Joe's Nightmare

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December 29, 2017--My novel has been thirty years in the writing, and maybe it has come into it's time.  I call it "speculative fiction," depicting a world that might be if we get past the lock-jawed moral one-up-man-ship of the Baby Boomer generation.  Yes, we're not dead yet, and we still have a chance to leap-frog over the Armageddon the soothsayers are so determined to predict.

 

It's About Time:  Bud, Beon, and the Bots, Chapter One, "Joe's Nightmare," opens with protagonist Joe and his doctor friend, Marian, at Mack's Bar and Grill.

 

I've presented the first five pages, the opening scene, to an impromptu test market, you the would-be reader.  I hope to o uplift and entertain, to tell a story, and perhaps to provoke some thought.

 

CHAPTER 1

JOE’S NIGHTMARE

 

Marian glared at Joe, but he didn’t see.  He was slouched low in the booth, staring at his beer. His faded white shirt hung loose over thin shoulders.  His brown eyes, usually bright and inquisitive, were dark, brooding, and sad as those of an old, dying dog.  His eyelids drooped, and even his large, floppy ears seemed to sag.  Marian chuckled at his woeful appearance.  Joe’s eyes didn’t move.

 

Her eyes followed his to the glass, then scanned the room.  Mack’s Bar and Grill was hopping, the Friday night crowd jubilant and loud.  Tiffany lamps interspersed with hanging plants sparked with bejeweled light.  The misted window beside their booth gleamed with trails of glittering raindrops outside.  Mack’s mirror collection covered the walls, giving an impression of friendly spaciousness that Marian found refreshing.

 

As people swarmed, eerie, surreal shadows played across Joe’s face.  Televisions with muted sound in front and back showed sports highlights.  A dank, musty smell rose with moist heat from the milling bodies. 

 

Marian leaned back and closed her eyes, absorbing the lively mood.  Occasional bursts of laughter here and there rolled over her like waves.  A loud gruffaw from the center of the room startled her, but Joe’s eyes remained fixed on his glass.

 

She sat up and sipped her wine, watching her strange friend.  As narrow as a line in his personal life, Joe was a genius when it came to science.  More than a genius, he was a wizard. 

 

But tonight even the bubbles in Joe’s beer showed more signs of life.  “Joe!” she almost, but not quite, shouted.  He jumped.  His knee hit the booth’s underside and jostled the glass, but he caught it before the first drop spilled. He held the beer and glared at her. 

 

“Where are you?”  she asked.

 

“I’m here, of course,” he retorted.  “I live inside my body.”  He put finger to pulse with a flourish and closed his eyes. “My heart is slowing now,” he finally said.  “Had me worried for a minute, a minute and six seconds, to be exact. It was racing at 144 beats, after you so rudely interrupted my experiment, but it has calmed to a mere 86.”

 

He released his wrist and blew on the chilly glass.  “I would fog a mirror if I had one, so I appear to be breathing.  Would you like to see? I didn’t bring my blood pressure cuff, this time, but perhaps you have one in your purse.”  He chugged half the beer and thunked the glass on the table.

 

“What experiment?” Marian asked. 

 

Joe gave her a disgusted look.  “I was calculating the volume of air coming out of an invisible speck.  I was counting the bubbles, of course, to multiply their spherical volume by the number.  Then, I was going to add another speck and keep track of its air volume.  From that I was going to determine how much CO2 was dissolved in my beer to see what effect it might have on global warming.  Why?”

 

Marian sighed.  “I wondered if something was wrong.”

 

“Nothing but the ruin of my experiment.”  He chugged the rest of the beer.  “Another scientific failure.  Now we may never know how we could save the world by dissolving more carbon dioxide in beer and drinking fast.”

 

He waved his glass high in the air, exposing a thin wrist bounded by a frayed white cuff.  A passing hand with rings on every finger swept past and escaped with glass on tray, leaving a trail of french-fry smell. When the next beer arrived, Joe slumped into bubble-counting position, his head at eye level with the glass.  His feet struggled to find room under the table.

