Jul 31, 2007

Come Here Money Penny, Give Us A Deposit

In the Deep South, things change slowly. Alongside the crucifixes that hang in folk's living rooms you're just as likely to see a framed picture of Huey P. "The Kingfish" Long. People even speak about him as if he's only left the room for a moment, and not long dead. We're still getting over the War of Northern Aggression. The South simply doesn't undergo a lot of change quickly.

That's why the ATM surprised me this morning.

I bank at a local bank. No Citibank or Chase Manhattan for me, thanx, I like to keep mine local. When I first started working, I realised I needed a bank to keep my tiny paychecks in before I spent them entire on speakers or fast food, so I opened an account at a little locally-owned S&L named Louisiana Savings. The people were super nice there, I got to meet all the officers after opening my account, and they even remembered my name when I went in. Even the tellers always had a friendly smile for me and a wave if they weren't directly helping me in the drive-in. I guess that's why they closed; they were too nice.

That experience marked me, though. I trust little local banks. Even now I keep a meager little account at a local bank, just enough balance to keep it open. It's enough that I can hold my head up proudly when someone asks and I can say in a loud, clear voice "Why yes, I DO have a checking account with my locally-owned bank." As long as the balance sheet isn't questioned I'm good.

So. I like my local, chain-free bank. And this morning, I had opportunity to visit mine: I had a deposit to make. And since I hate fighting main street traffic at noon or at five after work, especially in my truck, I went early this morning. Got all my little paraphernalia ready--deposit slip, envelope, my ATM card, had it all handy on the front seat. Drove up to the gaily coloured ATM kiosk, slipped my card in, and was greeted by a well-recorded, nicely modulated woman's voice who seemed quite ready and eager to guide me through the steps of making an ATM deposit.

With a Scottish accent.

Okay, kids. Let's review. This is the South. The DEEP South. You couldn't get much more southern unless you moved onto an oil-drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico. In Louisiana schools they teach the two main languages: English and Cajun. I could cook a perfect rue before I could read. So when I heard this beautifully modulated electronic voice speaking to me in an accent as smoky as Scotch whiskey I had to pause and reflect.

Who in their right mind would use a voice like that in an ATM in the South? If I had inserted my card and the machine had said "Howdy ya'll, how's yah momma 'n them?" I'd have probably answered without even thinking. But no, I was hearing a voice from across the waters. Honestly? I doubt there's a dozen people in this town who could recognise a Scottish accent, much less point to Scotland on a map. And yet there I was, sitting in my truck listening to a fine bonnie lass explain to me the finer points of ATM safety in a voice that would be a lot more at home in a small woman standing on a rocky cliff in a plaid wool skirt, her curly red hair blowing across pale skin rather than standing in a pirogue wearing camouflage overalls and white gumboots fending off alligators with a paddle while her frere' set out nutria traps.

I'm not ashamed to say that it really gave me pause. I mean, the Scots? What do the Scots have to do with banking? The Scots invented whiskey, fighting everyone and molesting sheep. Didn't the Viennese invent banking? I mean, I'd understand if some enterprising student of history who grew up to open his own local bank would think it quite fun to have his ATM speak in a warm Italian accent. "Oh yes, thats-a good, now you be careful driving back. And get something to eat! Look at you, you're all skin and bones! Manga, manga!" And maybe one or two people in the entire state would get the joke, laugh a little at his cleverness and deposit a few more thousand lira in appreciation. I'd even understand if they had programmed it to sound like a little Jewish grandfather. "That's my good boy, saving your hard-earned money." Or perhaps offering gentle rebukes to depositors: "Oi! You're only depositing a hundred dollars? How are you going to get into medical school with so little money! Look at your brother there, he's got a nice Jewish wife and attends synagogue regularly and he deposits lots more than you, you meshugana!" But a Scot? Och laddie, I'm depositing money, not ordering a Glenlivet and a steaming dish of haggis.

Wow. I am so going to burn in Hell. I'm certainly not going to make it very far in the world of local banking.

Jul 28, 2007

Irrelephant To Queen's Pawn Four

A friend and I were discussing Life a while back, and the metaphor of Life as Chess Game came up after talking about games, and be damned if it didn't fit.

I enjoy chess, you see. Not so much that I bought any of those chess softwares that had the wizard on the cover, the one whose eyebrows seemed capable of beating you by themselves, nor did I ever spend time in Central Park across from a very old Jewish man in a tweed coat with a timer between us. No, the most serious I ever got over chess was to learn most of the lyrics to a failed mid-80's Broadway show.

My relationship with chess goes a long way back, you see, and I'd dare say as a past it's very...checkered. *snort* My earliest exposure to the game was a set of pieces my father had from his time in the Air Force, probably liberated from an old Morale, Welfare and Recreation office closet. He had two identical sets, each stored in a cunning wooden box with a sliding top. The white pieces were natural coloured wood with a glossy finish, and the blacks were coated with some very fine ebony paint or stain and finished glossy also. Each set of pieces rested in their own felt-lined compartment, separated one from the other by a thin wall of wood.

I would take them out and line them up on my old tatty red and black cardboard checkerboard, carefully lining each pawn up, then setting out rooks and bishops and finally the King and Queen, and I'd just look at them, facing each other, ready to play out whatever intellectual battle was in their future. My brother and I would play occasionally, but I never quite grasped the idea that to win at chess you had to plan ahead, far ahead, and be willing to set traps, make intricate plans and even sacrifice powerful pieces so that others could succeed.

It wasn't until high school that I learned the rubric that was meant to teach new players the diverse ways that each piece moved: pawns who were the foot soldiers, so anxious for battle that they charged ahead two spaces, but then became tired and so could only move ahead one at a time, taking pieces to their right or left only because a soldier hacked to either side of him with his sword. The rooks, great siege engines that were so powerful they could move most anywhere, but only in long, straight lines as they could not be steered, only drive in one direction like juggernauts.

