Friday, December 21, 2007
Hank focussed on his drink. He didn't want to let it sink in that he had gotten involved with Sneezly. If there was one thing you wanted to avoid, it was getting on Sneezly's radar, because once you were on it, the only way to get under it was to go six feet down. And now he was at odds with Sneezly, it wasn't as if his Debt wasn’t a problem enough.
The broad and her case were bringing all sorts of trouble Hank's way, the fact that he had predicted just this situation was as comforting watching a firing squad slowly load their weapons.
Across the table, Freddy wiggled .
"I don't know what that is, I don't know why she would want it."
"She?" Hank gave an evil eye to the blur across the table.
"I didn't say she, I meant, you know, he, she, doesn't matter."
The raisin shaped head jittered as it talked. He looked around, as if waiting for someone to end the meeting suddenly, possibly by the use of small arms fire.
Hank took out his sizeable if questionably functional gun and thumped it on the table.
"You know, Freddy, I'm not a usually violent man."
"He has only killed or maimed 23% of his contacts in the past quarter," offered Greg.
"See? I'm not usually. But when a trusted friend and confidante -- such as yourself -- starts lying to me, then tries to cover it up...” Hank paused, ”Well."
"23%." repeated Greg. Hank wasn't quite sure if Greg knew how menacing he could be with statistics.
Freddy, or the shadow that was Freddy, stopped, as if considering which dangerous and probably lethal option to take. It was an agonized silence.
"Alright, alright. A lady, she was wrapped up, she came by and offered me triple what you guys usually do. She went in. Honest, I had no idea what she was after."
"What did she sound like? What did she look like?"
"I don't know, it was all via text to my Desktop. She didn't say anything. She smelled like violets though."
Hank's mobile transmit went off. He checked the display, it was Him. Hank answered it, his voice went low, and his eyes stuck to the ground.
"We gotta go Greg."
"Just when things were getting interesting? We are walking away from our lead in this case just because you received an unsettling phone call? Honestly, this is a bellwether of where your career is heading."
"It was from Him, who I owe the debt to."
Hank nodded as if any sudden movements might set off a heretofore unseen bomb.
They walked out of the bar and into a large robot that smelled of expensive oil. It grabbed both Hank and Greg and walked into waiting ship. The ship lurched as it shot into the skyway.
It was dark. A speaker somewhere above crackled on.
"It seems, Mr. Pirelli, that we have a friend in common. Say hello to, oh I suppose you call her Jane or some similarly dreadful name."
"Hello." the voice was sultry, and almost too close; it sounded like silk being drawn under duress, too tight.
"You okay Jane?"
"I'm fine, for now."
"You had the pendant all along didn't you?"
"I... I did."
"I had to have someone distract other people who might have been interested in it. I’m kind of important."
"Right." Hank tried not to breathe in her smell too deep, warm violets. He put his brain to thinking of some sensible plan that didn't involve him screaming and possibly fainting. He grimaced. Trying to save yourself from almost certain death and looking cool was nearly impossible.
The lights came on, and Sneezly Simpernel strolled into the cargo bay. The floor rumbled, the ship was going an appreciable speed down the skyway. He had come to gloat, thought Hank. Sneezly held the Perma-Ice pendant on his fingers, playing with it.
"So.." he began.
Jane's hands flashed and out flew throwing knives, long thin and silver. They skewered his hand, he screamed, the pendant fell to the floor. In a fluid motion she dove, caught it in the air and rolled to a crouch. She looked back at Hank then up, her eyes widening.
The very large robot with the expensive smelling oil whirred to life. Greg in the confusion had already made his way to the back of the larger robot. When turned on, he lept up onto it's back, snapped a few tools from his wrist, removed the robot's head panel, and rewired a good portion of it before it could take single step forward.
"Old robots are old and tired, it's true. But we learn a fair bit along the way. Lady, and gentleman, shall we depart?"
Sneezly had activated a not so silent alarm, and suddenly the sound of running boots echoed down the hall. He screamed, drew a long sleek gun and leveled it at Jane as she ran towards Hank. Without thinking about the possibilities of a terribly disfiguring misfire, Hank drew and shot. The weapon made a sound like crashing metal. Sneezly dropped to the ground, from fear and shock. A sizable hole was in the opposite wall, quite far from anywhere Sneezly might have been.
Hank and Jane clambered on the large robot, and Greg drove. First he made it rip a good hole in the bay.
"This is the sort of robot that has thrusters, isn't it?" yelled Hank over the howl of the outside wind.
"I do hope so."
The large robot jumped out of the ship, and they free fell. The repeat of laser weapons roared behind them. Hank's eyes streamed tears from the ripping wind and he tried to focus on the worst problem. The fear from the shooting goons was replaced by the terror of dropping at terminal velocity at an Earth that could not be dodged. An explosion like TNT being detonated with a few hand-grenades went off. The robot had finally fired it's rockets. Hank and Jane held on and Greg maneuvered the robot to safety.
The Debt was being called. In a small dark oak paneled room with darker carpeting Hank waited. Greg waited with him, quiet, almost non-plussed. Hank had not gotten the money, or enough money. He hoped his death would be quick.
