By Earl Merkel . . .el • • • • •

• op-ed columns

• blogs

• other Random Musings

  >>Return to HOME PAGE (click here) 




It’s Not About (That) Flag, Folks. It’s About Us

Commentary & Op-Ed Opinion By Earl Merkel

June 25, 2015

These days, omnipresent outrage is both a product to peddle AND a tactic for all ideologies to exploit. Even campaigns that begin with the best of intentions routinely turn into a feeding frenzy that makes Godzilla’s cinematic tantrums of urban “renewal” pale in comparison.

The current example: the “outrage” regarding the so-called “Confederate battle-flag.” Sadly, it’s turned a “symbol” —of racism, or of regional pride, or simply of a historical fact; you choose— into a “symptom.” And that, of a disease that is both highly contagious and potentially fatal to the body-politic.

It’s Orwellian, this rush to stuff inconvenient “symbols” down the Memory Hole; it’s reminiscent of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, and carries with it the stench-whiff of other forms of “cleansing”… in Uganda, Serbia, the Middle East, and Nazi Germany.

No, I am not a fan of racism. I have no personal stake in “preserving” the Confederate battle-flag.

But I HAVE witnessed folks turn into a group-think mob; some of them have even been people I personally knew, and I considered some of them to be as “rational” as they were “ethical.”

But they weren’t immune to becoming part of that mob; perhaps few people are, when the momentum gathers enough steam.

It would likely be expedient for me to shrug and keep silent about this issue. But I’ve also seen what expedient decisions often lead to, and it’s seldom beneficial.

But neither is any knee-jerk default to yet-another emotion-fueled “outrage.” The ramifications can be perilous, and the results horrific.

— Earl Merkel


• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •


Uh... Perhaps My Earlier Optimism Re: 'Civil Discourse Lives!' Was A Tad Optimistic...

Op-Ed Column, Commentary by Earl Merkel

November 1, 2014



Look, I know that each of you wants to win. I get that, okay?

But "nuanced" charges against your opponents, obvious evasions, misrepresentations, and outright lies may not be the kind of campaigning most of us want from you. In an Age of Affirmative Politics, your transparently dishonest means & methods merely affirm that few of you are worth the rope from which you should collectively dangle.

Worse, you've infected otherwise-intelligent people to join in your madness.

They post comments, make statements, and adopt postures that—in real life, should somebody relatively unbiased risk pointing out the silly nature of those comments, statements and postures—would make them die of self-aware shame.

No, it's not "just politics." Saying that merely "affirms" that a cesspool is indeed a fine place to reside. It isn't.

Indeed, we may be too far along in our circling-the-toilet-rim for any such protest to make much of a difference.

But voters (and non-voters, too) don't have to keep pulling the toilet-tank lever ourselves and assist your campaigns of democracy-destruction.

And certainly, for those of you candidates who perpetrate this vicious nonsense, there's another lever we don't have to pull either.

It's the one next to your names.

— Earl Merkel

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Politically Speaking, Civil Discourse Lives! (Available in bottles or on tap, too.)

Op-Ed Column, Commentary by Earl Merkel

September 11, 2014


Recent conversation over beers, myself and a good friend of Hispanic heritage whose parents may not have been fully documented; conversation paraphrased, but pretty close to verbatim:

Him: “What, are they going to deport eleven million people? Who have been here for years?”

Me: “I hope not. But I sail a lot. If I get a big-a** gaping hole in the hull, the first thing I might want to concentrate on is stuffing a plug in it. THEN we can debate the pros and cons of running the pump, or even decide if we need to. But the analogy only fits if you think the water flowing in is a problem.”

Him: (shrugs, and sips) “Yeah, it’s all politics now. Both parties want our votes. But they don’t want to lose any votes, either.”

Me: “That’s why the upcoming executive order’s gonna wait until after November.”

Him: “What a dumbs**t move, right? It’s like a guy telling his wife on Friday night ‘Hey, I’m moving in with my new girlfriend on Monday. But let’s not wreck our weekend together over it, okay?'

Me: (nods, and sips) “By Sunday night, I’d be worrying she might have watched the Lorena Bobbitt Story on Lifetime cable, myself.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This real-life snippet presented in hopes of providing comfort to all those cynics who insist that civil discourse, in our polarized era, is no longer possible.

You’re welcome.)

— Earl Merkel

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

The Day The Towers Fell, 13 Years Ago...

Op-Ed Column, Commentary by Earl Merkel

September 11, 2014

Odd, isn't it?

The calendar dates you most hate to remember tend to be the ones you should never forget.

RIP, to all of the fallen. Then and since.

— Earl Merkel


• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

2013 Year Summary: Newsies, We Failed Our Country...

Op-Ed Column, Commentary by Earl Merkel

December 31, 2013

In my own li'l quixotic quest to sum up 2013 --not for publication, really; only for my personal consumption-- I stumbled across the linked column (below; maybe too far below) by Philly Daily News columnist Will Bunch.

It's an excellent read: a lament on the rapidly passing "local journalism" engendered by a failing economy --and yes: despite the spin of political opportunists of all stripes, "failing" it still is-- as well as also by the onward-march of a technology with priorities other than journalism.

In his column, Will pens an obit, of sorts, to one local paper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer. But Will's column is also more. In microcosm, as well as IMHO, it fleshes out why 2013 was such a disheartening, dismal year.

As one perceptive individual --and subsequently, thousands of City Editors-- once noted, "All news is local." That is: what happens nationally, impacts locally.


Why have the NSA disclosures, the website-and-more Obamacare debacle, and a dozen-plus other "scandals" burst upon all of us in a single twelve-month period?

I'll posit my own, albeit bleak, answer: journalism itself has failed.

As journalists, we do no favors to anybody --not the public, certainly; but not those whose ideologies we may favor and wish to protect either-- when we fail to aggressively probe and stridently challenge and oft-arrogantly question.

And largely, that's precisely what we've failed to do.

Would the NSA's tentacles gotten so tightly wrapped around American privacy... would the false "you can keep etc." statements had such ultimate, destructive impact... would ANY of the other 2013 disclosures have so profoundly rocked our society as a whole...

...had we journalists simply DONE OUR JOB: had fearlessly probed the "national security" secrets, had diligently read and honestly analyzed "the legislation," had-- well, had provided the public with the non-spin'd information to make a truly informed choice?


Will Bunch ends his own piece with a lament. In it, he "localizes the news" by focusing on the neglect-rooted death of American industrialized urban centers, where both prosperity AND good journalism once flourished.

But as you read it, I'd urge all of us --journalists, and the public as a whole-- to also consider it as a microcosm of where we, as a nation, precariously teeter as 2013 draws to a close.

Here's what Will wrote. Pray, as I do, that it is a premature obit of the American Ideal.

