About Tom Bishop

Audiobooks, music, moviemaking, outdoor sports, fitness, tech, and original stories, too! Tom writes and tells his stories of family, mystery, and drama, and lives in New England with his family. At MyLeftOne, Tom writes about being with his wife and their two children well as whitewater kayaking, skiing, sailing, running, mountain biking, tennis, stunt kites, marketing, stunt bowling, caber tossing, 3-D rationalizing, egg-timing, correlation principle hyperventilating, derogatory term coining, collapsible membrane stereotyping, potato taco mesmerizing, inflatable rock rafting, surf jumping, and fly fishing.

Another Privileged White Male with an Opinion on Abortion…

Two CandlesInfertility, Artificial insemination, HcG injections, Premature ovarian failure, Fragile-X syndrome, Embryo donation, In-vitro fertilization, Cervical cerclage, Amniotic sac rupture, Miscarriage, Fetal reduction, Induced labor, Caesarean section…

As a guy, none of those terms mean anything to me. I’m not an obstetrician-gynecologist, have zero medical training, and frankly visit a doctor for my own frailties about once every two years. If I suffered from back pain, restless leg syndrome, prostate cancer, sleeplessness, migraines, genital warts, or any other issue, I’m certainly not going to tell the web. You don’t have the right to know.

Do I have the right to know about your medical history? If you knock over a drugstore, can I read about the medicine you stole for your herpes simplex in the police blotter? Can your televised court appearance go into great detail about your IBS?

Of course not. Your medical privacy is an absolute requisite to liberty, in this nation devoted to it. You can’t be free if potential employers or neighbors know about your history of mental instability. Privacy is guaranteed by our Bill of Rights, and is the reason why you don’t have to show an ID to vote, don’t have to register your firearms, and it’s also why women have an absolute right to abortion for any reason whatsoever.

That’s the point.

Privacy.

You don’t get to know when a woman is pregnant. You don’t get to know how it happened. You don’t get to know how far along she is. You don’t get to know what she thinks about it. You don’t get to know what she does about it. You don’t get to know if she wants to terminate it. You don’t get to know if she’s terminated a pregnancy before. You don’t get to know how. You don’t get to know why.

You don’t get a say.

You don’t get a clue about her medical history. No cop can breach that. No teacher can find out about it. No neighbor can discover it. No lawmaker can drag her through the mud about it.

I can’t tell you about it, even if she’s a member of my family, my wife or daughter. That’s their story to tell. Or not.

That’s why abortion is legal. That’s why women don’t need reasons to justify it. You don’t get to know about rape or incest. You don’t get to know if she made the decision because the wind was blowing from the north that day. She has every right to make the decision, as easily as you do about any ailment you might suffer, without anyone but her medical providers knowing about it.

Riddle me this: If your state outlaws abortion, and the Supreme Court allows it, how will she be prosecuted? How will the doctor be investigated without an alarmingly unconstitutional breach of medical privacy? How, without throwing our founding principles to the wind?

You will never outlaw abortion in my state, but that’s not good enough. Every woman needs to know she has the full authority to make her own decision in every single state in this free nation. Cases where she needs an emergency termination procedure in an anti-choice state may seem rare, but they are not unimaginable. She needs the complete availability of options, as well as insurance coverage, no matter her economic status. And she also needs medical providers and legal authorities bound by the same privacy laws she would enjoy in the state most protective of privacy and freedom of choice.

Is it really so difficult to imagine your own wife suffering an ovarian infection and needing a reduction or termination procedure? Is it so difficult to imagine your daughter needing to make the decision for reasons you may not approve of, but you know it’s better for her? Is it impossible that a neighbor struggling financially needs coverage to have the abortion that frankly (if you’re honest) is the right decision?

Are you going to adopt your neighbor’s child? Are you going to raise your son’s fragile-x son while he recovers in rehab? Are you going to let your wife die on the table because one twin miscarried and they can’t save the other?

