Saturday, April 23, 2016

NADIA Picture Tour, Next Stop!

By the time they reached D'Antini's, Nadia knew she was in the company of a friend. She and Jon made small talk while they waited for the maitre d' to find them a table in the middle of the sumptuous dining room, and she almost forgot about having to explain herself to her station staff.
The appetizers were amazing, if unidentifiable. Nadia asked what was in them and Jon just smiled and held up a hand. "You really don't want to know."

Nadia almost spit out the latest mouthful, but thought twice about it as she looked around. This was too nice a place to be so rude. Her eyes widened in mirth as she tried to laugh around it and almost choked trying to get it down. She grabbed her water glass and took a drink, waving a hand at her face.
"You jerk," she laughed softly, when her mouth became free. "All right, seriously now, do you take every woman who faints in your arms to a place this fancy?"

"No," he answered, "just those who remind me of a dear friend." The smile faded from his face and he became pensive for several seconds. Then he placed a couple more appetizers on her salad plate. "Here," he said, suddenly brightening, "have some more…brown, crusty…things."

She chuckled again, pushing the plate away. "No, thanks. A moment on the lips…." She let the rest of the cliché fade away while she rearranged her napkin in her lap, trying to buy some time before she had to plow ahead. "So why am I here with you? Because you're concerned for me or because I remind you of someone else?"

"That is an entirely unfair question, Miss Velasquez. I was wondering that very thing myself. Maybe a little bit of both. Is that okay?"

"How did you know my last name?" she asked. It was not as if she were a necessarily private person, it was mainly that she hoped he would not recognize her from television. She was already AWOL. She may as well put in her resignation as soon as she got back to 'Frisco.

"I heard you lie to 'Steve,' whoever that is. When you talked about an interview with a president, I pegged you right off the bat. I've been to the West Coast on business a few times."

"That's where you saw me before. Well, that answers that, then."

"No, it doesn't." Jon looked at Nadia again, the piercing gaze locked on her face. "There's something else, and I can't explain it yet. Just less than four years ago I lost my best friend and her family…."

"Oh, I must look like her, then—"

He cut her off. "How's Phillip?"

Nadia's hand stopped halfway to her water glass. She felt paralyzed. The blood drained from her face, leaving it ice cold. The memory reconnected like a switch in her mind. The question trickled weakly from her lips, her voice quavering. "Who's Phillip?"

Jon's voice took on a steely edge. He wasn't becoming hostile, just insistent, but insistent in a way that made her feel like she was being peeled away, layer by layer under a microscope. "You know full well who Phillip is."

The trembling in her hand increased to a violent shaking. She remembered someone telling her, "It took twenty-three surgeries just to reconstruct your face." Her breath came in gasps; her voice weakened. Phillip. Phillip was— She found herself unable to get up, incapable of walking away, too terrified to run, like a bird in the gaze of a snake. "What are you talking about?"

"Why did you skip out on your flight, Nadia? Why did you come to the Staley's at 42nd and Lexington? Why at that particular time?"

The questions gushed from Jon's mouth, one right after another, and Nadia had no chance to answer any individual one. He became more agitated as he went, until Nadia thought he would reach over the table and strangle her right there in public. "Why did you order a double-decaf-mochaccino latté with a cinnamon stick? Why did you know my nickname and then faint as soon as you recognized me? Why are we sitting here right now, while the chef in the kitchen prepares Steak Hélène rare? Before the appetizers came, why were you doodling Betty Boop figures on your napkin and playing with your left ear?" Twenty-three surgeries. "Nobody has called me 'Jake' since I was ten, except for her and my mom. And you absolutely hate Merlot, don't you?"

Nadia's hand never made it to the water glass. She couldn't think. A sound roared in her head, like ten thousand voices screaming in terror. An icy spear of fear shot through her chest. Hot tears rolled down her face, and her chest heaved as she gasped for breath.
She hoped with everything inside her that no one else was watching these two terrified people having this horrible, strange confrontation. Her vision started to close in again, but she fought it off. As it was, she nearly fell out of her chair. Her voice was strange and weak. "Do…do you know who I am?"

