Feb 27, 2009

I Swear.

Philip Jose Farmer, science fiction author, dies

February 25, 2009

Philip Jose Farmer, one of the most celebrated science fiction, fantasy and short story writers of the 1960s and '70s, died Wednesday. He was 91.

Farmer died "peacefully" in his sleep, according to a message posted on his official Web site.

The longtime Peoria resident wrote more than 75 novels, including the Riverworld and World of Tiers series. He won the Hugo Award three times and the Grand Master Award for Science Fiction in 2001.

Farmer was "one of the great ones," according to a statement on the web site of Subterranean Press, which published his later novels.

"He was always a joy to work with, and we will dearly miss his intelligence and good nature," the statement said.

Farmer's first published story, "The Lovers," caught the attention of the science fiction world in 1952 with one of the genre's first serious treatments of sexuality. At the time, he was working full time at a Peoria steel mill and writing on the side.

"The Lovers" was based on a love affair between an Earth man and an alien woman, and Farmer rocked the science fiction community by dealing with sex in a frank manner. The story inspired some of the greatest science fiction writers, including Robert Heinlein, whose classic "Stranger in a Strange Land" was dedicated to Farmer.

Farmer tried to survive as a full-time freelance writer but finances forced him back to work as a technical writer in the defense industry in 1956. He bounced from New York to Arizona and California before finally quitting and moving back to central Illinois in 1969 to concentrate all his energies on his science fiction writing.

Farmer's celebrity in the science fiction world did not translate to Peoria, where he grew up and attended college.

"I am obscure in Peoria," Farmer told The Associated Press in 1988. "I guess they don't read much around here."

Farmer's last novel, "The City Beyond Play," was published in 2007.

He is survived by his wife, Bette, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Many thanks to Deathwatch Central for posting this obituary.

Feb 26, 2009

I'm Struggling!

I've got a conundrum.

I'm a huge fanboy, you see, of WWII aviation, up to and barely into jet-propulsion. If it's as old as or older than the Luftwaffe's Messerschmidt Me 262 'Schwalbe' I'm all about it. You see, I love simple airplanes, all the way back to the Wright Flyer. Oh gods what an aircraft. That beautiful and monstrously simple contraption that first powered us just over a hundred years ago into the bountiful blue place that only birds used to dare.* As such, and being a confirmed scale modeler of WWII aircraft I like to think I know a little bit about WWII airplanes. That's why I'm so bothered right now.

I saw one today, you see. Not flying mind you, but on a truck. A BIG truck. A diesel truck with a very long low-boy flatbed trailer to be very specific. I glanced up at the interstate, nudged there by whatever guardian angel looks out for vintage military aircraft fanatic atheists and there it was, rolling by on the interstate at 65 mph. My first thought was "An amphibious plane!" My second thought was "I wonder if I could catch up with it on the bike?" My third and succeeding thoughts ran around the ideas of not being able to leave work so I could hare off up the interstate and the difficulties inherent in either forcing a diesel truck and trailer off the interstate, unarmed, from a motorcycle, and taking a series of photos at 70 mph.

So, I did what I usually do when something astounding passes by on the interstate--I swallowed hard and turned back to my computer after it had passed. And spent the rest of the day thinking about it. Turning it over and over in my head like a peppermint on my tongue. Writing bits of blog post about it.

It was utterly and entirely a beautiful thing. It was obviously in the process of being restored because all the paint (a pretty necessary thing when you're expected to operate in and from salt water) had been sanded off and it's aluminum skin gleamed in the sun as it passed. If you've ever seen an amphibious plane you know that its belly is shaped a lot like the hull of a boat, since it in essence IS a boat. The wing is mounted at the highest point of the fuselage to keep delicate engines far out of the water, and the rudder is likewise very tall. This aircraft was just a fuselage, a huge boat-shape with a broad, blunt nose and windows set very far up on it's front and a tail section that stretched up as tall as the huge slots where the wing roots would enter the fuselage.

When it passed it looked for all the world like a child's cartooned drawing of a whale made real and sculpted from metal. Simple, organic curves with a narrow, upthrust rear spine upon which you could easily imagine the broad flat surfaces of a whale's flat tail. The body between tail and nose was bulbous in the extreme, a hugely pregnant shape swinging pendulously below a perfectly flat and level dorsal line. At the front was that comically round 'face' with it's ridiculously small glass 'eyes' far up at the top, and the sun that ran across the panels and rivets of the aluminum body sparkled it was splashing across a fish's wet scales.