Life in America is messy. Most of us are a shitshow. We hoard junk, our cars are busted, our bills are four weeks overdue. We’re on the edge of being canned from our jobs if the stock hits a speed bump. We have drug addictions. We have tent cities. Our government is tearing families apart. Our veterans are kicked to the curb. We’re getting shot at in schools. We’re beaten and killed for being the wrong color. We’re addled, poor, shivering, and addicted to the dumbest forms of entertainment since the first proto-simian beat two rocks together and called it art.

Some of us think we’re perfect. But we’re not. We can’t be. Not while we’re brutalizing and judging others for their choices. Choices we can’t imagine ourselves making…until we have to.

When will it be your turn? As a guy, it’s easy to judge. Even for most women, it’s easy to look at all those words in the first paragraph and imagine they can’t happen to you. You can’t imagine what it would be like to have any of those terms in your medical record. Certainly nobody has ever experienced all of them. Right? Not in America.

If you knew somebody who did, would that change your mind? Is that even possible?

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In Defense of Introversion

in-defense-of-introversion-myleftone-tom-bishop“Are you with the rotary?” he asked. I shook my head.

“Sorry,” I said. “If you guys are meeting here, I’ll move.” And I did. I got up from the stool and took my coffee and menu to a table by the windows.

It was a Sunday morning at the diner. I had stopped there on the way to the cottage, where my family was about to spend the entire summer. I figured I’d go up the Maine coast ahead of them, get the lay of the land, take in the sights, and get some breakfast. Soon, I’d carry all the junk I was hauling to the cottage, mow the lawn, pump the bike tires, stuff like that. I didn’t expect to interfere with the local Rotary’s weekly club breakfast on the first day.

It was going to be a long 13 weeks, even without making enemies of the local not-so-welcome committee.

The guy turned his head to look at me a couple times while I ate and read the newspaper at my table. No one else from the Rotary club ever showed up. I finished my triple-egger and slapped down a $20…okay, $10 and change—this wasn’t Cambridge.

It wasn’t until I was in the parking lot that I looked down and realized the grungy T-shirt I was wearing for a day of yard work, schlepping boxes, and light construction, was emblazoned with a huge Rotary club logo on the front. So that explains it! It came from an event they sponsored. I’d had the shirt forever and never noticed.

I’m sure he saw me heading for my car, a Prius with MA plates, arrogantly sporting a virtue-signaling enviromental symbol. I get to be the Masshole just because I’ve never looked at my own shirt.

I’ve never once been a member of anything like the Rotary. I coached my son’s scout troop for a couple years, and maybe a soccer team or two, until the kids got old enough for winning to matter—which meant an upgrade to a better coach.

The closest I’ve ever come joining anything was as a kid, when I quit cub scouts after four weeks, because the meetings conflicted with The Dukes of Hazzard.

There’s a theme in this hyper-digital era of smartphones and social media, where you see old-school diners like the one I stopped at displaying signs on the wall pleading for us to put the phones down and “talk to each other.”

But have you ever seen that happen? Not me. Before smartphones, we had newspapers, magazines, and paperbacks. Those were what we buried our heads into, rather than talk to total strangers. I remember what it was like. I was there. And I know the conversations were the same then as they are now – mostly pointless.

“Strike up a conversation!” crow those who, frankly, have been listening to too much Counting Crows. Get some originality first, folks.

This is why we stick to sports and weather, and there is a very good reason. Someone once said within a minute of talking to someone you’ll find out that you are totally incompatible on nearly every topic. ‘Mr. Jones’ may have a different tale to tell, but I’ve found this to be entirely true.

My Rotary-pal in the diner probably would have found that out about me—and me him—pretty darn quickly if I stayed at the counter.

Here’s another story: Here in New England, we have a pretty good NFL football team, and sometimes we have to go to a duckboat parade on a weekday. I know, I know, it’s awful. But here’s what happens when we get into town:

“Oh, you took your kids out of school, huh?” (Yeah, we did)

“Look at all these f–kin’ people, fair weather fans, bunch o’ f–kin’ d-bags.” (Yes, I shall concur, good sir, there exists a goodly multitude of revelers about)

“Dude, you got a light?” (Why, no, apologies, we don’t smoke, and we certainly don’t smoke THAT)

The real world is a loud and nutball place, and any conversation only gets worse, like a milder form of Godwin’s Law.

