I Feel God
I feel God when my crying daughter is pushed out of my woman’s womb
I feel God when the nurse places my crying daughter on the unforgiving cold steel scale
I feel God while my daughter lies in the incubator room, and daddy is blocked off
I feel God when my daughter falls and bruises her arm and she screams out for me and a
knifelike pain courses throughout my body
I feel God when my girl climbs down the porch stairs and runs towards me while I walk to her, the sunset’s orange and yellow rays illuminate the beauty of my child and our inevitable embrace
I feel God
I see my girl
I feel God
Betrayal in the 21st Century
“Fool that I am,” said he,“that I did not tear out my heart the day I resolved to revenge myself”.
― Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo
I never thought Alec and Emil would betray me, but they did. It was 2011 and we were planning a business based on someone else’s model. In fact, we worked for that very same man, Jay. The business, a subcontracting company that sold drug screening tests on behalf of Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp clinics all across the country, wasn’t sexy but it was profitable. Jay was raking in 100k a month using his genius idea to list his business as the testing location for all of the LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics clinics around the country on search engines, like Google and Bing. So, whether you were in Idaho or New York you could purchase a drug screen online or call us to schedule a drug test for $75. Things have changed since 2011, so these businesses are no longer able to get away with this misleading practice. Something felt immoral about advertising a business purporting to be located somewhere we simply weren’t. A lot of clients felt duped when they reached the strip malls and clinics all across the country looking for our facility, only to realize that they were sold an appointment at a crowded and inhospitable Quest or LabCorp facility.
Betrayal can only beget betrayal and karma is real in this story. I often wonder why I felt the need to challenge Jay and encourage my co-workers to form a rival company using his model? Competition is a good thing for business and I’ll always encourage it, but Alec had signed non-compete and non-disclosure agreements when he agreed to work for Jay. In order to circumvent this issue, Alec used a dimwitted receptionist and made her shred the documents while Jay was away from the office. The business planning moved forward at a local McDonald’s where we would order hamburgers and plan the takedown of Jay’s company while he was signing our paychecks. Somehow Jay found out that Alec was forming his own company, and since the industry is small, I assume someone must have tipped Jay off about Alec’s activities in creating his own subcontracting deals. Jay immediately fired Alec. Subsequently, Emil quit, which left Jay with only two staff members working the phones for him. Two weeks later I left the company as well. I’m not sure what happened at that office when the three of us left but I can only imagine the madness that must have transpired as hundreds of calls poured in everyday and only two people were on staff. I’m perpetually regretful about this.
Before I started working for Alec’s company I took a week to clear my head in Florida and prepare for the straining web development work that would need to be done. We were manually preparing the company website to have keywords detected by search engine spiders in order to increase webpage traffic. This was way before SEO evolved into the behemoth that it is today. I enjoyed a few days at the beach, worked on my tan, and contemplated the new endeavor I would be participating in as soon as my return flight landed in ice cold New York City. But, the day before I was scheduled to return to New York I saw something that has never left me, a black cat perched inconspicuously on a garbage can by the side of my father’s mobile home. The animal was staring directly at me when I detected him and in a flash he jumped off the garbage can and scampered underneath the mobile home. It’s cliché, but it happened, and the eeriness in the animal’s face sent a chill through me. I wondered if it was a warning of something to come.
After I returned to NYC I requested what Alec had promised me: legal documentation stating my 5% ownership of the business. At the time I was young and naïve and Alec was a seasoned businessman who needed grunts to help start up his operation. I was denied any ownership and one morning when I woke to check my company email I realized my account had been deleted. Alec was unreachable by phone. I had no documentation proving that I was owed anything by Alec, I had no money saved up for my bills and rent, and I was out a job. Worst of all, I had signed a non-disclosure agreement for Alec that legally directed me to remain silent about my situation.
I was forced to move back home with my mother where I lamented about how I had been screwed by Alec, but what hurt most was thinking about how my best friend, Emil, betrayed me. I felt like Edmond Dantes in Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, a man who is betrayed by his best friend, sentenced to imprisonment in the solitary Château d’If, and taken away from his betrothed. I tried to look out for Emil as if he were my own brother, finding him not one job, but two, and always offering to buy him lunch whenever he couldn’t afford to buy his own meals. After my email account was deleted I found out that Emil had received pay and ownership documentation from Alec while knowing that I didn’t even have enough money to pay my rent, but none of that mattered and I was simply cut out of the deal.
