Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wait no more!

Open Heart Publishing has announced the release of An Honest Lie, Volume 3: Justifiable Hypocrisy, the latest great volume in its short story anthology.

Why is this so important? Because my newest short story, "The Great Oppression" is in that very same volume!

And why am I telling you this? Because I know you will want to read my story (and all the other terrific stories in the book)!

And now, for your delight, here is an excerpt from my story, “The Great Oppression”, in An Honest Lie, Volume 3: Justifiable Hypocrisy!

The Great Oppression, by ME Johnson

I turned back to Mr. Jessen, my mouth full of more hate than blood for what he had just done to Jimmy. But by that time, Mr. Jessen had grabbed hold of Vera an’ was pushing her into his car.

“You leave her alone!” I cried as I rushed toward him, but he didn’t listen. He just laughed – laughed an’ laughed. That made me even madder. I started hitting him as hard as I could, pounding him with all the hate I could muster, which was quite a lot. But it didn’t do any good. He just kept laughing until he’d had enough. Then he pushed me away so hard I fell to the ground, skinning my knees an’ hands.

But I wasn’t done with him. I quickly got back up an’ charged him again. This time, he slapped me across the head so hard I got dizzy.

An’ then he hit me again, an’ again. I fell to the ground, my ears ringing, my heart racing, an’ my head hurting so bad I couldn’t think. That was all the time he needed to shove the wad of money in his pants an’ push Vera back in the car. She had tried to climb back out when he was hitting me.

As he got in after her, he yelled back at me, “You tell your Momma this money is mine. And you tell her she’s going to pay for lying to me!” Then he hit Vera a couple of times to shut her up ‘cause by now she was crying an’ bawling real loud.

“Etta, Etta!” She yelled. “Don’t let him take me away!” But I couldn’t help her. I couldn’t even help myself.

Even though my ears were still ringing, I couldn’t mistake the sound of his car door slamming shut an’ the race of his engine as he started it up an’ drove off. I’ll never forget the look on Vera’s face. She had pressed herself against the window, looking out at me in passing. She was terrified. I could see her lips saying the words, “Help me, Etta, help me!”

An’ then they were gone, lost in the shadows of the night. I must have stood there for a long time, not believing what had just happened. At least, it seemed like a long time. I looked back at Jimmy. He hadn’t stirred one bit, an’ suddenly, I knew something was terribly wrong with him.

* * *

Don't forget, you can read the full story by purchasing a copy of An Honest Lie, Volume 3: Justifiable Hypocrisy. Copies are $17.00 and are currently only available through Open Heart Publishing at

As happens every year, the book will be available at Barnes&Noble and Amazon in January 2012, earliest. But I know you don't want to wait that long to get to read my story, and the other amazing stories in this volume.

So don't waste anymore time! Go to and order your copy now!

* * *

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Price

My daughter’s water heater recently went out and she had no choice but to buy a new one. Remember, cold showers are no fun at all, unless it’s high-summer, and it’s no longer high-summer. It’s fall now.

I was shocked when she told me what a new water heater would cost - in excess of ten thousand dollars. (Gag, choke, cough, faint, and fall to the floor.)

Over ten thousand dollars for a water heater? You’ve got to be kidding! That’s almost as much as a new car – a NICE new car! (Don’t forget, now, you can’t take the water heater for a drive around the block!)

Sure, she was buying a water heater that employed new-technology, the kind that doesn’t store a tank full of water that is constantly heated for you, but even so, I thought the price was more than just a bit steep. That, of course, started me wondering about how that lofty price came about.

So, let’s see if we can figure it out. We’d have to start with a base cost for materials. And instead of justifying the cost of a brand new new-technology water heater, which we know would cost more than a standard one, we’ll use the old standard water heater as a guide.

Let’s say, as example that the cost for materials for the “old-fashioned” kind that heat a tank full of water is a mere $1,000.00. That would include the ceramic tank, insulation, metal housing, copper piping to bring water into and out of the tank, and then, lest we forget, the gizmo (mechanism) that actually heats the water.

Oh, and there would also be costs associated with transporting the material to our facility. Let’s ship it by slow-turtle, with a modest cost of only $200.00.

Okay, now let’s put those materials on the production line. Adding to our initial cost of $1,200.00 for materials (and transportation) for ONE water heater, would be wages for the laborers in the shop that put all those materials together.

