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I'm a business journalist and a fiction author. My novels "Mute" - "Silence the Living" and "Famous After Death" are available now from Silver Leaf Books.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Escape from Covid island

 

I feel like I’ve been stranded on Gilligan’s Island for 14 months and now I’m finally back in society, but I’m dumbfounded how to react.

My brain was reprogrammed for social distancing when the Covid-19 pandemic started. How the hell do I deprogram it?

All along I said I’d follow the CDC guidelines. Now, the CDC says fully vaccinated people don’t need masks or social distancing, except in packed planes and buses. I’m free to leave the island, ready or not.

Oh no, it’s a bare mouth! Wait, don’t be scared. Unless they have terrible breath and start up a long conversation.

I’m free to shake hands and hug, I guess. Damn, I’ve been acting for months like a handshake will kill me and now I can dive into a human spaghetti bowl with fellow vaccinated folk?

That’s where the rewiring kicks in. When someone passes by me on the sidewalk, I need to remember not to sprint ten feet away (extra social distancing) like they’re a flesh-eating monster. When someone reaches to shake my hand, I shouldn’t look at them like they’ve just offered me a snotty tissue to the face. But should I immediately wash my hands afterwards? Wait, I’m vaccinated. I can rub my dirty hands all over my face. But what if I catch a cold?

I guess this means I won’t be working from home forever. I really miss spending 2.5 hours a day in Miami traffic. That’ll be fun. You mean I can’t wear flip flops all day? I need to break my socks out of storage. How the hell do I put on a tie again? You mean I have to wear a suit in South Florida’s 95-degree heat?

This means no more excuses.

“I’m so sorry. I’d love to come, but I’m confined to my home during the pandemic. You understand.” (Not that I’d go anyway.)

I’m back to pure, cold-hearted rejection. Maybe I can tell everyone my dogs can’t possibly live without me, so I need to stay home with them.

It’s a sea change in thinking. For months, the people packing together, unvaccinated without masks were the assholes. They were constantly ridiculed on media and online. And one day later, get fully vaccinated and you can go party. Not that we can tell the vaccinated from those who aren’t, but that’s another conundrum.

Now that the CDC says fully vaccinated people rarely spread the virus, I shouldn’t feel guilty about being around unmasked people, right? If they aren’t vaccinated, they decided to take the risk and it’s not any riskier because I’m there. And still, if I know they aren’t vaccinated, do I still shake their hand? Maybe I’ll fist bump, with one of those plastic fists on a spring.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

As 2020 draws to a close, a note of thanks

 

There’s little debate that 2020 was an awful year, but I can’t let it end without a note of thanks. Not to the people, or cosmic forces, that caused all this misery, but to the people whose heroic actions have given us hope.

Health care workers are some of the most selfless people I've ever met. They aren’t in it for the money. They genuinely care about people, and we’ve seen that demonstrated this year by their dedication to treating patients during the Covid-19 pandemic. Even when their own health and safety was at risk, they bravely went to work every day. 

Photo by Gustavo Fring of Pexels.

 

I’ve spoken to nurses who held the hands of dying patients when their families couldn’t be there. I’ve heard doctors describe how they put terrified patients on ventilators, and those patients pleaded with them to bring them back.

Many of these providers are frustrated that people continually ignore clear safety guidelines, yet they don’t stand in judgment. They treat every patient, no matter their views on the pandemic, because that’s what health care providers do.

They’ve faced a five-alarm emergency every day for over nine months. Imagine your toughest, busiest, scariest day at work, and have that every single day, and knowing tomorrow will be the same.

I don’t know how they do it. But I know our society would collapse without them.

Another note of thanks goes to the scientific researchers. Think about this a second. It took over 20 years of research to develop an effective polio vaccine, and the disease had been around for hundreds of years. Scientists found several effective vaccines for Covid-19 less than a year after the disease was discovered. That is a truly astonishing breakthrough.

The importance of scientific research shouldn’t be underestimated. The rapid development of vaccines came about because years were spent researching the genetic makeup of viruses and novel RNA treatments. The work was done by scientists from multiple countries, and some of the key researchers were immigrants.

This shows what happens when government and private funders devote their resources to curing a disease. Imagine what else they can achieve, how many lives they can save, with the right resources.

So, to every researcher who goes into the lab, thank you. When humanity is helpless to fight a disease, you’re our only hope.