 

“Quit kicking if you want me to be quiet.”

 

“OK,” he said.  “Sorry.”

 

Marian settled into her thoughts.  She wasn’t sure when she first noticed Joe, sitting on that bar stool at Mack's, so many months ago.   Like a cloud, he had eased into her awareness, emerging as if from thin air, until one afternoon he was sitting on that bar stool in full flesh, still and silent, his stiff brown hair forming spikes around his head, unshaved chin jutting over a coffee mug. He sipped coffee and stared at the back bar mirror, which revealed the scene behind him, of booths, mirrors, and windows lining the restaurant’s long side. 

 

Over the ensuing weeks, Marian noticed Joe sitting on the same stool every afternoon, drinking coffee, staring into the mirror above the bar.  She liked relaxing at Mack’s, too, where she, exhausted from a long day of writing prescriptions and ministering to other people’s ailments, could let Mack alleviate suffering instead.  Most days she watched, sipping herbal tea at her favorite bar stool near the cash register.  Here, she and Mack exchanged ideas on economics, as he collected low-overhead money for treating customers’ problems. 

 

Mack’s Bar and Grill was an independent country, the front door claimed, the “State of Freedom, Democracy, and Capitalism.”  It pictured a lion with Mack’s face lapping beer out of a mug.  It declared Mack’s roar the “Loudest in the Land.”  So far, no one had challenged his independence, and the local police were some of his best citizens.

 

Mack claimed the lion was the ideal free market capitalist, king of the jungle, who sleeps 20 hours a day, eats two hours, and makes whoopie the remaining two.  Also, he gets his harem to do the hunting and killing for him. Mack complained that Linda, his wife, didn’t understand lion thinking.  She thought he was too fat.  “You have to work for your supper,” she told him.  As for the harem, she only smiled and shook her head.

 

Until the day Marian noticed Mack’s limp, she could have believed Joe knew only three words.  “Just coffee, Mack,” was all he said.

 

But Marian’s interest in Mack’s arthritis brought Joe out of his trance.  He jumped into their conversation and regaled them for nearly an hour on the anatomy of the knee, physiology of muscles, histology of bones, the causes of inflammation, and all the current treatments.  Marian was awed, because he was accurate in every detail, and his knowledge seemed infinite.

 

Who is this strange creature, she wondered.  He looks like he lives in the street.  Over time she found that his aloof manner discouraged personal questions, but Joe was always eager to discuss medicine, technology, and science.  Now Marian took his wizardry for granted and followed him from topic to topic with delight. 

 

“How do you know so much?” she asked tonight.

 

“I’m a curious person,” he said, without moving eyes from glass.  “I read a lot.”

 

Suddenly, a hot dish of fried calamari landed in front of Marian.  Joe looked up.  He glared at the calamari.

 

Marian offered Joe a sample but knew in advance his answer.  He knew everything about squid, except the taste.  He explained its biology, physiology, anatomy, life cycle, mating habits, and preferred habitats the last time she ordered calamari.

 

“Fried food is bad for you,” he said now.

 

“That’s what they say,” Marian replied.  She dipped an offending morsel into tzaziki sauce and popped it in her mouth.  “But I believe in homeopathic doses of lard, from time to time.”

 

Joe’e eyes followed her hand, glanced at the TV screen, at Mack behind the bar, then looked briefly at Marian’s face before settling back on the beer. He spoke as if to the bubbles. “I had a nightmare,” he said, his voice barely audible.

 

Marian laughed.  “Is that why you’re so gloomy?  I thought it was something serious.”

 

Joe ignored her.  Marian sighed.

 

“Is there anything I can do?” she asked.

 

“Shoot me,” he said.  “That might help.”