One thing you do when out with the fam at a parade is take a selfie. We did. Somebody offered to help, but a selfie needs to be a selfie. That’s the point. If someone takes it for you it’s not a selfie. So I declined.

And what do you think happened next? Yes, I got flak from the guy. I tried joking with him. “Actually, we had the camera set up wrong. It was a picture of you,” I said. He gave me a ‘What does that mean?’ look, so I backed away from the joke and said, “No, just kidding. It came out fine. Thank you.”

This was the guy who chided us for bringing the kids on a school day. I get it. I really do. Pulling kids out of school for something like this is really one of humanity’s favorite things to scold each other about. We love policing random strangers. We’ll do it online, we’ll do it when calling radio stations, and when writing letters to the editor. We’ll do it while complaining in a diner, and more and more nowadays, directly to each other.

It’s not better than just scrolling your phone.

If you’re bent out of shape because another person has stepped out of line somehow, why not try keeping it to yourself?

During that day, there may have been other random door openings and thank you‘s and excuse me’s,  and ‘this is the way to the North End’, and stuff like that, but otherwise there wasn’t any discussion about much beyond that. Not even the weather (which, considering the glorious weather, there really should have been).

Nobody ever randomly ‘strikes up a conversation’ about digital marketing, financial strategies, or cyber-security exploits. We even sat in a popular restaurant near the State House where famously, laws are made over turkey club sandwiches and scotch-and-sodas. There was never any discussion of environmental or economic policy, though we did hear one table discuss how drunk they expected to get at the parade.

Hey, kids, ask them what they’re drinking…no, no, just kidding.

We’re all disconnected, which is as it should be, since most random people won’t share your interests, your situation, or your dreams. Even in similar situations, like at a gym or in school, your favorite topics will be wildly different. There are guys at my gym always talking with each other about real estate and landscaping. Sometimes they’ll compare Caribbean vacations. I would rather be shot by firing squad than get ensnared in any of that.

Let’s see if I can raise any conversation about sci-fi or guitar. No? Of course not. Most people at the gym get it. They’re working out, they’re listening to music, they’re watching the screens. That’s why I like the gym. In more than a dozen years, I’ve probably been in three conversations at a gym.

A gym conversation goes like this: Someone points to a machine. I wave it away, and they nod. This is how the gym should be.

So back to that long summer away from home. We stayed at this huge campground, and the kids made friends, I guess you could call them. I called them ‘people we’re going to cease to know on Labor Day’. And that’s exactly what they were. I never learned their names. What would be the point? Today we’re not in contact with any of those families.

I never did go back to that diner, either. I wonder if I would recognize Rotary Guy, or if he’d recognize me. Certainly not, right?

Maybe if I wear the shirt again.

On Haters

polar-bear-haterA few years ago there was a book, an author’s first published novel. Originally, it was something she wrote just for fun.

Then, out of nowhere, it became a national phenomenon. It spread around the globe, as people picked it up out of sheer curiosity, or just wanted to be part of this massive viral sensation.

As with every hit book, Hollywood quickly got on board. They turned the author’s fantasy lark into a much anticipated, big-name-affiliated movie, and some people hated it.

They hated the marketing. They hated the story. They hated the characters. They hated the actors. They hated the author. They hated the director. They hated the ads.

I remember arguing with friends who groused that the movie was pop culture tripe that sent all the wrong messages, and was a cataclysmically false appropriation of the culture portrayed in the film.

That movie was Fifty Shades of Grey… I believe there’s a third one out, that has already eclipsed its budget seven times.

Haters gonna hate, right? But another thing haters do, is validate.

Andy Wier’s “The Martian” had a similar introduction to the world. Released chapter-by-chapter online, it gathered enough of a following that it became a published novel. It’s hard sci-fi, and the book can almost serve as an advanced mathematics text. He found a way to make science accessible in a story that was just good clean fun (well, cleaner than 50 Shades anyway).

And when it became a movie, it had haters. People bashed it for being scientifically unsound. Far-fetched. Derivative. And of course we know where that went. His next book, “Artemis”, is a best-seller. Everything the guy does from now on is guaranteed to be a movie.

