Sunday, June 26, 2016

An open letter to the parents of Brock Allen Turner [note: disturbing content]

Dear Dan and Carleen Turner,

It's absolutely critical that you understand something. So let me state it as clearly as possible: Your son, Brock Allen Turner, was convicted of sexually assaulting and attempting to rape an unconscious woman behind a dumpster.

I know this is an uncomfortable truth for any parents to face about their child. But it's high time someone took you aside and explained this to you. Because from the time you learned of Brock's arrest to the time of this writing, nothing you have publicly stated about your son seems to suggest that you have even a cursory understanding of the facts of the case.

Brock Allen Turner's mug shot
You have painted your son Brock in affectionate, glowing terms before the court, speaking of his happy-go-lucky personality, his fondness for steak and other snacks, his personal sacrifices to become a great swimmer. And it only makes sense that you would portray him this way. No parent wants to believe that he or she raised a bad seed. But none of these heartfelt personality sketches budge the recalcitrant fact that Brock was convicted of sexually assaulting and attempting to rape an unconscious woman behind a dumpster.

You believe your son should experience minimal jail time for his crime, and protest that he should not be permanently registered as a sex offender, claiming that the damage to his psychiatric health and reputation would be too great. You seem not to realize that Brock was convicted of sexually assaulting and attempting to rape an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. The woman he assaulted has publicly stated that the trauma he inflicted on her "doesn't expire, doesn't just go away after a set number of years. It stays with me, it's part of my identity, it has forever changed the way I carry myself, the way I live the rest of my life." Why should your son receive only a specified time to experience the consequences of his actions, when the woman he dragged behind a dumpster, digitally penetrated and attempted to rape must live forever with the fallout from Brock's acts of sexual assault?

You seem to suppose that because your son is a talented swimmer and an Olympic hopeful, he should not have to endure a punishment that could ruin his promising future and chances for greatness. Sadly, Brock himself ruined those chances when he made the choice to sexually assault and attempt to rape an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. And there are legal and social consequences attached to that choice, which he should have discovered in court when he was convicted of sexually assaulting and attempting to rape an unconscious woman behind a dumpster.

You suggest that Brock was basically a good kid who never would have gotten into trouble if it weren't for "drinking too much and the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that." First, there are signs that Brock isn't as good a kid as you suggest; other Stanford swimmers were disturbed by Brock's frequently creepy and inappropriate behavior, even before the assault. Second, there are plenty of college kids who drink too much at parties, but who don't sexually assault or attempt to rape unconscious people behind dumpsters -- in fact, it's a widespread social expectation that people will never engage in such acts, whether drunk or sober. Third, using the term "sexual promiscuity" to try to soft-pedal Brock's attempted rape of an unconscious woman, who could not give consent or fight back, isn't just a mischaracterization. It's a deliberate attempt to smear your son's victim as a drunk slut who somehow deserved to be raped behind a dumpster, and it's vile.

Finally, in a desperate bid to save your son from the legal consequences of his decisions, you go beyond all limits of common decency by describing Brock's acts of sexual assault and attempted rape of an unconscious woman behind a dumpster as "20 minutes of action."

There is only one effective way to respond to this, and it requires you to use your imagination, so please read the following very carefully:

I want you to imagine Brock going to that party, and drinking a whole lot more alcohol than he usually does -- so much, in fact, that he's teetering on the edge of passing out. At this point, another student at the party -- a large, muscular upperclassman who attends school on a sports scholarship, and who has also been drinking heavily -- latches onto Brock and pulls him out to a secluded spot behind a dumpster, where others cannot see what he is doing. Brock, now unconscious, cannot protest or fight back as the upperclassman pushes him down behind the dumpster, removes his pants and underwear, and flips him over to reveal his unprotected anus. The upperclassman proceeds to forcefully penetrate Brock's anus with his fingers, eventually removing his own pants and underwear as he prepares to penetrate your son's anus with his penis. When the upperclassman is interrupted by two passersby, instead of explaining that this is a fully consensual sex act, he cuts and runs, leaving Brock still unconscious, scratched and bleeding from the anal penetration, and covered in dirt and pine needles behind a filthy trash container.

Mr. and Mrs. Turner, was the act I described above merely "20 minutes of action" with your son? Or would you categorize it the way the jury categorized a similar act -- as the sexual assault and attempted rape of an unconscious person behind a dumpster?

