Category Archives: Stories

Bus Ride

Photo by RW Rynerson, Fall 1965. Wikimedia Commons.

Eighteen and a tough realization to swallow: Dad’s home was worse than Mom’s. Dad’s wife was more abusive than Mom’s husband. So he decided to jump from the fire and back into the frying pan.

At seventeen he left Mom’s house and flew clear across the country to live with Dad and his new bride. But his new stepmom didn’t like him. Didn’t want him. Besides, she was a crazy, mean drunk. So when he faced a choice between east and west, he opted for a college on the west coast.

She dropped him off at the bus station. So long, you wicked witch of the east, he muttered to himself as she sped away. Depressed, disappointed, and disillusioned, he boarded the Greyhound.

Grand Central Station. A crowded mess for a small town young man who needed to make his connection. He finally found the correct terminal in the hurly-burly ruck of this massive building in the heart of Manhattan. His bewildered eyes were like searchlights, exploring the proper way to go, while at the same time attracting attention.

“Need help?” he heard a gentle Texan drawl. There beside him hovered a tall lank man in a cowboy hat, about ten years older than him. “Howdy, I’m John. John Lash. You goin’ to Albuquerque, too?”

He took in the tall Texan, warily scanning him up and down. “No,” he replied coolly, and turned his attention to studying the transfer ticket in his hands.

“Ah, California. I can see that on your ticket. Well this is the right terminal. Gets confusing here, don’t it?”

The younger man glanced back up. “Yeah, it does.” He felt suspicious and cupped the ticket so this stranger’s prying eyes couldn’t read it anymore.

Lash laughed a little. “Hey, I’m just trying to help. Well if you need anymore help I’ll be standing over there,” he pointed.

What kind of prick am I? The thought sneaked into his head. That guy seems nice enough. He felt a little guilty. A few minutes later he made his way over and introduced himself. “I’m Sal, by the way.” They shook hands.

The Texan was a very present man. He listened attentively. He seemed relaxed and self-assured. He conveyed confidence and security. And he seemed ever ready to assist with any need. These were things this young man craved from the people he associated with, yet received so rarely.

Sal gradually relaxed his guard and fell into the confidence of the self-assured man with the cowboy hat.

The bus ride carried them through the Garden State, and across the Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. What an exciting time for this young man, who’s only prior crossing of the continent occurred at 30,000 feet. Now he was getting a ground’s-eye view of America the beautiful.

John Lash befriended him, and they spent many hours in the seat cushions, next to each other, sharing stories, swapping lies, and commenting on the passing scenery.

Lash claimed to be a Texas Aggie alumnus, and regaled him with tales of his A&M years, and the exploits of the Aggie’s famed football team, and all kinds of other stories about Texas. Sal learned that Texas was the last Confederate state to surrender during the Civil War. And he learned that Texas had the best this, and the most that. And he learned these aggrandizing facts with interest, because John Lash had a charisma to him that made every word he uttered seem necessary to know, cool, and immutably correct.

Sal grew fascinated with Lash and the state he hailed from. And he began to wonder if Texas might be a good place to settle down and start a career. This was an important consideration for a fledgling like him, with his whole life ahead of him. Just past a cup of coffee at Hubbard, Ohio he began to to voice this interest to John. The cowboy squinted two approving eyes at him, then lowered his voice and quickly promised, “We’ll talk about it later.”

He then stood up from his seat, swaggered up a few rows, and plunked down next to a pretty young lady who had just boarded at Hubbard. He sparked a conversation with her, and it seemed his charming, genteel ways won her over within minutes.

Sal felt instant jealousy. He was attracted to Lash. Not in a sexual way, for Sal liked pretty young ladies also. But in a comradely way. But now it appeared he had to share his new friend’s attentions with this muliebrity that had transfigured the bus.

Finally the nubile one disembarked a long eight hours later, at her destination in Indianapolis. Lash returned. Now, as promised, the cowboy discussed Texas as a place to live.

Great state, wonderful state, he advertised.

