Thursday, November 8, 2018

A Dog Beat Me Up

We waited there together, only I knowing her fate, her looking at me with trust and devotion. They came to take her away, an examination they said. She didn’t want to go, and she clung to me, climbed in my lap. No easy feat for a 50 pound dog.
                “No, go with him Bella, its gonna be okay.” I almost lost it right there. In social work they tell us never to say that to anyone. Don’t make statements you can’t guarantee, and all that. I wondered if that applied to dogs.
                Then I was alone. Thinking maybe they wouldn’t take her and we’d get to go home together anyway, for at least one more day. Internally: Maybe there was a chance I didn’t have to betray her after all. I secretly hoped that would be the case. Despite her bull-in-china-shop demeanor, despite the hours of potty training, despite every shouted “No!” I grew to love that dog. Because it wasn’t all bad, not even close, mostly just annoying at times. Moreover, her goofball personality and mischievous nature reminded me a lot of…well me.
                I looked at the clock, time had gotten away from me. I had been in the waiting room at the shelter nearly 25 minutes.
                The voice tried again, “David, we’ll take her. She did great,” said the shelter manager.
                Oh shoot, almost lost it again. I nodded, afraid to speak.
                “All we need is the surrender fee, unless you have any questions?”
                Again, no words. I shook my head and stood.    
                Oh hell. I realized I had to say goodbye. I knelt, repeating in my head; Don’t you do it, don’t you do it. I scratched behind her ears and patted her face. Ok still didn’t lose it. Keep it together. The shelter manager thought I was done, but no. I held her head and looked her in the eyes. Oh hell why’d you do that?  I stroked her muzzle one more time. If she would’ve understood, I would’ve said, “Sorry, I let you down girl.” Of course, that’s a lousy thing to say to someone knowing you’re not going to speak with them again. And certainly, understanding English, and understanding the sentiment behind that sentence are two different things.
                I turned away to go to the counter in my shame. A young man approached me, “Oh man why you givin’ up your dog?”
                I lost it. The tears came and I imagine much like during a bank robbery when the tellers signal the police, the customer service women at the counter probably triggered the “We’ve got a crier” alarm. Hurriedly, I paid the surrender fee and wiped my eyes and nose. As I hit the door I was already thinking about Bella. Where is she? Is she scared? And what got me the most is that I could guess, but I wouldn’t really know. All I could do was hope she was okay. It didn’t feel like enough, still doesn’t.
                In reality her greatest fault was she just being herself – a goofy puppy that had no idea how big she is, just needing attention. Hopefully, now she will find someone that can give her the time she needs.
                If you are in the Phoenix area and know of anyone (including yourself) that is looking for a fabulous puppy (shots up to date, crate and potty trained) then please keep an eye on:

@HALOresQ - Facebook

But also look for this cutie once she's posted-

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Mental Health Defined & Discussed

           I started my new master's program last month and as such, I haven't had much time to free write. However, this is a response to a discussion question from week one in my current course. I thought it was interesting (and written well enough) to show you all here. Enjoy, and I will hopefully catch up with a true rant soon!
             “Mental health” as I would define it would be “contentment”. Of course that word alone falls far short of a comprehensive definition. If I were to elaborate I would state that “mental health” is the ability to have homeostatic functioning of the mind particularly in the areas of cognition, and behavior defined by age appropriate socioemotional maturity. This definition would also encompass normative traits such as resilience, stress tolerance and typical response to both positive and negative stimuli.  
            Certainly there are stigmas within the field of mental health. To this day mental health still exists as both terror-invoking and grossly misinterpreted by the public (Kinsella & Kinsella, 2015).  Unfortunately, these stereotypical labels fall on both patients and practitioners. For example, those who are in the field who are all too often referred to by such colorful nicknames as “shrinks” or “quacks”. Most people probably think a counselor who bills competitively for their rate is “money hungry” or “playing the insurance company”.
            Moreover, there are also stigmas attached to those seeking treatment. Such as anyone suffering from addiction issues being labeled a “junkie”, “boozer” or “methhead”. Along with these names come the ideas that addicts are inherently bad, criminalized and deemed by many to be destined to fail. Many authors have pointed to this problem as being one that spans the globe and causes real damage to those that have to cope with the negative connotation their disease brings (Henderson & Gronholm, 2018).
            What I have found personally interesting regarding the idea of stigmas, is that they exist in varying dimensions amongst substance abusers as a sort of “pecking order”. During my undergrad at a treatment facility I met many an alcoholic that would shake their heads in disgust and say, “At least I’m not that guy, he’s got real problems, he’s a heroin addict.” Or the opiate user who lost their job judging another that had their house foreclosed on as more severe, and thus worthy of disdain.
            In reality, I believe we all carry around some measure of these disorders. There might be a gentlemen who has to check to see if he shut his garage as he pulled out of his driveway 3 times before actually leaving for work, and then there’s the gentlemen who has been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.  The only thing that’s separates “us” from “them” is severity and impact on quality of life. The idea of negatively rooted stigmas being associated with mental health is therefore cumbersome.  After all, we are all walking around with the same grey matter between our ears.
            As far as “why” these stigmas exist, it is simply due to misinformation and ignorance. Often times people fear and thus misconstrue what they do not understand. This of course leads to falsehoods being believed as fact. As professionals in the field of mental health it is a small part of our job to help dispel these myths as we encounter them.