I think you already know the answer to that question.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Playing tourist with Jenny

THIS
week my sister Jenny was here visiting from Utah, and as always, any incident of visiting family is a good excuse to play tourist in one's own city. We went to Chihuly Garden and Glass, we went to Dick's in Wallingford for a burger and fries, we went to Snoqualmie Falls, we went to some local stores and Pike Place Market, and we strolled up and down the Seattle waterfront doing typical touristy stuff. I also finally got to ride the Great Wheel (took me long enough, ne?). But you won't see pictures of any of these exploits, primarily because I just wanted to spend the time with Jenny -- there wasn't a need (or much of a desire on my part) to obsessively document what we were doing.

In fact, it got a little funny on the Great Wheel. The first spin around, I just took in all the sights I could see from every direction, both soaring up into the air and gently descending. Then I had a closer look at the people below, staring up at the structure. And then I began to notice my fellow passengers; nearly every one was busy taking pictures or video of the experience on their cell phones.

Eh well. It was a delightful experience, and I'll probably go back and give it another whirl.

Alas, Jenny has now returned home. We miss her, but it was a lot of fun having her here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

WHAWAZZAT?!?

Around 3:30 a.m.:

*HUGE HORRIBLE SNAPCRACKLEPOP NOISE FROM OUTSIDE*

It woke all three of us (CM, Roxy and me) out of a sound sleep.

"WHAWAZZAT?!?" I hollered (my typical suave and articulate self even at that hour).

"It sounded like a tree falling," said CM. We have several large trees growing beside our house, and he assumed the combination of recent copious rain and unhealthy tree had made one of them fall over in the middle of the night.

We hadn't actually heard the moment of impact, and I was panicking -- what if it's just leaning against another tree? what if it keeps falling and hits the house?! -- so Captain Midnight stoically donned some clothes and went out to take a look at the damage. It was too dark to tell if a tree had fallen in the vacant lot to one side of us, but there wasn't any obvious damage -- no half-fallen tree looming over the house or threatening the lawn or anything -- so he came back to bed.

This morning, on his way to work, Captain Midnight took a photo of this just across the street.

WILLOW TREE OF DEATH!
Apparently the huge horrible noise was the sound of our neighborhood willow, weighed down by too much water and too little support on one side of the trunk, finally giving in to gravity. So we didn't just imagine it. And we're glad nobody's person or property were hurt (well, aside from the tree itself). But it is a bit sad to see this willow die; it's been there since we first moved in.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Fiction: Origin

[I wrote this story in early 2012 and submitted a version of it to The Magazine Which Shall Not Be Named. It was rejected, most likely for its high sentimentality. Since I doubt it'll ever be published anywhere, here you go.]

Origin


A light snow had just begun to fall as Charlie Cavanaugh left the Red Line Diner on Roosevelt Street. As always, he ran -- the fastest runner in the fifth grade, so quick he hardly felt the cold -- through the gloaming of early evening. He turned left on Main, then right at Adams Avenue, and went into a dead sprint as he rounded the corner for Taylor Street and home.

He broke through the front door. "Mom! Mom! Th-th-this guy down the Red Line..." He stopped to take a deep breath, just like Grammy said. Charlie almost never stuttered any more. "He had a gun and he held up Mr. Higby! I was right there, I saw his face and everything! We gotta call the police..."

But Mom didn't answer, and Charlie found a handwritten note taped to the icebox:
Dear Charlie,
I'm on call at Mercy tonight. There's food in the icebox if you're hungry. If I'm not back before 10, you may sleep over at the Jurrisons. DO NOT TOUCH THE PHONE.
–Mom
Charlie scowled. Jeez, a guy makes one little prank call and nobody trusts him anymore. But Mom didn't realize how important this was. Would Batman give up chasing a criminal just because he couldn't make a phone call? Well, if he couldn't use his own phone, maybe he could use the Jurrisons' instead. And he was off at a run, cutting across the front lawn to save time.

"Mrs. Jurrison!" He barreled right past Dickie's older sister Betty, who was always on the phone, and into the kitchen where Mrs. Jurrison was fixing dinner. "'Scuse me, Mrs. Jurrison, I really gotta use your phone. There was this guy down the Red Line Diner and he had a gun..."

Mrs. Jurrison didn't gasp. She didn't chide him about bursting in without knocking again. She kept right on chopping onions as though Charlie weren't there. "Hey!" Charlie yelled, but she didn't bat an eye. Confused, he wandered back out into the front room.