The knights always enthralled me not because of their equine nature but because of their "L" shaped path--the knight charging with lance would strike and turn to one side as he finished his attack. The bishops with their long diagonals, "moving in ways not known to common men" seemed to me the most powerful, and the most subversive, creeping up on you from a direction you never expect. And then there was the doddering old King, able to move anywhere he wanted but slowly, oh so slowly, one halting square at a time, and his Queen, the real power behind the throne, she who could go in any direction she cared to, and take any piece.

As I got older I kept playing. Never a great deal, never enough to get truly good at it because I still had a hard time wrapping my mind around so many pieces, so many plans, and trying to balance all that strategy against my opponent. I'd finish a game, to a draw or to a win or loss, but I'd always finish with a headache from so much fierce concentration.

When I got in college I envisioned the chessmen as something more, something much greater than a tactical tool or a challenging intellectual diversion. I saw the pawns and knights and bishops as real people, saw the roles the tiny wooden pieces represented, and decided, as many artists before me have, that I would remake the chessmen to my own liking, make of them a deeper symbology. With potter's clay and a knowledge of firing and glazing I set to. The pawns became tall, thin bullets, each ribbed around it's head with three deep incisions to catch and hold in the grooves of a rifle's barrel. The bishops were thin, emaciated things with grotesquely pointed tops to mock the pomp and circumstance of a religion that I had grown to find burdensome and ridiculous as the old men in their robes.

The King I saw as the impotent old man he really was in the game--critical to it's success or failure, but requiring a Dali-esque crutch to hold his sagging form up. All the pieces were far taller than normal; I wanted the tactile sensation of moving the pieces to carry a certain physical weight to mirror the weight of the tactics involved. The King stood nearly seven inches tall when finished, and his crutch helped keep his bent to near-broken figure upright. The Queen, the true power of the game was almost eight inches tall, a brutally clean, embellishment-free tower of strength and fear, a piece with a fierce weight and imposing nature, utterly implacable.

Well, that's how it was envisioned. Making eight identical pawns was hard enough, but my engineering skills, never that great to begin with soon failed me as I laboured to design figures that would fit on a chessboard: the King's crutch spanned most of three squares, but there was no confusion about which direction he was facing. When he stayed upright, that is. Art imitating life, such as it was, my weak and doddering old King could barely stand upright at the best of times, and when the greenish-ivory White King fell and broke in several pieces the idea of chessmen as art was broken for me as well. I had set my goal far too high for my youthful patience and knowledge, and chess had taught me another valuable lesson.

Work this last week has been a game of chess more than ever, and the metaphor binds me about with hoops of steel. The Queen is solidifying her power, trying to dominate the board and draw the entirety into victory, all the while taking on more and more pawns to stand in front of her. The distant, aloof King is the most powerful as always, but still he dodders, uncertain as ever, willing to let the game swirl and flow around him while his attention is divided a dozen ways. I'm not even certain where the rest of our pieces are anymore. The brave knights seem to have lost their way before they ever reached the battle, or never been on the board in the first place, the bishops long since discarded in this clinical world of computers and prescription drugs for every ailment, and the rooks are mired in the mud, unable to do anything but serve as perches for the crows.

Even the colours seem to have taken on a certain ambiguity: seeing the black and the white has never been an easy task when you're standing in the middle of the board, but when the battle is afoot the flags and colours run, blend and mesh until we seem to be fighting our own troops, uncertain where the actual front is anymore, and the enemy has become ourselves.

Jul 24, 2007

Holy Arachnophobia, Batman!

I have a little stone plaque on my desk that says "Nature never did betray the heart that loved her." Thoreau could have said it, or maybe it's a paraphrase written by some cubicle-bound sentiment writer but either way it's a thought that I subscribe to wholly.

Love, as anyone who has ever been married or owned a British sports car knows, means respect. Simple as that. When you respect Nature, that also implies that you know what can harm you in Nature, or at least make an effort at knowing. Me, I love Nature. I figure if I'm going to spend the rest of my days surrounded by it and it's going to reclaim me when I'm gone then I may as well bow to the inevitable. I know which plants I should and should not touch, which bugs I can and cannot pick up and tickle unmercifully until they pee, and I know how to read the danger signs; ominous rattling in the rocks, curious loud buzzing sounds from under the eaves, white smoke issuing from the exhaust pipe...er, well, you get the picture.

I've even got a coworker who likes to laugh at me when I go out of my way to rescue crickets and dirt daubers who accidentally wander into the office. Many is the time I've restored perfectly innocent (and non-poisonous) grass spiders to the lawn after she's come flying up the hallway screaming "Brown Recluse! Brown Recluse!" I've even been known to show these alarmists what makes said critters NOT harmful. I have handled more carpenter bees, garter snakes and interesting beetles than I've had warm meals, and I get quite a satisfaction in that.

Face it, one of my few tenants to a good life is that all life is sacred. It's done well by me, hasn't it? So with all this love and respect in mind, I was cutting grass in the back backyard. No stutter, I've got two backyards. One is the 'regular' backyard, which begins at the back of my house. The back backyard is a pasture of an acre or so that I've slowly, gently wrestled away from being a, well, a pasture and into something more like an extended backyard. Nice grass, well-placed trees, and the weeds have almost let go. And in this verdant spread I've got a few longleaf pine tree seedlings that I've planted, to break up the oaks and pecan trees, leftovers of the fifty seedlings that I planted last year.