Image result for mental health
Used from

Henderson, C., & Gronholm, P. C. (2018). Mental Health Related Stigma as a ‘Wicked Problem’: The Need to Address Stigma and Consider the Consequences. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health , 1158,
Kinsella, C., & Kinsella, C. (2015). Introducing Mental Health, Second Edition : A Practical Guide. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Where Were You?

The year was 2001. I can see it vividly. My back doesn’t hurt the way it does now. I know because I was slinging pallets and cases of Coca-Cola back then like the young man I once was. Hell, I might have even had a little bit of hair on the top of my head.
Tuesday morning, and I was in the backroom at the Kroger’s grocery store in Piqua, Ohio receiving area which was buzzing with activity.  You know where I mean; that mysterious veil of retail some of us know all too well. The place marked by those dual swinging doors with tiny square windows no one can see out of, or thick flaps of industrial grade plastic that turn yellow and brittle with age. The immediate area smelled of overripe vegetables and a trash compactor that had been used to dispose of them daily since the seventies.  
 Vendors stood impatiently next to their stacked deliveries, while salespeople ran here and there punching in orders on electronic devices, long before anyone ever thought of an iPad. It was the sweet hymn of organized chaos.
I was right in the middle of it. I had recently taken over a new merchandising (for those not ‘in the know’ that means glorified stockboy) route. My goal was twofold: correct the stuff the lazy guy before me hadn’t done right, and to start doing the stuff he wasn’t doing at all- you know important stuff like rotating product.[1]
At any rate, I was absorbed by my work. But not too absorbed to notice a majority of the vendors shuffling quickly outside. I wasn’t invited, but had to bring those empty pallets and shells outside to rot in the Ohio weather, so I decided to join them.
When I exited the oversized garage door that led to the back of the dock, I saw a strange site. Gathered around the Wonder-Bread vendor’s truck was every food vendor you could imagine in the Midwest. They were all huddled around the Wonder-Bread truck, leaning in as close as they could to the cab.
As I approached a UPS guy, drove up, hopped from his van with a couple boxes and hollered, “Boy look at this, a real meeting of the minds.”
“Jerry,” the Wonder Bread driver yelled at UPS, “You gotta hear this; they are saying some lunatic flew a plane into one of the twin towers.”
Jerry from UPS didn’t even slow his walk, “Whatever, you’re full of shit.” He continued inside with his delivery.
I approached Wonder-Bread van, and everyone else, trying to figure out if it was an insanely stupid joke or something else entirely. My mind immediately flashed to the original War of the Worlds radio broadcast in 1938, wherein people were supposedly whipped into mass hysteria because the production was interpreted as a newscast.
I got in as close as I could to the cab. I recoiled almost as eagerly.
I remember going from a 21 year old newlywed, who had lost his dad early that year, but still had everything figured out, to a speck, who knew nothing.  “Why?” marched through my head, and all its friends followed, rattling me in a way that I never have been, before or since. The world no longer worked the way I thought it had. And that was just the beginning, because my phone rang.  No wait, I didn’t have a cell phone. I had a pager. So…
My pager vibrated, I walked to the phone at the front desk and dialed my wife[2].
“Oh my God baby where are you?”
“Kroger Piqua.”
“Did you hear what happened?”
“Ya I just heard over a radio outside here.”
“Are you coming home?”
“No, I have a delivery to work.” Realizing how ridiculous that sounded I tried to shore it up, “Besides they aren’t going to let us come home.”
“Ok, get home as soon as you can, and you call me at every store!”
I didn’t and in fact, I worked my full shift that day, just as all my peers did. Perhaps, if I would’ve had more of the wisdom age has bestowed upon me, and less of the unquestioning desire to “get-ahead” that would’ve been different.
Fact is; I did get home to see my wife, as you all know I was lucky, because many Americans didn’t get home at all that day.
It was a day that shaped the world we lived in more than we’d like to admit. Or perhaps we’ve forgotten over time, even though we promised we wouldn’t. Even today, the aftereffects of its tragedy ring in our ears.  
That is not to say those responsible “won”, or even gained any ground- assuming there was ground to gain.
It could be said that single act did more to define American zeitgeist than the Kennedy assassination, the Great Depression, or the World Wars.  Of course, every generation has its defining moment.
They also managed to spread a consuming flame of hatred and confusion related to anyone that wears a turban, prays to Mecca, or has a beard longer than Chris Hemsworth (and a number of other details, accurate or not). Unfortunately, that might be the legacy that 9/11 offers to us most glaringly; cultural assumptions that lead to chaos. This maladaptive thinking proves dangerous to both sides, as it does nothing more than raise awareness for the things we can judge the other against.

