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Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Day Jerry Left

Jerry and I had a wonderful relationship for twelve years: full of love and adventure and a constant enjoyment in each other’s company (see “Recidivist: A Criminal Who Does It Again,” September 10, 2010). Our personalities melded well together, complementing our talents, and we had a terrific romance. But in 1997, after a series of various difficulties having nothing to do with the two of us, it became clear that Jerry needed to start a completely new life for himself in another city. As a tenured full professor at The Ohio State University College of Law, I was rooted to Columbus like a tree that had been growing there for over twenty years—going with him was not an option. His problems did not stem from a souring of our relationship in any way, and I supported him in all that was happening until the very end. We had almost a full year’s warning that his best course would be to leave Ohio, and so we approached the last day with heavy hearts, but also as much enjoyment we could manage in a difficult time. Immediately before Jerry’s departure we took a five day vacation jaunt to New York City, and saw shows, went out for nightlife, visited friends, etc. I think it's a rare couple who could do that with the knowledge they were breaking up immediately.  We returned on a Sunday, Jerry packed up his car on that Monday, and, after we had lunch on Tuesday, April 29th, Jerry said, “I love you---goodbye,” kissed me, and drove off, heading west, his destination uncertain.

I cannot tell you how hard that was.

Even though I’d been preparing myself mentally for this moment for a full year, its intensity took me by surprise. I found myself pacing around the house, yelling “Damn! Damn! Damn!,” which scared the parakeets and didn’t help at all. So I made myself sit down, take deep breaths, and think as logically as possible how to get through the lonely days that lay ahead.

While Jerry and I had been in New York it was exam time back at the law school, and my Consumer Law students had taken their final exam (three hours---essay), which was waiting for me down at the law school. “I’ll keep busy,” I told myself. “I’ll scoot down to the school, pick up my exams, and start grading immediately!” This was a really dumb idea, and I knew it, but I was desperate. A stack of exam bluebooks should not be graded immediately but instead must be allowed age, like wine or cheese, until they can ripen into really good exams. But I hopped in the car, drove to the law school, bustled about as if nothing were wrong, picked up the exams, and brought them home. I installed myself in my favorite reclining chair and actually began to read one of the exams. But, of course, I couldn’t concentrate, the page blurred beyond comprehension, and I quickly tossed the exam across the room. Another series of “Damn!”s ensued.

I began muttering out loud, “I am not going to just sit here, cry, feel sorry for myself, worry about Jerry, or do something ridiculous like have a couple of drinks in the early afternoon.” Okay, but what else then? I was 53 years old, suddenly alone in a life that had almost constantly been lived with someone else, feeling ancient. Would anyone ever be interested in Old Doug again? Would I die alone, unloved? Relationships in the gay male world are no easier than in the straight world, and have the added complication that gay men are often first judged by physical appearance (I’ll explain why in some future post). I’d always had a vigorous workout routine, and was in fairly good shape, but, as just said, I was 53 (!) and suddenly felt older.

Jerry seemed to be in every room. It occurred to me that while he had his own agony to deal with, in one way Jerry had it easier than I did: he was off on a new adventure (and Jerry always loved a challenge), while I was stuck in the old existence with a big hole right in its middle.

“I know!” I said aloud, coming up with a plan. “I’ll get my social life going, call some friends and schedule things, maybe even set up a date in a month or so!” I thought about that. A date? Humm. If I had my druthers, who, of all the men I knew, would I most like to go to supper with?

The answer was obvious: Mick Powers. Mick was a casual friend Jerry and I knew from various gay events, and, oh yes, he was a major hunk: square-jaw, great smile, Hollywood handsome, very muscular, fun to be with, in his 30s (he’s done some professional modeling). I had no idea if Mick might be interested in having dinner with me some day, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. I knew that he was the manager of a video rental store downtown, so I looked up the number and called the store. By happy coincidence, Mick answered the phone himself. “Hi, Doug,” he said cheerily when I identified myself, “how are you?” “Mick,” I replied, “did you know that Jerry and I broke up?” (I didn’t, of course, mention how very recently this had happened.) “No! Wow! You guys were together a long time,” he commented, sympathizing. “Yes,” I said, “but I’m trying to get my social life going again, and I wondered if you would like to go out to supper with me sometime in the future.” “Sure, Doug, but how about instead of a meal, we go to a movie—you know what a movie buff I am!” I agreed to that, but was unprepared for his next sentence: “Good. Let’s meet tonight at the Lennox Megaplex at 9 p.m. and pick a flick.”

I was stunned. I yanked the phone away from my ear as if it were hot, and just stared at it, flummoxed. After a moment I heard Mick say, “Doug? You there?”

Why the hell not? I thought in a savage rush. It was a much better idea than crying steadily the rest of the day. So, sounding as normal as possible, I told Mick I’d like that, and we agreed to meet in the main theater lobby at nine.

I put down the phone in a very different mood than I’d picked it up. Mick Powers was a dream man of mine, so this all didn’t seem possible, didn’t seem real. What had I done? Was I sorry I'd done it? Should I call and cancel? NO, NO, NO! Instead I went down to the basement and did my normal workout: 30 pushups, 30 deep knee bends, 30 sit-ups, 45 minutes on the Universal Gym Machine, and then jogging a mile. At eight that evening I showered, put on my black jeans, leather boots, tight black t-shirt, and drove down to the movie theater.

It was crowded and, in spite of it being exam time, filled with my law students, who (given how I was dressed and my bizarre situation) I was unprepared to meet. “Professor Whaley!” they gushed, introducing me to their dates, asking what movie I was going to see, even posing a last minute question or two about my other exam coming up on Friday. It was a nightmare, but Mick Powers arrived and I was able to escape from the students. He asked what movie I preferred and I left it up to him. He chose “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.” It turned out to be an awful movie no one should ever have to sit through, but with Mick’s huge bicep leaning against me all during the picture, I barely noticed the plot. It was eleven o’clock when we exited the theater, and even though he’d earlier mentioned he had to open his store at eight the next morning, I found myself asking him if he’d be interested in coming back to my house. Twinkle in his eye, Mick said, “Yes, Doug, I’d like that.”

Two hours later, at my home, as Mick was leaving he gave me a big hug. “You are one sexy man,” he told me with a wink, and then left to get what sleep he could before going to work.

Sometimes, just when you need it, life deals you a really good card. The next day I woke up, and the extraordinary pain of Jerry being gone hit me like a physical force. It was a bad day, and filled with lots of tears and self pity (at one point both birds, never having seen me cry before, flew to my shoulder and nuzzled my neck, which made me cry all the harder). Jerry and my heartache were all I could think about.

Well, not quite all. Three or four times that day a stupid grin broke out on my face and stayed there for the longest time.
Related Posts:
“Dog Meat,” December 27, 2009
“Recidivist: A Criminal Who Does It Again,” September 10, 2010
“Mary Beth and the Gay Teddy Bear,” September 25, 2010
"Seducing Straight Men," March 3, 2011
"Good Sex/Bad Sex: Advice on Making Love," November 9, 2011
"The Thrill of a Touch," August 14, 2012
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mortgage Foreclosure: The Disaster of Unintended Consequences


This blog post’s discussion of the law has been updated in a subsequent post on this blog.  See “Mortgage Foreclosures, Missing Promissory Notes, and the Uniform Commercial Code: A New Article,” February 11, 2013, at



Foreclosures two years ago (click on photo to enlarge)
Nobody knew what the rules were, and nobody cared. So the traditional mortgage transaction (home buyer signs promissory note at closing in favor of the bank which takes a mortgage on the property, and then the buyer either pays off the debt or that same bank forecloses) became a tangled network of new players, who invented things as they went along. The note and the mortgage were bundled together with hundreds of others, sold to an investment bank which put them into a trust, which in turn sold bonds to investors, promising them a nice return. Moreover, this proved so lucrative that banks started granting loans to buyers who weren’t able to afford them, for properties that appraisers had been bribed to overvalue, in a market that rose to cloud levels and beyond, year after year. Things were fine as long as that property bubble kept expanding, but millions of mortgages later came the spectacular “pop,” and chaos ensued. Collapse of the housing market led to collapse of credit, bankruptcies of the businesses which depended on that credit, and then collapse of the job market, and now we’re all flopping around in the mud trying hard to breathe.

When the destitute buyers quit paying, the only recourse available to the banks was grabbing the properties covered by the mortgages. That was so routine a result that it surprised no one, and few questions were asked as millions of foreclosures began. Florida set up special courts to handle foreclosures, and the “judges” appointed to run them mysteriously asked no questions. Want to foreclose? Sure? It didn’t seem to matter that the foreclosing entity was not the original lender and merely claimed to have some loose connection with that entity—who could possibly care about that? Deadbeats who had failed to pay off the mortgage debt forfeited their homes to the first claimants to file. So what if they had defenses (“I did pay the debt,” “The bank agreed to an extension,” “I filed for bankruptcy and thought that stopped the foreclosure,” “The bank lied to me when it assured me the property was worth far more than the mortgage amount,” etc.)? Most of the home owners had no money to hire an attorney (duh), so they either gave up and walked away from their dreams, or tried to get the attention of a judge who had to clear over a hundred cases that day and who had no patience for an actual exploration of what had happened.

