Moments By Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Did you happen to catch this? If you did, you can skip ahead, but in case you missed it, allow me to set the scene:

On the Wednesday of Augusta week—cue the theme music—there is a unique event called the Par 3 Contest. It takes place out on the east end of the Augusta National property (formerly the Fruitlands Nursery) where nine lovely par three holes have been carved out of the azalea. A few of these holes surround Ike’s Pond and require only a moderate carry over water—I believe the longest hole is only 164 yards long, an easy wedge for one of today’s pro golfers. The tournament itself is almost always a lovely walk, not spoiled by golf. Players’ offspring, dressed in the iconic Augusta National caddies’ baggy white overalls, somersault down the slopes in front of the tee boxes or toddle onto the greens carrying miniature putters—it’s a family picnic and a celebration of the game we all love all rolled into one.

At this year’s event, one threesome featured a veritable Mt. Rushmore of the modern game: Tom Watson, Gary Player, and Jack Nicklaus, a walking (sometimes limping), moving tableau of golfing history that has accounted for a total of eleven green jackets. (Nicklaus six, Player three, and Watson two.) Usually the Par 3 Contest is less about winning and more about fun, camaraderie, and the enjoyment of springtime in a spectacular environment, but this year’s event produced a bit more drama than budding azaleas. Watson birdied the first four holes, added another to tie for first, then birdied the eighth to take the lead at -6. Remember: Tom Watson is 68 years old; the oldest golfer to ever win the contest was Sam Snead who was 61 at the time (1960; the first year of the Par 3 Contest). Watson only needed a par on the final hole to win by one and claim the crystal trophy; he made it look easy.

But that wasn’t the moment. This was: in the spirit of the day, it’s not unusual for a caddy to hit a ball on the final hole—just for fun, of course. This year, GT Nicklaus was carrying his grandfather’s bag, sharing the honor with his younger sister, Nina. GT is 15 years old and (no surprise here) already an accomplished high school golfer, the “best” (at least according to his proud grandfather) of Jack and Barbara’s 22 grandchildren.

But accomplished as he is, GT had never had a hole-in-one. Until that moment. He took his one swing, flew the ball twenty feet past the hole and drew it back into the cup—an absolutely superb shot that stole Watson’s show. Not that Tom cared. When GT’s ball trickled into the cup, the crowd roared, Watson and Player jumped for joy, and Jack cried. Just think: of all Mr. Nicklaus’ memorable moments on golf courses around the world—73 PGA victories and 18 major championships—this one small family moment now holds pride of place in the Golden Bear’s bank of memories.

Life is all about moments. We’ve all had them, maybe not a hole-in-one at Augusta, but ones that are just as sweet to each of us. Mine include the births of my two children, my bride in her wedding dress, a World Series foul ball off the bat of Mickey Mantle that rolled right to me, and watching the sun rise on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Even now, thinking back on those special moments and a few others, I feel the tears well up in my eyes.

Just like Jack.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

Ladybugs by George Merrill

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Artistic types, like those who paint, write, sculpt, garden or research, spend a lot of time alone. They’re often accused of being temperamental, even flaky. I prefer to think of such idiosyncrasies as signs of their complex personalities.

Many have a loners’ streak. They find energy in being by themselves. I, for one, have to be intentional about being social. It’s not that I am a misanthrope; just a dreamer. Dreamers, in their several pursuits, work with very little outside material, as it were. They try to draw most from their own experiences – from their heads and hearts which, occasionally, can be inspiring. Of course, there are times when what they draw out from themselves bombs. When artistic types begin drawing blanks, then they know that’s the time to get out there and mix it up with others.

I do have friends, dear and devoted ones. It occurs to me they may be friends precisely because we don’t see each other that often. There’s always the danger that frequent contact might change the equation in the way old married couples are often heard to say, “For better or for worse, please God, not for lunch.”

I bring this up because of the two lady bugs that became a part of my normally solitary life in the last couple of weeks. They just showed up.

I began looking forward to seeing them each morning as I entered my studio. I now had two friends whom I did not mind being with all day. They, too, were perfectly content to have me around. I never intruded upon their routines. They never bothered me. It was the kind of presence that can satisfying, a kind of special presence that requires so little other than gratefully acknowledging the fact of who or what the presence might be.

I believe etymologists would identify my new roommates as Coccinella. Their elytra is colored deep red or orange with distinct black spots.

I could not identify gender, whether the two were mates or partners, were kin of some kind, or just good friends.

When first entering my studio, I’d look to see exactly where they were. For a while I might not see them, but as the morning wore on, I’d catch the sight of one or even both walking along a slat of the venetians blinds that hang at my windows. When I saw the ladybugs, I would leave my chair and go for a closer look. I welcomed them, and then returned to my chair, satisfied in knowing my companions were safe and well.

They had mixed feelings about being touched. On some days, I could coax one from the slat onto my finger. He or she seemed content to explore for a minute or so. Suddenly, though, it would hop; fly, really, making a soft sputtering sound, while going a short distance. It was time to leave the ladybug alone.

I’ve read how sailors, making solo ocean voyages, welcome petrels or other seabirds landing on their sailboat. The birds behave like hitch hikers, riding for a short time and then getting off. Sailors describe a kind of mystical bond that develops between them and the birds. The skippers talk to them and the birds listen. Then, one morning the skipper exits his cabin, goes to the cockpit ready to chat only to find that his fragile defense against the vast loneliness of the open sea has vanished. A simple presence made all the difference in the world. Each skipper described with undisguised grief the impact made on him when his hitch hiker left the sailboat. They mourned the loss and felt lonely.

It’s odd to say but we bond not only with each other, also with other species (dogs and cats), but objects as well. Aging people, when ready to unload a lifetime of collected stuff, will agonize over surrendering an object, some trinket or a photo that has accrued a significance, far beyond its material worth. They either keep it, offer it to the kids, or pitch it and then mourn its loss.

I can understand why frequent flyers like sea birds welcome a place to land and rest. Just why the ladybugs chose to inhabit my studio is not clear. Their reputation is legendary in helping farmers rid their crops of pesky aphids and other insects that destroy the harvest. But that’s all outdoorsy stuff, working in the fields. I have no plants or any vegetation in my studio. I wash daily. Why my studio?

