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The Great Wind

By Brett Hainley

Barry Wilson was entirely unremarkable. He was average height, of average build, with eyes and grayish-brown hair that was probably thinning a little, but not dramatically. He stood at the exact center of every possible demographic. He was white, but had ethnic blood in his ancestry. He worked a clerical job for a corporation that made things and sold other things. If any woman could be reasonably expected to remember him as soon as her back was turned, his wife would probably be middle-height with mousey brown hair. It wasn’t even as if he was invisible, like those people who seem to slip beneath notice until they do something and everyone’s surprised they were even there. Barry was simply unremarkable, like a number two pencil, or a golf ball.

The only place where he even stood out at all was that he had always been somewhat gassy. Most of the time, he would relieve the pressure through silent burps and the occasional poot, but there were times, depending on what he had eaten, when he would release a truly heroic belch or tragically comic fart. It was at one of these times, while watching a moderately popular series and farting loudly enough that he had to change the volume on the show, the Barry came up with his plan. He would become famous for his gassiness.
He decided he would belch the entire US Constitution and all twenty-four Amendments. This meant training. He set himself a dietary regimen of nothing but radishes and unsweetened citrus drinks. He found that orange juice produced the best tone, but that he got more volume from a punch made of orange, lemon, and grapefruit juices. Adding lime seemed to extend the time of the belch.

Sadly, he couldn’t stand the pressure. The amount of gas necessary just to recite the preamble and most of Article One was so great that Barry thought he was going to die, and his plan seemed to die.

When life closes a door, however, it opens a window. Barry decided that life needed to open a big window, because he was going to create the longest, loudest fart in history. This fart, he decided, was going to be titanic. This would be a fart that could be used to warn ships during fog. This would be The Great Wind!
For weeks, he ate noting but broccoli and American cheese, and every few days he would test to see if his theory was working. Somehow, the media got wind of his plan, and he was invited to present the Great Wind at an outdoor stadium downtown, in front of a host of spectators and honored guests.

The big day finally arrived; Barry would be opening for an aging punk band on their fifth reunion tour. The three surviving members, each worth billions (one was a successful conservative talk show host), were glad to have the Great Wind kick off their tour, to show their fans they were still edgy. Barry stood on the stage. This was his time. People would know him!

He closed his eyes and…passed gas.

He passed gas for a long time, in silence. He was still passing gas when the band came out and shooed him away so they could play their set. Luckily, there was a mild breeze. Barry was still passing gas when the show ended and through the bus ride home. He passed gas for seven hours and thirteen minutes, but no one was really aware except him. He had done something truly remarkable, but no one knew; no one really remembered that he had tried.

When it was done, as he sat in his living room, watching an ubiquitous show in syndication, he sighed, and said, “Excuse me.”

Camp Stories: The Seige

By Brett Hainley

The men of the Company of Nine were gathered around the fire. Garald, the captain, was away with the lords, planning strategy. Ulfstan, the Norther, was tending the fire and the pot of stew he had started. The others were caring for their equipment.

Einar, the smaller moon, shined above the battlements, his young face just beginning to give way to the scarred. Gianni, the Souther, noticed the new man, Donal, staring up at it. “What’s got your eye?” he asked.

Donal glanced at him. He was big, not quite as large as Ulfstan, but big enough to swing a longsword as if it were a spatha. He was new to the Company, but not to war. They wouldn’t have trust him at all, but Sean, the old veteran sergeant, had spoken for him. “I was just thinking,” he shrugged, “about the last time I sat in siege, and Einar started showing his ugly side.”

The other men got quiet, and waited to hear his tale. “It was ten, no fifteen years ago. I was a conscript archer for Duke Pellen in his drive against the Fomor.” There was a snort of disbelief at this broad swordsman ever drawing a bow. “I was young,” he replied, “with no more hair on my face than a babe’s, and had yet to come into my full stature. Anyway, my people are known for our skill with a bow.” He turned his attention back to his sword, alternately stroking the blade with his whetstone and wiping it with a cloth.

Arian spoke up. “What about the siege?”

Donal gazed at him thoughtfully. Arian was a young man, younger than any others at the fire, and this may have been his first campaign. “It wasn’t really much of a siege. Not a grand army against a fortified city, like this, here. We were just an early sortie in the larger campaign, sent to test the will and the might of the Fomor.

“We’d scored an early victory against one of the larger tribes, and had pursued them to their stronghold, a small wooden bailey in the hills. The stockade backed up to a high cliff, and the surrounding woods worked with a deep river to channel us into a frontal position. Count Sevier kept our main force back and away. He had the forward camps light fires so there were only a few men to each, and he held muster each morning in different positions, hoping the Fomor would think we had more men than we did. This had the added bonus of reducing the risk of men getting hit when the defending archers shot at the watch fires.