After five years of lamenting and kicking myself for being taken advantage of I had an instinctual urge to see Jay. What we did to him felt wrong and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t apologize to him face to face, like a man. So I visited his office and surprisingly he welcomed me. He wasn’t fully aware of what had transpired while creating the business that unsuccessfully tried to compete with him (Jay’s still operating while the imitators have shut down their operation). So I came clean with Jay and told him about Alec’s NDA, the sleuth meetings we held at McDonald’s, and my role in the sin. I’m not sure if he forgave me but he had certainly put it behind him. Ever the businessman, Jay simply said “I have to take a call Herb” and walked away into another part of his office. And that was the last I saw of Jay.
I’ve put that part of my life behind me too and I don’t harbor ill will towards anyone involved with those companies. It was a great life lesson that allowed me to learn about the deeper meanings of friendship and business, and that the two rarely mix well. One afternoon Jay suspected that I was leaving his company to join Alec as we looked out the dual arching office windows and took in the morning glint of the sun’s rays upon the trucks, buildings, and steel structures of the South Bronx. Jay glanced at me and said “Herb, I know he’s filling your mind with a lot of nice sounding things, but he’s a liar and a thief. That’s not who you are.” I was naïve about the whole situation, but every tale of betrayal must feature an Edmond who is banished to his own personal Château d’If.
No Country for Old Communists
“There is not a more repulsive spectacle than on old man who will not forsake the world, which has already forsaken him.”
It’s nearly impossible to discuss the political history of the Western Hemisphere over the last fifty years, let alone United States history, without deep reflection on Nicaragua’s importance in the region. The second poorest country in the West has been at the center of nearly every political conversation about geopolitics and regime change in the United States’ backyard. From the Somoza dictatorial dynasty to Iran-Contra and the Reagan Administration, the land of lakes and volcanoes has commanded global attention because of its radical politics and refusal to bow to American hegemony. But, recently Nicaragua has become a shell of what it once was, as it is no longer the revolutionary stronghold for Marxist ideology and revolutionary success on the Latin American mainland. Instead, Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) has overstayed its welcome and has even turned its guns on its own people. Nicaragua’s revolutionaries of the glorious Sandinista days of the 70s and 80s have become morally bereft bureaucrats that are no better than the dictators they once ousted.
American influence in Nicaragua stretches all the way back to the 1920s when corporate interests such as United Fruit looked to invest in the country by buying up land. However, a bold revolutionary named Augusto César Sandino (yep, the Sandinistas were named after him) decided to combat this American subversion by leading a rag tag army of socially conscious Nicaraguans in strategic military operations on government forces and American Marines stationed in the country. After Sandino’s assassination at the hands of Anastasio Somoza García’s henchmen, Nicaragua entered a nearly fifty year period of Somoza dictatorial control. In fact, President Franklin D. Roosevelt once stated “Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” FDR’s American blessing lent ethos and legitimacy to the Somoza government and allowed Nicaragua’s dictator to maintain a stranglehold on the country.
In 1979, the FSLN mounted their revolutionary coup against Anastasio Somoza Debayle’s administration, backed by common Nicaraguan folk and idealistic students that were fed up with the dictatorship. The young idealists, led by Daniel Ortega, had finally ousted the Somoza regime and were prepared to begin governing their country. However, during the Cold War, Russian meddling in the Western Hemisphere had already caused one crisis in Cuba and President Ronald Reagan was not about to allow another Latin American nation to turn red on his watch. Subsequently, this snowballed into one of the most renowned scandals in American history, the Iran-Contra affair. Reagan and his subordinates decided to finance a proxy war in Nicaragua by selling arms to the Iranian government in exchange for cash that was used to finance the Counterrevolutionaries, or Contras. These American backed forces were assembled, trained, and dispatched from neighboring Honduras to take down the FSLN government by any means necessary. The proxy war ended as an abject failure for the United States as top military officials, including General Oliver North, were indicted for lying to the American people about the arms sales. There were no winners in this war as thousands of civilians and soldiers were kidnapped, tortured, and killed, countless women were raped and several towns were decimated by Contra forces.