Now, the thing with pine seedlings is that they're seedlings. Smallish. Being smallish, they're easily overcome by weeds, and since I'm basically at heart a slug, the weeds can get pretty high around them. Let's face it, when you've got four hours worth of yard to cut every weekend it's hard to want to carefully manicure around seedlings. And tonight, with this unexpected but VERY welcome cool weather I decided that tonight was a good time to stop the mower for a few minutes, climb off and, cigar clenched firmly in my teeth, pull some of the two-foot tall weeds that were threatening to smother my little tree.

My usual method of weeding the sort of spindly, icky stuff that grows in my back backyard is just like any other weeding process--get a big hand full of the offender down by the roots and heave. And when you've got a little sprig of six inch long bright green needles to avoid you tend to slip your fingers around carefully until you're sure you don't have any pine tree and you pull. Which I did. Several times, in fact, making a clear space around the little tree, wide enough that I could ease the lawnmower around it without risking mowing my tree.

And then for some reason or other I got a little lazy. Didn't quite reach all the way to the roots to pull the next clump out. Maybe it was because the ground is still damp enough that the weeds were popping right out of the ground. If I was religious I'd say that an angel kept me from reaching all the way down. No matter the reason, I missed grabbing a hand full of black widow spider by about an inch. A stinking INCH.

The monkey in my hindbrain reacted to it long before the civilized part of my brain saw it and jerked my hand away like, well, like I had been bit. She was hanging there in that little matted, messy web that they weave, tucked neatly in a small clear spot. Around her was the carcasses of two black crickets that hadn't been as lucky at evasion as I was. She was hanging upside down, and all my monkey mind saw was that thumbnail-sized glossy black body, shiny as a fine pair of leather shoes that had been lovingly polished. And on that gleaming ebony perfection sat that exquisitely detailed hourglass, as red as freshly-spilled blood. She didn't even have to move, because I was doing all the moving for her. I think I cleared the lawn tractor with a good three feet to spare.

I blame the Discovery Channel. See, they've spent so many millions of dollars warning people that black widows are often found in dark, cool closets or in the toes of old shoes or in a corner of your quiet, dusty tool shed that I had quite forgotten that they, first and foremost, live in Nature. Places like thick stands of weeds where no-one cuts, for instance. And me, the paramount idiot, had almost, ALMOST wrapped my hand lovingly around her with the intention of doing a little lawn maintenance.

Let's be honest here, kids. I almost peed myself. I got that close to having an extraordinarily painful, very dangerous spider bite because I had forgotten that while Nature will never betray the heart that loves her, she WILL give the heart that has forgotten to respect her one very hard lesson, and perhaps a good scar as a memento.

And yes, if you're wondering, I think I did kill her. I couldn't find anything to crush her with (I'm sorry, all life is sacred but that scared the HELL out of me) but I think the little anti-scalping wheel did squish her when I finally had stopped shaking long enough to get back on the mower and get it in gear. And if I didn't kill her I'll know it when a lawyer sends me a summons for a hit-and-run lawsuit, filed on behalf of a Mrs. One Bad Mother.

Jul 23, 2007

Honking My Own Horn Dept.

You know, I don't get a lot of opportunity to sound a fanfare for myself, so I'm going to take this opportunity to do just that.

I've been given a real honour: a Top 5 listing by So Many Stories, a top-flight blog review site. I can only say in public what I told Rayne (the site's driving force) in an email earlier tonight--my ego is so big I keep tripping over it now. Coming as it does on the heels of Miss Dancehall's Thinking Blogger award and Meno's Rockin' Guy Blogger award I'm starting to think that you guys really like me...so is this the point at which I reveal my ravaging heroin addiction, commit a highly-publicized suicide and hope that someone finds that spiral-bound notebook full of my meanderings and schmaltzy, half-finshed thoughts which will be auctioned for a cool mil at which point I become the posthumous star of months and months of VH-1 and MTV retrospectives of my life, my music and my wiry moustache?

Er...where was I? Oh, sorry, I was jotting some schmaltzy, meandering thoughts in this spiral-bound notebook which I will place, as I always do, in the top center (unlocked) drawer of my desk in my office which is the second door on the right as you go down the hall.

So, for my regular readers, thank you for sticking with me, thank you for reading, and thank you for letting me know, often and copiously that I have some talent for spinning stories. I never should have doubted you. And thank you Rayne for the high praise and the listing.

I'm off to see if I can rope my ego to a wicker basket and take a twilight flight over the fields.

Jul 21, 2007

For Meno

Because to the watchful eye there are things in Nature, simple things, almost-hidden things that have the uncanny ability to take our breath clean away, to make us wonder, and to make atheists come one shuddering, unwilling step toward a belief in a Maker.

Jul 20, 2007

Poetry Friday Challenge: Hail

Maggie over at Mind Moss has been given the reins to the Poetry Friday Challenge wagon while Mona and her poetically capable self recovers from surgery, and after a freak but inspirational hailstorm Maggie's Mossy Mind (3M?) has tossed out the PFC word: Hail.


Oh God.

Oh God no.
Ohgodnofuckno this can't be happening to me!

No, I can't be falling. Nofuckno!

Wind, where are you?
Lift me up!

I'm falling.

I was...I was up there!
I was up there for so long
buoyed up by the wind
and the pressures
and the zephyrs...the zephyrs
held me and rolled me around
like a white grape on a cherub's tongue.

And now I'm falling.
I'm falling down to the tomb world.
I'm falling to the dirt.

I'm falling down to that...PLACE!
That place where the animals walk and crap
and fall down and rot and I'M FALLING!
Oh God, why? Did I get too cocky
rolling around up there
in Your sight? Jealous of me, are you?

And now I'm falling.
Ohjesusfuck I'm falling.
Oh I hate you for this.

I can't believe I'm falling.