But the sloppiness with which it was all done—lack of a paper trail, inconsistent claims of assignment, no records of who received the payments, loss of important documents—eventually caught the attention of the media, who were alarmed by horror stories told by tearful and pathetic people now living on the street, or with family, or in some dump next to a crack house. Then the reporters did what the best of their kind have always done: shined a bright light on the dark corners, and the rats have been scurrying ever since.

I’ve explained in a prior post (and am travelling the country giving speeches about this) that no foreclosure is possible unless the foreclosing entity possesses the original promissory note (see “The Sexy Promissory Note,” August 17, 2010). A copy won’t do (there could be hundreds of copies, but that wouldn’t mean a hundred banks would each have the right to foreclose)—only the original. Some banks have carefully preserved the notes, so for them this is no issue. But many notes cannot be found (some were, incredibly, stupidly, deliberately destroyed in a paper-reduction effort!!!). The banks pooh-poohed state statutes requiring production of such notes (mere “legal technicality”), and emphasized that they can prove that the mortgage debt was assigned to them. Surely that’s enough. Well, no, as it happens, and I say this as a law professor who has taught these laws for over 40 years, and who can explain in tedious detail why the rule exists and why it is fair to everyone.

But the missing notes are only one of many problems for the foreclosing bank. They also often have trouble proving the validity of the assignment of the mortgage if challenged on that, or—witness the recent ugly headlines about robo-signers employed by the banks who swore that they had examined all the paperwork in detail and found it in order when that was quite impossible—can’t even prove that the debt is in truly in default so that foreclosure is in order. As a consequence of this sudden attention to rules that should have been followed all along, foreclosures are suddenly a legal nightmare.

On some level, I’m delighted that the feeding frenzy of greed and fraud the bankers pigged out on over the last decade is over and now it's their famine time. Why aren’t these people in jail? They committed crimes that are easily proven (among other things they lied to the investors who bought the bonds, telling them the properties were worthless, and then turned around and foreclosed on those properties, keeping the resulting monies for themselves instead of repaying those investors—that’s both fraud and theft and a number of other crimes). One criminal activity that’s still a booming business is foreclosure scamming (“Just pay me $1000 and sign this paper giving me temporary title to your home, and I’ll help you avoid foreclosure and save your property!”). In the 1980s savings-and-loans scandal which cost the U.S. Government (then under the first President Bush) $125 billion dollars, many of the perpetrators went to prison (the photo is of the star criminal of the day, Charles H. Keating, Jr., who spent five years in a cell, finally getting out in 1996). Let’s have some of that now—hell, let’s have a lot of it! The trials would be eye-popping with revelations of the fraud that was the daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner for these villains. Why aren’t we all demanding prosecutions?

But when I cool down and think about what’s coming, I start having trouble sleeping at night. And that is really the topic of this post: unintended consequences that are going to make things even rougher than most people understand.

Consider title insurance companies. At all real estate closings the buyer has to pay for such insurance, but it’s not common for title insurance companies to actually have to pay off; the title normally is flawless. But if judges start invalidating foreclosures and ruling that the house belongs to the original owner, buyers of foreclosure homes are going to be filing claims. Title insurance companies might have to pay out millions, leading them to raise rates, cut down policies, layoff employees, or declare bankruptcy. Certainly no respectable title insurance company is going to issue a policy for the resale of a foreclosed-upon home where there are legal issues about missing notes or improper documentation in the foreclosure proceeding, and, without title insurance available, what will the foreclosing bank do with an unsalable property?

Bank failures used to be rare, but banks, and particularly small banks, are falling like badly balanced dominoes. The FDIC (busier than it has ever been, in the red and feeling the pinch) steps in, cuts off all lines of credit to everyone, consumer and businesses alike, fires employees, and starts foreclosing on both homes and businesses. Do you have any idea what it does to a small town to have the local bank fail? The lives that are ruined? The businesses that collapse in tandem with their bank across the street? The families that break up? The suicides?

Urban blight is already a major problem in many communities, even upscale ones, as house after house sits abandoned, leading to dropping real estate value of others, and a vicious cycle of neighborly collapse. What do municipalities do about the resulting crime, fire hazards, disease, etc.? They can’t raise taxes in today’s economy. Chapter Nine of the United States Bankruptcy Code provides for municipal bankruptcies, but we never teach those rules in law school because actual cases were rare in the past. To keep up adoptions of the book at law schools, I may have to rewrite my casebook to include a major new section on Chapter Nine (about which, alas, I know almost nothing, so get out the midnight oil, Doug, a very unpleasant unintended consequence of this mess).

If you are a respectable bank official caught up in all this, how many new mortgages would you be willing to make? Without readily available mortgage loans, what will happen to home ownership? The ability to move to take a job in another town? The economy? The American Dream of a better life than one’s parents? If you are considering buying a new home, think again. Doing so can be asking for trouble even if you can afford to pay cash—will the neighborhood self-destruct? Could you sell it if you have to? How good is the title on this new property?

If banks can’t foreclose, doesn’t that mean that the home owner gets away without paying the mortgage? Not quite. The mortgage deed is still filed in the real property records, and unless it’s removed the property can never be sold, not even if the home owner dies and the heirs want to dump it. The home remains collateral for the debt, and that won’t go away until the mortgagee agrees to remove it from the records.

Deep breath.

I do have a solution to offer. The foreclosure mills are grinding to a halt, but legitimate foreclosures with proper documentation and possession of the original promissory note can go forward without pause. For troublesome transactions (the paperwork is a mess, the note is missing, the home owner alleges he/she has defenses) it’s time to sit everybody around a table and work out a satisfactory solution through negotiation. All involved need a resolution that will end in a resumption of the payments, or an agreed-upon foreclosure with indemnities to the home owner against future troubles (say from the real owner of the original promissory note), or some contractual arrangement that ends up with a salable property in the local community.

Will this be easy? No. But it’s possible if a serious effort is made to set up the protocols. If the banks will start putting their money into creating efficient settlement procedures instead of funneling it into the robo-mess of the past few years, perhaps all these unintended consequences will be avoided and I can finally get some sleep.

Related Posts:
“How I Became a Law Professor,” January 27, 2010
“The Socratic Dialogue in Law School,” January 31, 2010
“Clickers,” March 17, 2010
“The Summer Bar Review Tours,” June 15, 2010
“The Sexy Promissory Note,” August 17, 2010
" Update: Mortgage Foreclosure and Missing Notes," November 16, 2010
"Women in My Law School Classroom," January 8, 2011
"I Threaten To Sure Apple Over an iPad Cover," April 8, 2011
"The Payment-In-Full Check: A Powerful Legal Maneuver," April 11, 2011

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Football Advice for Coach Jim Tressel

I’ve always been an avid sports fan, though not much of an athlete (see “Put-Out at Home Plate,” February 14, 2010, for a sad example of me as a player). If you are employed by The Ohio State University, it’s required by contract that you root for the OSU Buckeyes in all sports endeavours. I myself needed no such urging. If I care who wins any particular game, I can cheer lustily for my team even if I don’t actually understand the rules (as happens, say, in the Olympics when the United States has an entry in some mysterious sport like “cross-country curling”).

Coach Tressel
When I was teaching a basic Contracts course in February of 2008, one of my students was the recruitment secretary for the OSU football coach, James Tressel. He’s a remarkable coach, already a legend at the school and nationwide due to his splendid record of achievement. One day, in a fit of hubris of which I’m not proud, I asked this student if she would check and see if Coach Tressel had any interest in unsolicited advice about trick plays from a rabid fan. She did so, and he through her invited me to send him an email on topic.

It follows:


Dear Coach Tressel:

Like most of the people who understand anything about football, I'm a fan of yours (both for being a splendid coach and, for all I can tell, a first rate human being).

I am a Professor of Law at the Mortiz College of Law here on campus. In the last couple of years, I became disturbed by how assumptions both the students and faculty make (about how classrooms work, for example) are disturbing the legal education we offer. Far too much of the emphasis is on the faculty, and far too little on the students, the exact opposite of how things should be. That led to a lot of changes in how I teach, and I have just published a law review article on the topic (“Teaching Law: Thoughts on Retirement”).

Because I am also a football fan, the outside-the-box thinking I was doing made me consider its application to a number of other areas, one of which is your specialty, football.

More specifically, I have some thoughts about trick plays. It is presumptuous, I know, for me to make suggestions to one of the leading football coaches in the history of the game (you already know volumes about the issue, of course), but, alas, I can’t seem to stop myself. So here goes. There are four parts to this.

