The Verdict is in...

Torpedo strikes at Water's Edge...

Torpedo strikes Water's Edge...

...the results from Glimmer Train's June 2008 Fiction Open have been posted.

Water's Edge didn't make the cut.

I suppose I've been spoiled a bit. While I haven't won or made the top 25 list in any of their contests so far, a pair of my stories (July 27 and The Tears of Saint Lawrence) finished very, very well. I expected the same from Water's Edge. Perhaps that was unrealistic, just on sheer numbers alone: Glimmer Train gets thousands of submissions for each of their contests.

I wrote a close friend of mine recently, before the results were posted on the contest, and said I had a suspicion Water's Edge was going to be one of those stories that perhaps meant a lot more to me than it would to my loyal core of readers. It was an important story for me. Certainly the tone was dark...perhaps that is what torpedoed it...but I explored some painful terrain in this story. If I ever figure out how to make a living at writing short stories, I will look back at Water's Edge as a turning point, one that made me a better writer.

Here we go again...

I was at my brother's house in Exeter yesterday watching Penn State annihilate Coastal Carolina on the Big Ten channel. Somewhere around the time my Lions hung a half-a-hundred on the visiting team, our conversation drifted (as it often does) into politics and the upcoming election.

After jawing back and forth a bit, I said to my brother, "...this one is too close to call. It's probably going to be decided by something neither candidate can control. Something like what may happen in the next 96 hours."

I was speaking, of course, of hurricane Gustav, currently barrelling toward the Gulf Coast.

Since saying that yesterday, the storm has already changed the course of the Republican Convention: The President, Vice President, the Governor of Lousiana, and other leading Republicans will not attend the Convention.

Hurricanes are unpredictable. They weaken and strengthen unexpectedly. They weave like a boxer in the ring, leaving you unsure where they will land that next big punch.

If Gustav causes catastrophic damage and the government responds with bungled aid, it will do more to decide the election than any speech Obama gives or any strategic move John McCain makes.

Humbling...isn't it?

Hundreds of millions of dollars being spent by each side to decide the course of our nation for at least the next four years, and it all may come down to whether or not Mother Nature decides to knee the country in the groin.

From The Sky...

From the Sky - Part I

By James M. O'Meara, © 2008


An Aperitif...

My husband loves cutting the grass. I've watched him countless times from the porch, his bare chest glistening with sweat as he pushes our old mower across the front lawn. He carves out a precise rectangle in the grass then walks back and forth over it until every inch has been cut. He carves out another, and repeats the process. The look on his face is one of intense concentration, as if he's contemplating nuclear fusion …for God's sake, Joe, it's just grass… I think to myself, but I can't help smiling. He once told me that a hard day of yard work was almost as good as sex. Yet I've never found him curled up on the yard asleep, spooning his ancient lawn mower.

Joe took a bad slide into home plate at the softball tournament a month or so back…he won the game, but busted his leg…and now the grass-cutting is on my chore list. The old bastard across the street couldn't be happier. If he sees me in my shorts and halter top pushing the damned Craftsman, he dashes out to his front porch and perches himself on his porch swing, sipping iced tea and thinking…well frankly I don't want to know what he's thinking.

Maybe you think that's harsh…me calling him an old bastard…but that's what he calls himself every chance he gets. When he phones to complain about something…the twins riding their bikes down the sidewalk in front of his house, for instance…the first words out of his mouth are always: "…I know you won't pay attention to an old bastard like me…" and then he starts grousing. Joe and I still politely address him as "Mr. Franco" face-to-face, of course, but between the two of us he's "the old bastard" now and forever.

The old…oh, I see you frowning. I'll restrain myself. Mr. Franco was watching me cut the grass the day it happened, wearing his grungy bib overalls and practically drooling into his iced tea as I made quick work of the front lawn. I had a random urge to lift my halter and flash him, but I knew the shock would probably kill him. I behaved myself, ignored him, and just kept cutting. No fancy rectangles for me: I just walk back and forth cutting strips of grass until I'm done. Missed spots? Get'em next time. Trees, flower pots and other obstacles? Go around them and come back later with the weed whacker to buzz down any scattered tufts of grass I bypassed.

Looks like one vote for: "PUT GRAMMY OUT ON THE STREET!"

We must remember where we came from...and where we are going!

We must remember where we came from... and where we are going!

I know I promised no more reassessment stories...but this post is...ummm...interesting.

I wrote a letter to the editor recently and sent it to the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader. They printed it yesterday.