"Hey, Betty, lemme use the phone? It's an emergency..." Betty studiously ignored him, but Betty ignored everyone under the age of fifteen. He'd just have to get Dickie's help.

Dickie was eight, and a born hero-worshiper. The kid had been following Charlie around since he was in diapers. Most of the time Charlie put up with him because Dickie could be counted on to do whatever Charlie wanted. He was just where Charlie figured he'd be -- on the floor behind his bed, reading one of Charlie's old Action Comics.

"Hey, Dickie." Charlie flung himself across the bed. "Help a guy out, wouldja? I really gotta make a phone call. This guy at the Red Line held up Mr. Higby with a gun and everything and I was right there..."

He stopped, puzzled. Dickie was usually so excited to see Charlie that he could hardly sit still. But there he lay, turning over pages as though he didn't notice Charlie at all.

"Man, I'm getting sick of this!" said Charlie. "I expect the silent treatment from Betty, but what'd I ever do to you?"

Dickie said nothing, turning another page.

"Fine! Just be like that. I was gonna let you borrow my copy of The Flash, but you know what? Buy it yourself. Good luck sneaking it past your mom." He slid off the bed and stomped out, equal parts furious and frightened.

By the time Charlie got back to his own front door, fright was taking over. What was wrong with Dickie and the Jurrisons? Had he made them angry, or had he somehow turned invisible?

Well, whatever game the Jurrisons were playing, he still had to call the police. For three full minutes he stood beside the black desk phone, hesitating, as the kitchen clock ticked steadily. Finally, he decided that in this case, making the call was more important than obeying Mom. He sighed and reached for the receiver -- and couldn't pick it up. He tried four or five times, but some invisible power kept him from taking it off the hook.

A chill went through Charlie. He backed away from the phone, then turned and ran down the hall to his bedroom. Everything there, at least, seemed normal -- his bed, his desk, his bureau all in their regular places, his window overlooking the front yard, his stacks of comics all over the room.

Whenever adults asked Charlie what he wanted to be when he grew up, he always gave the standard answer of "a fireman" or "a policeman," but he was lying. Charlie wanted to be a superhero. He followed all the big comic heroes -- Superman, Batman, Green Lantern -- but his newest favorite was the Flash, with his police scientist background and his super-speed. When Charlie ran, he thought about the Flash, and when he daydreamed, it was usually about how he was going to acquire his superpowers. He wondered what Barry Allen would do in his place.

The new issue of The Flash was waiting on his bed. He'd bought it yesterday at the newsstand, but Mom had kept him so busy with chores he'd only been able to glance through a few pages at bedtime. All through school he'd wondered what the Mirror Master was up to. But as he sat down on the bed and tried to pick up the comic, Charlie discovered that he couldn't do it. It was like the phone all over again. Panic began to flutter in his throat.

He couldn't open the drawers of his bureau. He couldn't budge the roll-top on his desk. He couldn't even pick up his pillow. Charlie began to shiver. On an impulse he went to the window, looking out into the snow-covered street, just as the streetlights began to flicker on.

The snow was falling heavily now, really starting to stick. It had covered the stairs to the front porch, the walkway, the dormant lawn. And in the bluish-white glow of the streetlights, Charlie saw that in all that blanketing of snow, there was not a single footprint.

Charlie slumped to the floor. He was not going to cry, he was going to think. He'd had a perfectly normal day, right up to his visit to the Red Line after school. He'd sat on a plush red stool right next to the counter and Mr. Higby had made him a malt and some onion rings. Behind him, in a booth, a shifty-eyed stranger in an old bomber jacket had been wolfing down a cheeseburger. When the man came up to the counter, at first Charlie thought he was just going to settle the bill. Then he saw the revolver.

"Empty it out," said the stranger. "Put it all in the bag." He cocked the revolver, and Mr. Higby had hurried to open the cash register. At first Charlie hadn't moved. He had just stared at the stranger, at his face, recording every line and curve and scowl as though his eyes were spy cameras. And then it had struck him: never in a million years would the Flash have just sat there and let Mr. Higby get robbed.

"Hey!" he'd said.

"Shut up, kid," said the stranger, without looking at him. "This ain't your concern."

"Maybe you'd better go home, Charlie," said Mr. Higby, his voice wavering.

"Like hell he's going home!" the stranger yelled at Mr. Higby. "You think I'm gonna let this brat run straight to the police? He's stayin' put until I say so!"