[1] By the way, fuck you Bill you lazy bastard!
[2] “At the time”

Monday, September 3, 2018

The Problem with Purpose

            Scientists must have a difficult time with reconciliation. I mean, it must plague them. Things yet uncovered, things beyond definition, things outside of statistical explanation. Categorization, methodology, sample size, confidence levels, variable dependency. I imagine, like a Mountain Dew on a Tuesday evening, it keeps them up at night.
            That is why I must tell you I do not count myself among their numbers. I am logical, sound and deal with problems utilizing the scientific method, more often than not, anyway. But none of this makes me a scientist in the traditional sense.
            And oh the door knockers, the abortion clinic protestors are just as anxious. How they must squirm at all the facts and figures that defy their beliefs. Post-trib, pre-trib, mid-trib…I mean you’d think religion(s) being based on such ancient texts would have long ago at least settled the differences among those within their own camps. But alas, this isn’t the case. So while the scientists are up at night experimenting for enlightenment, the religious pray for it instead.  
            It is also worth mentioning, before I launch into what will likely be a heady look at science versus faith, that I have never considered myself much of religious fellow either. To me, church also seemed so impersonal and gaudy. Moreover, it seemed to defy the point of fellowship with a Creator. To commune with my God, I must do so in the presence of other people, and pay you for the privilege? I also must confess to you, I am no atheist. I believe in a God, but do not claim to understand, Him, Her, It, Them…but I do believe that we are no accidents.
            …Or have stopped reading, or told my kids not to read, or scrolled past on Facebook etc…Truthfully, it only (and perhaps sadly) boils down to my thoughts after reading The Problem of the Soul by Owen Flanagan (2002). I suppose it is a book written to examine and reconcile the “manifest and the scientific image” of creation. Further, I imagine the author set out to write a book capable of motivating those who questioned religious ideology (though perhaps not moral value) to side fully with the idea that humans are (to dumb it down for people like me) very special animals.

