Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Duality of Man and Obsolescence through Efficiency

August 3rd, 2019, the terrifying shooting in El Paso, TX was being covered on the news. It was yet another senseless act by a deranged individual that was able to get his hands on what I call a "Personal Weapon of Mass Destruction." (PWMD)
     At the same moment I was watching this story unfold, I was preparing to head out to meet with friends, acquaintances, and people I had yet to discover. A mutual friend had passed away a short time before, and our friendly neighborhood brewpub, the place where I had met this man some ten years ago, was hosting the memorial event, sponsored by his family.
     The pub was hopping when I arrived, stuffed wall-to-wall with people joining together to celebrate my friend's life. There was music, chatter, and an open mic where people could share their memories of him. I took a turn at the mic myself despite my lifelong, deep-seeded anxiety, encouraged by the positivity I felt from the people around me, to read an article that my late friend had written and published on the Huffington Post.
     In this setting, amongst people sharing memories while they smiled and laughed through their grief, I felt I was experiencing the very best in human beings.
     I headed home sometime later, and enjoyed the rest of the evening at home with my wife.
     And then Sunday morning came. I awoke to the news that another shooting had occurred overnight. This one was in Dayton, Ohio, and the weapon of choice was an all too familiar type of PWMD.
     In so short a time, I had personally witnessed the best in people, but on the news were stories of horrific acts carried out by human beings that had lost their way. Clearly, these events demonstrate the duality of man. Infinite kindness co-exists with unimaginable cruelty on opposite ends of the gauge of human behavior.
     But why? What is it exactly that is driving men to do these things? How has the hate within the perpetrators of these insane acts risen to such a height that the choice to pick up a weapon and kill, not just one person in particular, but to kill as many people as possible, seems like a reasonable course of action? There are those that blame the violence in movies and video games. The failing educational system and poor parenting have also been named as contributing factors.
     Certainly, there is no single thing. It is not just poor parenting, schooling, a desensitization of violence in media, religious fanaticism, or even the recent resurgence of racism or xenophobia. It is a combination of all these things and more, more factors than I can even think of, that lead to the creation of a mass shooter.
     As for myself, I have watched violent movies and played violent video games. I, at one time, was a member of the NRA, owned a PWMD, and some 25 years ago, I would not have been so apt to jump on the side of banning a firearm of any kind, for any reason. But today, things are different. Some people are not buying the AR-15, AK-47, or an alternative, for recreational purposes. That is, for some leisurely fun on an outdoor range, or a personal exercise of the Second Amendment.
     These semi-automatic weapons, capable of firing a large number of rounds at awesome speeds, are only limited by the amount of bullets they can carry in a magazine, and being a tool, are at the mercy of the intent of the owner. If the weapon is stolen from that owner, its not even up to them anymore. Good intentions are literally out the window when a firearm is stolen and chances are it will be used in a crime.
     Even without being fully automatic, an AR-15 or assault weapons like it, make for poor home defense devices. They are too cumbersome to use in the confines of a home. The .223 round itself was designed to tumble through the air and tear flesh, making it non-ideal for hunting. The component of an assault rifle called the receiver, where the bullets travel from the magazine into the chamber, and are then launched, can be used in other custom applications. Gunsmiths can build short-barreled, pistol-like weapons around these receivers, making something compact and light. But there's still a problem. The resulting machine-pistol is still not a good home defense weapon, but they're perfect for drive-by shootings.
     Weapons like this have one purpose and they've become so very efficient at it that they have achieved obsolescence in a world we wish to call civilized.
     Let me say that again and a bit differently for those that suspect I've made a typo: Semi-automatic assault rifles are so efficient at what they do, they are obsolete in the hands of civilians.
     So, given the fact that the AR-15 and AK-47 are the weapons of choice for mass shooters, how about we just suspend manufacturers from building more? Why not? We don't need any new ones, the market is saturated. The people that really want one in their display cases, or to use them on a shooting range, in an all legal and above board manner, will have little to no trouble tracking down some other law abiding citizen that wants to sell theirs.
     Waiting periods are not enough. Background checks are also not enough. A complete ban on the selling of these PWMDs is the only answer to curtailing mass shootings. There will be no complete cessation by such a ban, but it is a much needed step in the right direction. As a proponent of the Second Amendment myself, I am sad to admit that such a ban seems necessary, but it is clear that a small percentage of the American populace can no longer handle the responsibility of gun ownership or are altogether unfit to be allowed anywhere near one.
     The incident in New York on August 6th, where the noise created by some motorcycles and a falling sign sent people running through Times Square, is a display of the current pulse of the American populace. Anxiety and distrust of our fellow man is at an all-time high, and it trickles down from the highest office in our federal government, like kerosene splashed onto a bonfire.
     There is no more time for engaging in the same old arguments that a ban on assault weapons means that the government will eventually take all guns. It's an impossibility. No one wants to come to your door and take your pistols, hunting rifles, or your shotguns.
     There is no more time for the excuses that gun owners throw out there saying guns aren't the problem. Assault weapons are part of the problem, so let's do something about them.
     There is no more time to simply label those that carry out these atrocities as mentally ill. Instead, let's help reduce the ability for the unstable to make poor snap decisions in the form of a mass shooting.
     There is no more time to compare statistics of what kills more people, assault weapons or illnesses. These are just distractions from a particular problem. Let's not look at any more graphs and charts that pro-gun or anti-gun statisticians create to favor their arguments.
     It is time to do something, even if it's only a little something for a short while, to at least allow the tensions that have risen among Americans to be eased.
     Who knows? Maybe once something is done about assault weapons, Americans may realize they're happy with a little progress toward tranquility. Discovering a little more faith in their fellow man would certainly be nice. A return to civility is just what this country needs to focus on the future. Americans may like themselves a little more if a little growing up is allowed to happen.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Heartbreak and Self-Doubt of Being a Teenager in the 80s

My wife is out of town on business, so in the early evening of this past Thursday, I was pondering what to watch. We have a few shows on streaming services that we are in the midst of, and I don't wish to watch any of it without her, so I turned to our DVD collection and pulled an old title that I'm sure she has little interest in. It's a film from 1982 that I first saw in perpetuity on HBO. This is when HBO was ONE channel.
     The name of the movie is "The Last American Virgin" and stars actors that you may or may not have heard of, with the exception of Diane Franklin, the same actress from the John Cusack comedy from 1985, "Better Off Dead" and "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" of 1989. Diane is a petite, beautiful, dark-haired actress with unique dimples and dark eyes.