"It's a very very sad day -- not just for the journalists involved, but for all of us. For more than 40 years, we've seen America's once-great cities dying from neglect, from bad policies and worse politicians, and from the greed that moved people's jobs out of town and then across the sea --

-- but things might have been even worse if some great journalists hadn't been there to occasionally yell, "Timber!" Now even that legacy of the Industrial Revolution is coming to an end. Now we can only wonder: If a smokestack falls in the city and no one is there to record it, does it make a sound?"

— Earl Merkel

(Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/attytood/The-de-newspaperization-of-America.html#uB1TG4ZiWvjse4qZ.99)


• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •


Dorothy Parker's Martini Countdown...

Yesterday, while thumbing thru the usual facile-advice-filled pages of a Writers' Digest (thoughtfully provided at no charge to visitors of my local Barnes & Noble coffee shoppe), I saw an ad for this Cautionary Reminder Product...

... and almost snorted my café mocha over the magazine. (NOTE TO B&N: I didn't, and subsequently replaced an almost-pristine WD on your mag-display. You're welcome.)

'I like to have a Martini,

two at the very most;

three, I'm under the table,

four, I'm under my host!'

So quipped Dorothy Parker, and these Words Of Wisdom are etched on an elegant long-stemmed Martini Glass. It's priced at thirteen well-worth-it bucks, with an attractive gift box included. (Available for purchase via Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/Our-Gallery-Store-Dorothy-Martini/product-reviews/B001W2VSUQ)

IMHO, every writer should own (at least) one.

Maybe a set of four.

— Earl Merkel

(POSTSCRIPT: BTW, what rhymes with "hostess"? — EM)

(POST-POSTSCRIPT: I've just had a half-dozen "Facebook private messages" that advise a re-write of Ms. Parker's (possibly) gender-specific poem, to instead read "three at the very most-ess."

Sorry, Faithful Readers: I'm not gonna mess with a Classic... — EM)

Keywords: Barnes & Noble, dorothy parker, Earl Merkel, martini, martini (2), martini (3), martini (uh-oh)

* * *

"Friend" us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/earl.merkel

My latest thriller, Fire Of The Prophet, is now available on Apple's iBookstore and Amazon.com. For a description (and to order it, of course) click here.

Barnes & Noble has named my Fire Of The Prophet as its "Nook First" featured selection! Visit http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/fire-of-the-prophet-earl-merkel/1115375361?ean=2940016470696 for special deals and promotions, and to order Fire Of The Prophet online and in B&N stores.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Yes. I Am A Review-Whore…

By Earl Merkel

July 19, 2013

This morn, an unexpected e-note from the fine specialists who are, I’m sure, laboring night-and-day hawking the movie rights and the foreign-language rights to my new thriller, FIRE OF THE PROPHET:

“Do you have any new, additional reviews you can send, ASAP?”

ASAP?? One hopes this means there’s SOMEthing afoot… or, at minimum, that my title popped up on today’s “to-do” list, eh?

I’ve previously –and faithfully– send these specialist-agents freakin’ stellar reviews penned by Elisabeth Zguta, Robert Walker, Lis Wiehl, Shane Gericke, the FBI’s Robert Hamer, and a (IMHO, still-too-) few others.

(sigh) And then I remind ‘em that it’s SUMMER, fer cryin’ out loud, and that Those Who Review are likely as seasonally slothful as am I (in my own case, I’m oft prodded by alarmed friends who fear that I may have crawled up onto my beach-towel and died. G’wan: see how YOU feel to awake to someone holding a mirror close to your nose, okay?).

Ah, well: if FIRE OF THE PROPHET is on your own summer-reading list, I thank you. Effusively. Please, feel no pressure: read it when you get to it.

(chuckle) But if YOU write a review in the near-future (positive or negative, tho the former would be…uh… more appreciated than the latter)…

…well, I can GUARANTEE you that it will be immediately forwarded to (and presumably, read by) folks in Hollywood and wherever-the-heck foreign-rights editors reside.

I dunno– Zurich, maybe…

— Earl Merkel

* * *

Visit us at: www.earlmerkel.com

"Friend" us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/earl.merkel

My latest thriller, Fire Of The Prophet, is now available on Apple's iBookstore and Amazon.com. For a description (and to order it, of course) click here.

Barnes & Noble has named my Fire Of The Prophet as its "Nook First" featured selection! Visit http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/fire-of-the-prophet-earl-merkel/1115375361?ean=2940016470696 for special deals and promotions, and to order Fire Of The Prophet online and in B&N stores.



Earl Merkel

Fire Of The Prophet

foreign-language rights

mid-summer reading

movie rights


reviews wanted

reviews wanted badly enough to offer naming-rights to my first-born

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Author Interviews On 'The Book:'

Sure-- But We Want YOU Undiluted, Too

By Earl Merkel

July 8, 2013

One of our three listeners of "The Book, With Earl Merkel" plaintively inquires: "While I enjoy your 'Classic Conversations' interviews, when will you start running NEW interviews on your program?"

A fair question. We DID run a live, call-in interview chapter-segment a week or so back --publisher Mary Cummings is STILL fielding e-mail book queries from youse guys as a result-- and certainly plan to do current-book author-interviews as we dodge FCC cease-and-desist orders.

There are two problems: first, I want authors to be able to "strut their own stuff" WITHOUT the intrusion of a "host" --me-- shaping (or mis-shaping) what they want to say on-air. Hence, my invitation for writers to submit their own recorded "audio essays" for Da Show.

But second, the biggest problem here is one of my own making: for the past decade of my broadcasting "career," I've insisted that NO interview occurs without me actually READING the author's book first. (sigh) I've been on the other side of the mic, agape at an interviewer who obviously had no idea of what I had written (or, usually, even who I was)... and IMHO, that's embarrassing to both parties (and a fraud on the audience, too).

So I won't do it on "The Book, With Earl Merkel." No way, dammit!!

As my own new-book deadline looms, my time to read others' works is currently a tad limited. But with reading a personal passion --and with a wealth of great authors out there to interview-- rest assured that I'll be reading your books and booking your appearances.

But please-- don't let that stop you from writing & submitting stand-alone "audio essays" on whatever floats YOUR boat. IMHO, that's where a writer can REALLY show her-or-his writing chops... and that's what "The Book, With Earl Merkel" wants to be about.

So send 'em to me via the "Contact Earl" link here at www.earlmerkel.com. (Return to homepage, then click on the "contact" link)

And if you have a fellow writer who might benefit from a li'l on-air airing of his/her talent, encourage 'em to do likewise.

We eagerly await your calls & letters.

Unless you, in fact, DO work for a broadcast-regulatory agency.

— Earl Merkel

POSTSCRIPT: Oh, yeah; almost forgot... Listen to our most recent show on our audio archives at: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/authorsglobalradionetwork/2013/07/08/the-book-with-earl-merkel-shane-gericke-steve-doocy-i-vie

* * *

Visit us at: www.earlmerkel.com

"Friend" us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/earl.merkel

My latest thriller, Fire Of The Prophet, is now available on Apple's iBookstore and Amazon.com. For a description (and to order it, of course) click here.