* Because I'm only French on my mother's side and never learned French in school and my only French speaking friend is no longer easily reached by phone and since I can't just call up Maggie and ask her I've had to rely on Google's language tools for a translation which worked out BEAUTIFULLY. I think. Google tells me that "tombe'" is French for 'fall,' which makes a nice visual play with the word 'tomb' in the middle of the poem. At least that was my intent. If I've inadvertently ordered squid instead of a hamburger please don't anyone tell me?

Anyway, it's more fun to watch me try to deal with the tentacles.

Jul 17, 2007


I have been slacking.

I've been unable to get to my garden for most of a week now, because of rain and standing water, but tonight, tonight I fought my way out there, past legions of weeds and ankle deep mud, and harvested.

And harvested.

And harvested some more.

I lost my squash plants, too much rain. The tomatoes which I thought were dying gave one last gasp, and some even have flowers again. The Kentucky Wonder beans are as good as dead, killed by mosaic but the cukes are showing all sorts of promise. And I've even got a bottle gourd that is about the size of my two fists stacked one above the other.

There is a joy that comes of working in the earth. I wonder if perhaps the big farmers, the ones who farm thousands of acres to feed hundreds of thousands of people at a time still remember the simple joy of watching a cucumber grow from a tiny, fuzzy little bean to a healthy, green treat, or remember what it was like when they plucked their first home-grown tomato from the branches of a laden plant.

This is a small portion of what I harvested tonight.

And that's Penny the Dirt Papilion, always ready to ham a little bit for the camera. And this isn't nearly it. There is still a sack-full of banana peppers out there, and another full sack of bell peppers that will be ripe in just a day or so. And there are tomatoes on the way, and cucumbers aplenty, and spears of okra and cucuzzi gourds but my one most fierce joy is that watermelon.

When my brother and I were very young, our parents would load us up in the old brown station wagon and we would go to Mississippi to see our grandparents, my father's parents, once every other weekend. And in summer we'd have fireworks, and we'd chase lightning bugs, and we'd pretend hike in the pine forest around the property. And there were three men we looked up to: my father, my grandfather, and my father's best friend, Mr. Clem Steele.

Mr. Clem chewed tobacco, wore an old denim ball cap to keep the sun off his bald head, worked in a mill grinding corn and other grains, and knew where all the best fields were for finding the finest Indian arrowheads. And somewhere in between all this other work he raised yellow-meat watermelons. And when deep summer came us boys would arrive with whoops and shouts and pile out of the station wagon, hug the grandparents, roam around the house and the yard, see what was new and what hadn't changed since the last trio, and start asking about the creek and arrowheads and Mr. Clem.

But first we'd help my father cut the one acre of grass, stumbling gamely along behind the ancient Yazoo big-wheel lawnmowers with their battered red steel bodies and their dingy yellow spoked wheels, and afterwards we'd swing on the old chain swing hanging off a limb of the huge pecan tree out front. But in between it all I'd be praying my little heart out that Mr. Clem would be arriving soon. My mother always bought him a box of Red Man chewing tobacco at the Base Exchange Commisary because it was cheaper than anywhere else, and without seeming to ever touch the phone my father always managed to let him know we had arrived.

We boys would never know when he'd show up, but there was no mistaking that faded blue Ford pickup truck driving slowly up the highway, turning with a crunch of tires on gravel into the big half-circle drive in front of my grandparent's house. If we were on the swing out front he'd already be waving, and we could see him smile from the highway. He'd greet us with smiles and pats on the head, and he'd walk slowly up to the house to greet the family, and my father would bring out the green and white and red cardboard box of Red Man. And in exchange he'd give my father a few folded up bills, and stories. Stories of deer hunts and wasp nests batted down out of trees, of arrow heads found and happenings at the millhouse.

And if we were terribly wonderfully lucky, he'd bring us out to his field to pick a yellow meat watermelon.

I had never seen a yellow watermelon before those heady days, but when I discovered them I never looked back at plain old red again. Sweeter than sin, lighter than air, and possessed of pale tan seeds that you could, it seemed, spit a mile. Juice all down our chins, fingers sticky from pinching seeds, it was heaven on earth.

This spring, a single watermelon plant survived out of the six that were planted. It was a tiny green sprig in a big open patch of brown, but with patience it soon bloomed and grew into a twenty-foot monster, sending out seeking tendrils in every direction. And then tiny green striped fingerlings appeared, tiny watermelons the size of your thumb, perfect in every way.

They sat in the summer heat and grew.

They drank deeply of the rain and the waterhose sprinkles and grew.

And this evening, turning the four and five pound lumps to keep them from rotting, I saw one that was ready. I thumped it gently not because I know what to listen for, I just remember Mr. Clem thumping those sun-basking melons. He'd carefully walk along the rows, dust stirring up from his battered old boots, stepping over vines without ever seeming to look, and thumping gently here and gently there with one thick finger, head cocked, and following some secret lore he'd stoop, thump, reach into his overalls and pull out his pocket knife and in one smooth motion efficiently clip a curled vine and scoop the sun-warmed melon into our waiting arms.

This evening I waded carefully into the mingled vines. I thumped, I drew the little sharp kitchen knife I had across the vine with a quick motion, and hefted the melon into my arms and brought it inside. When I first laid the big knife into it's rind it hesitated, and my heart sank, certain it wasn't ripe yet, sure that I had made a terrible mistake. After a moment's hesitation though it almost fell through the soft pulp inside, and I heard that distinct, quiet 'cccrrack' as the rind split just ahead of the knife, and that scent, that heavenly rich sweet perfume hit me.

It was ripe.

It IS ripe. And incredible. It tastes warm, like the sun beating down on it's thick green rind, and it tastes like rain water perfumed by bees. It smells like life, that thick, heady smell of living plants, and it melts on the tongue.

I wish I could share it with you all, hand you each a slice like a broad yellow smile and tell you about Mr. Clem, and my grandfather, and my father; the men who planted the seed in my heart a long, long time ago.