It’s finding a warm place to winter.

Who would want to be out in the chill and wind of winter? The ladybugs were just hunkering down in my studio like Eastern Shore retirees that go south for the winter. It’s a way of getting through the bleak days until the sun feels warm again, crops grow and eating outside is fun.

One day I couldn’t find them.

I entered my studio and went to the slats to wish them a good day. They weren’t there. I looked around but didn’t see anything. My studio is painted in white and the rug on the floor is an off-white. It shows anything that falls on it.

I took my chair as usual and then saw a speck on the rug, half again as big as the head of a ten- penny nail. I got up to see and sure enough it was one of the ladybugs.

I had the horrible feeling that I’d stepped on her. I reached down to pick her up. She slid from my fingers. I was relieved that she was intact – indicating she’d not been squashed. I’ve seen her dormant before and by picking her up she’d start exploring my finger. But she didn’t try this time as she had in the past. She was dead.

I was sad. Fearing the worst, I began scouring the studio to find the other ladybug. Nowhere to be seen. Leaving the studio late one afternoon I went to open the door, and there on the threshold was the other ladybug.

Again, saddened, I picked her up. She, too, had died.

I noticed that both ladybugs did not die, as so many insects do, with their legs pointed in the air. Instead, ladybugs meet their maker, heads down and their elytra up, their cheerful colors in the open for everyone to see.

I believe they prefer being remembered that way.

Not that strange, when I think about it. I’ve often seen photographs accompanying the obituaries of septuagenarians or octogenarians that can only have been taken forty years prior to their deaths. For Coccinella and homo sapiens, vanity extends beyond the grave.

I shall miss them.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

 

Delmarva Review: On the Hard by Lisa Lynn Biggar

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Editor Notes: In the latest addition of the Spy’s partnership with the Delmarva Review, we share Lisa Lynn Diggar’s fictional short story of two “stockers and pickers” from the Chesapeake’s Amazon distribution center who lead lonely lives shaped from past alcohol addiction problems. While the future always holds some hope of improvement from the past, there is never certainty for the future.

There are stockers, pickers and packers at the Amazon Distribution Center. Brandy’s a stocker, finding room wherever he can for cart after cart of items, cramming bags of cat treats between lubricants, hair spray by garden hoses; there’s no rhyme or reason to the process—just stack and code for the younger pickers, who scurry like mice from one end of the two-story warehouse to the other, over five football fields in length.

Brandy prides himself in fitting the shelves like a puzzle; he’s found that he’s rather ingenious at filling up empty space. At 65 he isn’t all that fast, but he’s efficient, so the supervisors pretty much leave him alone. And he likes that—the freedom. It’s not like being on the water, but it gives him time to think. Sometimes he thinks of elaborate plans for winning his ex-wife back, but they all require time and money that he no longer has. It does occur to him on occasion that he might look for another woman—after all it’s been nearly 10 years—but what does he have to offer? A boat on the hard? And not much hard on himself these days. He hasn’t slept with anyone since Sar left him.

In the break room, he sees the pickers massaging their feet, changing out gel soles in their tennis shoes. When he first started working there, as seasonal help, Brandy would say hello to them in passing, but they’d brush passed him as if he were invisible— much like the way Sar treats him when he runs into her and her new boyfriend at the AA meetings in Dover. There are plenty of AA meetings in Kent County, Maryland, where he lives on his 36-foot wooden sloop, ‘Caillou,’ but he’ll take any chance he can get to run into Sar.

He works the day shift, going in at seven, getting off at five, then going home, opening a can of something for dinner, then settling in for a long night of counting the stars, or reading a mystery book, but mostly pining for his lovely Sar and their wild days on the horse farm.

Brandy started working the day shift at Amazon in mid-November, but, now, after Thanksgiving, they’re bringing in more and more teams of seasonal stockers and pickers. He begins to recognize the ones that’ll make it and the ones that’ll last only a day or so, maybe a week. On this particular day, the first week in December, he notices one of the new woman pickers, her body slender, girlish. She’s deliberate in her choices, taking time to exam each item before throwing it in her cart, as if she were shopping for herself.

He walks over to where she’s picking a bag of plastic figurines—fairies he sees as he gets closer. He smiles slightly, hiding the graying part of his upper front crown, a remnant of his fighting days. “Your first day?” he asks, removing one of his ear plugs, the noise from the conveyor belts deafening.

She looks him over, then takes out one of her earplugs. He repeats the question. “Yeah,” she says. “On my own.”

“It gets easier,” he says. “Once you get the system down.”

She nods, her eyes blue as the bay, but her face etched with weariness, probably in her late forties, early fifties.
“Well, maybe I’ll see you in the break room,” he says. She nods, looking down at her picking list and moving on.

The next day he runs into “blue eyes” in the break room. She’s sitting alone in a corner under the fluorescent lights, drinking a can of Pepsi, a blue bandana over her short dark hair, her nylon work gloves still on. He walks over to her table, asks if he can join her.

“Sure,” she shrugs.

“How’s your second day going?” he asks, sitting across from her at the small round table.

“They want me to go faster,” she says.

“They want us all to go faster.” He takes the lid off his cup of coffee, steam opening his pores. “They forget we’re not machines.” He takes a sip of coffee, burning his tongue, then introduces himself to her.

“Rita,” she says.

He smiles, says, “Lovely Rita meter maid” in his best British accent.

She gives him a partial smile, the left side of her mouth turned upwards. “My parents loved the Beatles—that’s about all they listened to.”

“I only listen to the oldies.”

“Sometimes I put on a country station,” she says, taking another sip of her Pepsi. “I love country music, but I’m afraid of wearing out my battery.”

“Batteries are cheap.”

“I mean my car battery—I live in my car,” she says lowering her voice.

Brandy leans in. “Can’t you find a room to rent?”
“I don’t have any references,” she says. “This place didn’t ask for any.”

“No,” Brandy says, tapping a beat on the side of his plastic cup. “They’re desperate.” He takes another sip, the coffee cooled down a bit, their ten-minute break nearly over. His boat can sleep four comfortably—a queen size bed in the aft bedroom, the captain’s quarters where he sleeps, and a v-berth in the forecabin, ahead of the bathroom. “Hey,” he says. “I’ve got room on my boat. It’s just me.”