The Mayor, as he was known, walked in. He was a tall thin man, wore the same grey suit, and spoke quickly, cutting every word with the precision of a particularly high achieving surgeon.
"It's come to my attention that there is a Debt to be paid."
"A very serious one, in fact."
"Don't interrupt me." The Mayor motioned towards the door and in walked Jane.
"My daughter is the most important thing in my life, Mr. Pirelli. When I heard that she had been taken by Mr. Simpernel, there was no telling what destruction and wrath I was prepared to unleash upon the city. He's man who would like nothing better than find an excuse to kidnap my daughter, and excise some blood from me and my territories. Imagine, he said my daughter had stolen a pendant.”
Jane fluttered her eyes down. She was a delicate flower to her father. A victim in this whole ordeal, Hank kept quiet.
“ Something one of his men had been transporting when he had been, uh, liquidated. Naturally he needed an excuse to hold her hostage, to maintain face in front of the other Families.
"I was stuck, Mr. Pirelli. I couldn't challenge his honour. It was his word against mine. And I couldn't launch an all out rescue attempt, not without bringing the wrath of all the Families upon me. And then there you are, suddenly, saving her, delivering her to my doorstep.”
He gave a brief appraising look at Hank.
"In short, Mr. Pirelli, your Debt is paid."
The air smelled of robot oil. The expensive kind you bought for large robots with impressive strength and limited morality subroutines. A robot that might have been able to leave a dent in a magtronic arcanium shelf.
Sneezly Simpernel leaned against the desk. His robot goon sat on the ground, great big robot head sized holes in the ceiling were clues as to why. Sneezly looked at Hank and Greg with large watery eyes. In another life, those eyes might have looked at you evenly while the owner of said eyes muttered irregular income declarations and forensic accounting. But this wasn't another life.
Hank took a slow breath. He had many ways to play this, but only one wouldn't get him killed immediately. He met Sneezly's gaze square, "Look here Mr. Simpernel, I've done nothing wrong, you can't just come up here and rough up my joint."
"On the contrary, Mr. Pirelli, you've done a grave injustice!" Sneezly looked him over, then slowly smoothed out his suit. It shimmered as only things that are sold by old finicky European men shimmered.
Greg took a step forward slightly in front of Hank. "My employer is in the wrong here, no need to vociferate so, Mr. Simpernel." Hank could hear the low thrum of Greg's main power unit spinning up.
Sneezly sneered. "I don’t need to do anything. Especially when your employer has been snooping around places he shouldn't, looking for things that don’t belong to him."
Hank spoke up, "I do what my client asks of me, Mr. Simpernel." He squeezed his left arm to his side, re-assuring himself that he still had his gun there. A sizeable piece of machinery that was dangerous only because since was so old, no one was quite sure what would happen if he fired it.
"Alright, you want to play it that way. That's fine. We've looked for it here, and, " he motioned to the robot, who crouch walked over to Hank, turned him upside-down and shook him. Change, his previously comforting gun, and a few embarrassing play cards dropped to the ground. "Now we are done. If we ever find out that you had it, we'll be back for a visit." Sneezly gave the half-smile of someone who didn't often smile, but had practiced a reasonable facsimile for the right occasion.
Hank and Greg both sat on the ground, both looking at the same non-descript spot on the floor.
"So he doesn't have it then."
"And we certainly don't have it." offered Greg helpfully.
Hank wondered briefly how much it would cost to upgrade his logic chip. "So... someone else has it? Crap.”. He added a little too quickly, “Not because I'm scared of Mr. Simpernel." He glanced at Greg, who of course, didn't care either way if Hank was a blubbering coward, "Ok, I am, but that's not what’s really worrying me. What’s worrying me is need to solve this case for the money. I owe money."
"You mean you Owe Money."
"Well, yes. Yes, I suppose it's that serious." It was eerie how robots could capitalize speech, but you didn't get a few quadrillion transistors without having some advantage in voice synthesis, he supposed.
"And let's not forget the client. You seem to be deeply concerned with the outcome of our work when there is a client is of proper age who exhibits appropriate phenotypic fertility characteristics."
The transmit buzzed. Hank ignored Greg's comment.
"Hi." said Hank. Somewhere in the ceiling a few directional speakers and mics found him and initiated the call.
"You've found my trinket?" the voice steamed with something that made Hanks voice go furry.
"You've reached a roadblock?"
"Some nasty people are after it."
"Oh, did I forget to mention that?" she purred. Why did women always feel the need to purr when they were about to put Hank into more than likely fatal situations. Never mind that it worked every time.
"Yeah. A little." Hank hoped the complete shut down of his verbal capacities was interpreted as raw sexuality and manly reticence.
"Well, that's why I hired you. You were the man for the job, they said."
"They are always saying that."
"You _are_ the man for the job, aren't you?
Hank started wondering if he was.
"So, what would you suggest now, then, Miss... uh... I never did get your name."
"Jane, if you please."
"I suggest you start hitting your underworld contacts, and get back on the trail. I paid you, and expect my money's worth."
"We aren't a cliche, Jane, we don't have 'underworld contacts', but I'll see what we can do." He signaled to the transmit to hang-up.
He turned to the robot.
"So Greg, which of our underworld contacts would know what's going on?"