Barnes & Noble has named my Fire Of The Prophet as its "Nook First" featured selection! Visit http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/fire-of-the-prophet-earl-merkel/1115375361?ean=2940016470696 for special deals and promotions, and to order Fire Of The Prophet online and in B&N stores.

Keywords: author interviews, Earl Merkel, no read-no interview policy, shameless self-promo of FIRE OF THE PROPHET added at no charge! The Book With Earl Merkel, we want your 'audio essays'


• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Keep The Kids Away From Radio Tonight…

Announcement/Blog by Earl Merkel

May 3, 2013

Here’s how bad it’s gotten in Prime Time radio: I’m interviewed on-air tonight at 7 p.m. EDT (please figure out your time zone yourself; all I know for certain it’s 6 p.m. Central and in daylight-saving-averse Arizona) by the host of Authors On The Air, the lovely Pam Stack.

We’re live –arguably… at least I’d say so; listener opinions may vary– and can be heard online at www.blogtalkradio.com/authorsontheair .

More info at https://www.facebook.com/events/381697645272403/?ref=22 The show will be available on the Authors On The Air archive site, in the likely event that your Friday nights are far more active than mine. Here’s hoping the FCC take an early quitting time tonight.

— Earl Merkel

“Friend” us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/earl.merkel


• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

The 'Fire Next Time,' My Rain-Sodden Tushie...

Op-Ed Column, Commentary by Earl Merkel

April 18, 2013

Water rises in the streets and basements, lightning bolts cast fury from roiling skies-- and it's still a good morning: Diversion emails the book cover from the "ink on dead trees"-edition of FIRE OF THE PROPHET, due for simu-release with the e-book on May 21.

One smiles, even as one lashes on the life-jacket and consults maps to determine in which direction the house will float when it detaches from the foundation...

(POSTSCRIPT: South-by-southwest. Definitely, SSW. I'll wave to Faithful Readers on the various riverbanks as I pass. —EM)

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •


Of Journalism, Self-Censorship... & Comfort...

Op-Ed Column, Commentary by Earl Merkel

April 13, 2013


Faithful Readers here have likely noticed that I tend to be inordinately focused on news stories wherein the media either does, or does not, do the job it exists to do.

Two articles --one, a rather straightforward bombshell story by USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers; the other, an oddly acrobatic piece in the guise of a "guide to the controversy" by Daily Beast writer Josh Dzieza-- certainly deal with my aforementioned obsession.

Both are important stories I'd urge you to read. Both will be, I warn you, horrific.

On a multitude of levels.

— Earl Merkel

Ms. Powers column:http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2013/04/10/philadelphia-abortion-clinic-horror-column/2072577/

Mr. Dzieza's article:http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/04/12/why-is-the-media-apologizing-about-kermit-gosnell-coverage.html


POSTSCRIPT: A comment from Faithful Reader Elle (via Facebook) : "Horrific?" Not horrific enough. I think Gosnell was a serial killer. Baby feet in the a jar? Fetuses in the fridge? C'mon...either those were trophies or the man couldn't dispose of the the bodies of the fetuses in the usual way, knowing it would raise suspicion.

"Beyond his obvious guilt, The Daily Beast article has the right of it: it's a political wind that blows nobody any good. Neither pro-choicers nor pro-lifers stand to gain from any in-depth coverage of this story."

EM Response: Your "political wind" observation may well be dead-on, Elle. Certainly, it highlights my concerns here, regarding (and limited to) the news media.

At times speciously --and almost always, with no small degree of arrogance-- newsies once boasted when "both" sides in a controversy were enraged with 'em; the oft-toasted phrase was "Well, we must be doin' it RIGHT!"

While not always accurate, the phrase at least signaled an anarchic loyalty to a code where neither ideology nor popularity was the paramount impetus in what has today oft become an oxymoron: "news judgement."

But I'd contest applying the Daily Beast article to having "the right of it," overall. I'm particularly troubled when the so-called "guide to the controversy" leaches into commentary... like this:

"There are plenty of possible reasons the story hadn’t made the leap from local to front-page national news until now. First of all, every detail of the story is ghastly. I had to force myself to read the report; I certainly wouldn’t have chosen to read about baby feet found in jars. Compare that to the Sandra Fluke conflagration, or the Susan G. Komen scandal—much easier to devote airtime talking about, because the underlying events aren’t graphically appalling. Pictures of dead fetuses are the stuff of abortion-clinic protest signs for a reason: they make people uncomfortable."

[EM note: While in j-school and on-the-job, I missed the memo that "news should comfort people."]

"That Gosnell seems like something ripped from one of those signs could also be a reason his story never took off. Slate’s David Weigel acknowledges that journalists tend to be socially liberal and that “horror stories of abortionists are less likely to permeate that bubble than, say, a story about a right-wing pundit attacking an abortionist who then claims to have gotten death threats.”

[EM note: Oh-- okay then. Long as we're true to our ideology, all's well here... uh, WHA'DAFUDGE???]

"But another possible reason could be that, as awful as the case is, it’s not clear that there’s anything controversial about it."

[EM note: Wait one, while I find the jaw I just dropped. Ah-- here it is. Let's continue...]

"When Trayvon Martin (to use the standard comparison) went from local to national story, it was partly because there was a debate over stand-your-ground laws and whether his killing constituted murder or self defense. There’s no such dispute here. The question isn’t whether what Gosnell is accused of doing should be illegal: he’s on trial because it clearly is. Gosnell could become a useful pro-life bogeyman, but it’s not clear what policies the antiabortion movement would use his case to push for..."

[EM note: when journalists start worrying about the motivations and goals of a movement --ANY movement-- and start selecting "the news that's fit to print" thereon... well, we're likely doomed as a free society, no?]

— Earl Merkel


POST-POSTSCRIPT: Reply To A (Former) Faithful Reader...

A "private message" from a Faithful Reader --more accurately, a former Faithful Reader, since her Facebook "unfriend" followed on the heels of it-- advises me to "stick to the funny stuff" and "keep out of things you don't know about like women's rights."

I'll reply here, since I seem to be blocked from a private message response.

(1) Sorry to lose you, former FR.

(2) Thank you for the implied compliment; tho you'd likely get argument over your definition of "funny" -- especially if you saw some of the reader-reaction I get to the stuff here that might (arguably, I admit) be termed "funny."

(3) I thought I had been careful to note that my opinions as stated in this post were strictly limited to the news media.

(4) But I can't follow your additional, albeit no-doubt-sage, advice; were I to limit myself to that of which I know, there'd be precious little left for me to post about. —EM


POST-POST-POSTSCRIPT: We Open The Morning E-Mail...

From Faithful Reader Marilyn (via Facebook): "A woman does not have the right to kill her baby. I have something to say to the woman who unfriended you. Anyone who kills a late term baby is a murderer. It has nothing to do with women's rights."

