, so I don’t use my vehicle as a dumpster. Still, there’s vacuuming to be done... you can’t go on an expedition with the winters grit floating about, now can you? Then there’s the matter of seats. When they are up in the sitting position, you can’t load everything you need to. And I need to. My Explorer doubles as a pickup truck... almost. It has a headroom restriction you don’t encounter with a truck.

Then there’s that list of items. This requires me to inventory my stuff. Inside and out. I don’t want to miss anything and get caught up short. Startng out and then going back is not an option. This is a one shot deal. Once I have completed my inventory, it’s time to compile the list of stuff I need to purchase. Then all of that Internet research to find the best deal and the closest stores. Frankly, I don’t want to travel a lot in the procurement phase. In fact, the less travel, the better. Time is money... and so is gas, even though it is comparatively cheap right now.

When I finished taking inventory and writing out the list, an hour and a half had been shot to hell. The Internet killed another two hours. It became clear that I would have to reschedule my departure time. Friday, Saturday and Sunday were booked. Monday it is. I decided to do the prep work on the old Explorer. So, I pulled it up into the driveway, emptied the winter accumulation of sawdust and leaves from my shop vac, and prepared to do battle with the dust and grit in my trusty steed.

I’d just finished banging out the shop vac filter and was reassembling the contraption when Bob walked up. Once again, I had no place to hide. Damn! “What’s up Bob?”

“Goin’ on a trip?” he asked.

Now normally I only tell a couple of my neighbors when I plan on being away from home, and Bob isn’t one of them. No telling who he’ll blab to when he’s swilling beer or Jack... or both. “Just doing a little spring cleaning,” I replied.

“Geez, it isn’t even spring yet.”

“Could have fooled me,” I shot back. “It’s fricking 72 degrees and the sun’s shining. To me that’s spring. It’s got my itchy mood going. Time to be out in nature, even if it is just sucking the grime out of the old Explorer.”

“Not me... I’ve got almost two months to hibernate yet.”

“Well, I suppose... after all football is over until August... Yea Broncos.” I just had to poke the bear.

“Screw you. Besides, I’ve moved on. So, where are ya goin?” Bob thought he was being sneaky, slipping that in. I let him know he was about as subtle as an M-1A1 tank. That just made him belligerent. “Well, at least you can tell me when you are going.”

I made a mental note to make sure I didn’t leave any of my tools in the potting shed or on the back porch for him to borrow. “Like I said, I’m just doing a bit of spring cleaning.”

Bob gave up, shrugged and mumbled, “See ya later,” then ambled back home.

I had to wait until he’d finished ambling to put the seats down and take out my tape measure to double check the cubic footage available. That gave me the cargo capacity. I finished up, parked the Explorer back in front of the house, and went inside to review my list. You see, going to Home Depot in the spring is an expedition... and it requires careful planning. I mean, you just have to know how many bags of mulch, weed and feed, and concrete you can reasonably fit in before you go. Oh, and you have to know where to stash the liquid weed killer and cans of spar varnish so you don’t wind up with wet weed and feed or crushed cans and bottles. Frankly, there are some smells I just don’t want inside my Explorer.

I like the Home Depot... in fact, as I’ve noted before, I could cheerfully spend the better part of a day in there... except when I’m on a mission. And this was a mission. I had to get the logistics right before I engaged in battle with a runaway landscape. The great thing about Texas is that things grow. It’s also the worst thing about Texas. Pruning and weed killing are threatening to eat into my fishing time if I don’t get a handle on the runaway growth first. You have to have a strategy, a good set of tools, and a tactical approach for each season. Springtime is launch time for the main assault. If you blow that, you’ll be fighting it all year. I’m getting too old for that crap... besides, I’d rather be fishing. So, it’s D-Day minus 3... Hope the Depot’s big carts are greased up and ready to go. And... If I'm really lucky, I'll get back before my sweetie knows I went.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Square Peg - The Morning After the Night Before

The Square Peg - The Morning After the Night Before
© S. Bradley Stoner

I woke up early this morning. I’ve got to tell you, I felt grrr-eat! The days are getting longer, so the sun was already up. I swear old Sol was smiling down at me. With my mug of morning coffee in my hand, I stepped onto my back porch and breathed in the crisp air. We had a cold front come through last night so it was a Texas nippy 50° F. It was invigorating, I tell you.

Coffee done, it was just about time to head out and pound the pavement... morning walks in the sunshine are such a joy. That stint of gloomy overcast and fog a couple of weeks ago, not so much. Sneakers tied, I stepped out and set a brisk pace. Four doors down, Duncan joined me, letting out a tremendous belch as he did.

“Last night’s pizza,” he grimaced apologetically. “Told ya not to put onions on it.”

I took one look at his bloodshot eyeballs, caught the waft of the belch and returned, “Pizza heck! Beer. I’m surprised you didn’t sleep in.”

“That too,” he grinned sheepishly. “What a game!”


“Think it was Manning’s last one?”

“Hard telling. I wouldn’t blame him if it was, but reports of Favre’s retirement proved false... more than once, so who knows?”

We circled the block before we headed out for our long walk. I’m pretty sure we were both hoping to catch old Bob out getting his paper. Who’d want to miss seeing him the morning after? Certainly not us. Sure enough, there he was, standing with his bathrobe open and holding the paper. He spotted us and tried to escape. No such luck.

“Hey Bob!” we chorused.

He stopped dead in his tracks, hung his head and slowly turned around. His face had the same expression as Cam Newton’s late in the fourth quarter. Sort of a mixture of astonishment, defeat and pain. I’d have felt sorry for him but for all the boasting about how Carolina was going to clean Denver’s clock the week before.