“You live on a boat?”

“Yeah,” he says. “But it needs a lot of work before I can get it back in the water.” He gives her the basic layout and dimensions, assures her of her privacy in the forecabin.

She looks him over, seeming to calculate the odds that he’s not a serial killer, then takes another swig of her Pepsi. “I don’t have much money,” she says.

“No rent—we’ll just split the groceries.”

“You don’t even know me.”

“It’s not gonna get any warmer this winter—I have a propane heater on the boat.”

She adjusts her bandana, covering her forehead, her dark eyebrows accentuating her leery eyes. “Okay,” she says, “But don’t ask for any favors.”

“No strings attached,” Brandy says, wondering what he’s got himself into. “Meet me out front in the lobby at five—you can follow me to the boat.”

She nods, then gets up, tosses her can in the recycling bin.

No references, Brandy thinks, while stocking the rest of the day, wondering what that could imply. No family? Friends? At least he still has a few high school friends around here he can count on—and then there’s Matt over at the flower farm, a young guy who feels sorry for him, brings him bags of food now and then when he’s out of work—PB & J, bread, cans of tuna. . . Brandy pulls weeds over there in the summer, Matt’s wife Gloria, a pretty young thing, the two of them seemingly soul mates. But who ever knows? He thought he and Sar would last forever.

At five he waits for Rita at the front entrance where all the security checks are. To get in or out of the place you have to pass through them, empty your pockets. He sees Rita passing through a check at the far-end. Just a pair of red mittens in the pockets of her worn, long brown coat that seems to swallow her up. No wallet. No identity. Again, he wonders what he’s got himself into, but he waves to her, and she waves back, a gesture that straightens his posture, lightens his heart.

She walks over to him. “Thought you might’ve changed your mind,” she says.

“I’m a man of my word,” he says, wishing that had always been true.

Rita follows Brandy back to the boat in her beat-up old Ford station wagon, the back brimming with, he assumes, everything she owns. It’s a throw-back with wood panel doors. A real beauty in its day, like, he imagines, Rita was. He looks in his rear-view mirror, still trying to determine her age, her bandana now replaced by a red wool cap. They say you can tell a woman’s age by her hands, but he has yet to see them without the mandatory work gloves on—and now the mittens. He has a feeling she’s younger than she looks, maybe early forties, but he’s never been good with ages. Seems to him some people just reach an age and stick with it, while others go from young to old overnight—like him.

There was a time he could have nearly any girl that he wanted in Kent County, but now when he looks in the mirror it’s a sad state of affairs—not much left of his golden blonde hair, and the bags are heavy under his still green, but faded, eyes. He’s kept himself in pretty good shape though—not buff like he used to be, but about the right weight for his 5’10” frame.
Brandy gives Rita the grand tour of Caillou, his fastidiousness serving him well with this unanticipated guest—the small kitchen spotless, the cedar floors freshly polished, the small forward bathroom squeaky clean. She says she’s never been on a boat before, just a raft on a river, close to where she grew up in Arkansas.

“What brought you here?” he asks.

She shrugs. “I just kept driving.”

He laughs. “Welcome to the end of the earth.”

“Suits me,” she says.

He shows her the v-berth, pulls out fresh sheets from a closet, places them on the bed. “You should be more than comfortable here,” he says, fluffing the pillow.

“I won’t be staying long,” she says, taking off her hat and mittens. “Just till I find another place.”

“Without references?”

She looks away.
“No family back in Arkansas?
She shakes her head.

“I just have my drunken brother left. I never see him now that

I’m sober and broke. I used to sell pharmaceuticals to doctors. Made a fortune, but partied it all away—including my wife.” He pats the hull of Caillou. “At least I still have this girl.”
“You have any kids?”

He shakes his head. “Sar and I never got around to that.”

“Me neither,” she says, looking out the rectangular window in the hull. “But sometimes I dream about it and it seems so real— like there’s a life inside me.”

Brandy nods. Sar was pregnant once. It turned things around for them for a short time—both of them quit drinking. He bought her peanut butter, ice cream, deviled eggs. . . The only thing that made her nauseous was fried onions. But then she miscarried.

“Hey, you hungry?” He asks Rita.

“Starving.”

They share a dinner of mac and cheese from the box with a can of tuna mixed in. Brandy tells her all about the horse farm he used to own with Sar, how she’d ride the horses in different equestrian events. The blue and red ribbons filled the walls of the barn.

“I had this stubborn pony once,” Rita says, the nails on her left hand chewed down, just a few brown spots. It’s still hard to fathom her age, but his best guess now is mid-forties. “It would stop in the middle of the path and refuse to go any further. Once he tried to jump a stone wall for the first time with me on its back. I threw myself off and never got back on.”

Brandy laughs, picks up their cleaned plates, puts them in the small sink.

“Mind if I have a cigarette?” she asks.
He gestures towards the hatch. “Up on deck.”

He joins her on deck, the stars putting on their show. Orion to the south. Dippers to the north. “I quit smoking when I quit drinking,” he says. “Almost eight years now.”

She exhales, looking lost again in her baggy coat. “Smoking helps calms my nerves.”

“It’s almost Christmas,” he says, leaning against the railing, his boat dry-docked at a low-end marina on the Sassafras River. “I always get my ex-wife a sweater. She never wears them.”

“How do you know?”

“Because she doesn’t want anything to do with me.”

“Then why do you keep buying her sweaters?”

He shakes his head slowly. “I don’t know. Habit I guess.” He barely recognizes Sar now. After she left him, she quit drinking, went back to school, her gait more rigid now, fixed—but she’ll always be that wind-swept, sun-kissed girl in his mind.

“You have a radio?” Rita asks.

“2-way.”

“What’s that?”

“All boats are required to have one on the water—like a walky-talky for the water. Keeps you in touch with the coast guard and other boaters.”

“Do you know them? The other boaters?”

“Some of them, but they don’t really respond if you’re on the hard.”
Rita blows out smoke. “I get that.”

She crushes the last of her cigarette on the side railing. “What about your phone? Can you play music on your phone?”