     The movie shares a theme with "Fast Times at Ridgemont High", also released in 1982. Both have their funny scenes and over-the-top teenage sex romps, ludicrous characters, and music from the era, but "LAV" as I will now refer to it, has something special, and that's Karen, the character Diane plays. Gary is the main male character and Karen is his obsession. He sees her everywhere and does silly things to get her attention. But, as luck would have it, Gary's handsome friend steals her and gets her pregnant. The handsome friend, of course, is a major tool that one would love to beat into the sidewalk with a bat, maybe a 2x4, or, better still, a bus. He rejects her and tells her the pregnancy is her problem and that their relationship is over. Gary rushes to Karen's rescue and the obligatory 80s montage is comprised of scenes where Gary drums up the dough to pay for an abortion. Please don't judge, it's just a movie, it was in the script, and "Fast Times" did that, too. In any case, his caring for Karen is heartbreaking to watch as he takes her to his vacant grandmother's home to recuperate. In the end, Gary scans through the crowd at a party and finds Karen has returned to his evil friend's side. A shocker to me the first time I saw the film. And... well, that's it. Movie over. I know what you're thinking and you're right. It's bullshit. Gary should have won the girl and fuck that asshole friend of his. I know. I know. The despair of the world we live in, friends, is the good guys quite often don't get the girl.

Here's a video featuring scenes from the movie, set to James Ingram's song: JUST ONCE

     As soon as I began watching "LAV", I was transported back to the early 80s. I was 12 years old when this movie came out and the memories of my first crush flooded my brain. You see, Diane looks very similar to a schoolmate of mine. This girl is of Italian descent, petite, and dark-haired with eyes of a very deep brown. Each time she passed me in the hallway in Junior High, I met those eyes all too briefly, and my heart pounded so hard I thought I would faint. Every time.
     This crush I had was intense, and I'm sure that we've all been there. In the months and years that followed, her tiny feet wore holes in the very fabric of my feeble, immature, pre- and post-pubescent mind. From Junior High to High School, she was my heart's desire and, to this day, her face is forever imprinted.
     The memories continued to play out as the movie played on, and the dire awkwardness, the anxious feelings of self-doubt, and the silent, desperate loneliness of my teenage years came back to me. I didn't fit in anywhere or with any group of fellow students, had few friends, and no confidence in anything I said or did. I had lost an eye in an accident when I was only 4, so sports was out, and sports was the way to meet the ladies in the 80s. Yes, I know. Go ahead and groan, I know it rhymes but it's freakin' true!

From "LAV", Tommy Tutone's defining song: Teen Angel Eyes

     I began to wonder what would be different if I had broken out of my shell. I remember the time I called my crush at home. She was gracious in the awkwardness of the moment, and when the call ended, I was left understanding the very great distance between our two worlds, though the reasons why the distance had to exist at all eluded me. I had gotten the feeling that my calling her again would not be welcome, so I never did. My crush eventually became our high school's Homecoming Queen. Doesn't that just stick into the tender dangling unmentionables? Yeah. It does.
     The movie went on, Diane Franklin's face haunted me, and I taunted myself with these memories. I asked myself what I could have done differently, and imagined the very best of scenarios, and the very worst. Everyone does this from time to time. I have a feeling in my case it's not healthy. I hated my life. When I was at school I wanted to run home, and when I was home I looked forward to school. I rushed everywhere only to not want to be where I ended up. I took solace in music, television, and video games. My life was a circuitous route of hopelessness with little joy.
     I both looked forward to and dreaded days off, Christmas break, Spring break, or any kind of freakin' break, especially summer. During those times I would wonder what my crush was doing, where she was, and so on. I had the similar thoughts of the few friends I had, too. I would exhaust myself on bike rides that had no destination and revel in my daily mundaneness.
     The era of the 80s was a time where there were no cellphones, thus no instant connection with people. There was no internet, thus no social media, and most homes had one phone line with a few extensions. The ringing of a telephone, when I was a boy, was a wondrous, promising event. But as a teenager, it rarely rang for me, and it became a depressing non-event.
     Now wait, before you give me the sarcastic 'boo-hoos' and 'grow a pairs' or what-have-yous, please understand that I realize I am not unique. I was not abused by parents or family members, nor overly bullied by anyone. The story of my childhood and teen years is little different than millions of others. I want no sympathy from this post, just understanding, and to convey to others with similar stories that they are not alone. In fact, it's important to remember that sometimes, a teenager gives up and commits suicide because of a host of reasons. They are, each and every one of them, preventable tragedies.
     So, when "LAV" wrapped up, and the credits rolled as Gary drove away, crying from the madness of Karen's reconciliation with the Tool, I was left feeling that old forgotten emptiness again. The house was quiet, my wife not home, and my dogs slept nearby with barely a snore.
     The thoughts of what could have been stuck with me for a time after, but I began to come back to reality. I had a shitty time growing up and I didn't get the girl. Well, not that girl. I slowly came to the realization that Gary's drive away from the party at the end of the movie was not a retreat, nor was it a defeat. It was a painful, bitter win, but he didn't see it that way. I didn't either. Not until that moment did I realize Gary fought the good fight and had done the right thing by standing by someone in trouble and, in doing so, won the movie and drove away a better man.
     I had, in my own way, done the same. I am happily married, love my wife and my life. I enjoy the privilege of writing my books every day and taking care of our dachshunds. I have met wonderful people, artists, fellow authors, even a famous actor here and there. I sure hope my old crush is having a good life and is happy, because I am. I am.

On that happy note, I leave you with this. In my research on the movie, "The Last American Virgin", I found that Diane Franklin wrote her autobiography and self-published it. I think that's just great and it is so appropriately titled.

Diane Franklin: The Excellent Adventures of the Last American, French-Exchange Babe of the 80s

Thank you for reading.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Schnickelfritz Christmas

     The Schnickelfritz family, as we all know by now, is one of wealth, power, and wily ingenuity. As with any powerful family, there will be those aberrations of the less successful, less intelligent or perhaps, less mentally stable individual. Surely, you’ve read about Konteradmiral Dietrich Giuseppe Schnickelfritz, the inventor of the Schnickelfritz Absperrventil, the plumbing device affixed to the toilets of many German vessels during the First World War. It failed catastrophically so often, sinking at least one German U-boat per five hundred flushes, give-or-take a few, that Dietrich is credited by many historians with helping the Allies take control of the Atlantic.
     I’ve also told you the story of Robert Downey Schnickelfritz, whose power is derived from his passive-aggressive, sociopathic tendencies as he moves from town to town, setting traffic lights to unwarranted and near-irritating lengths. He is also the inventor of the mind-numbingly bothersome Schnickelfritz Auxiliary Outdoor Boob Tube, the outdoor television sets on top of gas pumps, and the Schnickelfritz Shackle, the motion-sensing anti-theft device that, once attached to a box, ticks maddeningly as you, the shopper, tries to read the features of the product inside.
     But this story is about another Schnickelfritz. Perhaps this one is the most unfortunate Schnickelfritz of them all, but knowing the family, probably not. At any rate, here is the story of Albert Conway Schnickelfritz.