I was entranced. At first I thought it was a PBY Catalina but the body was too short. And yes, if you're curious I've spent the last HOUR fitfully searching and giving up and searching again. And I think I've managed to find it. *g*

It was a PB2Y Coranado.

I think. *G*

What I do know is that it captured me wholly for a moment. For the brief handful of seconds it passed my vision I was back in a museum walking around relics of a past age. My hands were touching the cool steel of an airplane's cowling, smelling the sweet and sour odor that only very old machines give off, that rich tang of oil and sweat and long use. I was drawing my fingers across the gull's wings of an F4-U Corsair that had just landed at the local airport. I was touching with awe-struck fingers the three propeller blades of a P-40 Warhawk, dressed in the drab olive and sky blue of the AVG, looking just as it had when it served in the China-India-Burma theater. I was swallowed whole, resting like Jonah in the deep cool belly of a B-17 Flying Fortress named "Sentimental Journey" as she sat on the tarmac, quietly waiting for her chance to leap back into the open skies.

* I would be deeply amiss if I misled you--the Montgolfier Bros. launched us into the air as aeronauts just after 1783 with the Aerostat Réveillon. Granted it only carried the first living creatures, not people--a sheep named Montauciel (Climb-to-the-sky), a duck and a rooster. The people came later, but what I was referring to up there was POWERED flight, with an engine. Balloons have their very own, very special place in my heart, quite separate from the noise and smoke of aircraft with engines.

Feb 22, 2009

Post Gras

Well, it's over for me at least. Attended two parades, brought back two trash-bags full of stuffed animals and beads and koozies and frisbees and enough beads to strangle the Budweiser Clydesdales. I even broke my promise to myself and ventured into New Orleans proper to witness a REAL parade, even if it was a day-time one. Had fun? Holy sweet purple green and gold yes!

Spanish Moss Man

I'm not even sure where to start. Freezing in Mandeville Friday evening because I didn't think to check the weather and it dropped to near freezing before the Krewe of Orpheus parade was over? That's one good starting point. (I've got a few photos from the Orpheus parade, but not many.) The parades were excellent, but then again I'm used to our Mardi Gras parades here--all two of 'em. The kid's parade is early in the day so the little ones don't get exposed to public drinking, nudity or so forth, then there's one later in the afternoon. Here, each Krewe has a single float, and all the local bands get involved, and some of the enthusiastic locals on bikes and custom cars and so forth. Beads are thrown and jostled for, crowds yell, people drink and cook, and specialty throws like cups and footballs are reasons to draw blood over. And of course, everyone knows to laissez le bon temps roule' as the saying goes.

Me, I've enjoyed those parades for a few years now. I'm always pulled between, as someone aptly put it in the comments of a prior post, the attraction and the repellant nature of crowds. I dislike crowds because I tend to dislike strangers milling around me, each intent on their own agenda, but the herd-instinct part of me is drawn to it, plus I like catching beads and cups over shorter people's heads. Heh! So naturally I got used to standing in the 'a few people deep' crowds on the streets, doing what I like best--cheering each Krewe's name as their float passes, hoping to attract a rider's attention long enough to have him or her throw me a particularly choice item: beads in that Krewe's colours or a cup with their logo.

Well, naturally it's done differently in NOLA. Bigger. Bolder. In NOLA each Krewe has their own parade, sometimes many different ones in different cities and times. Reading a newspaper insert showed days and days worth of parades, sometimes eight and ten a day starting mid-day and running into the night, scattered all over town. Even the smallest parades included twenty or thirty floats with over a thousand riders, then you'd work up to the super Krewes, whose parades last four to five hours and host crowds that are easily twenty people deep on all sides and have grand masters like Kid Rock and Val "I Was The Lamest Batman Ever" Kilmer. This is what kept me from going into NOLA anywhere near Mardi Gras season, the idea that they were ALL like that.

I was wrong, however, and glad to be so. Both parades were attended by what seemed to be even fewer parade goers than our little town's get-up, and the routes seemed longer, which made my natural crowd-a-phobia much easier to conquer. There was no jostling, no crowding, people were one or two deep at worst on the streets, and many were simply there to eat and watch the crowds. We found a good spot for the fortieth anniversary of the Krewe of Tucks ("The Mother of All Parades") who are known for their quantity and variety of throws and I started snapping photos*.

Krewe of Tucks - The King's Throne
Fortieth Rex of the Krewe of Tucks.

Krewe of Tucks - Hello Kitty!

