On Putting Down the Shovel — Joel D. Hirst’s Blog

The year was 2006, and the table was set for a party. A coronation of sorts; Hugo Chavez had succeeded in overcoming six years of instability which included multiple electoral challenges, a national strike, an attempted coup. Those had been acts of resistance; because the would-be (soon-to-be) dictator’s onslaught was of unprecedented accumulation of power […]

via On Putting Down the Shovel — Joel D. Hirst’s Blog

To Youth (and All Others) who are Protesting – Do Not Stop

Another tragic mass shooting.  So much grief.

All that keeps running through my head are the faces of the children and caring adults who died in Parkland. I do not understand how anyone can see this and not waver from their hard-line position of hands-off, free-for-all, damn-the-torpedoes-full-speed-ahead, jumping-off-the-cliff lemming approach to every kind of firearm for everyone.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a gun owner. I’ve lived in several rural settings. Police are too far away to arrive in time to help if something threatening occurs, not to mention things like poisonous snakes, raccoons attacking my dog, and skunks under the porch. But I do not own AR-15’s and AK-47’s.

Social change comes slowly. Most every effort makes a difference. It doesn’t happen fast enough to suit us. But anything really good is seldom got in a hurry. I’m not advocating  patience. We’ve been patient for a long time. I’m saying, do not quit simply because it’s hard, or that it takes a long time, or that you face fierce opposition. Do not stop. Keep going.


This does not have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Moderation in all things. Even guns.

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.” — John Wesley


Interested in how social media promotes negative discourse and inflames already horrific circumstances? Read this:   https://www.recode.net/2018/2/20/17034386/parkland-florida-mass-shooting-ugly-side-social-media-facebook-twitter-stoneman-douglas-high-school

Interested in how many Americans own guns, how many they own? Several other fascinating facts about guns in America are in this article:  http://bigthink.com/paul-ratner/a-minority-of-americans-owns-most-of-the-guns-and-drives-gun-agenda-studies-show



He could have been a half-way decent human being—

without the excess money, alcohol, sex addiction, partying,

gambling disguised as business deals.


We could have done better without judges on the take,

payoffs, greedy, crooked politicians brokering power

by encouraging misogyny, racism, bigotry, blaming,



What is it in our culture, religions, philosophies

that make these marketing ploys so enticing?

These sound bites that encourage victim-hood,

that enable this believe-what-I-say-not-what-I-do



We still believe logic, reason, engagement, compromise

will soften what our leaders have become.

We ignore the hard truth that we voted

for the very ones who demonstrate

nihilistic, narcissistic, naked contempt . . . .


He could have done better without his excessive need for

supplicating, boot-licking, brown-nosing, groveling



We could have been less complicit in joining ranks

with these shammers, power brokers, people

who glitter with no substance,

greedy voices who control us by encouraging

self-righteous, judgmental, self-serving fear.


We could have done better had we paid attention,

had we refused to accept bullying rhetoric,

erratic behavior, overtures to our basest natures.


We could have done better if we had not

bought into take-no-prisoners,


impossible solutions.


© 2017   T J Barnum

First published in “Better Than Starbucks.”


A New Year Declaration

Kayla looked at her cell phone mournfully. Justin was calling again, which meant it was about Mom or Dad. Otherwise, he just would have texted. She pulled out her cell, hoping that whatever the issue, it would wait until next week, when after-Christmas sales and New Year’s celebrations were finished.

“Hey Justin. What’s going on?” she said into the phone.

“You gotta come down here!” Justin exclaimed. “You’ll never guess what Mom is up to now.”

“You’re right. I can’t guess. Just tell me.”

“Well, you know how Mom has been trying to get Dad to let her wallpaper the living room?”

“Yeah. She’s been at him for ages. Don’t tell me she’s doing it by herself.”

“Worse!” Justin said. “She decided that since Dad’s not coming home from the hospital until tomorrow, she would do it herself, before he’s released.”

“So, she is doing it by herself,” Kayla said.

“Worse!” Justin exclaimed. “She’s gluing old Christmas cards to the walls!”

“She’s what?”

“I’m not kidding,” Justin said. “You know she’s got years of old Christmas cards. She’s cutting the fronts off and she’s gluing one after another on the wall facing the kitchen. And that glue is pretty stinky. I couldn’t stop her, Kayla! I tried!”

“Oh crap! Mom is such a packrat. She probably has enough old Christmas cards to paper half the house,” Kaya lowered herself to the sofa. “What do you mean you can’t stop her? Take away her scissors! Get rid of the glue!”

“Kayla, you know how stubborn she is. She’ll just hitch a ride with one of her friends and go buy more of anything I get rid of. She won’t listen to me. And I’m worried she’s gonna get on a ladder to reach higher on the walls.”