“We held the siege for maybe four weeks without incident, expecting that sooner or later the savages would relent. We’d struck early in the harvest, and we were sure that they hadn’t laid on any kind of emergency provision.

“It was on the second night of the fifth week that things started to go bad. My company was on a knoll above the left forward flank, so we saw it from the beginning. Einar had just risen above the battlements, his ugly side barely showing, when the fires at either end of the front line dwindled, and went out. I was sent down to inform Count Sevier what we’d seen, but soon learned he was already aware. He had sent men to find out what the meaning was. By the time I returned to the hill, two more fires had gone out on either side.

“We watched all night, but no more fires went out. Some supposed that the companies at those fires had deserted, sneaking off into the woods in the night, but the right flank was girded by a river, deep and strong, and surely someone would have heard splashing even if the men had dare the river at night. It was also noted that Count Sevier’s men had not returned, either, and they were veterans of his personal guard, loyal and true, not superstitious conscripts from the low valleys.

“Lord Sevier rearranged the watches, and moved more men forward with orders to shoot down any who tried to desert. But the next night, the same thing happened.

“We had settled in for a long, easy siege. Our supply lines were strong, and the Fomor were unlikely to receive outside aid. Most of those clans hate each other as much as they hate anyone else, carrying old grudges with them like priceless heirlooms. But, now, we knew we’d have to risk a frontal assault.

“The third night, Lord Sevier pulled the men back from the first rank after the watch fires were lit. Meanwhile, he moved the archers to the center and prepared us to move forward.
“In the morning, we advanced on the fort. While most of us offered cover, a small corps fired arrows rigged with lines at the gate, hoping to pull it down across the motte. The Fomor concentrated on us—fools! We were merely a feint.

“In the night, Lord Sevier had ordered ladder built, and while we held the Fomor’s attention, the lord and his guard quietly placed the ladders and breached their walls on both flanks. The valley was soon filled with their cries of surprise and despair.

“The vanguard opened the gate for us, and the main force drove in and we massacred the town, ever man, woman and child.” Donal looked at the stunned faces around him. “You think we were the savages? So did I, at first. But what you don’t know, and what we should have guessed, is what we found inside.”

He stared down at his sword for a long moment, fighting down emotion. “We found the missing men, hung by their feet, dressed like pigs in a butcher’s shop.”

Renters

By Brett Hainley

Greg King sat at the back of the Home Owners Association meeting. He wouldn’t be there at all, except that his friend, Eunice Waller had called him asking him to sit in, so they’d have a quorum. Greg had given up on the Yaupon Lakes Community Association long ago, and had no plans of bothering, now.

To be fair, Yaupon Lakes was not insane like some of the subdivisions where his friends lived. Deed Restrictions were modest, and mostly agreed with city ordinances on the subject of home care and responsibility. This had more to do with the vision of the developer, fifty years ago than the current board, but still, it was nice to be allowed the liberty of planting his yard the way he wanted and not according to some “perfect plan” developed by an angry retiree whose life centered on his neighbors’ faults.

Eunice sat down next to Greg as Albert Parks called the meeting to order. She was a handsome black woman dressed in conservative style. She owned a small, successful string of salons, and Greg often wondered why she didn’t live in a better neighborhood. Yaupon Lakes was nice, and the retention pond that served as their “lake” was well-maintained and beautiful, especially since the land around it had been deeded to the city as a park, but urban encroachment had been seeping into the neighborhood for a while, and the surrounding district did not reflect Yaupon’s family-friendly atmosphere.

Al read announcements and called for a reading of the minutes. He sounded like a fifth grader forced to read the morning roll call at school. Greg raised his hand. “Move to adopt without reading,” he said when Albert called on him.

“Can we do that?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, um, do I have a second?” Five people in the crowd said, “Second.” The motion was unanimously carried. Greg sighed happily that he wouldn’t have to waste ten minutes listening to Arbor Johnson, the secretary, struggle through the small-typed minutes prepared by the management company.

Eunice leaned into him. “You were always better at this. You should be up there.” Greg smiled gratefully at her and shrugged. He had been up there for three years. During that time, he had beaten a budget shortfall into submission and raised community activity in the Association, but he’d had to fight uphill all the way. An organized group, mostly original residents, opposed every action he’d attempted and tried to impose rules and practices that Greg found repugnant. When they’d forced through a payment policy that seemed more about punishing people for hard luck than it was about the financial health of the Association, Greg had resigned. He walked out of the meeting and never looked back.

Until Eunice called. She had asked him why he’d resigned back in the day, and when he told her he was tired, she had respected that. It would have been rude of him not to do her this little favor.
John Sharp, who was in charge of Deed Restrictions Enforcement, was going on and on about “renters”. There was something odd in his tone when he said the word that caught Greg’s ear. He leaned over to Eunice.