EM Response: And I wish you two ladies could get together --I'd suggest one of the many "newspaper bars" where I fondly recall all kinds of wildly ranging, booze-fueled "discussions" would rage, after we'd put the paper to bed and head out to "relax"-- so you COULD say it to her.

And her, say it back to you.

[chuckle] And, I have no doubt, both of ya ultimately becoming the focus of urging-on cheers (and no small amount of wagering) as the floor-rolling grappling and punching ensued. [wistful sigh] I miss those newsie late-nite bar-fight scenes, badly.

But, IMHO, as for the context & topic of this thread --'least, as I intended it-- the venue & customer-profession would be the only ways to make either gender rights or that Third Rail of Internet postings --abortion issues-- anything other than a distraction to the topic of "the news media ignoring a news story."

If somebody will hold my coat, I'll be happy to throw a few punches on that topic, eh? — EM

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Free Or Not-Free: Jana Winter Case YOUR Decision...

Op-Ed Column, Commentary by Earl Merkel

April 9, 2013


Here's the choice: you either want a free and unfettered news media... or you don't.

Which is it?

Beware of your first impulse here; neither snark nor cynicism, nor any knee-jerk "nuance," is an adequate response. Witty commentary, even justifiable points about slanted ideologies, examples of journalistic incompetence, or "I-don't-even-follow-the-news-anymore"-egoism will do nothing more than demonstrate cowardice-- to, in fact, evade an existentially definitive answer.

Free --in all its messy chaos-- or not-free: there is no middle ground.

The Founders knew that, and wrote the First Amendment as they did-- precisely BECAUSE they knew it.

And before you reply, if only to yourself, know that you are also deciding "free or not-free" on the society in which you live. The two choices are, in full reality, one.

Ready to reply?

If so, don't tell me --whether here, or on Facebook, or some other easily dismissible venue.

Tell it to the people who are about to put the same choice --if, in the event, differently worded-- to Jana Winter, a reporter for Foxnews.com.

And say it loudly. If you miss this chance, you may not get another.

— Earl Merkel


(POSTSCRIPT: Yes. She works for Fox News. If that colors your decision, you've already made your choice. — EM)

Reference link:


• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •


Spring Cleaning Tips, From The Male Perspective...

Blog Posting by Earl Merkel

April 5, 2013


My smartphone informs me that I just "missed" three calls.

Sorry, callers. I was doing a bit of light cleaning around my humble abode... and the noise of the leaf-blower drowned your ringtones. I will now close the front door, out through which some quite interesting detritus has just blown, and return your calls.

And no-- this is not a fiction-based tale. Ask my neighbors.

— Earl Merkel

(POSTSCRIPT: NOTE TO 'DEAR HELOISE': "Yes, it works. Quite well.

"The trick is to keep the hurricane-speed blast aimed low as one walks thru the home... and, upon successful conclusion of the initial sweep-thru, to continue to direct the jet of air toward (and thru) the propped-open front door.

"Continue until the clouds of dust, dust-bunnies, and Unwanted Possessions have been removed from mid-air suspension, 'else you'll have to dust the freakin' furniture too."

(Author's Note: Such innovative genius is likely why my tenure as a newspaper advice columnist was somewhat abbreviated. Jealousy is a terrible thing.*** — EM)


(POST-POSTSCRIPT: I am now in (temporary) possession of what the label says is a "Dirt Devil/Royal Pressure-Flex 1600," the owner of which assures me that it will deliver 1,600 PSI of water.

Look out, kitchen & bathroom: I'm comin' for YOU... —EM)


(POST-POST-POSTSCRIPT: In response to a surprising outpouring of concern from Faithful Readers, let me reassure you: all this careful cleaning is not the result of my Annual Spring Breakdown... but rather, t'is that fine catch-all excuse for Unwise Behavior used by writers since Oog chiseled out his first freelance spec-piece: to wit, "Article Research."

I'm checking the viability of a freelance magazine pitch with the working-title of "Spring Cleaning For The Homebound Male" --and without first-hand experience in the perils & pitfalls of same... well, it might be a pretty unenlightening article, no?

(<sigh> I know: I should have submitted the proposal months ago. But I did clean the place in November, thus rendering the research-timeline both useless & needless. 'Sides, there's always next year, eh?)

So rest easy, Faithful Readers. All is --more or less, anyway-- well.

Now-- where did I put that pneumatic paint-sprayer? It's time to fire up the compressor, mix up the bleach, ammonia and hydrochloric acid... and get to work on that toilet... — EM)



RESEARCH NOTE UPDATE- My now-regrettable experiment in home-made toilet-cleaning solutions was, at least, a learning experience-- and no doubt will be valuable to male reader-cleaners, should I live to write the article.

On another subject, appropros to nothing in particular, a few lines of poetry seem oddly fixed in my mind:

"The green little chemist

On a green little day

Mixed some green little chemicals

In a green little way.


The green little grasses

Now tenderly wave

O'er the green little chemist's

Green little grave."


• • • • • • •


APRIL 6: More Comments From Faithful Readers...

• Comment, from Faithful Reader Marilyn (via Facebook): "hmmmm!"

• EM Response: Thank heavens; you hear it too.


• Comment, from Faithful Reader Morgan (via Facebook): "You didn't really mix those three chemicals together did you?"

• EM Response: Yesterday is a vague blur. But the parakeet is dead, so maybe.


• Comment, from Faithful Reader Marilyn (via Facebook): "A leaf blower in the house? Come on now!"

• EM Response: That part, I remember. And swear it is true.

Moreover, it is actually effective --on wood floors, even more so than a vacuum-- and raises a most satisfying cloud from rugs & carpeting.

I hope to try the power washer next week, but have high hopes for it, at least in the (fully tiled) bathroom.

Still, with the aforementioned vague blur, I may imitate the color of my little chemist... henceforth, eschewing chemicals and going fully "green." As Morgan said-without-saying-it, the combination would create what is legally a Weapon Of Mass Destruction.

Nobody wants the UN involved in my article, or in my housecleaning.

Will update all Faithful Readers, as events unfold. — EM

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •


"On The Other Hand, Your Fees DID Put My Kids Thru College..."

Blog Posting by Earl Merkel

April 1, 2013

Following two recent postings here (see earlier postings, below on this page) an emergency telephone call from my Esteemed Attorney --"Are you giving advice AGAIN??? Do you never LEARN??"-- prompts me to provide this visual on-site disclaimer, applicable to any & all content hereon, and in effect until... until... well, until the next time I recklessly advise... — EM

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •


Avoiding The "You Gotta Write A (GASP!) Synopsis" -Trap

Blog Posting by Earl Merkel

April 1, 2013

I've just fielded (and responded to) another plaintive plea from an aspiring writer, who has been advised by members of her writing group to "work up a synopsis" to help pitch her book to prospective agents and/or publishers.