“Oh, please tell me you took the step ladder! She’ll fall and crack her head open!”

“I did! When I couldn’t talk any sense into her, I went right out to the garage and grabbed it. It’s in the trunk of my car. She saw what I was doing and took after me with a fly swatter!”

“Okay, that’s funny!” Her brother was three inches over six feet, and strong as any two men she knew. The mind picture of Mom chasing after Justin with a fly swatter was enough to send her into peals of laughter.

“Kayla! Stop it! She’ll just go buy another step ladder, or borrow one from the neighbors next door. This is serious.”

Kayla sobered instantly. She knew Justin was right. “I’ll get the Franklins to watch the kids. I should be there in a couple of hours. In the meantime, don’t let her get hurt!”

“Hey, I’ll do my best. But it may just be putting off the inevitable. Do you have any idea what Dad’s reaction is gonna be when he sees red Santas all over the walls?”

“Oh damn! I hadn’t thought that far,” Kayla said. “Will Mom let you back in the house?”

“I’m at the store now, buying white-chocolate peanut butter cups. By the time I get back, she’ll take the bribe and let me in. Maybe. I think.”

“I’ll be there as fast as I can.” Kayla ended the call and yelled to her kids. “Pack your pajamas. You’ll be sleeping next door tonight!”

In less than half an hour, Kayla had dropped the kids at the Franklins next door. They were really good friends, thank goodness. She could hear their laughter as she ran to the car. She gave them a familiar finger as she drove away, prompting more peals of laughter. Praying for good weather and no law enforcement, she stepped hard on the gas and pushed the old car to well over 80 on the highway.

Kayla ran through countless scenarios on the trip south. Mom falling and in the hospital with a concussion. Dad worried sick over Mom’s glue-sniffing adventure. Dad having a heart attack when seeing sleigh rides and manger scenes on the walls.

They can recover in the same hospital room! I am in no mood for this!  She turned on music and watched the white lines on the road slip away.

The door was ajar when Kayla pulled up to the house. She ran up the front walk, then took a step back and coughed. Glue fumes came wafting out the open door. What the hell is she using? Airplane glue?

“Mom!” Kayla yelled. “Justin!”

She walked into the house. Glittery pictures of sleigh rides, elves, holly, angels, bells, every Christmas scene imaginable reached head-high on two walls. A riot of color—reds, greens, golds, blues, silver, accosted her eyes. And the glue fumes kicked off a long coughing fit.

Kayla called out again and heard her brother’s response from the patio. She hurried out the back door to see Mom in a lawn chair, and Justin holding a cloth on the back of her bent neck.

“Deep breaths Mom,” Justin said. “Deep, slow breaths!”

“Oh my God!” Kayla exclaimed. “Justin, did you call 911?”

“Already done, little sister. They’re on the way.”

It was then she heard the sirens in the distance.

“Why didn’t you call them after talking to me?” Kayla asked.

“Mom didn’t feel dizzy until just a few minutes ago,” Justin answered calmly. “And you know there’s no way I could stop what she was doing, short of picking her up. Frankly, I didn’t want to fight that tiger.”

“Do you know where she got the glue? I’ll bet it’s outlawed in 10 states.”

“She told me she bought it from a yard sale.”

“Mom!” Kayla knelt beside her mother. “Mom! Can you hear me? How are you feeling?”

“Of course, I can hear you,” Mom answered, then giggled. “I feel fine . . . a little light-headed.” Mom leveled her head and looked at Kayla. “Why are your eyes so big?”

Kayla looked up at Justin. He shrugged. “She’s been talking weird since I got her out here.”

“Mom, you’re high,” Kayla said.

Mom began to laugh loud and long. Leaning her head back into the chair, eyes squeezed shut, she shook with laughter, then coughed. Justin pushed her head back down to her knees.

“Le tme go!” she mumbled, laughing between coughing fits. “Let me go!”

Justin helped her straighten, and she looked, bleary-eyed, at Kayla. “Do you know how often I’ve said the same thing to you?” Mom sunk deeper into the lawn chair and continued laughing. “High . . ..” she chortled. “High . . ..”

“I’m going to pack her an overnight bag for the hospital,” Kayla said. She made her way to her parents’ bedroom and immediately flung open the windows.

“Justin,” she called out to her brother. “You might want to call 911 back and let them know about the glue fumes.” Not airplane glue. Back alley-industrial-strength-super-bonding-respirator glue! What the hell is the matter with people, selling this kind of stuff at a yard sale?