“Does he mean “minorities”?”

“He means “blacks”,” she said, her voice tight, “but I’m sure he’s thinking “niggers”.” When John moved on to a tirade about certain residents painting their brick in bright pastels, she leaned back to Greg. “He may also mean “wetbacks”.”

Greg shook his head and wondered how his neighbors had regressed so far. Had they always been this racist? He remembered an event during his own tenure where he had heard Arbor talking to a woman who wanted to volunteer. Arbor had sounded like she was talking the young woman out of the idea without actually telling her she wasn’t welcome. Greg thought, at the time, it had been just because the woman was so young, but she had been of East Asian descent, and now he wondered if that had been a factor.

Louise Fletcher, who always added, “not that one,” when she introduced herself, as if anyone would confuse the mousey little brunette with Nurse Ratched, was reading off the slate of nominees. This was why a quorum was needed. Nineteen residents had to be in attendance for the nominations to next year’s board to be valid. Greg noted two open At-Large positions, and silently noted that they’d managed to alienate that many people.

Al called for nominations from the floor, and Eunice stood up. “I nominate Greg King for President!”

“You can only make floor nominations for the two open At-Large positions,” Al corrected her.

“No,” Greg heard himself say.

“What?”

“Any position on the Board is subject to floor nomination.” He caught Al’s eye. “Read your by-laws.”

Al looked for support to the representative of the management company. She shrugged and nodded. “All right,” he surrendered, glaring at Greg, “Greg King for President. Is there a second?” A surprising number of voices were raised to second the nomination. Al said something else.

“Sorry?”

“Does the nominee assent?” Al said, sounding like he was reading from a foreign language phrasebook.

Greg considered it for a moment. Did he really want to be dragged back into this mess? Did he have a right not to do what he could? He sighed. “Yeah. Okay. Sure.”

The meeting was adjourned soon after. Greg bit his tongue and didn’t inform Al that he just needed a second for adjournment, not a vote. Outside, he lit a cigarette and stood talking to Eunice for a moment.

“I hope you didn’t mind,” she said.

“Mind?”

“When I nominated you. I was afraid you might think I tricked you into coming just for that.”

“That’s fine.”

“Good. I’ll see you next month for the vote.” Greg had the oddest feeling she had something up her sleeve.

“Yeah, bye.”

More people filtered out, on the way to their cars. Some stopped and congratulated him, shaking his hand. “I haven’t won yet,” he’d say, distractedly. He was trying to focus on a thing he heard. It was small and high, jus on the edge of hearing. Greg tried to locate the source.

Al came out with his wife, and they both started to berate him for “calling them out.”

Greg said, “Excuse me,” and walked past them to the hedge that grew next to the community building. He lay down on his stomach so he could see the little kitten, just barely weaned, sitting alone in the hedge and whining piteously. “Hey there stranger,” he said. “Would you like to come home with me?”

The kitten strolled out of its hiding place and walked right up to Greg, as if it had been waiting for his invitation. Greg stood, stroking the kitten’s forehead with one finger. He waved to the Parkses, and walked home.

Prudence, Indeed

Okay, I went a little off on the responsibility of free people to maintain a free society in the last bit, but now we’re getting into the colonists’ specific complaints against the King.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

Oh. Hmm… So it turns out that they weren’t the hot-headed firebrands they might, at first, appear to be. This sentence basically says, “We admit that it’s stupid to knock it all down and start over if it can be fixed.”

And that sentiment is valid today. More and more I read about petitions and calls for a variety of new constitutional amendments from those seeking to counter the ridiculous conclusions of the Citizens United decision to the recurrent calls for a “balanced budget” amendment. The thing is, Supreme court decisions are mere interpretations of law and are often overturned, Plessy v Ferguson being the one that springs first to mind.

The 18th and 21st amendments should both stand together as solid examples of why it is a dumb idea to use the Constitution as an instrument to create rules too specific to circumstance. And why any change to the foundation of our country must be one of necessity and not momentary whim.

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their further security.

And we’re back to what we were talking about yesterday.

Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

The colonists’ real beef was with Parliament, not the King. You will find nobody on the planet who will tell you that George III was in any way a tyrannical monarch or even a particularly active one. However, it was easier to publicize and cement public support against the Evil Dictator King than Parliament Trying to Pay Off the Seven Years War Debt While Expressing their Right to Govern the Colonies. Sound familiar?

I’m not saying they were making shit up. The specific complaints (which I’ll get into tomorrow) were real and valid. I am saying that it was neither as simple, nor as black and white as they made it sound, or as we Americans like to believe.