1. The Plays That Have Died Out. In the early days of the game there were a number of plays that are no longer used. Some have been declared illegal (the flying wedge, for example) and others were replaced by better versions, or were simply found ineffective. I’m no historian of the game, but you must know people who are, or perhaps you yourself have a great deal of knowledge about these past practices. How many of these old tactics could be recreated, refined, and reintroduced, particularly when the other team is not expecting them? That now famous game between Boise State and Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl of some years ago showed how useful outdated plays can be.

2. Reading the Rules Like a Lawyer. Some of the old tactics are now illegal. Oh? As a lawyer, I know that many times a careful reading of the rules can lead to the creation of clever ways around them. Or, even better, the rules may not address new ways of thinking about the issue. When the Japanese first participated in the summer Olympics, their pole vault team had a surprising ploy. The runner simply walked the pole down to the planting spot, planted it, and then carefully climbed the pole, hand over hand, until reaching the top and flinging himself over. This set new records, but lead to a quick change in the rules—runners may not alter their hand positions, once fixed, on the pole. It may be time to drag out the rule book and study it for loopholes that may not be obvious to the casual glance.

3. The Far Side of the Unexpected. I’m sure you have considered (and undoubtedly rejected) lots of trick plays and strategies, but it is possible to come up with the bizarre. My high school team had one were the offensive line, immediately before the snap of the ball, would in unison spit on the ground loudly. That surprised the other team and distracted them at a key moment. Or, some rehearsed bit of conversation might do it—“How’s your mother?” (said in a friendly way, not sarcastically) could cause an important second of confusion. The history of football must be filled with strange things like this, and perhaps it would be fun at least to have someone on your squad or a student explore the best of the crazy ideas.

4. Professional Magicians. My most important thought is this one. Most trick plays use the concept of misdirection: having the other team thinking one thing as another happens. Ask yourself who are the leading experts in the world at misdirection, and the answer is certainly magicians. (I am not one myself.) If I were coaching a football game at the level you are, I would bring together the three leading magicians I could find, and ask them to look at football films with this idea in mind: what could be done to trick the other team into completely misunderstanding the situation? Magicians are wonder-workers at making the impossible seem to occur. I would bet big money that their considered advice would be eye-opening.

There is no reason for you to respond to all this. You are a busy man, and how you run your team is, of course, none of my business. I debated for some time whether to send you the above, knowing how presumptuous it is, and I apologize for taking up your time.

In any event, I wish you and the Buckeyes the very best in the coming years.

Douglas Whaley
Moritz College of Law

Coach Tressel promptly sent me back an email saying, “Doug: Thanks for your suggestions. I will pass them on to my Offensive Coordinators.” He signed it “Jim,” which pleased me enormously. Of course I heard nothing more, and subsequent games have not indicated that my letter had any effect at all (other than, I suppose, a good laugh down at the Athletic Center), but at least I got all that stupid advice off my chest. Now I’m back to being nothing more than a happy, fanatic fan.

Related Posts:
"Basketball and Its Announcers," March 6, 2011
"Popourri #1," November 15, 2011 (Chicago Cubs Fan)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Some Cartoons I've Saved

Since I was in law school I’ve been saving cartoons into an album.  There are a hundred or so of these, but I thought you might enjoy some of my favorites, which I've reprinted below.  If you left click on any one of them you can see an enlarged version. I’ve added commentary to a few of them.

The Perfect Crime:

This next one has always seemed haunting to me.

And what does this next one mean?

I have quite a history with the next one.  I was in Montreal and saw this Italian cartoon in an exhibit.  I was quite taken with it, so I wrote the artist and asked if it had been printed in a magazine or somewhere so I could have a copy.  He sent me back a letter in Italian along with an original of the cartoon.  The letter, once translated, advised me that the cartoon was mine for $100.00.  This was in 1971 when that was a great deal of money.  So I sent it back to him, with regrets, and added that I still thought it was a brilliant cartoon (just the sort of idiocy municipalities are capable of), and I congratulated him on creating it.  He then mailed me a copy of the cartoon with no further explanation, for which I was very grateful.

And, finally, a favorite among favorites:

Related Posts:
"The Best of My Library," August 27, 2010
"Doug's Favorite Jokes," November 13, 2010
"Five Movies I Watch Again and Again," March 20, 2011
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Sunday, October 17, 2010

When Atheists Die

When people I’m talking with mention life in the “hereafter,” I usually nod my head and, as soon as is polite, switch the conversation to some safer topic.  But on the rare occasion (usually occurring after a drink or two back in the days when I was drinking), I’d quiz them about what they really expected in the afterlife.  This always ended badly.  What I’ve done for a living for over 40 years is to conduct Socratic dialogues with law students (see the post of January 31, 2010), where cross examination in detail revealed the level of clarity of thought.  I say “badly” because, of course, no one knows what to expect in life after death, so the result was always an embarrassing muddle of non-thought, and I ended up very sorry I subjected anyone to the stupidity of interrogation about their deepest desires.

To see what I mean, and assuming you yourself are a believer in God, pretend I’m quizzing you about life after death. Suppose I happen to know your favorite hobby (running marathons, playing the piano, watching ballet, or whatever your chief passion may be), and I ask if that will go on in heaven. No. How about sex? No. Your dog? Maybe. All of the dogs you’ve ever had? How about your parakeet, Floyd? Hmm. Your children? Yes. What ages will they be? Will they be your real children or idealized versions? Will you yourself have your usual flaws? What will you do in lieu of all these things?

Then ask yourself if heaven would be enjoyable without these things (the piano, sex, ideal family and friends, the dog, even some of those flaws), and ponder that if they were not present wouldn’t some important part of you be well and truly dead?

Mark Twain
Subjecting a fuzzy notion of heaven to rigorous thought is counterproductive, and—trust me on this—these dialogues have not made me any friends. Isaac Asimov once remarked that he’d never heard a description of a heaven any intelligent person would want to visit. Mark Twain was even crueler. In “Letters From the Earth” (a book so heretical it wasn’t published until 1960, 50 years after his death) he opined that:

"In man's heaven everybody sings! The man who did not sing on earth sings there; the man who could not sing on earth is able to do it there. The universal singing is not casual, not occasional, not relieved by intervals of quiet; it goes on, all day long, and every day, during a stretch of twelve hours. And everybody stays; whereas in the earth the place would be empty in two hours. . . . Meantime, every person is playing on a harp . . . ! Consider the deafening hurricane of sound -- millions and millions of voices screaming at once and millions and millions of harps gritting their teeth at the same time! I ask you: is it hideous, is it odious, is it horrible?

"Consider further: it is a praise service; a service of compliment, of flattery, of adulation! Do you ask who it is that is willing to endure this strange compliment, this insane compliment; and who not only endures it, but likes it, enjoys it, requires if, commands it? Hold your breath!

"It is God! This race's god, I mean. He sits on his throne, attended by his four and twenty elders and some other dignitaries pertaining to his court, and looks out over his miles and miles of tempestuous worshipers, and smiles, and purrs, and nods his satisfaction northward, eastward, southward . . . .

"All sane people hate noise; yet they have tranquilly accepted this kind of heaven -- without thinking, without reflection, without examination -- and they actually want to go to it! Profoundly devout old gray-headed men put in a large part of their time dreaming of the happy day when they will lay down the cares of this life and enter into the joys of that place. Yet you can see how unreal it is to them, and how little it takes a grip upon them as being fact, for they make no practical preparation for the great change: you never see one of them with a harp, you never hear one of them sing. . .

"It is because they do not think at all; they only think they think."

Do you know Shelley’s famous poem, “Ozymandias”? It’s haunted me from the minute I first read it until this moment as I reprint it for you:


                                               by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

This “nothing is permanent” message is hard to take. But how many kings and conquerors of ancient times, or poets and playwrights, inventors and politicians, rule makers and wise thinkers, believed they’d written their names so large as to be seen from space? For them too the lone and level sands stretch far away. Oh, you might protest, we at least remember the great inventors! Is that true? Well, okay, tell me who invented fire or, at least, first saw how very useful it could be if tamed? Who thought of farming? Know their names? Weaving? Gunpowder? Cryptography? The internet?

I’ve written much in this blog about my parents, both fascinating people. But, as with all of us (that’s you and me, blog readers) their memory dies as soon as those who once cared about them in turn die off themselves. 

Can you name these three famous actors?
What about famous celebrities? Their memory lasts, right? No. Name one from the time of Genghis Khan, or the court of Xerxes, or tell me who was the greatest actor in Paris in 1900. Even movie stars fade. How many people today could identify a picture of Carole Lombard, the highest paid star in Hollywood in the 1930s?  That's her in the unexplained photo above.  With hundreds (thousands?) of movies being made yearly, old films and their famous casts are at first slighted, and then, ever so slowly, even the best of them is forgotten. How many teenagers in the world have watched “Some Like It Hot,” or, even if they have, would think it the funniest movie of all time (as it has been voted by people who are not teenagers)? Last February, when I asked for a show of hands in my classroom, only about 20 of the 75 students had seen “Gone With the Wind.” Contemplate those students' great grandchildren and what they’ll know about the popular culture of 2010. With luck even Lady Gaga will be long gone by then.