“Yeah,” he says. “I like the sixties station.”

“You ever listen to country?” she asks.
“Sometimes.” He takes his phone out from his back pocket, finds Slacker radio, a country station. “This one says best of classic country.”

“That’ll work.”

He clicks on it and its Patsy Cline singing “Walking After Midnight.”

Rita starts moving to the music, rolling her shoulders and hips. There’s an older couple that he rarely sees docked in their houseboat up-a-ways, but it feels like it’s just him and Rita out here now, all alone in the world.

“I lived in Nashville for a while,” she says. “I was trying to make it big.”

“You sing?”

“Used to,” she says. “But now I just listen.”

“How come?”

“It’s just easier that way.”

Brandy nods. He’s gone for days, sometimes weeks, without speaking a word. Just staying on his boat, listening to the sounds of nature around him—the frogs, the geese, the screech of a lone heron that makes him feel like he’s in the land that time forgot.
“Shit. My feet are killing me,” Rita says, leaning against the railing now. “Think I’ll hit the hay. You have an alarm clock?”
“Yeah,” he says. “I’ll get you up.”

“Thanks,” she calls, climbing back down the hatch.

For a while Brandy stays on deck, staring at the lambent light on the water, wondering if he could ever be happy again. Since he’s been sober, a feeling of contentment often washes over him, that nagging need no longer there, but the sadness keeps creeping back—so much empty space in his life. He holds on to that flickering light as long as possible before heading to bed.

The next morning Brandy fries a few eggs with Swiss cheese, slaps them on toast—one sandwich for himself and one for Rita. They eat them on the way to Amazon, in his pick-up truck, deciding it makes more sense to ride in together, a thermos of coffee to share between them.

“What does ‘Caillou’ mean?” she asks.

“It’s a French word for a pebble or stone.”

“Strange name for a boat,” she says, biting into her sandwich. “Stone’s sink.”

“I know, but it’s bad luck to change the name of a boat.”

Rita looks out her side window, frost hovering over the barren fields. “Maybe that’s why I keep running into bad luck,” she says quietly.

“Why’s that?”

“My name,” she says. “I keep changing my name.”

“It’s not Rita?”

She shakes her head.
“What about your parents? The Beatles?”
“I made that up.”

Brandy takes a sip of coffee from his to-go mug, swallowing and digesting this new bit of information. “So what else have you made up?”

“Does it matter?” she asks, still staring out the window.

“Well how the hell can anyone get to know you?”

“Maybe I don’t want them to,” she says, looking over at him.

They drive along in silence for a few minutes, Brandy considering his options. He could pull over and ask her to get out, end this whole thing, whatever it is, right now. But he feels a certain responsibility for her that he can’t explain.

“Well, I’m willing to try,” he finally says, pulling into the zoo of the Amazon parking lot, people frantically searching for a parking spot. “I’ll drop you off at the entrance—looks like I’m going to have to hike it.” He pulls up to the front steel doors, a crowd of workers rushing inside.

“See you on break,” she says, climbing out of the truck and closing the door.

Brandy sets his mind on filling up space, but all he can think about now is Rita—or whatever her name is. In the mysteries, he reads there are clues along the way, so that little by little all is revealed. But maybe it doesn’t matter who Rita was. Maybe it’s just who she is now. One day at a time. He has his one day off tomorrow—Wednesday, this week. Maybe he’ll buy Chinese for himself and Rita tonight.

He crams bags of cough drops into a crevice between garden hoses and dildos—the randomness of it all strangely comforting to him.

It’s mind-blowing that everything on earth is in this building. Everything that one could possibly need—except love. He scans the items, then looks around for Rita. He didn’t see her on his first or second break, hasn’t seen her all day. He wonders now if she jumped ship, or got fired; maybe she didn’t pick up the pace. Even though they’re desperate in here it’s all about control, and Rita doesn’t seem like the type to be controlled—at least not anymore.

At five he passes through security check, scans the crowd for Rita, some leaving, some coming on for second shift, but no sight of her in her red hat. He waits a while, then goes outside, looking for her in the parking lot, and there he sees her waving to him by his truck, on the other end of the lot, her red mittens high in the air, flagging him down. He smiles.

“Didn’t see you all day,” he says, when he reaches her. “What happened?”

“They fired me,” she says, smoking a cigarette.

“How come?”
“I stole a frickin’ candy bar. Didn’t think anyone would notice.”

“Shit, Rita.”

“I slipped it in my pocket—I was gonna eat it on break.”

“They could’ve had you thrown in jail.”

“Wouldn’t’ve been the first time,” she says, blowing out smoke.

Brandy opens his truck door with his remote key. “How concerned should I be?” he asks, before unlocking her door.

Rita drops the butt of her cigarette, steps on it. “I’m not going to rob you,” she says.

“I’m not worried about that,” he says, unlocking her door. “It’s not money or stuff I’m worried about anymore.” The only thing he cares about is his boat, and she’d have a hell of a time stealing it on the hard. He climbs in the driver’s seat.

She picks up the butt, puts it in her pocket, climbs in the truck.

“So, what did you do?” he asks. “Steal a loaf of bread?”

“Actually,” she says, putting on her seat belt, “I robbed a bank.”

The parking lot from the change of shifts is chaos again. Police cars flashing, directing traffic. He slowly backs out of his spot. “So, you robbed a bank,” he says, facetiously.

She nods. “$2,500.00 ⎯I used a water pistol under my sweatshirt.”

“A water pistol.”

“I didn’t want to hurt anyone.”

“Of course not,” he says, merging into an outgoing line. He breaks at the intersection, waiting for the cop to tell him to turn.

“Bruce wanted us to be like Bonnie and Clyde, but I wouldn’t touch a real gun. That’s the one thing he couldn’t get me to do. I told him if I had a gun he’d be dead.”

The cop waves Brandy on. He didn’t believe her for a minute at first, but now he’s beginning to wonder. He makes the turn and they head for the traffic light. Brandy stops on red. “When did you get out?”

“It’s been just over a year—I was on parole.”

He waits for the light to turn green.
“Well I’m not one to judge,” Brandy says, accelerating.