 

Comments

Thomas Napers Added Dec 29, 2017 - 9:44pm
Mack knows nothing about capitalism if he thinks a lion is an ideal free market capitalist for being able to sleep, eat and make whoopee.  A capitalist would worker harder or smarter than others and in doing so, be able to enjoy the fruits of his labor.  Actually, no animal ascribes to any economic system.  They all only care about one thing and that’s survival.  In most of the animal kingdom that means a strong male that leads the pride/pack. 
Phil Greenough Added Dec 30, 2017 - 5:07am
Good writing.  Not sure if this the right venue for non-political book excerpts.  What do you mean by "lock-jawed moral one-up-man-ship of the Baby Boomer generation?"
Katharine Otto Added Dec 30, 2017 - 11:28am
Thomas,
You and I have different definitions of "capitalism," as the book will strive to show.  Mack is the ideal FMC, because he marches to his own drummer.  He doesn't work hard enough to be stressed, opens and closes when he wants, and has been there long enough to have low building overhead.  His friendliness is his key to success, another feature of the free-market capitalist-individual who is his own best ambassador.  He loves his job, and his freedom, and it shows.  This is the ideal of the small businessman, self-employed, with family to back him up.  Abandon Wall Street for Main Street, say the likes of me, through Mack and this novel.
Katharine Otto Added Dec 30, 2017 - 11:32am
Phil,
You'll find the book is very political, couched in political satire, a sad commentary on the pretend-science version of modern medicine.  I happen to know a little about that subject.
 
Joe is a programmed android, calculated to have no emotions, with all that brain space dedicated to science, medicine, and technology.  You'll see, if you keep reading.  
 
I posted "Joe's Nightmare" on my WordPress blog, too, and will circulate among friends on Facebook.  The advance promo may motivate me to edit faster.
Katharine Otto Added Dec 30, 2017 - 12:34pm
Phil,
"Lock-jawed moral one-up-manship of the Baby Boomer generation" refers to my generation (I'm 65).  I see my "cohort" as being angry because their social-revolution-through-government-regulation model isn't working.  The oligarchs continue to hold sway, but Seniors' retirement pensions, invested in Treasuries and on Wall Street, are keeping the government and Wall Street solvent.  The government can't afford to mess with Social Security or Medicare, because those seniors would then begin cashing in their stocks and T-bills to survive.
 
On some level, the Seniors know they have the government by the balls, but they feel guilty about it.  Fact is, all that regulation is squeezing the very people who wanted the government to protect them from the rapacious banks and corporations.  
 
So "lock-jawed" refers to those who feel they've been had by FDR, who promised them social security, conned them--and their employers--into paying payroll taxes all those years, and are now suggesting the promised money isn't there?  Alas, when you dump new money on the economy, you devalue what's already there, and reduce the salaried jobber and other fixed income people's buying power.
 
My generation is passing judgment on everyone coming behind us, because we feel like failures at saving the world from itself.
Thomas Napers Added Dec 31, 2017 - 3:04am
There are is only one definition of capitalism.  What we’re talking about is interpretation of capitalism and equating a free market capitalist to a male lion is ridiculous. 
 
The fact Mack owns a business that affords him a lot of freedom is one of the pluses of having a successful business.  There are many business owners who work their fanny off for very little reward and have tons of overhead to grapple with.  Both the struggling business owner and successful business owner could be “friendly” and great “ambassadors” of themselves.  Furthermore, one who works on Wall Street could be just as free as one who owns a successful small business.  Oh and by the way, very few people work on Wall Street.  However, from the small business owner to the big business owner, Wall Street is probably one of the reasons they have a business…but that’s a conversation for another thread. 
 
So allow me to summarize your book, your hero is a successful small business owner and your anti-hero is Wall Street.  Because many regard Wall Street as the epitome of free market capitalism, your book is another attack on capitalism.  Don’t think I’ve hit the nail on the head…read the first paragraph of your response to Phil.    
Katharine Otto Added Dec 31, 2017 - 11:39am
Thomas,
You are so far off the mark that it's ridiculous.  First, the word "capitalism" refers to  human capital, the wealth between your ears.  The "robber barons" like JP Morgan, JD Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and the like, exploited human capital in large amalgams of human protoplasm and usurped the name of "capitalism" from them.  These men weren't "capitalists."  In fact, they made a mockery of capitalism, as Adam Smith did before them.  Their version is all about squeezing labor as hard as it can.
 