Let’s imagine that there are 5 workers on this particular production line. (It’s as mall company.) Each earns $100.00 for each tank constructed. They don’t need to earn much money, especially since they are just lowly “unskilled” production blue-collar workers.

(Blue collar – that means they all wear blue shirts, right?)

However, we can’t base our cost on just one worker’s wages, even though it only takes one of them to make the darn thing. We must factor all 5 workers into the equation, because each of them must to be able to construct the water heater. So, that’s another $500.00 (5 x $100) just for labor.

But, the workers can’t do the job alone. They need expensive production line equipment to help them do their job. Add another $1,000.00 for machinery costs. (That’s just one machine - at a greatly discounted price as a favor to the CEO.)

Our sub-total so far, is

…………………………...........................…… $2,700.00

Next, we have to figure in the cost of wages for our office workers, the ones who sell, the ones who collect the money and put it in the bank, the ones who write all the marketing materials, the ones who answer the phones, the ones who file the paperwork, and even the ones who clean the bathrooms. We also need to figure in the overhead costs for office supplies and equipment, and, of course, the building they work in and utilities needed. Let’s say there are another 5 employees who work in the office. Again, we can’t split the costs between all the workers, because that would again ruin our profit line. So, we are going to charge the full amount for one water heater per employee.

Let’s factor in office costs and office employee wages at $150.00 per water heater, per employee. (Remember, they are just employees and don’t need to earn very much money.) Again, we factor by each employee because it takes more than one of them to run that office. That’s $150.00 per employee, per water heater, times 5 employees, equals $750.00.

But, you know what? Our company also has to work on future developments, you know, the new water heaters that don’t have to keep a tank full of water hot at all times, and someone has to pay for that research now, not later. We are, after all, doing the research now, versus later. Let’s say we have 5 researchers, and as with the others, it takes all 5 to get the job done, yet we must factor for each. Let’s say another $500.00 per researcher (they have to be smart, you know, so they get a higher wage) – another $2,500.00 per water heater.

But, wait! We aren’t done yet! What pays for all the insurance the company needs to carry, taxes and other legal fees, advertising, distribution, theft prevention, and damage. That should be worth at least another $2,000.00 per water heater.

That brings our sub-total to

.............…………………………………………....………………………………….. $7,950.00

Now, you might think we’ve factored in all the possible costs, but there are a few more left. One is the cost of the facility itself, either rent, or mortgage. Oh, sure, we mentioned building cost up above with office expenses, but we all know it wouldn’t be realistic to not pad the cost, so we’re going to figure it in again. Let’s say that’s worth $300.00 per water heater.

Total cost now?

……………….………………………………………………………………………… $8,250.00

So, what would be our very last cost? Well, let’s don’t forget the CEO who needs to have expensive cars, yachts, luxurious log cabin ranches in the “wilderness”, and who needs to not only have a salary in the millions, but will get a “retirement benefit” when he parts company with the company. His salary? In the millions. His “retirement benefit”? Several more millions. And just who do you think will pay that paltrysum? Hmmmm?

So, let’s let him have $1,000.00 per water heater, all to himself. After all, he does want to buy a NICE luxurious log cabin ranch, doesn’t he?

Our total now comes to ..........................……………………....$9,250.00

But, we aren’t done yet, are we? What about the money the company regains when you trade-in (supposing you can) your broken water heater for a new one? The company can recycle those materials, right? So, let’s assume this CEO actually shows some consideration for you, his customer, and gives you the astronomical amount of $500.00 for trade-in. (We did say he was a nice guy, didn’t we?) So, now we get to subtract money from the overall cost – whoopee!)

Now, our total has been lowered to


That might be the end of it, but there’s one very important factor left to factor in. We realize that this company can’t stay in business if it doesn’t make a profit, and so far, all we’ve done is cover expenses (and CEO benefits). So, how much profit do you think the company needs to make?

When I was younger, my father once explained to me that in America, at that time, there were laws in place that limited companies to figure in a 20% profit margin, and they were supposed to be able to cover all overhead costs AND make a profit from this sum.

However, we all know that these days, that’s a laughable amount. Only 20% profit? Ha,ha,ha,ha. (Where did those laws go, anyway?) I’ve seen commercials on television boasting a 300% profit margin. Don’t believe it? Think about the oil companies.

A few years back when gas prices kept going up and up and up and up until they reached ridiculously high rates. We, the general public, were told the increases were caused by increases in the cost of crude oil, and that the oil companies weren’t in the least responsible for the absolutely insane price hikes.