Soon enough, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash will be a streaming series. People will hate it. Seveneves will be impossible to adapt to film, but Ron Howard is trying, and people will hate it. Dan Brown is a novel-to-hit-movie perpetual motion device, but they hate him too. Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series will be adapted for film or television, and it will have haters.

Black panther has haters. Stephen King has haters. The breakout book of 2018 (which I am digging into right now) is an incomparably brilliant new fantasy tale, and Hollywood has already jumped on board. It will, crushingly, have haters.

Harry Potter has haters.

I’m just sayin’. Everything has haters.

So I’m not surprised that some people hate Ready Player One. I don’t know if it it is coming from the real geeks, or if the real geeks are people like me, who legitimately got beat up by blond kids in the ’80s.

Or maybe I’m one of those dudes who latched onto something after it became cool, I don’t know, like the jocks who discovered Metallica in 1988. But it doesn’t matter. Ready Player One speaks to me. It doesn’t speak to everyone. That’s cool.

Too-cool-for-school is a traditional trope that has been with us since James Dean.

I admit, though, it would be nice if people could focus their hate on something that deserves it.

Disney’s “Zombies”, for example.

Noon Peak: The Story of Little Scout

Aside

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Little Scout is a wolf living in New Hampshire with his pack, when the valley is beset by a human militia laying siege to the village. The wolves are concerned about the men and their purpose, and when they decide to meddle, they find themselves under attack, and their leader, Scout’s father, is captured.

Little Scout must find out how to save his father, his pack, and the people of the valley from whatever this posse of men are up to.

Noon Peak is a podcast relating the story in several chapters, some with music backgrounds, some without, as the novel unfolds.

Check out my entire series of original stories at SoundCloud.

“Susan”

susan-curios-on-window-sillKids these days. They have it pretty easy, don’t they? The Internet is everywhere, there’s no shortage of cable channels to choose from, and videogames are so embedded into daily life we barely even notice them. A trip to Grandma’s involves an hour or two of backseat gaming, a few more hours of television, a hasty meal and a bored visit to the garden, followed by tantrums over the WiFi password and an angry drive home because the iPad is dead.

In my day… oh, here we go, “In my day!” Really. I hate to say it, but it’s true. There were no microwaves, no cable channels, no smartphones, and no wireless Internet. A visit to Grandma’s usually meant watching trees zip by, a black-and-white television that was never turned on, a ponderously slow dinner, and a tour of the garden that was actually a highlight.

Then, for real entertainment, there were the trinkets on the windowsill. I think every grandmother had them. These little glass baubles were found in every window in the house, and they came in every shape and color. Little red cups, blue vases, pink ballerinas, butterscotch birds, and they weren’t just on the sills. Grandma had placed them on top of every sash, and there were extras on shelves throughout the house. The sun beamed through them, throwing beads of color across the floor and walls. When the colors rose just so far up the back wall of the dining room, we knew it was time to hit the road.

Those days eventually end, as they must for everyone, and the houses are sold, boxes are packed, and the trinkets are forever lost, to remain only in memory. Once in a while a cellar is cleared, and boxes of these glass curios are discovered, wrapped in old newsprint: a local sports team wins a trophy in 1954; Jackie Kennedy’s recipe for a noodle casserole; Comics lampooning Nixon. And inside, glass junk, fads from a bygone era, suitable only for a dumpster.

And that brings me to the Wakefield house.

———-
The house was a flip. I’d say it was a failed one, though most of the work was top notch. The failure was in the previous owner’s timing. Bought at the peak of the market, and unsuccessfuly sold at the bottom. They’d had the place for a year or so, and the bank had it for three. My wife Lisa and I bought it in a dusty, neglected condition, but with good ‘bones’, new walls and ceilings and updated heating and electrical. A steal, with only some cleaning to do.

‘Only’ can be a loaded word. The basement of this house was still packed with boxes and old furniture. We found stuff in the attic, too. The houseflippers gave all this stuff up, or maybe it was there before. Of course we determined that this was the end of the line for most of it.

While clearing out the junk, it was apparent that this house had been lived in for a long time by someone. What we could glean from the collection was that an older couple had accumulated clothes, books, old board games, tools, toys from every era. We figured out how to give a lot of it away.