The trouble started with the French and Indian (7 Years) War. Depending on who you ask, that war was the direct result of the French encroaching on Colonial lands, Colonial speculators seeking new profitability from the recently-opened Cumberland gap, or British Imperialists seeking to expand British territorial claims in the New World. Whatever it was (my vote goes to all three in an amusing international cocktail I like to call a Murderita because it always starts with a bunch of festive nationalist songs and ends with someone burying half their family while facing a Mastercard charge they can’t quite remember accruing), the war was expensive, and the homeland felt that the colonies should shoulder some of the expense since much of it was incurred on their behalf.

This led to a number of new taxes, mostly aimed at the North American colonies. Mind you, most of the colonists, while not in love with the new taxes, just shrugged and started paying them. The New England colonies, however, who depended on trade for their livelihood, protested against the taxes. I should point out that when I say “protested,” I mean a drunken mob marched violently through town threatening and bullying anyone who didn’t agree with them. These protests often ended with a crudely-made effigy of the King (or, more likely, some local official) being hung and/or burned.

The most famous of these, the Boston Tea Party, was less a protest than a frat prank. Contrary to impressions, they didn’t sneak onto the ships, they were allowed on by the guards who saw right through the clever “Indian” disguises worn by the Sons of Liberty and may have greeted some of the members by name. It took them all night, by which time, they were almost certainly sober, but, by then it had become a macho thing, and they continued dumping the taxed tea into the harbor, grimly scooping it up and re-dumping it when the dump pile overwhelmed the ship’s gunwales. Later, the richer sponsors of the act paid for the tea (tax and all).

Parliament repealed most of the more obnoxious taxes, but because you can’t get five humans together without at least a little dick-waving, they passed other acts to show the Colonists that they were still in control. Then they passed the Stamp Act, which, besides being a dumbass tax on all paper products, including newspapers and spittle-emitting screeds, was extremely annoying to the Colonists because the collectors of the new tax were all so obviously selected by nature of their willingness to climb under the Royal Governors’ desks.

Boston, long known as the seat of calm, intellectual discourse*, of course, expressed their displeasure through calm, intellectual drunken riots. As a means of debate, this worked about as well as it does now, and Parliament responded with the Punitive Acts (better known in America as the Intolerable Acts). They rescinded the Massachusetts Colonial Charter and followed that up with a number of other laws limiting mobility and trade in all of the colonies.

The response was the First Continental Congress. Delegates from all 13 colonies got together and came up with the revolutionary notion of writing a letter asking Parliament (and the King) not to be so mean all of the time. This was passed around the House of Lords, getting a good laugh like a LoLcat meme, and they doubled down by essentially announcing that the colonists, who had thought themselves full citizens of the British Empire, had exactly as many rights as meatloaf.

This angered the colonists so much that, as the 2nd Continental Congress convened, they decided to write another letter, which was quickly returned to them folded up like a used Kleenex. And that’s how we ended up on July 4th, outlining just what a douche King George was, and why we weren’t going to be his friend any more.


*My wife and I were once eating in a Boston MacDonald’s when some guy walked in and started screaming at the manager, who started screaming back, both spewing more expletives than actual words in their incomprehensible accent. This went on for five minutes until the guy left and the manager went back about his business.

New Year’s Clearing House

Purely as a public service, and not at all to get them out of my head, I am posting a series of one- or two-line ideas I’ve had, but haven’t been able to process into something workable. Hopefully, others will find a way to expand them.

Frozen isn’t a (liberally adapted) version of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen.” It’s a (painfully blatant) retelling of Wicked, only bearing character changes and a happy ending for legal and Disney purposes (respectively).

I overheard a couple of guys in a bar talking about the sorry state of the SEC. I agreed, but pointed out that’s what happens when your corps of regulators are allowed to be too closely tied to the regulated class. They looked at me like I was insane. Turns out they were talking about football.

If the best (or worst) thing you have to say about your day is that you’re clean and awake, you’re still doing okay.

I often wonder if, 500 years from now, high school English students will be forced to plow through old Two and a Half Men scripts like modern students have to study Twelfth Night.

 The Porkpie, Seersucker, and Fedora are all really the same hat with a slight variation in the size of the brim.

I wonder if there’s any significance to the fact that Edward Hermann, Donna Dixon, and Mario Cuomo all died in the same week. I’m sure a brilliant conspiracy theory could be formed on it, possibly something involving manufactured connections and the Kentucky Mafia.

A surprising number of movies get bashed for being bad when they’re really just “not as good as we wanted them to be.” Except X-Men 3. It was awful, and its plot would have made more sense if Rattnor had just watched his kid play with action figures and transcribed that.

Sometimes I look angry or upset and people ask me what’s wrong. I really don’t know what to tell them. Because the only thing actually in my head is something along the lines of, “I really like pie.”

There you go guys. Eight brilliant ideas just begging for a better writer than me to flesh them out into something worth reading.