Tuesday, October 23, 2018
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
23 October 2018
Digital Nomad: Wandering Around the Mediterranean is changing its name to Tunisia Explained. The new URL is here: https://www.facebook.com/TunisiaExplained/.
The reason for this is Walker Rowe, the publisher and sole writer, is no longer wandering around the Mediterranean. Instead, he is settling in Tunisia. So the name change reflects the new focus of the blog, which is to write about religion, culture, and events Tunisia.
Sunday, June 25, 2017
The armchair sports fanatic has historically anticipated his young daughter’s birthdays with tremendous energy and enthusiasm. Regardless of their size, the parties held in her honour have included all of the customary fun associated with such events: a cake with the appropriate number of candles burning during its presentation in a darkened room, guests singing happy birthday to the too-excited-because-she’s-the-centre-of-attention birthday girl (which nobody begrudges at her tender age), an assortment of gifts of varying sizes, fun games like pass the parcel and musical statues, and all the laughter and noise of such an occasion. When an important sporting fixture has coincided with his daughter’s birthday (or the day of her party, which, for reasons of convenience, have all previous years been held on a Saturday and which thus have rendered clashes with important sporting fixtures unavoidable), it hasn’t been inconvenient for the armchair sports fanatic to watch such an event later in the day, “as live”, after avoiding the media, which, he’d suggest, have taken/takes great delight in spoiling such occasions for people like himself by announcing the results (with the exception of the BBC’s television newscasters, who temper their own announcements by suggesting to the viewer that, “If you don’t want to know the results then look away now,” though who fail on each occasion to recommend the viewer cover his or her ears or perhaps lower the volume or press mute to avoid hearing the results). The armchair sports fanatic has become wise to this and now goes to great lengths to avoid all news bulletins, including those on the radio, when planning to watch something “as live” after the event. Measures of avoidance have included and continue to include the deliberate pre-selection of CD or AUX mode on his car’s stereo to prevent any unintentional hearing of updates/results or live commentaries upon entering his car; the tapping with a key of a front window to establish whether or not his wife has arrived home before he, in order to warn her of his imminent entry (she’ll have been briefed of his plan to watch “as live” sport during a discussion over breakfast re their day’s schedule) and his need for her to switch off any news/sports channel/broadcast which is liable at any time to announce results or latest scores, and which precaution often requires him, due to the contrast between internal and external light conditions, to press his face close to the window and cup his hands over furrowed brows to see if his wife is in view, a task which is itself full of the risk of seeing any spoiling information displayed on screen at the time of such a manoeuvre due to their TV being in full view when looking in through the front window; and the avoidance where possible of turning at an inopportune moment (e.g. whilst stationary at traffic lights) to gaze for no explicable reason through a public house’s large window only to see an important goal being scored on a TV screen of a size almost equal to the window’s. The armchair sports fanatic’s daughter’s previous birthday celebrations have been attended by grandparents and aunties and uncles and their attached and (in some instances) variously fathered cousins. Neighbours have stopped by and surprised the armchair sports fanatic and his wife with their generosity and warmth, the same of which can be said about work associates both current and past. With his daughter in her sixth year and attending reception class and getting on with all that involves, like making an arm-long list of new friends, the armchair sports fanatic has wondered how big an event her upcoming birthday party (henceforth known as The Party) might be, and has already deduced that in addition to the aforementioned fun and games associated with such an event, it’s possible to add—as a result of her arm-long list of new friends attending The Party—the incessant knocking on his front door by new arrivals and banging of it shut by those leaving and all the accompanying commotion caused by his daughter’s young guests arriving at and leaving The Party at arbitrary times dictated by their (i.e., the young guests’) escorts’ work/social diary. The Party threatens to disrupt the armchair sports fanatic’s planned-weeks-in-advance TV sports schedule more than any other event he can recall (i.e., interruptive event, not sporting event), perhaps with the exception of his mother-in-law’s arrival on his doorstep, suitcase in hand, on the first morning of the 2005 Ashes test match series, of which he managed to watch most despite her fondness for such daytime TV delights as <i>Homes Under Hammer and The Jeremy Kyle Show</i>, about which she hinted between complaints re her cricket-induced boredom during an extended stay for which reason the armchair sports fanatic has forgotten but which, he’d assume, would have been related to stress caused by one or other of his wife’s siblings’ latest melodramas or misdeeds or the recent or imminent arrival or departure of yet another of her (i.e., the armchair sports fanatic’s mother-in-law’s) internet-met “friends”. In the first instance (i.e., of his planned-weeks-in-advance TV sports schedule’s disruption), the armchair sports fanatic’s own team will play a vital fixture that afternoon—important both in the sense they’ll be playing against one of their championship rivals <i>and</i> that it’s against their local rivals. Following this there is scheduled a rugby union international between England and Australia, an event the armchair sports fanatic feels unmissable due to the intensity of rivalry between and equal standing shared by the two competing nations, and also due to his love of the sport, which, he feels, is replacing football as his favourite.<sup>1</sup> Growing preference for the union game over football has emerged since the armchair sports fanatic noted and appreciated the differing spirits in which the two games are played; i.e., that one is played by teams who are happy to and encouraged to con and cheat their way to victory at all costs, and some of whose highest paid competitors can be so far detached from reality that by the time they experience any modicum of success on a professional level they’ve forgotten why they loved and therefore played the game in the first instance; and the other (i.e., rugby union) is played by men who due to the physical nature of the game put their bodies in harm’s way with unswerving loyalty to their cause and who, despite the aggression they display on the field, find it natural and easy to understand the concepts of fair play and sporting behaviour and that they should respect the referee’s decision at all times, so, when they’re on the receiving end of a poor decision or feel unfairly penalised in a fifty-fifty call, they don’t display the sort of petulance most often displayed on playgrounds by children who can’t have their own way, or, more pertinently, on football pitches. In addition to the differing spirit of the two games, the armchair sports fanatic also finds rugby union the more stimulating spectacle due to its multitude of technical laws and disciplines which must be learned before one can understand all of the game’s nuances and be critical of its competitors with an expert eye, and, he thinks, the reason it has taken so long for him to fall in love with the game is that only recently has he taken the time to learn and appreciate these technical laws and disciplines in all their detail. Planning to watch multiple sporting events having committed to conflicting social and/or work activities hasn’t presented a problem in the past, but the armchair sports fanatic’s wife’s recent decision (with her husband’s approval) to this year hold The Party in an appropriately-sized-for-the-occasion function room at The Sir Henry Newbolt—a public house in Bilston known well for both its Saturday afternoon football crowd’s pre-match drinking and singing session and its multitude of disproportionately large HD TV screens on which live sporting action can be seen twenty-four hours a day, every day—presents a problem for the armchair sports fanatic in his watching multiple sporting events and attending, in this case, a social activity. The Sir Henry is in its very essence a sports bar; alongside its showing of all sport broadcast on the domestic market (both subscription and free to air) and of much sport which isn’t broadcast in the U.K. but which can be viewed via foreign satellite installations, the legalities of which the armchair sports fanatic is uncertain, The Sir Henry shows legally a plethora of sports from around the world. At varying times of the year and often in the small hours when true aficionados gather, red-eyed and yawning, it’s possible to watch regular or postseason fixtures from the NFL, MLS, MLB, NBA, and NHL. Following such franchise fests—as the armchair sports fanatic is wont to call them due to the structure of American sporting competitions and their (i.e., the sports’ organising bodies’) tendency to relocate franchises from one city or state to another and import new teams into cities or states bereft of their original teams, and The Sir Henry’s landlord’s tendency to show a variety of these fixtures through the night due to their being little other sport available to broadcast at the time (save for a major event in the southern hemisphere, e.g. the recent 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil<sup>™</sup>)—breakfast may be taken against a background distraction of the A-League, J.League<sup>™</sup>, or K League, if one is inclined to follow Australasian and/or Asian football championships, and if not then perhaps even a kabbadi event, which he (i.e., The Sir Henry’s landlord) has starting showing since realising he can attract great numbers of the local Indian and Pakistani communities, who are as vociferous in supporting their chosen kabbadi teams as they are on returning later in the week to support their football team. The problem The Party presents to the armchair sports fanatic isn’t one of his being unable to watch the matches, which are by chance timed so that one ends as the other begins. Nor is it that both matches require their being watched “as live” after the celebrations and laughter have died down and his daughter has retired for the evening, and after his parents and parent(s)-in-law and their (i.e., the parent[s]-in-law’s) partner(s) have left for home, and after his wife has ceased to talk with true excitement about a dramatic musical chairs/statues finale, deciding eventually as the armchair sports fanatic checks his watch again that she too will retire for the evening. It’s more that, in the instance of both fixtures, the commentaries will be audible via the too-loud surround sound systems in use on The Sir Henry Newbolt’s multitude of disproportionately large HD TV screens and the cheers and non-coincidental hushes of the swelled ranks of patrons will doubtless give the game(s) away. It has crossed his mind, even several weeks in advance, that it might be necessary to make more visits to the gents and to the smoking shelter—despite being strong of bladder and a strict non-smoker—than is good for him in order to avoid the communication of on-field developments by both commentary and crowd noise/reaction. On reflection, which, the armchair sports fanatic has discovered over time, is often the best way to plan such avoid-the-result(s)-at-all-costs exercises, i.e., that he shouldn’t execute such plans on impulse, and instead only do so after weighing up the pros and cons of each available option, a sensible alternative would be, he supposes, for him to ensconce himself into the (comparative) comfort and chaos of The Party and immerse himself into the festivities and under no circumstance head out to the gents or to the smoking shelter, for to do so would mean running the gauntlet of the oversized HD TV screens and their too-loud surround sound systems and the cheering and/or quieted and no doubt beer-soaked crowds glued to their (i.e., the TVs’) technicoloured, mood-swinging, atmosphere-altering, allegiance-testing, almost mind-controlling output. Should the armchair sports fanatic plan to use The Party as a protective bubble from which he won’t leave, he might, as The Party approaches, ponder his avoiding the men’s room from before the function’s start until after the final guests depart, or even until after clearing up of the function room is complete, a task for which his wife volunteered in order to reduce hire costs but which will