Tears were starting to form in Mr. Higby's eyes -- Mr. Higby, who was the kindest man Charlie had ever known -- and suddenly a fury overtook Charlie. "You -- you leave Mr. Higby alone!" he'd yelled, and he'd thrown himself at the stranger, and

BANG

and then he was on the floor, and everything had gone dark all of a sudden, and it didn't hurt exactly, he'd just felt numb. He'd heard Mr. Higby holler, and the stranger had yelled back, "If you don't want to join him, you EMPTY IT OUT NOW!" And then the numbness was gone and Charlie could get up, and he'd gotten out of the diner and immediately run for home...

Oh no. No, no. This couldn't be real.

He was going to turn 11 in April.

Charlie began to rock back and forth on the floor, softly chanting, "Please God make this not be real, please God make this not be real, please God..." over and over. And when he felt familiar arms wrap around him in a hug, at first he thought God had answered his prayer. "Mom?"

But instead he was looking up into Grammy's speckly hazel eyes, with the twinkles in the corners. She didn't look stiff and stern, the way she had in the hospital bed. Instead she was her old smiling no-nonsense self, the way she'd been before the cancer, wearing the same old blue button-up house dress and slippers she always put on to do the laundry.

"Hello, Charlie dear," she said.

Charlie's tongue froze. "G-g-g..."

"Wait, wait. Remember, take a deep breath. Relax and think about what you're going to say."

"Grammy... I don't want this to be happening. I'm really scared."

Grammy hugged him again. She smelled of roses and cinnamon. "Oh, Charlie," she said, "it's not as bad as you think." She smoothed his hair. "Remember what I said, about the soul and the body being like a hand inside a puppet?"

Charlie nodded.

"Well, you've just taken the puppet off." She smiled. "That's nothing to be scared of, is it?"

"But Grammy, if I... I mean, I was gonna do all kinds of stuff..."

Grammy sighed. "There are always things we still want to do," she said softly. "I didn't want to leave my little Charlie, or my dear Helen. But sometimes we have to let those plans go."

Charlie shook his head. "No," he said. "No, I'm not ready."

"Charlie, dear, all your obligations here are finished --"

But Charlie didn't hear the rest. Obligation. That had been a spelling word last week, and he'd gotten it wrong. Mrs. Quinlan always made them write definitions next to the words they misspelled. A binding promise, contract, or sense of duty. "There's something I gotta do first," he said.

"Charlie, wait --"

"It's OK," said Charlie. "I'll be right back." And he got up and ran.

Now that he knew what had happened, he didn't have to worry about going around buildings. He flickered through the neighborhood as fast as thought, passing through walls as though they were mist, elated with the feeling of being able to move just like the Flash. Then he was standing outside the Red Line. Several police cars were clustered around the entrance now. But one pair of footprints, rapidly filling with snow, led away from the back door. Charlie hesitated, thinking about going inside for a moment just to see... but on second thought, he didn't really want to know. Instead he followed the prints.

* * *

Bill Simmons cut across a vacant lot, heading for the tracks. Well, he'd royally screwed the pooch this time. A measly twenty-seven dollars and forty-three cents in the till, and then that damn kid had decided to get in his way.

He'd never shot a kid before. The diner cheeseburger turned over in his stomach.

Best not to think about it. Best would be to skip town and lay low for a while until the whole mess blew over. If he could manage to hop a freight, he could ride it over the state line and...

At that moment, something made him reach into the inner pocket of his bomber jacket and pull out the revolver. It was still loaded. There was a thought in his mind, a foreign thought: Grammy was right. Just like a hand inside a puppet. And he found himself raising the gun to his right temple.

"What the hell?" Simmons squeaked. He tried to pull the gun away, but his arm -- his body -- wasn't cooperating.

I wasn't ready to die today, Bill. How 'bout you? He felt his thumb pushing down on the hammer, heard a precise click as his hand cocked the gun, ready to fire.

Simmons began to shake uncontrollably. Scenes from his life began to flash through his brain: Pop coming home drunk again, vomiting on the kitchen floor. Pop not coming back any more, and his aunt and uncle grudgingly taking him in. The screaming, the beatings, the constant accusations. Being left out in the cold all night as a punishment. Never getting enough to eat. The day he'd reached the end of his rope, beaten his harpy aunt with a broom and run off before they could call the cops. And the only thing that had let him escape the pain: the stories in his old Detective Comics, with their hardboiled private eyes and mysterious caped crusaders, and the promise that eventually the villains would get their due. The hand that held the gun began to waver.

