Tuesday, February 19, 2008

How wrong does it have to be before you won’t do it?

OK! FINE! I have been so close to finishing this article forever! I have written and rewritten it several times. It’s still not what I wanted but I a moving on. The idea was to experiment with taking a large complex topic like “Morality” and split it up into manageable bite-size chunks. Each time I tried to fix it or re-write it a morphing would occur. It would take on new unintended directions or growths. “It’s not a tumor.” Anyway …


The big question is do we live in a world where all our actions break down in to Right vs. Wrong? Or are there gray areas?

How wrong is it to buy a big screen TV for the big game then return it to the store for your money back on Monday? It is slimy I feel but people do it. Some people “buy” a dress to wear to the big occasion just to return it later. Even if there is a restocking fee I feel it is slimy and therefore wrong.

If you saw a dollar on the ground would you pick it up and keep it? Of course you would. Most would look around to see if maybe it belonged to anyone and if it didn't they would keep it. Would you do the same with a $20? Or a $100? What about $5,000? At some point we all have a line we wouldn't cross. We would do the right thing and report the find to the police.

Unfortunately, I think people use what is and what is not legal as a guide. That if it is not illegal and it doesn’t hurt anyone and it gives me any advantage I will do it. I am not saying that every advantage you take / corner you cut is slimy. Often it’s called frugal or just plain common sense.

Every school day, like most of my neighbors, I drive my kids to our near-by school. I live in a sub-division of over 600 homes. Each morning my sons and I sit in a long line of cars full of parents and kids waiting to turn left. We are trying to leave our sub-division all in the same 15 minute window. About half way up the line of cars the road begins to widen and for the last 400 feet there are two lanes. The new lane is for people to turn right or to cross and go straight into the condos across the street.

A small percentage of people will by-pass the line of people waiting to turn left. They drive across and into the condos, turn around as soon as they can, and then turn right out of there. This is not that easy either because they can’t leave the long line until about half way through so they really only get to skip half of it. Some of them will even drive up on the curb to get into the emerging right lane sooner.

By my estimate this only buys them about 30 seconds. Believe it or not a 30 second savings to jump the line made up of your neighbors?!

Awhile back there was a news article about a gas station where the pumps were malfunctioning and giving away gas much cheaper than what was posted on the sign out on the street.

I asked my friends on IRC if this was stealing. I honestly think it’s a fine line there. So I thought the discussion would be about whether or not this is stealing. To my surprise most didn’t even think it would be wrong let alone stealing. I became the advocate for “Come on, maybe this is not stealing, but clearly this is wrong?” I admitted though that I would probably have taken the gas too.

How wrong does it have to be before you won’t do it? We all have to draw our lines that we can live with. The problem I have is it seems a lot of people use what is legal to decide where they should draw the line. To me if it is illegal it ONLY means that as a society we have agreed it was a wrong thing to do. That should only be the base-line because as a society we don’t agree on a whole lot.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Quality time ROCKS

These are my boys and I love doing things with them. At least in short spurts. Sometimes long spurts too.

Last Saturday Anna was away and I was not feeling well all morning. At lunch time the boys and I went to Panera for some soup. It was over $20 for 3 soups in bread bowls plus 3 drinks. Its the drinks where they have really been gouging you lately. We need to find some place for cheaper soup.

Anyway while we were eating the power went out for the whole block. Panera had to stop takeing orders and turn new people away. It was ok for us because we already had our food and were seated. While plenty of light was coming in through the windows, it added a bit of adventure to our spirits. I could tell that David and James heart rates were elevated a bit.

David got up from the table and said he had to go to the bathroom. I thought this should be interesting. He was back pretty soon afraid to go to the bath room in the dark. I asked David if it was #1 or #2. Parents often have to ask this so we know how urgent it might be. "Dad, I went #2 this morning didn't you hear the dog?" I was afraid to ask what that meant but I suspected that since one of our toilets has been making a weird noise when it is flushed caused the dog to bark.

Then James and I started describing scenes of running water for David. "dripping faucet", "Niagara falls", "Flowing river", "water slides". Dad tell me again where we going after lunch?" James knew it was the car wash.

David was squirming a bit so we continued: "Cascading water over the car", "Tidal waves", then James says "Meteor Shower!" We all cracked up. David asked what number would that be THREE?!

Then I started make sounds of a meteor shower and we all cracked up even louder. It was a really good sustained laugh. The other people in the restaurant were looking at us.

I asked the boys if the dog barked at a #2 what would he do for a #3? But I answered my own question by making sounds of a cowering-whimpering dog followed by more sounds of a meteor striking nearby.

It was a great quality time for the three of us.

(PS - When I could not get a refill for my drink Panera people gave me a bottle of soda for free which I thought was nice)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Xaqery Jones PI

I wrote this story years and years ago so please do not laugh too much.


It was a Friday. Her lust was greater than my boredom. Then she shrieked and darted from the bed. I didn’t think she was done. The moon light from the window revealed her bare form nicely as she listened at the door. “Quick get dressed”, she glared at me. I’m so glad that she didn’t whisper “Oh my god, he’s home!” That really would have lost my respect for her. The tree outside the window allowed my escape. It was only a ten-foot drop. The walk to my office reminded me that I just left my car keys back on the nightstand. I hoped that that adventure did not unfold until I was ready. I’m not sure what her name was. It was only an average Friday.