give the armchair sports fanatic further reason to stay inside (the function room) and thus further serve his sports avoidance. He’ll realise this will be a lengthy period indeed without visiting the gents, especially given his estimated consumption of soft drinks throughout the afternoon, and, given his methodical planning of necessary avoidance measures re happenstance discovery of latest or final scores, it’s a safe bet he’ll on at least one occasion simulate forthcoming events by timing for how long he’s able to avoid visiting the gents whilst drinking regularly soft drinks and remaining both comfortable and dry, and whilst comfort won’t be high on his agenda, remaining dry will. The irony of no longer needing to tolerate the incessant knocking on his front door by new arrivals and banging shut of it by those leaving, and all the accompanying fuss and commotion caused by guests arriving at and leaving The Party at arbitrary times due to the young attendees’ arrival and departure times being dictated by the work/social diary of their escort(s), isn’t lost on the armchair sports fanatic. He’d much rather suffer this in return for being able to remain in his own albeit temporarily ransacked and noisy home, in which the TV could remain switched off and its remote hidden, batteries removed in any case, until after the final guest had departed, the birthday girl had said her goodnights and given out her loves and kisses, and the house was once more quiet and suitable for watching “as live” sport. Despite unrestrained enjoyment, in the moment, of a diverse array of sports, the armchair sports fanatic finds many of the events to which he’s drawn an inconvenience, even after considering their (the events’) welcoming distraction from or anaesthetising of work or family life. Take, for example, the recent Ryder Cup, an event full of passion, drama, and tension, which swings to and fro and back again and which often produces a nerve-wracking climax (for the biased observer, which, in this case, the armchair sports fanatic is); each day’s competition lasts around ten hours and is broadcast in its entirety. Most people would struggle, if bother trying in the first instance, to be able (or allowed) to watch golf from dawn until dusk over three days. For the armchair sports fanatic there’ll be business matters to tend to (for which laptops and email and mobile phones will all prove useful so long as any meetings and site visits have been completed prior to the event’s commencement) and weekend mundanities such as grocery shopping and gardening chores which, in September (when the Ryder Cup occurred), had been postponed throughout the summer due in no small part to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ and Glasgow 2014 XX Commonwealth Games, and this despite the armchair sports fanatic’s long held and unmoveable opinion of the Commonwealth Games being a second rate event, a poor relation to the Olympics, an anachronism from a bygone era which includes the competing under their own flags of Crown Dependencies and British Overseas Territories which mark for the uninformed observer the vastness of Great Britain’s former empire.<sup>2</sup> There are times when the armchair sports fanatic cannot differentiate between his feeling bad over leaving chores unattended or incomplete and his feeling guilty that his behaviour suggests to his daughter such devotion to television is in any way acceptable, healthy, good, or normal. Awareness of his fanaticism has helped the armchair sports fanatic understand what he has come to know as his addiction, a term he feels appropriate only at intervals (e.g. low points) as he’s sure he could cope without his regular and frequent fix of live or “as live” sport, and even once toyed with the idea of cancelling his Sky Sports subscription, though only when his family’s financial situation had necessitated a review of their outgoings, a sequence of events resulting in a generous customer service advisor in Livingston offering to him in a soft Scottish lilt a six month subscription at half-price, which, of course, good deals being good deals and this going some way to helping though not resolving his family’s financial predicament, was accepted without hesitation.<sup>3</sup> Like many addicts (including but not limited to those dependent on drugs, alcohol, or other activities which the armchair sports fanatic knows are illegal, considers immoral, or assumes require illegal activities take place to facilitate them), the armchair sports fanatic has a family around him (i.e., for the purposes of the point, a wife) which remains either blind to the problem or reluctant to confront it due to a fear of the consequences which could follow any defeat of his addiction—though the accusation of addiction has occurred so far only in his own mind—such is the tendency for the addict to adapt his/her life and as a result the lives of those closest to him/her to manipulate the circumstances which allow the fixing of the addiction (i.e., [fix] to provide or supply with something needed or wanted). More (or less) succinctly, and something the armchair sports fanatic has doubtless never considered, so drawn into the world of international and domestic sporting competition he becomes, his wife might look forward to and enjoy spending time with her mother and (some of her) siblings and conversing with them about simple and unimportant subjects which tire the armchair sports fanatic as they serve only as distractions and interruptions, and (the armchair sports fanatic’s wife) wouldn’t consider suggesting her husband changes his televisual habits to accommodate her social diary. In her laissez-faire approach to her husband’s enjoyment of/addiction to/devotion to televised sport and/or laziness/lack of willingness to socialise, the armchair sports fanatic’s wife will be happy visiting her family without him and have him turn up later (after whichever sporting event he’s watching has finished) to say a quick hello and enjoy a cup of tea in their company but without speaking much unless it’s with her father, who he’ll (i.e., the armchair sports fanatic will) chat to with ease before driving his (i.e., his own, not his father-in-law’s) wife and daughter home and asking more out of politeness than genuine concern about his in-laws’ welfare. It’s evident in his mind, though he’s unsure whether or not his wife shares the same view, that such a level of addiction/fanaticism does the armchair sports fanatic a favour in providing for him a solid and believable reason to avoid connubial family visits, and, he’d argue—though has never needed to—a harmless one, for he isn’t in a pub pissing his wages up the wall or gambling on the outcome of anything so unpredictable as a horse race—an idea which hasn’t been entertained for five years, suggesting again that what appears to be an addiction needn’t always be labelled so. Such a varied and continuous list of reasons (i.e., many sports and year round) to avoid his in-laws have been/are/will continue to be a blessing for the armchair sports fanatic, as since his mother-in-law’s final cat of a litter of eight died he no longer has available his severe allergy to their fur as an excuse for his not visiting. He might even be so brazen as to suggest, if questioned by a member of his wife’s family why his visits remain so infrequent—though it hasn’t gone unnoticed that they (the in-laws) have never questioned him over his infrequent visits and that they might benefit from his addiction-/fanaticism-related absence in the same way he does—that should he miss live or “as live” coverage of this sporting fixture or that, the resultant symptoms could be similar to those triggered by his exposure to cats, i.e., in the worst cases, a runny nose accompanied by sneezing fits; itchy and watering eyes; heavy, aching sinuses; and a will to live equalling that of the most depressed person imaginable. The armchair sports fanatic’s disinclination to visit his in-laws, perhaps with the exception of his wife’s youngest sister<sup>4</sup>, is something which helps facilitate his devotion to the events unfolding on his HD TV. He would, in fact, suggest these two things are a perfect complement for each other. The armchair sports fanatic’s planned-weeks-in-advance TV sports schedule has never caused disruption within his own family (including his extended family [i.e., his parents and sister but not his in-laws]), with the possible and notable exception of a three-month-long silent impasse between the armchair sports fanatic and his mother. Much is owed on that score (i.e., the lack of TV sports-related disruption to extended [but not connubial] family life) to advancements in recording technologies and their incorporation into home entertainment systems; e.g., the progression of DVD and HDD recorders, the wonderfully immediate Sky+ facility, and online platforms such as the BBC’s iPlayer. The armchair sports fanatic hasn’t yet invested in anything so current as an iPad or other similar gadget on which, with the assistance of any appropriate downloadable applications, it would be easy for him to watch live any event he wished no matter his location—even at the meal arranged at short notice to celebrate his parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary.<sup>5</sup> If he were to dismiss the idea of going to such lengths (i.e., the watching of live events in public places other than those designed for mass consumption of sporting events), his reason, though remaining hidden, would be to prevent making public (i.e., revealing to his family [i.e., his extended family but not his in-laws]) his obsession, a term which may be more representative than “addiction” but one which the armchair sports fanatic is uncomfortable with on the grounds that the events he watches don’t occupy his mind before they take place any more than, for example, the cost of petrol would before filling one’s car (with the exception of those events involving his own team, which are almost always somewhere near the front of his mind). A side issue, but one the armchair sports fanatic would consider important enough to clarify, is that his obsession—if the term is deemed appropriate after all—is less to do with results (with the exception of his own team) than it is with the spectacle, the colour, the noise, the characters, the human stories, the suspense, the comebacks, the emotion, the sheer bloody get-out-of-your-seat-and-pump-your-fist-even-though-you-have-no-particular-affinity-for-either-side release of tension turned excitement and joy for the winner(s) and sadness and compassion and utter emptiness for the crestfallen and sometimes undeserving loser(s); and, he’d argue, these feelings don’t constitute an obsession, just simple and pure enjoyment (with the exception, again, of fixtures involving his own team, in which cases there are no feelings of compassion, even when deserved, for any opponents, and equally there’s little enjoyment had when the armchair sports fanatic watches his own team, so heavy weighs the importance of their performances and results on his frame of mind in the immediate aftermath of the fixture), and so perhaps the term (obsession) isn’t appropriate in any case (excepting reference to his own team). Such advancements in technology do little to restrain the armchair sports fanatic’s wife’s acquiescence in any conflict between their TV viewing preferences. She’ll reassure him she’s able to watch the latest edition of whichever competitive culinary show she’s following using one of the several aforementioned catch up platforms. At such times the armchair sports fanatic thinks of and pities his brother-in-law. He (i.e., the brother-in-law) shares a similar passion for sport and enjoys watching certain events as much as the armchair sports fanatic, though his wife (i.e., the armchair sports fanatic’s sister) has an equal passion for her own televisual entertainment, in particular the quenching of her thirst for interactive reality shows and American sitcoms, and, so far as the armchair sports fanatic can tell, her strict regimen only allows her husband to relax before televised sport on condition that (a) he’s finished all of his designated domestic chores, (b) the myriad of getting-the-children-ready-for-bed/-school/-whichever-social-function-they-are-due-to-attend tasks have been completed, (c) he’s prepared his work papers and paraphernalia for the following day, and (d) there’s nothing on TV which can be categorised as either audience participative reality or American sitcom. The armchair sports fanatic doesn’t know whether his sister’s behaviour is normal or otherwise, but he wonders often how his life would differ if his wife was more rigid in her insistence that he fulfil a more hardworking, paternally aware, and romantically attentive role as a father and husband; i.e., he sometimes wishes his wife would put her foot down and say no when he puts an NFL wildcard round play-off before staining his garden’s new fence panels or taking his daughter out on her new bike or even treating