No. His arm suddenly went slack, and something made him put the gun down in the snow of the vacant lot. You're a bad guy, Bill. I don't want to be like you. He felt his spine stiffen. But if you read all those comics, you already know bad guys don't win. Now march. And although he struggled against it, the foreign presence in his mind and body forced Simmons to turn and walk back downtown.

* * *

Since everyone else was at the Red Line investigating the murder and robbery, there was only one officer on duty at the station house when Simmons walked in the front door. He was still struggling hard against the inner force steering him, but the force was stronger, and like a hooked shark at the end of a line, he was starting to tire. Simmons stared dully at the officer, whose name was embroidered in white letters across the breast pocket of his uniform shirt.

"Officer Hanlon? My name's Bill Simmons, and -- and I want to confess," he said, through clenched teeth. "I robbed the Red Line Diner tonight... and I shot --" He'd meant to say "some kid who got in the way," but then a name came clearly into his head. "Charlie Cavanaugh," he said, slowly, and exhaled. "I sh-sh-shot Charlie Cavanaugh." His shoulders sagged, and he began to cry. And all the while, as Officer Hanlon cuffed and booked him and locked him into the station's only cell, Simmons wept like a boy.

By that time Simmons was so shaky with exhaustion that he couldn't tell exactly when the presence left him and he was back in full control of himself, but the feelings of remorse and self-loathing weren't coming from anyone else. "I shot a kid. God forgive me, I shot a kid. I -- I didn't mean to, I just..."

"I know," said a voice. "But you did."

Simmons looked up at the blurry outline of the officer outside his cell. He wiped his eyes. Something about the cop was different now. His movements were eager, fluid, and his eyes were bright and curious.

"I can't stay long," said Officer Hanlon, in a voice that seemed familiar. "But listen, this is important." He leaned in. "You hafta go to jail for what you did, Bill. That's how it works. But you don't hafta stay bad. You could be a good guy if you wanted to."

Simmons' stomach clenched with nausea. "Kid," he muttered, "don't you get it? How am I even going to learn to live with what I did to you?"

The presence inside Hanlon was quiet for a moment. "I don't know, Bill," said the familiar voice. "But I think I oughtta tell you something. I know you didn't mean it to happen, but because of... because of what happened at the diner... today I got to be invisible, and run through walls, and make people do and say things with my mind, and I even got to help the police solve a crime. I got to be what I wanted more than anything in the world." Hanlon grinned hugely. "Just for today I got to be a superhero, Bill. And it was so cool."

Simmons looked at the boy inside the officer. "I can't give you your life back, kid," he said. "But what do you want me to do?"

"You already know," the familiar voice insisted. "Just do good things. Practice 'til you get better at it. Then you can teach the other guys in jail how to be good too." Hanlon smiled. "And don't worry about giving me my life back. As long as you make your life better, I guess we're square." Then he twitched. "Cripes, I promised Grammy I'd be right back. I gotta go. Bye, Bill! Don't shoot anybody else!" And the voice and the presence were gone.

Bill Simmons sat staring through the officer, trying to wrap his brain around everything that had happened, but he had to give up. It was too much. The only things that remained clear in his mind were the kid's words, still glowing softly inside him. If the kid -- if Charlie -- was willing to forgive him, even after what he'd done...

Officer Hanlon seemed to settle back into himself by degrees. He blinked, staring dully at Simmons. Finally his eyes dropped. "I don't wanna talk about this," he murmured. "Ever." And he went back to sit at the desk. Even when the rest of the force returned from the crime scene to peer at the suspect and ask questions, Hanlon just sat there, not saying a word. He was thinking about the bright spirit that had lingered with him for a few brief minutes, and then how it had left -- not vanishing, not stepping away, but tensing like a spring, then suddenly rocketing straight up and out into the starry darkness.

He sighed, and wondered what it must be like to be able to fly.


For Erik Martin—Electron Boy

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Nightmare time

Last night, I had a terrible dream.

It was Inauguration Day, 2017, and Donald J. Trump had stepped to the podium to give his first address as President. But instead of opening his mouth, he appraised the crowd, gave them a cryptic smile, raised his hand slowly, put it on the top of his head, and suddenly snatched away his "real hair" to reveal:

Lex Luthor image ©Glenn Orbik/DC Entertainment.
Used without express permission (though I believe Fair Use applies)
THIS.