* * * *

I'm finishing out a school on the East Coast, which afforded an awesome opportunity for a weekend day trip to New York City. So, just when I thought our picture tour of the NADIA Project was done, we're off and running again. So thanks to all my readers and fellow castaways for putting up with yet one more stop. I think I know better now to actually call an end to the tour, because you never know what might come around the corner.

So this week, we're looking at the restaurant scene from Becoming NADIA,  my EPIC-Award-winning first novel.

After covering about fifty blocks on foot in downtown Manhattan, it was time for lunch. And what do we have in Downtown that's more plentiful than anything else? Restaurants.  And even better, this place happened to be within about four blocks of the Chrysler Building. This is La Villa Italia, and I will definitely be coming back here as often as I can. The calamari is a plateful of awesome, and tghe sauce they serve with it tastes like they have an Italian Grandma back in the kitchen who starts making this stuff like, the previous day.

It was a Saturday just before the lunch rush when we walked in. The owner had a wonderfully thick accent, but was the essence of hospitality. Showed us to out table, brought drinks, and that was when I found out something about real Italian restaurants: You are NOT in a hurry if you're eating there.

Count on a leisurely, comfortable wait while your waiter fills your drinks and offers the best fare on the menu, with vivid details about the preparation process. In the background, two men in the kitchen are arguing in Italian. Or are they just sharing banter? It's hard to tell. All I can tell you for sure is it was so much fun to hear. I half expected to see one of them marching through the dining room waving a freshly-killed chicken.

I got up once to use the men's room, which was downstairs. Basements in Manhattan are pretty deep, I'm going to tell you. The steps went down about a story and a half, and then the hall took a right turn, past several doors marked "private." One of them opened, and a man came through, roughly a side of beef with a shave. He didn't smile, and I didn't try to start a conversation.

I was almost disappointed that we never saw a fat, well-dressed man with a napkin stuffed in his shirt front seat in the corner, watching the door with arrogant expectation.

But who's to say he didn't come in right after we left?

Saturday, April 16, 2016

NADIA Photo Tour, Continued!

Back in the concourse, Nadia checked her watch one more time. Good, they had to have taken off by now. She opened the stall door (appropriate term, she thought wryly) and came back out of the women's restroom, turning down the concourse in the opposite direction her cameraman had gone a few minutes before.

Her heart slammed in her chest like a thousand midget carpenters. She was throwing a wrench into her career for this. But there wasn't going to be another chance to find out, on her own, without being spoon-fed bits of information from someone else. No, this was something she had to do on her own, right now, if she was going to find out the truth.

In another five minutes, she was in the loading zone. A taxicab stopped in front of her, and, before she knew it, Nadia was in the back seat, heading toward the Chrysler Building as the plane with her cameraman took off for London. She would probably lose her job for ducking out like this, but she couldn't think of another way to find out for sure if she had indeed seen this place before. Maybe she could catch up to some more of her ever-elusive memory.

Oh, well. Maybe if I play my cards right, I won't get into too much trouble. It would be  worth it, just to touch something that was hers alone, something she wouldn't have to share.

Nadia looked out the cab's windows at the skyline spread out before her as they crossed the Queensboro Bridge. There arose in her consciousness a disturbing kind of tingle, like another part of her was awakening from some deep and hidden slumber.

 She wasn't sure exactly when she began suspecting Petr and the others were holding information from her. But now she was positive they knew something they weren't telling her, and that made her more determined to find out exactly what it was. If they wouldn't tell her, then she'd just find out on her own.

Right now.

The taxi ride was over before Nadia knew it. She did not remember paying the cabbie and getting out, or how long she stood on the curb staring up at the hulking profile of the Chrysler Building. Her mind buzzed and her knees shook as she walked down East 42nd Street until she saw Staley's.

She stepped through the door and waited in line until the counter attendant took her order. She ordered automatically, what she had always ordered, but somehow her voice seemed not to be her own. “Double-decaf-mochaccino latté with a cinnamon stick, please.”