But, he pointed out, New Mexico was even better.

For the first time, he brought up copper mines. He was employed at a copper mine in New Mexico, he revealed. The work was hard, but not too hard, and it paid very well, according to him. Between Terre Haute and St. Louis, he spun yarns and otherwise expounded at length on his experiences in this occupation that he described as the best thing that had ever happened to him, making it seem magical to the ears of the young man beside him.

The bus stopped for a while in Joplin, and they got out to stretch their legs and walk the town a bit. A Mexican man in his 30’s, named Santino, had joined them for occasional conversation, on the bus, and he accompanied the two on the town walk. Their trialogue mainly consisted of comments about various sites they descried. But somehow these comments always found their way back to the copper mines of New Mexico.

Lash startled the young man when he suddenly suggested, “Why don’t you try to get hired where I work?”

“Who, me?!” Sal felt both flattered and flummoxed at the suggestion. “They’d never hire me. I’m too young, and I’ve never done that kind of work before.”

John spit a stream of tobacco onto the street. He was always chewing that stuff. On the bus he carried around an empty soda pop can that he spit frequently into. “Shit!” he declared, “They’re always hiring people. Long as you’re willing to work you’ll do good there. Pays well, too.”

Sal had never lived on his own before. The thought frightened and fascinated him. Here . . . here . . . was an opportunity to make it on his own. He didn’t need college. He didn’t have to go back to living in an abusive home. Why, he could get a good job in New Mexico and never have to live under the roof of an abuser again.

He promised John he’d think about it.

Past the Oklahoma Ozarks, the sleek Greyhound raced. John, Santino, and Sal got into a penny-ante poker game at the back of the bus. John kept at it with his fulsome praise of the copper mining industry, while Santino seemed bored and kept trying to change the subject. Sal felt a little annoyed with Santino about this, but minded his manners.

Then Santino lost a big pot to John, and had to stop playing. Sal felt guilty pleasure at Santino’s misfortune, but did his best to keep his glee to himself.

A long stop at Oklahoma City invited a stroll in the summer morning heat. Santino guided the conversation to food, and how hungry he felt. John bought him a hot dog from a sidewalk vendor, then steered the talk back to the glory of copper.

Later, the motorcoach flew further down the highway.

Sal felt intrigued by the long cracks in the earth, breaking through the Llano Estacado of the Texas panhandle. And of course Lash, a Texas native, had plenty of tales to tell about his supposed exploits in Amarillo.

By this time the two were great friends, and Sal drank in every word uttered by this cowboy, like a longhorn steer at a watering hole. But the subject of copper mining no longer came up much, because it already seemed like a given that Sal was sold on the prospect. Besides, Santino had done a fairly good job of discouraging any further talk on the matter. All Lash did was occasionally check to make sure Sal was still interested.

Sheet lightning washed over the long bus as it motored into Tucumcari. “Ya see,” Lash drawled, “Indian legend has it that many years ago there lived two great chiefs, named Tucum and Cari. They fought a great battle here, and from then on lightning strikes became very common on this plain. This town gets more lightning strikes than anywhere else in the world.”

This was all pure bullshit, but it sounded great to Sal. He believed it. He believed anything his Texan friend told him. But he barely heard John, because he was looking forward with so much excitement to his new life that was about to unfold, as a New Mexican copper miner.

Around midnight, air brakes hissed the Greyhound to a long stop at a terminal in the downtown Albuquerque bus station. Everyone had to get out for a spell to allow for cleaning. But also this was Lash’s destination. And Sal’s too now, it would seem. Sal stuck beside his Texan friend, while Santino tagged along to say his goodbyes.

John Lash called his brother, informed him of his arrival, and told him he had a friend with him who also needed to be picked up.

Santino moved into Sal’s view and suddenly, ever so briefly, transformed into a singular figure of abject fear. “Are you sure you want to do this, Sal?” he gasped.