She has my deepest sympathy: as with so many of my fellow authors, I HATE writing a synopsis. If a novel could be adequately encapsulated in a few pages --usually (at least, if based on the synopsis "examples" offered by "how-to" books on writing) excrutiatingly stripped of style and liveliness... well, then why did the writer go to the trouble of writing the flippin' story over several hundred m/s pages?

But, willy-nilly, a-synopsizin' we must go: publishers (prospective as well as already-acquire'd) demand 'em; foreign-rights marketers insist a synopsis is an essential overseas sales tool. So what, they say, if a synopsis tends to give away the twists we incorporated to startle and entice a page-turn from the reader-- and so we provide what is, in effect, a spoiler-digest for the kind of people who prefer to flip to the closing chapter "to see how it comes out."

Alas. And alack, even.

As I said, she has my sympathy. But she also has my advice.

I'll refer you, as I did her, to my solution (if you solemnly pledge to return to this page afterward; in case you forget, I've thoughtfully added a"return" link on the "jump to" site): Rebel Against The Hated Synopsis: Join Us! It's at the mid-point of the piece, and uses my own demanded-by-the-publisher synopsis of my novel FIRE OF THE PROPHET as an example. (Click here to read it) — EM

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •


(CLICK!) Don't Move-- You're In A Literary Minefield!

Blog Posting by Earl Merkel

March 30, 2013

Okay, fellow thriller-writers-- having just seen this literary device in yet-another "would you look this over for me" m/s (and having once used it myself in a first draft, mercifully short-circuited by several military folks who stopped me before it was too late), let me suggest an early re-write:

That scene of yours? The one where the guy steps on a buried mine, hears the "click!" and freezes? Cuz if he lifts his foot, it explodes?

My sources inform me that there is not, nor has been, any such mine used by the military.

"Why the &@*% would we?" one of 'em told me. "Step on it, it blows. We're not using minefields for a &@*%-ing 'practical joke,' for $#/^'s sake..."

I cannot, personally& thankfully, testify to the accuracy of his statement. But he DID seem pretty emphatic about it.

I removed the scene. You might want to do the same. — EM

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •


"Paranoia On Line Two..."

Blog Posting by Earl Merkel

March 30, 2013

A random musing, on the day after a (retired) "government intelligence" guy I use to bounce story-ideas against told me: "A couple of decades ago, the counter-intel guys were always fantasizing over how we could get everybody in the world to wear tracking devices. Today, people buy a smartphone and do it to themselves."

And yes-- the ads from folks who want to sell me new tires are STILL flooding my phone & computer (see earlier posting, below). — EM

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •


Rollin' Easy With Big Brother...

Blog Posting by Earl Merkel

March 27, 2013

Having done an online price-comparison search for "car tires" yesterday, I find that I am now deluged with "pop-up" and "in the FB margin" ads from every retailer and/or tire manufactuer around the globe.

I will now --strictly for humor, of course-- do a web search for "handcuffs and riding crops." I have High Hopes that meeting the nicest people is not limited to the fine folks at Honda Mfg. Co. — EM

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •


A Revelatory Make-Over: Go, Equality!

Blog Posting by Earl Merkel

March 18, 2013

After several days of puzzlement over the wide proliferation of this image, I have now been reliably informed that it does NOT mean "I wear lipstick too!" --but rather indicates support for "marriage equality."

Okay. I can get four-square behind THAT. All marriages should be an equal partnership (especially in community-property states).

And I'm quite relieved. I've never found a lipstick shade that adequately highlighted my luscious, come-hither lips.

Hence the oddly cropped "author's photo," of course... — EM

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •


Brit Parliament Votes On Freedom Of The Press. (We May Soon, Too.)

Op-Ed Column, Commentary by Earl Merkel

March 18, 2013

A quick note to the British Parliament: Freedom of the press is often annoying, usually chaotic-- but always essential to a free people.

Historically, it's inevitably tempting for a government to "rein in" those folks, especially after they misbehave.

But even at its most anarchical, or lazy, or even occasionally corrupt... well, once you start "overseeing" the press, you've just decided that democracy is too troublesome to live with.

And the whole system of free people deciding their own fate... ends.

Watch out how you vote today, British MPs. There's more at stake than you may think.



POSTSCRIPT: And as long as we're at it: Mr. Holder, a "chilling effect" campaign against one news organization is a shot 'cross the bow of them all. Regardless of our politics and/or ideology, we're watching you closely too, Mr. Attorney General:

*** http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324532004578365064172055862.html?mod=WSJ_hp_LEFTWhatsNewsCollection

— EM

Google Search Keywords: • British Parliament • commentary • Earl Merkel • freedom of the press • government 'oversight' of news media • the beginning of the end of democracy • U.S. attorney general Eric Holder • Wall Street Journal 'bribery in China' allegations


• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Still, My Guess Is 'It's The Injector.'

Blog Posting by Earl Merkel

Having once dipped a wary toe myself in the "advice-to-readers-kol" seas, my "I don't see the problem with the answer" reaction to the item (attached above as a graphic) likely explains why my tenure as an advice columnist was short-lived...

... even aside from steady readership among the testosterone-bearing demographic of my audience. — EM


• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •


"Cuz Some Of Those Polar Bears Are ARMED!"

Blog Posting by Earl Merkel

From our "Alfred E. Newman/'What, ME Worry?'" -files: Having been on a project deadline most of the past week, this one surfaced on my radar screen late.

As did the latest China/hacking story, the "North Korea Declares Korean War Back ON!" story, and Iran playing "I repeat everything YOU say/I repeat everything YOU say" with its own "All Options Are On The Table" story.

Good to know that some calm souls in the military are keeping their priorities straight. My relief is palpable.

Google Search Keywords: 'palpable' means 'almost able to be felt physically' • China hackers • climate change • commentary • Earl Merkel • Iran • military priorities • North Korea • when swimming polar bears attack

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •


"And We'd Haf'ta BURY Him, Too!"

Blog Posting by Earl Merkel

Just heard an appalling radio spot: a young lad, to his mother--

"Mom, what if something happens to Dad?"

"What do you mean, son?"

"Well, Bobby's dad died, and he wasn't even sick. They had to move!"

Since the ad then went into its insurance pitch, I waited in vain for the "mom's" only rational reply:

"Son, if that's your biggest concern in such a circumstance, Dad and I have raised a monster." — EM

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •



Jacks Or Better, In Caps...

Blog Posting, by Earl Merkel

I love & admire poets-- but after getting into a rather intense discussion with one over the weekend (he couched his latest in sans-capital letters, a "homáge to e.e. cummings"), I feel compelled to post this decidedly NSFV graphic, below.

Children & sensitive souls beware. — EM

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •


Oog: "Me Got Ending You Never Guess!"