“How about those Broncos?!” we sang gleefully.

“Shut up,” Bob answered miserably. “Nobody likes gloating winners.”

“Hey, we’re not gloating,” I said, but we kind of were.

This was the second year in a row we’d seen old Bob come out on the losing end of his boasts. First, the Pats had beaten the Sea Hawks in the last seconds of the previous Super Bowl, and now his Panthers had been trampled by the Broncos. He was miserable. We could have been a little more charitable... heck, we could have been a little charitable... but we weren’t.

“Told ya Denver’s defense was a buzz saw,” Duncan offered. “Told ya Carolina hadn’t seen anything like it all year. You shoulda listened. By the way... where’s my twenty bucks?”

“You suck... I have to go to the bank.”

“Well, don’t take a month like you did last year,” Duncan said.

Now, I knew Duncan couldn’t care less about the money. It was just his way of needling Bingo Bob. After putting up with Bob’s derision after Denver’s humiliation by Seattle in the Super Bowl a couple of years ago, this was sweet revenge. By the time Duncan got done this year, Bob’s ego would be as bruised as Cam’s body after the seventh sack. Me? I can’t sustain gloating that long. After a week it’s time to move on, but during that week, I’d help Duncan remind Bob that paybacks are a... well, you know.

“Yeah, yeah,” Bob said. “You’ll get it.”

“I don’t want you to be owin’ me come next year’s big game... who ya pickin’ anyway?”

“Ya know, you can be a real ass, Duncan... I’m goin’ inside. I don’t have to put up with this crap.” But Bob knew he did... he knew he had it coming. You could tell by the defeat in his voice.

“Hey... I’m throwing a victory party next Saturday... want to come,” Duncan tossed over his shoulder as Bob headed inside.

“Screw you,” Bob said.

“I’m buyin’ the beer and burgers,” Duncan sniggered.

“I hope you choke on ‘em!” Bob shot back and slammed the door.

“Hmmm,” I mused, “Did we go too far?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Duncan replied. “Besides, he’ll show up for the party, no matter what he says... Bob is incapable of passing up free beer and food.”

We continued on, filled with a warm, fuzzy feeling. Mine was from the sweet victory of my team, Duncan’s was from too much beer and pizza. Still, it was pretty funny when he belched out, “Broncos Win!” I wonder if we’ll ever grow up... aw, who cares? It was funny!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Square Peg - Aw, Yer Mudda Wears Combat Boots!

The Square Peg - Aw, Yer Mudda Wears Combat Boots!
© S. Bradley Stoner

I could hear them a block away. Bingo Bob had slipped into Jerseyisms. Duncan was playing bad cop. Now, this isn't particularly unusual... Bob and Duncan are like oil and water most of the time. Hearing them going at it again really wasn't much of a surprise. Oh, it never gets physical, but it does get loud. I couldn't make out all the words, and I wondered what it was all about this time. I mean, I've heard them argue about everything from law and politics down to something as trivial as the merits of real butter versus the I can't believe it's not butter stuff.

I drew nearer, trying to get close enough to hear, but just far enough away to avoid being sucked into whatever it was they were arguing about now. Bob was so mad you could feel the heat he was generating. He punctuated almost every sentence with a jabbing finger. If the sky had been a balloon, he'd have poked a hole in it, letting all the air out. We'd have all suffocated.

"Aw nuts, you got no clue!" I heard Duncan shout in true cop fashion.

"I got a clue... I got a clue!" Bob sputtered. "I got a big damn clue!"

"Baloney! You couldn't find a dog turd stuck to the bottom of your shoe!" Duncan shot back.

"Aw yer mudda wears combat boots!"

"And your daddy wears girl's panties!" Duncan's big mug was shoved dangerously close to Bob's.

That wasn't easy. Duncan stands six foot two in his socks and Bob barely clears five six with his boots on. You might say it's a bit of a physical mismatch. Did that intimidate Bob? Not on your life. There's nothing quite as rabid as a Jerseyite with his dander up. Frankly, I thought Duncan was taking an unnecessary risk putting his nose that close to Bob's teeth.



"Well, we;ll just see!" Bob said defiantly.

"You bet your butt we will!" Duncan shot back and stalked off.

I tried to make myself small. It didn't work. Bob saw me anyway. There was no escape. He stomped, stiff-legged like a pee-oed dog, in my direction. With no other recourse, I smiled, waved, and chirped "Hiya Bob... how's tricks?"

"That blankety- blank..." (he didn't actually say that, but the colorful Jerseyisms might be offensive to some) "Donutz is just bullheaded. He just refuses to face the facts..."

"Would those be actual facts or your facts?" Someday I'll learn to keep my mouth shut and just nod sagely. I guess I haven't reached that level of enlightenment yet.

"Jay-sus, Mary and Joseph! You too?!"

"Me too what?" I asked innocently.

Bob ignored me. "I was just explaining why the Panthers are gonna win this Sunday... Lookit... they got Cam... Superman, for crying' out loud! And they got..."

"Let me stop you right there... I'm a Bronco fan, dyed in the wool, win lose or draw."

"Yeah... well wake up and smell the flapjacks," Bob snorted. "All the experts have Denver as a big underdog."

"Well crap on a cracker, Bob... would those be the same experts who picked the Patriots to dominate the Broncs in the AFC championship? I'd be careful about believing those guys. I hope you didn't bet on the game."

"Ass," Bob muttered.

"Nope... Bronco," I smiled.

"Hmmmph! See ya Sunday? I've got the beer and Duncan is bringing snacks."

"Okay, I'll get the pizza," and added as Bob walked away, "Go Broncos!"

"Shut up!" Bob punctuated it with a single finger... and it wasn't his index finger.