Kayla retrieved a bag from the closet, quickly packed a few necessities, found her Mom’s medications on the kitchen counter, and threw them in the bag as well.

The sirens grew loud and then stopped abruptly. Half a minute later, she heard a call from the front door. “Hello?”

“Come on in!” she told the paramedics. “Through here to the back yard.”

One of them barked a quick laugh as they passed through the living room. Both smiled as they followed her out the back door. They set the bag down next to her Mom and began their examination. Justin hovered close by.

The EMT conversed with the local hospital as they administered oxygen. Stationing herself at the front door, Kayla heard a second siren and watched an ambulance pull up to the curb. Two paramedics unloaded a stretcher. She ushered them through the house to the back yard.

“Is she going to be okay?” Kayla asked.

“The doctor needs to examine her. She’s breathed some pretty hefty fumes,” The EMT explained. “Do you have any idea where she got ahold of that glue?”

“Yard sale,” Kayla answered.

The EMT raised an eyebrow at Justin. “Does your Mom have a history of substance abuse?”

“Of course not!” Kayla answered indignantly.

“Is your Mom married?”

“Yes. Dad’s in the hospital, due to be released tomorrow.”

“One of you needs to come to the hospital and explain things to your Dad. If she needs to be admitted, he’ll have to do it. She’s in no condition to sign the paperwork.”

“You go, Justin,” Kayla said. “I’ll close up here and then be right behind you.” She really didn’t want to be in the room when Dad got the news. Not that he’d be done expressing himself by the time she got there.

As the ambulance pulled away, Kayla shut the bedroom windows and locked the back door. She set two floor fans to blow out the living room windows. If burglars break in, with any luck they will pass out before they can take anything. Poor Mom! I hope she’ll be okay! Kayla climbed in her car and drove to the hospital as fast as traffic and speed limits allowed.

Dad was standing at the admittance window when she arrived. He had a walking cast on his left leg. She ran over and hugged him tightly. “Where’s Mom?”

“In examination room three,” he answered. “I’ve signed everything. Finish filling all this shit out, will you? I’m going in to be with your Mom.”

She took Dad’s place at the window and watched him hobble quickly toward the ER double doors. He turned back toward his daughter, “When things settle down, I’m gonna find those fuckers who sold your Mom that glue.”


Two days later, Kayla carried both her parents overnight bags as Justin and a ward assistant pushed Mom’s and Dad’s wheelchairs toward the hospital exit.

“I can damn well walk myself out!” Dad grumbled.

“We’ll be out in two minutes,” Justin answered him. “Then you can drive home if you want.”

“I damn will drive home!” Dad exclaimed. “Making an invalid out of everybody . . .!”

Kayla barely listened to Dad’s continued protests. Thank goodness Mom is back to normal, more or less. Her doctor had cautioned them to return to the hospital if she showed any changes in mental acuity or stability. Kayla sighed as she pushed the break on the wheelchair with her foot.

Kayla and Justin helped their parents into the truck. Then Kayla followed in her car as Dad drove home. She couldn’t stop thinking about the living room walls. They’d broken the news to Dad, who was so completely preoccupied with Mom that she wasn’t sure he’d paid much attention. But describing it and seeing it were two different things.

The glue fumes had dissipated by early that morning, and she had attempted to remove one of the cards. Every one of them was amalgamated to the walls. She wondered if the drywall would have to be torn out.

Dad didn’t even glance at the living room when Justin opened the door—just walked Mom slowly into the bedroom and helped her into a clean pair of pajamas. “Do you want anything, Mama?” The kids heard Dad talking quietly. “Are you hungry?”

“Maybe we should go,” Justin said.

“You go if you need to,” Kayla answered. “One of us should stay here to see what help Dad needs to fix the walls.”

“There’ll be no removing these cards,” Dad commented as he exited the bedroom. “Justin, you and I are going to finish this job for Mom as soon as she’s feeling up to cutting her Christmas cards. I’ll tell you what kind of glue to buy.”

What?” Kayla and Justin exclaimed in unison.

“We thought you’d hate it!” Justin said.

“Yeah!” Kayla added. “We thought you’d go ballistic!”

Dad took a few seconds to stare at the sparkly walls. “Well . . . I might have. Except your Mom could have died on me.” He was silent for a long moment. “She’s everything to me.”

Kayla and Justin stared at their Dad. His eyes were red.

“The walls don’t matter,” he said. “Nothing . . . nothing is as important as she is!”


Later that evening, kids tucked in bed, Kayla sat with her husband. “You know what I want, Honey?”

“What’s that, Babe?” he asked.

“I want you to love me like this.” She held out her cell phone—her parents’ living room glittering in a mishmash of brighter-than-bright colors.