Part of my purpose is to re-define capitalism to show the pre-eminence of the individual, as depicted in my novel character Mack.  
 
True, very few people work on Wall Street, but stock brokers thrive in every community in the US.  They are generally in the business of exporting  money out of town, which is the opposite of true capitalism, where money is invested locally, at home.  My version of capitalism representing human capital, that is, the individual.
George N Romey Added Dec 31, 2017 - 3:30pm
Katharine this idea that all rich work 18 hour days comes from people watching too much CNBC. The super rich primarily live on passive income. This might mean hiring lawyers to keep finance investors and advisers on the up and up. Hardly back breaking work. Ask Paris Hilton and her friends how many hours they put in during the week.
 
Our financial system has come to a point in which fewer and fewer benefit. For example advising on acquisitions. A small number of bankers and lawyers clean up but the deals ultimately stifle competition, employment and innovation.
Katharine Otto Added Jan 1, 2018 - 12:53pm
George,
I'm currently re-reading None Dare Call it Conspiracy, by Gary Allen, published in 1971.  Although a little dated--he accuses Communism and Socialism for everything we blame ISIS for now--it gives in a point-by-point way how the Federal Reserve System was created, as well as the income tax.  He says that a central bank and a progressive income tax were planks in Karl Marx' Communist Manifesto.
 
Sam Nowaczynski Added Jan 2, 2018 - 4:36am
Let me guess, Joe is essentially you and for 30 years Joe/you have predicting Armageddon and for 30-years it hasn’t happened?  My advice to you and Joe is to cheer up.  Stop wasting time at the bar and get out and enjoy life.  Perhaps pick up a nice fiction novel and read it with the sole purpose of being entertained. 
Neil Lock Added Jan 2, 2018 - 6:13am
"Save the world by drinking beer fast." I can buy that! :-)
The Burghal Hidage Added Jan 2, 2018 - 10:14am
Aye Neil, there's that! And homeopathic doses of lard! Where could this possibly go wrong?  Kath thanks!
opher goodwin Added Jan 2, 2018 - 3:36pm
Katharine - I like the humour. Well written.
Dave Volek Added Jan 2, 2018 - 4:02pm
Nice writing. Let us know when it is on Amazon!
Mark Hunter Added Jan 4, 2018 - 3:16am
I did like the writing, nice opening. But I have to admit, I did feel like slapping Joe around and telling him to snap out of it.
Even A Broken Clock Added Jan 4, 2018 - 4:27pm
Katharine - I liked the writing. I was in the bar. One thing though for Joe - how does an Android have a heart?
Katharine Otto Added Jan 6, 2018 - 12:38pm
?Thanks for the encouragement, folks.  I've been away from computer due to snow, downed power line, power outage, and too cold to move.
 
Sam,
The opposite is true.  Joe and I are busy trying to avert Armageddon, to "save these Earthlings from themselves," as Beon puts it.  
 
By the way, do you know of a fiction novel that is uplifting?  Gloom and doom seems to pervade literature.  I did recently start Robinson Crusoe, recommended by my nephew, and it looks to be pretty good so far.
Katharine Otto Added Jan 6, 2018 - 12:40pm
Mark,
If you felt like slapping Joe around, you are engaged, which is a good thing.  He is kind of a sad sack, but he will get better.
Katharine Otto Added Jan 6, 2018 - 12:43pm
Neil, Opher, Burghal,
I'm so glad you like the humor.  I never know if what I think is funny will make other people laugh, too.  
 
I've always loved a good sense of humor in people, and it's especially important now, in these overly serious times.
Katharine Otto Added Jan 6, 2018 - 12:44pm
Dave,
Thanks.  Amazon, here I come (slowly).