Freddy was what the human race would have looked like if we had taken a hard left early in the evolutionary tree and evolved from an overly ambitious set of raisins. He was sunken and wrinkled, and had the air of not really caring about anything. He did everything like an afterthought, Hank could almost believe Freddy didn't love the ponies as much as he did.
Greg kept lookout by pretending take himself offline for internal diagnostics. In the older models, such as Greg, it was expected (particularly anything from Maverick Light Industries).
Hank snuck inside the evidence room, apprehension played across his face. The room smelled of old mothballs and something that had gone mildewy and stashed under a hollow ceiling panel and forgotten. The lighting from a flickering panel gave as much light as a dimming Timex.
He reached the shelf, and right where the object was supposed to be was an empty cardboard box. The pit of his stomach did a few spins. There was more than one group looking for this little trinket, and one of them had found it.
The object was -- from what Hank could figure out from the info -- a small necklace with a piece of Perma-Ice as the pendant. Water wasn't meant to be worn, in Hank's opinion, but if people wanted to sell ice that was cooled by generators in another dimension, who was he to stand in the way of capitalism.
He looked at the shelf closer. There was a sizeable dent in it. A sizeable dent in a shelf made of tempered magtronic arcanium. Whoever was here was big, heavy, and didn't particularly care about leaving behind a trail.
The Zyoraption Mark IV was a sleek little number when it had come out; now it was just a sad craft driven by mid-life crisis addled men who were low on cash and high on crises. For Hank, it was just something to get around that was slightly faster than the average. It streaked around the airway, Hank focused on his nav-screen.
"I say, where are we off to in such a rush?" said Greg.
"The office. I think I know who swiped the goods."
"You don't think..."
"But he's a gadabout town, a nothing. They say he only puts on airs of his more shadowy dealings."
"It's a double cover. He acts like he puts on airs, but at the heart of it all, he's a ruthless mob boss."
I hope you enjoy it.
She walked in, more serious than a third heart attack with more curves than the back-streets of San Fran. She had a slink; a way of moving across the room that made every Tom, Dick and Harry eye her like their lives depended on it.
Hank knew she was no good, rotten, down to the core; but he also knew he hadn't had a paying client in three months and a Debt whose financer had gone from Breaking Knee-caps Mad to Dispose of Through A Woodchipper Wrathful; besides with legs like hers, discretion went out the window like last week's newspaper.
This was the problem of course. Every very major problem he'd had to shoot, beg, and drive very fast away from involved exactly this sort of dame.
Greg beeped awake. His dull green body clanged to attention. Hank could always see the shiny brass stamp on Greg's back when he sat up, "Maverick Light Industries, Inc.", it read, which was not entirely accurate.
In a voice that was what an American engineer thought a British person sounded like in the 18th century, Greg said, "Greetings! Pirelli's Private Detective Agency, no assignment too tawdry, no client too shady."
Hank cringed. He hoped she wasn't the sort of rotten to the core client who took airs.
She leveled a gaze at Hank -- looking past Greg like he was furniture -- and right then Hank knew he was the only man in the room, in the building, hell, in the city. It was him and this broad who could melt a city block with her gaze. Something in the back of his mind recognized the gaze, and deep in the basement of his brain, alarm bells were ringing. He shut them off.
Her voice came out lyrical, low, like she was used to talking to woozy men with suddenly sweaty hands and stammered speech. "I have a job that needs a man of your," she looked him over quickly, he tried not to black out, "discretion."
Hank bit on his lower lip hard, "I'm your man... We're your men, I mean."
She continued talking, he barely had enough time to get out of the way. Not that he'd want to...
"Dead bodies don’t scare you, do they Mr. Pirelli?"
"As long I didn't know them, or like ‘em."
"You don't know this person."
"We're not talking about hypothetical dead bodies then."
"It's not anything too illegal is it? We charge extra for that."
"The death is being investigated by the real cops, but there was something that the deceased had of mine. A trinket." She cast her eyes down, fiddled with her purse, then fluttered her eyelashes up at him, "But it's of enormous value to me, sentimental."
Ah, thought Hank, some ill-gotten gain that's worth a few million more than the client says, and has more problems than trying to collar a rabid bobcat in zero G. It could be nothing, but it never was.
The small pile of payment-due e-cards floated menacingly on his Desktop. They were friendly; how a firing squad captain might be before he gave you a poorly lit cigarette and asked you about last words. Rent, utilities, bills bills bills, and Greg was due for a power-core overhaul two years ago. And then there was the Debt. Hank was, in short, not a man who could be picky about his assignments, even ones that were so obviously meant to put him six feet under.
"We'll take it."
"I'll send a message to your Desktop."
With a last flickering glance at the room, she slinked out. Hank watched her leave.
"Hank. Are you certain that was a prudent move?"
"What's the worst that can happen?"
"You could be riddled with laser holes, specifically through your main fluid pump, and I'd be sent unceremoniously to a scrap yard."
"It's called a heart. And don't be ridiculous, they'd sell you back into service."
Greg sniffed, a buzzy noise that sounded like a malfunctioning voice amplifier. "Slavery, is what we call it Hank."