Krewe of Tucks - Blaine Kern, Eat Your Heart Out Member
One of the living dead ambles along the parade route. I snapped his photo just as he underhand tossed that beautiful strand of blue beads to me.

Krewe of Tucks - Health Care By Dr. Frankenstein (3)
A rider tosses a rare white strand of beads to some lucky parade goer.

Krewe of Tucks - Naughty Ham - Riders

Krewe of Tucks - Royal Throne Riders
Aim a camera at a rider and I swear they're gonna toss you something good.

The Family - Mardi Gras 2009
On the corner of Rue du Magazine and Rue Du Milan.

There's a ton to talk about. The enterprising folks who bought clever seats nailed to ladders so they could set their toddlers high up over the heads of the crowds, making them excellent targets for tossed beads. The group of Star Wars afficionadoes, the 501st Legion who wore professional-level costumes.

Storm Trooper High Fives
A stormtrooper from the 501st Legion high-fiving the kids along the route.

The trees full of strings of beads, and the beautiful wrought-iron fences of all those old Victorian painted ladies, each festooned with the purple, green and gold. The sense of age, the sense of place. Post-Katrina New Orleans is different from the "dirty old whore" New Orleans that I used to know. There's a new feeling, a new pride, a feeling of ownership and a desire to be better than they used to be that seems to radiate from every store front and bistro.

How about the people? Everywhere there was the people. The tourists and the locals, the lady who had dyed her white dog the traditional colours. The folks dressed up as if for masquerade, the happy drunks (three times I was asked if I was Jamie Hyneman from the Mythbusters.) The riders on the floats and the folks who walked in the parade, eager to show off, to smile and pose for a photographer. The people lining the streets, each showing off the colours in some personal way.

Kids Ladders

The best moment for me, however, was noticing an older gentleman beside me, wearing a purple LSU jacket. While I was lunging here and there for photos and grabbing for beads and cups and so forth he was calmly standing there, clapping and smiling, dancing to the bands, and when beads would come his way he'd reach up and grab them until he had a smallish handful. When a lull came, a pause in the parade or a band stopped to perform he'd walk up and down the line beside the street we were on, passing out his caught throws to the little kids, putting a necklace on a little boy here, handing a frisbee or a stuffed animal to a little girl there.

It really got me. Oh, I know he's probably a native of N'awlins and been to more parades than a dog has fleas. I know he's probably caught more beads than anyone could ever keep, much less count, and as such has no need of that sort of silliness. Regardless, his calm demeanour and the way he'd almost reverently slip a necklace of purple and gold around a little girl's neck or hand some stranger's child a plush green and gold fish made me smile all the way down, much farther than the antics of the happy drunk fools on the floats, happier by far than my own haul of beads and froofraw.*

I even got his photo.


Yeah, it made me feel awfully good, seeing that gentle kindness happening right there beside me. Don't ask me to give up my bags of beads, though, and don't even trouble yourself to ask for my prized Krewe of Tucks stuffed Friar Tuck, with his foaming mug of beer and his toilet plunger. I'm not THAT touched.

* The photo set for Krewe of Tucks can be found here. Caution--large set. There's 110 photos in there (just the first batch,) so be ready with some time. Also, even though this was a family friendly daytime parade some of the photos aren't really work or family-friendly, hence the "Moderate" rating I assigned them. No nudity (drat!) just some racy stuff that you might not want to let your smaller kids see. Just try explaining to a ten year old why that man is dressed as a monk wearing giant fake comedy breasts. Better yet, try to explain why you're looking at that cat lady to your boss. Go on, I dare you.

Feb 21, 2009

Laissez le bon temps roule!

Irrelephant style!

Krewe of Orpheus rocks! Today we're headed into uptown NOLA for the Krewe of Tucks parade, known for the generosity and unique quality of their throws. Gonna fill another trash bag, sounds like!

Feb 20, 2009

Never Underestimate

The power of human stupidity, for it surpasseth even the most extravagant limits of its ability.

Long live Mr. Prawo Jazdy!

Feb 17, 2009


No, I'm not going to drag out that rather hackneyed bit about masks and how we all wear 'em, even if it IS one of my favourite brain-candy subjects. You know it, I know it, it's how we get by in today's full speed ahead society. And yes, I watched the new Family Guy episode Sunday too. *wink*

Not even gonna talk about American Idol, tho I have to admit Ryan DID do a nice job of recovering from a major screw-up on live TV. You go, Tiny Gay Man. Certainly better than Batman handled things last time.