Jul 16, 2007


Overheard at work today while passing through the front office:

Clinical Manager: "...you've gotta knock the dirt off it first."
Vulgar Wizard: "Oh."

It's been a Monday all around. I had been working in my little corner hidey-hole for a good fifteen or so minutes when I heard a soft knock at the door. It was my ass. Seems it's been dragging so bad it's now a good quarter hour behind me.

Jul 14, 2007

Poetry Friday Challenge: "Rant"

So Mona gave us all a fairly easy PFC word, and here I am a whole day late, still wondering what exactly it is I want to rant about.

Part of the problem for me is that it takes a lot for me to get wound up into a good rant. I've tried for so long to control the raging spirit that dwells within... nevermind, I don't have Lou Ferrigno's phone number anymore. I thought about a few things I could easily get worked up about (modern life, work, lost friendships, cheese) but even with those prime subjects I just couldn't seem to get a good core outrage worked up to start with.

So, how about a series of short rants, rather like being rabbit punched in the kidneys, only without the kidneys. Or the pugilistically-inclined lapin.

Yes, I agree that was a bit of a show-off. Sorry. Been reading the last of the Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout, and I'm a little verbose, as well as angry. See, the book company that owns the corpus has been reprinting all 72 stories, albeit very slowly, and not in order. (Oh, that was a nice link, wasn't it?) I've been carefully collecting and trying to stay within some sort of chronological order but I had to throw up my hands in despair. I can't afford anyone's "print on demand" prices, and this town is too small to support more than one half-arse used book store, so I've been buying new as they come out, and now...now I'm about to finish the grand denoument, the book that all good Wolfeians tell newbies to read last because it wraps up all the questions about Wolfe and Archie's familial ties along with the whole Arnold Zeck thing. They simply don't get published fast enough for me to want to wait an additional thirty years to read them in sequence and I'm ranting, you see, about authors who dare to die before I've heard of them, so there's no waiting for new books to come out, no hope of more stories. I hate you, J. K. Rowling.

You'll have to forgive me for being hot under the collar (watch this, it's gonna be an excellent segue) but I pulled down the office curtains earlier to wash them, and it's sweltering in here. (Heh. Wasn't that great? Emotionally 'hot' to physically hot...I slay me!) The weather has turned on me like a crazy ex-girlfriend; it's been very hot but clear all week while I toiled at work but now that the weekend is here it's been raining since late Friday night and overcast. Not that the heat has let up, mind you, it's just DAMP and hot now, which is nice if you're with a woman of dubious moral character but not so nifty if your plans involved working outside for any length of time. And Louisiana is good at these sorts of days--hot, muggy, and hot. Stir in a heaping handfull of mosquitoes and you've got yourself the makings of a Saturday in July. So here I sit, in my monstrously bright, exquisitely hot office, my very inner soul opened to the world through 30 panes of glass, ranting about the weather.

Speaking of panes (wait, there it is again... link incoming!) the freaking nurses at work have been SUCH pains here of late. (Zing!) I warned them at the first of July that inventory was coming up, starting on the 12th. Plenty of time to bulk up on medical supplies that their patients require. Did they? Yes. The last day. Did said pains come whining and bitching and crying after I've locked down the medical supply process for inventory? Oh yes, in spades. Did I want to strangle them with their own stethoscopes? You betcha. But I gracefully relented and patted their hands and wiped their tears and their asses for them, and called my one and only contact in Corporate Supply Management. I do so love to show her that our local office is just as filled with simpleton children as the others are. But, I swallowed my feeble pride and asked for an emergency order for Monday delivery so I could see that my medical kinder get what they need to take proper medical care of the sick and injured people that they so condescendingly call "their babies."

Pots and kettles, kids.

Okay, that's enough of that. I'm gonna go watch the doves at work, unfettered by curtains.

Oh, and can't forget the glorious moth (warning clicksters: large hi-res photo)

who is riding out the drizzle on the screen and whose patterns remind me not only of bark but of the fur of my tabby cat.

Jul 11, 2007

Yet Another Penis...er...Train Post

Sorry, was feeling a little Freudian there.

Yesterday was an off day for me. Not off from work but off as in terrible. Too much work, to little sleep. The black had been hovering just out of view most of the day, waiting for it's opportunity to leap headlong onto me, a feral Hobbs to my weary Calvin.

I heard a train coming, a heavy one, moving like an old fat man in a crowded hallway, and I went up front to watch it roll by. I was waiting on one of the nurses to finish fiddling her way through a supply requisition and I knew she'd be a while, knew I had no real rush. There is something solemn about that rumble, that sound that comes up through the feet and the chest. That sound takes me, briefly, out of my troubles and makes me for just a moment a ten year old boy, burnt brown by the summer sun. Standing barefoot in the hot dust, my eyes round, waving as hard as I can as that huge mechanism of steel and hot machinery smell and huge steel wheels rumbles by, sounding it's horn like Gabriel's trump of Doom forthcoming.

This time it was two yellow and black Union Pacific engines, butt to butt, and then a mile or more of quarry cars, sort of middle-height steel boxes, all creosote brown with dirt and wear, one after the other after the other, no variation, just the same car endlessly repeated at 45 miles an hour. I was thinking 'what a marvelous picture that would make.' There's a spot way down the highway from the office where there is nothing but open space between the road and the tracks; I knew if I could get far back enough and at a certain angle to the train it'd be beautiful. Aperature wide open like that little boy's eye, eager to absorb all of the sight...two splashes of yellow and black, a plume of dark smoke, the silver of the sunlight reflecting off the polished tops of the rust-brown tracks, the dark green of the trees behind the train, the bright green of the grass in front of the train, the twin greys of the roadbed, and that looooong, uniform stretch of black-brown cars.