            If you’ve bothered to read this far, I suppose it’s only fair to state that I am not writing this from the perspective of a religious person, or even a scientific one. Beyond that, I hold no qualifications as far as philosophy. I am writing this as someone who thinks (perhaps too much) about things great and small.
            I am not an atheist, but don’t believe I can call myself quite the agnostic anymore either. If I had to give it a name I would say I am some sort of Monotheistic-Gnostic-Skeptic.
            Yes, it’s complicated. For instance, if you accept the fact that God is omnipotent, than you accept the fact He, She, It was intelligent enough to foresee not only that each cultural group would never concede to worship the same God, but also that humans by nature would distort and pervert any God’s teachings for their own gain. Of course, this level of thinking is never addressed by most figures of Western religion.
            As you might’ve guessed, my thinking (and knack for making things complicated) has only been amplified after reading what Professor Flanagan has written in his aforementioned book. This was a surprising after-effect, as when I initially began reading this work, I assumed it would deliver solid answers to ethereal questions. Despite the rave reviews I have read of Flanagan’s work, I felt less open-minded and more unconvinced that anyone on this planet’s has anything bigger than our individual selves figured out (of course most haven’t even gotten that far).  
            So there you have it. What you are about to read, or perhaps (just got tired of reading) isn’t a critique, but rather an expression of thought brought about by something I myself read. I found Professor Flanagan’s explanations intelligent, but also lacking at times. This again, is no review, as I would describe myself and most people in general, in much the same way. Also, as I typed that sentence, I equated to “I ate something foul and the end result was an upset stomach and a night on the can”. At any rate, so it goes…
            Science tests and measures the physical. Faith attempts to test and measure the non-physical (i.e. spiritual). Much of Flanagan’s premise throughout the book (particularly its last chapter) is that those that approach life from the manifest perspective must “give up” some fundamental notions of their manifest image in order to happily co-exist with the scientific image (Flanagan, 2002, p. 267).
            As a mere mortal (I hate to admit that) watching from the sidelines, why would anyone with a faith-based ideology wish to concede to any other world view? This becomes particularly true as Flanagan attempts to resolve conflicts between core ideological values between atheistic and theistic views. Typically, all the reader is offered is the equivalent of “That’s the way it is, trust me.” (Flanagan, 2002, p. xiii,  123, 155, 266…).
            Ultimately, in writing this I suppose that’s a main theme; you can neither prove nor disprove what is unseen. Aligned with this concept is the notion that quoting men like Darwin, Skinner and even Socrates will give your scientific argument traction with a theist. To the theist, these men are just that; merely men. To the theist, their musings and findings my have value in the “present” world, but hold little weight when compared against the intellect of a God, or even the perception of a God.
            Many scholars (theist and atheist alike) have sought to harmonize the manifest and scientific views. I myself am not qualified to try, nor do I believe it possible. Therefore, I will not be arguing for or against here.
            As I have mentioned, Flanagan’s final chapter in this book (Ethics as Human Ecology) was a pleasant surprise to read. This is due to the fact that it highlights the notion that lack of religion does not equate to lack of morals. While this concept is perhaps more accepted in our modern times, I still believe it worth reiterating, and Flanagan does a fine job of this. Even if it is done at the attempted expense of “God’s moral code” (Flanagan, 2002, p. 317).   
            Further, this chapter gives readers a thorough view into how strict religious code under any cultural context can limit how the human race as a whole progresses and thrives. Flanagan uses the idea that working together for the betterment of all does not need to be an idea handed down from a deity. Instead, he ties this notion of ethics as a mechanism developed for survival and perpetuating the species.
            Flanagan is right (at least in this author’s mind) regarding the fact that we all want all lives to have purpose (Flanagan, 2002, p. ix). While the definition of this purpose varies throughout time and across cultures. Still most, if not all, humans like to believe they serve a purpose[1].
            Flanagan also discusses repeatedly that most people are religious in ways they do not realize (Flanagan, 2002, p. xv). This speaks to the fact that much of what we inherently know, or think we know, about religion is handed down to us at an early age based on ecological factors. Essentially, we are Baptist because we were raised as such; we are Buddhist because our families are etc…        
            Flanagan also challenges the idea of free will. He posits that we are wired for certain behavior based on factors that we cannot tame - among them; cognition, causation and statistical predisposition. The author also offers up an experiment in which researchers observed the response of those willing (or unwilling) to help a woman pick up dropped papers on a busy street (Flanagan, 2002, pp. 153-155). The study determined that while most people professed a desire to help those in need, they seldom actually act on it. Bearing to mind that we enjoy seeing ourselves as the hero of the narrative that is our life, even if we are more the villain, or worse, an extra in the background amidst someone else’s starring role.
            And hereby we arrive at the title of this essay, for as I pen this I see little problem with the soul. Instead, I see a distinct and fractured problem with purpose among most that I meet. It seems most people have great difficulty understanding why it is they do what they do, and don’t do that which they are capable. To me this question needs answered ahead of the debate between scientific versus manifest image.   
            This brings to mind a question I asked of a Sunday school teacher years ago. A young woman who looked like a 70’s librarian had just closed a children’s picture Bible. She looked at the class of 30 or so elementary age children and said, “So it’s our job as Christians to spread the good news, so that everyone can know God and have a relationship with Jesus Christ so they may dwell in Heaven forever.”
            My immediate response was, “What about a kid in the country who can’t get to Sunday School? Or deaf kids that can’t hear me tell them about Jesus?” Keep in mind I was seven, so my concept of Heaven involved all you can eat pizza and unlimited time on my NES. I also knew nothing about sign language. However, my question was begging for answer that was more immense than I imagined at the time.
            I apologize if you came here looking for some type of epiphany on this state of being we refer to as “humanity”. How to live with it, how to control it, maybe even how to cure it?     
            However, I can say with certainty believing that the immaterial can save you is no more dangerous than believing science can.
            Truthfully, I can’t help you. I suppose therein is the rub. I don’t believe anyone on Earth has that ability. Though a lot of people think they can, or at least will try to convince you they do.  
            The best advice I can give you regarding the human condition is as follows: Be open to new ideas, do not seek to reinforce your own timeless beliefs, no matter how well they shine, or how well they’ve served you in the past. When someone talks (or writes for that matter) listen (or read) with a skeptic’s eyes and ears, but never a dismissive hand.
            And of course, thank you to Professor Flanagan for getting me thinking.