her (i.e., his wife) to an evening at a reputable restaurant, though one at which the menu isn’t postmodern or overpriced as they (as a couple) prefer to eat their food over admiring or critiquing its aesthetics. He wonders how he’d react to his wife’s new found rigidity in her lowering her degree of acceptance or tolerance of his lifestyle, and whether it would reveal in him an intransigence thus far hidden from view, unneeded; one which everybody, he presupposes, possesses but reveals only when pushed to the limit of what they find an acceptable request to yield something which to them is of great value or meaning, e.g., the deep, comforting dissociation from “real life” he feels when inside his addiction-/fanaticism-/obsession-created bubble. And even as he’s wondering/worrying about his potential reaction to being prevented from watching the NFL play-off or some other interesting and exciting fixture, he’s already accepting of the fact that for a tough stance on his addiction/fanaticism/obsession to be effective and for it to not have a detrimental effect on their relationship, he’d have to meet his wife halfway in accepting at least some of her impositions and prevent the revelation of any hidden intransigence, which, he concedes, he’d find difficult in the extreme, which frightens him, which causes him to feel more like an addict than a fanatic or an obsessive, which frightens him further and fills him with compunction, which causes his withdrawal further into his dissociating world of live or “as live” TV sport, which causes him to feel yet more like an addict, et cetera, ad infinitum, et <i>fucking</i> cetera. Occasional moments of lucidity (like those during which he wishes his wife would duplicate his sister’s implementing a regime of restricted TV) will encourage the armchair sports fanatic that he isn’t, despite the times he’s convinced himself he is, a hopeless case or a lost cause, and that he isn’t, as he worries he might become and even at times knows of its inevitability, the terrible husband he’s afraid of becoming, though not terrible in the way some people, e.g. certain close family members have been or continue to be, and not terrible in the sense of being in any way violent, verbally abusive, misogynistic, or adulterous, but rather in the sense of being absent in mind and spirit whilst being very much present in the physical sense; e.g., when he’s there it’s all he can do to shuffle from one end of the sofa to the other during the half-time break of a fixture which, despite its potential for excitement, isn’t in any way influential over his equilibrium. They have on occasion (i.e., the moments of lucidity have) allowed the armchair sports fanatic to understand the importance of re-establishing his priorities, e.g. his demonstrating an understanding of his responsibility to those around him (i.e., his wife and daughter), and yet at other times he feels he treats them with sufficient love and respect and kindness and affection, and affords them adequate time (when possible) during his busy schedule, even if it is sometimes necessary for his wife to repeat statements or questions as he has only one ear on the conversation they’re sharing whilst with the other he’s listening to Eddie Butler’s velvet-smooth description and Brian Moore’s abrasive analysis (or some other commentator/co-commentator pairing of a professional broadcaster whose descriptions ooze eloquence and an opinionated ex-professional who struggles with his command of the language but who, in spite of this, is employed for his ability to divide audience opinion with experiential insight and wisdom [NB the armchair sports fanatic finds the aforementioned pairing to be one of the most welcoming and informative in current sports broadcasting and Brian Moore to be inimitable in both his incisiveness and eloquence]). In support of this (i.e., the love, respect, kindness, affection, and time [when possible] he affords his family), the armchair sports fanatic would highlight the occasions his addiction/fanaticism/obsession has taken a back seat to allow other aspects of his life to flourish; e.g., on his honeymoon—a delightful fortnight in Paphos, Cyprus—he committed to only watching football matches on the giant TV screen in George’s Sports Bar which involved his team, which for both parties was a satisfying three matches. That he spent each of the following mornings analysing post-match reports in several newspapers to gauge their (the reports’) accuracy and degree of bias was another matter altogether, as was his coincidental meeting with several supporters of his team with whom he found sufficient time to share a drink or two and discuss team selection and performance whilst his new and laissez-faire wife sunbathed on the beach. The armchair sports fanatic considers his addiction/fanaticism/obsession a far more appropriate method of relaxation than that preferred by his paternal grandfather (and detailed throughout her life by his [i.e., the armchair sports fanatic’s] grandmother), i.e., the consumption of seventy Silk Cut/day, beginning, without fail, within moments of waking and ending during his final moments of consciousness, unless sufficient brandy had been consumed to trigger his tendency to misplace his embossed-silver lighter (i.e., drop it on the floor but be unable to locate it due to his inability to get down [or his inability, when down, to get up] on [from] his knees to search for it) and, being so inebriated, to be willing to forego one final hit of nicotine knowing the Calvados-induced comfort into which he was about to slide. There were long and solitary fishing expeditions too, which could last a week or more, but which, over time, failed to raise the ire of his wife (and which, upon his first learning of them, the armchair sports fanatic thought either a cover story or a euphemism for something of an entirely different and altogether more ruinous nature). Watching major sporting events isn’t going to bereave his daughter of her father before she finishes school, or his wife of her husband, the armchair sports fanatic would protest (if challenged). He cannot foresee the time when his method of unwinding causes him to miss his daughter’s acting debut in her school’s nativity play—as his grandfather missed much of his own children’s formative years (their later years, too)—or an event such as his daughter’s return home with exam results which will confirm or otherwise her place in higher education, or, for that matter, her wedding day, as his grandfather missed the marriage of his own daughter whilst sitting on a riverbank in a red-and-white-striped canvas camping chair, waiting for a bite and for a passing couple to find him and call an ambulance and attempt resuscitation before being told by the ambulance crew there was nothing they could do to save him in order to at least allow the newlyweds the opportunity of visiting him in hospital before flying to their distant honeymoon destination instead of him being the cause of their (i.e., the newlyweds) missing their flight amidst his daughter’s tears and heavy, uncontrollable sobs. The armchair sports fanatic at times feels able to justify his addiction/fanaticism/obsession on the grounds it’ll neither kill him nor cause any long term damage, unless one considers damage to relationships with those closest to him or to other people’s perceptions of him, though in his defence, he’d attest, his addiction/fanaticism/obsession has never caused his absence from the marital home for days at a time, nor, he’d pursue, even a single full night away from his marital bed. Such are the benefits of (a) staying at home to watch any sport broadcast live from a time zone far removed from BST or GMT—as opposed to mingling with the NFL devotees who meet late each Sunday, Monday, and Thursday amidst the vibrant atmosphere beneath The Sir Henry’s multitude of disproportionately large HD TV screens—which allows one’s return to bed within moments of an event’s pre-dawn finish, and (b) taking advantage of the many modern catch up platforms and recording technologies which allow “as live” viewing the following day. Summarising this point, the armchair sports fanatic would argue that, relative to his mother and paternal grandmother, his wife and daughter have little cause for complaint, though deep down, perhaps during quiet moments of reflection or the aforementioned lucidity, he’d acknowledge most or all of this justification as weak, and perhaps lacking validity altogether. Whilst the armchair sports fanatic considers his husbandry and parenting skills greater than his paternal grandfather’s, he’d agree his standards fall well short of those displayed by his father during the first twenty years of his (i.e., the armchair sports fanatic’s) life, but despite which they’ve been (i.e., his husbandry and parenting skills have been) greater than those displayed by his father in the almost nineteen years since.<sup>6</sup> There have been times when the armchair sports fanatic has requested to share his father’s company during his (i.e., the armchair sports fanatic’s) watching of certain sporting events in order that, whilst they’ve been watching sport, their associated females (i.e., the armchair sports fanatic’s mother and wife and daughter) have been able to enjoy time together shopping or baking or going out for light lunches and thus, through two such shared experiences, some quality family bonding time has been enjoyed which has contributed to his (i.e., the armchair sports fanatic’s) reducing intermittent feelings of guilt and to ensuring he doesn’t find himself caught on the same slippery path as either his father or his paternal grandfather. Being aware of his addiction/fanaticism/obsession (though he understands any notion of addiction must, at this point, be conjecture), the armchair sports fanatic took it upon himself to this year undergo a voluntary and non-communicated (i.e., he hasn’t told/won’t tell anybody) self-policed program designed to lower significantly the number of hours he spends watching sport (henceforth known as The Program). The first step, taken both in a light-hearted manner and with an undercurrent of stark realisation of the seriousness of his addiction/fanaticism/obsession, was a simple exercise he called his <i>2014 Live</i> or “<i>As Live” TV Sports Viewing Summary</i>; i.e., a calculation of the total time he’ll have spent watching live or “as live” sport come the year’s end. Since the fun but scary task’s completion, the armchair sports fanatic has recognised this first step almost as a confession, as his moment standing before an imagined group of similarly afflicted men (henceforth known as The Group) to whom he said in a determined but shaky voice, “Hello, I am an armchair sports fanatic. There’s great potential for my fanaticism to cause serious damage to the future health of my marriage and other relationships, and to my business also, which might then have a knock-on effect on my marriage and potential to provide well enough for my daughter and any future children I may have, regardless of the continuation or discontinuation of my marriage. I hope my making this announcement goes some way towards helping me overcome my—” His failure to get beyond this point of his introduction was, he believes, rooted in his not knowing which term best describes his case. The subsequent announcement of his <i>2014 Live</i> or “<i>As Live” TV Sports Viewing Summary</i>’s conclusion drew from the armchair sports fanatic and The Group alike whispered expletives and other single syllable exclamations, and confirmed to him a real and genuine need to proceed with The Program whilst, he thought, he had the bit between his teeth and before he was enticed during a moment of weakness by something as appealing as the forthcoming (at the time of his commencing with The Program) sochi.ru<sup>®</sup> 2014 XXII Olympic Winter Games.