Yet, three months later, those very same oil companies were boasting, and I do mean “boasting” – and let me quote – “record breaking profits” in the neighborhood of billions of dollars “per quarter”.

Personally, I fail to see how the price hikes that were supposed to be caused by increases in the price of crude oil could result in “record breaking” profits – per quarter – to the tune of billions of dollars. Having your cost for raw materials and overhead costs increase does not, I repeat, NOT produce “record breaking profits”. Yes, some one was lying.

But, I digress. So we have between 20% and 300%, or in layman’s terms, billions of dollars of profit. Well, our water heater company needs to make a tidy profit too. (How else are they going to afford that CEO’s benefits?)

Let’s be generous again, because we should all be respectful and take pity on that poor mistreated CEO, and set that profit line at 150%. (Sure wish it was my company!) That’s a profit of $1,012.50 per water heater. Oh heck, let’s just round that up to a nice even $1,013.00.

But, is our company the only one who needs to make a profit off this one sale? My goodness gracious, NO. We haven’t added in profit margins for distributors and retailers yet. They don’t manufacture anything. They just move and sell your product. Even so, their profit margin is important, too. So, let’s be generous again (aren’t we nice?)

Let’s give the distributors (who really don’t have much to do) a profit of $500.00.

Let’s give the retailer, who does slightly more work than the distributor, a profit of $700.00.

So, what is our total cost to purchase a new water heater?


But wait, you say! Your daughter didn’t buy an “old fashioned” standard water heater. She bought one with new-technology that eliminates the need for a tank that constantly heats the water. Right?

Yep. That’s right.

And we already factored in research costs, right?


But that was for future research. What my daughter is paying for is research already complete, tested, and on the market. Surely that’s worth a few more dollars.

So true. (You knew we wouldn’t get away without having to pay for one more cost that we already paid for, didn’t you?)

Sounds like another $2,000.00 to me.

And that, friends, brings us to that tidy little sum of “in excess of” ten thousand dollars.

So, our Grand, and Final Total is ………………………………………………………………… $12,963.00

Quite a bargain, eh?

(You bet! And on top of that, she gets to pay delivery fee, state and local taxes, and – of course – installation. Oh, yes, and she also gets to pay for all the water damage and clean-up from when the old water heater broke.)

(What? There is an error in my addition? Don’t worry. The customer will never know.)

By the way, I realize that water heaters really don't cost tens of thousands of dollars, but if there are toilets out there for sale in excess of $6,000.00, as recently stated on YahooNews!, then why couldn't water heaters cost that ridiculously much too? But, the point of this post isn't the exaggerated price of a water heater. The point is to show you how the ridiculously exaggerated prices we all pay daily come about.

Friday, July 22, 2011

They Never Come Down

They're up there all right, in every seam and crevice, edging as high as possible, hard up against the ceiling. I could sit here all day and never, not once, not ever, see them come down.

There's never any noticeable activity, and so it's easy to forget they're even there. But, they are, living their lives day-in and day-out. They weave their silken homes, spin their silken traps, wrap their babes in silken swaddling, and somehow, never miss a meal.

I've been told they eat others of their kind, but you'd think with that kind of diet, populations would soon decline. But they don't. I can tell from the number of cozy abodes up there that no one is going hungry. So if they aren't eating each other, just what do they serve for dinner? It's a puzzle to me, because just as they never come down, food never goes up.

So where is the supermarket? It must be mightily miniature. It's doubtful it could even be seen with a magnifying glass. But, like I said, it must be there. Population growth proves it.

A total enigma, all around.

Now, being the cold and callous giant I am, I could easily take my duster

and destroy their entire infrastructure in one fatally swift sweep.

You'd think that if I did, there'd be a melee of scurrying bodies, all running in terror from the devastation that has descended upon them.

But, no. There will be no mass exodus.

They'll just hide in the cracks and crevices that are too small for me to see, wait out the disaster, and when it has passed they'll come out to start reconstruction.

They'll soon have a thriving cosmos again.

Custom homes with endless views of pristine white; perfectly wall-scaped yards that never need a trim; small-ways, highways and byways (that never evidence use); all will be rebuilt, even those miniscule markets.

I wonder just what goes on up there. Their economy is never in peril; neighbors are never seen gabbing across the fence or sharing a cup of tea, but you know they must.