Albert Conway Schnickelfritz stared into the night from his stool behind the counter. It was nearly eleven p.m. and the snow falling onto the road had not been disturbed for some time. Underneath the pale-yellow glow of the gas station’s sign, it swirled on its way to the cold ground. The radio next to him played Christmas carols, not because he wanted to listen to them, but there was nothing else that would tune in, and the old tubed television that normally entertained him at night had broken just two hours before. It was Christmas Eve, he had no employees to watch the station, and no stores were open.
     He reached to the shelf below the cash register, picked the freshly opened can of beer from it, and took a deep swig. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and burped in Eartha Kitt’s direction as she begged her Santa to hurry down the chimney.
     At seventy-four years of age, Albert was the sole proprietor of the gas station and auto repair shop. He had few repeat customers. They were mostly locals near his own age that came in when their thirty-year-old jalopy needed an oil change or when they became bored and needed an excuse to get out of the house. Others were kids coming in for soda pop, candy, or barely-digestible pastries. He loathed them all, but needed their cash to live on. He neither welcomed them nor wished them to come again.
     The road beneath his lighted sign was a remnant of Route 66, and like it, the town in which he lived had been bypassed by the interstate decades before. Like he did most nights, he stared at the road from his stool and smiled without humor. The strip of pavement, now covered by fresh snow, was his, as if it were a bridge and he was its troll. It was cold in the shop, which was by design, for electricity was expensive. The thermostat was kept low, as were his spirits.
     Stubbornly, Albert remained at his post, for there was nowhere to go but his tiny home above the shop, where it was cluttered with automobile-related memorabilia, and featured only an old single bed and another old television. Up there, it was no warmer. In extreme cold, he depended on a small electric heater set next to his bed.
     Albert upended the beer and chugged it down. The next singer to dare sing a Christmas carol on his radio got the same treatment as Eartha. He grabbed the next one from the six-pack he had self-pilfered from the refrigerator along the back wall and opened it. He sipped the foam away and slowly rose from his stool. He realized the need for a trip to the bathroom, grabbing the key he kept attached to a cantankerous block of wood which bore a carving of the words, “Return to Attendent”. Albert was as ignorant of spelling as he was the art of washroom maintenance.
     Even at his advanced age, the chill in the unheated washroom propelled him to finish his business quickly for fear of it freezing midstream. Without washing his hands, he returned to work, mentally giving the finger to the sticker on the mirror which bid him to do otherwise.
     When he emerged from the washroom, the small gas station shop was bathed in the brilliance of a car’s headlights. Albert squinted and cussed as he shoved his hands into the pockets of his oil-and-beer-stained puffy vest. He tugged the hood of the sweater he wore underneath from his head and retook his place behind the counter. With an unwashed hand, he smoothed down his thin white hair. He sighed deeply, noting the would-be customer was not there for gasoline, his prime moneymaker. Albert eyed the handgun he kept next to his can of beer, hoping he would not need it, as the car was not that of his handful of regulars and it was beyond their bedtime.
     The car’s lights went out and the hum of the motor ceased. The driver walked into the store a moment later. He was not particularly tall, nor particularly short. The body of the man was not stocky, but had bulk in the chest and arms. The visitor’s jacket was of a tried-and-true military design, and like Albert, he wore a hooded sweatshirt beneath. The hood cast a shadow on the man’s face, and all the old man could see was a bit of nose and the dark facial hair beneath it.
     Albert leaned forward slightly and set his hand on the butt of the revolver as Burl Ives sang about Rudolph. “Evenin’,” he tried to say without emotion, but his voice gave a creak.
     The stranger nodded. “Evenin’,” he returned. He stood there motionless.
     “Help ya?” Albert spoke the words routinely, barely having remembered speaking at all. His hand gripped the pistol tightly as his customer reached up and took the hood down.
     The stranger appeared to be Latino, dark-haired with light brown skin, which was pock-marked along his gaunt cheeks. His bearded chin and mustache was sprinkled with gray, as was the hair on his head, shaven short on the sides and left longer on the top.
     “Are you Al Schnickelfritz?” he asked.
     Two things about the encounter drove Albert to gather the gun from the shelf and hold it at his side, out of sight but ready. The first was the time of night and the fact that he did not know the man with the spiderweb tattoo injected into his neck. Secondly, no one that did not know him could pronounce Schnickelfritz so perfectly without years of practice.
     “What if I am?” Albert replied. It was at this moment that he realized a feeling of familiarity, which confused him, for he had no friends that still lived, nor had any of them been Latino.
     To this question, the visitor spread his hands palm out, hip-high and apart, as if to plead for mercy. “I’m Rafael−” He took a breath. “Rafael Jimenez.”
     “Jimenez?” Albert repeated. His eyes darted from left to right, recognizing the name immediately, but searching for ways that it might not be so. “Miguel Jimenez’s brother?” He brought the revolver in plain sight, aiming for the man’s face. “You don’t move a muscle!”
     Rafael closed his eyes and put his hands further apart. “Please, Mr. Schnickel−”
     “Shut up!” he shouted, and without realizing what followed actually negated the command, he asked a question. “What the hell do you want?! What are you doing here?!” Despite his best efforts, the gun barrel shook.
     “Mr. Schnickelfritz…just let me explain.”
     “How the hell did you find me?!”
     “It took work,” Rafael answered.
     “What are you doing out of prison?”
     “I served my time.”
     “Sir,” Jimenez stressed gently, “I served the entire sentence. Twenty years.”
     “So now what? Here to kill me? Revenge is it?” Schnickelfritz continued, allowing his voice to become shrill.
     “No, sir.”
     “Then what? Why find me…come all this way? Why…after all these years?” Albert pressed. With effort, he slowed his breathing and tried to settle both his nerves and the barrel of the revolver.
     “I’m not here to hurt you. I’m here to make amends.”
     Albert remained silent. His eyes narrowed, and he lifted his chin doubtfully.
     “I…I don’t know. I felt the need to find you.”
     Schnickelfritz swallowed. “You’re not here to revenge your brother?”
     “I promise you, Mr. Schnickelfritz,” Rafael said as he shook his head.
     Neither said a word for several long seconds as the Christmas carols played on. Jimenez brought his hands up and pulled his open jacket and the sweatshirt apart, showing the old man that he was unarmed. He shook them in the air to demonstrate that nothing of substantial weight lay within the pockets.
     Something in Rafael’s eyes told Albert that, for whatever reason, he was either speaking the truth, or planned to kill him with his bare hands. Giving a heavy sigh, he waggled the revolver’s barrel toward the ground before trading it for the can of beer. Taking the hint, Rafael lowered his hands.
     Schnickelfritz returned to his stool and took a drink. Then another. “You know, I don’t even know what to say to you.”
     “I understand,” Jimenez said and placed his hands in his jacket pockets.
     “What are you expectin’, exactly?”
     Jimenez shrugged. “I don’t know. I got out a few months back. I found out what happened when I was still on the inside. I’m sorry about everything.”
     “You’re sorry,” Albert said and this time it was full of emotion, but sounded flat. “I’m the one that shot your brother.”
     “I understand−”
     “You understand nothing!” he screamed with the fury of a lightning strike. Rafael, as chiseled by twenty years of prison life as he was, took a step back and blinked in surprise. “You…damned kids. Damned stupid kids! Came into my place of business to rob me…with a toy gun. A damned toy!”