<sup>7 </sup> The second step of The Program requires the armchair sports fanatic to surrender those sporting events which he considers one-off and which don’t form part of a series of any significant interest or belong to a sport of which he has a particular fondness, and to which he finds himself drawn for one of two reasons: either (a) a fierce, fist pump-inducing patriotism which, he recalls, he experienced for the first time aged nine when, during the Games of the XXIIIrd Olympiad Los Angeles 1984<sup>™</sup>, Alan Wells took on Carl Lewis in the 100m, and when again they met on the final leg of the 4x100m relay, and, for some inexplicable reason, he (i.e., the armchair sports fanatic) knew it was only right and proper, expected even, he shout for and gesticulate to and encourage with none of the aggressive fist-pumping tendencies which would follow puberty (i.e., that he do these things in support of Alan Wells, not Carl Lewis), but from where such feelings originated he doesn’t know, except to recall the conversations he’d on occasion overheard as a child at both his paternal and maternal grandparents’ homes which included reference to The War, the non-specificity of which term he didn’t understand but which he later learned to have been the Second World War, and that (i.e., he understands that) being born into the second post-WWII generation was to be exposed to a population still bursting with vehement and defiant patriotism—even if, during the decade or so before the armchair sports fanatic’s birth, visible patriotic fervour had receded due to a gradual shift in socially and politically accepted values, it (the fierce patriotism) was still inherent but fostered with discretion and becoming less visible and audible in much of the population above a certain age (e.g. many who remembered living through the war)—and it was almost inevitable he’d garner through his formative years a similar feeling (i.e., the heart-bursting, anthem-singing, “we shall not be moved” patriotism, not a feeling reflected by any gradual shift in socially and politically accepted values); or (b) (i.e., the second reason he finds himself drawn to those events which don’t form part of a series of significant interest or belong to a sport of which he’s particularly fond) for no other reason than it’s what he does, i.e., he watches sport because it’s sport and it’s available and it contains a combination of drama and colour and emotion and noise and HD super slo-mo replays and he’s both available and allowed to watch it, though, even in the event of his watching competitions/fixtures which don’t involve British competitors, that he’s drawn to the colour and the spectacle can be attributed directly and with certainty to his unwitting absorption, like passive smoking, of his forebears’ fervent though eventually discreet patriotism. Undertaking The Program’s second (and [soon] third) step(s), the armchair sports fanatic feels fortunate to have been able to compromise, to not have been forced or found it necessary to have committed himself to a cold turkey resolution; i.e., he feels fortunate to not have been forced or found it necessary to give up suddenly and altogether his watching of sport on TV; i.e., he feels fortunate his wife possesses either an easygoing or understanding and tolerant nature, and also that he feels in control of his addiction/fanaticism/obsession. He can’t think with what else he’d fill his time (in the event of a complete withdrawal from TV sport), or see beyond that should he find himself attending simple and (to most people) normal social/family functions, he wouldn’t be able to rest without being updated with latest scores and close of play summaries via various media and social media outlets—a polar opposite of extreme media avoidance undertaken to preserve the purity of any “as live” TV sport experience—which would, at least in the initial stages of any imposed or self-imposed cold turkey-style sudden and complete withdrawal from live or “as live” TV sport, feel wrong in the extreme and go against every rule around which he has ordered his life during the past twenty-odd years. The category referred to in his <i>2014 Live</i> or “<i>As Live” TV Sports Viewing Summary as Miscellaneous</i> (i.e., one-off events watched due to patriotism or addiction/habit alone, and not due to any love of [or obsession with] a particular team or sport) ranked as a percentage third highest in a list of twelve categories, accounting for 14.88% of all sport the armchair sports fanatic will have watched by the close of the year, which fact has allowed him to look ahead with hope and satisfaction at having cut down by 180 hours (or an average of 3.46 hours/week) the total amount of live or “as live” sport he’d otherwise have watched by 2014’s end. The armchair sports fanatic might confess to The Group his fear of ruining his good work by abusing the newly available 3.46 hours/week by watching yet more football or NFL analysis instead of spending the time out with his family or catching up with important business matters. Using well the time that he has/will have by the year’s end saved has become step 2.1 on The Program, and he’d concede to The Group that failure to commit to this step would render any continuation of The Program meaningless—“For whom else am I going through this process if not my wife and daughter?” he’d ask—before countering that his being prepared to stand before his fellow addicts/fanatics/obsessives (i.e., The Group) and acknowledge to them his comprehension of the importance of his commitment to step 2.1’s success is further evidence that, regardless of how he’s labelled (e.g. addict, fanatic, or obsessive), which is something he’d quite like to resolve even if only for the sake of his own sanity, the quality of relationship he enjoys with his wife and daughter is sure to have improved by the year’s end. Execution of The Program’s third step (to run concurrent to the second though numbered sequentially higher due to its being conceived later), will be more difficult than the second, a fact acknowledged by the armchair sports fanatic in a speech he made to The Group during a period of intense self-awareness and comprehension aroused in him by the moderate feeling of self-worth which has germinated since his first devising The Program and his first joining The Group, and a fact (i.e., the third step’s difficulty) which has its origins in his longstanding attachment to cricket as a player, coach, administrator, and supporter (i.e., supporter of his local club insofar as helping out at all levels on an as and when basis). The speech, which necessitated the pausing of the opening overs of England’s cricket team’s first one-day international on a short tour of Bangladesh, was both longer and delivered with more confidence than anything the armchair sports fanatic had spoken to The Group before, and referenced what might, he thought on its completion, be one of the biggest single steps ever committed to by any member(s) in The Group’s short history; one which was acknowledged with warm and supportive applause. The armchair sports fanatic detailed in his speech his determination to give up watching international cricket due to its having become diluted since the advent of its third-generation spin-off which has been/is marketed at younger fans and families, i.e., Twenty20 (or T20, depending on where it’s being watched and which of several TV companies around the world is producing its coverage). He blamed his diminishing—though far from entirely diminished—enjoyment of cricket, which stemmed in part (i.e., his enjoyment stemmed in part, not its diminishment) from his love of the game’s perpetual statistical residue, on his feeling that the sport is now no longer worth the time needed to follow its long and sometimes meandering progress considering, in return, the chances of an exciting climax are evens at best and that English victories, given their (i.e., the England team’s) status historically as being unable to compete consistently with the best (with the notable exception of a short period of dominance in the mid-2000s) whilst being too strong for some of the emerging and weaker nations, are sparse, and when they do occur they’re often easily attained and therefore hollow, neither of which extracts from the armchair sports fanatic any external display of celebrative emotion or relief or pride. The ICC (cricket’s governing body), he believes, is working hard with their aggressive marketing of Twenty20 to pander to a young audience which demands its fix within a couple of hours, but so successful have they (the ICC) been, they’re now fearful for the future health (match attendances, TV audiences, advertising revenues) of their sport’s staple product, the test match, and even its primary descendant, the one-day/fifty overs game, which, the armchair sports fanatic suggested to The Group, might itself be due a facelift similar to those which, at various intervals over the past thirty-five years, have resulted in its (i.e., the one-day/fifty overs game’s) competitors’ wearing of coloured as opposed to white clothing, their use of a white as opposed to a dark red ball when playing beneath floodlights (also a modern innovation designed to improve attendances), and the introduction of power plays to prevent the use of defensive field positions which, as the game developed through the eighties and nineties, stifled run scoring to the extent of stifling spectators’ enjoyment which, in turn, led to proposals for and development of the Twenty20 format, and so to follow the point to its logical conclusion, the armchair sports fanatic suggested to The Group, the fifty overs game might easily feel like the poor relation considering the success of Twenty20 and might ask itself or its audience (or its governing body) of what relevance it still holds, if any, in the modern game. In any case, he continued, such a facelift could see that particular form of cricket rebranded Fifty50 (or F50, depending again on where it’s watched and which of the same several TV companies around the world are producing its coverage), and could incorporate all the music and colour and joviality and jocularity-through-players-being-miked-up of the younger Twenty20 game, which was, the armchair sports fanatic reminded The Group in his closing salvo, introduced in 2005 in order to revitalise and, in a strange twist of irony, to save the sport. On completing his speech, his fellow group members’ applause ringing in his ears and filling him with clumsy pride and the encouragement he often feels he needs, the armchair sports fanatic switched off his Sky box and put all thoughts of England’s cricket team’s tour of Bangladesh to one side. His decision to incorporate step 2.1 into The Program and his belief in the degree of resoluteness he feels able though by no means guaranteed to display in its implementation leads the armchair sports fanatic to believe also in its (i.e., The Program’s) natural extension towards a step 3.1, i.e., greater interaction with his wife and daughter during (a portion of) the time made available by his giving up watching international cricket, which both thrills and worries him at once. International cricket ranked second on the armchair sports fanatic’s <i>2014 Live</i> or “<i>As Live” TV Sports Viewing Summary</i>, clocking in at up to 220 hours or 18.18% of the total viewing time, and so he wonders, should he proceed in the implementation of step 3.1, how to fill what equates to an additional 4.23 hours/week on top of the (potential) 3.46 hours/week gained via The Program’s second step, although the additional 4.23 hours/week is an average number which will grow significantly during any given summer when England’s cricket team plays their home test matches, of which their have historically been seven played over a maximum of five days each and totalling a maximum permitted playing time (at six hours/day) of 210 hours, of which some (hours) will be lost to inclement weather and others in matches which conclude early (i.e., those which aren’t drawn but produce a positive result one way or the other and thus don’t require all of their prescribed playing time). The (at times) unbridled thrill the armchair sports fanatic feels anticipating his commencement of step three (and by default of step 3.1) comes from knowing such large measures of free time will become available through the summer months and will coincide with his daughter’s school’s summer holiday and that, business matters pending, he will, with his wife also, be able to enjoy (if not fully immerse and relax himself into in the beginning) simple activities such as lunch picnics in the large and picturesque parks dotted around the Black Country, and other activities too, though he hasn’t put much thought into what, only that it’ll be the three of them out together instead of him staying at home to watch this or that live or “as live” sporting fixture, but which point (his lack of thought to date in what they, as a family, might engage themselves) raises the bleak issue of the armchair sports fanatic’s not knowing what activities are available and what attractions and wonderful, picturesque places can be visited, and that, not only does he not know of these places and activities, but he cannot know, for in truth he has never engaged with his wife and daughter on a social level (i.e., a “doing family stuff” level) as good husbands/fathers should, with the exception—but not a mundane or boring exception as they all as a family enjoy these moments—of visiting the small local parks (but not the larger and picturesque parks dotted around the Black Country) in which his daughter swings on swings and dizzies herself on roundabouts and interacts with other young children before whizzing off on either her bicycle or scooter (protected by pink branded elbow and knee pads and matching crash helmet), depending on which mode of transport she has chosen on each particular occasion. The armchair sports fanatic’s daughter, too, cannot know of the whole extended and varied world’s existence, and that it’s all out there waiting to be discovered. She will yet have seen only her father’s high level of engagement and interaction