As she turned away from the counter with her cup, a strange pressure mounted in her head. This place is important somehow. But how, exactly? She was so distracted and lightheaded she bumped unsteadily into the man behind her. “Sorry, Jake,” she started offhandedly, but then the man's face came into view. Jon? He had shaved his beard, but those eyes… Jon! A rush of recognition crashed into her mind and, as she started to fall toward the floor and her vision closed in, she heard him ask, “Do I know you…?”

* * * *
The story behind the photo:

I actually didn't count on being sent to the East Coast for work any time soon. But I got assigned to  a school ion New Jersey for an advanced avionics suite in Falcon 900EX EASy. And hey, guess what's right next to New Jersey?

So my instructor and I took the Imperial Ferry from the Jersey Side to Manhattan this morning,  and  I got to visit a couple sites from Becoming NADIA. I'm blessed to be able to continue my Blog Tour of The NADIA Project with a couple shots of the Chrysler Building.

So I made up the name Staley's, based of course on Starbuck's. And as Old Bill said, "They's a Staley's 'round the corner from ever' damn where in New York." 

We walked around, visited the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, Central Park, Gransd Central Station, and about a dozen or so places in Mid-Town Manhattan, just to say we'd been there.

And I got these shots. I have one more place to relate. We'll catch up with that next week.

Till then, keep it real, folks. Be You.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Society. Remember that?

I don't think anyone would disagree with me when I say that, if anything, America has become a fractured society.

Certainly, social media plays a big role in that. People can just hide behind the relative anonymity of their computers and lob meme grenades at random, with relative immunity from the consequences of their actions. It's a playground for trolls and half-educated people to spread semi-truths and misinterpretations, hand-picked to fit whatever agenda the poster desires.

Now, I'm not saying it's wrong to have an agenda. We all want to associate with people who share our beliefs and our visions. We also have a free speech amendment in our Constitution that pretty much guarantees everyone in the US can say what they want, when they want. Right? Free Speech, they call it. And God knows how Americans love their rights. And it's fine for everyone else to have rights, too.

As long as they agree with your agenda.

Just ask anyone on Facebook. Anyone who dares to disagree with you, is automatically a hater, an idiot, a fool, blind, WRONG! Therefore, you, a citizen (in most cases) of a free society, with the right to free speech, have the right, nay, the responsibility, to heap derision upon them in the form of a meme. And because you share it on YOUR page, it means nobody has the right to address you about it. Right?

I think we're getting confused on the balance of rights vs responsibility when it comes to maintaining a society.

Humans operate on multiple levels of responsibility. The first level is the responsibility to themselves, the Individual. You interact with yourself, in your own little closet, in your bedroom, in your apartment, your house (if you live alone). You can tell yourself anything you want, do whatever you want, you're accountable to one person: YOU. Okay, some of you will add God. And yes, you are accountable to God, if you believe you are. I hold myself accountable to my God. But that's a part of being accountable to myself, for my own future.

Next up, we have the family unit. We can discuss specific family structure another time, and in fact, Alvin Toffler wrote about that in his book Future Shock, which was a disturbingly accurate prediction of the changes the world began to take on back in the '70's. It might be a worthwhile read, even today.

Anyway, back to the family. You as an individual, have a responsibility to your family, inculcated from birth. The ones who raised you, held you accountable to standards of behavior that included getting along with your siblings and obeying the senior members of the family. I don't have to go into great detail about what happened to me when I talked back to my mama, do I? I can tell you, after that first time, it didn't happen very often.

After the Individual, after the Family Unit, we are all accountable to our Neighborhoods. It's a plain and simple fact, I've seen it over and over again growing up on the wrong side of the tracks: If you make trouble in your own neighborhood, your neighborhood will take care of its own. A thief doesn't rob houses on his own street. Not unless he has a gang of cronies that will protect him from the torch and pitchfork mob that would otherwise yank him out into the street and deliver swift justice.

The other levels of responsibility, of accountability, belong to our companies, our town (usually represented by our high school), our state, our nation. All these levels of responsibility are there to help s to get along with each other. That defines our Society, or Community. That which receives our loyalty and our trust, defines acceptable conduct.