© 2017   T J Barnum

Obsolete Hobby

Final divorce decree in hand, he sat at the table and wrote the following ad:

Going Out Of Business Sale!

Harmless pets, but can bite if handled roughly.

Striking colors. Sizes for every preference.

Unlimited uses: Keeps nosy visitors out of your medicine cabinet.

Deters burglars. Quickly sobers excessive party drinkers.

Makes excellent gifts for unfriendly in-laws. Works well in gun safes.

Overnight shipping! No refunds. All sales final.

Recommend caution when opening. Must be 18 or over to place order.

He emailed the advertisement to the local paper then checked the heat lamp of the largest snake terrarium. He smiled as he climbed the stairs to bed.

© 2017   T J Barnum

Whatever It Takes

Sometimes she explodes. It’s not pretty.  She buys several mirrors to watch for signs of approaching combustion.  She enrolls in yoga classes, starts kick-boxing, gets a Buddha tattoo. Friends tell her everyone has bad moments.

She reads books: It’s habit. It’s buried pain. It’s bi-polar. Re-frame. See a counselor. Pray.  She gets her tongue pierced as a reminder to stop.

One day a stranger at a market hands her a key. “Why are you so mad at yourself?”

She starts conversations with the person in her mirror. At first it sucks.

After awhile, they both smile.


© 2017   T J Barnum

Initially published by http://www.thedrabble.com/



Old Customs Die Hard

Very short story:

At the wedding reception, Mother admired her new daughter-in-law who wore hijab and long sleeves in the hot Texas sun. Never a guarantee. Still, this relationship seemed solid.

Religious differences aside, she’s family now. No one will bother her! Mother rested her hand on the concealed weapon under her blouse.

© 2017   T J Barnum

originally published by http://fiftywordstories.com/

Don’t have time to read anything long? Try out the very, very short stories at 50-Word Stories, (link above). It takes only moments, and it’s a lot of fun.



Why I Need Guns

The other day I read another essay on gun control. Too many mad men with grudges. The author had good arguments for limiting gun access for certain populations, for outlawing guns like the AR-15, a popular weapon that has been used in countless school killings and other mass murders in this country. Then he asked a question that I’d never seriously addressed—why do we, personally, need so many guns?

I decided to give this considerable thought.

I tried. I really tried to get to the root of my love for the smell of gun oil and metal, the sleek, cool feel of my 12-gauge shotgun, the satisfying kick of my .357 magnum … the power rush when I slowly squeeze . . .

Okay, so there is a fetish component. I admit it.

I decided to go deep, really examine my insides. Why do I find guns so attractive?

Here it is—the top 18 reasons why I need guns. (I tried for 10. Didn’t work.)

18. Because our large collection of knives would be lonely without guns.

17. It’s the only way I’ve managed to help my neighbor keep his hostile German shepherds in check.

16. I’ve got to leave my grandchildren something when I die.

15. Squirrels in the bird feeders.

14. Stop signs just don’t look right without bullet holes.

13. More satisfying than fireworks.

12. I’ve got to collect something, and I don’t like Hummels.

11. It’s a friendly family competition.

10. Neighbors with guns make me nervous.

9. Neighbors without guns may need defending.

8. Christmas just isn’t Christmas without an ATN X-Sight II HD Day/Night Vision Rifle-scope under the tree.

7. Spiders.

6. Guns are necessary components of the Spaghetti Western costume I wear on Halloween.

5. When the electricity goes out, tracer bullets light the way to the bathroom.

4. I don’t have enough room for cannons.

3. More effective at Whack-a-Mole than that silly little hammer.

2. My Daddy always told me that when it came to men, a woman needs an equalizer.

1. Men like my Daddy.

Copyright © 2017  All rights reserved

Robert Anson Heinlein (1907 – 1988) Some of his best quotes

You can have peace. Or you can have freedom. Don’t ever count on having both at once.”

I do not think anyone can define behavior that tends toward extinction as being ‘moral’ without stretching the word ‘moral’ all out of shape.”

At least once every human should have to run for his life, to teach him that milk does not come from supermarkets, that safety does not come from policemen, that ‘news’ is not something that happens to other people.”

Reason is poor propaganda when opposed by the yammering, unceasing lies of shrewd and evil and self-serving men.”

Don’t handicap your children by making their lives easy.”

It is a truism that almost any sect, cult or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.”

You can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man by logic.”

The lessons of history teach us – if the lessons of history teach us anything – that nobody learns the lessons that history teaches us.”

Love your country, but never trust its government.”

…secrecy is the keystone of all tyranny. Not force, but secrecy…censorship. When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, ‘This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know,’ the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives.”