And finally, I want to thank to essential workers. I’m talking about the people who had no option but to leave their house and do their jobs, while people like me had the option of sheltering indoors. Grocery clerks, delivery workers, first responders, police, teachers, drivers, construction workers, government workers, and so many more, many of you have vital jobs that help our society function. Thank you for your hard work.

I wish changing the calendar to 2021 will solve all our problems, but I don’t think that’s the case. Let’s remember this. We are stronger when we are unified. A virus doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care who you are. It doesn’t matter whether you believe it exists or not.

When we’re facing a virus-like threat, whether it’s a natural disaster or a man-made disaster like war or climate change, we must come together and follow the right path.

Here’s to a better 2021.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

We should keep up these practices after Covid-19

The way our lives have changed amid the Covid-19 pandemic has made be realize what gross, unsanitary lifestyles we had before. Some of the practices we’ve adopted to slow the spread of the virus should become permanent.
Whether coronavirus or the common cold, who likes getting sick?
I’m not saying ban all parties and crowds forever, but how about this? Stop shaking hands. I’ll be sitting in temple blowing my nose for everyone to hear, and people still want to shake my hand. One time I went to an awards events when I was sick and I politely, or so I thought, declined to shake hands with everyone. I got so many nasty looks. Would you rather know what my sore throat feels like?
Do we need physical contact to prove who has the stronger grip? So I can feel your sweat? Nothing’s wrong with a proper bow, or a salute.
And don’t get me started on the Miami custom of hugs and kisses. Just put your germs directly on my face, please!
Taking health into account when entering a store is a great idea. I love that the Publix crew is cleaning all the shopping carts. No more carts with empty wrappers and sticky handlebars. Please do that forever.
When hand sanitizer is easier to come by, it should be placed in the entrance of every store to encourage people to rid their hands of germs before touching the merchandise. That goes double for clothing stores. The poor clerks have to refold the clothes after some stranger with dirty hands touched them.
Some companies are investing in a touchless experience in the bathroom - automatic faucets and doors that open without a handle. It’s hard to clean objects everytime someone touches them. It’s easier to minimize the numbers of times people need to lay hands on things.
When you’re sick, don’t “tough it out.” Stay home. I’ve been as guilty of this as anyone. Unless I literally can’t get out of bed, I want to work. Now that we’ve seen how efficient we can be working from home, it’s not a big deal to work remotely if you’re not 100%.
For jobs that can’t be done remotely, hopefully employers will understand employees should be given paid sick days, because that’s less expensive than getting half the workplace sick.
Come to think of it, what’s the point of spending over an hour a day in traffic when you could have an extra hour actually doing work? Is it worth a 70 minute drive for a face-to-face meeting when you could have done a Zoom chat? People do need to meet in person, but not every day.
Now let’s talk about food. How come at buffet lines everyone touches the same utensils as they shovel the food onto their plates? Dozens of people handle the same tongs and spoons, putting all kinds of germs on them, and then they use the same hands to stuff bread rolls into their mouths. All the viruses you can eat.
Why can’t a food service employee handle the utensils for the customers? Or each customer gets a personal pair of tongs and a spoon as they head down the buffet line?
Then there are religious ceremonies. Whether a Christian performing Communion or a Jew doing a Kiddush, it makes no sense for everyone to drink from the same cup of wine. Don’t expect blessings to remove germs from the cup as it becomes a Petri dish of saliva. Why not bless the wine, then pour it into small cups to pass around? Only drink from the small cups, not the big one.
My ranting is over, for now. Why should you take it from me? I did write an entire science fiction novel about a woman trying not to spread an infection to other people. Moni Williams flees Florida for the New Mexico desert.
Take to heart these words in the the opening of "Silence the Living":

Her standing here alone was the only way to survive, for herself and every native creature on Earth.

When I wrote them, I didn't know they would become real for so many of us. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

A Thank You Letter to the Miami Dolphins

As the Miami Dolphins embark on a epic tank job this season, I have two words for them: thank you.
For most of my adult life, I devoted three hours of my Sundays (and sometimes Thursday or Monday nights) to watching Dolphins football. I’ve scheduled my day around plopping down in front of the TV and watching the Fins fight. They usually lost, but at least they made it entertaining.