Society says, "Hey, it's a world out here with all kinds. Let's put our big boy/big girl pants on and get along. Here are the rules of getting along..." And like that, we have a community. We understand who we are. We understand where we are in our community, and what's expected of us. Then, you know what happens? We have people getting along, saying please and thank you, tipping your wait staff, obeying laws and ordinances. And if they can't get along, they either move out, or we move them into places like prison (for those who harm others).

But Social Media, that's another story, isn't it? Stomp around on your own little hilltop, shake your fist and scream "Get offa my lawn!" at the passersby as you heap insults and call fire down from heaven on all those heathens and sinners. You don't have to be civil on social media. In fact, if you do something stupid and post it on social media, you get to be famous. So do something stupid, post it on your page, and no one will be able to hold you accountable for it. It's on your page, after all. It's not like anyone's going to see you grinding an American flag into the dirt, or pouring scorn on anyone's faith system, or lack-of-faith system.

That animosity, that horrid vitriol, spills out into our day to day lives, and look what's happening as a result. I'm sure Facebook isn't he only culprit. We have Social Experimenters in Washington, DC who are doing their best to reinvent the Social Wheel, to force us into their mold of what Society should look like. And instead of building community, they are tearing us apart. But Facebook isn't helping. Where else can a picture get relabeled to make Jesus into a likeness of Adolf Hitler, and go viral fifteen minutes after the original troll posts it?

Someone on my friends list recently posted a meme that was a wry, semi-humorous, back-handed slap at a group of people. Oh, goodness, that never happens, does it? The bottom line was, it showed not just a profound lack of knowledge of the matter, but a profound willingness to not even try to understand the other group. And I chimed in with a statement that basically called into question the hostile nature of the meme.

Now, I will say, the "friend" in question wasn't someone I'm close to, more like a casual acquaintance. All the same, being in the group at which the meme was directed, I was hoping to inspire a conversation about the concept in question. Immediately upon which, this person and about five of their friends decided I was meat in the shark tank, and lit into me about what business I had, responding to something they posted on THEIR page, and how dare I suggest they were wrong?

Hey, Little Mary Sunshine, Let me rain on your parade a little: What you post on your page becomes part of a COMMUNITY. It's part of how you show yourself to the public eye. And not everyone in this wide world sides with you in your narrow-minded view of the group upon whom you were heaping your insults.

I have stood guard for your right to say what you will. But that doesn't mean I have to abide by blatant stupidity. It doesn't mean I have to stand by and let you pour derision on anyone, for any reason, without calling you to account for what you say. Words mean things. And from the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. We all have a responsibility to use our freedom of speech in a way that builds community, rather than tearing it down.

It's time we became a society again.

Realize, first and foremost, that what you put up on your page, is words from your mouth. You say whatever you post. Whatever you share. That's YOU, Bubba. So don't be surprised if someone questions you, or takes you to account for it. You didn't paste it on your closet wall. Real people out here see that filth, that hatred, that venom, that ignorant slime, coming out of your mouth, the same mouth that kisses your baby daughter good night.

It's time we became a community again.

It's time we started living by the two things our parents tried to instill in us from birth: One, to treat others as you would have them treat you, and B, If you can't say something good about someone, then shut your pie hole.

I'm done being told I'm less intelligent because I post positive pictures and memes. I'm done being told that, as a person of faith, I should sit down, shut up, and take whatever insults are aimed at me. I'm sick of being told I'm the bad guy because I believe a person should be empowered to make their own way without being overwatched and dictated to by our own government, the one who said 240 years ago that they would stay out of our way and let us be free people. And I'm supremely tired of being told that, as a veteran, I have no more responsibility to defend our flag and the republic it represents from all enemies, foreign and domestic (that means ALL enemies, inside and outside the borders of the United States).

It's time we started to bring our country, our world, back together, back from this social brink we find ourselves looking over. Because I fear for a future where freedom and liberty are taken so much for granted, that they are easily taken away for the sake of security.

But that's another discussion.

It's time we all put on our big girl/big boy pants, and actually worked on getting along.