“How ‘bout we get something special to eat tonight. Celebrate your freedom.”

They stop for Chinese, order a quart of moo goo gai-pan and two orders of shrimp toast, then buy a bottle of non-alcoholic sparkling pink champagne at the liquor store next door. The grocery store next to the liquor store has little Christmas trees out front, boat size, for $15. It’s more than Brandy can afford to spend, but the hell with it he thinks. He tells Rita to pick one out. “We can put it in a bucket with some water,” he says.

“Do you have decorations?”

He shakes his head. “My ex-wife took all of those.”

“I know how to make paper snowflakes,” she says. “And we can cut out a star.”

“I have computer paper we can use,” he says.

Back in the car, Brandy asks Rita how long she was in for. “Three years,” she says, cracking her window, then lighting a cigarette. “My lawyer used the Patty Hearst defense, said I was coerced. Bruce got more time; he had a record, but I think he’s out now, and I know he’s looking for me. That’s why I gotta keep running.”

Brandy tells her she’s safe with him. He has a small pistol that he keeps under his mattress that he’s never had to use, but he’s sure that he could if he had to.

“No one’s ever safe,” she says.

“You don’t believe in guardian angels?”

She shakes her head. “I don’t believe in anything.”

“No higher power?”

“For fifteen years it was Bruce.”

“I mean spiritual.”

She shakes her head again. “I’m on my own.”

They are quiet the rest of the way to the boat, the lights on the road fractured from Brandy’s cataracts. He keeps his eyes open for deer. It’s that time of year where they dart out from seemingly nowhere, the glow of their eyes the only warning sign.

Brandy heats up the moo goo gai-pan on his propane stove in the small kitchen. He put the small pine tree in a wash bucket by the stairs leading up to the deck. Rita pops the bottle of fake champagne. “I could never drink around Bruce,” she says. “I had to stay on my guard. Plus, he drank enough for both of us.” She pours two glasses.

“A toast,” Brandy says. “To your freedom.”

Rita takes a sip of the pink bubbly. “Sometimes I wish I was still in prison,” she says, sitting down at the small table in the galley. “Maybe that’s why I stole the candy bar.”

Brandy serves up the moo goo gai-pan, putting two triangles of shrimp toast on each plate, then sits down across from her. “That’s not a life in there,” he says.

“You ever been in?”

“A couple over-nighters for DUIs.”
“I wasn’t safe in there either, but at least I was away from Bruce.” She takes a bite of the chicken, chewing slowly. “I’m afraid if he finds me, I’ll go back to him.”

Brandy puts his fork down. “Rita, you’re not alone here.”

“I can’t stay here without a job.”

“You’ll find something else.”

“I need to learn how to take care of myself.”

“You know what?” Brandy says, clicking Slacker on his phone and putting on the classic country station. “Why don’t we talk about all this tomorrow. Let’s back burner it and just enjoy this night. We’re celebrating, remember?” He picks up his glass and they toast again, Hank Williams singing “Hey Good Lookin’.”

Rita gives him a full smile, her teeth stained, but relatively straight. “Okay,” she says.

It’s been a long, long time since Brandy’s danced. And he’s never danced sober before. But Rita said, “Just follow my lead,” and now he’s shaking his hips and spinning her around like he’s Fred Astaire. “Hello Mary Lou, Goodbye Heart. . .”

Rita starts singing along now, her voice raspy, but the notes strong, dead-on.

“Dang girl,” Brandy says, giving her a spin. “You can sing!”

“It’s been a while,” she says, sitting down, catching her breath, then starts into a coughing fit. Brandy gets her a glass of water.

“Thanks,” she says, taking a big gulp. “Think I need a cigarette.”

Out on deck the stars are bright in the new moon sky. Rita has on her big brown coat, her red hat. “Which one is that?” she asks, pointing to the brightest star in the sky with her cigarette.

“That’s Polaris, the North Star,” he says. “The one the wisemen followed to find the baby Jesus. At last they say it was that one. But it could have been any star gone nova.”

“What’s nova?”

“It means ‘new star’, ’cause when a star goes nova it explodes and gets brighter— people can see it with the naked eye then. It’s like the birth of a star.”

Rita nods her head slowly. “I like that,” she says.

“You ever seen a sextant?” Brandy asks her.

“A what?” Rita asks, raising her dark eyebrows.

“It’s a navigational tool,” Brandy quickly explains. “Let me get mine. I’ll show you.”

Brandy goes back down the hatch, gets his sextant from an overhead compartment, then climbs back out on deck. Rita is smoking the last of her cigarette, her head tilted back, blowing out smoke like the starlets in the old black and white movies. “So before computers and cell phones this baby and a reliable watch were used to navigate on the water,” Brandy says, showing her the triangular instrument.

“You can find where you are by determining your latitude and longitude,” he says, drawing lines in the air, and then using two fingers to show the intersection of the two. “To determine your latitude, you point the sextant to the horizon and then sight a bright, fixed object in the sky—we’ll use Polaris.” He hands her the instrument, aligning it with the horizon, then tells her to look in the scope and sight Polaris. “Now press the clamp to release the index bar, and bring Polaris down to the horizon.” She moves the bar slowly down, then says okay. “Now we’ll read the angle. 32 degrees,” he says. Go ahead and release the clamp. Now we just need to look at 32 degrees latitude on my charts,” he says, “and boom we have our latitude line.”

They go back down in the cabin and Brandy lays out his navigational charts on the table, points out 32 degrees latitude. “Here we are,” he says, “anywhere along this line. You have to know your longitude point to determine your exact location. And that’s a bit trickier, takes some math, but it has to do with Greenwich Mean Time,” he says, pointing to the central longitude line on the map. “That’s where the watch comes into play. You can tell your longitude based on how far you are from this line and what time it is in that zone. “Here we are,” he says, pointing to their location point on the Sassafras River.

“I could’ve used this lesson years ago,” Rita says. “I went off-course and still haven’t found my way back.”
“Maybe you have now,” Brandy says, taking her hands, pressing them together.

She looks him in the eyes, then looks away. “I’m no fixed star.”

“We’re all moving through time,” he says. “We’d better get that tree decorated before Christmas passes us by. I’ll get some paper and scissors.”

