Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas Eve Surprise

St. Nick would soon be climbing down chimneys to drop off presents.  St. John (the patron saint of lost rocks) just wanted to climb down to a beach unharassed by the DFG (Department of Freakin' Grinches).  Not to mention some unfinished business, rocks abandoned in a fit of law enforcement paranoia (see "Buzzkill Epilogue" for backstory).

And all went well at first.  I located my stash of rocks, and along the peaceful shore that afternoon things were jolly.  I rescued many a homeless rock, some unusual mixtures of common minerals.  My bag grew heavy.

I sat down and used my rock hammer to cleave a piece of fruitcake, a well meaning gift from an unnamed relative.  By heaving a goodly portion of this seasonal delicacy out amongst the waves, I paid tribute to surf, sand and sunny skies. 

Just a routine outing, I hoped, nothing that might inspire another blog entry.  Lately I've longed to branch out into fiction.  But I feared that made-up stories with modern or local settings would cause the two or three people who actually read my crap to decide that it was all BS.  And it's not, the basic events of every story happened as they did.  Oh, occasionally, I alter a few minor details but only to enhance the narrative, not change it.

I considered science fiction.  Perfect!   A topic so fantastical that it could never be confused with my real-life escapades.  The sun was warm, the waves hushed, and I must've slipped off into a creative trance.

The main character is Jase Michaels (unusual name but it pays off later).  He's 15 years old, a military brat stranded on a remote outpost three parsecs from Proxima Centauri.  He hates the place, has few friends--that is until he meets a strange old guy down in a canyon--who collects rocks of all things!
The old guy shares his wisdom and eventually teaches him about "The Keystone," a magical gift  from a bygone people (The Prime), which is a rock that once found and used judiciously, has the potential to save humankind from its destructive folly.

He gets along well with his space jockey father who takes him fishing on a planet slated for destruction (supposedly for ecological cleansing but the planned demolition of this planet is part of a much bigger plot).  His father and he are both trying to recover from the death of Jase's sister and mother who were killed in a traffic accident returning from a cross-planet shopping trip. But that's just the official story.

Jase's father is bitter knowing that the accident was caused by a military FUBAR.  Eventually we learn that the old guy in the canyon, a former master chief in charge of space craft maintenance, is also aware of the cover-up.  Jase doesn't know anything about this cover up but suspects there's more to the story.  Struggling with anger and confusion, he has been diagnosed as "asocial and unpredictably violent" because he nearly killed a couple of "Primies" (fellow students and religious fanatics) who tried to pressure him into joining their cult after they suggested his mother's faithlessness was the cause of her death.

Then there's his ex-friend Strella who he lost track of until a transfer brought them together again at another base school--but it was awkward.  In the interim since he last saw her, Jase and his family had been assigned to so many deep space missions that now she had breasts but he was still essentially a ten year old. 
Extended periods of near light speed travel does that to people, you know.

I looked out and was shocked to see the sun a mere finger above the horizon.
If I didn't leave right then, I was going be late for a soiree in San Simeon.

Hefting my bag onto my back, I struggled up the rope, hoping that law enforcement would gift me with a holiday pass.

My head surfaced and my heart nearly stopped.  My knees buckled against the cliff as my mind tried to make sense of it all.

There were four cars parked directly behind my Element and two more on the opposite side of the highway.  A crowd of at least fifteen people, maybe twenty, were all looking at me.

They all held something, which I decided were cameras because of the rapid fire of flash units.
What in the fresh Hell...?  Had I committed an infraction so heinous that the paparazzi had been invited to record my take down?

After a few more seconds, my brain came back on line.  First of all, the six cars were different colors, passenger types that lacked any hint of an agency decal.

Second, my audience was composed of men and an equal number of women, none of them in uniform, most of them dressed like my parents did when we went to church back in the 70's.
All of them were dark haired and, judging from the comparative geometry of the cars behind them, a little less than average height. 
Combine that with the ubiquitous cameras--and my brilliant mind made a quantum leap!
Japanese tourists!  A gaggle of oglers.

Pulling myself up over the ledge, I walked to meet my smiling admirers.
The flashes increased in tempo the closer I got.  For some unfathomable reason, I was Sally Field at the Academy Awards: "You like me!  You really like me!"

Swinging my leg over the fence, ready to sign autographs, I saw the sun...a dissipating silkscreen explosion now all but engulfed by the horizon.  Truly a Kodak moment.  Well, so much for my five minutes of international fame.

But I affected my most cheery smile and addressed the assembled group, "Merry Christmas!"  More smiles and that deferential nodding (almost a bow).  Several times I have been disarmed by this curious behavior and I always wonder, "These are the people who ripped us a new one at Pearl Harbor?"
But given the limited English of the average Japanese tourist, I could've said "Eat my shorts!" and received the same heartening response.
I threw my bag into the back of my sleigh.  Ho, Ho, Ho...  But I'll say this for Japanese tourists. Though slow to perceive insult, they're quick to spend money, a comparatively prosperous group of people and boon to our local economy.

Too late and several miles down the road, a memory.  For three days, about sixteen years ago, I worked with a Japanese businessman and his crew filming a documentary about Sequoia National Park.  Erik, my superior (and 25 years my junior), was chagrined to find that Ranger Richardson was the only nonessential employee available those three days. Reluctantly, he assigned me this task knowing that it had international incident written all over it. But I did okay.
I mean nobody declared war, right?

Anyway, here's what I learned about Japanese etiquette those three days (and wish I'd known beforehand).  At the conclusion of a transaction there must be a gift, if only a token.  In my case, I was solemnly handed a flaming pink ink pen with attached neck cord.  Engraved on this pen were the words, "Field Worker," a faux pas word choice considering I live in an area where "farm labor" is a sensitive issue.  But not having any return gift, I kept my mouth shut.

More important than the concluding gift (and another aspect of my cultural ignorance), is to begin any potential arrangement with the exchange of business cards.  The producer and various members of the crew handed me at least seven of them--but I didn't have one to give back.  I dropped the ball on another social ritual, probably no different than shaking hands, but of equal importance to the Japanese.

Halfway home (and too late) I imagined myself standing before my roadside audience, nodding, smiling and passing out business cards left and right from the local shops that buy and sell my stuff.
"AH SO, my samurai-hearted friends! Pleased to say Santa helpers work hard, polish special rocks, commemorate this honored visit to our humble coast.  When shop, please to mention my name, "Richard-Sahn"--get special discount.  Ariagato, Sayonara and Mush-Mushi!"

Sadly, many people lack international language proficiency, like me.

Sleigh bells rang in my ears.

Science fiction?  Bah! 
Who needs fantasy with experiences and thoughts just a few degrees short of the North Pole? 
On Vixen, on Bitchin, put it away Flasher, and light speed ahead--straight on 'til boring!