It was just a gut feeling, the danger, but it had happened so often before Hank knew it to be more of a certainty. Could he risk it? Necessity was the mother of Invention. It was also the slightly abusive foster mother of Putting Yourself In Harms Way and Acting Against Your Better Judgement.
Hank pushed the e-cards around his Desktop, they flickered and scattered noiselessly. They would not be ignored for much longer. And then there was the Debt that did not come with an e-card. It came with a craft-bomb that detonates just as you start your ship, or with a finger of a loved one in a small box. If Necessity was the Mother of so many things, Debt was the alcoholic step-dad with the taste for cheap scotch and way with Louisville sluggers.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
I know you are wondering what sort of perks you can get by reloading this page every week. What exclusive content can be gleaned from this lowly blog that you just can't get from offering me some gin and a friendly punch in the arm? Well, gentle readers, this is what you get, an (anonymized) copy of the Niteowl Family Christmas Letter! All for your greedy little eyes!
Now stop pestering me!
(jk! pester me! pester me!I need your attention! There are like, hundreds of millions of blogs out there, so thanks for browsing this one).
Another year has come and gone in the land of rain and ridiculous real estate prices, and the Smiths haven't changed too much.
Sometime around May or thereabouts, we moved from the wonderful and walkable West-City to the less walkable and sort of wonderful (but much more spacious) City East. We acquired a 3 bedroom townhouse through much hand-wringing and not a few close calls. We now have a stamp-sized backyard, a finely neglected garden, and an entire bedroom to ourselves.
Mary is working part-time at a long-term care facility, with Lola (grandma) Smith taking care of Jane on the days she works. Mary enjoys it, and has gotten offers for more hours at another facility, but reasons that if she's going to spend time with people that fart incessantly, can't quite clean themselves, and prefer bland food, those people might as well be her daughter.
Joe is still at the University as a Systems Analyst, and is eagerly anticipating his retirement in thirty odd years. His commute time has gone from the reasonable 30 minutes to the I Hope You Enjoy Reading 60 minutes. Luckily, Joe does enjoy reading, and tries to think of his commute as being driven to work in a very large taxi.
Jane has grown considerably. There are clothes that no longer fit, toys that are far too childish for her, and the whole idea of crawling is downright repugnant. She motors around with the brazen eagerness of someone who has never quite had a bad fall. She enjoys playing with pots and pans, measuring spoons, and pieces of paper, all the while ignoring her motion and pressure sensitive talking stuffed rabbit and various sundry toys (almost all which have not been recalled by China - as far as we know). When she's doing anything, she finds the activity much more enjoyable if she's babbling at full volume. We both suspect we might have suffered low-grade ear-drum trauma, but what's a little deafness in the 200-232khz range for your daughter?
Molly is still Molly. She sleeps, then when she needs a break from that, she finds another place to take a nap; upon being completely exhausted from that, she might wander to another place and grab a snooze. Between all this activity she tries to stay out of Jane's way, which is becoming harder and harder as Jane's foot speed reaches unsettling speeds. Molly has also gotten a fan in a little four year old boy four doors down who can apparently “talk about Molly all day” and treats every visit from her like she's a combination of the more talented Beatles, the Pope, and Santa.
Wishing you the very best of the season,
and every season, now that we think of it,
The Smith Family
Monday, December 10, 2007
There are a certain class of people who take transit who either believe that they are Too Good for Transit, or else that I'm Only Taking Transit As A Stopgap. Maybe their errari is in the shop, maybe their Jaguar car-pool is experiencing a rough patch, or maybe their job as a mortuary transcriptionist doesn't pay as much as they think. They've deigned to wallow with the masses, as it were, muck about in the public transportation system and bear it. Hey, they might have a fun story to tell at their next Thomas Pynchon Book Club meeting.
There are a few tell-tale signs of the Uppity Up. The first is that their clothes costs more than all the bus-riders clothes combined. The second is that they invariably take a seat, then decide that in order to block the great unwashed from sitting next to them and bathing them in body-odour and/or the overpowering vapours of cheap gin, they take up a whole 'nother seat with their bag.
Now, it might be that their bag contains some secret service document that, if released, would spell the end of the free world as we know it, and lead to a second epoch of civilization, one ruled by a small set of cliquey, hyper intelligent raccoons. It might be they are carrying with them the only known live specimen of the Black Plague. These are all reasonable reasons to take up two seats when you are not, in fact, attached to your Siamese twin.
Every other excuse makes you look like an Uppity Up.
It takes a certain sort of willful ignorance to sit at your seat, your immaculate Italian leather atttache case laying smugly beside you, while what looks to be hundreds of transit riders hang on for dear life, each eyeing the semi-empty seat with covetous eyes and pure anger in their hearts.
People being what people are, generally don't say anything, and just wait out their short and painful bus ride, all wondering how plausible their defense for justifiable homicide would be if they plunged their umbrella through the Uppity Up's heart one or thirty nine times. Sometimes someone speaks up, and asks the Uppity Up, if they could possibly move their attache case so that the incredibly decrepit lady with the 30 pounds of groceries and the advanced case of varicose veins might sit down. The Uppity Up, will feign surprise, as if their vision had not been entirely obscured by the fifty transit riders all standing.
Monday, November 12, 2007
One group that can always fill my quota for the word 'fuck' in a casual sentence are the construction workers.