     Rafael nodded lamely. He had prepared himself to take some grief from the old man. He had thought through the conversation thousands of times in prison. He had envisioned killing the old man, the old man killing him, the two of them embracing and crying together, and so on. None of that energy spent in deep thought had truly prepared him.
     “It was stupid, Mr. Schnickelfritz. I know that,” Jimenez said.
     “Oh, you know that. Good. Great.” Albert downed the next beer, crumpled the can and threw it to the floor. “You have no idea. None at all. Now look at you. Twenty years older. How old are you now?”
     “Yeah, well you look like your seventy-one,” Albert hurled.
     “Well, you look ninety-one,” Rafael returned hotly. “Look, I came here to talk it out.”
     “There’s nothing to talk out! Nothing!”
     “There is!”
     “What?! What’s there to say?!” Schnickelfritz pushed, thinking to retrieve the gun. Instead, he opened his fourth beer of the night.
     “I wanted to…apologize in person,” Rafael said.
     “For trying to knock off my shop? Your brother got killed for it. You got the worse end of the deal.”
     “Maybe,” Jimenez went on, “but you didn’t know the gun was fake.” He eyed the collection of liquor on the wall behind Schnickelfritz. “Look. How about I buy that…that up there? The one with the glasses.” He dug out his wallet from his jeans pocket.
     Albert turned to look up. The bottle of Canadian whisky sat in a purple box, complete with two glasses. He reached up, expecting Jimenez to stab him in the back with a switchblade, but he accepted the risk. He brought the box down and faced Rafael. Without thought, he set it on the counter and said, “Put your wallet away.”
     “Mr. Schnickelfritz−”
     “You wanna drink dontcha?” he said and looked his visitor in the eyes. “Well, fine. Here’s a drink.” He tore open the box and set the two glasses on the counter. “You think money means a damn thing anymore? After what’s happened between us…I tell ya, kid, it doesn’t mean squat. Not after what we’ve been through.”
     A lone truck slowly drove by, casting its headlight glow through the window. In a few seconds it was out of sight.
     Albert peeled the plastic from the top of the bottle and filled both glasses halfway. He picked one up and held it as if to propose a toast. He looked to Rafael, then to the glass, and waited. The younger man picked it up.
     “What’ll we drink to?” Albert asked. He could not think of anything appropriate to the situation.   “Life? Death? Forgiveness? Your gettin outta prison? I tell you, Jimenez, I have no idea.”
     Rafael did not know what to say. The possibility of sharing a toast with his brother’s killer had never, not once, occurred to him in the twenty years he spent in prison. In the silence between the men, the Christmas carols on the radio went on, mercilessly commercial-free. At that moment, Bing Crosby was singing about the ones he used to know. For Albert, it was the second time it was played that evening.
     “How about just, Merry Christmas?” Rafael proposed.
     Albert sighed, thinking it an obvious, ridiculous notion. The very thought threatened to infuriate him, but after a moment, he realized there was nothing else. Nothing. He gave a single nod and murmured lowly, “Merry Christmas.”
     Both men took a drink, never taking their eyes from the other. After another couple of sips, and not knowing what else to do, Rafael took a long look over Schnickelfritz’s establishment. He paced while Albert watched warily.
     “This is smaller than your old place back home,” Rafael commented.
     “Yeah, well this is all I could get.”
     Jimenez wandered back toward the counter. “What do you mean?”
     “That shop never earned that much cash, you know. After…after what happened…business sort of dried up. Not immediately, but month after month, when people found I what I did, a lot of ‘em just stayed away.”
     “I’m sorry.”
     “Shut up about it,” Schnickelfritz said glumly. “It wasn’t the first time I’d been held up. It was the reason I had a gun to begin with. That neighborhood was going to hell.”
     Rafael set his empty glass on the counter, expecting nothing. In a blink, Albert had refilled it. He looked beyond the window at the falling snow. It was not a night to drive even slightly intoxicated, but he took it just the same.
     “You know, you had a reputation in the ‘hood,” Jimenez said. “You overcharged people for working on their cars.”
     This struck Schnickelfritz as humorous. “Yeah, I know. People who didn’t know a thing about cars were an easy mark.” He took a drink of the whisky and followed it with beer. “I’ll have you know, my friend,” he said with emphasis on the irony, “I never fixed anything that wasn’t wrong with a person’s car. I may have exaggerated necessity wherever I saw the opportunity, but I never took anyone that couldn’t afford it.”
     “We thought you had money.”
     “That’s no excuse to commit a crime.”
     “Didn’t say it was,” Rafael said and drank some more.
     “It wasn’t your first time knocking off a place either. That all came out in the trial.”
     Jimenez said nothing. He nodded and shrugged.
     Albert retook his stool and continued drinking and listening to the music. He wondered when Jimenez would take his leave. The snow continued to fall, the music continued to play, and the whisky glasses were again refilled.
     “I heard about your divorce,” Rafael said a time later. “And after that, your place closed.”
     “You might call that collateral damage,” Albert replied. “Everything went to hell after your stunt. I haven't seen my wife or my daughter for years.” He regretted his choice of words. An incident that resulted in the death of a minor was so much more than a stunt.
     Rafael swallowed his whisky and set the empty glass down again. This time, there was nothing left to refill it. He leaned across the counter and met Schnickelfritz’s tired, drunk gaze. “I want you to know that I don’t blame you for what happened. I got my brother killed. I disappointed my parents, not you.”
     “I don’t blame you for the failure of the shop or my marriage…or the fact that I’ve driven my daughter away,” Albert replied. “Or the fact that I can’t forget that I killed a child to protect a measly ninety bucks.”
     “That’s all you had?”
     With the whisky now gone, the two fell into an uncomfortable silence once more. More minutes passed by, and Albert stared into the incessantly snowy darkness. “Silent Night” began playing on the radio, sung by a young woman. Abruptly, Albert left his stool and smacked the radio’s off switch.
     “That’s damned enough of that crap,” he grumbled.
     “Well, look, I better go,” Rafael said. He zipped up his sweater and jacket. He slipped his hood onto his head, casting his eyes in shadow once again. “I just needed to talk to you. I hope you understand.”
      At that moment, Albert could not honestly say that he did, but he nodded. After a second, he realized that was all he could think to do. With a nod in return, Rafael Jimenez stepped through the door, bringing the winter breeze into the shop for the moment it took for him to pass through it.
     Albert watched Rafael walk to his car and get inside. The snowfall had become more severe over the short time the man had been in his shop, and the wind had begun to drive it sideways. The clock read five past twelve, closing time. He looked to the empty whisky bottle and hopped to his feet. Although he was too old and too inebriated to run, he burst through his door and went to Rafael’s car. He knocked on the window, which came down a few inches.
     “Hey, you know, it’s a really bad idea to drive,” Albert said over the sound of the idling engine.
     “I’m okay,” Rafael answered.
     In the dim dashboard lights, Albert Schnickelfritz could tell otherwise. Rafael’s eyes were bloodshot, and he appeared exhausted. The snow was driven hard, and the wind made Albert’s bones ache.
     “Don’t try it, the roads are terrible. Come on inside, Rafael,” Albert all but pleaded. “I’m closing the shop and going to bed. There’s a couch.”
     Jimenez thought about it a moment, then decided the old man was right. He shut the car down and followed him back inside.
     Albert showed him to the tiny living space’s couch and, almost as an afterthought, turned the thermostat up to a level more livable. He retired to his room and fell asleep without undressing.