with her (and her mother) at the small and often-graffiti-covered local parks and their tea houses, as these occasions will coincide with sporting fixtures meaning her father carries with him no BlackBerry or other electronic device capable of updating him with latest scores and of spoiling the purity of any “as live” moments to follow. His wife can and does know the wide and varied world beyond local parks, and for her reluctance to plan family days out without her husband’s prior knowledge or consent, so as not to disrupt his planned-weeks-in-advance TV sports schedule, the armchair sports fanatic is grateful in the extreme and yet synchronously he has, or at least before undertaking The Program he has, felt a strange strand of self-pity that his wife hasn’t planned such excursions and announced them with little notice which would have (maybe) forced his participation and thus (maybe) forced his becoming more attentive as a father and husband. It would be easy, he thinks, to imagine some element of unkindness or selective blindness to a problem which sits right before her instead of taking her laissez-faire approach to his addiction/fanaticism/obsession as it’s intended, i.e., that she loves her husband and wishes only for his happiness and contentedness and possession of a balanced equilibrium, and that if his sitting immersed in TV sports for 19.5% of all waking hours throughout the year allows him these things then she’s happy to accommodate with little more than a shrug of her delicate and attractive-when-uncovered shoulders, and her oft-repeated (but never tiresome) quote, “It takes all sorts.” And so because of this the armchair sports fanatic has never imagined any level of unkindness being fostered by his wife, only love and commitment to them, i.e., them as first a couple and then a family, and so his extreme gratefulness often if not at all times preponderates any strange strand of self-pity, but that doesn’t mean the strange feeling wasn’t there (i.e., before he commenced The Program), somewhere deep within, gnawing and nagging that he should damn well buck his ideas up and get off his arse, which is probably the thing he sometimes wishes his wife would say despite that he thinks such a suggestion wouldn’t have the desired effect because only by doing it for himself and via his own motivation will any change be true and long lasting and for the right reasons. The thrill and excitement, which, when it comes, confirms to the armchair sports fanatic that he is both doing the right thing and is capable of succeeding with/via The Program, is offset by a dread which pools at the bottom of his stomach and grows in him a steady realisation that the road ahead may not be smooth or straight. Should he proceed long term with the implementation of step three, he told The Group soon after switching off the Bangladesh/England cricket match, and should the measure be successful, then he’ll distribute the constructive use of any “new time” between his immediate family and his business which (“new time” spent on his business) would lead to an upturn in productivity resulting in his spending more time both in his cosy home office and out meeting potential and/or actual clients ensuring they’re happy with either the service they’re being offered or that of which they’ve been in receipt, and spending time generating new business, also, which, pursuant to this point, would cause an increase in the volume of mundane chores necessary for a business to run in a smooth and efficient manner; e.g., producing quotes and mailing/emailing invoices and crosschecking inbound payments against invoices sent and keeping on top of the continuing rounds of staff recruitment which involve first sorting the good applications from the bad followed by telephone screening followed by letters/emails of rejection followed by arranging and attending interviews at candidates’ homes followed by more letters/emails of rejection and telephone calls/letters/emails of acceptance, et cetera. “I can’t help wondering,” the armchair sports fanatic told his imaginary peers, “if all the extra work I’m going to land on my desk isn’t, alongside all this extra family stuff, too, going to get in the way of my watching my team,” a consequence, he intimated over feint murmurings of disapproval, he was unwilling to entertain, for he was “only prepared and probably able to go so far.” There’d be no problem through the summers, he appealed, on the grounds of football being an autumn/winter/spring sport, those (summers) containing major football tournaments excepted (i.e., every other year), and those accommodating Olympic Games also (i.e., every fourth year), which (Olympic summers) both have historically coincided with and will in perpetuity coincide with the scheduling of UEFA’s European Football Championships (i.e., their coincidence being their occurrence in the same summers, not their schedules overlapping), but nevertheless, he confessed, he is (i.e., he was at the time of his speaking) at a loss and doesn’t (didn’t) know how, if at all, he should proceed. There’s no way step 3.1 could be put on hold, he told The Group (an assertion which produced a collective, almost supportive, sigh of relief), as that would leave many surplus hours to fill whilst England’s cricket team played their test matches, and it’s imperative the time, if available, be filled with something other than alternative live or “as live” sporting fixtures, an outcome which would render The Program pointless in its entirety. The solution, the armchair sports fanatic suggested when revealing an addendum to step 3.1 he called step 3.1.1, is to weigh the split of “new time” heavily in favour of his immediate family and restrict his commitment of it (“new time”) to business in order to limit any significant increase in workload, which in the medium- to long-term should prove a measure sufficient enough to ensure he manages in a satisfactory manner his availability to watch live or “as live” his team’s fixtures. A few members of The Group stood from their plastic chairs and applauded the armchair sports fanatic’s step 3.1.1, and they encouraged others to do likewise. Whilst some responded in kind after first exchanging uncertain glances, to the armchair sports fanatic’s disappointment and wonder over whether he’d chosen the right option or lacked fortitude, others’ disapproval was communicated via mumbled whispers and a reticence to join the applause. “You have to be fully committed,” he thought he heard one disgruntled group member complain, and he (i.e., the armchair sports fanatic) began then with immediacy a short period of reflection on how satisfied he thought he’d be if by the year’s end he’d completed his steps two and three and their related steps 2.1 and 3.1 and 3.1.1. He concluded that by the year’s end his satisfaction at The Program’s (planned) success, which, he acknowledges, is far from certain, would be more than enough to allow his feeling comfortable with his continued deification of his own team and his wearing of blinkers when it comes to discussions involving his team or their opponents and his absolute and unflinching devotion to not missing even a single second of their matches’ coverage including but not limited to, and in addition to the matches themselves, the chosen broadcaster’s pre- and post-match analysis and summary as well as half-time discussions and even, on the occasion of vital season-defining matches, late night highlights shows. How could he feel even the remotest tingle of guilt given his other sacrifices (i.e., steps two and three)? Despite that the armchair sports fanatic’s steadfastness (in his determination to watch his own team) cannot and will not be stirred under any circumstances, even those, he thinks, such as ill-timed family bereavements or important and short-notice business affairs, to the point of missing not even a second of his own team’s fixtures and any of their (the fixtures’) surrounding coverage, those dissenting members of The Group and their comments and whispers played a significant role in his decision to implement into The Program a fourth step aimed at lessening his obsession with his own team; i.e., he’s determined his own team’s results and performances shall no longer dictate his equilibrium or influence his life outside his TV sports bubble. Their (i.e., the armchair sports fanatic’s own team’s) results and performances will now, instead of being influential in his lightness (or darkness) of mood and ability to interact well on a social and business level (e.g. his finding difficult the conducting of business with a potential client or supplier wearing one of his own team’s local rivals’ club ties or pin badges pinned centrally and proud and—depending on both teams’ recent performances and results—mocking and sneering), be taken less seriously and treated with less significance in the scheme of things; i.e., the armchair sports fanatic will try to further develop his appreciation of the bigger picture and that some events external to his team’s performances and results are more deserving of his fullest attention. This fourth and final step, the armchair sports fanatic thinks, will be the most challenging along his path to recovery—and mention of this term (recovery) suggests to him now that addict is the appropriate term, not fanatic or obsessive—due (the fourth step’s being the most challenging), unlike steps two and three and their related sub- and sub-sub-steps which will test the armchair sports fanatic in their own way (i.e., that he must stop watching certain events and reduce the time he spends watching others and fill that time with normal [and often mundane] activities), but due to its (the fourth step’s) not being an actual physical intervention but one based on feelings and emotions which will (at least in part) be dependent upon his success or otherwise to that point in following The Program with rigidity and resolution and subsequent levels of enjoyment gained from his spending “new time” with his wife and daughter (as well as the performances and results of his team). He’s concluded, then, that the fourth step’s difficulty lies partly in its being intrinsically linked to all prior steps (except the first) and even their sub- and sub-sub-steps, and even to itself, and so, he thinks, he seems to have designed a recovery program similar to a house of cards from which removal of a single card (i.e., his failure in any one of the steps [except the first] or their sub- and sub-sub-steps) will cause the house to collapse (i.e., will cause his recovery to flounder), which, as the success or otherwise of each card in its ability to perform well its function is determined, due to the collective’s interdependence, on the presence of and correct positioning of all other cards, suggests should the armchair sports fanatic fail in one aspect of The Program, he’s likely to fall from his proverbial wagon. And perhaps the real difficulty lies in that once off his proverbial wagon, and knowing himself as well as he does he’d agree with the point, the armchair sports fanatic may find it more difficult to hop back on than he did on The Program’s inception, a difficulty, he imagines, which would be resultant of his emotional resilience being shattered way beyond repair because he’d absolutely and definitely consider himself at such a point to be after all a hopeless case and a lost cause. The Party, which, following his undertaking of The Program and receipt of support and encouragement as well as a small measure of disapproval from The Group, no longer provides such a daunting and logistically difficult prospect for the armchair sports fanatic, will be an early testing ground for his ability to follow with any success The Program’s fourth step. He has, since invitations were handed out, discovered several of his daughter’s school friends’ fathers support his team’s local (and championship-contending) rivals and that they (the fathers) will present their daughters at The Party before taking advantage of The Sir Henry’s multitude of disproportionately large HD TV screens, beneath which they may stand resplendent in their team’s colours, ready to gloat and to goad in the event of their team’s victory. The discovery of this information, relayed to him by his daughter in an innocent and extemporaneous announcement, has determined the armchair sports fanatic to be even more unyielding in his reluctance to be shifted from the function room hired for the occasion, despite his earlier planning of escapes to the toilets and external smoking shelter to avoid swells and pitches of noise and atmosphere from The Sir Henry’s sports lounges, and to use instead The Party as a bunker or a bubble which (he hopes) will be impenetrable by commentaries and the cheering or otherwise of football and rugby fans (the volume of the DJ’s game-accompanying music and other party-related noise and chaos permitting), for he cannot know, despite demonstrating good intentions with his conception of the fourth step, how or if he’ll react in the event