So it all dies, and our memories die too. Some people say “we’ll meet in heaven.” A pretty fable, but, in the ears of an atheist, the fanciful wish of those who cannot face their own mortality.

I’ve encountered death many times in my life (see “The First Time I Nearly Died,” August 3, 2010), and I’ve made most of the important decisions of my life thinking about how things will look at the very end (see “The Deathbed Test,” July 27, 2010). I accept that nothing lasts, but it’s nonetheless important to me that I, Douglas Whaley, did my best during the time allotted to me. Even if I’m the only one who knows it, I want to have contributed to humanity’s journey from the caves to the stars, doing as well as I could with was mine to give. This blog is part of that effort.

So atheists die the same way they lived. We believe that life is the sum of all one does between the first breath and the last, and judge ourselves by how well we did between the two. Would any fair god ask more?

Charles Darwin

On his deathbed, Charles Darwin, who started life training for the clergy but whose work saw him upend the Biblical explanation of the world, was able to struggle back from a faint.  His last words were, "I am not in the least afraid to die."

Related Posts:
“Catholicism and Me (Part One),” March 13, 2010
“Superstitions,”March 21, 2010
“Catholicism and Me (Part Two),” April 18, 2010
“How To Become an Atheist,” May 16, 2010
“Imaginary Friend,” June 22, 2010
“I Don’t Do Science,” July 2, 2010
“Explosion at Ohio Stadium,” October 9, 2010 (Chapter 1 of my novel)
"Escape From Ohio Stadium," November 2, 2010 (Chapter 2)
"Open Mouth, Insert Foot," November 21, 2010 (Chapter 3)
"Rock Around the Sun," December 31, 2010
"Muslim Atheist," March 16, 2011
"An Atheist Interviews God," May 20, 2011
"A Mormon Loses His Faith," June 13, 2011
"Is Evolution True?" July 13, 2011
"Atheists, Christmas, and Public Prayers," December 9, 2011
" Urban Meyer and the Christian Buckeye Football Team," February 19, 2012
"Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Designer?", May 12, 2012
"My Atheist Thriller: Another Book Reading," May 17, 2012
"'The God Particle' and the Vanishing Role of God," July 5, 2012
“Update: Urban Meyer and the NON-Christian Buckeye Football Team,” August 24, 2012
“Atheists Visit the Creation Museum,” October 4, 2012
“Mitt Romney: A Mormon President?” October 17, 2012
“The End of the World: Mayans, Jesus, and Others,” December 17, 2012
"The Great Lakes Atheist Conference, Tornado Survivor Rebecca Vitsmun, and the Wonderful Barbara Williams," August 27, 2013
"Why Even Believers Should Read My Atheist Thriller ‘Imaginary Friend,’" October 29, 2013
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Savoynet Photo Contest

Blog Readers:

This is a special post for members of Savoynet, the International Gilbert and Sullivan list-serve.  A month ago I posted a contest there for members to submit photos which would best illustrate one particular moment from any one of the fourteen G&S operas.  This post reveals the ten photo that were submitted.  Savoynetters may vote by sending me an email at, chosing their top three favorites.  Readers of the blog who are not interested Gilbert and Sullivan may allow their attention to wander, but any who want more information about Savoynet should read "A Fanatic's Tale (This Isn't Pretty)," my post of April 11, 2010.

The Savoynet Contest Photos:

Photo #1

Photo #2

Photo #3

Photo #4

Photo #5

Photo #6

Photo #7

Photo #8

Photo #9

Photo #10

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Very Young Douglas Whaley

I was born on September 25, 1943 (right in the middle of World War II), which means I’d been Christmas conceived. In truth, my parents had a story about the Christmas Eve of 1942. Robert and LeNore Whaley were at some friend’s house, and a cute little three year old girl was running around, charming everyone. On their way home (after, perhaps, an alcoholic drink or two) one of my parents said to the other, “Their daughter was so cute—how about we have a baby?” The other must have thought it was a good idea because nine months later to the day, Douglas John Whaley was born.

The place was Huntingburg, Indiana (in the southern part of the state). My parents were both from Jasper, Indiana, some four miles away, but Huntingburg had Stork Hospital where they elected to have me (Dad’s parents lived there). It was named after its founder, a Doctor Stork (I’m not making this up), and he delivered me. Yes, that’s right! I was brought into this world by a Stork.

Actually, Robert Whaley (on leave from his WWII post in Panama) had no great opinion of Dr. Stork, who was leaving the building just as Mom was going into labor. “Where are you going?” Dad asked, grabbing the doctor by the arm as Dad and his very pregnant wife were rushing in. “Need to run home,” the doctor replied briskly, but Dad was having none of that and bullied the man into staying.

Not long thereafter Dr. Stork took Dad aside and told him that Mom’s labor was a very difficult and dangerous one, and that the choice had come down to saving the mother or saving the baby. In later years, recounting this story, Dad’s face would still contort with the agony of that moment. He knew what he had to say. “It’s no decision at all,” he told the doctor after thinking about this ugly election. “Save my wife first, but for God’s sake, if you possibly can, save the baby too!” Dr. Stork sadly replied he didn’t think that was possible. Later he told Dad he decided to force the birth by squeezing the baby’s skull and brutally pulling it out, thus risking killing it, but as he started to do so the baby was born naturally and erupted from the womb. Supposedly I dropped onto the floor (which would explain a lot), but in all probability that’s an urban legend (or a Bob Whaley exaggeration—he wasn’t present so, I ask myself in 2010, how could he know what went on during delivery?).

I was immediately taken back to Jasper, and, surrounded by relatives on both sides (particularly my Catholic mother’s very large family), was given much love (see this photo of my first Christmas; I remember playing with that foreground elephant, named—what else in 1943?—Dumbo ).

I’d like to say that I was a quiet, model child, but stories I’ve heard from my parents and others don’t, alas, reach that conclusion. Mom informed me more than once that I was five years old before they had a picture of me with my mouth closed (see photo below).

When I’d just turned three in the fall of 1946, we were living in Independence, Kansas, where Dad was then stationed. One of our babysitters attended Independence High School, and for some unknown reason she took me to a journalism class. A clipping from a local newspaper says that I “made such a hit with everyone that [Doug] is now a member of the senior high Girls Pep Club, the mascot, of course, and . . . will attend all of the school parades and senior high school games. He is the son of Captain Bob Whaley.” That, and similar newspaper human-interest stories, caused Mom to mutter, “Doesn’t that kid have a mother?”

A different newspaper clipping, accompanied by a photo of me wearing the Independence High School Bulldogs cheerleading uniform, had this to say:

“Not lacking in initiative, he always keeps the situation well in hand. During one of the football games toward the end of the season, when the weather was close to freezing, Doug was left on the bench buried in coats and blankets while the cheerleaders went across the field to greet the visiting pep club. The local pep club became excited and began yelling without leaders. Doug squirmed out of the blankets, dragged one of the megaphones with him, and complete with actions and all, surprised the crowd by leading the club in a yell.”

Apparently I was the crown bearer at the coronation of that year’s home coming queen, and, after the homecoming king kissed her, I insisted on doing the same.

After that, as you know, I grew up and became the shy, quiet person I am today.

Related Posts:
“Bob and Kink Get Married,” June 2, 2010
“No Pennies In My Pocket,” July 30, 2010
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Explosion at Ohio Stadium

In prior posts I’ve offered snippets of my novel-in-progress “Corbin Milk” (see “The Thunderbolt,” September 3, 1010, and “How to Change Gay People Into Straight People,” September 10, 2010), and it occurred to me it might interest you see the first chapter of my published novel, “Imaginary Friend” (for a discussion of its larger plot, go to the post of that title on June 22, 2010). In the published version of “Imaginary Friend,” Chapter One, reprinted in its entirety below, has the more prosaic title of “Popcorn,” but to spice things up for readers of this blog I gave it the more startling name above, and illustrated it with photos not, alas, in the original.

                                                                   CHAPTER 1


Fourteen minutes before the explosion, Franklin Whitestone was contemplating a sin: eating a box of popcorn. Even a small box would push him close to the number of carbohydrates that Dr. Atkins, still giving diet advice from the grave, allowed him for the day, but he was close to making that choice anyway. The Atkins diet no longer enjoyed its prestige of yesteryear, and was even belittled in current dietary circles, but it was the only weight-loss plan that had ever worked for Franklin. He had dropped 22 pounds in two months! And while he was still overweight at 210, his six foot frame was looking better each day. In his youth his natural good looks had taken him far, but these days any glance in the mirror revealed that, at 44, he’d been infected by a severe case of middle age.

Franklin had been sitting in Ohio Stadium, and as the second quarter of the football game began, the word “popcorn” popped into his brain. He’d pooh-poohed the thought immediately—totally beneath consideration. He was not about to go on a carb-binge and throw himself out of the hallowed state of ketosis.