There's no need for visas and passports;

no border guards; no customs to pass;

no suitcases to pack;
just take that untraveled small-way and go where you please. That is, of course, if you don't mind visiting your neighbor's pantry too.

But who would worry about this one, sole insignificant travel warning?

What a cozy little place. The summers are always cool. The winters are always warm. Pollution is unknown to them. Their stock markets never crash, just an occasional abode that has grown to weighty for its lofty perch.

There are no corporate ladders to climb;

no invading conquerors; no oppresive dictators;

and no ridiculous election campaigns.

There are no spammers, yammers, or scammers; no taxes, no levies; no fines; and no fees.

No one hides from paparazzi

and no one fears the terrorist.

There is no crime and so, no need for lawyers. Justice is swift and final. If thy neighbor offends thee, add him to thy pantry.

There are no freak storms; no power outages or insane utility bills; no droughts; no floods; volcanoes, earthquakes, or tsunamis; no natural disasters at all, save one, my duster.

The young are always raised with the greatest of care and deepest respect.
Children are never buckled in and driven into a lake; never have their mouths duct-taped while their still living bodies are tossed into a pool.

Students don't take hand guns to school.

And teachers don't have illicit affairs with their students. In fact, there's no need for school at all. Education is left to Mom.

Dad never comes home drunk. In fact, Dad never comes home at all. What self-respecting dad would? He's already done his part in creating the next generation. And if he did come home, well, he'd be treated just like a visitor, and be led straight away to the pantry.

Drugs are not illegal. Taking them is totally your choice.

One bite from your neighbor and you're so high you fall down dead.

There are no health care issues because no one gets sick. No one even gets a computer virus.

And religion? I guess you'd have to ask them about that.

What a perfect little paradise. What lessons we could learn from it!

I'll be sad to see their metropolis go. But, company is coming and I must clear them out.

I have, of course, kept my shopping bag close,
in case any goods should happen to fall as I swipe away those pantries and markets.

Dinner anyone?

* * *

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The White Badge of Courage

All of a sudden, screaming sirens slashed through the quiet of the dozen idling cars at the intersection. All drivers immediately wrenched their heads up and around in alarm, but there was barely a chance to glance as red and blue flashing lights joined the cacophony. We expected to see a speeding police cruiser, but were instead treated to the sight of four cruisers, rushing up from behind, running bumper to bumper as if they were so many paper dolls cut from a folded piece of paper. They were traveling so fast you'd swear that lit firecrackers had been shoved up their tailpipes, and maybe they had. It was like a huge screaming monster stomping up behind you.

Fortunately for those of us at the intersection, the far right lane was clear, so the cruisers used it. They screamed up to the light with just the briefest of glances, the barest of pauses, to make sure the intersection was clear, then zipped right on through it. I wondered what could be going on, what malady or disaster, that would require four police units and the level of haste they were in.

The light turned green and we all left the intersection, numbly feeling relief that the 'monster' had stomped right on by. There was already no sign of the four cruisers that had passed us, they had been traveling that fast. Even their sirens no longer reached our ears.

Two blocks further down the road, we stopped for another red light. I was now in the far right lane, as was most of the other traffic.

Once again, as if in 'instant-replay', here came another four police cruisers, screaming up from behind us, sirens wailing, lights flashing, and fire crackers up their tailpipes. It was like a huge screaming monster stomping up behind you. Sound familiar?

This time, they flew through the intersection from the left, versus the right, as before.

At the time, I was glad I had moved to the right lane. If a 'next' round of cars came by - wait, next round? Yes, that thought was whirling around my mind. Was it over, or would there be more?

While pondering that weighty question, I noticed that the second group of cruisers, far ahead of us, had reached their event horizon and were turning right onto a side street. I wondered if that was where the first group had gone. Probably so.

That brought the question of yet another 'next' group, again.

Sure enough, coming up behind me, fast, in the far right lane, my lane, was yet-another pack - of four police cruisers - with sirens, lights, and firecrackers all over -yet again. Sound all too familiar?

Now, the first group had come up on the right side of the road. The second had come up on the left side of the road. So, logically, one might think the third group should come up the right side of the road, right? - since they had been switching sides?

Of course one might. And that was how it was going to go. This third group was coming up the right side of the road, as it logicaly should, in this circumstance. And that was okay, except for the facts that I was now in their way, and the street I surmised they would turn at was coming up just as fast. Would they pass me before I got to the intersection? Was I going to be smack in the middle of the intersection when they needed to turn? Why hadn't I gotten back into the left lane yet? My street was only one more block away and I would've needed to turn left on it. But, no, there I was, lolligaging down the right lane.