I will, however, perhaps talk a little about Mardi Gras and Carnivale, and definitely some about a patient of ours who went rats-in-the-head crazy today. I may also talk about tits a little, we'll just have to see where the writing takes us, yes?

Today was weird, and by weird I mean 'gnawing the inside of your cheek to keep from climbing the walls' weird. The day went in all sorts of strange directions--Sweaty Fat Rolls, my ample coworker did even less than usual, leaving to run errands for the other office ladies twice before noon, then leaving for the day when I got back from lunch. Our clinical manager was gone for the day too, out marketing to doctors and such so we were really short-handed. Never fun in an office this small, but as fun as a swift kick in the gonads when you have a patient go insane on you.

In the home health industry you tend to get a lot of old people. No big deal, I like old people. You also get a lot of sick folks, people with surgical wounds, people that have problems that just don't get better anymore, so you get to work with people who are tired, hurting, and sometimes not at their best. The funny thing is, even though these people are sick and hurting and lonely I still have met more of them who are upbeat and happy than I ever met working some two decades in retail. *shrug* Go figure.

It's also not a shock to find the occasional abuser in the system. These folks are old, often confused, brains drying up and more often than not they're taking so much medication for so many different ailments that their mediplanners, little plastic boxes the size of a square salad plate with compartments marked for each day of the week and four times a day are so complex that they have to have our nurse fill it for them each week. I can't even begin to imagine the side-effects and counter-effects and cross-effects that all those weird chemicals have on these old people. The opportunity for pain pill abuse is also right there. Doc is giving you pain pills for your constant aches, so why not take two instead of one and sleep the afternoon away? Why not take a handful and really visit Lala Land?

We've got a patient like that. She had four different doctors (each unaware of the other) prescribing pain meds for her. Funny thing, it made her the Penultimate Southern Gentlewoman. She never rushed, always had a complimentary word for me, asked about me on the rare occasions I didn't answer the phone, and wouldn't see her nurse or therapists until they'd called ahead and let her know they were coming so she could be fully dressed (and by that I mean a dress, hose, shoes, everything but a hat and a pair of white gloves) and ready to receive them. I guess being mostly snowed most of the time makes it easier to be genteel. Who knew?

Then there's the lady today. She's been a patient of ours forever and a day, and has always had a kind word for me, even when she was having a bad day. She'd call, we'd chat briefly, I'd ask after her health and she'd tell me, either good or bad. I'd celebrate or commiserate with her, offer a few more kind words of encouragement and then route her call accordingly.

It didn't matter to me that her kids (both lawyers) had pretty much abandoned her, didn't matter that the nurses came back with horror stories of animals in the house and uncleaned feces and urine everywhere, fleas and roaches covering every surface in the summer and her with unhealing, open wounds. What mattered is that I could always be civil to her, polite and friendly, and she'd return the favor. I liked to think that I gave her a little light in what had to be a pretty dark life. Well, that changed pretty radically today.

She's taken to abusing her pain pills, you see, and along with her otherwise huge regime of meds it's changed her. Turned her into someone else entirely, a hateful harridan who lives only to manipulate, cajole, fight, snark and otherwise let every ounce of her body be atuned to hurting someone else. She started calling today threatening, cursing, accusing and outright lying, all with a weirdly flat affective, as though she'd suddenly come down with schizophrenia. Voice flat and almost emotionless, she'd call and deliver threats and lies equally with a flat, clear voice. We had to start putting her on speakerphone so that an extra person could serve as witness when the threats of legal action and physical violence began, and then we had to carefully and painstakingly record everything that occurred, in compliance with Department of Health and Hospitals regulations.

It got weird and sad and ugly. She took to calling and hanging up on us, like a ten year old playing phone pranks, then started accusing us of doing the same to her. It made me feel bad, wired and keyed up, tensed for the next blow and it made me think about the incredible complexity of the human brain, and how little it takes at times to tilt us so far off what we think of as a 'normal' range. Naturally all this was compounded by my having to do two and a third jobs at once when I can't even keep my one job's responsibilities up. Can you say "agitated"? I knew you could.

What surprised me was my office manager's behaviour. She sat in her office and received some of the most startling abuse with calm aplomb and a smile. She spoke politely, never raised her voice, was never anything but the very soul of compassion. Granted, when it was all done she'd often get up and get a big cup of coffee, wishing, I'm sure, that she had some Bailey's to mix in. I admire her deeply for her calmness. I wasn't having too much of this abuse directed at me and I was blushing, gasping, and toward the end of the day I was finding my inner monkey's hackles raising, wanting to leap up and defend myself, the company, my coworkers. I was ready to fling some poo at someone, I was.