Since my mother-in-law's stroke back in April, I've become extremely aware of the vulnerability of some of our seniors. The gist of my letter was that seniors need to be protected during the current Luzerne County reassessment. At no point in my letter do I say that it's fine by me if anyone else loses their property. I focused strictly on the seniors, as I think they are especially vulnerable to a dramatic rise in property taxes.

So far I got one comment at the Times Leader site (feel free to leave your own feedback there...defend or bar-b-que me as you see fit):

"...All non-seniors can pay higher taxes or lose their homes, as long as the senior citizens are treated fairly, it's OK! Brillant!! Spoken like a true, lifelong, go into the voting booth and pull the big "D" lever, mindless democrat. You are the reason we have the three buffoons running the county and foisting this reassessment debacle on us all. We ALL deserve to be treated fairly, regardless of age." - SB

Lifelong, go into the voting booth and pull the big "D" lever, mindless Democrat?? Me??

Umm....I think the last Democrat I voted for was my Dad, Walter, when the local Harding Democrats strong-armed me for my vote many decades ago.

But I'm not sure if I actually pulled the lever for Wally. I might have voted Republican out of sheer spite if I was aggravated with him at the time. (Pretty much a 50-50 crapshoot there, as I was around 20. Dad and I were at loggerheads constantly back then!)

Well, I do agree with the last line SB wrote. We all deserve fair treatment. But I wrote the letter to bring seniors to the front burner. I consider them the most vulnerable. The tripwire for me was when I read an account of a local woman in her 80's facing higher property taxes who said: "...just take us out and shoot us." That has stayed with me every single day since I read it.

No, SB...I don't want anyone losing their homes. Not you. Not me. And certainly not your Grammy, who, by the way, just chucked that scarf she was knitting you for Christmas in the garbage.



The Seal of the President of the United States

My campaign motto: "Beer in every mug, and wings on every plate!"

Jimbo's Platform

Health Care: No health care for anyone. Zip. Nada. As people croak, more wings for me.

2nd Amendment: Ban guns, but give everyone bullets and a slingshot. Just watch they don't put out an eye.

Illegal Immigration: Let everyone in, but they have to live in Jersey. That'll teach'em.

War on Terror: Freeze falafel inventories worldwide until Osama is turned in. That'll happen sometime around Thursday next week.

Abortion: All current members of Congress should be retroactively aborted immediately, or forced to move to Jersey. That'll teach'em.

Vote Jimbo! This time...why not the worst?? We've tried everything else!

Hail to the Chief?

Hail to the Chief??


5) The bank calls and asks you not to write any checks until Friday...their electric bill is due!

Electric Bill is due...
They'll turn off the #$%^$% power again...

4) When you make a $20 deposit...the bank President waxes your car!

How is that shine?
How's that shine??

3) You get an outdated can of Spam when you open a new checking account!

Lunch is on the bank...
Lunch is on the bank...

2) They don't get armored car deliveries any more...Tony Soprano drops their money off in a paper bag!

I'll be by later for the vig...
I'll be by later for the vig...

...and the number 1 way to tell your bank is headed to the crapper:

1) They cash your paycheck with Monopoly Money!

Don't pass go...
Don't pass go...we ain't got the $200!

Okay...Okay...Lesson Learned...

Yes, there were a handful of folks that responded strongly to my personal wrangling with my County's recent reassessment. (There were offers to bring marshmallows, gasoline, matches, etc. to a burning of these documents.)

But the bottom line is few folks wanted to read about it, and the hit counter has barely nudged. Meantime, hits on all the fiction keep going up.

I've said my piece on my County's reassessment; at this site I'm done. I have other avenues to address this.

I promise to post more of my usual insanity shortly. I apologize. I'm flogging myself with a burnt chicken wing as I write this. I didn't even take the bone out first.

Ouch! Ouch!

(I should have used a wing doused with sweet and sour doesn't burn as much when I break the skin).

Quintupled Taxes....

**NOTE** I've calmed down a wee bit since the original post below. I will update this post later this weekend after reviewing the online data of my reassessment. One correction, after reviewing my pre-construction appraisal, is that the finished basement was NOT included in the original pre-construction valuation of the house. It should also be noted that Commissioner Steve Urban has been quick to respond to my direct e-mails to him concerning reassessment. As evidenced in published newspaper reports, he has also been very responsive to taxpayers with reassessment questions. Hats off to him.

It turns out my reassessment was mailed out on July 1. It arrived yesterday, and I found it lying there in front of the PC waiting for me when I got in from another brutal day at the office.