The worry lines, the genuine concern that flashed on his face . . . it triggered a feeling like a kick in the gut. And suddenly Sal felt doubts.

Lash heard the question and spun around to face Sal, with an inquiring look.

“Uh, yeah, I, I, I don’t know. I think so.”

Lash’s eyes were gimlets, boring into his skull. “You mean to tell me you were all fired up all this time about working at the copper mine, and now you’re not sure? Come on!”

“No, I still want to do it. I think. But then I won’t go to college. My mom is expecting me tomorrow in San Diego. What do I tell her?”

“Hay-ell,” John drawled out. “You can call ‘mommy’ tomorrow and jist tell her. That way she won’t worry. Come on. Be a man. Be like a Texan.”

Calling her in the morning sounded kind of reassuring to Sal, but he still felt troubled. It’s funny how a person can feel very enthusiastic about something until the time actually arrives to commit. Hesitation has a way of stealing its way into the soul of those who possess even a small fraction of wisdom. And even at his young age, Sal possessed a bit of wisdom. For wisdom is known to weave itself into the warp and weft of children who endure years of abuse.

It’s a good thing, this hesitation and wisdom. It can really save you sometimes.

They kicked it around some more, and then a half hour later a fourth man appeared in their midst. John Lash’s brother, George. George looked nothing like John. He had a dumpy figure, was slovenly dressed, and seemed about ten years older.

George looked Sal up and down. He glanced over to John with a fleetingly approving look. Then he sort of whined, “Oh, I don’t know. I guess he can come if you want.” He shrugged his shoulders and sighed, “He can sleep on the couch for a while.” He acted as if this would be something of an imposition, but expressed a reluctant willingness to humor his brother.

The two Lashes directed hard gazes Sal’s way. Sal rolled his head up, down, then all around, trying to dodge eye contact and the pressure that goes with it. Then he caught Santino’s eyes, who stood out of view from the brothers, behind them. Santino dramatically shook his head side to side, while mouthing the word, “NO!”

Sal was young, but not so naive he couldn’t recognize the quality of Santino’s character. This Mexican was no nonsense. He hardly possessed a fraction of the excitement and charisma owned by John, but he did carry within him a somber grasp of reality, and resignation to the hard facts of life, that seemed to kind of elude the self-assured cowboy. Sal didn’t like such resignation, because it was so unexciting. But his own life experience enabled him to connect with it. It was familiar. It was real. And it was something he knew he could count on.

It was enough. This unspoken “NO” from Santino was perhaps the most fortunate piece of advice Sal would ever receive. And Sal took it to heart.

“I think I’ll pass, John,” Sal murmured, feeling a little ashamed.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, yes!” with a little more emphasis. Sal hung his head but stood his ground, as a diesel engine purred in the background.

The bus was now boarding. It was time for a parting. They all shook hands and the Lash brothers sauntered out of the station.

Who knows what might have happened had this young stripling man gone with them? Perhaps you can imagine many hypotheticals. But here’s what we do know. Here’s what resulted from Sal’s decision:

Sal attended college in San Diego. After college he faltered in his career aspirations, as many young men do who’ve emerged from an abusive childhood. But he eventually found success, entered into a satisfying marriage, and retired in relative comfort.

As for John Lash, he and his brother were also successful. Over the next six years they succeeded at luring eight young men into their home. There they raped, tortured, and strangled them with ligatures.

They buried their bodies in an abandoned copper mine.

Santino hung near Sal all the way to San Bernardino. When the Greyhound stopped from time-to-time to allow its passengers to get off and find a place to eat, Santino followed him to various eateries and never left Sal’s side. You see, Santino was penniless and very hungry, and Sal had a few bucks to spend. In Flagstaff Sal bought him some burritos at Taco Bell. Barstow saw Sal treating Santino to a bag of chips from a vending machine.

Sal didn’t have much money, and felt annoyed with Santino’s mooching ways. Such annoyance is understandable, given Sal’s limited resources. But any annoyance would have quickly evaporated had he realized then, just who this man was that he was feeding.