Blog Posting, by Earl Merkel

Having just reviewed a m/s from a talented young aspiring mystery writer, let me pass on the same (potentially deflating) advice:

In all but two* (footnote below) "locked room" mysteries ever published, the writer has performed countless acrobatics to distract the reader from realizing that the Prime Suspect --and just as often, the perp-- is almost always the first person who enters the room to find the body.

In most cases, the writer him/herself sincerely believes that he/she is the original creator of this "surprise" ending.

This is incorrect.

It is believed the true First Creator of this "twist" was whoever did the cavern paintings found in Lascaux, France.

Use this knowledge to avoid the cliché.

Or at least credit Oog, if you don't. —EM


(* FOOTNOTE: And you know who you are, you enviably adroit mystery-scribes.) — EM

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •


Dangerous Advice To A Lucky Stiff...

Blog Posting, by Earl Merkel

As the annual tsunami of "advice to graduates" recedes (among them, my own: click here to read it), an e-mail from a young friend impels me to offer one last wavelet as a cautionary postscript...

* * *

Sent: Mon, Jun 18

Subject: Life

Hi Earl, I realized how long it's been since we talked last summer. I can't thank you enough for your advice because it has helped me get my career shit together (somewhat...).

Right now I'm in the Big Apple for the summer, interning for some kooky sex psychologist who does freelance work for a lot of the broadcast stations and CNN. It's been quite the experience thus far.

Hoping all is well on your end. Keep me informed on the latest stuff you're doing now.

Sincerely, Hunter


EM Response,

Sent: Tues, Jun 19

Hey, Hunter-- good to hear from you... and to assure you that working with any sex psychologist, especially a kooky one, is very likely a dream job for the majority of young guys in the world today.

One no doubt gets to meet the most crazed of the crazy, in a very...uh... interesting area of pathology, and to build a Rolodex of phone numbers that in value makes Fort Knox pale in comparison.

I'm tempted to say "you lucky stiff," but I fear the image might be misconstrued...

(chuckle) Just PLEASE be aware that any advice I provided is merely that: advice, to be taken or rejected in the context of whatever aspirations you hold.

I'm woefully aware that all advice is highly dangerous (both to give and to take), occasionally toxic, and usually valuable only in lucky retrospect.

But I'm confident that you have the character strengths and personal support system that will continue to armor you against all mis-steps (except, of course, those which are themselves valuable to your own personal growth; after all, as that ol' reprobate Papa Hemingway said, "everybody should have something to regret.")

So go get 'em... and don't forget to enjoy the voyage, eh?

All the best! — EM

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •


'Public Enemy' Title Is A Joke-- But On Chicago...

Op-Ed Column, Commentary by Earl Merkel

'Lest it pass unnoticed, the Number One indicator that Chicago government and its local law enforcement have absolutely no idea how to combat the tsunami of killings in the city occurred last week-- fittingly, on the anniversary of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre-- when the city declared a non-resident Mexican cartel "boss" as Public Enemy Number One here.

It was the first time that title has been conferred on any individual since Al Capone wore that mantle.

But Scarface Al lived in Chicago; it is doubtful that Joaquín Guzmán Loera --secure in his mountainous fiefdom, down Mexico way-- has ever pondered (or ever will) his reflection in The Millenium Park "Bean" as he munches a slice of deep-dish. These days, with the murder rate the highest in the nation, it is doubtful Guzmán would risk doing so even in full body-armor.


It's true that Guzmán's Sinaloa cartel has a near-monopoly on the illegal drugs that flow into Chicago; it is an unquestioned fact that drug-distribution profits are fueling a turf war among Chicago gangs. One hand feeds the other, and there's an admitted comfort in thinking that declaring one man the responsible party --or the prime target for elimination, should one also think like a Hollywood screenwriter-- provides a viable strategy toward resolution.

It shouldn't. Annointing Guzmán "Chicago's Public Enemy No. 1" is, rather, an excuse for an oft-demonstrated impotence.

The problem is here, not south of the border.

There is no "Mr. Big" running Chicago gangs. Rather, the situation in Chicago is analogous to a viral infection, with relatively small, numerous, neighborhood-based independent gangs flooding throughout the city's bloodstream. To be sure, they're cannibalistic, preying on each other as well as predatory on the host itself; but worse, they are mindlessly without restraint, whether self- or supervisory, heedless of the lives of non-combatants who may wander into their crossfire.

And, sad to say, even their motivation to murder is more complex than the mere mercantile: they kill now not just to garner turf and drug profits, but in a nihilistic act of self-affirmation-- particularly for any slight, real or imagined, that might constitute a "diss."

"I kill, therefore I am" is a difficult local motivation to blame on a faraway Mexican cartel leader.


Which brings us back to Guzmán, and last week's news conference.

Short of dispatching an elite team of Chicago Police Department beat-cops to kick-in a Sinaloa door, it is difficult to imagine how a press conference bestowing a long-vacant "title" can have any value, much less any effect.

It doesn't. And it won't.

More than anything else, that is what makes this PR stunt truly terrifying. — EM

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •


A Slippery Slope Toward Ending Hunger...

Blog Posting, by Earl Merkel

Having just (slowly) wended my way out of a parking lot where a bison-like "herd" of geese covered the "plains," I have now devised a plan for ending hunger in America.

Please call for details... — EM

* * *

(POSTSCRIPT: As a related benefit, after a glance at my tires, I believe I've also solved any global fertilizer-shortage problems. — EM)

(POST-POSTSCRIPT: The Nobel committee should contact me throughKimberley Cameron Brody, known to Faithful Readers here as "my Long-Suffering agent," to schedule the prize award. — EM)

(POST-POST-POSTSCRIPT: Yes, Faithful Reader-grammaticians, I initially tried "gaggle" here... but dammit, in the sentence-construction, "bison-like gaggle" sounded like a bovine throat ailment. — EM)

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •


A Recovering Journalist Remembers Chicken Little: The Bangladeshi Computer Gap

Op-Ed Column, Humor & Commentary by Earl Merkel

I have a dark, shameful secret.

At one point, for more than fifteen years, I worked as a... a... professional journalist.

Not that I expect to receive an invitation from Jerry Springer's people anytime soon. Compared with their impressive collection of the dysfunctional, the disturbed and the deranged, my shame is too tame, too banal.

It's also slightly less conducive to producing offspring with vestigial tails.

But a determined person can stop sleeping with one's mother's daughter's cousin's fiancé; with persistence, you can break off that affair with the Nazi cross-dresser you met on the psychic hot-line while seeking advice on that sex-change operation you're saving up to get.

By comparison, that's kid stuff. Journalism is dark, nasty, and frequently brutish.

And incurable.


I've never met an "ex-journalist"; at best, we're all only in recovery. Worse, there's no effective 12-step program ("My name is Earl, and I am a journalist") and no support network. For years, I've been reduced to aversion therapy-- thumbing through back issues of People magazine; skimming editorial pages, especially during election years; reading anything by Danielle Steele-- until all desire to write was beaten into dust.