But just as the Ohio State Buckeyes scored and he was celebrating by high-fiving the spectators around him, the word “popcorn” reappeared as if it were an instant message on some internal computer screen, and it continued to pound his consciousness for the remaining five minutes of the half. Popcorn. Popcorn. Popcorn. The game had started at 3:30 p.m., and by now his stomach was rumbling softly, demanding attention.

As the ref’s whistle blew and the players lumbered off the field, he turned to Kelly Keyfold, the love of his life, and casually informed her, “I’m going to get a soft drink. Want anything?”

She smiled. “Big hot pretzel, please. And, Frankie, don’t forget the mustard.”

He nodded, rose, and began the laborious task of getting past the knees and feet of the ten people between him and the aisle. But as he “excused-me”d through them, Franklin knew to a certainty that it wasn’t just a drink and pretzel he was fetching. Oh no—there was more! Wise or not, diet or not, sin or not, he was going to buy a box of popcorn, even though (if he considered the matter logically) he really didn’t want it.

Franklin had read once that we do not so much plan things as explain them after we have already done them. He had certainly not chosen to have the forbidden box of popcorn, but on some very deep level he had settled definitely on doing it, and now he was a mere servant, a robot, executing an imperial command. There was some comfort in thinking about it this way, even though it was an explanation that resulted in shirking responsibility for his own decisions. He wished that bothered him more than it did.

In an oft-told story, the native of some primitive culture is explaining his religion to an outsider and announces that he believes that the world rests on the back of a giant turtle. When the outsider asks what the turtle stands on, he is told it is another turtle. The inevitable next question produces the response that “it’s turtles all the way down.” What Franklin had read about consciousness, behavior, and the workings of the brain seemed to produce something very much like that pyramid of turtles. Beyond the level of working thoughts was another layer of subconsciousness, but it was itself informed by instructions from a layer below that, and so on. Just where decision-making occurred in this stack of turtles he did not know. He did know that the decisions were rarely made at the first tier of conscious thought. Perhaps never.

Taking the ramp down to the first level of the stadium, he temporarily bypassed the concession stand and joined one of the amazingly fast moving lines formed by thousands of other men using the huge trough-filled restrooms all over Ohio Stadium. While doing this, he mentally worked on trying to get the popcorn decision reversed by the inner pile of turtles. Surely, he thought to himself, I can simply overrule this urge and forget the popcorn. Have just a diet drink and get Kelly her pretzel. But as Franklin mouthed this plan, he felt its futility; the turtles demanded popcorn. He tried offering them a hotdog (sans bun, lots of mustard) instead. Nope.

Leaving the men’s room, Franklin returned to the concession area and stood at the end of another long line. He made one last desperate internal effort to abort the popcorn purchase. There had to be some way to reverse the boss-turtle’s fiat. Franklin was a lawyer, so an appeal of this wrong-headed judgment was surely possible. Perhaps he could take his case up with the Head Turtle, whichever one that might be. Someone responsible had to be in charge down there.

He was still contemplating how to do this—what would appeal to the Head Turtle and thus preserve a happy carb count for the day—when the family in front of him abruptly left the counter, laden with things to eat and drink, chatting happily, and the woman behind the counter looked at Franklin and said, “Next.” Without noticeable pause he ordered the drink, the pretzel, and the popcorn.

The bomb was inside the large wooden box near the concession stand on which rested condiments, napkins, plastic utensils, and straws. It was to be triggered by a signal from the remote in Mohannad’s hand, and from no more than twenty feet away. Assuming all went right, this inevitably meant that Mohannad himself would die in the blast. He stood there staring at the condiment stand in fascination and horror.

His own death.

Right now.

Mohannad had spent all of last night, September 10th, never closing his eyes in the entire five hours that he lay motionless in his bed, contemplating this very moment, the last moment of all his moments. The finality of it stopped his breathing until he suddenly gasped in a desperate intake of air. Had the men of the first September 11th had these same problems on their own September 10th?

Mohannad began to shake. The tremors started in his lower back, and advanced until they visibly affected his whole upper body.

This uncontrollable trembling was painfully embarrassing, unmanning him completely in his own eyes. After all, he had been carefully trained by experts to deal with these very predictable emotions. The highlight of his twenty-three years on this planet had come in the incredible moment seven months ago when he had been chosen by the leaders of al-Borak for this vital mission in America. There had been scores of others who had wanted this chance—his chance—and who, when he was selected instead of them, had loudly expressed their envy, mixing in congratulations and subtle doubts that he was in fact the right person for this important task. But at the moment of his choosing (joyous event, praise God!), he himself had had no doubts that he was the ideal choice. Others, he said to himself, would falter, fail, have last minute qualms. Not him.

Mohannad was a warrior, from a family of warrior-ancestors going back centuries, and this great honor would be his and his family’s for generations to come. His mother had made a big point of telling him how proud she was that he was to be a martyr to this holy cause. His whole village would share in the glory of his heroic deed. Hereafter his family would be well provided for by the leaders of the movement. This was always done, and was a major incentive for the recruitment and dedication of those, like him, who were willing to make this supreme sacrifice.

But—here—now—in this strange country—it was different, so very different! It was too hard, too much to expect! Strangely, it was not primarily his death that caused his breath to come in such huge gulps. No, his death was a step into a paradise where wondrous things awaited him. This he believed with all his heart. But the deaths of so many others! That did bother him. Was it right, after all, to kill innocents in the name of Allah? To Mohannad, in this stadium, in this bizarre place called Ohio, surrounded by these happy relaxed people, his mission seemed wrong, massively misguided. Yes, he knew they were infidels and that a fatwa had been issued that excused, even demanded, their death. But still . . .

His body, out of control, shook so badly that a tall black man standing near him stared intently at him, and then frowned in sudden concern, as if he would come over and inquire about Mohannad’s well being.

I could just throw the remote in the trash and disappear into the crowd, Mohannad thought. Not kill anyone! Not die myself! He looked down at the remote as though it were some dangerous animal held in his hand. Tears coursed down his cheeks. This was a terrible, terrible thing!

But then his training reasserted itself. He pictured his Teacher, and what he would say and think when he heard that Mohannad—the chosen Mohannad, the oh-so-proud Mohannad—had failed in the mission after all! His mother’s shame if he faltered! The reaction of all his friends, the members of his village, those he had trained with . . . .

Just as the remote was about to shake itself loose and clatter to the ground, he muttered almost soundlessly, “Allah, be with us all!”

He calmed himself with a supreme act of will, and pressed the Send key.

Ohio Stadium was not the only college venue where a bomb went off that afternoon. Another was detonated at the Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, also at half time. It was never intended that the bombs would go off simultaneously. The organizers rightly counted on word of the first explosion spreading rapidly throughout the country and then, as the second one detonated, causing stampedes at many of the other college football games in progress throughout the land. This worked amazingly well. Cell phones and, in a surprising large number of cases, scoreboards, stupidly spread news of the first blasts at Columbus and then Austin (both within five minutes of each other), and worked local horrors immediately. The final death toll will never be certain, but best estimates put it at around 425 people, 18 of whom were trampled to death in stadiums containing no bombs of any kind. This latter statistic could of course be gathered accurately once the panicked mob had passed on and the bodies remained behind.

A third bomb, later found in the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida (“The Swamp”), where Florida had been playing Georgia, had failed to detonate and was discovered two days later by an absolutely dumbfounded janitorial staff.

No one within 30 feet of the blast at Ohio Stadium in any direction survived the explosion. Franklin Whitestone was standing almost 60 feet away from the concession stand when he and the scores of people near him were slammed violently against a nearby wall. His food purchases flew from his hands, never to be seen again. Franklin himself rebounded off other unfortunate people, doubtless adding to their injuries, their many bodies cushioning the impact. He landed painfully on his feet, jarring his back with a loud crack. His legs immediately collapsed under him, and he sat down hard on the concrete floor, beating another jolt into his protesting spine.

Before he could absorb all this, and while his ears were ringing with the thunder of the blast, something large and close collapsed next to him, caroming something (another person?) off his right side and into the blackness. What? What? What? Franklin’s mind demanded answers to this madness.

The world around him was a nightmare of darkness, rubble, dust, and chaos. The blast had apparently knocked out his hearing, replacing it first with a loud ringing and then absolute quiet. The sudden silence made the experience surreal. Franklin could see nothing, hear nothing, and smell only an acrid, stingingly pungent aroma that made his eyes water. He coughed spasmodically, finding it hard to stop, finally willing himself to quit breathing until the coughing urge came under control.

But though the dust and darkness kept him from seeing anything, he somehow sensed movement all around. Exactly what was moving he couldn’t guess. Debris? Walls collapsing? The poor people he had slammed against in the explosion?

Franklin felt a scream building inside him, but beat it back in favor of a new coughing fit that doubled him in two, his head banging twice off his right knee. Then, as he sat up, a smaller version of the suppressed scream burst from him, and he covered his mouth to try and stop it.