For as it turned out, Santino was Sal’s guardian angel.

A Spontaneous Chemical Reaction in the Midst of a Desert


It was high noon at the High Moon Pizza Cafe. The desert sun outside desiccated the rocks, cacti, and Joshua trees. But inside a swamp cooler purred away, refreshing each new customer who staggered through the front door.

It was 98 outside and 88 inside. The swamp cooler only took about 10 degrees off the heat. But it felt like the Antarctic for those seeking refuge from the flaming overhead sun.

This refuge was her place of employ. While El Sol baked brains outside, she baked pizza pies inside. And she waited on zombies. The zombies were her customers. They were the desert rats who staggered through the front door in a state of brain-baked dyscrasia, and as delusional as the heat haze on the horizon.

She was practically a zombie herself, from the effect of the pizza ovens. This heat on the brain plays tricks on people. It boils the cerebral hemispheres, fries the neurons, and sizzles the synapses. And it makes possible a phenomenon between two encephalons that is known as a spontaneous chemical reaction.

Her 22-year-old face and figure were not beautiful, just pretty. Plainly pretty. And then only under cooler circumstances. But today all shreds of prettiness washed away from her.

Her face was enwreathed with sweat. It dripped in beads down her forehead and stung her eyes, burning them red. It formed droplets under her nose, lips, and chin. And it ran rivers down her bare neck, shoulders and meaty arms.

She wore a thin, green, cotton tank top, soaked in moisture. The decolletage of this bodice exposed a hint of sweaty cleavage. Below this beaded valley rolled sweat-stained green hills, and below each of these hills, trapped heat unleashed runnels of perspiration that streaked the fabric of her top from her bosoms to her waistline.

He poked his head through the cafe door, attracted by the 20% discount he’d heard about, for first responders. Then he wiped the sweat off his brow with the palm of his hand, and staggered inside to join the zombies waiting in the queue. He stood behind two other customers and slowly shook his head a bit, trying to clear and orient his heat-hazed mind.

She glanced over their heads and caught sight of the face of this man who was last in line. It struck her like a shot of adrenalin. Her heart flip-flopped. A mysterious, volatile element surged through her internal chemistry.

One millisecond later: Flashpoint!

Then: Explosion!

And suddenly she knew she had glimpsed the face of her future husband.

He was 24 years old, of towering stature, and in peak physical condition. He sported upside-down sunglasses perched atop sweat-soaked auburn hair, which was neatly trimmed around salty wet ears.

He was an EMT, dressed in a close-fitting blue shirt, mottled with blotches of moisture. A black web belt cinctured the narrow waistline of his pants, which stunk of perspiration. A 2-way radio clipped to this belt could quickly drag him back outside into the smoldering heat, to assist at the next car wreck, heat stroke, or other emergency. He prayed to all the gods that this wouldn’t happen until he’d had at least 30 minutes of respite in this cool refuge.

He was a handsome man, at other times, when his sudoriferous skin did not pour waterfalls all over his body. He was for sure much better looking than she. And his income as an EMT was far higher than her fast-food slave wage.

He was cool, magnetic, and possessed of savoir-faire in other seasons. But not so much during the withering heat of the desert summer. However during the fall, winter, and spring, this young man had much more going for him than that young woman.

His zombie eyes were transfixed on the hot pizzas in a glass display, and failed to notice the overheated young lady standing behind them. She finished with a customer. He moved up a step in line, and as he stepped he directed his bleary eyes over the head of the zombie before him, and focused on her perspiration-pocked face.

An electric frisson traveled up his back. He suddenly felt a little queasy and faint. His knees buckled, and the upside-down sunglasses dropped off of his head. He caught them with clammy hands, and fumbled nervously with them, almost jabbing out an eye, until he finally gave up and stuffed the shades in his pocket.

He was plunging into love. He knew it. But he couldn’t explain why. And he couldn’t stop it. His heart practically pounded out of his chest. He couldn’t pry his eyes off of this woman swimming in the product of her own sweat glands.