It never works for long. Each morning, you awake with an insatiable thirst to interview somebody, anybody. You wrestle with the urge to crank out a full-bodied news piece-- a tickle, just a taste of inverted pyramid format. Maybe you think about taking the edge off with a juicy little feature article, or imagine toking a cool, quick one for the sports section. Inevitably, in the dark hours of the soul when the Need crackles like a cheap neon sign, you find yourself looking for the Hard Stuff: a "think piece" on some apocalyptic, global-scale hand-wringing issue.

It's not your fault; it’s the disease.


During the time I was committing journalism, I wrote my share of such articles. We had a name for them: "Chicken Little stories," a nod to "the sky-is-falling" tone they invariably took.

It was great fun. You could write about killer diseases, or lowered school test scores, or the threat of the international metric system. DDT was in every glass of milk, Alar on every apple. Mind-controlling cults prowled every playground in search of innocent children, whom they would routinely convert to sandal-footed automata. You could say virtually anything in a Chicken Little story, with a single caveat: you had to cite a "Certified Expert" as a source.

To put it mildly, that was not an onerous task. As Jerry, Oprah, Wanda, Katie and legions of other televised "talk" shows have demonstrated, one need only flip over the random rock to find any number of "certified experts" swarming underneath. You simply seize one, being careful to hold it at arm's length, and let the journalism commence.

I miss those days, and writing those stories.

So it is with a particular kind of pleasure that I note the tradition continues on. Specifically, it continued on in a front-page story in the Chicago Tribune, revealed to a shocked world on a sunny mid-summer morning. Here was first revealed to the world the scandalous human tragedy of the Bangladeshi Computer Gap.

In this article, the certified expert was none other than the United Nations Development Program, which issues an annual global missive called the Human Development Report. Its main theme was that the division between rich and poor, have and have-not, has become a yawing chasm that the report called "grotesque."

In every way, the Tribune article is a classic Chicken Little. For instance, drawing from the U.N. report, the article relates with breathless horror:

"The United States, meanwhile, has more computers than the rest of the world combined. Lesser-developed countries are not likely to catch up anytime soon: the same computer that costs a month's wages for the average American takes eight years' income from the average resident of Bangladesh."


The Bangladeshi Computer Gap is horrifying indeed, though neither the U.N. nor the Tribune make clear exactly how. One might speculate as to why your average Bangladeshi might even want a computer, unless he could barter it for a ticket to anyplace else.

According to the most recent edition of The CIA Factbook, the problems facing Bangladesh are a many and varied lot:

"...droughts, cyclones; much of the country routinely flooded during the summer monsoon season... many people are landless and forced to live on and cultivate flood-prone land; limited access to potable water; water-borne diseases prevalent; water pollution especially of fishing areas results from the use of commercial pesticides; intermittent water shortages because of falling water tables in the northern and central parts of the country; soil degradation; deforestation; severe overpopulation..."

With these kinds of problems, catching up on eight years of unread e-mail tends to be relatively low on one's list of priorities. And if one wants to play a little Doom --well, there's nothing virtual about that particular reality in Bangladesh. Doom, or the potential therefor, seems in plentiful supply all around.


Still, it's fascinating, in a perverse sort of way, to speculate on how our computer-less Bangladeshi might fruitfully pass the time during that long eight-year wait. Presumably, with a national literacy rate of less than 32 percent, he might be well advised to spend the time learning how to read.

A genuine commitment to public education is one of the few so-called entitlement programs that really work. It drives the pulsating economic engine in countries such as Singapore, and may be El Comandante's only lasting legacy in post-Castro Cuba; no other prescription has been proven able to push a country from Third- to First World status in a single generation.

Curiously, neither the United Nations nor the Chicago Tribune thought to relay this potentially useful advice.


The Tribune article continued on in the best tradition of a good Chicken Little. It included all manner of charts and graphs, bulged with somber quotes from a veritable Who's Who of economists, political scientists, sociologists and other Certified Experts.

And within the context of this mountainous volume of facts and data, it was convincing in a conclusion that was as dramatic as it was surprising: Some people have a lot more money than others! Worse, the people who have it, spend it! On things like computers!

One could barely suppress a shudder at this startling revelation.


I don't want to sound insensitive. As The CIA Factbook pointed out so succinctly, Bangladesh is a country with a number of ... well, challenges.

As a member of the human family, the plight of a computer-less jute farmer in Bangladesh should be a matter of sincere concern for each and every one of us.

Or should it?

Is it alarming -- or even relevant-- that the average Bangladeshi is computer-free? Is it even regrettable? Should we all begin to send our outdated IBM 386s and Classic Macs to a country that, at least according to The CIA Factbook, floods chest-deep every cyclone season? Can the average Bangladeshi tread water while holding a CPU and monitor above his head? Instead, would a campaign to send them hip-waders and ladders be more practical, not to mention appreciated?

So many questions, so little time.

But unanswered (and unanswerable) questions are an integral part of every Chicken Little story.


There's an unspoken system for scoring a Chicken Little. You get points for forecasting doom, especially if the doom can be perceived as the fault of the more fortunate. You tally bonus points if the underprivileged in question are members of the teeming millions who, somehow, continue to succeed in propagating madly. This, despite the woefully inadequate percentage of global resources we in the selfish Western world leave for them.

In short, you get a lot of points for espousing collective guilt, for sincere breast-beating, for cultural self-flagellation.

But when you write a Chicken Little, you don't get any points for simple common sense.


As a journalist today, it's hard to go wrong by decrying the fact that some people have more money than others. The fact that Bill Gates' net worth ($40 billion, give or take the latest blip in the Dow-Jones) is 23.52 times the Gross National Product of Rwanda (a paltry $1.7 billion) sounds patently obscene.

Obscene it may be, given both Gates' reputed business ethics and the number of bugs Microsoft thoughtfully includes in every program it releases.

But be honest. Which would you prefer to buy: a new copy of Microsoft Office, bugs and all, or a majority interest in Rwanda's equivalent of General Electric?


It's a pretty safe bet that most people-- not to mention the reporter who wrote the article, or the unnamed author of the U.N. report-- would make the same decision you, or I, would.

But that would be common sense, not Chicken Little journalism.

In Chicken Little journalism, it's fashionable to point out that the world’s richest countries are home to only 20 percent of the world's population-- but lay claim to (gasp!) more than 85 percent of the world's income.

That is a fact. But personally, I'm more outraged when I compare Bill Gates' $40 billion-plus to my... well, my considerably less impressive net worth. Mainly, though, I recognize that I'm just pissed-off at myself for majoring in journalism instead of computer science back in my college years.


Still, I know where the reporter, the Trib, and even the anonymous author of the U.N. report are coming from; I spent a decade-and-a-half in the newsroom trenches myself.