I'm saddened at times when I think of how many wonderful pictures go missed, or maybe even unseen. I had to wonder if anyone else looked at that train, headed to wherever. I wondered about the people that might see it pass, there on the highway or further down, maybe framed by trees, or passing over an old wooden trellis. I wondered if they would see the art in it, or even actually SEE it for that matter. Were they just going to register it's presence and go on with their day? Were they going to curse it for making them late for work or an appointment? How many little boys or girls sitting in the back seat of their parent's sedan were going to see it and quietly count each car, marveling as I did at the sight?

I wanted to be out in the sun and the wind, chasing with them.

Jul 9, 2007

The Gauntlet Has Been Thrown Down!

Yup, I broke. Gave in. Jean has tossed down the meme gauntlet and I figured if meme-hater Stucco could man up and post one then I could, too.

So. Jean, this meme's for you.

Here's the rules thingies.

1. Post the rules for the meme at the beginning of your post.
Okay, I done that.

2. This meme consists of the blogger listing eight random facts/habits about themselves.
This oughta be good. Is truth required?

3. People who are tagged in this post are to write their own post listing their own eight random items and list the rules.
Er...yeah, factual. Gotcha.

4. At the end of the post/meme, list the folks you are tagging and leave them notice of such in their comments.
How about I just throw it open for anyone who is feeling particularly open, sharing or willing to accept the consequences of pouring their fictious hearts out on their blog?

Eight. Cripes. I wish I could go back and find my 101 things post and sort of scalp out of there. *lol*

  1. I have a profoundly marked Jewish accent, but it was replaced by a soft, barely noticable southern accent by Catholic nuns at my first school by repeated applications of burning cigarettes to my ribcage whenever I said "Oy!" or "chutzpah" or "We killed Jesus!" I'm very proud of my flawless "ya'll."

  2. There is a part of me that really wants to be offensive, rude, raw and otherwise a ruffian and/or a scoundrel both in public and here on my own little square foot of internets but I'm equal parts too polite and too ashamed of appearing the fool for it to stick. That and I'm enrolled in the FBI's Federal Witness Protection Program so I can't be saying the things I want to in public as they will out me immediately.

  3. I didn't know until yesterday that it was my maternal grandfather who accidentally set the fire that burned their house to the ground when my mother was a child. The truth of it is almost more absurd than any lie I could make up: He was brushing hot paraffin wax onto the new canvas roof for his schoolbus at the time. Said canvas top was unrolled from the kitchen to the living room. When he went to reheat the bucket of paraffin at the stove the bucket lit on fire, and when he ran to the door to fling the burning bucket out into the yard he sat it down to reach the latch, but it tipped over and onto the canvas, igniting the entire works, which resulted in the house burning to the ground. No one was harmed in the fire, but everything the family owned except for two pet birds were lost.

  4. I'm certain now that when I was a young boy I was suffering from a borderline case of Tourette's Syndrome. Not the barking and cursing but the obsessive desire for rythmic movements of my extremities. I credit this time with teaching me how to lick my own eyebrows.

  5. I try my best to not recommend books to anyone, which is something I learned in a book which I will not recommend here even though it's an excellent guide for gentlemanly behaviour. Take THAT, word of mouth sellling.

  6. Standing here at the middle point of my life I realise I still don't have the foggiest idea of what I want to do with my life. At times I'm terrified that all I'm doing is stumbling along hoping something will happen to point me in the right direction. At other times I'm ready to accept the fact that my life isn't REQUIRED to have meaning other than being a catalyst for someone else to invent the Hugo Gernsback future I've been waiting patiently for all these years. Anyway, I look terrible in plastic sandals and a kilt, and personal helicopters fill me with unreasoning fear.

  7. One of the brightest days in my life was the day that I finally realised that my Hugo Gernsback Future is already here, though it looks a hell of a lot more like the bastard son of William Gibson and George Orwell, only without the talking pigs and the implanted sunglasses.

  8. Eight already? Hmmm. I was crushed when as a child I learned that most of the voyages of Sinbad the sailor are just bastardized versions of stories from The Odyssey. The day I realised that Talos the triple iron golem from AD&D's Monster Manual was also stolen from The Odyssey I was even further crushed. The day I realised that Gary Gygax, creater of Dungeons And Dragons was just a fat, obsessive fanboy like myself (only tons richer) made it all better.

Jul 8, 2007

Poetry Friday Challenge: Things That Make Me Go Boom

Warning: Shoots Flaming Balls

Heh. Flaming. Balls. Shoots same. You gotta love anything the size of the back of an SUV that has that printed in bold across it's face.

Fireworks make me go boom, since we've just passed that explosive celebration and my first atempt at taking pictures of said pyrotechnics. Thank heavens for all those Chinese people and their wretched dragon infestation requiring that they invent gunpoweder, rockets and those great noodles. The thing that most makes me go boom was not the fireworks though but what happened during them. I found out that I had learned something new with my camera.

When I was a kid I loathed school, for so many different reasons it's not even vaguely feasible to list them here. Consider it read that I hated school. It took five years in college for me to realise just how much I enjoyed learning. I wish now, looking back, that I had realised that a lot earlier, but hindsight and all that, yes? So now, learning new things makes me go boom inside. And being able to apply that knowledge is the best part. Knowing how to say "I'm sorry, I'm lost" in Latin is all fine and good but how often do you get lost in Rome around 100AD?

The ocean makes me go boom. At least my heart. I don't know that there's very much in this little muddy blue green place that makes me react so powerfully, so emotionally as the ocean. That's about all I can say without getting all weepy.