"So, fuck man, I was, fucking, like, doing that fucking job, right? And fucking, fuck, like, I dunno, that fucking guy just wasn't listening."
"No fucking way. That's fucked."
"You still having that fucking thing. That thing you were fucking talking about?"
"Alright, alright, I'll give you call later."
It's awesome. I'm not sure what the purpose of the word 'fuck' is in those sentences. They are kinda like filler. Like so many proust quotes at a New York socialites cocktail party, it's just fluff to fill out the speech.
I'm not sure what it is about construction workers or blue collar workers in general, but I usually feel the need to be involved in some manly activity, or to, in some way, justify my manliness in the face of such raw testosterone filled men. I mean, they run big engines, or 'rigs', their toolbox and its contents costs more than my new quad core box, they have union reps, they talk non-ironically about bowling leagues (probably not the last point, that's just their lives being filtered through my understanding of Fred Flinstone).
It's probably just me, being a white collar weanie, in my khakis and sweaters. And I'm certain that the feelings aren't reciprocated. I'm certain that the forklift operator I sat next to yesterday isn't suddenly thinking if he has read up on the latest differences between Plasma, LCDs, and DLP, or hoping that the nerdily guy next to him doesn't ask him if the latest ASUS chipsets are out.
There, is, if you will, a hierarchy of Things A Guy Should Be. Dirty, knowledgeable about anything that runs on gas, a passing fancy for military weaponry (you should, for instance, know the difference between an AK-47 and an M-16 and know that the most over used handgun in action films today is the Desert Eagle), and a sundry other things that I can't publicly discuss lest I be found out by the Guy Brotherhood and beaten with rusty carbuerators (I should probably know what those are). In this hierarchy, geeky things just dont' apply. Things I like to know about, are way down on the list. That is, if you take a broad cross-section of guys.
What am I getting at? I'm not sure. Maybe it's that the construction guys on transit make me seriously consider picking up the latest issue of Lowrider and have a quick browse through Wikipedia to figure out where a winch goes and how it works. Maybe this is just so much conversational 'fuck', if you will, in the great big blather that is the blogosphere.
Friday, November 02, 2007
This is apparently a perjorative term used by the British Intelligence toward the Indian National Army. I'm not sure why sides in a battle always decide to think of slang terms to 'put down' the enemy. It's not like the other side cares. It doesn't affect their ability or willingness to kill you with whatever weapon that their government has trained them in. It's a little like throwing marshmallows at the State Puff Marshmallow Man. I mean, it's kinda, oddly ironic and everything, but the Marshmallow Man doesn't really care.
And isn't there that whole spiel about sticks and stones? I mean, it's one thing to use names and words that have been taboo in your community and society for generations. I can understand (even if it is still, on an intellectual level, absurd) how one might get riled up about that. But someone who's job it is to kill you, calling you a name they had just made up? It kinda takes away the sting.
Some might point out that it's a way of dehumanizing the enemy. Of putting a false face on the other teenagers who are about to riddle your body with inconvenient holes unless you do the same thing to them first. I mean, you certainly wouldn't want to start calling them by their real names. "Oh yeah, I sure shot Hector up good there. Good and dead. And Johnny too, plugged him before he did that military objective thing that his high command -- that has never met him -- just ordered him to do." Yeah, I can see how that might be a bit creepifying.
That just might be an interesting defensive strategy. Give all your soldiers clearly defined named tags with a few factoids. So when they die, the enemy has to read out their name, and perhaps the fact that Mark here really liked the Rolling Stones but nothing from the Steel Wheels tour.
Man, that would sow all sorts of conscience within an army.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
For some reason, full-scale environmental Armageddon has fallen out of fashion. When I was a whipper snapper -- plunking tokens to play Tron and Elevator Action -- a scarred environmentally-collapsed wasteland featuring overpowered cars with questionable safety features was cool. Adolescent boys from my era were taught that deserts were rad, or even, awesome. From Dune to Tattoine to wherever the hell Mad Max lived, pop culture was tellings us that greenery was for silly boys who actually thought Ewoks were a good idea and not the hell-spawn debasement of all that is right and good in the world.
But now, now we care about the environment. Anyone who has taken any sort of course, in well, anything, can tell you that Stuff is in limited supply; in this case, that Stuff is clean air and water. Before getting all hemp-sweatered and tie-dyed on you, let me just cut this short and say that environmentalism is a good thing, it's also just Common Sense.
(It's a pity that there are two groups on the issue, and I'll avoid political entanglements and just break it down to "People who thinks we should listen to Scientists when dealing with Science", and "People who think Economists have a lock on all this Sciency stuff, because, after all, they sure helped us avoid all those recessions what with their fidgety models which are only good in hind-sight". So much for avoiding political entanglements.)
But the seasons are turning, we are rounding the corner on that most profligate of holidays, I'm talking of course, about none other than Saturnalia. I'd detail the excesses of it here, but frankly, I don't want to bring down the wrath of the Watercooler Censors (a shadowy group trained primarily in lethal ankle holds). Let's just say that the consumer free-for-all we alternately enjoy/suffer under is not even close to how the Romans celebrated Solstice. And it's this spirit of excess that makes the holidays a tempting time to let go of our inner Suzuki and embrace our inner Bachhus.