Apparently, parts of Plains Township went out in the July 1 batch (my mother-in-law's also came yesterday).

When we built our new house, we were told our new taxes would be determined after the reassessment. Our mortgage documents estimated our county and school taxes at around $1800. This was based on a house that was supposed to have a garage, finished basement and a sound foundation. It has none of these.

For the past couple years, we've been paying about a third of the above amount. I fully expected my taxes to go up after reassessment (and rightfully so) but hoped they would come in no higher than $2000. I would have been ecstatic with the $1800 originally forecast, but suspected I wouldn't get that lucky.

The poop: My estimated tax impact total tax after reassessment is $3269. That's within spitting distance of doubled taxes on a house that simply isn't what it was supposed to be.

The real "bottom line" as far as my empty wallet is concerned is this: Our total tax has jumped from $619 to $3269...more than 5 times what we've been paying. Obviously, the $619 was far too low...but we've jumped from one extreme to the other. Unlike the few years we paid low, which we knew was a temporary situation, the new amount might be permanent.

Again, I knew my assessed value would rise significantly. But there is an 81% difference between the estimated tax of 2005...based on a house completed as planned...and what my reassessment came in at. How can there be such a wide divergence?

Well, for one thing...Luzerne County was reassessed based on 2005 data at the top of a housing bubble that has since burst.

Normally, I try to find something funny or clever to say about stuff like this, but I'm at a loss. I am having a hard time making payments on the mortgage now, and that check includes escrow payments for, among other things, the $1800 in tax which was originally estimated. I expect my escrow payments to jump by $125 a month next year to cover the increase.

In the meantime, just like everyone else, my real buying power is being eaten alive by inflation and higher fuel costs. This further tightens our household income, which has already fallen by a double-digit percentage. It's look for a 2nd and possibly 3rd job time. Neat trick, in an area where unemployment is now at 6%.

Sorry folks...there's just nothing funny in any of this...and I have a feeling that I am not alone in feeling the "sticker shock."

Man of the Hour

Man of the Hour

By James M. O'Meara, © 2004

Published in the Spring 2004 issue of The First Line Stories

Wiggly Jiggly...

There were five of them, which was two more than I'd been expecting.

I had but three quarters left, the very last of my pocket change after buying lunch. I don't generally eat in the cafeteria, but on this particular day they were serving home fries, and I have a thing for good home fries. My lunch plan was simple: Meatloaf, home fries, and a beverage. The food was waiting at my table. I just needed something to wash it down. I took two quarters from the pocket of my jeans and went to the soda machine for a can of cola.

I wasn't paying attention as my first quarter slid through the coin slot. A successfully fed coin makes a series of distinct ka-chinking sounds as it journeys through the innards of our cafeteria soda machine. Instead of paying attention to the fate of my quarter I was absorbed in watching Mary Lou Bruckmeyer, the consensus goddess of our employee cafeteria, as she stocked the condiment station with mini-packets of relish and ketchup. She was in her trademark ultra-tight tee-shirt, swaying softly and singing along with the tinny country-western music blaring over the ceiling speakers. Watching her work and imagining her without the tee-shirt pretty much demanded my full attention. I simply didn't notice my first quarter's trip through the soda machine ended in failure.

I'm So Excited I Could Poop!

My Luzerne County re-assessment was mailed out yesterday. I can't wait to get home from work today to see if Mr. Postman brought me my new tax burden!

I'm not worried in the least. Nope. Zippo. Not a bit.

I'm sure, based on all I've read and seen of the wondrous machinations of Luzerne County Gubbermint, it will be a completely fair and realistic assessment.

Define Fair...
Hee Hee. Well, Jimbo, that depends on how you define fair...

(JimboNote: No sign of my official assessment on Thursday. I'll just stay here on the edge of my seat, gnawing chicken wings and trying not to hyperventilate, until it hits the mailbox.)

(JimboNote #2: As of Monday, June 16...still nuthin! These must have been mailed by way of the Northwest Passage. My new assessment better get here quick...I'm just about out of wings.)

(JimboNote #3: As of Friday, June sign of my reassessment. My online data, which says it was last updated on February 22, 2008, still shows data from the house that was torn down in 2004. After we built the new house and moved in during the summer of 2005, we were told by the local tax collector that the county was being reassessed and we would get our new values then. Next came the delay in reassessment. Now here we are, 2008, and I'm seeing online values from a house that no longer exists. My wife is going to tear through every bit of mail that came in since the assessments were mailed out to make sure we didn't miss it somehow. Stay tuned...this is bound to get a heck of a lot more interesting.)

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