The next morning, Albert Schnickelfritz awoke to sunlight. He lay in bed for a moment until he remembered Rafael Jimenez. The drunken trust he had built was gone, and his aching mind conjured visions of a shop ransacked and a cash register cleaned out. It was just past seven in the morning.
     Rafael was no longer on the couch and the entire floor was too warm. Albert turned the thermostat down and, after a quick trip to the bathroom, rushed downstairs, expecting the worst.
     Poking his head inside the garage where he worked, he noted his tools were undisturbed. A customer’s car, waiting for an alternator, was untouched.
     Albert took a deep breath and entered the store. The empty whisky glasses and bottle were still on the counter, but the box was gone. Through the window, the snowy morning could be seen clearly and Jimenez’s car was gone. Walking around to the register, he found it closed, the money inside also untouched. The remnants of the box were in the garbage can, save for a square torn from it. On the square, Rafael had written a note and left a ten-dollar bill.

Mr. Schnickelfritz,

Thank you for understanding why I wanted to find you. I hope one day you talk to your family again. They’re too important to let go, especially when they are on our minds so much this time of year.

I helped myself to a bottle of orange juice and a snack for the road. Keep the change.

Merry Christmas

Rafael Jimenez

     Albert returned to his apartment and stumbled through his morning, the memory of the previous night and Rafael’s note fresh and clear. He ate a meager breakfast and considered his words.
     It was Christmas morning and historically, a bad day for business along Route 66. The alternator his customer needed would not arrive that day. Seeing no reason to open, Albert sat at his kitchen table and fumbled through his address book. Finding the number he was looking for, he took the receiver from the wall-mounted phone and punched it in.
     The call was answered on the third ring.
     “Um…hi,” Albert said. “Hi, Rhonda. Yeah, it’s me, Albert. Well, I’m just calling to say Merry Christmas.” Her utterance of surprise made him chuckle. “No, it’s really me, Albert. It’s just that I had a visitor to the shop last night that made me think a bit…yes, I had a few, but that’s not the point, Rhonda. Listen, did you hear from our daughter? She’s there? Yes, I’d love to talk to her. Please. Yeah, okay.”
     As he waited for his daughter to come to the phone, Albert Conway Schnickelfritz blushed with a joy he had not experienced in years.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Handing Down a Treasure

For men, I would say that selling a car is something we either do because we love cars, want to experience as many as we possibly can, and are making room for another one, or it can be as painful as giving up a pet for adoption. I can't imagine the second option when it comes to our dachshunds, but we are currently faced with having to sell an old friend.

The old friend of which I speak is our 2001 Subaru Outback, LL Bean. We've had it since 2005, when I did a questionable thing of trading my 2002 Subaru WRX for it, no cash transacted. I did that because for one thing, my wife was not comfortable with the manual transmission and for another, larger reason, the insurance industry kept increasing my premium by $100 or more per year. It made sense, and at the time, we already owned another 2001 Outback, so I was familiar with the model.

The Bean is a marvelous machine. It has leather interior with heated seats, side mirror and windshield wiper defrosters, a 3.0 liter boxer 6, and the sure-footedness of all wheel drive. At the time, it was the second to the top-of-the-line. That was an Outback VDC (Vehicle Dynamics Control) equipped with the same engine and a McIntosh stereo system. These days, VDC as well as traction control comes standard with Limited models.

For two brief years, we owned the two 2001s and were quite happy with them. However, I was tormented with the thought that I had made a mistake in trading my beloved WRX, a pleasurable vehicle in its own right. So, in 2007, we traded in our '01 Limited on a 2005 Outback XT. This fantastic car is a combination of WRX and LL Bean, as it shares the turbo-charged, intercooled power plant with that year's WRX and has the interior trimmings of our friend, the Bean. It's really a successful hybrid of hot rod and taxi cab. Tex Avery would be proud.

If you don't know the cartoon to which I'm referring, Google "Tex Avery One Cab's Family". You won't find it on YouTube.
And so, since 2007, we've had this lineup, these two wonderfully comfortable, fun, and reliable machines. Despite the fact that my wife was never crazy about having two white cars because it made it look like we were driving a corporate fleet, I know she loves them, too. They've never let us down or left us in fear of weather conditions short of severe.

As time goes on, however, things get newer and we get older. My mother-in-law, inspired by our good fortune, purchased a 2015 Outback 3.6R Limited and we fell in love with that one as well. She's lent it to us for a couple of road trips and it's even more comfortable and capable than ours. One can truly drive some twelve hours or more and not feel beat up or sore from the ride.

So, just a couple of weeks ago, my wife purchased a 2017 Outback 3.6R Touring. It's even more amazing, and with it's safety features it really does put one at ease, though not too much at ease that I want to take my hands off the wheel and wing it. It's still a driver's car, and with its Java colored leather, it's one sexy beast. There will be great times ahead for many, many years to come.

This addition to the family has kicked the Bean out of the garage and, as we are but two people with no children to hand it down to, I found someone that wants to give it to his sixteen-year-old daughter. I've spent some quality time with the Bean over the last couple of weeks. I took it for an oil change and a coolant flush. I replaced the original radiator hoses and windshield wipers while there. I'll be damned if I'm going to hand over a car to a new driver and have her freak out about a white cloud coming out of the grillwork, among others things like visibility in rain. Let her learn the car first. I vacuumed and cleaned the interior, polished the fog out of the headlight lenses, and cleaned the K&N reusable air filter. I've spent many long moments with the old girl, remembering, admiring, and yes, even tearing up a little. Hell, I've even cleaned out the black gunk that has built up inside the refueling door. After all, my wife and I have owned Outbacks of the 2000-2004 generation for sixteen years. It will be very strange to not have one around.

I will miss the Bean's elegant simplicity, the low-tech, but-not-at-the-turn-of-the-century interior, the quirky, two-paneled sunroof/moonroof combination. I will miss its shape, its color, the weird way the passenger side sun visor clips the rearview mirror, turning it askew. I will miss that crazy, mysteriously unlabeled button on the radio that tunes it to the NOAA weather channels. This feature disappeared with the 2005 redesign. I will miss also, the strangely designed rear headrest for the middle passenger in the back seat that blocked the light sensor in the auto-dimming mirror. We had to remove it to get the dimmer to work better when trucks pulled up behind us at a red light at night. That was an issue in both our 2001s and it makes me smile. Crap, I'll even miss that button for the rear-defogger that sticks and has done so since I got it.