of his team being well beaten or of his being goaded by opposition supporters, and yet he knows he must, even in the event of a sound beating or spiteful goading, remain happy and party-minded for the duration of the afternoon. Still, if it proves impossible to avoid the matches’ progress (particularly that involving his own team), and/or if there’s gloating or goading from opposition supporter(s), and if these things do affect his ability to remain happy and party-minded, for the armchair sports fanatic there’s always comfort to be gained from his daughter being such an age at which he can still, for the time being, con himself into believing she cannot see or understand his behaviour or frame of mind, concealed as it’ll be beneath his party face, or know the reasons why, and that whether or not she can see what hides beneath his party face, there’s plenty of time yet for him to recover before his daughter fully and truly understands what ails her father. <b>endnotes</b> <sup>1</sup> For clarity, “football” refers to the game of association football and not any of its derivatives which are played in different parts of the world and whose predominate identifying feature is the use of hands being permitted within their rules, and even that the usefulness of hands far outweighs that of feet in gaining and keeping control of the football. <sup>2</sup> Despite the armchair sports fanatic’s belief that the Commonwealth Games is an outdated celebration of empire, there is, he thinks, real sporting romance in the competing of amateur and thus under-prepared athletes from nations (often small in size and remote in their location) lacking in facilities and funds against far superior competitors from nations with established sporting pedigree and history and whose athletes are backed by scholarships and sponsorships and the finest medical and scientific teams available, and because of this he never displays any real patriotic fervour or other outward display of emotion or satisfaction at outcomes of events in this celebration of empire—to do so would be crass and would demonstrate perhaps a lack of understanding of the true nature of these friendly games. <sup>3</sup> In the wake of such a generous offer, and the armchair sports fanatic and his wife needing to demonstrate their collective financial prudence, several similar offers have been accepted since. It became apparent to the armchair sports fanatic (and his wife) that following the expiry of such a financial inducement, only six months or so need be spent on Sky Sports’ full price plan before a phone call to Livingston to cancel the subscription on financial grounds will result in six or twelve months being offered at either half-price or free of charge, so keen and incentivised are Sky’s friendly team of customer support staff to prevent their subscribers from dropping Sky in favour of a competitor, and so the armchair sports fanatic can and has often during darker moments spent reflecting on his addiction/fanaticism/obsession dilemma (see later) found his darkness relieved somewhat by a small crumb of satisfaction at his being proactive in assisting the ongoing relief of his family’s (i.e., his and his wife’s) continuing fiscal struggles. <sup>4</sup> I.e., on the grounds of her being a normal and (relatively) intelligent person and not either (a) a self-obsessed single mother of two whose sons serve only to strangle the freedom she craves; (b) a feckless scrounger who lives in such squalor as to be its epitome; (c) a depressed single mother of five whose sole remaining purpose in life seems to be to trawl a miscellany of internet dating sites to find a man with whom she may find happiness, a state of mind which has evaded her for as long as the armchair sports fanatic has known her; or (d) a father of six whose idea of paternity was learned at the “out of sight, out of mind” school of parenting. <sup>5</sup> Despite that the armchair sports fanatic’s non-appearance at the meal hasn’t been mentioned by either parent for eighteen months, it grates that his mother still emits, at times, a silent undercurrent of resentment. That his team were playing that evening an important but not vital fixture was a side issue which happened to coincide with his working day culminating in a nightmare three-hour trip around the West Midlands’ motorway network which he didn’t want to follow with another, albeit less circuitous, in order to attend what had, the previous week, been billed as a simple family meal. That the timing of the meal coincided with his parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary should have been heeded, but the armchair sports fanatic is too stubborn to admit this—a trait inherited from his mother and one which played a major part in their shared silence. <sup>5a</sup> <sup>5a</sup> The importance of the armchair sports fanatic’s team’s fixtures is never in doubt; they’re either important or of vital importance or, during spring, of huge significance and consequence to the remainder of the season and therefore to the armchair sports fanatic’s fluctuating equilibrium. <sup>6</sup> And herein lies the crux of the three-month-long silent impasse between the armchair sports fanatic and his mother: she caused such a fuss over her son’s non-attendance of a low-key (in announcement, build up, size, etc.) event to celebrate such a momentous occasion when her husband had treated her so appallingly for almost half of their forty years of marriage as to render the celebration nothing more than an ill-conceived façade lacking both in depth and reason. <sup>7</sup> Results of his <i>2014 Live</i> or “<i>As Live” TV Sports Viewing Summary</i> suggest the armchair sports fanatic will, by the year’s end, have spent up to 350 hours watching football alone, though this figure is variable due to the potential for his own team to make early exits from any/all of the knockout competitions in which they compete and also due to the recent 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, during which even the armchair sports fanatic may have found difficult the watching of three matches (i.e., 4½ hours even without all of the related pre- and post-match fluff)/day during the tournament’s early stages (though he can’t remember for certain precisely how much of this he watched/skipped/dozed through), all of which was (i.e., the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ was) accommodated alongside a normal daily routine of business and other summer events/fixtures such as the continuing Formula 1® season and England’s rugby union team’s summer tour of New Zealand, though the World Cup’s organising committee do their best to ensure as little disruption as possible of the viewing of their tournament by negotiating with organisers of other sporting events (including—though the suggestion cannot be evidentially proven, it’s just that it’s the sort of thing followers of sporting politics might suggest—the offer of financial and other inducements) to between them ensure the calendar is kept as clear as possible for the “world’s biggest sporting event”—about the only name/nickname/logo/phrase/image upon which the IOC hasn’t stamped a ™ or ® in its bid to prevent assorted sporting bodies/states/local authorities/minor unknown sporting clubs to make financial gain from their (the IOC’s) giant, well-protected cash cow (though which label [cash cow] isn’t to detract from its [the Olympic Games’] pedigree or ability to provide consistently over seventeen days on a four-year cycle unforgettable moments of drama and entertainment in the shape of triumphs over adversity and undeserved disasters and also, mostly, wonderful and colourful and well-organised and -executed and -described and -filmed events which are often forgettable but which can be recalled years later in montages backed with tastefully chosen accompanying music to heighten emotions and induce sympathies, as well as, on rare occasions, moments of incredible sadness and even horror as The Games, with their status and vast worldwide audiences measuring often in the hundreds of millions, induces in members of extreme organisations the notion that to disrupt such an event will further their cause, which, one would suggest without evidence, invariably, it [the disruption] doesn’t [further their cause])—but that their (the IOC’s) not having placed a <sup>™</sup> or <sup>®</sup> on the phrase “world’s biggest sporting event” allows FIFA to use it shamelessly and with complete conviction in its truth to promote their trademarked quadrennial tournament and provide a powerful means of leverage in their negotiations with other sports’ organising bodies over scheduling. Further to the potential 350 hours spent watching football (or 28.93% of his total annual sports viewing according to his <i>2014 Live</i> or “<i>As Live” TV Sports Viewing Summary</i>), the armchair sports fanatic will by the year’s end have watched approximately 105 hours of the year’s multi-sport gatherings (e.g. the sochi.ru® 2014 XXII Olympic Winter Games and the Glasgow 2014 XX Commonwealth Games); 125 hours of Sky Sports’ coverage of the NFL; around 80 hours of their coverage of the 2014 Formula 1® season, including each of the 19 races and their preceding hour-long qualifying sessions; 45 hours of international rugby union including the RBS 6 Nations® in its entirety; and 30 hours of action from various horse race meetings, which, considering that most meets coincide with other events and will be Sky+ed and watched “as live” after the event and that the armchair sports fanatic will fast forward through the thirty or so minutes between each race, meaning only the actual races will be viewed, and that there are 1800 minutes in thirty hours and so, with each race lasting somewhere between sixty seconds and two minutes given that the armchair sports fanatic’s preferred races are sprints over distances between five and ten furlongs, it becomes evident he might watch around 1200 horse races/year, averaging an astonishing (even for the armchair sports fanatic) full race card every other day for a full year (something made possible by the existence of two specialist TV channels which between them ensure plenitudinous coverage of all race meetings from the fifty-eight active racecourses around the UK [as well as from Ireland, the U.S., South Africa, and both the Middle and Far Easts] throughout the entire calendar year). In total, the armchair sports fanatic estimated he’d have watched 1210 hours of live or “as live” sport by the close of 2014, a figure averaging at an unremarkable 2¾ hours/day, which on initial reflection, he thought after reviewing the figures, wasn’t an amount over which he should show undue concern, but, given the manipulability of statistics to fit a predetermined agenda (i.e., that the same set of data can be used in both “for” and “against” arguments) and that minor rearrangements/reinterpretations (of the statistics) can shed on them differing qualities of light, that figure in turn equates to 50.42 days of the year, which the armchair sports fanatic calculated to mean he’d watch throughout the year (up to) seven weeks, one day, nine hours, and thirty-six minutes of live or “as live” TV sport, a fact/figure which might have really and actually scared him had he not decided to address the situation via his decision to impose upon himself The Program. <table> <tbody> <tr> <td>Scott Derry lives in Bilston, a small town in England's post-industrial wastelandknown as the Black Country. His fiction has appeared in the now defunct <i>Debut</i> magazine and the equally defunct <i>Motley Press</i> e-zine, and some of his musings on football (soccer) have appeared in <i>King of the Kippax</i> and <i>The Daisy Cutter</i>, which are very much alive. He took much pleasure when an editor described his writing as, "absurd. cerebral. difficult."</td> <td> <img class="aligncenter size-full wp-image-6194" src="http://southernpacificreview.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Bio-pic.jpg" alt="Bio pic" width="200" height="199" /></td> </tr> </tbody> </table>
James M. Fajarito
They have called me names, seeing saviors In optical illusions. They have thrown Stones at me, dismissing the shower Of petals as tall tales and manufactured Lies. But I cannot betray the woman Who has shown me compassion, giving Me hope in this world devoid of charity. She has even left me mementos of her And her family printed in flower petals, The shower of which I basked in while She conversed with me. No, I’m not after The official declaration of my experience As a miracle. I’m no politician or Businessman, so no interests will be Served by that pronouncement. Official Miracles provide a windfall, and this Shrine is better left unspoiled by restless Tourists who demand panacea from places Where the woman presumably appeared. The powers-that-be are too pragmatic To bother with genuine miracles, unless The same will fill up fast some deep pockets. Or make gold appear, like manna in the desert. Now, that is the miracle of infallibility. Amen.