The only thing that kept me from doing so was that same twenty years of retail, where I learned that it doesn't help to yell back, that most times that's what they WANT. It also helped to think of that old lady who used to talk to me about this and that who is still in there somewhere, unseated from her usual self by this...Other, created like Mary Shelly's misunderstood creature from odd bits and pieces, hit by the lightning of a bizarre and unnatural chemical brew and sent lurching out into the world to devastate and destroy.

Anyway. *S*

It's also almost Mardi Gras, and for the first time ever I'm going...well, close to New Orleans. You'd not catch me dead in the midst of that city-wide mania but this year you could catch me an hour or so away from it. In a New Orleans suburb, actually, there to attend a more family-friendly parade with the family. Lots less drinking, lots less full frontal nudity. Two parades I'm told, tho I don't know if the second parade we're attending is more or less family-oriented. I'm excited, actually, went so far as to buy a beautiful purple, green and gold mask to wear when I'm out yelling myself hoarse for beads and cups and throws of every sort. Which will end up, as always, in a big box or paper bag and get stuffed into the Art Closet where they'll sit.

Naturally as always I'm of two minds about it. I always have fun at Mardi Gras time, enjoy the foolishness and the masquerades and so forth, even if I haven't ever been to a Krewe party or a Mardi Gras ball. Part of me is really excited to be getting fairly close to the -real- Mardi Gras, where each Krewe actually hosts their own parade, not just single floats from each Krewe in a single parade down the maind drag. A tiny part of wants to sneak into the Krewe of Zulu parade where white people fear to tread and my dream moment of catching a gold coconut might be given fruition. Then there's part of me who really wishes it weren't Mardi Gras, because I'm desperate to get to Meyer The Hatters on Canal Street, so I can get my fedora on.

But I digress into haberdashery.

Interesting highlight--I'm told my father-in-law is going to dress as Elvis (I guess the short, middle-aged Chicano Elvis, not the young dashingly handsome Elvis nor the fat-drunk-dead-on-a-toilet one,) and I'm told by quite a few people that he actually makes a fairly passable duplicate for The King. Should be weird.

I promise lots of photos.

Feb 11, 2009

Infinite Grace

I've been thinking about a little piece I wrote today. All day it's been at the corner of my mind, a garter snake slithering around the bottom of the garden, a bird pecking at the window. Opening the document up this evening I was startled to realise I'd written it not only before I became "Irrelephant" on the web but before I'd taken the handle "Gentleman Rook." To wit, I wrote it thirteen YEARS ago.

My stars and garters but tempus can fugit.

I reproduce it here. It's long, I'll warn you, but I don't have time nor place to put it separately. I think it's worth reading. I think it's actually worth dragging back out and changing-polishing-retooling-rewriting it. Or so that little snake, that piebald bird is telling me.


Infinite Grace

The trucks rolled on into the night, one behind the other, four gunmetal behemouths traveling at bullet speed along the moon-cooled concrete.

I remember the first time I saw one of those giants. I was eleven, maybe twelve. They only run at night, when the roads are quiet and open, and I was drowsing off in the back seat of my parent's car, coming home from some forgotten cousin's birthday party. My parents had been fighting, as usual. I remember my father's quiet proud exclaimations, my mother's noncomittal noises. I pulled myself up on the back of their seat just in time to see what appeared to my muddled and dreaming brain to be an impossibly large, cyclopean snail shell, pulling a tremendously long millipede. Thus was the workings of my brain at the time.

As they roared silently past in the far-off other lane, I saw the huge banks of headlights, lighting up the roadway for what seemed miles. The huge black curve of their windshields, the swept sleekness of fronts and bodies, the hundred foot lengths of their trailers, and the deathly silence in which the caravan passed from my struggling view instilled in me a fear and awe that I think I shall never erase from my soul. My parents bickered quietly into the long dark night, while I lay shivering in the back seat, felled there by a raving fever that would not leave me.

The next time I saw one of those mostrous trucks was when I was sixteen. I had gotten a job as a labourer with a railyard in my Polis, Greater Bama. It was hard, brutally hard work, but I was young, and the pay at the time seemed a fortune. I was working a night shift, to make up for a buddy of mine, home sick. The work was the same, the faces different, and I lay into it like a man thirsty for destruction.

