Friday, June 26, 2015

John Emerson, Ordinary Patriot

John Emerson, Ordinary Patriot
By Mark Wright

John Emerson was no one remarkable. A resident of Worcester County, Massachusetts, Emerson stood 5-foot-10, had gray hair and was about 54 years old in the summer of 1776.

America declared its independence on the fourth (or perhaps, more correctly the third) and on the ninth, Emerson enlisted for nine months of service in the 3rd Worcester County Regiment with a rank of captain.

John Emerson the officer was no one remarkable. I have no idea if Emerson fought in any battles, though there is some evidence to suggest troops who trained under him went on to fight in the Battle of Saratoga. But I do know that he served. And if, like me, you celebrate America's Independence on the Fourth of July, then you consider Emerson a Patriot.

Emerson is my sixth great-grandfather. I descend from him through my paternal grandmother, who was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. It is a great honor to say that I, an unremarkable person, come from a Patriot with deep roots in the American colonies. The Emersons were indeed a remarkable family.

Emerson's great-grandfather was an English-born Puritan minister, Joseph Emerson, who arrived in Concord, Massachsetts Bay Colony, as a young adult. I descend from the reverend and his first wife. Famous American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson descends from the reverend and his second wife.

John Emerson's younger brother Ezekiel Emerson graduated from Princeton and sat on the board of trustees for Bowdoin College and the Medical School of Maine.

Compared to the reverend, the essayist and his own brother the college board trustee, John Emerson was no one remarkable. But in a crucial moment in the founding of a nation, my direct ancestor answered the call to serve.

Even if John Emerson was an otherwise ordinary man, the time in which he lived demanded extraordinary courage. On this July Fourth, I would like to take a moment to honor my Patriot ancestor. John Emerson was someone remarkable.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Foster Park Chronicles - a Novel in Progress


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Chapter One

Graham was sprawled out on the floor playing a video game with a friend on a rainy October afternoon when the doorbell rang. His parents were on a weekend excursion with their BMW motorcycle club. Probably just UPS delivering something for dad, he thought, and paused the game.
"I'll be right back," Graham said in a languid Saturday tone. "Help yourself to a root beer."
“Cool. Thanks,” said his friend.
As Graham hurried down the hall, the doorbell rang a second time. "Coming," he hollered. It rang a third time. And then a fourth. "Geez. I'm freaking coming. Hold the eff on."
Graham opened the door to find a rather tall, slim-shouldered man. The guy, who was wearing jeans and a gray long-sleeved TCU T-shirt, looked lost and agitated.
"Thank God," the man said. "I was hoping you would be here."
Graham squinted, thinking he was seeing things wrong. It looked like a familiar face, though one with slightly more prominent, less rounded, cheeks and deeper bags under his eyes. He had a few stray gray hairs. And his shirt seemed to commemorate an event that had not yet happened. This could not possibly be who it looked like.
"Hey," Graham said. "Are you a relative of...?"
"No, no. I know what you're going to say," the man retorted.
“What? How would you know?” Graham shot back. “Who the hell are you?”
"I'm not some relative of his. I am him."
"Bullshit," Graham snarled. "The real Mark would have corrected his grammatical mistake."
"Fine," the visitor said. "I am he."
"Ah," Graham said, genuinely scared by the man’s reply. "Is this one of those dreams within a dream that's so vivid it seems real?"
"Kind of an Inception thing? No, I wish. You’ll like that film," the man muttered. "Look, it’s just … I need your help."
"You can't be here," Graham said sternly. "This is impossible."
"But I am here."
The visitor tapped his keyless remote. His shiny silver four-door parked at the curb replied with a single squawking sound to confirm it was locked.
"That's my 2012 Sentra. It's a fairly ordinary car in most respects."
"Uh, so you’re saying?” Graham stammered.
"It's three years old now. I mean, in my time."
"What kind of freaking joke is this?"
A familiar voice called out from the hallway. "Graham, is everything all right? Who's there? Nick? Lance?"
"Don't worry about it," Graham shouted. "I'll be right back."
"OK. Cool."
The visitor on the porch lowered his voice to a whisper. "I see. So I am here already. Where is my little blue Mazda? What, did I walk here or something?"
"No, I picked you up and we went to CD World and Jack N the Box."
"Then, I'll leave you to it," the visitor said. "But I'm going to need your help. I know it sounds really nuts. But I accidentally time traveled here. And I need your help getting back."
"I have a thousand effing questions,” Graham said. “First off, why are you avoiding yourself?"
"Because I might need to pass for him. I don't want to put him through the stress of meeting his older self if I can avoid it."
"I'm just delirious or something," Graham said. "This can't be freaking real."
"Proving it will be easy. Meet me at 7 in Foster Park, on the bridge by our football field. Don't bring 16-year-old me or Nick or anyone else. Let's try to keep this from getting complicated."
As the man departed down the steps, Graham noted his slight limp, as if he were bothered by knee pain, and the otherwise familiar long stride of his friend. He could stand to lose a few pounds, but not too bad of shape for a 30-some-odd-year-old, Graham thought. He still has all his hair. Graham closed the door, shook his head and unfurled a string of profanities under his breath. "Just un-effin’-real," he mouthed as he slunk down the hallway back to his bedroom.
"Sorry I kept you waiting," Graham said to his teenage friend.
"No problem," the 16-year-old Mark said. "Everything cool? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I’m fine. I’m fine,” Graham said. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Oh. No reason. Hey, I was just looking through your CDs. Can I borrow Pearl Jam Ten? I'll bring it back after I copy it over to a tape. I just need something to listen to while I mow the yard. I’ll get it back to you tonight even."
"Yeah, yeah," Graham said. "That's fine. Bring it by next week or something. Now unpause this bad boy. I don’t have all day."