Am I going mad? he thought, terrified of the question. Franklin Whitestone was typically the most unflappable of men, proud master of his ordered world. In one terrible moment all that unexamined certainty was gone, and civilization far off. He had become a spooked animal whimpering in the dark.

Calm yourself and you might save yourself, he commanded. You are not an animal!

Franklin clenched his teeth tightly together, as if doing so might make it easier to concentrate and regain control, but he was horrified to find that his jaw refused to stay closed. Instead it bounced up and down wildly, causing his teeth to chatter, chomping on the sides of his tongue painfully as it tried in vain to keep out of the way.

He understood that there must have been a bomb blast or something similar to reduce him to all this, but he was clueless as to whether the danger was past, continuing, or just beginning. Rising to his knees, he carefully patted down his body, trying to determine if he was hurt, bleeding, still clothed. He felt no unexplainable pain, and this manual exploration produced nothing obviously amiss. The explainable agony was to his aching lungs. His every breath pulled in a mouthful of almost solid stinging matter, like inhaling a hundred tiny thorns. He knew instinctively that he was not taking in sufficient breathable air to keep alive. Panic gripped him and the effort to breath deeper triggered another fierce coughing fit. This one felt like his lungs were coming up through his throat in sliced pieces of varying sizes.

Franklin scrambled hurriedly onto his hands and knees, then dipped his head so that his nose was touching the cold, dirty floor. He gulped in the air at this level and it was truly much better, containing significantly less solid junk, yielding the minimum oxygen required to keep going. And yet his deep breaths, nose to floor, were followed by even more violent coughing as dust and other things non-air were inhaled. Franklin immediately yanked his shirt out from under his belt, pulled it up to cover his mouth.

Calm down, calm down, he ordered himself. Calm down or you’re going to die!

He had heard how people who were meditating willed themselves to think only about the calming effect of breathing. He tried that and was surprised when it helped immediately. He took a breath in very slowly, feeling its balm spread all over his person. He forced himself to pause a second before slowly taking in another breath this time through his mouth. This breath was the first that did not make his lungs convulse in protest.

Something (human?) suddenly fell against his legs, and in revulsion he pulled them free and scurried dog-like away a couple of feet, crawling on all fours, banging his head against something solid (a wall?), birthing a vicious headache immediately. He opened his mouth to yelp, but since he had lowered the shirt in his scramble he again inhaled the noxious, near-solid air—a major assault on his injured lungs. Coughing explosively, Franklin hurriedly dipped his head back to the floor, and concentrated very hard on breathing slowly through the filter of his shirt. One breath.




Am I going to die from breathing this crap? he wondered. How many helpings of this gunk before my lungs cease to function, ruined forever? Did hospitals even do lung transplants? He thought about it. He didn’t know.

The business of breathing so completely occupied him that he lost track of time, engrossed in the most basic of human functions, but after awhile it did occur to him that breathing was getting easier. That thought freed him to consider his surroundings with more attention.

Franklin could still see nothing, hear nothing, feel nothing beyond the cold floor under his hands and his throbbing headache, tortured lungs, sprained back. Though he wasn’t sure when he’d injured it, his right thigh appeared to be bleeding, and he pressed it with his hand to see if he could staunch the flow. The area was sticky, but not particularly liquid and he quit worrying about it. Franklin knew he was living only at the most basic of levels, but, importantly, he was alive, and he was now sure that many of those around him were not. Somehow that made it even more important that he hang in there, keep breathing, and hope this ordeal would get better.

Then, with some relief, he noticed that his hearing was returning. Desperate shouts from many voices came to his awareness, though they were seemingly far away, pitifully begging for rescue over and over. “Help me! Help me!” pleaded a woman’s terrified, high-pitched voice. There were horrible screams of agony also (two people, three, more?), one screamer with a piercing voice closer than the others, howling out in terror over and over. Franklin’s returning hearing made this cacophony unbearable, and he swivelled his head in the opposite direction, but there were smaller, undulating moans each way he turned.

With a thundering crash something very big gave way off to his right, and the screaming abruptly stopped for a terrible second or two, before resuming with even greater volume. Surely, Franklin thought, this meant that more of the stadium had shifted, fallen, distributing death to new innocents. Panicked, he scurried away on all fours from the direction of the crash, almost immediately colliding with a body on the floor in front of him, falling stupidly on top of it. To his horror, two arms silently grabbed him around the neck, and in revulsion, he pushed them off and jumped in another direction, jostling someone else. His new victim merely gave a yelp of pain and said nothing more, as if insulted but nobly ignoring it. Franklin hurriedly scrambled away, hovering nervously in an area that didn’t seem to touch anyone or anything. He began to shake all over, vibrating uncontrollably, his whole body writhing like a snake. In the coming days, his dreams returned him over and over again to this particular moment, waking him up bleating, sweating from every pore.

A man to Franklin’s left began yelling “Phyllis” over and over again, growing louder with each repetition, and angrier too, as if this Phyllis were willfully ignoring him, vindictively pouting in the dark.

Then, faintly—at first he wasn’t sure—Franklin saw flames through the darkness. Flames! Something black and moving kept interfering with his line of sight, but the vision of bright orange flickering came and went. He concentrated. Off to his left there was fire all right. He had no idea how far away it was or if it was moving in his direction.

Just what was needed to make this a complete biblical hell, he thought. Fire.

Later studies of the Ohio Stadium blast showed that it had taken out the ceiling above the bomb and caused the collapse of a large portion of A deck onto the ground floor below where Franklin and others in the halftime crowd were densely packed. Parts of both B and C decks immediately above this part of the stadium had then pancakeddown, killing dozens of the open air spectators, who fell with it, some dying instantly and some taking their time about it over the following months, bandaged and drugged in antiseptic hospitals .

Over 100,000 panicked people tried to flee the stadium immediately, trampling each other monstrously as they jammed the exits—civilization gone—nothing more than terrified primates in flight for their lives. The elderly, the weak, the children, and the unlucky went down in droves, tripping others, creating a human-strewn obstacle course where the winners got to live and the losers often did not.

Inanely, a large bell, traditionally rung only at the end of victorious games, pealed loudly for over ten minutes, as if sounding the death knell of the hundreds who died as it rang. There was an investigation into this afterwards, but it was never ascertained who rang the bell or why. Perhaps, some speculated, it was caused by residual vibration from the original insult to the structure. Perversely, the bell survived the whole incident undamaged, but the university stored it somewhere and it was never rung again.

“The bell is ringing!” someone near Franklin shouted, and the terrible human keening around him lessened noticeably as those trapped in this part of the damaged stadium stopped to listen to the peels. They sounded surprisingly close. Was it a signal? Some sort of code in an unpracticed drill?

“Should we go in that direction?” a new voice asked.

“What direction?” someone else demanded. No one replied as they all tried to determine where the ringing originated.

“How many people are here?”

“Count off!” demanded a loud male voice, very much the drill sergeant.

This worked.

“One!” someone promptly yelled. “Two!” said another. “Three!”

Franklin heard himself say “Four!” and the bizarre tally continued. On and on the numbers went, some speakers nearby and others much fainter, then with longer and longer pauses before someone managed to spit out a number, until the last one in the horrible roll call quietly mumbled “Seventy-three!” There was silence then, and when a new number was not forthcoming, they all contemplated the tabulation. Seventy-three who were uninjured enough to participate—and how many more who could not?

Franklin realized that the bell had stopped its racket. How long ago had that happened?

“Is there a fire burning somewhere?” came a woman’s voice, surprisingly steady.

They all looked around them. Nothing. Almost pitch black. Franklin could no longer make out any shapes.

“There was fire! I saw it!”

“I did too. Over there!” (As if anyone could see where the speaker was pointing.)

“It went out,” said a flat, definitive voice. “I haven’t seen it for some time, but it really was burning for awhile.”

“Can anyone get through on a cell phone?” someone asked. A number volunteered that they had already made calls and that help would be on the way, but it turned out that no one was certain exactly where in the stadium they were immured. A minor argument broke out over whether they were closest to stadium exit 22 or 24. They had reported both numbers to those they had called (one person had reported that they were at 28, but that couldn’t be right). Not knowing the exact location meant that the rescuers, when they came, would have no clear idea where to begin digging, even assuming they had some idea where exits 22 and 24 had once been. Franklin pulled out his own cell phone and looked at it as if he had never seen it before. Amazingly, it had not occurred to him until this moment to try and use it to call for help. He punched the ON button, but there was no signal. He absently returned it to his jacket pocket.

After the stadium geography discussion petered out, there was another pause during which the only sounds were the wretched moans of the most seriously injured.

“Phyllis!” suddenly yelled the man who had been calling that name earlier.

“Shut up!” was the reply, and, to Franklin’s surprise, the caller never repeated the plea again. Later Franklin looked carefully at the list of casualties, and could find no Phyllis among them. What did that mean?

“We should pray,” someone said, and there was a murmur of agreement. Franklin thought that prayer might be useful in consoling the trapped crowd if they began to despair and were on the verge of panicking, but he thought there were a lot more important things to do first.