Late that evening, as the bloated boiling hole of the sun fell beneath the treeline, the truck rolled quietly into the yard, blowing grey jets of exhaust from hidden vents, it's convex black eye blindly sending out signals; radar, sonar, doppler, measuring, sensing, tasting the air and the dusk, sensing my apprehension and worship. It seemed to me that I stood there for an hour, like a wayward monk suddenly pinned in the gaze of his God, watching the man-sized tires crunching across the gravel-covered yard, seeing the incredible banked chrome wheels, seemingly a hundred or more of them down it's length, the carbon-fibre aero skirts hiding most of their black and silver bulk, but I could imagine their height, their Atlean strength. The foreman almost broke my shoulder blade he hit me so hard, and I ran off to help get the loader machines ready, poised to send the tons of precious food into the cavernous millipede trailer. It took the unseen pilot almost five minutes to get his machine aligned with the loading gates because the yard was so small, only several hundred yards across, littered with hulks of machines and bins, but the driver dealt with these limitations with grace and skill that I could only envy. He twisted, cajoled, smoothed, warped the semi-flexible trailer around the yard as though it were alive. Finally, the trailer's gaping emptiness was joined to the loading shaft, and the sexual connotations were lost to my adolescent mind, so engrossed was I in the machine's grandeuer and infinite beauty.

Its rounded cabin was painted a black-gunmetal, buffed to a silver sheen. A slow sweeping black windshield lay across fully half of the upper curve of the tractor, blending seamlessly with the body. The carbon coloured mirror body reflected back distorted images of the yard, our spindly man-bodies swarming around it's bulk like worker ants servicing their Queen. The instrument pods clustered in small groups around the tops and sides of the cabin swayed as though they were tentacles underwater, moving to currents and flows that only they could feel. To my overheated child's mind the pods and clusters met my gaze, and quickly, silently, smooth receptacles opened in the curved mirror smoothness, and each rounded lens or blunt probe softly slid back, snail-like pulling tentacles and protrusions, bumps and pods, into it's suddenly soft gargantuan body.

The driver unsealed the door. At first it was only a dimpled line in the smooth surface, but it quickly clamshelled open, slid up silently, a gull's black wing, an oval coffin lid. I caught just a glimpse inside then, saw the reverse face of the windshield, that long black mirror, liberally smattered with heads-up displays, camera views, and esoterica of the driver's profession. I think he saw me looking at his charge with my more-than-sexual need, and walked over.

He was a short man, and the only thing I strongly remember about him was that he spoke not a single word to me the entire time. He invited me over to his machine with a gesture, and instantly I was standing there. He gently stroked the fenders, the cabin, the massive round black metal sheen. Oval dimples appeared in the carbon side, steps, and a long indention to slip my hand into, to pull myself up the twenty feet to the door, even now lifting open again, the invitation unmistakable.

As I touched the handhold I almost cried aloud. That carbon black gunmetal mirror body, seemingly so cold and impersonal, was warm, flesh warm, alive warm. I recoiled slightly, then, like a virgin's first frightened anxious discovery of openness and welcome pleasures. I took a deep breath, and my nostrils picked up the dust of the yard, the almost palpable warmth smell of the animal's side, my own primitive fear and sweat. But over it all, like incense across an open coffin, I smelled the smells of the cabin, electronic ozone and butter soft leather. Emboldened, I climbed.

I climbed the impossible height to the cabin, and stood there, precariously balanced on the top steps, too frightened to step into the interior. I think I shook as the wind blew across me, but the dust in the yard was still. Inside it seemed impossibly large, a massive cathedral, wrapped in ancient smells and echoing with the prayers of the long dead. The windscreen dominated my view, a limitless expanse, fully ten feet, curled around a chair that seemed more a throne than a driver's seat. The driver pushed me into the snug cab, leading me to a spot behind his chair. When he was sure I was stationary, he slid into the leather caress with an ease born of familiarity. His hands lovingly caressed the matte-glass panel in front of him, and the windscreen warmed to life. On the outside of the cabin, pods and sensors shyly extruded, and with a few gentle touches of his hands, the screen was filled with images. Dominant was the view out the front of the cabin, from a camera apparently a full thirty feet in the air. I could just see the top curve of the beast's hull from that view. Around that disturbing surreal picture was ranged smaller views; the sides of the truck, images from just a scant foot off the ground, scenes along the soft swollen black sides of the trailer, views inside the slowly filling cavern, over it's doors, more pictures and images than I could easily digest.