Maximo French's daughter remained nameless until she learned to speak. When she was born, his girlfriend named her Eleos, the goddess who personified clemency and compassion. She looked at her child so lovingly that he hoped she'd change her mind about leaving. She said this tiny being in her arms was the most amazing, beautiful thing she'd ever witnessed. A week later he watched her leave on a plane to Japan. They agreed not to stay in contact. She never existed. She was a figment of his imagination. Their last night was spent in a mortuary basement where they burned photos, gifts and anything that reminded them of themselves. She unfriended and unfollowed him, changed her status to single and marked his emails as spam. She even paid a service to erase all traces of him from her digital life. Because Maximo believed his daughter required regular sunlight, he took her for daily walks in parks and trails where strangers would compliment his daughter's beauty and cuteness. He now understood why beauty pageants for seven-year-olds existed. One downside was when strangers inevitably ran out of compliments and would ask - what's her name? The english language provides only so many ways to describe the beauty of babies. Maximo spent nights analyzing data recorded from each walk. He kept track of the types of people who stopped to talk and those who walked by. He estimated their race, age and gender. He noted other traits, such as whether they jogged or walked a dog or both. And if they had a dog, what kind of dog? Big or small? Leashed? Unleashed? He also recorded conversations to mine out tendencies and patterns. When did the subject start sounding bored? What questions extended the conversation in a beneficial way? The maximization of compliments was a hard problem, but it kept him busy as he waited for his daughter's first words. <center>***</center>While Maximo waited for his parents at a restaurant named Thai Spoon, he wondered what the importance of a singular spoon was in Thai culture. There seemed to be a large number of mom and pop restaurants settling on some variation of Thai Spoon or Bangkok Spoon. Was this the work of some kind of Thai hive mind? His parents walked into the restaurant and smiled when they saw him. His father waved. Maximo stood up and waved back. He held his arms out, half-heartedly gesturing for hugs. Physical affection was not expressed much in his family. He'd hugged his mother maybe twice in his life. The last time was when he left the family nest five years ago. It felt like he was running away. He'd turned thirty just last month. Why did he feel like a child around them? This Thai restaurant was family owned according to the owner. He once proclaimed that his ingredients were imported from the motherland itself - galangal, fish sauce, coconuts, curry paste, kaffir leaves, basil and various chili peppers. This was authentic Thai cuisine, he bragged. If you ordered Thai spicy, that was what you'd get. He was very proud of this fact and could not resist bashing a certain popular Thai restaurant in regards to their so-called catering to American tastebuds and style. He compared it to crunchy tacos with ground beef, lettuce and cheese. That was not Mexican cuisine. Not even close. To be authentic, he said, you need to seek out the late-night taco vendors. Maximo's father asked his son if he was married and had procured children yet. How much did he earn at his job? Did he own a mortgage on a two-story house and lease a luxury vehicle? Maximo's mother shushed her husband and turned to her son. "Order anything you want," she said. "This is your day." Maximo scanned the menu and found a typo. Beef Salad was spelled Beet Salad. White-out was used to change the price of the green curry to $12.99. "What about the drunken noodles?" his mother asked. "They're your favorite still, right?" His father said that he'd help Maximo find a good job, one where he could work his way up the corporate ladder and maybe become a low-level manager. Maximo left for Idaho five years ago to join the government's new pilot program that promised to bring jobs home. Specifically they were testing out a technology that allowed computers to harness and control a network of human brains. The government paid Maximo $12.50 an hour to rent his brain for up to 36 hours a week. They hooked electrodes to his skull and he'd black out for six or whatever hours. Sometimes he'd wake up for a second or two in the middle of his shift and he'd feel this sense of alertness and lightness of mind. He liked that feeling very much. The program was currently used to run virtual call centers. They rented brain slices to corporations and promised zero-training, 98% customer satisfaction and 99.9% accuracy. There was no training or special qualifications required to rent your brain. The only requirement was that the prospective employee was healthy, clean of drugs and free of mental disabilities, such as schizophrenia or mental retardation. "Maybe the green curry," Maximo said. "With chicken, please." "Your sister is doing well," his father said. "She just gave birth to her fourth child." "She's a surrogate," his mother said. "Don't you consider that prostitution?" "Laura says there's no sex involved." "I think it's called artificial insemination." "Makes no difference. It's disturbing no matter how you think about it. She's selling her body. Nothing outrages people these days." "We should order. I need to get back to work soon." Maximo's father waved to the waiter and ordered the green chicken curry, drunken noodles and eggplant special. <center>***</center>At age three, Maximo's daughter hadn't developed the capacity for speech. Not once had she uttered the word dada. What distressed him most was the fact she never cried. She was silent and stoic. Maximo spent more time at work. He was getting better at waking up during shifts. Once he stayed conscious for thirty whole seconds. He took in the abyss of networked consciousness as if he were a tourist. All he could see was a black that felt infinite in depth. He was not afraid of falling or being lost forever. He kind of loved it there. On the days Maximo worked, he left his daughter with his neighbor Jane. She sold him breast milk for twenty bucks a bottle, but he wasn't about to argue with a woman who offered to babysit for free. That was until she decided to name his daughter Mercedes. "Jane, I appreciate all you've done for my daughter, but this naming thing crossed the line. I'm not saying this is child abuse, but I certainly feel violated and I'm sure my daughter feels the same. Don't you, Chickpea?" Maximo turned to his daughter. She was sitting in the crook of his left arm. She stared at him blankly. Drool dribbled down her lip. "I just thought the name sounded luxurious. I think they call it positive thinking. You want your girl to grow up and become rich and famous, right?" There was a time when Maximo considered his daughter beauty pageant material, but now he would be happy just to hear her say dada or dad or something that showed she understood. He wondered if she was an alien. Maybe his girlfriend knew the whole time, for those nine long months, could feel the alien aura emanating from her womb. "Pageantry is superficial," Maximo said. "It's disturbing. Seven-year-olds strutting around in string bikinis." "What are you going on about now? I think you're the one with issues," Jane said. "Anyways, I just meant successful. Someone who will change the world and make it a better place for all. Maybe she can be the first female president?" "Just don't call her Mercedes, alright?" Maximo said. "Don't you wish you could choose your own name? Doesn't that sound empowering? I mean, if you had the choice, you wouldn't have picked Jane, would you?" After that Jane refused to babysit his daughter. She also doubled the price of breast milk and forced him to order breast milk online. He was weary of the fecal contamination rumors, but in the end he wasn't about to feed his daughter milk from cows or goats or other farm animals. Was he the only one that actually thought about how unnatural it all was? The harder dilemma was finding someone to take care of his daughter when he worked. The building he worked in had a daycare center, but it cost $1500 a month. <center>***</center>The green curry and drunken noodles tasted better than Maximo remembered. Even the eggplant was good. In Idaho he mostly ate pizza. He'd order an extra large cheese pizza from Gino's and add his own meats and vegetables. Gino's was one of those places that sold fresh uncooked pizzas. It came with the dough rolled into a square and plastic pouches of pizza sauce and shredded cheese. When Maximo's father said goodbye and left for work, his mother leaned in and said, "Do you know what happened to me last week?" Maximo was in a good mood so he played along. "What happened?" "You remember Margot, my friend from Texas, right? Well she finally found time to visit me in California. It's been over twenty years since we last spoke in person. But she figured now that her kids are off in college, this was her chance. Anyway, on the phone she's always talking about how great the Pad Thai is at Thai Express, so I thought what better way to introduce her to the temptations of California than to show her what real Thai food is like. Thai Express, if you don't know, is a fast food chain found a lot in malls. I can't believe she offered to take me to that dump if I ever came to visit! It's the kind of place where you eat from styrofoam boxes with plastic sporks and splintery wooden chopsticks, and all the food has been sitting for hours under heat lamps and is cooked by cheap unskilled labor. So you may be thinking that I took my friend here to this pleasant hole in the wall. I should have. But I didn't. Instead I took her to the one in downtown. You know, the one that's packed on the weekends and has won best Thai cuisine ten years running. The wait staff are all young and good looking. They even have an outside dining area with bamboo chopsticks and fancy candles. You know the place. We used to eat there a lot. I remember you always complained about the Tom Kha Gai not being spicy enough. In fact nothing is ever truly spicy there, not even if you ask for their so-called Thai Spicy." "Right, I remember. We used to eat there once a month. You, me, dad and Laura. Good times." "I admit the food tastes phenomenal. My problem is that the food isn't the real deal. It's not how real Thai people in Thailand eat. And I pity the people who reserve the tables where you sit on pillows. Isn't that a Japanese thing?" "I don't know." "Where was I? Oh right. I took my friend out to dinner the Sunday she flew in, and as usual more than half the tables ordered Pad Thai, pineapple fried rice, or both. Of course my friend orders both, because she wants to compare. I tell her that she should be more adventurous and try a fish curry or a dish with peanut sauce and spinach. She goes with the red chicken curry instead. Apparently that's another of her favorite dishes at Thai Express. When we order, our perky little waitress looks annoyed since we don't order drinks or appetizers and say we'd be okay just sipping their iced tap waters. Dinner's a one hundred percent success otherwise. Margot's completely blown away by the Pad Thai, so much so that she jokingly considered moving here. Of course that's not possible. Her husband has a good job and they've paid off their house just last year. Plus their kids are still close enough for the occasional family dinner." "So what's the point of this story?" Maximo said as he finished the remaining curry. "Well, you know how I am with Margot. We talk on the phone every other Sunday for two straight hours. We can't shut ourselves up. But so, that's what we did that night. We just kept talking and possibly we lost track of time. Margot was going on about how cute and nifty it was that they used a real pineapple to hold the rice. We were just in our little nook minding our own business when the manager comes up to us. He's a short guy with a yellow dress shirt and brown slacks and a fancy pen in his left pocket. 'Folks,' the manager says, 'I am afraid I must ask you to leave. We have guests waiting for tables. You have finished and paid for your meal over ten minutes ago and are now in violation of loitering. This is the law.' 'But we're a table of two!' I say. 