Even as I write this, the buyer has texted me and arranged to come by on Wednesday afternoon to pick it up. I have to say that I'm very, very sad to see my Bean go, and I'm filled with a desperate anxiety, so much more intense than when I sold the first car I ever owned, my 1970 Chevrolet Caprice back in 2005. I had owned that car for sixteen years as well.

Times change and so do we all, but sometimes, for us car loving guys, it's a heartbreaking thing to let the special ones go. I just hope I don't break down in front of the guy who's buying her. I'll never hear the end of it from the boys at the pub.

"One sunny mornin' we'll rise I know
And I'll meet you further on up the road" ~ Bruce Springsteen

Take care and thank you for reading, everyone.

Frederick H. Crook

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Indefatigable Schnickelfritzes, Part III: Robert Strikes Again & the Demise of Siegfried and Leopold

It appears, friends, that we can attribute another atrocious invention to the devious and sociopathic inventor, Robert Downey Schnickelfritz. You may recall from part one, that he is the inventor of the Schnickelfritz Shackle, that almost impossible to remove security device attached to small electronics and appliances.

            I have discovered that it is Robert that is responsible for those annoying televisions that have popped up on top of gas pumps or cashier stations at many grocery stores. Indeed, these devilish conveyances of unnecessary information and advertisement are his doing, his creation. From the beginning, I’ve detested these damned things, preferring to refuel my car from the outermost row of pumps, unprotected from the elements, to avoid the distorted, blaring noise of the television speaker of the Schnickelfritz Auxiliary Outdoor Boob Tube, as I have decided to name it. The devices located within the hallowed walls of my grocery store employ the Schnickelfritz Auxiliary Indoor Boob Tube for obvious reasons.

            It takes all of my mental concentration to tune out the indoor model, as all but the automated lanes are equipped with this maniacal media-spewing mind control device. I refuse to use the automated lanes for the greater good, as I firmly believe that to do so contributes to the loss of jobs. I will not be party to the replacement of manned, or womanned, as it is more often found, checkout stations.

            Somehow, someway, Robert Downey Schnickelfritz had convinced the corporations of these institutions, if not many others as well, that the American people are not soundly bombarded with gibberish from news broadcasts, sports clips, or advertisements as they wait for their fuel tanks to be replenished or their grocery needs fulfilled. I do believe that his great uncle, Adel (who would have been given the first name Adolf had it not been for a certain someone who shall not be named here in his entirety. Leave it to one evil murderous dictator to ruin an otherwise perfectly good name. By the way, have you noticed that you cannot get through one day, not a single solitary day, where the evil murderous dictator who shall not be named in his entirety, though it begins with Adolf, is not referred to somewhere by the internet, cable television, or certain radio programs? Now that’s an evil murderous dictator) Agamemnon Schnickelfritz helped to carry their case to the billionaires that run such networks that Robert’s creation was a necessity.

            Adel Agamemnon Schnickelfritz is among the most successful of the great clan (American branch) and has the ear of many members of the illuminati, some of which own a myriad of the purveyances of social media networks, and the various methods of television transmission, radio, etc. It is Adel who is the most likely to have helped bend the ear of the right people in power to provide the material for these insane tools of commercial media. On this, I will dig further.

            At this point, I will shift our focus on the Schnickelfritz family to another notable incident in American history. I turn the clock back to the year 1876 and the historic Battle of the Little Bighorn, where the twins, Siegfried Adolf (the name had not yet been tarnished by the evil murderous dictator who shall not be named in his entirety) and Leopold Armands Schnickelfritz. Both were born of farmers, Alvin and Michelina Schnickelfritz, both of whom had migrated from Germany and settled in Ohio just before the American Civil War.

            Siegfried and Leopold, to avoid the hard work of farming, it was said, joined the U.S. Army when they came of age in the late 1860’s, missing the Civil War entirely. After such a decimating war, it was thought by the Schnickelfritz twins that it would be the war to end all wars, therefore, they assumed soldiering would be the safest vocation for the both of them. Since we know that no Schnickelfritz has much beyond average intelligence, it comes as no surprise just how far off the mark they were.

            Over time, both Siegfried and Leopold attained the rank of sergeant and has it happens, were attached to the 7th Cavalry and eventually, fell into the clutches, or the command, depending on your point of view, of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer. On the infamous campaign against the indigenous people of this country, Siegfried was assigned as a liaison to Custer’s Crow scouts.

            Leopold was assigned to Major Marcus Reno, serving under Custer as well, but his task was that of navigation of the Reno’s detachment as he claimed to know the area. However, it is suspected that Leopold mistook Montana for Missouri, which was his lifelong habit according to the diaries of his wife and sister (two separate women), and misdirected Reno’s men, making them late and out of position for Custer’s “Hammer and Anvil” tactic, where Custer’s men were to charge the Sioux encampment and send them fleeing into Reno’s men. This misdeed of Schnickelfritz, together with an underestimation of the great size of the Sioux encampment exacerbated their suddenly dire situation.

            No one, not Custer, not Reno, and certainly not the befuddling and incompetent Schnickelfritz twins had ever dreamed that they would face such a large number of Sioux warriors, which historians estimate being anywhere from 3,500 to 7,000 warriors.

            Upon reaching the crest of a hill overlooking the encampment, Sergeant Siegfried Schnickelfritz scanned the lands ahead through his binoculars, which he was notorious for not cleaning. It was noted in a notebook kept by a fellow cavalryman (who was later felled near the Lt. Colonel’s body) that Siegfried pointed into distance to the southwest and called to Custer, “Look, sir! There they are over there!”

            At this point, the Lt. Colonel shouted words to the effect of, “Hurrah, boys! We’ve got them!” At his order, the column charged and Siegfried, who had been given a clean handkerchief to wipe his dirty lenses, realized that he had made an error and misidentified a tree line as being the Sioux encampment, chased after his fellow cavalrymen, screaming, “Wait! They’re just trees! They’re just trees!”

            Custer’s column, having been detected by the Sioux force, was flanked, surrounded, and slaughtered, while a protracted battle led by an embattled Major Reno and a Captain Benteen ensued.

            Fortunately for the Army, neither Siegfried nor Leopold survived the battle. Unfortunately for the Native Americans, and perhaps due to the incompetence of the Schnickelfritz twins, this slaughter brought about an overbearing and over-the-top retaliation against the Sioux. Had Custer been issued superior men, he may have seen the imminent danger all of them were facing and could have avoided the fight altogether.

            The world will never know for sure. Beware of those Schnickelfritzes, friends.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Indefatigable Schnickelfritzes, Part II: The Inflammable Schnickelfritzes

It should be stated at this point that no Schnickelfritz in the unsettlingly mediocre history of the Schnickelfritz family was ever a member of the Nazi party. While there were quite a number of Schnickelfritzes in the German armed forces throughout their history, even during the Second World War, none were members of the Nazi party or members of the SS.

            Indeed, not a Schnickelfritz in history ever amounted to anything of higher rank than Konteradmiral Dietrich Giuseppe Schnickelfritz, who served Kaiser Wilhelm II in the Imperial German Navy until 1918 for rather obvious reasons, as was covered in part one of this series.