[1] Personally, I might venture beyond Flanagan’s words by saying this is a falsehood greater than religion, or unquestioning love of science. The fact is most are born only to die and will never achieve some definition of “a life worth living, or well-lived”.  If you need proof, look no further than the person that popped into your mind as you read that statement. You know that one guy…we all do…

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Upgrade: Part II of II

Days passed and Kenny counted them down with glee. Each hour that fell brought him closer to his full potential, to his destiny.  
            He was in the break room at work eating a bologna sandwich and playing a game on his phone that required the matching of like-colored jewels to score points. Kenny liked seeing the shapes and colors line up. He liked seeing order triumph over chaos.  
            “Kenny, Kenny look!”
            Kenny looked up to see a few of his coworkers gawking at the television screen mounted in the corner. One of his colleagues, Vern; a fat man with only a thin wisp of hair smattered over his noggin was hollering his name.
            “Are you seeing this? This nutjob who just got upgraded last week is going on a rampage downtown!”
            On the screen he saw a woman with robotic legs repeatedly kicking an ATM. One kick, two and then three, before she had punched through the ATMs exterior and knocked it from its base. The machine toppled over and crashed to the ground with a thud as its display went dim. The fair-haired woman had a dark green blouse and was red with anger. She had on a tight black skirt that seemed to accentuate the robotic contours of her legs. Peeking out from the skirt were two shiny steel “feet” covered in flimsy matching green pumps. If you listened closely, and could separate the sounds around her you could hear the electronic whir of gears and mechanisms operating within her legs.
            “Insufficient funds! I’ll show you insufficient funds! You piece of shit!”
            In front of the bank, police parted the crowd the woman had attracted and leveled their service weapons. “Stand down ma’am.”
            The woman paid no attention and front kicked the bank’s brick wall with her robotic left foot. As she pulled it away the gears in her leg whined, but the brick bore a noticeable mark as chunks of rubble fell to the sidewalk.
             “Ma’am we need you to calm down!” an officer yelled.
            The woman turned now, finally facing the officers. “Calm down! Don’t you tell me to calm down! You’re just afraid of me!” She walked towards the police, in spite of the fact that their guns were trained on her. As she did this her left foot rolled under her. Machinery somewhere inside snapped, but the woman kept coming, only this time with a severe limp. “No, not afraid of what I am, but afraid of what you aren’t.
            Another warning from the police, “Ma’am if you do not yield we will open fire.”
            The woman didn’t slow in the least.
            “Ma’am this is your final warning!” On the screen the camera’s view pivoted from the police to the woman and quickly back again. Shots rang out as the muzzles of the officer’s weapons lit up.
            The camera feed was terminated and the view was back to the station’s newsroom where a blushing reporter nervously searched for words. “Ladies and gentlemen as you can see this upgraded individual has seemingly…umm…she has been…umm…halted by law enforcement. We will continue to collaborate with authorities to determine if her…umm…mental faculties were at all affected by her upgrade.”
            “Did you see her eyes?” one of the women in front of Kenny asked the room.
            Vern called out, “Definitely bat-shit. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts like a lot.”
            “That’s some scary stuff right there man,” offered an older gentleman sitting at the table opposite Kenny.
            “Kenny did I see one of those Astir pamphlets on your desk the other day?” Vern asked, and suddenly the entire room’s eyes were on Kenny.
            Kenny, finally managing to take his eyes from the screen, didn’t seem to notice a large blob of partially chewed bologna leaving his mouth to fall on the table before him.