The ensuing years proved to be the beginning of a seemingly promising new direction for a country that had stuck to its guns and ideology. The FSLN was able to produce free and fair elections, a peaceful transition of power, and the country even elected a woman, Violeta Chamorro, as president. So, when did Nicaragua go off course as it had just begun its ascent? In 2016, Daniel Ortega was elected to his third term by garnering over 70% of the vote as his government prohibited election watchdogs to monitor the proceedings, activity that many see as election rigging. The victory has assured that Ortega will maintain presidential power until at least 2021. Surprisingly, Ortega’s victory has led to the ascent of Ortega’s wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo as the de facto leader of the nation as President Ortega has inexplicably taken a back seat to his wife’s rule. The vice president is enigmatic as she saunters onstage wearing colorful outfits, bangles, and flashy jewelry, and her resemblance to the Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West is hard to deny.
The power couple now finds themselves in the middle of a national crisis as political dissidents, journalists, and artists, are being targeted by police. After recent political protests, created by the government’s payroll and pension increases on workers and retirees, the populace has become infuriated. The anger, primarily fueled by young student activists, led to violence erupting on the streets of Managua, Esteli, Leon, and Granada, some of the largest cities in the country. The social unrest didn’t stop there, as the iconic metallic “Árboles de la Vida” were toppled over by protesters in the capital city and clashes between students and police became deadly. As of this writing 322 people have been killed during these clashes.
Ortega’s stale FSLN government doesn’t possess the integrity it once did as our globalized world no longer cares for the party’s idealism or revolutionary inclinations. And, Ortega’s alignment with President Donald Trump in their withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, a treaty designed to combat climate change on a global scale, have backfired as the United States has issued sanctions on the government for undermining democracy. As Clinton fatigue plagued the United States in 2016, Ortega fatigue is presently destroying Nicaragua. It’s time for the old communist to go.
Aliens in the Bronx
Last night I was startled when my fiancé ran downstairs and scolded me for not seeing what she had seen. “Herbie! Did you see the lights?” I was bewildered and unaware of what she was talking about as I had been watching old videos of pro wrestlers (Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, etc.) cutting promos on YouTube. Afterwards she showed me a picture of bluish lights illuminating the sky towards the southeast. It wasn’t a plane, nor a bunch of street lights, in fact the lights were like nothing I’ve ever seen. On Facebook, videos of the lights had already been posted and people were beginning to panic. The only plausible explanation: aliens had arrived. What else could it be? All of my training in viewing sci-fi films and television and reading Stephen King novels had gone out the window as a foreign fear overcame me. I thought about my daughter and the uncertainty of her future as new beings prepared to descend from the sky.
The strange blue lights were caused by a transformer explosion at a Con Ed facility in Queens, not martians. And, some people closer to the blast thought a terrorist attack was underway. But in the Bronx, where I was, the lights looked like the spaceships that Richard Dreyfuss saw in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. So, why was I so quick to assume that aliens would soon be invading the Bronx? Is it because of all the sci-fi material that I consume (Walking Dead, Aliens, etc.)? Or, is it something deeper than that? We’ve been looking skyward ever since our ancestors were painting on cave walls and building pyramids, and there is a curiosity within us that wonders if there is other intelligent life on other worlds. How can we possibly be the only sentient beings in the universe? That would be far too grandiose of us to assume.
Science fiction is probably a mix of everything we secretly desire and dread in society, a representation of our deepest and often times darkest wishes. We’ve already created robots for fulfilling work tasks, optimizing our pleasure (even for sex), and for mining and gathering all of the information in the known universe. If we think it, we build it. But, there is a part of us, like a sixth sense, that must detect something looking down on us from the cosmos. Something’s probably out there, but it hasn’t revealed itself to us just yet. Now, back to watching Hulk Hogan videos.
It Takes a Man to Raise a Man
It takes a man to raise a man
Mother tried with steady hand
But in order to maneuver a razor in your hand
You’ll need some stubble on your chin to understand
It takes a man to raise a man
Stopping, swerving, in your Grand Caravan
I appreciate the loaner, the wrecked sedan
But dad always taught with a cool game plan
Mother tried with steady hand
But it takes a man to raise a man