I'm not suggesting that we all eat tofurkey in the dark while eating only fruits and vegetables grown from our compost heap; but there are ways to lessen our impact on the Earth.
- use LED Christmas lights instead of incandescent. They have a groovy glow and last ages longer.
- try to buy food that's grown locally, as much as possible. Closer to home means less fossil fuels used to move it from the ground to your plate.
- buy stuff for the younger ones that don't run on batteries. Chances are they'll be much less annoying (the toys, not the children).
- plan ahead to reduce multiple car trips. It'll also reduce your exposure to holiday traffic.
- consider knitting all your Christmas gifts. Or at least, you know, making some of them. A tastefully decorated frame with a loved ones picture is sometimes more appreciated than the Gigawatt Whatsamathinger For Your High Definition Entertainment Needs.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
But there are times when I'm pretty well flummoxed.
The almost old people. They look like they could be old... But they are fighting off aging with a large stick of denial and not a small amount of hair colouring. You watch them, they don't look around expectantly, they grab a hold of the overhead bar and hold on for dear life like everyone else. Does one offer their seat to them, thereby embarrassing them into accepting their old age, and by extension, I suppose, their closer demise to the march fo Time? Me, being the weak willed coward that I am, simply suppose that it'd be too embarrassing for me, and simply stare at the ground meaningfully.
And it's always trickier when they are men. Older men are a rarity on the bus, in any case. they are a transient sighting, sure to never be seen again. Perhaps their crotchety yet usually dependable American sedan with the rear wheel drive and terrible gas mileage is in the shop for its annual checkup; perhaps they have loaned their car to the wife for just one day, while they try an adventure aboard the public transit; it's never clear. And what's even less clear is whether they would take your seat if you offered it to them. They usually have the stalwart expression of a person who has maybe seen an actual pitched war in his hometown of whatever european village he seems to have been airlifted from. A little standing is nothing to him. He'll let all those soft young people keep their seats, what with their rock music and disco.
Ah, the vagaries of transit etiquette. The only thing for it, of course, is to take the bus at god awfully early hours, thereby winnowing down fellow transit passengers to construction workers or insomniac office workers, and maybe the odd geek who looks about worriedly, hoping that the next person to get on the bus isn't a crotchety old man with a dyed toupee wearing a faded uniform from D-Day.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Current Bid: Error : Num must be >=0;
Time left: Not enough
Start Time: 08-08-1986
Ends: Sooner than you'd think
History: Surprisingly short and uncomplicated.
Item location: Fort Wadsworth
Ships to: If price is no object, anywhere; if it is, then approximately 3 blocks away or anywhere that isn't Mumm-Ra's secret lair, whichever is closer.
You are bidding on a programmer model from sometime in the 70's. Has a faulty memory unit that can't remember anything that hasn't occurred in the last 5 minutes unless it involves Transformers or is one of the many plastic figurines that had 30 minute long commercials on Saturday mornings (which were only broken up by 30 second ads for other plastic figures which had their own 30 minute long commercials; well, that and Easy-Bake Ovens).
This piece was found neglected underneath a rather shoddy flight of stairs that has frankly injured or killed most of my older relatives and has thereby been relegated to the 'do not use' category of household areas. Luckily I was looking for some near lethal baby playthings from 1950's that Grandma said she stored under there, even though they are all covered with lead paint and have as much safety as a pinto backing up at full speed down the interstate with a trunk-load of surplus grenades, they do have a certain charm about them. And what would you know? Instead of finding the charming yet oh so lethal toddler playthings, I stumbled upon this unit. Yours for the low low price of whatever anyone is willing to pay.
It has an admitted tendency to blather on about things that only first year Compsci students might find interesting, and only if said Compsci students are enormous gaming nerds with less chance of getting a bird in bed than Liberace in San Francisco.
For all collectors, this unit is in his original packaging, khakis and a non-ironic, solid colour t-shirt that probably hasn't been changed in the last 4 days or so.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Ronald, I'm the man for you -- not because I'm willing to forgo my attachment to heterosexuality and overcome my terror of a clown in erotic repose in my bed -- no, I'm the man for you because of my undying devotion to you and your cow-packaging empire.
Sure, you had your legions of multi-billion dollar ad agencies feed my mythology starved childhood with images of a Burger Kingdom with semi-sentient, glass wearing fries and an endearing break-and-enter specialist who could think of no better use of his nefarious talents than to steal goddamn burgers of all things. But let it be known, that I embraced said brainwa-- I mean indoctrination, wholeheartedly.
I've been a Mcdonald's acolyte ever since I could voice my preference for where to eat; it was never Burger King (even though I suspected that they might be better, and be serving something that was actually food, and not just 'food' in the strictly legal sense), and not even Chuck E Cheeze (that terror house of animatronics), always the Golden Arches. That abode for a clown who had no circus to perform in, no bar mitzvahs to create complex ballooon animals which all looked alarmingly like a weiner dogs. You were my first and only choice.