Rita shows Brandy how to fold the paper again and again into a small triangle. “Now cut a straight line across the bottom. And then cut straight and curvy lines into the fold,” she says, working her scissors like a pro. She opens her paper to magically reveal a snowflake.

“We had Christmas trees in prison,” she says. “These were the decorations.”

Brandy works his scissors with less finesse, but the final result is just as dazzling.

They make several more, and then Rita folds and cuts another sheet of paper until she constructs a perfect star. “A star is born!” she exclaims, and then places it on top of the tree. They stand back to admire their work

“We should put our fortunes on it,” Brandy says. He gets their fortune cookies off the counter. Rita opens hers: “It could be better, but it’s good enough,” she laughs.

Brandy opens his and reads, “Two days from now, tomorrow will be yesterday.”

They place their fortunes on the tree, and then Brandy takes out his phone, goes to Slacker, finds a Christmas station. He clicks on it: “Oh holy night, the stars are brightly shining . . .” They sit down at the table and listen, both of them as still as can be, staring at the tree.

“Let me just hold you tonight,” Brandy says when the song is over. “Let me just hold you while you sleep. Keep you safe in my arms.”
She looks up at him, her red hat just above her wary eyes. “Just sleep?”

“Just sleep,” he says. “Let me rock you to sleep.”

She lets him lead her to his bed in the captain’s quarters, where they lie down still dressed under the covers. She rolls over and Brandy turns off the light on the nightstand. He rolls over beside her, tells her goodnight, then puts his arm around her, only the screech of an occasional heron piercing the silence of the darkness, her breath getting heavier as she falls asleep. And lying there, awake, Brandy is acutely aware that he will return to this point in time over and over again, letting the past fall away, and the future bring whatever it may.

Lisa Lynn Biggar received her MFA in Fiction from Vermont College and is writing a short story cycle set on the eastern shore of Maryland. In addition to Delmarva Review, her short fiction has appeared in numerous other literary journals. She teaches English at Chesapeake College and is the fiction editor for Little Patuxent Review. In her spare time, she co-owns and operates a cut flower farm on the eastern shore of Maryland with her husband and four cats.

Delmarva Review publishes outstanding new poetry, fiction and nonfiction from writers within the region and beyond. In it’s tenth year, the nonprofit literary journal is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For information and copies, visit: www.delmarvareview.com.

A Bridge Not Needed with Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance’s Elizabeth Watson

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To be very clear, the State of Maryland is a long way from breaking ground on a new span across the Chesapeake Bay.  The process that started this year with a “tier one” analysis is a first step of a decade-long review of the feasibility of building a third Bay bridge to Kent County, the Lower Shore, or a new bridge to Bay Bridge’s existing location.

But this long-term planning process has not slowed down a grassroots effort to provide organized opposition to  a new link from Baltimore to Kent County. In fact, like many other controversial issues in the past which would permanently impact the County’s centuries old cultural landscape, resistance began almost simultaneously as the State seeks comments on  a “Purpose and Need” report to the Governor which will identify ten to fifteen locations that hypothetically could support a new bridge.

The Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance, the same group who recently played a critical role in stopping wind turbines from being built in Kent County, has now stepped up early to make their concerns known. And leading that effort for the nonprofit is board member Elizabeth Watson who is uniquely qualified to make a case against a bridge in Kent County.

With an extensive background as an independent consultant since 1993, Watson has worked in more than a dozen heritage protection sites or greenway initiatives, which combine regional planning with resource conservation, tourism development, and community education initiatives. She is also the co-author of Saving America’s Countryside: A Guide to Rural Conservation which grew out of her earliest working experience worked for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Rural Program.

The Spy sat down with Watson at the White Swan Tavern a few weeks ago to talk about her case against the bridge, her observations about Kent County’s economic development potential, and her insistence that this is the time for the citizens to speak out clearly and loudly to oppose this environmentally threatening new infrastructure.

This video is approximately eight minutes in length. For more information about the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance please go here.

Fool and Cruel With a Chance of Showers by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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There’s a lot to be said for April, much of it bad. I know it’s only one of our four shorter months (I don’t even count February as a month), but it certainly seems to me that a lot of negativity has been packed into April’s thirty days. Just consider:

As far as I know, April is the only month to celebrate fools. It’s not a new phenomenon. In the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer mentioned playing pranks on friends way back in 1392. In France, the custom was to slap a paper fish on an unknowing victim’s back (“Poisson d’Avril!”) while in Scotland—my ancestral home—April first was traditionally called Huntigowk Day, a “gowk” being Scots for a cuckoo or a foolish person.

Other countries around the world as far away as India and Iran have joined the fun, sometimes with not-so-fun consequences. In 1957, the BBC broadcast a film on April first purporting to show Swiss farmers harvesting freshly grown spaghetti plants. The BBC was subsequently flooded with requests for spaghetti plant seeds. Most people thought it all harmlessly fun but a few disappointed pasta lovers thought it a cruel hoax.

Speaking of cruel, the opening line of T.S. Eliot’s elegiac poem The Waste Land (1922) sets a dismal tone for April:

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Poor April! It may never recover from such a dreary assessment.

Were this literary pummeling of April not bad enough, the IRS in its infinite wisdom set the seal of doom on April when it made April 15 (or thereabouts, depending on the weekend) the deadline for filing income tax forms to federal, state, and local governments. Exceptions to this deadline abound (see “Trump, Donald J.”), but like another famous date on the calendar, April 15 has a certain ring of infamy to it.

And then there’s the weather. Every child knows that “April showers bring May flowers,” but May is then and April is now. It’s as though we should overlook this poor month in favor of the next, effectively making May the teacher’s pet and April the poor stepchild. Sigh.

But I guess we shouldn’t completely give up on the fourth month. This year, April kicked off with Easter, a joyous celebration of renewal and rebirth, a day on which all rabbits have an uncontrollable urge to hide colored eggs. Go figure. Opening Day of the baseball season often falls in early April although this year, that honor fell to March, the renowned lion and lamb of the calendar. And I would certainly be remiss not to mention that my lovely wife’s birthday falls in April, as do the birthdays of one daughter-in-law, one grandchild, two nieces and a nephew, and numerous friends. Lots of cards, but then, ours is a large family.