Trouble seemed to follow me wherever I went, I thought as I walked down the hall that lead to my office. Something was wrong with the shadow on my office door. The doors’ window was normally illuminated at a slant from top right to bottom left. I fought the installation of that street lamp from the beginning. The shadow now had a lump in it. This time, I fired first. I fired my gun almost without looking. The first time, I was on the other side sitting behind my desk. I didn’t hear the gun shot either time. All I heard was glass shattering as I fell to the floor. That damn street lamp, how dare it save my life?

My desk was disturbed but nothing was missing. I knew that before I searched. The dead man wasn’t here to rob me. He was only looking for one thing. His gun was still lying-in-wait on my desk to kill me. Then I searched him. His wallet revealed the usual paraphernalia of a bad-guy. He was one of Eddie’s colleagues. The death toll had just increased. I scribbled the address if an antique shop on 57th street on a piece of paper. I folded it neatly and stuck it in the left shirt pocket of the dead bad-guy. Neatly will tell the good bad-guys where they could find me. Maybe they will help me if I get in trouble. Lights were flashing outside, red and blue. The good bad-guys were already here. I left through the fire escape to let the tax dollars clean up the mess in my office.

I was too wound up to go to sleep. If they were still looking for it, then they didn’t have it yet. So, I was back to work. Some small bizarre hunch had not yet been developed. Some missing link to end the search still remained lingering in the shadows in the antique shop. The last time I was in the old shop, I was chasing Eddie. I suppose now you could say that I still am.

In one smooth motion, hanging from a water pipe, looking over both shoulders, whipping the blade from nowhere, forcing open the lock, sliding through the small window feet first, I let myself in. There I was, hugging my knees, perched on the top shelf again. Something here was not quite right.

Even during the day the antique store was poorly lit. The shop hadn’t changed a bit as far back as I can remember. Old Mrs. Witherspoon would chase us out and down the block. She didn’t trust anyone. I can’t figure how that place ever stayed in business. Nothing was ever sold. The direction of the aisles was dictated by tons of dusty junk stacked upon itself. As long as you could walk from one end of the store to the other the place was tidy, according to Mrs. Witherspoon.

There was one spot, in the center, that was clear of ancient rubbish. Only a small rug held back the forces of junk. The rug is where she would rock in an old rocking chair and look over the place. Now the rocking chair was in the aisle-way. Also, a headless, armless clothes dummy on wheels was in the aisle next to the chair. The store was not tidy.

Late night Tuesday was the last time I was at Old Annie’s Antiques. I chased Eddie from a dead body. He arrived at Old Annie’s less than a minute before me. Cautiously, I entered the open front door. Not a sound echoed off the antiques. Then, in the center of the labyrinth of aisles was a silhouette. The silhouette got up from a kneeling position, moved across the aisle and stopped. Slowly I approached the scene. No one was there. It was only a clothes dummy and shadows from the street lamps. He had to be there. I saw him go in. In seconds that seemed like forever, I searched the whole store. No Eddie. No nothing. I must have mistaken which shop he went into.

Then, gunshots echoed off the building outside. Somehow I knew it was he. When I got outside two men were standing over Eddie, two blocks down.

Voices and shadows invaded the front door. Two men. They seemed to have a key. One shadow was a foot taller than the other. “Randolph, he wants us to search for the map”, the taller one said.

“I know, but we have to make sure that we leave no evidence. They already think that we killed Eddie.” Randolph whispered in a tone that insisted his partner would whisper also.

In a flash it came to me. “I’ve got it”, I whispered aloud forgetting about my guest. It was sitting in front of my nose all along. All at once I knew how Eddie got away from me, and where the missing map was. Since my cover was blown, I hopped down from the top shelf and fled into the shadows.

Then of course the obvious, “What was that? Somebody must be in here”

“Quick, you look over there.”

I tried the oldest trick in the book. As the shorter of the two shadows approached where I was hiding, I lobbed an old book over some stuff. It came down with a crash. The old trick still worked, it allowed me to move closer to the rocking chair.

I needed a bigger diversion to pull off my escape. Speak of the devil. Silently, some red and blue lights pulled up out front. The two shadows tossed around some more obvious whispers. Slipping my hand under the rug, my revelation came to pass. My hand grabbed a cold metal ring. It was a trapped door. With one hand taking hold of the clothes dummy, I slipped into the darkness below the shop.

The flick of my lighter revealed a very small, damp mud floored chamber. There was a narrow passageway that leads up the street under the other shops. The back of the dummy came off easily. A long quest had come to an end. Once again the map of an Old Black Feet Indian treasure, was in my hands. Eddie must have thought that he was going to be caught. He must have grabbed the first thing he saw to hide it in, planning to come back for it later. The corridor lead to a broken down cellar door at the end of the block.

I partially opened the cellar door and crawled out. Then the door created a large crashing sound as it simultaneously hit the ground and the wall. I spun around and saw the two shadows talking to two good bad guys. They didn’t see me. I turned the corner and walked several blocks away. Somehow, I knew that I was safe from both sets of bad guys.

After some hot coffee and a sandwich, I placed the map in a plain brown envelope. I attached a short note.

To – inspector Rembrandt

No problems –
I will expect payment in the usual manner.

Love, Xaqery Jones PI

Then I went to get my car keys.