And information abounded in improbable patterns there, like gold on a priest's garments. So many readouts and numbers and images. Engine statistics for an engine that I couldn't even hear running, ambient temperatures, doppler radar images of the land in front of us, behind us, around us, the sky above us and the firm earth below, a tiny blinking dot that surely was us, the truck, the surrounding buildings, and an incredibly intricate map, like so many clustered green veins and arteries. Sounds and images and so very much data thrust at me from the wrapped screen, and the driver sat there, like a long dead king from an ancient forgotten land, watching the ebb and flow of his servants and courtiers, immoved my the grandeuer around him. A quiet chime sounded, and with a few gentle passes of his smooth fingertips, the cameras showed us both that the trailer was full, the mirror feeding us data, statistics, information, times of arrival and departure and infinite eratta. A touch on the glass panel sealed the trailer seamlessly.

I stood there, struck mute and lost. The driver looked up suddenly, and as if to give acknowledgement of his prescience, several bell-like chimes from his vehicle signaled the approach of two more of the land-trapped behemoths, each sinuously winding into the yard. The driver gave me one painfully searching glance. I was trapped for what seemed a frozen forever, anguishing for the rest of my life over this cusp. Stay, or go. Stay with this stranger in his machine of infinite strength and grace, or return to my life of toil and unfulfilled dreams. Ride the forever empty moonlit concrete byways, pass through the night like the ghost of a dream of a dead man, running errands for the gods of commerce and trade, or stay here, trapped like a rusting iron anchor in deep mire, unable to move past my drone's existence, to serve for all time the quiet proud queens as they moved in and out of my life, gravel like ground bones beneath their ranked tires.

I cried as I watched the gunmetal ship sail from the loading yard's bright lit harbour and out into the tractless night.

Feb 9, 2009

Moderation In Everything--Especially Moderation

I've been trying to get back here and write, I swear I have. Time, however, seems to have a different agenda for me.

Busy. Oh my stars and crossed garters I've been busy. Busy enough that when I get a few minutes to sit still on the couch (covered with two puppies) or my office chair (usually covered by a cat) I tend to doze off rather than blog or surf pr0n or anything constructive like that. It's gotten bad enough that here of late when I'm face down on the table at the back-stretcher's office and they put those electrodes on my neck and lower back and throw on the big heating pads that feel like they're made for horses I have been dozing off.

Yeah, it's gotten that bad.

So. Don't be lookin' around here for no sensible post today. No sir.

Puppy Love

Remy and Sheba are GROWING. Remy is now pushing the scales at 40 pounds, Sheba right behind him at a svelte and girlish 35. This at less than 20 weeks old. Watching the Westminster Kennel Club on USA Network briefly this evening I realised that Remy will look a LOT like the Borzoi there when he's grown. Only not so retarded. And not so snipey in the features that he looks more like a female than a male. Ye gods save me from Borzoi with faces like ferrets and a gait like a sailor fresh off the deck.

Remy and Sheba

Au Natural

You guys and dolls know I love Nature in Her infinite diversity, even when She's got the fan turned up so high we can't fly the balloon. Well, I spent part of Sunday afternoon waiting with the crew and the prospective fliers for the wind to die, and it never did, but Nature gave me something else just as marvelous. And no, it wasn't Bayou Boeuf, either. It was geese. Thousands of them.

I didn't know geese prefer to spend their nights on dry land. Well, while we stood and sullenly waited for the knots to drop down a little we started hearing and seeing ragged vees of geese. Not just one or two, now, I mean dozens of vees, each with huge numbers of birds in. Then it got busy. The sky literally FILLED with geese and what David called "water turkeys," some sort of very dark, long-necked cranes that made beautiful, low mournful hoots to counterpoint the exuberant honking of the geese as they passed overhead in the hundreds.

The show went on for the better part of half an hour. A wave would break overhead, filling the sky with wings and honks, then another, then another. They were circling an area of several miles, trying to land in an open field that we think was being cultivated, so they were ready to stop but agitated by the machinery, so they never quite settled until almost dusk. Then, finally, they started gathering in a huge, grey-white blanket.

Geese Landing


It was astounding. Moving. Extraordinary. I wanted to risk a high-wind inflation just so I could grab the burner, kick the passengers aside and fly up and over that mass of birds, but with my luck I'd end up being the first hot air balloon pilot to die from a fatal bird strike.