* * *
            A few hours later, Kenny found himself in a bar near work, in a half-assed attempt to relax. The establishment was decorated in the late 70’s and hadn’t seen much in the way of upgrades since then. High back leather-bound bar stools matched the padded leather elbow guard that ran along the bar. Plastic plants and dull orange paint were smattered in every conceivable part of the room. Kenny thought the barroom’s look matched its smell; that of self-loathing.
            As Kenny drank he continued to mull over one idea. He had found it strange that between he and his co-workers had viewed the news broadcast as if they were watching two completely different programs.
            Even as Kenny took a long pull on the beer before him, the news replayed the incident with the woman and the ATM. Following the tape a newscaster addressed the viewers. With a critical look straight into camera the newscaster spoke solemnly. “It seems regarding recipients of Astir upgrades it is not a matter of if they will descend into rage and violence, but when.”
            “Insane, right? If you woulda asked me 20 years ago whether or not I would ever live to see the day when people were walking around with Terminator legs, I woulda said ‘hell no’.” A few stools down from Kenny, the man who had spoke the unsolicited statement did so over an empty rocks glass, and was now looking expectantly to Kenny for commentary.
            Kenny took a breath, his eyes flicked from the television set mounted above the bar to the man a few feet from him. “Have you ever seen Godzilla?”
            The man nodded and simultaneously shook his empty glass at the bartender.
            “You know how the people in those movies are always running around, frantically screaming as they stare up at the monster?” Kenny asked.
            Again, the man nodded.
            “So you can understand what it’s like to be vulnerable, to feel afraid. Something you’ve never seen before just set your whole world view on fire. Something powerful, something you have no control over. But tell me friend, how would you feel if you were Godzilla?”
            Kenny took more than a tiny bit of pleasure from the dumbfounded look on the man’s face, and then rose to leave. He set a few dollars down on the bar, leaving his half finished beer to sweat along with the man.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Upgrade: Part I of II

When Kenny was 6 years old his parents used to make him walk to and from school. They said it was to help him establish trust in their eyes. Kenny knew it was because he was fat and they thought it would help him lose weight.
            A one way trip was about a mile long. Overall, it was fine and Kenny didn’t mind it, even if he did mind his parent’s hidden agenda. At the close of the journey to school, every morning Kenny would traverse the baseball diamond and surrounding field. And every morning the dew from the grass would coat his discount store sneakers in a thick layer of moisture. Because the baseball field was on school property, naturally as Kenny neared this space many school age children could be seen on foot converging towards the building.
            One day in particular had stood out in Kenny’s mind for years. A friend, Adrian hustled up to Kenny’s side as he strolled through the dewy grass. “Kenny, we need another kid for baseball today after school you in?”
            Kenny’s delight at the thought of taking in an activity with friends overruled his critical thinking skills for a moment. “Oh heck ya man!”
            “Great, we need a pitcher. You can use my glove.” Adrian smiled and trotted off ahead, Kenny could hear him telling some of the other kids heading towards the school, “Kenny’s gonna pitch for us today…”

* * *

            “I never went to the game,” Kenny shook his head. The memory was there with him, as though it were still happening. A few key moments, on repeat in his brain for 30 some years of his life.
            “So what happened at the game?” the man on the other side of Kenny’s story was a stern, but wise looking chap dressed in a white lab coat. He had circular glasses and distinguished grey hair combed over to one side.
            “That’s just it Doctor Blevins, I never went.”
            “Why not?”
            “I couldn’t just come out and tell those kids I had a disability, they would’ve roasted me.”
            Blevins removed a stethoscope from Kenny’s bare chest. “So what did you do?”
            “I lied”, Kenny admitted, “I told them I forgot. They never invited me to another game again. And I went on never telling anyone about my disability. Doc, I hope you understand what this prosthetic means to me. This is not just a chance to at increased efficacy. This is a chance to become whole, to become normal.”
            “Alright Kenny, first things first, you’re physically in great condition. Despite the story you just told me, that childhood weight obviously dropped off at some point. Regarding the surgery you are cleared. But I want you to understand something…”
            Kenny was putting his shirt back on but paused to hear Dr. Blevins.
            “…Getting this surgery, receiving this prosthetic isn’t going to make you normal.”
            Shirt now on, confusion flashed in Kenny’s eyes, even as the doctor began to elaborate.  
            “This prosthetic is a trade off. You will gain functionality in your hand. So much so it will be above and beyond that of an average person. However, you will also gain the unwanted attention of many who cannot afford the investment of an Astir Industries product.”
            “C’mon doc, it’s like driving a Mercedes. It’s a status symbol.”
            “Perhaps, but unlike your current physical condition, you cannot hide this product in a garage, or lie to those around you about its existence. It will be in plain sight, 24 hours a day, yada yada yada.
            “Lie about it?” Kenny laughed loudly as he hopped from the examination table. “Dr. Blevins I’m going to proudly show it to the world.”
            Dr. Blevins nodded. “Please see Marjorie on your way out about scheduling a surgery date.”