My family would go to the mall or to a restaurant. I’d be home watching the Dolphins. When I went with them to family parties, I’d often sneak into a room to watch the game, or check the score on my phone every two minutes.
When the games were close in the fourth quarter, my palms would get sweaty. I’d sit on the edge of my sofa, tapping my feet frantically on the tile. I'd shout at the TV, and my wife would remind me the players can't hear me.
When the Dolphins fell short in the end (as they usually did), it would put me in a horrible mood the rest of the day. Everything in life could be great, but the Dolphins lose and I can’t fake a smile.
Those days are over.
The 2019 Miami Dolphins have no business on the NFL field. This team is on a quest for 0-16. Their only goal is to earn the top draft pick.
I can watch losing, as long as it’s a fairly competitive game. After two blowout loses, it’s clear this team can’t compete. There’s no fun in watching a one-siding beating.
Thank you, Dolphins. I’m free.
I no longer to sweat over whether the team can win. I no longer have to block off three hours on Sundays when my family is out having fun. I can relax at parties and leave my phone in my pocket, not concerned with whether the Dolphins lose by 20, 30 or 40.
There is one date I absolutely will circle on my calendar: April 23, 2020. That’s when the Dolphins will have the first pick in the draft, and I can start caring again.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Millions of people helped New Zealand mass murderer go viral

A common refrain after the horrible mass murder of 50 Muslims in New Zealand was to criticize Facebook and YouTube for failing to block the killer’s video from spreading online. While that’s a valid point, I have a bigger question. Why did millions of people repost this bloody video?
According to CBS, Facebook said it deleted 1.5 million videos of the shooting in the first 24 hours after the attack, which was posted in real time on Facebook Live by the killer. It prevented 1.2 million videos from being uploaded.
YouTube hasn’t said how many times the New Zealand massacre video was posted there, but it’s been struggling to remove the video as fast as people are reposting it.
Both Facebook and YouTube removed user comments in support of the murders, as sick as that sounds.
That’s the bigger issue here. Millions of people want to see a white nationalist slaughter innocent people. Is it morbid curiosity? A desire to share breaking news? Maybe for some people, but I fear it’s worse than that. 

Social media has become a potent platform for spreading hate and violence. The difficulty that some of the world’s biggest and most advanced companies have in pulling these videos demonstrates how determined the supporters of hate are to voice their message.
The killer made this video to immortalize his deeds and find meaning in his trivial life by going viral - similar to the fictional characters in my novel “Famous After Death.”
Sharing the video is exactly what the killer wanted. Don’t give him that pleasure. Don’t say his name.
Don’t let him have the fame he seeks.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The music that inspired the book: Silence the Living

I knew the story I wanted to tell in “Silence the Living” and I had the characters formed in my head, but I couldn’t put the novel into focus until I found musical inspiration.
One night I was driving from South Florida to Orlando to meet my family at a theme park. I put on “A Star-Cross Wasteland” by In This Moment. From one song to the next, my novel fell into place. The desolate desert imagery became real. The monsters, mutated coyotes and deformed cross-breeds of desert-dwelling species, took life. The pain of the tragic love between Moni and Aaron felt blistering.
I offered my thanks to In This Moment in the opening notes of this book. Even today when I hear their songs, the scenes from my novel swirl through my head.
In my writer's chair and wearing my In this Moment gear with my new novel.

Most of “Silence the Living” was written to music. It helped me visualize the scenes. In some cases, there’s a connection between the lyrics and what happens in these chapters.
What follows is a guide to the songs I listened to, from many artists, for certain chapters.

Prologue - In This Moment, “Standing Alone”

Moni is standing on a mountain and staring at the inhospitable southern New Mexico desert. She should be dying from the heat, but the aliens are keeping her alive. The infection in her bloodstream is so dangerous that she needs to keep away from every living thing. Maria Brink sings: “Now I’m standing here alone. It’s the only way to survive.”

Chapters 1, 3, and 7 - In This Moment, “Just Drive”

Moni and Aaron are forced on a hasty cross country drive. They’re fleeing the aftermath of the invasion in Florida and the pursuit of law enforcement. Meanwhile, Moni’s dealing with frightening changes the aliens are making to her body. How far must they run? Maria Brink sings: “Tonight is the night, let’s get ready to go. Leave your bags behind and let’s hit the road…We will drive no matter how far. Yes we will drive until the ending of it all.”

Chapter 2 - Straight Line Stitch, “Taste of Ashes”

Florida policewoman Nina Skillings is furious at Moni for all those who died in the invasion, especially the police captain who was her mentor. Nina vows to track Moni down and kill her, at any cost. This was the music for most chapters with Nina. Alexis Brown, who screams “Thorn in your side!” is as angry as I’ve ever heard a woman.