It's summer. Neither Congress nor most state legislatures are in session. In his hidden bunker outside Qom, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad quietly chuckles as he watches the uranium-enrichment centrifuges spin. This year's contingent of interns seem safely distanced from the Oval Office; aside from the daily news feed of town hall meetings and stories lambasting Canadian health care, there's little real news.

No matter-- the news staff is rotating in and out on vacation, anyway. Reporters and editors scramble for copy to fill the hungry maw of each day's news hole. "The news we print, fits."


I no longer make a living as a journalist--arguably, recalling the slave-wage peonage that persists at many newspapers, I never really did.

But I remember the bit of jargon the newsroom used to describe this time of year. We called it the "Silly Season."

It's the time of year when Chicken Little flies. — EM

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •



Bittersweet Reflections On The Untimely End of Innocence...

Op-Ed Column, Commentary by Earl Merkel

Throughout the week, the stories had been in the newspaper: lists of graduating seniors, final high school honors, stories of valedictorians and speakers, all destined for an ultimate fate as clippings in seldom-to-be-opened scrapbooks.

He had read the stories. They had all been happy, optimistic, sounding just as such items always do: This is the beginning, you are embarked on a great adventure! Nowhere could he find an explanation for the vague disquiet the stories caused him. It was just... there, lumps under the wallpaper of an old house.

All he knew was that somehow, the catch-phrases rang hollow-- too hearty, like the pitch of a telephone solicitor. It was as if some alarm had been triggered, a warning that should be passed on to the smiling graduates as they walked out the high school doors forever.

The gloom, he decided, must have had its roots in the past: perhaps in another graduation night, now decades ago...

• • •

It is a cool night outside, but in the crowded hallway that flanks the high school gym the temperature is causing sweat to stain the shirts and dresses beneath the graduation robes.

We are all laughing-- too loud, too rowdy for school.

But no teacher comes to silence us, no administrator glares us into submission. It is as if they, and we, are suddenly possessed of a wildly liberating fact: we are no longer students here!

That realization seems to have struck each of us at the same instant, a pulsing current that energizes us en masse. As a group, we are each responding to it, true to our own natures.

The guys are punching each other on the arms or chest in the way that high school friends express affection, male to male. The girls are laughing, straightening the mortarboard hats of friends they have known since the first grade. "Steadies" are holding hands that are weighted down with class rings wrapped in wool to fit girlish fingers. "Jocks" are leaning against the school trophy case, cracking crude jokes and trading scatological insults about mistakes made in games that ended years before.

Somebody has smuggled in a transistor radio. It has been providing mainly static, mixed with soft snatches of music: California surfing songs, mostly --the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, or the myriad of one-hit-wonders who imitate them. It is an incongruously popular sound for children of the landlocked Midwest, but one which has been the background soundtrack for our proms, sock hops and moonlight gatherings in fields or empty parking lots over the past four years.

There is a sudden shout over the din -- "Listen to this! We're on the radio!" -- and the chaos moderates just enough to hear.

"And to the graduates of" --the disk jockey names our school-- "congratulations and good luck. Remember, kids... rock o-o-on!"


It is a minor enough tribute, but on this night it is as if we had been awarded a Nobel Prize.

Pandemonium breaks out. Linda, the effervescent one, the co-captain of the varsity cheerleading squad, raises her voice to give it form and substance.

"School song! School song!" she yells, and starts to sing the hackneyed embarrassment that had always been guaranteed to elicit catcalls (or worse) during school assemblies.

But not this time.

As Linda's voice rings out, something curious happens. It affects those closest to her first: the clamor of several hundred frenzied teenagers fades away, the hush rippling outward as if a stone had been thrown into water.

Finally, there is a moment of complete silence from the rest of us, and for an instant Linda's voice is the only one heard.

Then, from somewhere down the crowded hallway, another joins in.

And then another.

And suddenly we are all singing it, jocks and brains and geeks and hippies; even the small and private knot that invariably formed around Larry, our resident detention-hall thug, has joined in.


We are all singing now, shouting out a tuneless melody that at this moment is more moving than any other music could possibly be.

And we are marching, all four hundred of us. It is a spontaneous victory lap around the hallways that we first slinked along as freshmen and later, as upperclassmen, strode with the arrogance of ownership.

In the tumult, we look around at faces that we have watched change over the past four years-- shape-shifting in ways our own must have done while we were looking elsewhere.

There is squeaky-clean Marc, tall and bespeckled and the "brain" of the school. Somehow, in a way that belies our own social-status pyramid, he is wildly popular and has been our class president three of his four years here. A few years hence, he will drop out from Northwestern University; a year after that, he will be immortalized in local legend as the "dirty one with the beard" standing behind Jane Fonda at an antiwar rally.

His name will not be printed in the caption. Still, most of us will recognize him, or think we do. We will stare at the photo in numb shock, using Marc as a yardstick against the distances we too we will have traveled since this night.


And there is Tommy, class athlete and letterman in four sports; he too is singing and marching with us. For the first time since any of us have known him, the "superjock cool" is gone, lost in the elation of graduation excitement. Before the summer is out, Tommy will be married and working at the Ford assembly plant across the river.

And there is Jim, who will go on to an engineering degree and a nervous ulcer in college; and Rusty, who will give up a dream of becoming an architect and return to teach in this very school; and Tony, who will return from Vietnam in a uniform and a box.

And there are others, many others, whose names we will at some point lose the ability to recall, but whose faces this night we will never forget.

We sing and remember football games, drama club presentations, lunchroom food fights, and more-- the trivial but all-important events that have defined for us our high school years.

We know, particularly on this night, that we will never, never forget these moments.

And we know, with the absolute certainty of youth, that we will always have what we have now: these friends, even these enemies, who jostle alongside us at this wonderful, terrible moment of emancipation.

We know this beyond doubt-- for have they not always been there, with us?


All too soon, we are finally herded into the brightly lighted gymnasium where our families await. We file in, flushed with our exertions and our emotions-- and perhaps with something else besides; but mercifully, we have no name for it, not yet, and so we deem it of little importance.

Later, after we have received the leatherette folders with our diplomas and have drifted away from the cameras and handshakes of our families, we are at one of the half-dozen graduation parties --planned or impromptu-- that are being thrown around town.

We have put off our summer farewells to classmates, thinking we will see them at the parties-- all of which we plan to attend...


Somehow, it doesn't work out that way. After drifting to one or two of the parties, you forget previous intentions and settle back where you are.

It is only later, much later, when you are driving home alone in the almost-new 1968 Chevy that a parent has allowed you this night, that you begin to listen to the car radio through a slightly self-satisfied haze.

The Happenings, a Beach Boys' sound-alike, are singing. "Will I see you... in September..."


For the first time, you realize that you won't. — EM

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •


I invite you to check this page regularly for fresh content.

(As the Prime Axiom notes: "It seems there is no end to this insanity...")

— EM

>>Return to HOME PAGE (click here)