“How about the Lord’s Prayer?” a woman offered.

“I’m Jewish,” a man said in reply, sounding annoyed.

“And I’m an atheist,” announced another man. “No prayers please.”

“Most of us are Christians, right?” the woman countered. Again there was mumbled agreement, but clearly most people had other matters on their minds.

“I’m wiccan,” another woman said in an overly loud voice.

“What the hell is that?” a man asked.

“Let’s do the Lord’s Prayer,” the first woman commanded, and before there could be more discussion, she plunged into the prayer. Others joined her, but Franklin thought it was a pretty pathetic effort. After the prayer ended, there was an awkward silence.

Startlingly, an electric light came on, and everyone jumped at the unexpected brightness. To Franklin’s far left was an open door, with a woman silhouetted in the doorway by a light coming from the small room behind her. The clustered mob stared at her, dumb with amazement.

“It’s some sort of utility closet,” she explained, almost apologetic, gesturing behind her. “I opened the door, and the light switch still works.”

“Was it unlocked?” a voice asked.

“It was off its hinges,” she replied. “The door sort of fell over when I pulled on it.”

“What’s in it?”

“Let’s see,” she said, turning around to look. “All kind of stuff.” As she touched things she called off the inventory. “First aid kit, blankets, flashlights, a ladder, other tools.”

“Sounds like we’ve hit the mother lode! Good going!” said a man’s voice, incongruously jovial.

“A first aid kit!” said another man. “I’m a doctor, let me have it.” He scrambled to the door and went in.

“Pass around those flashlights,” someone else suggested.

“Is there any water? I need it now!” a woman asked. It sounded very important to her.

“Is there a fire extinguisher?” came another voice.

“Yes. There’s a fire extinguisher right there next to the door,” someone else said, pointing.

This was all very comforting to Franklin, and, he could sense, to others too. They could all feel the panic lessening; they were getting organized. Civilization was returning, just as it should, as it always did. Franklin allowed himself to consider that if the building didn’t collapse on them they stood an excellent chance of surviving this madness. Very good news. And as he thought this thought, a flashlight was pressed into his hand.

“Look around,” was the terse command that accompanied it.

Franklin switched it on and blinked in the surprisingly bright light it provided. At the same time other flashlight beams began to dance in all directions, adding to the sensory overload.

The space he could see was about thirty by fifty feet in area, with the ceiling varying in height from nearly ten feet to too low to stand up straight. The wall closest to him looked like the inside of a scary carnival tunnel ride—concrete with jagged fissures running through it, iron pipes and girders sticking out inappropriately. Water was gurgling from some of the pipes. Might the whole space fill up with water and drown them? Would the water be safe to drink?

Out of the jumble of things half seen, Franklin’s light revealed a woman sitting splay legged on the floor in front of him, her dress missing, wearing only panties, and, incongruously, a scarlet Ohio State sweatshirt, with a large string of buckeyes as a necklace around her bloodied neck and face. Disturbed, he quickly flicked the light to the side, passing over a blur of people sitting, standing, some lying very still.

“Look at the walls. Is there any way out?” someone urged.

Franklin pointed his flashlight up, and was startled to see that the ceiling was immediately right above him: a facade of fragmented cement, horrifically cracked, easily touched if he were to raise his hand, mere inches above his head. The ceiling here slanted down to his right, and then up on his left, so he turned the light in that direction and moved quickly into a more open spot. This gave him greater space above his head, and he was able to raise up from the crouching position he’d instinctively assumed on appreciating how low the ceiling was. He couldn’t see a far wall in the direction his light now pointed, and there were fewer people there too. He walked slowly past them, bending down to see better, and they turned their heads to look up at him, jaws open, eyes wide, as if he were a being from another planet. These poor people were bathed in blood, and it reflected his light all too well.

Where does this open space end? he wondered, cautiously walking, trying to find a wall, any wall, but seeing nothing. A swing of the flashlight beam overhead gave him the reassuring news that there was now plenty of ceiling above him, apparently far out of reaching distance and still slanting up.

When he brought the beam down it came to rest on a human head, eyes open, no body attached.

Instantly, as if a dial had been spun, his heart began to leap around in his chest, feeling much like a small mammal was trapped in there, clawing frantically to get out. The vicious thumping scared Franklin even more than the severed head. He put his hand on his chest and took a couple of deep breaths. Franklin had only recently turned 44—surely too young to have a heart attack. Surely.

Bile rose in his throat. He felt his knees start to buckle once again, and he wrenched the flashlight beam away from the severed head before he could register any macabre details (man or woman, child or adult, its decapitated body nearby?). Involuntarily he backed in the direction he had just come, and as he did so there was a tremendous crash behind him as some new portion of the ceiling gave way in a waterfall of cement, iron beams, and pipes. A hurricane of noxious dust enveloped him once again.

Franklin was hurled to the floor by the concussion, his flashlight bouncing away, leaving him in the same situation he’d been in after the original blast: coughing, prone on the cement floor, enveloped in darkness, miserable with terror, making repetitive grunting sounds, his hands cupping his head protectively, a proto-human. Now his heart seemed weaker, to be failing. No, wait, now it was pounding again.

Then a fierce desire to regain the control he had cultivated all his life yanked him back to personhood, and, making guttural sounds deep in his throat, Franklin forced himself onto his hands and knees, head lowered as before to drink in the purer air close to the floor. As he breathed he tried to clear his mind and concentrate, tried to replace that miserable terror with a calming fatalism.

Probably this is death, he admitted with a strange clarity and resigned certainty. Soon I will be dead, and I must face my death head on, no panicking. With great admiration, Franklin had watched his father, Alexander Whitestone, somehow manage to die with dignity even while surrounded by the technological horrors of a modern hospital. During that ordeal, Franklin had contemplated how best to deal with the final personal moment that all must face, and his father had set the bar high. Die with dignity. Okay, he now told himself, he could do that. His father had always emphasized that Franklin should ask himself what he “stood for.” Surely he stood for something other than being a dithering mess. Was this his time? If so, he resolved do it right, even if he himself were the only audience to his exit.

But then he shifted focus. Wait a minute! Don’t give up hope so damned quickly. You’re still alive! Accept the situation, see what can be done, work to keep going until there’s nothing more to do, and only then accept death as the closing chapter of a life that, taken as a whole, gave him pride. After all, a heart attack, an auto accident, something sudden like that, could claim anyone, anytime. Perhaps this was his time, but also perhaps it was not. Best to proceed on the theory that a spooked heart, subjected to all this madness, would of course jump around wildly in his chest, and he should assume that it would soon return to a more normal rhythm, as—now that he thought about it—it appeared to be doing.

It helped that the dust settled more quickly this time, probably due to the larger space he had moved into, and—better and better—his hearing proved to be unaffected by this latest blast.

Terribly, the initial screaming which had died down to chorused moaning, resumed with increased volume, as victims both old and new suffered being torn apart while still conscious.

Over this primal wailing Franklin could hear shouted exchanges, as those who were not seriously hurt tried to find each other in the murky miasma. The survivors crisscrossed their flashlight beams in patternless wavings, as they congregated and took stock some distance off from him, and then parted again. Phantasmagoria.

Franklin thought he saw his lost flashlight in the momentary gleam of one of these sudden passing illuminations, and he reached his hand towards where he believed it to be, only to jerk it back violently as he remembered that the terrible head lay in that same direction. The ugly thought of what it would feel like to touch it in the dark dealt him an icy shiver, making his spine contract, his teeth chatter, and the little animal in his chest resume its escape attempt.

I am going mad! Isn’t this what going mad is like? Will I just let go and howl, surrendering sanity? That would be so easy, strangely welcome. Mad!

Unnerved, close to the very edge of what he could handle and what he could not, Franklin scrambled to his feet, terrified by his own panic, and backed speedily away from where he supposed the severed head to be. Almost instantly his foot kicked his own flashlight, which, as he looked around, he now saw on the ground some three feet behind him, its light still on. As if it represented all his departing sanity, he eagerly reached down and grabbed it. He remained there immobile, trembling, lost in this ugly world. Unable to fight, unable to flee, Franklin hugged the flashlight tightly to his chest and rocked back and forth, humming tunelessly as he waged a dicey internal battle to fend off madness.

As the Channel 7 helicopter circled the middle of the football field, a phalanx of angry cops and firemen frantically waved it off, going so far as to use their bodies to block possible landing sites.

“Jesus!” said Harold Wang, star reporter for the Channel and one of the most popular men in central Ohio. “Are they willing to die to keep us from getting this story?”

“I told you this was a waste of time,” scolded Alice Vanderbilt, his chief assistant and field director, a tiny little woman with a big voice. “We should have landed in the parking lot on the west side and come in one of the stadium exits there.”

“Should I try and scare them off—threaten to land on top of them and make them scatter?” asked the pilot, sounding like that would be a fun thing to do.