EMTs are expected to be calm and unflappable in the face of any situation. He wondered what was happening to him. How could such a plain-looking, sweat-drenched woman unhinge such a powerful response in him? Was it the heat?

Of course it was the heat. Heat that induces spontaneous chemical reactions.

He’d managed to remain single up until now, but this happened too quickly to put up any defenses. Besides he felt too weak from the heat to resist. Nature, in her enigmatic, ruthless ways for ensuring reproduction of the human animal, was winning.

She finished with the customer then caught his eye. She smiled with a twinkle of excitement, as beads of moisture dripped from her chin.

“Sir, may I take your order?”

Igor Krensky and the Salt Shaker Incident

Igor Krensky stayed at our house for a while. He was our neighbor. His house had burned down from some sort of lab experiment he’d been working on, and he needed a place to live while it was being rebuilt.

Igor was a genius. He could fix anything, and he was always eager to please. That’s why we let him stay with us. Yeah, I guess you could say we were using him. We charged him $800 a month, room and board, and we let him fix anything he wanted to fix. And we had a lot of broken stuff. There were frozen computers, leaky faucets, a dead vacuum cleaner, and all kinds of other little unfinished fix-it jobs that left me feeling flummoxed and apprehensive about tackling.

I would wait for a strategic moment for Igor to be standing nearby, and then I would try to use the item in disrepair. Then I would point at the malfunctioning thing and cast a doleful glance at Igor. His face would light up into a big wide smile. He was always eager to please, and fixing things was the best way he knew, to make people happy. “Hmmgghh!” he would passionately exhort with a breathy exhalation. And then he’d get to work.

Igor mostly communicated through verbal, whispery breaths. Occasionally he would mumble something that sounded Romanian, Hungarian, or some other central European language. My wife and I were never quite sure where he was from, but we assumed Romania. He looked about 30 to 40 years old. He had blonde hair, deep-set eyes with bruisy shadows beneath them, a prominent nose, and sallow, hollow cheeks. He was tall and thin and rawboned.

He rarely looked at anyone straight-on. It was mostly gazes asquint, where he seemed to be sizing his subject up. He was a calm man most of the time, lost in the genius world of his reflective mind. Just the same, there were a few things that could annoy him and rouse him from his reverie, into a restive state of pique.

For one, you would never want to make a sudden loud noise around Igor. He would jump up from a sitting position, or rise about two feet into the air if he was standing. Then he would stretch his arms out like he was ready to tackle someone, and search the room with quick left and right twists of the neck, trying to identify the source of the commotion. In those moments he would make direct, full-frontal eye contact with you, if you were the source. And you never wanted that. His eye contact was scary.

SaltShaker

Igor also had a lucky salt shaker. It was made out of thick glass–thank God for that–so it never broke when it fell on the floor. It was empty. The screw-on top was missing. It was just the glass portion of an empty salt shaker. He would always set it at the very edge of a table or counter top where he was working. And if it ever fell on the floor, Lord help him. Igor would transmigrate into another world.

He wouldn’t hurt anyone on these occasions. No, it was more of a deep inner turmoil that was harming Igor himself. He couldn’t function. He would stop what he was doing, rise from his seat, and glare mournfully at the fallen shaker. Deep, heavy growling sighs would rise from his chest. He would occasionally throw back his head and jab Romanian invectives into the air. He would pace back and forth, next to the salt shaker. He would cry like a puppy, pule like a baby, shake his head vigorously, and lose himself in hysterical bouts of sorrow.

But he would never pick the salt shaker up. Someone else would have to do that. And then his face would gleam with joy, and all would be well with Igor again. But if you set the salt shaker in a safer location, such as the middle of the table, he would quickly pick it up and balance it precariously right there on the edge. And then he’d get back to work, happily mumbling and breathily breathing, while tinkering away with his delightful little tools.