* * *
            On the way home Kenny rode the subway alone, smiling stupidly at the appointment reminder he had received from the Blevin’s assistant. Two weeks.
            In two weeks he would be happy. In 14 days he would be a man. In 336 hours he would be strong. In 20,160 minutes he would be independent.
            When Kenny wasn’t staring at the appointment card he was fumbling through the pamphlets he was given. One of which was beige and green tri-fold that was titled ‘Astir Industries: Life perfected’ and a second black and white booklet had a cover that read ‘Upgrade: Dealing with the Physical and Psychological Changes that perfection brings’.
            Those sharing the car with Kenny all eyeballed the literature. With silent judgment, they scanned Kenny. They saw him in his drab jeans, and well worn t-shirt. To them, he cast a distinctly sub-average visage. Collectively, their eyes seemed to say; what’s so special about him.
            One woman, a white-haired beast in a wheelchair, whispered at Kenny, “Fuckin’ elitist.” Kenny was so caught up in himself he didn’t notice. He just continued to smile that stupid smile.

* * *
            Kenny arrived home, his wife of 12 years greeted him. He was ecstatic when he told her the news. She, less so.
            “You were approved? I didn’t think they’d clear you.”
            “What is that supposed to mean Claire?”
            “I just thought the evaluation…so few actually make it.”
            “Nah, Dr. Blevins said that’s a thing of the past now Astir wants to be freer to open up upgrades to the general populace.”
            “Provided they can pay for it?” Claire responded.
            “Are you mad?” Before Claire could answer, Kenny blurted an accusation, “No you’re jealous! Oh my God!” Kenny wanted to laugh, but he suddenly felt so sad. He had come home to share his great news, and had been met with defiance.
            “Jealous! No, my no. I am happy for you but…”
            “But what?” Kenny heard his voice rising, but didn’t fight it. He was hurt and wanted to be heard, and also he wanted to hear what was on Claire’s mind. What she really thought.
            “It’s so much money.”
            “You’re kidding me? That’s what you are worried about? Baby, I have scrimped and saved--”
            We have saved.” Claire tried to interject, but her protest was overtaken by Kenny’s sheer volume.
            Kenny continued to yell, “--and gone without for years in the hopes that I would be able to do this one day.”
            “What if we have an emergency? What if we need our nest egg?”
            Kenny sighed, but continued his tirade, this time adopting a different approach, “You don’t understand what it’s like to live like this.”
            “What if I want more than this? Look around you! Do you think this rinky-dink apartment and off the rack clothes are what I’ve dreamt about all these years? Why do you get what I want and I get nothing?”
            Kenny paused as tears welled in Claire’s eyes, but only for a moment. “Because what you want is material, and what I want is so much more than that.”
            Claire stormed off, taking refuge in their tiny bathroom.
            The couple didn’t speak until late that night. They angled themselves around the small apartment, for fear they’d both turn its coziness into a setting for close quarters combat.
            At bedtime they both blurted out the same thing, just a beat or two from being completely in unison: “I’m sorry.”
            “Go ahead,” Kenny offered, “I was so rough on you today. You go first.”
            “OK I have to admit, I never thought they’d approve you. That’s why I agreed to you having the surgery.”
            Kenny nodded; he knew it deep down but hated to hear her say it, at the same time he needed to hear her say it aloud. “And I am being selfish with our money.”
            Kenny tried to continue but was cut off when Claire pressed a finger over his lips. “But I know how much this means to you, even if I don’t understand all of what it means to you. Just promise me you won’t freak out. Ya know, afterwards.”
            “I promise.” Kenny looked at Claire, her warm face, gentle eyes and inviting lips. He could tell she’d been crying for the better part of the afternoon. “I’m so sorry I yelled at you. I love you. ” He kissed her more times than they could count.