Coming in from the garden last night, I sat on the couch and carefully cleaned and loaded one of my many pipes with my swiftly dwindling supply of tobacco. I lit it, puffed it into a nice burn, and found myself confronting a very unexpected scent. Not tobacco, not the little wafts and whiffs of smoke drifting up from the embers, but the sharp, bright smell of the bell peppers and tomatoes I had just plucked from their respective branches. Finding out almost forty years into my life that I love to putter around in a garden makes my heart go boom.

And this is not where I intended to stop but it's becoming a filthy habit of mine to post my Friday Challenge on Sunday. *lol*

Must. Stop. Lagging!

Jul 7, 2007

IHX: The Audience Is Now Reading

Hello. My name is Irrelephant, and I'm a home theater snob.

I didn't used to be. I used to go to movies in the theater just like everyone else, ponying up my ever-increasing ticket price to see the latest blockbuster or epic sci-fi movie, lead on by ever greater movie budgets and bigger, flashier lists of stars, or drawn in by the promise of another foray by a favourite director. I love movies, you see, much like millions of my fellow movie-goers.

One of my fondest memories is of sitting in a plush seat in the balcony of a real movie palace, watching Star Wars: A New Hope unfold before my wondering, science-fiction-struck eyes. There is something magical about a theater, about the huge blank silver screen, pregnant with possibilities, and the quiet hush of people around you, all their attentions and their anticipations focused on the same screen.

Except that's not how it is anymore.

Nowadays you go to the movie theater and if you're lucky and timed it right it's a matinee so you're only paying $6 a ticket instead of $11. And if you're smart you snuck in a huge bag of drinks and candy and popcorn because if you stop at the concessions bar you're going to end up paying $15 for a "Value Deal": a 20oz drink that's mostly ice, a 2' tall bag of popcorn covered in thin yellow grease and a nice big box of Break It Off In Ya And Make You Like It.

And if you've given yourself enough time you'll find your way to your seat, perhaps a nice center seat, midway between the front and back of the theater, centered left to right, the "sweet spot." When the movie starts the projectionist will play the "Please, no talking during the movie" and "Please turn off beepers and cellular phones" clip that's so old it's more scratches than film, but it'll play every time. Now, is it just me or is that not common sense? And yet you'll hear a dozen or more phones making that scale of decreasing beeps as they're shunted down from Level 7 (Fur Elise/Blow Your Eardrums Apart) to Level 1 (Vibrate Your Bottom.)

As the movie starts you'll have to watch a commercial or two while three teenage boys thick in hormonal sufferage wander in with their desperately anorexic girlfriends and decide to take the seats directly in front of you. There they can and will talk very loudly about the new spoiler that they just installed on the other's lime green and pink Dodge Neon, the one with the the rims that cost more than the car did and the muffler that makes it sound like a chainsaw with tuberculosis. And they will continue to do so with great relish throughout the movie.

As the movie starts you'll hear from the jackass who didn't see the "Please Turn Your Phone Off" warning clip because right in that quiet lull in the incidental music the theater will be filled with the tinny, 16-bit tones of the latest pop song, taking you right out of your connection to the characters dealing with their unfolding plot. And he'll tell them he's in a movie and hang up, only to have another group of his people call. This will happen throughout the movie.

When the first big peak of the movie comes and the surround sound is hammering at your body and you're gripping the seat arms with a white knuckle grip the two infants front row left will start wailing and screaming, startled awake by the sudden increase in volume. And the loving parents who brought their tiny babies to a horror movie start make sushing noises and rock the vibrating newborns which of course doesn't work but do they leave? Of course not! They might miss an important plot point!

You know, I have a fondness for making things more comical than they are when I write about them, but when the wife and I went to see "1408," the new John Cusack/Stephen King horror movie ALL the things I just listed above happened during that single movie. All of them.

And that was the last straw, theater owners across the state. No more. I quit. I won't darken your doorway nor bless you with my currency any longer. I've got a home theater, and I'm now an exclusive user of same.

I used to work for a home theater dealer/installer, and loved the lifestyle. I'd read the magazines hungrily, staring at the multi-million dollar installations that stars and glitterati were getting built for themselves, mini replicas of those picture palaces of bygone time. I'd carefully price subwoofers and THX certified monoblock amps and center channel speakers the size of a car door, and I'd bemoan my fate.

But, with time and careful competitive shopping and a fair bit of legwork learning about home theater equipment I built my own 5.1 surround sound home theater system. George Lucas isn't about to drop by the house and put his Jedi Seal of Audio Approval on the system but it does have enough power to rattle the windows when it's riled up. Equipment by Paradigm and Sony go into it's composition, nothing Wal-Mart level but certainly not top end, it more than fills my movie-goer's needs and my budget. The couch sits dead center in the sweet spot, and if I want popcorn the "pause" is one button away on the remote and the kitchen is twenty steps behind me. I can turn off the ringer on the house phone if I really want to, and I can guarantee that I won't be auditorially accosted by punk kids and their sagging bluejeans. And if things work out, well, maybe in a few years I can afford a widescreen tv, one of those lovely plasma jobs that's about as thick as a deck of cards and hangs on the wall like a picture.

Until then, though, I'm perfectly happy with my overweight 36" Sony Wega, my five Paradigm surround sound speakers and single subwoofer, my Sony DVD player and receiver and my subscription to Blockbuster Video's home delivery/rental service.*

And as for The Grand, the local 12 screen multiplex? You can keep your stadium seating and your forty-foot wide screen and your cellular phones and your mouth-breathing, inconsiderate jackasses with their screaming infants and their complete lack of consideration. I'm willing to wait one more month for new movies to arrive in my mailbox so I can avoid those aggravants and watch in the comfort of my own home, on my own theater that fits comfortably in my living room.

You know, your popcorn isn't all THAT good, either.