I've never waivered, never faltered. I won't leave you like that goddamn moon-faced drifter Mac Tonight (where is he now, with his promise of late night trysts and badly covered jazz standards?). Loyalty ranks high on my list. Even after I found out that the puke inducing slime that covered the mandibles of the Alien in the eponymous movie was in fact your milkshake thickener, I did not waver. Nay, my love for all things semi-edible, with a beef-like scent and packaged in Golden Arches packaging seemed to only increase as I grew older.
And then there was you. The omni-present, ever smiling, ever genial, proto-Michael Jackson with more wholesome pedophilic tendencies (who has their likeness turned into a statue that sits on a park bench for crying out loud? crreeeepy). Your disturbing nature was counteracted by your Hanna Barberra like universe you inhabited, and your lucrative Disney tie-ins which had me slavering in consumerist-diabetic shock for the latest hyper-carcinogenic plastic bauble featering what's-his-face and who's-its-name.
There's something comforting about your easy going nature and the simplicity in your demands (eat Mcdonalds, only Mcdonalds). I feel drawn to having a romantic relationship with you as a dyed in the wool card carrying Communist might want to have a roll in the hay with Lenin, or Marx (no, not Richard Marx, God never intended for hair to be that feathered).
Who would form a solid, albeit strained (remember the whole hetero and Terror Of Erotic Clowns thing I'm dealing with) pair bond with you? A bunch of narcisstic smarmy assed, game-designer blowhards who have the emotional intelligence of a poorly made Czech sex doll; or me? Your ever devoted, brainwashed devotee of 31 years?
I'd think the choice is obvious.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Name People Actually Use:Gin-soaked semi-coherent programmer of questionable merit; that guy, over there, you know, that guy; some intern with a surprisingly long term appointment; Old Man Smith; 30-something that still plays video games.
Preferred Room Temperature: anything that doesn't result in internal hemorrhaging from the ICE crystals that are formed in my blood from the liberal application of 100% UNCUT FREON to the air ducts (which are the chief proponent of the ironically named Climate Control System (I guess Department Wide Morale Breaking System was taken)).
Favourite Game: Yahtzee!! No, just kidding, I have no idea what that game is or how it's played. I think there are dice involved. I suspect it's really just a tamed down version of craps. But then I suspect all dice games are tamed down versions of craps. Except D&D. Back to the subject, favourite game? Toughy. That's like asking God who her favourite children are. I'm sure she has a few, but she feels guilty about having them as favourite, and they aren't who you'd think they'd be. So I guess I'll just say it's some game 97% of geeks have never heard of (let alone you normal people (and bots!) who read this blog), and leave it at that.
Preferred Simpson's Character:Moe, because he's so damn tragic. And he has the greatest comeback ever to Bart's prank phone calling. Oh, and Comic Book Guy, because humour is funniest when it's so very true.
Preferred Karaoke Song: I don't do Karaoke -- publicly, or sober, of course. But forced to pick one, it'd be "Rocket Man", by Elton John. Because it reminds me of Buck Rogers and his devil-may-care attitude about How Things Are Done in the Civilized 25 Century. He had ideas so wacky from the ancient 20th Century that, by god, they just might work. Good ol' Buck.
Food group most prevalent in work cubicle: According to a past co-worker, something that smells like "Dead skunk" (seasoned costco chicken breasts, apparently). That was the past. Now it consists mainly of the smooth taste of Diet Coke. MMmm! That's Asparliscious!
And in a desperate effort to get comments, any comments, let's hear some Living Cartoon Profiles from some of you? Or at least a few of the traits, don't have to do the whole profile.
Friday, September 28, 2007
But! The witty banter and entertaining email templates they send back and forth I found inspiring. I know JPod was supposed to be this really depressing dystopian group that has been caught, Kafkaesque, in the backwaters of some multinational conglomerate; but hell, it looks like they have a good time.
What's most important to note is that I'll be using their email templates as fodder for this blog. Some sort of wish fulfillment on my part. Perhaps somewhere the universe will listen and plunk me into a working cubicle group just like Jpod. My current group is sort of like JPod, actually, except more penis references, and a brand of humour that can only be labelled as post 90's two-drinks-from-alcohol-poisoning-frat-boy-chic. Oh, wait, there is a link to the ProdBlog on this blog, so for those of you who have ventured to click on the link (don't do it now, it's too late, and you can never unread the sort of crass, half-brain dead humour that sends us HOWLING into the aisles) you'll know what I'm talking about.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
What follows are what I hope is the somewhat entertaining email trail leading up to our spectacular defeat in the Staff Bocce semis. Yes, I'm lazy, I know.
Subject: Bocce Tournament Semis
As pursuant to articles 83 through to and including III. V. a subsection K, clause 301982 of the "International Office Workers Bocce Tournament Agreement, Rules, Stipulations and Errata", I hereby officially initiate a bocce match between:
John and Jane
Jim and Mike
This will be a single knock out match, side-bets and over under percentages are still pending from Vegas.
Please keep it clean, the organizers of this bocce tournament would like to re-iterate that they do not officially condone eye-gouging, fish-hooking, or well placed elbows to the unsuspecting mid-section.
The date is set for:
Wednesday, September 19th, 2007 A.D.
Match is to be played at:
Bocce Bloodbath Pitch of Death (aka, whatever that scraggly, root infested bit of lawn is called in front of Smith Hall)
I hereby fulfill my responsibilities and wish all particpants good luck and God Speed.