Second half of Chapter 4 and Chapter 12 - In This Moment, “The Promise”

After close encounters with people who try to hurt them, Moni realizes that it’s dangerous for Aaron to stay with her. Either she will infect him or the people after her will kill him. Even though she loves him, she tries to convince him to leave her. She doesn’t want to hurt him, but she has no choice. In this duet, Maria Brink and Adrian Patrick (from Otherwise) sing, “No matter what you say or what you do, I know how this will end. So I’m turning away now. I’m dangerous for you…My promise is I will hurt you.”

Chapter 5 - In This Moment, “Comanche”

This is the song I listened to for every chapter written from the point of view of “the mutant.” It’s a misshapen monster lurking in the waterways of Florida that was left over from the first invasion. This song is intense and angry. Needing to shift into the mindset of a monster that kills for pleasure, this did the trick.

Chapter 14 - In This Moment, “A Star-Crossed Wasteland”

Moni walks into the desert by herself for the first time. It’s still and quiet, yet she fears she won’t be safe and she misses Aaron terribly. Maria Brink sings, “The dust is clearing, the desert is calm. The skies are quiet and I can’t make a sound. And I just wait for you.”

Chapter 15 - Otherwise, “Full Circle”

Aaron is out on his own in Las Cruces, hoping to find a way to help Moni. He’s regretful over the mistakes he’s made that have led him to this point, but he’s determined to set things right. Adrian Patrick sings, “I will believe, in spite of me, and what I have become. I’ll find the one I used to be, to bring me full circle.”

Chapter 16 - In This Moment, “Gun Show”

The pitch black nightfall is all Moni can see, but she hears them closing in on her. She can feel their minds. The coyotes are after her. Will she accept the aid of the aliens inside her to survive? This song starts out in such an ominous way, with the sounds of the storm, a wind chime, ravens, a horse trotting, all setting the stage for an Old Western gun battle. Then it just explodes into madness. That’s this scene. I listened to the same song for Chapter 48, another fight that starts in the desert night. Oh, and there are plenty of guns.

Chapter 18 - In This Moment, “The Last Cowboy”

Moni meets Blake, a New Mexico state ranger who patrols the desert. She’s impressed by his rugged outdoor ways.

Chapter 20 - In This Moment, “The Road”

Moni tracks an infected animal through the desert, and eventually into a cold, dark cave. Maria Brink sings, “No matter how dark the road. You’ll light my way. No matter how far from home. I’ll find my way.”

Chapter 29 - Otherwise, “Die for You”

While Moni must confront her own problems, Aaron is forced to chase after an infected animal as it enters a children’s amusement park. So far, he’s pledged to place his life on the line for her, but now he’s about to really put that promise to the test. Adrian Patrick sings, “I would break, I would burn, I would suffer. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do, do for you…You make me feel so alive. So alive I’d die for you.”

Chapter 33 - Avenged Sevenfold “Crimson Day”

Moni and Aaron sit on a mountainside, watching the sun rise over the desert landscape. They both know they must go separate ways. They’re not sure when, or if, they will see each other again. If Moni can’t get this under control, the world my never be the same. They both wish that time could stand still. M. Shadows sings, “The sun came out and brought you through. A lifetime full of words to say, a hope that time will slow the passing day.”

Chapters 36, 38, 40 and 41 - Tool , “Reflection”

A team of Navy SEALs and a marine scientist dive into a pitch black underwater caves of Peacock Springs in north Florida to catch “the mutant.” They worry about running out of air with dozens of feet of rock between them and the surface. While they hurt the creature, it hunts them. Tool’s whole “Lateralus” album was the perfect musical backdrop for operating in such a distorted environment. “Reflection” is so creepy. And the song goes 3:44 before the lyrics start. Pure Tool!

Chapter 44 - Tori Amos, “Marianne”

Yes, Tori Amos music inspired much of the first novel in this series “Mute.” Here, Moni hearkens back to the time when she had to care for an orphaned girl named Mariella and let her down. That's because Moni has now found Ramona, an immigrant girl stranded in the desert. She must find a way to care for the girl without infecting her. Meanwhile, Tori Amos is, “Having thoughts of Marianne. Quickest girl in the frying pan.”