Come to think of it, there are all manner of reasons to celebrate April. Marathon runners converge on Boston on Patriot’s Day (April 16), an official holiday in the commonwealth of Massachusetts. A few days later, we’ll celebrate our planet on Earth Day (April 22) and on the last Friday of this month (April 27 this year), we should all go out and plant a tree in honor of Arbor Day.

I guess maybe April’s not such a lousy month after all. No fooling!

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

Out and About (Sort): Quest for Comity by Howard Freedlander

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We pay professional therapists to listen to us, but we can’t afford the time or effort to listen to others with divergent views.

Two friends in the county have views diametrically opposed to mine. Yet we enjoy a depth of civility and friendship that transcends our polar opposite viewpoints. We refuse to poison our communication with insults and personal attacks.

It seems that civil dialogue or any discourse between those on opposite ends of the political spectrum is rare. Either politics deliberately doesn’t come up in conversation, or the differing persons simply avoid each other. We all know this sad tale; the polarization seems a stubbornly omnipresent fact of life today. It’s a shame.

Maybe it’s overstated. Maybe it’s not. Divisiveness seems entwined these days with the human condition.

Just recently, I spent 90 minutes at lunch with some people whose viewpoints differed greatly from mine. Conversation was difficult at times. Fortunately, each person generally spoke without emotion and recrimination—not entirely, but mostly. A sense of friendship and respect seemed to emerge at the same time as dessert and coffee.

I won’t dwell on the lunch. However, I will talk about “Better Angels,” as reported recently by CBS News. I was dismayed but not surprised by the stark differences of opinions about gun control; the discussion lasted 18 months in Lebanon, Ohio.

What interested me is that this method of overcoming ill will is the same as confronting and overcoming harmful bias. In fact, two members of the “focus group”—one an Iranian-American and the other an evangelical Christian—described how their initially fraught relationship evolved into one of warm friendship. The therapeutic process worked.

What seems new and striking about the discussion and its byproduct of friendship is not a new phenomenon It just stands out due to the bigotry and stridency expressed in our times in some quarters. The abusive language harms our democracy; it consigns compromise and tolerance to the outer reaches of human behavior. Productive discourse seems unfathomable.

In President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address, presented on March 4, 1861, on the eve of the Civil War, voiced a yearning for a time when “the mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

In futility, Lincoln hoped for an outcome free of mortal combat and societal schism.

Striking a different, yet forgiving and conciliatory tone in his second inaugural address delivered in March 1865 just before the end of the wrenching Civil War, Lincoln said:

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations. “

Analyzing Lincoln’s second address and the current state of relationships in our fractious nation, Paul Cox, a friend, wrote:

“The second address anticipated the end of the war and the great job of reconciliation – it is generally accepted that Lincoln, the great captain, would have steered the ship of state more successfully through the turbulent post-war years. We cannot know. But we look back from here and see so many issues still unreconciled, wounds still not healed.

“Has it been malice? Has it been a lack of charity? As this world spins around, there are many strong centrifugal forces that would throw us all apart. The act of listening to people with diametrically opposed political views would be one of the first things necessary to assure us being held together.”

Paul arrives at the same conclusion as I did: civility has suffered as those on the opposite ends of the political spectrum adamantly avoid, if not disdain, listening to people whose opinions, though well-thought out, seem anathema to our ears. We won’t and don’t listen. We believe that the search for common ground is meaningless.

The quest for comity is a bumpy, uncomfortable road. It offers risks; we might change our minds. We might respect and even like the person whose opinions are bothersome.

All of us embody “better angels.”

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Showing Up By George Merrill

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There are millions, worldwide. They’re everywhere.

They were there when I needed them most. They could be friends or strangers. They might be old or young. I’ve found these people hard to profile except for this: their timing is impeccable. They were there just when I needed them.

In my lifetime, I’ve known more of them than I can count. Some are especially memorable and two come to mind immediately; a young working man I met twenty-five years ago in a snow storm. He drove the sorriest junk car I ever saw. The other, a school principal I knew over seventy years ago. He listened to me in a way no one ever had before. He wore brown suits. I don’t know if the working man had any religious affiliation but I know the school principal was Jewish. His name was Abraham Rubin.

Both showed up at just the right time.

I am talking, of course, about angels. Mr. Rogers of the legendary Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, preferred calling them helpers- probably because he was a Presbyterian – I think of them as angels, being a high church Episcopalian and all. But it’s also because these angels have got to be connected; affiliated with someone higher up who really knows what’s going on in people’s lives. Whoever that may be, I suspect he or she is the one that tips the angels off. That’s speculative but in any case, I want to tell you about the two angels I’ve never forgotten.

It was in 1945. The war had just ended. My father returned from Europe and shortly thereafter died violently. My family was depressed. They didn’t like to talk about it. I felt abandoned and alone. My own grief began showing up in my school performance and after a while I was remanded to the principal’s office for remedial action. In Public School 29, kids believed the gallows was a better option.

I was frightened. I walked into Mr. Rubin’s office. He invited me to sit down and instead of sitting across his desk from me, he drew a chair up beside me, looked at me with the kindest eyes I believe I’ve ever seen. I was still scared. He only said, ‘I hear you’ve been having trouble with your school work. What’s been the hardest for you?’

I burst like a pierced balloon filled with water and cried. I must have talked about a half an hour non-stop. I talked about my father’s death and then about the dog we had, and how only a week after my father was gone my dog died of distemper. When I’d emotionally wound down he asked me in the most matter of fact way, what my hobbies were. Photography I told him.

He paused; then said that he was soon to initiate a school newspaper. He wanted pictures. Would I like to provide them? It would require me to meet weekly with him for a few minutes to deliver the photos and help him select the best ones for the school paper. Of course, I said yes.

In the genius of his compassion he’d devised a plan in which I would be accountable to him in a way that didn’t highlight my failures but affirmed my talents. I felt known. I felt cared for.

I believe everyone meets angels. There are some you don’t recognize until years later. One day about fifty years after the principal appointed me school photographer, it came me: “Wow, now I get it.” This was an angel. There are times, however, when I knew it immediately, right there on the spot. Such was the case for me some twenty odd years ago in January after a big snow storm.