For the old furniture and anything we couldn’t donate, dumpsters were hauled in, and out. Two twenty-yarders. I tried to keep anything worthwhile. Tools! A model railroad set (that has yet to be built). And there was one box of these glass trinkets that so closely matched the ones I remember, I couldn’t quite toss it. It stayed.

The house was interesting. It had a quirky sideways floor plan with a huge living room, an open kitchen with a dining area, a weird little den in between, and a short corridor that formed a loop. The main bedroom was double the size of a normal one, with its own full bathroom. Most, if not all, of the walls were new.

———–
Before long, Lisa started complaining about a feeling she was getting about the place. She was always into this kind of hocus-pocus, paranormal bullcrap, so when she said she felt a presence in the house, I treated it like so much nonsense. Her sister would visit, and, completely independently, mentioned a weirdness about the place. I was sure they were collaborating on some kind of practical joke.

The gist of it was that there was something going on at the bottom of the stairs. A chill, or a tingling, which they felt every time they walked past the spot. We rearranged the living room furniture so we were never sitting back-to the stairway. Before long, even I became a little anxious looking down the stairs after dark.

My dubiousness about the situation began to unravel after a number of strange incidents. One involved a friend who was having trouble with his family, and needed a place to stay. We were quick to offer up the couch, since we had two extra bedrooms but no beds. We left him stretched out on the couch with a sleeping bag, but the next morning, he emerged from an empty bedroom. As he told it, something down there spooked him. He wound up running right through it to get upstairs, and felt a cold spot.

Any concerns we had about taking in a new resident went out the window, but we gained a name for the phenomenon: the cold spot.

It was our first Thanksgiving in the house, when my mom, sitting at the table, looked toward the living room and asked us what was up in there. She’d felt something. A presence. I gave my wife and her sister a glance and dug back into my turkey and stuffing.

———-
Finally, on a severely cold evening less than a week before Christmas, there was a knock on the door. A woman about our age stood on the steps. Her name was Ashley, and she was visiting from Pennsylvania. Apparently she’d grown up in the area, and visited her grandmother in this house. She just wondered if she could see what’s become of the old place.

I don’t know if it was wise. I wouldn’t advise anyone do this, but we let her in. We believed her, and I think we were thinking the same thing: that maybe, just maybe, she held an answer to our shared question.

Lisa started a pot of coffee. While it brewed, Ashley gave us a tour of the house. My hunch about the upstairs was true; the master suite used to be two bedrooms. Downstairs, the renovators had made a ton of changes. The fireplace wasn’t always surrounded by ornate woodwork, the kitchen was originally closed off from the dining area, and the living room was now larger.

As we sat in the living room with our coffee, Ashley told us how there used to be a corridor leading to the stairs, where a rank of shelves opened to the living room. On these shelves, her grandmother kept a bunch of colorful little glass trinkets, and she’d often stand at the bottom of the stairs, contentedly arranging them.

Lisa and I shared a look. “Guess what?” I said. “We have something for you.”

I bounded down the cellar stairs and returned with the box. I placed it on the coffee table and opened it. Ashley saw exactly what was in there, and if it can be said that I’ve ever seen someone positively beam, it was then.

She pulled out several of the curios. She had a little story about them, and where they came from. Most of them, as far as she knew, her grandmother had always had on the shelves, but there were some that were bought at a county fair, a few at local yard sales. A blue seahorse that was given as a gift. A green teacup that she bought in Maine.

“You should have these,” I told her. “They belong to you. They’re your family’s.”

Ashley looked at me like I’d just told a hideous joke.

“Oh, no. No,” she said. “These could never leave here. They belong in this house.”

I will swear that I felt the presence then, standing just over Ashley’s shoulder. I’m sure my wife felt it. If Ashley did, too, she never let on. After a few more minutes talking about the house and her grandmother, we bid Ashley goodbye, and she left to brave the freezing night.

———-
I closed the door, and instantly knew what she meant about where the trinkets belonged. They couldn’t just be in a box. They stayed on the table another day or two, until I dug out a spice rack we kept in the basement (having never found a place for it). I installed the spice rack on the wall near the bottom of the stairs, and we arranged the colorful little glass things on it.