            In fact, other than the unfortunate Luetnant Franz Ferdinand Schnickelfritz, who served in the Luftwaffe in World War Two, not a single Schnickelfritz that has chosen to serve in any form of military and/or police force, ever advanced beyond the ranks of non-commissioned officers. The history books are littered with lists of ‘Sergeant Schnickelfritzes’ having served in some capacity with nations all over the world, making my research of this family quite difficult.

            Now, I know what you’re thinking, but this time, I have to tell you, good reader, that you’re wrong. You are assuming that poor Franz Ferdinand Schnickelfritz was named after the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, who was assassinated in 1914, which essentially kicked of World War I. This is simply untrue. Also, it would be incorrect to assume that his father, Kaspar Joachim Schnickelfritz, a semi-talented professional harpsicord player that never achieved national fame in Germany, named him after a college friend, because Kaspar Joachim never attended a university. Franz was given the middle name Ferdinand by his mother, Juanita, as Ferdinand was her father’s name.

            Kaspar and Juanita Schnickelfritz lived in Potsdam from 1920 until the Russian counterattack at the end of the war. Franz was born in 1925, and joined the Luftwaffe once he was of age, as he had always been fascinated with airplanes.

            It must be stressed that Franz looked upon the Nazi party with disdain, for by his own nature, Franz Ferdinand Schnickelfritz held no hatred for the Jewish people. In fact, there are many branches in the Schnickelfritz family tree that are completely Jewish, while a great number of others share an array of other religions. This seems to prove that, at the very least, there are darn few bigots in the Schnickelfritz family line, which appears to be the one consistency we can attribute to them. Franz Ferdinand Schnickelfritz regarded the Swastika painted on the tail of his plane with mirth, as you and I would with that impossible-to-remove dealer sticker on the bumper of a brand new car.

            However, Franz Ferdinand Schnickelfritz was indeed a warlike individual, hence his having joined the Luftwaffe. By June 6th, 1944, Franz had registered three kills in his Messerschmitt Bf-109, two of which were rumored to be fraudulent, having actually been carried out by wingmen that Franz fought alongside, and were shot down and killed in the same battle. Franz simply took credit for his deceased colleague’s kills and moved on. The first of his kills was a British transport plane, already set afire by another, unidentified Bf-109 pilot.

            At this point, you may recall that I referred to this particular Schnickelfritz as “poor Franz Ferdinand Schnickelfritz”. Well, you may not feel the same about him when I tell you why I said that.

            Due to the Fuhrer’s insistence that the Allied landings were going to occur in Calais, France, a city on the northern tip of the country, not Normandy to the southwest, most German tank and air units were moved there. This left only a scattering of available planes for defense of the beaches of Normandy.

            As misfortune would have it, or fortune, depending on your point of view, Luetnant Franz Ferdinand Schnickelfritz was one of three fighter pilots in the area. As his little group was informed of the mighty Allied armada pounding the German defenses, Franz and his two comrades scrambled for their aircraft. You would think, given the typical run of bad luck for anyone named Schnickelfritz that his plane failed to start, but nay, it did. Those Germans really do make good stuff. However, in Franz’s and his comrades’ haste, it was forgotten that his Bf-109 had last been used for reconnaissance.

            It was, therefore, unarmed.

            As he followed right along behind his two fellow airmen, Franz Ferdinand Schnickelfritz fell in line and strafed the enemy soldiers on the beach, only succeeding in capturing them on film every time he pulled the trigger. He did this not once, but thrice, before realizing that he seemed to have no effect on the soldiers below. This was most likely because, firstly, Franz was by no means a bright individual, and secondly, he had a habit of belting the German National Anthem as he piloted his missions, much to the annoyance of fellow fliers whenever he left his radio’s microphone keyed, which was the majority of the time. After three passes over the beaches of Normandy, all three airplanes had taken damage from ground fire and Franz’s small band turned tail for home.

            With his plane sputtering a bit, Franz throttled down and decided to kill some flight time to smoke a cigar. He cranked back the canopy just enough to ventilate the cockpit, but because of said cigar smoke, initially failed to notice the odor of fuel seeping inside. After some minutes, however, he did realize the problem, as according to the historical report of his fellow airmen, his singing of the German National Anthem halted mid-verse, followed shortly thereafter by the ironically Churchill-sized cigar falling from his mouth to the floor of the cockpit.

            Luetnant Franz Ferdinand Schnickelfritz’s Bf-109 exploded into an untenable ball of fire, thus ending his career of non-threatening aerial photography.

            Changing focus to more recent events, it has been discovered that Juan Ignacio Valdez-Schnickelfritz, a Deutschmexicaner, or Germano-Mexicano, has recently met with an unfortunate end, some twenty miles west of his home in Durango, Mexico.

            It may come as a surprise to some of you that there is a history of German migration into Mexico beginning in the 1800’s and blossoming after the ends of both World Wars. Juan Ignacio Valdez-Schnickelfritz was a product, or perhaps more accurately, a byproduct of that post-World War II influx of Schnickelfritzes.

            Born in July 1972, Juan Ignacio is the son of Helmut Tomás Schnickelfritz, the unremarkable member of an equally unremarkable Mariachi band, and Matilda Harriet Valdez, the seamstress for the band, who married in June of 1972. Juan Ignacio, despite the good influences and intentions of his honest and hard-working parents, was a bandito from the start.

            Juan Ignacio was in and out of jails throughout his life, serving many sentences for crimes including drug dealing, theft, armed robbery, and the illegal importation, duplication with overdubs in Español, and obviously enough, the subsequent exportation of copyrighted American soap operas, episodes of the Phil Donahue Show, and those of The Richard Simmons Show, back into the United States. All were made available in VHS and Beta formats.

            Upon his latest release from prison, his parents begged him to turn an honest leaf and earn a proper living. Promising them that he would, he searched for, found, and purchased, a twenty-seven-year-old GMC pickup truck equipped with a 500-gallon tank.

            Using this vehicle, he promptly went into business for himself, following a trend of entrepreneurship that he had learned from a fellow former inmate. That is, of locating pipelines of oil belonging to Pemex, a Mexican Oil Company, tapping into it, and liberating the contents. He then made contact with some old friends, who paid him a premium for the liquid loot.

            All was going well for Juan Ignacio Valdez-Schnickelfritz, until his third run, when his truck’s battery died. Having a slightly higher than average intelligence for a Schnickelfritz, Juan Ignacio had acquired a portable jump starter from a local mechanic’s shop, unbeknownst to the shop’s owner, and connected it. When this, too, failed to start the truck, Juan Ignacio incorrectly assumed that it was the fault of the portable jump starter, and angrily tossed the leads onto the oil-soaked ground surrounding the truck.

            The ensuing explosion disintegrated the truck, the portable jumper, and one annoyed and mischievous Juan Ignacio Valdez-Schnickelfritz. Fortunately, the inferno that followed was nowhere near population and no one else was hurt.