Now, I was where I was supposed to be if an emergency vehicle was to come up behind me, which was good. And, I was slowing to a stop. But! I didn't dare come to a full, or fast stop. Either action would probably end with my getting rear-ended by the police cruisers.

So I braked and braked, and 'prayed' and 'prayed.' What a pickle.

Next thing I knew, the pack came whooshing around me, and, of course, by now, I was actually creeping into the intersection, where they were turning.

Time slowed down as the lead cruiser came around me. Then it slowed even more while I watched it turn and slowly slide closer and closer to me. I was literally standing on my brakes in a fruitless act to avoid collision, muttering words of, "Please don't hit me, please don't hit me," and then there was the softest of pushes as the cruiser hit my car and pushed it aside.

Thoughts of, "OMG, and accident with a police car, my life is O-V-E-R," filled my head.

Again, there really was no time to react or to shake the shock, because by then, the fourth, and last car in the pack was turning the corner in front of me. It slowed just enough for the shotgun officer to yell out his window, "Pull into that parking lot and wait," all the while pointing at said lot.

And then, he was gone too - vanished - out of sight in the blink of an eye.

I composed myself and put the car back in gear. The collision had popped it out. Then I turned the corner and found a spot to park in the completely empty parking lot that the officer had designated. And I waited.

People started coming up to my car, "Are you all right? I saw the whole thing. That cop cut you off!"

More people arrived, "I was right there at the intersection and saw the whole thing. That cop cut you off!"

Some had advice for me, "I would just leave if I were you. They probably won't come back."

No, that was advice I didn't want to follow. If the officer tells you to stay put and wait for him to come back, you'd better wait, no matter how long it takes.

These 'witnesses' were almost giddy with enthusiasm, no doubt from the juicy thought that for a change, a policeman was going to be in trouble. They gladly provded their names and phone numbers and said they would be happy to be witnesses. They had, after all, seen the whole thing.

When the novelty wore off and they remembered there was something else they were supposed to be doing, they drifted off and went back about their business.

Then I waited some more, and more, and more. I was truly wondering if they weren't coming back. Should I should leave?

A group of cruisers passed the parking lot entrance and lined up to wait for the signal light - the very same intersection where the 'accident' had happened. The light turned, and off they went. I could have been invisible for all the attention they paid me.

A second group passed by and left.

Now I really was wondering if I should just leave. And then, in the blink of another eye, two cruisers came zipping into the parking lot and parked on the other side of me. The officers all got out and made haste to come over. They had a barrage of questions, "Are you all right? Are you sure? Is your car all right? Are you all right?" Over and over they asked. They looked at the front of my car where the cruiser had hit. They moved away and discussed it. And they came back to ask again if I was okay.

Then another cruiser zipped into the lot and parked. Only one officer got out. It was 'the boss'. The other officers grouped around him and there was much discussion. Snippets drifted my way and I could tell they each were retelling their parts in the entire event, told from their own perspective - venting the excitement of the moment (and the other one that caused it).

Then 'the boss' came over to my car, "Are you all right? Is your car all right?" and added another, "Are you all right?" I wanted a sign to wear that would say, "Yes, I'm all right."

He then went to examine the collision spot, the front side panel and front bumper on my car. I had already been out to look at it, so I knew what he was going to see - smears of white paint, no dents, no busted parts, just paint.

Then there was more discussion, and, you guessed it, more discusion. Then 'the boss' came back over to my car and told me we all had to wait for yet another officer to come write an accident report. He strove to assure me that the accident wasn't my fault and then said that he and the officer who had collided with me were leaving because he was taking him to a nearby facility to have a drug test. (Yes.)

Eventually, the officer who would write the accident report arrived. Forms were filled out, and finally, after almost three hours of waiting, I was allowed to leave.

What dire emergency was it that had caused all this? A fellow officer was at an apartment complex a couple of doors down from the parking lot where I waited. A furious male civilian there had been 'beating him.' Every officer possible had rushed to his aid.

In the end, the city reimbursed me for damages. Did I get the repairs done? Well, not yet. I like my 'white badge of courage.' It's not often one can point to the paint scratch and say, "That's police cruiser paint, and the cop put it there himself!"