It was a nice addition to the Christmas junk we’d hung all over the house. Maybe it was a little tacky, but if it served a purpose, then so be it. For the rest of the holidays, we didn’t feel a presence, but it was likely because the house was in a state of constant noise as parties were held and family and friends were entertained. People asked about the trinkets on the shelves, and we said we’d found them in a box and put them up. Nobody ever mentioned feeling anything near the stairway.

Sometime in January, I noticed something about the glassware; they had been rearranged. Lisa swore she never touched them, and I believed her.

You see, we didn’t know how to arrange them. Should it be by color, by size, by type? This arrangement was seemingly random, but also had a kind of feel to it that was incomprehensible. An artistic intuition had been applied that neither of us had. We’d never heard any of them move, and certainly hadn’t seen it happen, but it was undeniable; they had been.

As time went on, we didn’t feel the presence any more, or at least I didn’t. Maybe I was imagining it, but occasionally, I could swear one of the trinkets would move.

We only lived there another year. When it came time to sell the place, I made sure to tell the new owners they’d be better off leaving the shelves of curios exactly as is. I’m pretty sure they weren’t about to do so.

I do know this: on the last night we spent in the house, we’d sat on the couch with a pizza, and Lisa went upstairs to pack the last few boxes of clothes. I poked at the embers in the fireplace, and suddenly felt the glare of eyes behind me. I turned to the stairs. No, I did not see anything, but I felt the old woman standing at the shelves looking at me. She wasn’t angry, wasn’t sad. It wasn’t happiness either, but I felt, almost imperceptibly, that she gave me a little nod.

I nodded back, and the presence was gone.

———-
Some time later that year I looked into the history of the house. The people who owned it, before the people who tried to flip it, had lived there sixty years. Adam and Susan Drexler. They were married for fifty-two of those years. Susan had outlived her husband by eight more.

We never heard from Ashley again, but I was able to find her grandmother’s obituary. She was found by her middle-aged son sitting peacefully, eyes closed, at the bottom of the stairs. She hadn’t fallen there, but it seemed she had been standing in the hallway, felt something, and simply sat down to rest.

May she rest well.

The 1980s: A Nice Place to Visit, But…

This morning at the campground laundry, I was asked if we were planning to keep coming back next season and beyond.

“Are you kidding? I’m pretty sure we’ve sworn off the entire summer home thing as a concept.”

I thought it was universal. A thing everyone loves, but it’s basically “Doing chores closer to the beach/woods/mountains.” And if you think it’s just me being the usual boor, I promise you I’m not alone in this.

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The kids, though. They’ve had six weeks of living in the 1980s. They wake up, hop on a bike and go look for their various frenemies, for another day of pushing each other into ponds, scraping themselves up on the pavement, being stung by hornets, having wiffle balls line-drived at them from taped bats, getting locked in the campground bathrooms, taunting, yelling, and generally laughing their asses off.

In other words, they’re summering. Like a boss. With their pals, they kinda have taken over the place, riding like a gang of hardbitten eight-year-olds and terrorizing the population of mostly retirees. I’m sure we’re woefully underappreciated here.

I’d say we’re sticking out like the Massholes we are, but everyone’s a Masshole. Every cabin has signage on it declaring that its inhabitants hail from North Reading, Somerville, Wilmington. The TV screens in every trailer glow with the blue glare of the Pats game (or Sox, natch).

And the word “Masshole” is purely on-point. These are the same people who clog the aisles at Market Basket and get into fistfights over parking spaces back home. Only here there’s more public consumption of alcohol.

Toss in hordes of screaming kids, and there it is, the 1980s.

I’m sure there are a lot of people here who are only going through the motions. They don’t love it, but hey, it’s for the kids. To me, sitting around by a fire and shuffling back and forth to the pool is not an adventure.

The kids have had fun, but they’ll have plenty more back home. It’s far easier to plan and prepare for our numerous adventures back there. The house is a much better base camp. That’s why it was named Camp Lucky.

So in a nutshell, we can’t wait to get back to civilization, where it will be easier to leave it.

From time to time, that is.