            More to come as the Schnickelfritz Investigations continue.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Indefatigable Schnickelfritzes

The Schnickelfritz family originated, as one might guess, from the European country of Germany. The family name goes as far back in time as the country itself, and has had members that have stood on the fringe of meteoric greatness and others that have been famous for their indescribably unfortunate, many times tragic, failures. They are not unlike many families from any other country in the world, with the possible exception being the tendency of the male Schnickelfritzes to be quite diverse in their displays and practices of anti-social behavior.

            Over the centuries, there have occurred many male Schnickelfritzes, through natural means of human proliferation. If any historians were to show interest in the family line, and fortunately for us, until now, none have, it would be revealed that their personality characterizations can range from being called mildly weird, escalate right through the various levels of sociopathy, and in the most extreme, come to a screeching halt somewhere short of violent psychopathy. As most of the male Schnickelfritzes possess a reasonable level of unintelligence, they have, as yet, only affected human history in some innocuous ways, though some of the more successful have recently had their share of the attention from some influential members of what is known as the illuminati.

            As an example of Schnickelfritz near-greatness, there is this notably historical incident. In the early days of the twentieth century, the dreadnought, an ocean-going vessel of immense firepower for that time, was an item to be possessed by a navy if a country was to be taken seriously by other countries. These warships were outfitted with varying numbers of guns sharing the same caliber, all as large as could be made at the time of their design, and set upon the waters of the world to engage in the act of ‘representin’, as youngsters of America often call it these days.

            The building of ever faster, more heavily armed, and phallically menacing dreadnoughts continued the naval arms race, primarily carried out between the British and, you guessed it, the Germans.

            Serving the Imperial German Navy from the late nineteenth century through the end of World War I, when the service was scrapped right along with him, Konteradmiral Dietrich Giuseppe Schnickelfritz earned his rank by being the top plumbing engineer and the inventor of the Schnickelfritz Absperrventil, or shut-off valve. This device was routinely used in multiplicity aboard all German warships.

            In his capacity as the Imperial German Naval Konteradmiral of Sanitär, or plumbing, Dietrich became close friends to both Rear-Admiral Alfred Von Tirpitz and Kaiser Wilhelm II, the Emperor of Germany. Dietrich was so highly thought of by his friends Al and Wil that, in 1908, the next dreadnought to be commissioned was to be named after Dietrich. This did not come to pass, however, as it was brought up by other naval advisors that SMS Schnickelfritz was an awful lot of letters to splash across a ship’s hull. Furthermore, at the same time, it was discovered that the famed Schnickelfritz Absperrventil was of a defective design, causing many catastrophic failures that are often described in the historic logs of many a German vessel as “epic explosions” resulting in “unsanitary conditions”, to put it mildly. This became such a common occurrence that the phrase, “Vee haff been Schnickelfritzed, Kapitän!” was announced over countless intercoms.

            In light of this unfortunate outcome, the vessel was named the SMS Schleswig-Holstein instead.

            Moving on to the here and now, we focus on Robert Downey Schnickelfritz, great-grandson of Konteradmiral Dietrich Giuseppe Schnickelfritz and a resident of a small town in the Midwestern section of the United States, which shall go nameless for now. In spite of what you may deduce, Robert was not named in reverence of the American actor Robert Downey, Jr. As it turns out, Robert’s father, Gerhardt Michel Schnickelfritz, had a best friend he had attended college with by the name of Downey. If you have not heard of Gerhardt, it is no wonder, as he is the same Gerhardt Michel Schnickelfritz, the failed stop-motion clay artist, whose Christmas-related children’s specials were considered so terrible in every respect by a certain network’s executives, that not only were they never aired, but the production company purposely detonated the dozen-or-so film reels on the set of an undisclosed episode or episodes of Gunsmoke.

            Robert Downey Schnickelfritz, in all aspects, appears to be a slightly below average American Caucasian male. He is five and a half feet tall, possibly diabetic, definitely obese, and suffering from male pattern baldness that indeed does not seem to follow any pattern at all. His hairline is receded from his forehead unevenly, is hairless at the crown of his tiny skull, and is even missing a patch above and behind his right ear.

            Robert, Bob to his friend, is married, unexpectedly enough from his appearance, and oddly, has produced 2.73 children. The .73rd boy is politely considered ‘slow’ by every educational professional he has ever met, but is normal in almost all other respects, is a kind, thoughtful boy, and is liked by a small number of his schoolmates.

            Robert is still to be considered one of the more devious and sociopathic Schnickelfritzes in existence, as he is, in addition to being an inventor of a few annoying and multifaceted devices, a freelance traffic flow advisor. Over the past few decades, he has been hired by an unknown number of townships to help synchronize the traffic lights at intersections. Chances are, you’ve been a victim of his as you sit in your car, staring at the red light or turn arrow that refuses to change.

            By all accounts, Robert prefers to do this work in the wintertime, so he can wear his military surplus parka, in olive drab, of course, and observe traffic at the side of the road from behind a scarf and sunglasses. He observes the unsuspecting, waiting drivers carefully, marking the passing time on a stopwatch and keeps notes as to when a person becomes visibly annoyed, and whether the annoyance manifests itself in outbursts of body or verbal language. He then uses the remote to change the lights to green and awaits the next set of vehicles. After taking a more than adequate number of samples, in all directions, it must be mentioned, he calculates his results and comes up with an average time for each light’s settings.

            What makes Robert Downey Schnickelfritz truly a sociopath is that he adds ten seconds.

            I know this half-wit has been through my own town, as I am a driver, too, and am often overheard by my passengers as I grumble, “F**kin’ Bob.” It is at this point the light turns green.

            One of Schnickelfritz’s inventions can be found locally as well and I have encountered an aspect to the device I had not noticed before. This past Christmas, while shopping for electronics and small appliances at your local chain retailer, you may have noticed a thin plastic band that crisscrosses over the random boxes of products. At the front and back of the box are small, round devices. One is a lock, the other is a motion detector. On the surface, this rather innocent device passes itself off as a simple and quite understandably necessary anti-theft measure. What I have not noticed until this morning is that these devices tick. Walk back and forth in front of them to activate the motion sensor, pick up the box and put your ear to it. It's quite unsettling.

            A clear characteristic of the inventor’s disdain for his fellow human is in its difficulty of removal. I have witnessed, on a great number of my shopping trips to various places, many a cashier fail in countless attempts to unlock the electronic critter from the product, wasting much time, causing the purchaser, cashier, and the other people in line great irritance, as we all wait for a manager that has somehow mastered removing the Schnickelfritz Shackle, as I have come to call it.

            Whenever I see this device on a product as I wait in line at a store, I look around the place for the mysterious little inventor, Mister Robert Downey Schnickelfritz, but I have yet to see him. I fully expect the find the man somewhere close someday, making notes on how to further menace society.

            Beware of the Schnickelfritz family, my friends. It is a large one and I will continue my investigations on their goings on. I have made a list of Robert Downey Schnickelfritz’s brothers, uncles, and cousins, and will have more on them soon.