“No,” shouted back Harold Wang, struggling to be heard. “Just set us down anywhere in the west parking lot and we’ll go in from there.

“Good,” said Alice, pleased. He was doing it her way.

The copter rose and gracefully arched over the stadium wall toward the nominated destination. The rescue personnel went back to work dealing with the catastrophe that was Ohio Stadium.

“Mom?” Todd Whitestone, age sixteen, said, sticking his head into the living room. Mary Whitestone, a handsome woman in her forties, looked up from her knitting.

Todd held out the cordless phone. “It’s Kelly Keyfold.”

They looked at each other. After the Whitestone divorce three years before, Kelly Keyfold had become Franklin’s new love, and it was more than odd that she should call Mary Whitestone about anything. They’d never exchanged more than five words in their lives.

“This should be interesting,” Mary muttered to her son, taking the phone and holding it up to her ear. “Yes?” she said with a distinct lack of warmth.

“Mary, it’s about Franklin. He and I were together at the Buckeye game, and at halftime he went down into the concession area just before the bomb went off.”


“Haven’t you had your TV on? Bombs went off at a couple of college stadiums during games this afternoon. Lots of people are dead, blown up or trampled. It’s 9/11 all over again.”

“Oh, God!” Mary said.

“What is it?” Todd asked, alarmed.

“Turn on the TV,” Mary commanded. “A bomb at Ohio Stadium!” Into the phone she said, “Is Franklin hurt?”

“I don’t know. He never came back. The stands collapsed under me, and I was trapped in debris for a few minutes before I could climb out. The concession area was under the stands I was in.”

There was a pause as they both thought about this.

“Is Dad okay?” Todd asked, panic in his voice. The TV jumped to life, revealing the Channel 7 news team setting up on the field of Ohio Stadium, smoke and carnage filling the background. When she didn’t reply, but just sat there looking blank, he said, “Mom?” louder.

“How about you? Are you hurt?” Mary asked Kelly.

“My wrist may be broken. I’m on my way to the hospital now. I thought I’d better call and let you know about Franklin. I’m sick whenever I think what could have happened, but I guessed you’d want to know, even from me.”

“Yes, yes,” Mary assured her. “Thank you. Please let me know immediately if you hear from him or,” she paused slightly, “anything about him.”

“I promise.”

“And I hope your injuries are minor.”

“Thanks for that too. I’ll talk to you later.” They both hung up.

“Mom!” Todd insisted, his eyes wide as he stared at the TV. “What is going on? Is Dad hurt?”

She looked at him, her face a blank. Then suddenly tears poured down her face and she just sat there, letting them fall, her hands tightly gripping each other.

“It could be bad,” she said.

Franklin was sitting on the cold floor next to the woman who had found the utility closet, whose name he had learned was Hannah. Everyone was now calling her this, as if she were an old friend of the entire group. Apparently she had been a major force in organizing things while he had been off on his aborted exploration; she was definitely popular. To his considerable annoyance, Hannah didn’t seem a bit concerned about being entombed, possibly forever, in this little pocket under the rubble of the huge stadium, and she was close to being cheerful. Unfazed by the occasional screams that sounded all around, she was quite chatty.

“I wonder if they’ll just pick up the game where it left off?” she speculated. No reply. “In a couple of weeks or so,” she added.

Football! That made Franklin very angry. Wasn’t she aware that with one structural vibration they all could be killed instantly? He was as dedicated a Buckeye fan as any of them, but he somehow doubted he would ever care about the outcome of a game that had probably killed thousands. The stadium held over 100,000 spectators, and, as was the norm for these games in Columbus, it had been completely sold out. There had to be many, many dead, and a much larger number seriously injured.

What about Kelly, who had asked him to bring her back a pretzel with mustard? Was she alive? Buried in the concrete that had collapsed under her? She was his love, and, with the exception of his extraordinary son, Todd, the most important person in his life. Kelly, a law professor at Ohio State, was smart, and fun to be with, and also pretty in a non-Hollywood way: nicely carrying her little too much weight with an air that said she didn’t worry much about appearances. He’d tried not to think about her—it was too painful.

He discovered he was crying.

I’ll never see her again, Franklin thought, and a tiny sob escaped him as he hung his head and let the tears drop free to the floor. Hannah didn’t seem to notice.

If he died now, had his life been worth living? Would the people at his funeral be sincere in the things they’d say about him? He’d begun thinking about that funeral.

Franklin was a highly successful lawyer, a specialist on the details of the Uniform Commercial Code and related statutes (such as the Bankruptcy Code, the Federal Tax Lien Act, etc.), good at negotiations, not bad at litigation. Come to think of it, and being as objective as he could, he was proud of the things he’d accomplished on behalf of his clients. He had skillfully guided them through many complicated legal mazes. And, he told himself carefully, he’d more than earned the considerable amount of money he received as a partner in the downtown Columbus firm of Factor, Marroni, & Ray.

Franklin had certainly known love in his life. Wonderful parents, incredible siblings—altogether a happy family. He had been lucky in finding many good friends, exchanging great affection with them. He had had two major loves in his life: Kelly, and, before her, his first romance with Mary, for whom he still had much affection.

Then there was Todd.

Franklin shook his head with a smile. No one on the planet was like Todd. He . . .

“Wait a minute!” said Hannah, jumping happily to her feet. “We should sing!”

Franklin looked at her dumbfounded. Sing? Had she gone mad?

“Sing?” someone else asked amid a couple of similar mumbles.

“How will the rescue workers know we’re alive if we don’t signal them somehow?” Hannah offered.

“THEY’LL HEAR THE SCREAMS, YOU IDIOT!” roared a different man, angry at Hannah’s preposterous suggestion. As he said this, two different agonized souls proved his point with toe-curling wails.

“Maybe,” Hannah countered, “but also maybe not. How well would screams travel through concrete?”

“And just how would the rescuers know where a scream had come from?” another woman commented.

“Singing does travel far. They would hear that,” volunteered a man from a different part of their communal space. “I’m a professor of music, and I know a lot about how sound carries. Hannah is right. It would allow the rescue team to hone in on us with some precision.”

They discussed this, and finally reached agreement that it wouldn’t hurt to try. Franklin said nothing during this discussion. He was pretty sure that no matter what they decided, he couldn’t sing a note in this crazy environment.

“What shall we try?” someone asked.

Hannah jumped right on that. “The Star Spangled Banner!” she proclaimed. “This was a terrorist attack on the United States!”

“Let’s show them they can’t win that easily!” agreed another man.

So, with more enthusiasm than Franklin would have thought possible, the gathered survivors began to sing the national anthem, hesitantly for the first couple of bars, and then with strength. It was strangely moving. Almost at once, Franklin felt himself start to tear up, and, to his surprise, he joined in about the time they got to “Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner still wave?”

Fifteen minutes later, one of the lead rescue workers cocked his head. Something was different. He considered what had caught his attention.

“Do you hear anything?” asked Reginald Cosby, the grime-covered fire chief directing rescue procedures near A Deck Section 22, where the explosion had done the most damage.

“Jake,” he called to the operator of the mechanical digger, a Spencer Giant Claw that had just begun to clear away the rubble. “Shut down the motor for a bit and let’s listen.” To the others he waved an arm up and down in a motion meaning “cool it.”

Jake complied and the huge machine went quiet.

Instantly a melodic noise was clearly audible, muffled by tons of debris, but recognizable without effort.

“They’re singing!” said one of the emergency response team members, awe in his voice.

“The Buckeye Fight Song!” chimed in another, equally amazed.

They cheered, and turned their efforts more accurately toward the buried choir. One of them shouted, “Go Bucks!”

Related Posts:
“Catholicism and Me (Part One),” March 13, 2010
“Superstitions,”March 21, 2010
“Catholicism and Me (Part Two),” April 18, 2010
“How To Become an Atheist,” May 16, 2010
“Imaginary Friend,” June 22, 2010
“I Don’t Do Science,” July 2, 2010
“When Atheists Die,” October 17, 2010
"Escape From Ohio Stadium," November 2, 2010 (Chapter 2)
"Open Mouth, Insert Foot," November 21, 2010 (Chapter 3)
"Rock Around the Sun," December 31, 2010
"Muslim Atheist," March 16, 2011
"An Atheist Interviews God," May 20, 2011
"A Mormon Loses His Faith," June 13, 2011
"Is Evolution True?" July 13, 2011
"Atheists, Christmas, and Public Prayers," December 9, 2011
" Urban Meyer and the Christian Buckeye Football Team," February 19, 2012
"Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Designer?", May 12, 2012
"My Atheist Thriller: Another Book Reading," May 17, 2012
"'The God Particle' and the Vanishing Role of God," July 5, 2012
“Update: Urban Meyer and the NON-Christian Buckeye Football Team,” August 24, 2012
“Atheists Visit the Creation Museum,” October 4, 2012
“Mitt Romney: A Mormon President?” October 17, 2012
“The End of the World: Mayans, Jesus, and Others,” December 17, 2012