'Again, I repeat. This is the law. Loitering is a violation. I am not afraid to notify authorities. The exit is over there.' I was so embarrassed to have that happen in front of my friend. He can't treat us like that." "Did you tell dad?" "Of course I told him." "Did he do anything?" "Of course not. What's there to do?" <center>***</center>Maximo tried to leave his daughter at home in her playpen. But after walking a block to work, he turned and ran back. When he opened the door, she was sleeping. He could see her little lungs moving underneath her pink onesie with rabbit ears and cottontail. He decided to give the daycare a try. Maybe he was eligible for an employee discount. Either way this would be temporary. He was thinking about moving home. A customer service rep sat at the front desk of the daycare center. She was texting someone. She had shoulder length blonde hair that was naturally curly and wore a polo shirt with a logo for Sunny Farms Daycare. When Maximo walked up to the desk, she hid her phone before looking up. She looked relieved and asked how she could help him today. "I need to drop my daughter off. How much for a day?" "We charge $100 for a full day. But if you enroll now, you'd pay $1,500 a month. That'd be a savings of 50%. Think of what you could buy or do with an extra $1,500. Tell me. What would you do, sir?" More and more people had been calling Maximo "sir" lately. He was not happy about it. He was only 29. Thirty was coming next month, but he still felt young. His hair was balding slightly at the temples and the wrinkles on his forehead were deeper and more ingrained. But that was it. He didn't notice much else. But maybe he was aging so gradually he just didn't realize it. "I don't know," he said. "I never thought about it. What about you?" "Oh, I'd go backpacking in Europe and see all the history. Lots of historical buildings to explore. And the culture. I hear it's really different over there." "You'd need more than $1,500 for that. Come to think of it, there's not much you can do. Maybe buy a big TV and home theater system." "That's very materialistic, but whatever floats your fancy." "Would you go on a date with me for $1,500?" "I have a boyfriend. So no." "But what if you didn't? Hypothetically." "Probably. It's just a date." She shrugged, then looked at his daughter. "Single parent, huh?" "Yeah." "Well, anyways we'll need to register your little girl in our system." "Can you leave the name blank? It's just going to be for today. That's it." "Sorry. Can't do. The system doesn't like it." "Can you just put Anonymous or something?" "Look, I'll just put in Jane Doe. That's the best I can do. But next time you have to give a real name." "Ok fine. Jane Doe it is then." Maximo worked eight hours that day. He'd only planned to work six since the daycare center closed early on Fridays. On his fourth attempt at gaining consciousness, he saw a wooden table floating in the abyss. He swam over and touched the wood. It felt solid and smooth. The surface was shiny, but Maximo couldn't see his reflection. "Get away from my table," a woman said. He turned and saw a woman swimming toward him. "How'd you get this table here?" he asked. "I'm not sure. But I found it. So it's mine." "What are you going to do with it though? Not like there's a way to take it with you. Is there?" "Of course not. I'm starting a new world. And this table is the start." "So we're like Adam and Eve?" "How lame are you? I said this is a new world. The story is unwritten." "So we just float around here and wait?" She sat on the table and crossed her legs. "Depends on your ambitions. Me, I'm gonna explore. Who knows how many other tables are out there." When Maximo's shift ended, he opened his eyes, hoping to see the table in the middle of nowhere. Instead he was in his coffin. At least that was what the workers called it. The official term was cube. He looked at his watch and realized that he was late. He unstrapped the electrodes from his head, swung open the door of his cube, and sprinted to the daycare center. He was out of breath and leaned against the darkened glass walls. He pressed his face against the glass and saw toys, plastic kitchens, slides and rocking horses. There was nothing he could do, he reassured himself more than once. Chances were the daycare had emergency procedures for negligent parents. They couldn't lock the kids inside or abandon them in the street. He'd look for her in the morning. Bright and early. No hot shower. No eggs and bacon with shitty instant coffee. He'd take the first bus to the daycare at 5AM. But now was time for rest, for sleep. Maximo arrived at Sunny Farms Daycare at 10AM. He'd overslept and decided a shower would wake him up and a nice breakfast would give him much needed energy. The playroom was full of children. There was one adult for every ten of them. And the gate was open for precocious toddlers to crawl into the lobby and be snatched up. There weren't even security cameras to catch potential abductions. Just then a man in a black hoodie and baseball cap walked out with a little boy. The receptionist just stared at her phone. Maximo walked up to the her. She was the same one from yesterday. "That guy just walked out with that kid." "Oh, that's Larry picking up his son for lunch." She looked at her phone again. "Yup, 10:15 as always." <center>***</center>"How'd your daughter enjoy the Sunny Farms experience?" she asked. "That's what I came here to talk to you about. I left work late and by the time I got here, the place was closed." "Your wife picked her up last night," she said. "She's my ex. I completely forgot that weekends are her nights. How'd she know to look here?" "I don't know. She just came in here showing a picture of your daughter in this cute tiger outfit and saying you probably registered her with no name." Maximo thanked her and headed for his coffin. He attached the trodes and flipped the switch. "Welcome back," the woman said when Maximo gained consciousness. There were two tables floating in the air. One was upside down. The woman was in the midst of kicking at one of the table's legs. "Come help me make some weapons," she said. "Which coffin are you in? Maybe we can talk about this over lunch?" "I'm never going back." "Why not?" "I see potential here. Can't you see the new world?" "I see two tables." "Yes, two tables. That's one more than the day before. The world is expanding. Can't you feel it?" "No. Not really. Tell, me how are you able to stay conscious for so long? What's your secret?" "It's as simple as taking a stand and saying I'm staying here. I'm not leaving. This is where I belong. It's a choice." After Maximo's shift, he searched the coffins. A security guard stopped him and asked him what he was doing. "I'm looking for a friend, I haven't seen her leave the coffin today." "What's your friend's name?" "I don't know, I just met her yesterday. We have a date. Maybe she stood me up, but maybe something's wrong. Like what if she's trapped." "I don't recall that ever happening. People are in and out. We keep a list of who comes in and who comes out. And we make sure they don't overwork." "Look can you just check this for me." The security officer checked the occupied coffins and found ten that were still occupied. "Probably just people who work the graveyard shift," he said. They searched all ten coffins and found nothing. "Maybe she got lost in the system? Have you had any complaints about occupied coffins?" "There's 1,000 coffins here, so it's possible we have issues, but I don't see any complaints." When Maximo got home he knocked on Jane's door. She wasn't home. Her car was gone and the lights were out. It turned out that she had sent an email to the landlord that she was moving. She paid the rest of her rent and the contract termination fee. She said he could sell any furniture that she left in the apartment. "Where did she go?" Maximo asked. The landlord said that he didn't know and that even if he did he would not be privy to that information. "Did she seem panicked or worried or anything? Don't you find it strange that she left so abruptly." "I don't judge people. If they want to live here, they want to live here, and if they want to leave, they can leave. That's how it is." Maximo considered dialing 9-1-1 or stopping at the police station in person, but he could not bring himself to do it. He kept saying tomorrow. A week passed. Then a month. <center>***</center>Instead of returning home, Maximo took a taxi to the airport. He had planned to stay at least a month or maybe longer if he felt comfortable back at the family nest with his old room and old bed. He remembered when he'd first dropped his luggage down. The room was dark and smelled clean. It was empty except for his old twin mattress. If he'd stayed longer, he was sure it would become comfortable. It would feel like home again. He'd get a TV and fill his drawers and closet with his clothes. The smell of the bed would no longer be of fresh linens, but of his own. And when dinner was ready, his mother would knock on his door twice and he'd drop what he was doing and sit at his place in the dining room between his mother and father. Laura had texted him earlier. She wanted to catch up over lunch some time this week or the next. After that she had another surrogate gig and she needed to train and work her body into shape again. Her next assignment was with an African American couple, which she admitted felt kind of strange, yet exciting. She was concerned that she had those feelings. She wanted to feel that it was perfectly normal. Just another nine month job. After that she planned to retire and get married to her boyfriend who'd proposed after her most recent childbirth. She hadn't told their mother yet, and as a consequence, their father was also in the dark because he'd surely break the news. Laura wrote this in a series of text messages. On the way to the airport, he considered buying a ticket to Japan, and once he arrived in Tokyo, he'd find a warm place to eat udon and serendipitously meet his old girlfriend and they'd talk about their five years apart pretending they didn't exist and how stupid it was to think the world was big enough. He stopped at that thought and changed his destination to Alaska. He imagined the state as a world of snow, a place unbearably cold and dark. It was the edge of the world. He would need to learn how to survive like the generations before him. This was a world where cell phones stopped working and technology was a CRT television that displayed only static, he thought. This was a world where opportunity awaited, but it would require patience. The flight to Anchorage was about three quarters full. He managed to secure an aisle seat near the back of the plane. He preferred the aisle because he could walk to the restroom without needing to contort around bodies and cramped seats. Also on the flight was a child traveler named Alexis who sat at the window seat. She wore a pink shirt with a sparkling unicorn and purple pants. The woman in the center seat introduced herself as Emily. She talked to the girl in that extra-friendly tone that many adults use when speaking to children. She looked to be about the age of his girlfriend. She wore jeans and a gray shirt with the sleeves rolled just above her elbows. A cream-colored infinity scarf hung around her neck. Emily showed Alexis how to draw flowers in her moleskin notebook. "You draw pretty flowers." Alexis mimicked the movements of Emily's fingers. "My flowers don't look as pretty as yours though. Mine are too pointy and spiny like a sea urchin." "My brother is really good at drawing," Emily said. "He has some artwork published in galleries. Do you know how he got good?" "I don't know. Does he have special fingers?" "He has special fingers all right. But they got special through practice. Just keep practicing and your urchins will slowly transform into flowers." "How long will that take? I want to show Wendy Bryant so she'll want to be my best friend." "You shouldn't think about this in terms of time or this other girl. Just keep practicing for yourself. That's the only person that matters," Emily said. Alexis drew a slightly less urchin-looking flower. Unsatisfied with her progress she crumpled the paper snd stuffed the wad in the seat pocket. She sighed. "I wish I was talented and smart and pretty like you." Maximo's seat-mates continued their conversation until the plane arrived at Ted Stevens International airport. Emily had helped Alexis with her math homework. They also watched a kid's show that Alexis knew all the words to. Emily did not watch television. She spent time with her friends instead. Her friends were artists and musicians. Creative types. She lived in Portland but spent time couch-surfing in different cities where she had friends or had made new ones. Emily motioned to Maximo that she needed to get her bags from the overhead compartments. He stood up and leaned against a lavatory door. There was a long line of passengers in front of them. People were checking phones and grabbing their carry-ons. Some sat and talked to their neighbors as the plane slowly emptied. "Thanks," she said. "I hope we didn't disturb you too much. You seem deep in thought." She strapped on her backpack and hung the strap of her duffel bag on her left shoulder. "Not at all," Maximo said. "I was impressed at how you easily connected with her. You must be a teacher." "I could never be a teacher. I like meeting new people and seeing new places. It's not as hard as you think so long as you don't expect luxury hotels and aren't afraid. You can always find someone who will accept you." "What do you mean by afraid?" "It's hard to explain. But take for example the reason I'm flying to Alaska this summer," Emily said. "My friend and I are going to spend the next three months on a salmon fishing boat." Maximo said nothing. He was still trying make sense of what she meant by afraid. "Don't get the impression that I'm reckless. I did a thorough background check on the guy and his references checked out. There are a lot of unknowns, but if things go right I'll have $20,000 in the bank." When Maximo stepped out of the airport, he saw no snow. He saw paved roads and the bustling of taxis and people pushing luggage. He saw the clear night sky and the city lights in the distance. The temperature was a breezy 65 degrees. <em>Richard To lives in the Bay Area. This is his first published story. You can read a selection of his older stories on his blog, <a href="http://richard.to/fiction">Letters from a Maladroit</a>.</em>