One day my wife and I were watching Igor fix our vacuum cleaner. It was a very expensive vacuum, and so we were intensely interested in this particular repair. We didn’t want to shell out the bucks to buy a new one. He had it up on the workbench in our garage. I sat next to him, and my wife stood opposite the workbench, directly across from me. I was so fascinated watching this mad genius, that I didn’t notice how close my elbow was to his salt shaker.

A reflexive nudge from my elbow, and I glanced over just in time to observe the empty glass shaker disappear over the edge. Thank God for that pile of rags it landed in! It made absolutely no noise. Nobody noticed this tragedy but me. But I couldn’t help but utter a sudden, throaty “Awp!” which I quickly stifled.

Igor startled a little and quickly swung his head at me, gazing directly into my eyes. I had to do something explanatory. But I couldn’t just reach down and pick up the salt shaker. I don’t take on accountability very well. And I didn’t want Igor to notice that his precious shaker was missing. And I especially didn’t want him to know that I was the one responsible for it being missing.

“Aww, ahhhhhhhh, aww, ahhh, ahhh!” I melodiously sang out, trying to convey to Igor that I was so happy I was breaking out into song. He furrowed his eyebrows disapprovingly. I stopped singing. He swung his head back and returned to work, grunting and mumbling something in Romanian.

My wife gave me a quizzical, wide-eyed look, like, “What the fuck are you doing?” I just sheepishly cast my eyes downward and began plotting how to return the salt shaker to its rightful position without anyone catching on.

But apparently Igor’s subconscious had detected something was wrong. He seemed distrait. He fumbled around with his tools, grunting breathy expressions of frustration. His hands shook nervously. He cast gazes about and began breathing and grunting louder and louder.

My wife was becoming visibly upset just watching him become visibly upset. Meanwhile, I sat stone-still, silent and mortified. My wife studied me. She knew by my frozen demeanor that I was somehow the perpetrator of this unhinging scene. Then she spotted the glass salt shaker in the pile of rags on the floor. She pointed it out to me. Igor caught sight of her pointing finger and spun on his seat, facing me down with laser eyes and beads of sweat on his brow.

I could dissimulate no longer. I just very quickly reached down, picked up the salt shaker, and set it back on the very edge of the workbench, where it had rested just a few minutes before. I gave a simpering, nervous, apologetic smile to Igor. Igor growled a long, deep, gutteral growl. He sounded like a jungle cat. He curled his lip and formed a distasteful message of complete contempt, with the scrunching lines of his face. Then he slowly turned back to the vacuum cleaner and tinkered quietly away.

There were no more happy, breathy grunts of pleasure from him. There was only an icicle silence, save the tiny scratchings and tappings coming from his little tools. Igor was pissed.

I had to be punished. It was the only way to get back into Igor’s good graces. That evening I stood in the living room with my shirt stripped from my chest and my hands tied behind my back. My wife approached me with a glass jar, and inside that jar was a dime-sized spider. Igor sat on the couch and watched with an amused interest in his eyes.

I’m deathly afraid of spiders. Whether they be big, medium, small, or tiny; hairy, bald, dull, or shiny, I cannot abide arachnids. My wife lunged at me with the jar. I jumped back in horror. Igor guffawed loudly. My wife lunged again, and began chasing me around the living room with the spider in the jar. I heard Igor utter something like, “Huh-ha, huh-ha, huh-ha!” My eyes were saucers of terror. Igor’s eyes were terpsichorean dancers. I squirmed. He slapped his knee. I squealed. He howled.

This went on for a good fifteen minutes. It was holy, shit-my-pants hell for me the whole time. My wife was a little uncomfortable with it, herself, but seemed to be getting into it toward the end. Meanwhile, Igor’s amusement reached a climactic plateau of pitched, hysterical laughter, then slowly subsided to intermittent convulsive chuckles. Finally he relaxed into a calm, smiling state of peaceful repose. He was back to himself again. Back to the old, eager-to-please Igor.