The snow storm ended. I was due in D.C. for a conference in which I had committee responsibilities and had also been asked to take photographs. I had my car serviced. I packed all my photographic equipment in it and left Baltimore arriving at the Washington D.C. beltway around five. The beltway had been plowed and there were high snow banks on either side. The beltway was jammed although traffic clipped along in all three lanes at sixty plus. I was in the middle lane.

I accelerated to get positioned into the safety of the right lane. The motor raced. The drive shaft had uncoupled. I could not accelerate and was gliding. With no control over my speed, how to get in the right lane was the problem. Cars shot by me on either side. Finally, I saw a break in traffic, pulled to the right and glided into a snow pile just short of Georgia Avenue. I was trapped between the cars racing in the right lane and the snow bank. It was dangerous.

An old junk car pulled in behind me. The driver got out. He wore a flannel shirt and Levis. He walked to my door and asked if I had AAA. I did. He took my membership number (before cell phones) saying he would stop at the station on Georgia Avenue and have them come and tow me. Within an hour, AAA arrived and I was towed safely off the beltway. He drove off. I never saw him again.

What a kind man, I thought. I also felt that what had happened signified something much more. The man was endangering himself walking between the narrow space between traffic and the snow bank. He didn’t know me from Adam. Why did he stop and bother at all and for a complete stranger at that? I was sure this was an angel because at times like this I’ve sensed how the total of the encounter feels equal to far more than the sum of its parts. If I feel that way, I’m pretty sure I’ve been visited by an angel. I’m sure I was.

Why do I write this now?

It’s Easter for Christians. In the Easter narrative, there’s a part of story that mentions angels that show up at critical times. After the crucifixion when the women who loved Jesus came to the tomb to find him, he wasn’t there. They were alarmed. Two angels appeared to assure them that Jesus had risen and that they would soon meet up with him.

I’ve always had this whimsical thought about that appearance. I imagined, not unreasonably, that one of the two angels were Jewish, since there was a significant Jewish population in the neighborhood. He may have been a teacher like Mr. Rubin. The other, possibly a working man, a shepherd maybe, like the man I once met who drove the junk car.

And the angels were, as always, true to their word.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

A Neurosurgeon Treats a New Patient: The Chesapeake Skipjack

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In this new world of redefining what “retirement” means, it probably comes as no surprise that a Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon would retire to the Eastern Shore and start an entirely new vocation related to the skipjacks of the Chesapeake Bay.

That’s precisely what Dr. Randolph George did when he eventually retired from the operating room and embarked with his brother in law, Allen Rawl, on the restoration of a skipjack named Martha Lewis.  And as Allen was doing much of the physical work on the boat, Dr. George began to explore and document the boat builder, his family and the many stories that surrounded the Martha Lewis.  It also led him on a journey to discover every remaining skipjack on the Shore.

All of this is now documented in a new book that Randy has authored entitled “Memory of the Skipjack,” published by SaltWater Media.  It not only records the unique history of the Martha Lewis but documents the fifty-two remaining of what was once a fleet of 700 iconic examples of the Chesapeake Bay’s distinctive heritage.

The Spy spent some time with the author at Bullitt House a few weeks ago to chat about the book.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information or purchase “Memoir of a Skipjack” please go here 

Enough by Al Sikes

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An article on the eve of the Never Again march in Washington kept quoting kids observing that the “system is rigged.” A rigged system would deny their right to speech and petition. But, on one level they are right.

Constitutional freedoms that allow marches, posters, and chants also allow people and companies with enormous capital, the same access. Let’s use gun control illustratively.

First the Constitution, in an 18th Century context, protects the right to own a gun. The framers were thinking of the right of people to rise up against concentrated power, as happened in our Revolutionary War.

Now almost 250 years later and generations of gun technology later, an ideology has been successfully shaped by the NRA that has subordinated, implicitly, the freedom to think straight.

Vaclav Havel, the cerebral force behind the Velvet Revolution, showed with absolute clarity how the Soviet system of mind control worked. The Soviets used the phrase “Workers of the World Unite” to give its domination an emotional center. In fact, the Soviets subordinated hundreds of millions to the dominant bureaucracy that ruled the Soviet Union and Warsaw Bloc nations. The last thing the Soviet hierarchy wanted was for the workers of the world to actually unite.

In the United States, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has been no less successful with most Republicans and many Democrats.

The NRA warps the Constitution by insisting that the right to bear arms (virtually any arms) is absolute. Then they supply the necessary political weapons; money and single-issue voters. Regardless of how contorted some of its claims are, millions have signed on for a variety of reasons having little to do with the underlying rationale of protecting Americans from home grown oppressive power.

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, in a recent Op-ed, said we need to amend the Constitution’s Second Amendment which reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Constitutional amendments are as difficult as reviving a person from cryogenic sleep. What we need are Supreme Court Justices that will yield to common sense, but first, they have to be presented with something that makes sense.

The Second Amendment was not intended to make the use of a 21st Century weapon easier than a smart phone. The latter requires either a digital or biometric password and is indelibly linked to its owner. Nothing is more personal than a smart phone; the same should be true of a gun. Personalizing a gun does not guarantee responsibility, but it links irresponsibility with potentially dire consequences and evidence of culpability.

There was a time when I was an NRA member to support their gun safety program. I am a hunter and know the potential for horrendous accidents when a gun is used carelessly.

I also know that today we provide more protection for waterfowl than we do for humans—a lot more. Legally, waterfowl hunters must plug their gun so that only three shells can be fired without re-loading. And there are game wardens in the field to enforce hunting restrictions.

The emotional dial has been moved by frequent mass shootings and youthful leadership. The NRA notwithstanding, I believe the next three years will bring major changes in gun control. My principal recommendation: personalize gun ownership.

I hope as well that the Hollywood types that were so evident during the marches will bring pressure to stop nihilistic video games (I am not optimistic).

Finally, while I believe the Never Again movement is encouraging, it seems inclined to dismiss efforts at compromise. The NRA successes have been sustained by a bi-partisan coalition. Cycles that favor the right or left will not end; bi-partisan laws have continuity.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.