* If your curious about building your own home theater, here's a rough guesstimate of what I paid for the equipment some six or seven years ago. And keep in mind that this equipment is STILL going strong and is perfectly capable of eye-poppingly beautiful pictures and ear-caressing sound.

2 Paradigm "Titans" (R & L channels): $230
1 Paradigm "Titan" center channel: $110
2 Paradigm rear surrounds: $160
1 Paradigm PS-10 powered sub: $250
Sony DCP-NS725P DVD/CD player: $150
Sony STR-DE625 receiver: $300
Sony Wega 36" "S chassis": $400
Assorted Monster A/V Gold RCA cable: $ 50

Having my own home theater system I can truly enjoy and be proud of, with equipment that's just as good for critical music listening as it is for blasting "Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan" at neighborhood rattling/ear bleeding decibel levels?

Damned straight it's priceless.

Sailing Beyond The Sunset

It's the 100th birthday of one of the writers who helped invent modern science fiction: Robert Heinlein (books by this author), born in Butler, Missouri (1907). He wrote more than 50 novels and collections of short stories over a span of four decades.

He said of his childhood, "Once I found out about reading I was all in favor of it." He especially loved dime novels and the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.G. Wells, and Jules Verne. But he didn't plan to become a writer. What he wanted was to be an officer in the Navy. But after serving for five years, he got discharged because he'd caught tuberculosis. The disease left him weak enough that he had a hard time working a job.

He wasn't sure what to do to make ends meet, and then he saw an ad in a pulp fiction magazine offering $50 for the best story by an unpublished author. So he sat down and in four days he had written a story called "Life-Line," about a machine that can predict a person's death. He decided it was too good for an amateur contest, so he sent it to Astounding Science Fiction magazine, and they accepted it. It came out in 1939, and Heinlein would publish 28 more stories in then next three years.

At the time, most science fiction stories were full of gimmicks and imaginary machines that had no relationship to actual science. Heinlein was one of the first science fiction authors to look at the world the way it was and try to imagine how it might actually look in the future. And he tried to make sure that all the imaginary technology in his stories could really work. He wrote about things like atomic bombs, cloning, and gay marriage years before they became realities. And he was one of the first writers to imagine how space travel could actually be accomplished.

He's best known for his novel Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), about a boy who is born during the first manned mission to Mars, who is raised by Martians, and who then returns to Earth to become a preacher. Stranger in a Strange Land was also the first book to describe a waterbed.

~ joyfully stolen complete from Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac emails.

Jul 5, 2007

Grief is Afoot

Because it's a lousy flier.

Shoes. Some people live to shop for shoes. Some people find shoes to be the be-all end-all of their existence. Me, I'd be happy if I never had to wear the damnable things ever again.

I was raised in the country by people without a lot of money. Shoes were a necessary thing for town and church and school, but buy shoes just to play outside? Hah. Sooner wish for a podiatrically-inclined pony to show up on the doorstep and crap you a pair of British Knights because the chances of that happening are greater than the 'rents buying you some.

Okay, so it wasn't THAT bad. I didn't wear them as a kid and never became a clothes horse. I grew up barefoot. Loved the feel of grass and mud and water and the sunshine on my feet. Could have been a freaking hobbit if only I hadn't grown to 72" tall. Didn't wear shoes all that much until school started and that's when the trouble started. You see, not being bound and deformed in a pair of shoes as a kid my feet grew as they should, which is to say wide and long. So now I've got to suffer when going shoe shopping. Nothing fits because everything is too narrow, made for someone who was born in a pair of lace-ups and wore wingtips their entire childhood, even in the shower. So I end up buying larger lengths in the vain hope of getting a wider pair. Down here the term "wide width" only applies to mobile homes and elderly aunt's arses, and shopping online for shoes seems a little risky, especially because I can't very well fit my clodhopper into the monitor and wiggle my toes around.

What brought this on, you ask? Glad you asked, otherwise this post was going to keep going nowhere.

I brought my work shoes home to polish them, you see, but the hound from hell got one of the two and gnawed. Not much, nothing that couldn't be ignored or buffed out with some polish and elbow grease except for the fact that she managed to chew clean through an eyelet on one pair, the topmost eyelet of only four.


Into the trash went the nicely broken-in pair that had another year left in them at least, and into the truck went me. One trip into town later to hopefully find the one brand/pair/style that I like left me empty-handed and sighing in my sandals (sans socks.) That's the problem, you see. I find something I really like, a pair of shoes or the Pontiac Fiero 2M4 SE with the miniature firebird decal on the hood and by the time I'm ready they're long gone, replaced by something that doesn't quite entirely match at all a bit.

But this time, I got lucky. Found a pair of shoes sitting in half a box on top of the overstock of the shelf that I was beating my head on, possibly dislodged by my self-abuse. I pulled them down, didn't even look at the size, just saw that they looked fairly large, and tried them on. Miracle of miracles? They fit better than anything I've bought before. I was astounded. A freaking house-brand shoe that was priced affordably (that'd be under $40 for me,) looks....well, looks meh but that's okay BECAUSE THEY FIT! Toes not cramped in, not hot and sweaty, and they don't look like I found them in the Salvation Army dumpster. Not much, at least.

So imagine my shock today when I got them to work (I wear a pair of HiTek Magnum boots when riding, leave the work shoes at work) and went to slip them on. It was then that I realised why they fit so well.

They're size 14. Wide.

Must have been special order for someone and either left behind or not picked up yet. Might explain why the half-box had "Kevin" written on it in Sharpie.

Well, Kevin...tough. Mine. They fit, and now they smell like me. My damnable, hated shoes.

When is National Barefoot Month, anyway? And if anyone ever wants to go snow skiing and you're in the neighborhood I've got just the pair of dress shoes for the occasion.

Oh, and since I missed it, Happy Birthday James T. Kirk, July 1st, Some Year In The Future.