The afternoon rain slackened to a light mist. But the thick envelope of clouds wrapped the early evening sky in a cloak of midnight. The full moon was completely obscured. A few minutes past 7, Graham crossed the muddy clearing where his group of friends gathered on fall Sundays to play touch football. He slowed as he neared the bridge, taking a moment to discern if anyone was standing on the middle of the rickety wooden platform. The foot bridge spanned a narrow concrete drainage ditch at the south end of the park. Only during particularly rainy times was it necessary to use the bridge. Most of the time, the boys just ambled down into the ditch, bounded across the narrow trickle of runoff and eased up the slope on the other side.
Sure enough, there was a man on the bridge. It was Mark – and not the young version. His chin stubble was thicker than the wisps of fuzz that sometimes dotted his teen friend’s chin. And even at a distance, he seemed to exude a quiet confidence that his youthful counterpart rarely exhibited.
“You’re late,” the man grunted, his warm breath rising into the chilly autumn air like a phantom.
“You’re early … what, 15-20 years early,” Graham countered.
“Almost 20 years,” Mark said. “More like eighteen years and eight months.”
 “Damn. That’s effin’ unreal. I have so many questions.”
“We’ll get to that. I’m just glad you showed up. I started to think you weren’t coming.”
“I was feeding Winston and doing a few things around the house.”
“No one followed you, right?”
“Nah, Reser and Jon are over at Lance’s. And you – younger you – are with Nick and Pitney, apparently.”
“OK. Good. Good. Thanks again for meeting me. I’m going to need your help.”
“Hold up. Hold up. Before I agree to anything, how in the hell do I know you are who you say you are?”
“Ask me anything – about you, about me, about our friends.”
“Name my favorite band.”
“Metallica, but lately you’ve been on a heavy ICP kick.”
“OK, but anyone would know that.”
“Perhaps. Ask something else.”
“When is my birthday?”
“In December, nine days after mine.”
“Who is the oldest one of our group?”
“Jon. He turned 17 in April. Lance just had his birthday.”
“What kind of girl am I into?”
“Easy,” the man said. “Redheads. Dude, please. Give me something difficult.”
“OK,” Graham said, “so what is … the ultimate price?”
In a raspy, almost devilish, voice, the man slowly replied, “Eight dollars.”
With that, Graham, whose hands had been stuffed into the pockets of his black hooded sweatshirt, offered the man a fist bump and a quick glancing hug known to teen boys then and now as a bro hug. “OK. I believe you. You’re either Mark at age whatever or some shape-shifting demon who’s done his homework.”
“Yes, and I go by The Underlord. Now, Graham, prepare to do my bidding.”
Graham laughed and relaxed his shoulders. “It is close to Halloween. If I ever were to be accosted by demons, this would be perfect timing.”
“Yeah, perfect timing, all right. I might be stuck here.”
“But you’re a time traveler, apparently. Can’t you just go back to whenever?”
“2015? Yeah about that: I downloaded a time travel app on a whim. And, you know, it worked.”
“What the hell’s a time travel app?”
“Long story.”
Graham’s older friend pulled an almost flat, rectangular object from his pocket that looked like a tiny computer. “I’ll tell you about some things that Steve Jobs, God rest his soul, has not even dreamed up yet. But first we need to…”
The man briefly glanced at a picture on his device then tucked it away. He cackled so hard that he stumbled a bit before grabbing the bridge’s railing to steady himself.
“What’s so damn funny?” Graham demanded.
“It’s just hard getting used to you without a big thick beard.”
“Sweet. I want to know more. A lot more.”
“OK. But first, we need to warm up. All I have to wear is this damn T-shirt.”
“Yeah, I noticed that. So, TCU is going to win the Rose Bowl in 2011, huh?”
“Rob and I went to L.A. for the game. I have some funny stories.”
“Look, come back to my house. My parents are gone until tomorrow night.”
“You’re a lifesaver. My credit cards don’t work here, so I was facing a night in my car. I have 20 bucks, but I’m pretty sure this would be considered counterfeit.”
“Andrew Jackson’s head is huge. That’s kind of bad ass.”
“Hell, keep it,” older Mark said. “It’ll be worth 20 bucks in about 18 years.”
The man led his teen friend to his car. He showed him some modestly advanced features – the CD player, the radio controls integrated into the steering wheel – and tried to explain what a port on the dashboard labeled iPod does. They pulled up by Graham’s house on the northwest edge of the park.
“We should hurry in,” Mark said. “I don’t want the guys to come cruising by.”
He parked on the south side of the street across from the house so none of their friends would assume the unfamiliar vehicle belonged to someone at Graham’s place. They rushed inside and settled on couches in the den. Over a ham sandwich and a Sierra Mist, Mark began to explain concepts such as iPhone 4 and apps and Wi-Fi signals.
“I was looking up time travel apps for my phone, just for grins. The one I found was called Temporal Flux, and it was $7.99 before tax. And I normally don’t pay for apps. But I figured what the hell? It’s worth the ultimate price.”
“How did some program on your phone drop you and your car here?”
Continue here
“So, somehow, this effin’ junior in high school is your Doc Brown?” Graham asked. “I don’t know squat about how to help you.”
“No, no. I think I know how to get back. I just need your help pulling it off.”