Audience: *gasp* LEX LUTHOR?!?
Random man in audience: I can't believe it! How could the American people have been fooled into electing a comic book character?
Lex: What, the stupid speeches and inane Tweets and middle initial "J" weren't already a dead giveaway? Honestly, you people are so dumb you deserve to be ruled by an evil overlord! Now, prepare to SUFFER as you've NEVER suffered before! MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA--

I awakened in a flop sweat, the evil cackling of President Luthor echoing into the waking world.

Come on, Republican Party bigwigs, it's not too late to avoid this dystopia. You can always nominate Someone Else at the convention in July. If she's reasonably intelligent and capable and has even an ounce of charisma, she can beat Hillary. Or you could sell out whatever principles you have left and become the Whig Party of the 21st century. Good luck with that.

#NeverTrump

Friday, June 03, 2016

Poor sickie

Captain Midnight came home early today, with the beginnings of a migraine, and went straight to bed. When we were first married, he'd get migraines once every six months or so, then once a year. Nowadays he goes two to three years between migraine attacks, but when they do show up, the symptoms are nasty. I'm just hoping he got home quickly enough that he can fall asleep, and stay asleep through the worst of it.

Brains are weird things, aren't they?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The things you drop

A friend of mine from college has a slightly peculiar habit. In every house and apartment he's ever lived in, as far back as I can remember, there have been coins scattered across the floor -- pennies mostly, but also nickels, dimes and quarters. When he comes home and unloads for the day, he absentmindedly lets small change fall out of his pockets and wallet and messenger bag, and just leaves it wherever it falls. The funny thing is that this same friend is saddled with extensive debt. I guess he'd say that with the amount he owes, it isn't worth his limited time or effort to gather small change off the floor -- that money is practically worthless.

My maternal grandmother used to play the violin in high school and in the early years of her marriage. By all accounts, she had a well-tuned ear and was very talented. I say "by all accounts" because, from the day I was born until the day she died, I never once heard my grandmother play the violin. She still had her instrument when I was young, kept in its case on a high shelf in the entry hall closet of her home. But she had such a busy life, so many other important things vying for her time, that after a while I suppose she couldn't justify spending even a few minutes to practice her playing. Eventually the violin never came off the shelf any more, and after decades of neglect it became virtually unplayable.

And then there's me. When Captain Midnight and I were married, I was overweight but otherwise in good health. I knew our family had a history of diabetes, and I'd been advised to exercise regularly and eat nutritious foods, but I couldn't be bothered; I was too busy doing other things. And let's face it, swimming and healthy eating aren't nearly as appealing as websurfing and chocolate. Year by year, as I ate whatever I wanted and neglected regular exercise, my genetic predispositions combined with my unwise lifestyle choices to kick-start insulin resistance in my body -- so quietly and gradually that I didn't notice a thing. So in 2011, during a routine medical exam, I was shocked and dismayed to discover that I had Type 2 diabetes. I'd lost my health -- one of the most valuable things I owned -- without even realizing it had slipped away. Barring some medical miracle, I'll never be fully healthy again in my life.

I've stated before that time has a tendency to boil us down, eventually reducing us to the most basic elements of our personalities. I'd guess that as we age, we drop some things because we no longer value them the way we once did -- say, maintaining a perfect manicure, or wearing a particular brand of watch, or folding dress shirts just so, or any one of a number of other once-cherished behaviors that don't make much difference in the grand design. But I suspect there are other things -- valuable things, which ought to be kept and cherished -- which we drop through basic neglect or an inability to perceive their true value. It's so easy to let health, talent, faith, hope, friendship, love, and so many other precious commodities of the soul rot away for lack of daily maintenance.

So here's what I propose: join me here, at the dead end of May, in taking stock of the things you're letting drop in your life. Ask yourself: what in my life is worth dropping, and what is worth keeping? Consider carefully the things you're not making time to do in your life any more, the beliefs that are eroding away, and what kinds of thoughts or activities you're allowing to take their place. Are you trading up, or down? It's easy to make mindless choices that impoverish your life by stripping away valuable parts of your personality.

And don't be too quick to devalue your beliefs, your traits, the things that make you you, as unimportant. Even the supposedly worthless coins on my friend's floor might be worth giving a second look. You never know whether one of those dropped and forgotten bits of small change might be a 1913 Liberty Head V nickel, valued somewhere between $3 and $4 million.