Don't get me wrong, we did get to fly this weekend, just once instead of twice. It was a real learning moment, too--an early morning launch from the outskirts of a little church's graveyard (hey, we certainly didn't wake the neighbors) where the wind decided at the last second to change directions about thirty degrees. It put Jim and I in a real struggle to keep Skybird settled long enough to finish the inflation ("Since 9/11 we no longer call the process of inflating the balloon 'blowing it up.'")*

Toward the bitter end my forearm muscles were on fire, but I didn't dare let go of that crown line because I knew it'd end very badly. But, get her settled and inflated we did, after an eternity it seemed, and the really nice young couple from Mississippi got to take off into the sky at a break-neck pace. Break-neck for a hot air balloon that is, so call it maybe 10 mph. It startled me to see her climb into the sunrise so fast, leaving us ground-pounders far behind in a heartbeat.

Morning Silhouette

The chase was nice and easy, the wind having decided to pretty much parallel the highway we were on, so it was just a matter of staying a little downwind for 'just in case' moments. Thinking the wind was fast and heavy enough to push them all the way to the local airport David had me try to contact the tower just to let them know that we'd be operating in or near their airspace. Frankly, I hope there's no terrorists reading this blog, because Abdullah my friend, if you try to contact the local airport security office (or ANY part of the terminal) any time other than M-F, 8-5 you'll get a recording. Couldn't raise a person to save my infernally damned life.

Fortunately the flight ended shy of the airport property (I'd hate to think that we'd have to wake someone up to come bring the keys to unlock the gate so we could recover the balloon) but the most memorable part occurred close to the landing. David reported that they'd startled up three or four does and a buck, and they were running in front of him, somewhat toward us. Jim and I were coming up on a huge field bordered by a shallow bayou and a line of trees, and we caught sight of yet ANOTHER buck, a four-pointer, moving fine and fast and sleek along the tree-line on our side.

It was amply rewarding just to watch it move effortlessly along, a tan blur marked by scissoring legs and white flashes from a proud tail, his antlers a lighter tan counterpoint over his head like an exclamation point.


The landing was gentle as anything, the field we recovered in was firm and carpeted with a fine down of rye grass growing, and the cool of the morning hadn't blown or burned away yet, but the moment I will most remember about that flight is that buck, bounding with that easy grace across our field of vision.

More thoughts?

Always. Spring is near. The leatherjacket flies are arriving, all spindly legs and blurred wings. My garden is growing, tiny points of green leaves amongst the brown. The rainy season is coming back upon us, meaning I HAVE to get Rita running again ASAP. The tax refund came in and is already spoken for, as is the next six or seven we get. Circuit City's clearance sale in their less-than-one-year-old local store? Sucked ass, but people were in there like maggots on a week old piece of meat. Doesn't anyone think anymore? Want to go see more ballooning? Bayou Balloon Adventures--I'm the new webmaster! Tell me what's broken.

Words of wisdom to leave you with? How about this gem--never eat a porcupine arse first.

Hope to see you soonest.

* Attribute that little gem to our pilot, David Miller.

Feb 2, 2009

Runnin' On At The Head

VW and I used to do this thing when we worked together...

No, not THAT thing, a different thing. Sheesh. I can't leave you guys alone for one hour without coming back to find you've got your hand down your pants. I swear.

We worked about fifteen feet apart in our old office and we could see each other and talk at normal levels, but there was something about email that set us both off. It didn't take much for one or the other of us to report some little tidbit or other, and that would be all it took to set the other off on a tangent and then we'd try and see which of us could be stranger.

We still do that now that we work several miles apart but not nearly as often. Being on two different work wavelengths must do that to a body. Anyway, here's what we managed recently:

From: Irrelephant
Sent: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 4:11 PM
To: Vulgar Wizard
Subject: Re: Obsession.

The new scent from Budweiser.

From: Vulgar Wizard
Sent: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 4:11 PM
To: Irrelephant
Subject: Re: Obsession.


Irr: I don’t know, I’m reaching here.

Just runnin’ my mouth. *G* Haven’t been able to accomplish anything today, figured I’d just run on at the head.

VW: Woooowwww.

Irr: The local just passed carrying two center-spine lumber cars, then about a jillion boxcars, then a center spine lumber car. *shrug*

VW: Then a spineless jellyfish . . .

Irr: Then an oblong llama.

VW: Then a bearded fat lady singing.

Irr: Then a clean-shaven emaciated guy mumbling poetry.

VW: Then R.A. on two wheels with a flaming ostomy.

Irr: Then an elephant precisely balanced on the border of Poland and Russia.

VW: And THEEEENNNN a little man with a big shovel and a kilt for some odd reason.

Irr: And then behind him an even smaller man with a smaller shovel and a kilt (also smaller.)

So, my question now becomes--what would YOU put next?