He slapped my bare back good-naturedly and headed off to his guest bedroom in the backyard, to retire for the night. My wife untied me, let the spider loose in the front yard, and then we both headed to bed. With Igor back in our good graces, all was well in our world. At last we could get a good night’s sleep.

And in the morning, who knows? Maybe I could get him to fix that light switch.

Plasticillus

Baggus Grocerus. This common species of the wild may soon be threatened with extinction, from an emerging pandemic.

Baggus Grocerus. This common species of the wild may soon be threatened with extinction, from an emerging pandemic.

My nephew Herbert is a brilliant young man with a PhD. He spends his time in his basement conducting scientific experiments and developing cutting-edge inventions that make this world a better place.

He’s been worried about plastic for a long time. Plastic takes hundreds of years to break down in our landfills and oceans, and even after it breaks down it remains in tiny particulate form that threatens wildlife.

But a group of Yale students recently discovered a fungus in the amazon that devours polyurethane at an astonishing rate. And then there’s the Canadian high school student, Daniel Burd. Burd developed a cocktail of bacteria that can completely dissolve plastic bags in just three months.

Herbert decided to build on these recent discoveries by trying to genetically engineer a super-hungry, plastic-eating bacteria. He wanted to release this powerful microbe into the world, so it could quickly and naturally dissolve all the plastic buried in our landfills and floating in our oceans.

My nephew kept me updated on his progress. I’m not smart like him, so I really don’t know how he was able to extract the DNA from that amazonian fungus and combine it with that Canadian bacon, I mean bacteria, to engineer the new organism that he developed. All I know is that something went very, very wrong.

I got a call from him last night. He sounded panicky. “Unc-unc-unc Uncle T-tippy!” he was breathless.

“Calm down Herbert, calm down. Do a few math problems on your calculator. There that’s it. Feeling better now? Good. What’s going on?” At least I’m smarter than him when it comes to psychology.

“I won’t be able to use the calculator for very much longer, Uncle Tippy. Oh Uncle Tippy, what have I done?! The calculator keys are dissolving right before my eyes. And so is this phone. Not sure how much longer we’ll stay connected.”

“Why? What’s happening? Tell me what’s wrong? Is there anything I can do to help?” Now I was the one feeling a little panicky.

“It’s PLASTICILLUS!” he shouted.

“What the hell is that?”

“I invented it. Plasticillus, I call it. It’s a brand-new GMO bacteria that I, Dr. Herbert Veervender, invented. I should win the Nobel Prize for this. Except one thing. It’s one heck of a lot more virile than I intended it to be. It escaped my petri dishes and it’s taking over everything.”

“But isn’t that what you wanted, Herbie? Isn’t this how you’re going to save the planet from plastic?”

“You don’t understand. It’s dissolving everything plastic in the house. My computer keyboard is flaking apart. Our polyester curtains are shredding. Our vinyl flooring is decaying beneath my feet. Even the polyester fabric in my clothes is coming apart. I’m looking out my window and can see my neighbor’s artificial lawn turning from green to splotchy brown and gray. But I can’t go outside and warn my neighbors and community about this spreading bacteria because my clothes will fall off, and that would be very embarrassing.”

“This sounds crazy, Herb. What can I do? How can I help?”

“You have to do something, Uncle Tippy! Warn everyone! Warn the world!! You have a blog don’t you? Write a post to warn people. Soon no cars will be drivable, because the plastic parts in the frames and engines will decay. Soon the water utilities of many cities will cease to function, when their PVC water mains dissolve. And the electric grid will be destroyed nationwide, then worldwide, as plasticillus devours the insulation of power lines. Civilization is coming to an end!”

“Gee, this sounds serious. Alright, I’ll write a post to warn everyone. Anything else I can do?”

“Yes, you’re in a very unique position to help. So listen very closely. This is critically important to stopping the spread of this bacteria. You have to–”

We were suddenly cut off. The plasticillus must have finished off his phone. I can’t communicate with my nephew anymore. So now I’m left trying to figure out for myself what I have to do to save the world. Any ideas, anyone?