Chapters 55 through 60 - In This Moment, “Blazin”

Soon after Aaron and Moni enter the small border town of Columbus, New Mexico, it comes under siege by a horde of alien mutants. This song is pure adrenaline-fueled violence. Maria Brink sings, “We’re not gonna stop tonight. We’re gonna burn this city down. We’re not gonna stop tonight. We’re gonna blaze till the morning sun.” That’s the invader mentality right there.

Chapter 61 - Volbeat, “7 Shots”

Meet the most twisted, cold-blooded cowboy in the desert land. Volbeat plays amazing Western-themed metal. Michael Poulsen sings, “Playing around with the good and the evil in his mind. Alone in the desert and cold, so cold.”

Chapter 63 - Five Finger Death Punch, “M.I.N.E. (Ends this way)”

Sometimes lovers just aren’t meant to be together, no matter how much they long for each other. FFDP is well known for their thrash metal, but they are underrated for ballads. Ivan Moody sings, “I know I’d hurt you, deserted you. And now I see it clear. I pulled you closer, tighter. ‘Cause I knew you’d disappear. I just can’t compromise, apologize. There’s nothing you can say. We both knew. It would always end this way.”

Chapter 65 - In This Moment, “Iron Army”

Moni prepares for war, and, follows the advice of one Maria Brink. “I build myself a f**king iron army!”

Chapters 70 and 71 - Shadows Fall, “Burning the Lives”

Brian Fair’s opening lyrics, “Soon a darkened pyramid will rise,” gave me the idea for this scene, and the chaos that follows.

Chapter 80 - Civil Twilight, “Human”

Moni feels more alien than ever. When she sees Aaron, it’s the only thing that makes her feel human. Steven McKellar signs, “It’s only love, it’s only pain. It’s only fear, that runs through my veins. It’s all the things you can’t explain. That make us human.”

Monday, September 3, 2018

Strikes and strings: Five ways to spice up Marlins games with musical instruments

The Miami Marlins are desperate, and not just for wins. The team is last in MLB in attendance after beginning yet another roster rebuild.
Ownership’s solution? Bring on the drums!
Derek Jeter’s team will turn a section of the outfield stands next year into “Comunidad 305”, where musical instruments and flags will be encouraged.
Marlins Park, photograph by D Ramey Logan via Wikimedia

Yes, this is thinly-veiled pandering to Latin fans, who showed their infectious enthusiasm for baseball at the World Baseball Cup games in the very same Miami Park by bringing flags and noisemakers. For some reasons, fans aren’t quite as excited to root for a Marlins team with zero star power that’s headed for 90-plus losses.
When next season rolls around, I’m sure there will be much more excitement in the stands. No, not because of the team. The musical instrument section could tremendous fun for the fans.
Imagine during a slow-paced, quiet game, fans become their own entertainment by performing music. On most nights, Marlins Park is quiet enough that you could hear a band in the outfield from behind center plate. Forget the action on the field, why not show the baseball world Miami’s musical talents?
Here are my Top 5 ideas for using musical instruments at Marlins games next season:

  • Battle of the Bands: Bring your guitars, drums, fiddles, banjos, or whatever you play, and jam out with your band members. Each band gets a half inning to show their stuff. Clearly, the best innings to pick are when the Marlins are pitching, because those will probably last longer.
  • Opera: Seat a full orchestra (plus conductor) together in the stands along with a few opera singers with booming voices. Wouldn’t you like to hear “La bohème” while a pitcher is on the mound scratching himself?
  • Elvis vs Celia Cruz night: Pick your favorite icon and join the musical duel. Americana vs Cuban-American. At the top of the inning, Elvis impersonators strum their guitars and croon. At the bottom of the inning, Celia impersonators sing their salsa and rumba with a percussion section. Whichever group wins gets to de-wig the losers.
  • Slide whistle hell: One slide whistle is cute. A second slide whistle is amusing. A third slide whistle, I want to rip that damn thing from your hands and throw it in the garbage. Imagine a whole outfield section of fans randomly, constantly tooting the slide whistle. Instead of “accidentally” throwing at opposing hitters, Marlins pitches might zing a few fastballs into the crowd.
  • Gong show: Say the fans actually wanted to help the team. Everyone bring a gong. When the opposing team is batting, ring the gong in unison the instant after the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand. When the Marlins are batting, bang those gongs as the opposing pitcher is winding up. Mind games.

Have any better ideas? Let me hear them.