Steering Head Committee Co-Chair Vice-President
Prod Bloc Bocce Scheduling Working Sub-Group
Subject: RE: Bocce Tournament Semis
We see your match and raise you three oxen and two of your children.
Noon on Wednesday, September 19th would suffice.
Subject: RE: Bocce Tournament Semis
You take all 3 and it’s a deal!
Subject: RE: Bocce Tournament Semis
Intentional ‘throwing’ of the game is strictly forbidden Mike.
We are watching you.
The Committee will need to see the oxen before hand, to ensure they are indeed oxen and not, say, overly aggressive cows with a penchant for pulling.
Children need not be inspected, but they should be the offspring of the bettor and not -- as has previously been the case -- the local urchins with a song on their lips and a well-rehearsed kicky dance number at the ready.
Jim, as he has no children, and is apparently allergic to the very sight of them, offers up one large, delightfully delectable tuna casserole.
Steering Head Committee Co-Chair Vice-President
Prod Bloc Bocce Scheduling Working Sub-Group
Subject: RE: Bocce Tournament Semis
We are having a lawyer check into the stipulations cited below.
Let us know if Smith lawn at 12pm on Wednesday September 19th works for you.
Subject: RE: Bocce Tournament Semis
Dear Soon To Be Crushed Underneath The Feet of the Never Before Defeated and Never Will Be Vanquished Prod Bloc (not to be confused with Soviet Bloc, who, while terrifying, obviously had an unnatural preference for the colour red),
Your lawyer is not fit to lick the boot-heels of our well-paid, homicidally dedicated crack team of Notary Publics. They not only read every word, they re-read it and then double check for both British and American grammar. Prepare to be riddled with quid-pro quos and other Latin phrases that may or may not mean you’ll be handing over your personal property to a large multi-national bank.
Vis-à-vis changing venues, I’ve consulted The Athletes, and they are not unamenable to changing it from the honourable and storied Bocce Bloodbath Pitch of Death, to the shifty, accursed and frankly, Communist sounding Smith Lawn. Since you have an aversion to dabbling, is ‘puttering about’ still on the table? We hope meddling is still kosher as well.
The day of the furious bocce action is deemed acceptable by The Athletes.
They will not be submitting to drug testing.
May you Cower in Fear,
Steering Head Committee Co-Chair Vice-President
Prod Bloc Bocce Scheduling Working Sub-Group
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
This generation -- and by this generation, I mean the swath of people who speak sarcasm as a first language, sincerity as a distant third, and tend to speak most of their time in permanent air quotes-- longs for things that are genuine and authentic. Maybe that's why the men of this generation love the Godfather so much. There is a code, there's honour, there's brutal killing in the name of family loyalty. What guy doesnt' want that?
And so maybe that's why my work was drawn to bocce. A way to get in touch with the Old World. Even if the Old World wasn't exactly my Old World, you take authenticity where you can get it.
Our team, which consisted of four people (two which play any one match), all assuredly not Old World, all assuredly speaking almost exclusively in air quotes, had climbed to near the top of the tournament. Through guile and a few lucky arbitrary bounces from exposed roots, we had made it to the semis.
Now, I wasn't playing, no, I was in charge of organizing it, which is another story for another time. There were many emails exchanged. Not a small amount of trash talking. This was bad karma. As Lady Justice would have it, the people who I so unjustly made fun of were near pro level. I think they practiced. I wouldn't be surprised if the older gent had a small endorsement deal with a seer sucker pants company. Maybe a small print ad in Competitive Bocce Quarterly.
But hell, the boys we fielded were strapping lads. Known to play a game or three of hockey. A sport singularly known for allowing fighting and only getting really upset at the violence when people go paralyzed. Players of such a sport could surely give any mere bocce player a run for their money? Not so much.
To make matters more.. uhm.. compliant to our winning, when it was our teams turn to set up the target, we would HURL the target UPHILL as far as we possible could. One of the opponents, it appeared, was not overly gifted in the upper body strength department.
Even this shady tactic didn't work.
The Cup for the bocce tournament was not meant to be ours. I think we might have bro-- ok, I might have broken some unspoken rules about trash talking opponents I don't even know over email. What can I say? I was egged. Or I was bored. Either one. And then the team that we fielded held less than stellar ethical concerns over an intramural work bocce tournament. I guess playing a game where hitting is expected tends to dull finer sensibilities.
In the end, I think the gods of the Old World taught this little worker-bee something authentic about sportsmanship.
When do we get to whack people?
Sunday, September 09, 2007
I firmly believe there are many Happy Fun Balls in the world. Not literally mind you (barring any that might be in possession of the darker parts of the US Government), just people that make you realize Happy Fun Ball was a very real universal metaphor.
There you are, trying to appear to be enjoying yourself at the latest Adult Forced Socialization Event -- be it work or a strata meeting or Block Watch -- and suddenly you find yourself talking to a really optimistic, shiny happy bright guy. He dresses like the hipper portions of the Sears catalogue (which are just not overtly square), he talks with an oddly clean sense of humour and a cheery outlook on life.
You wonder, perhaps too late, why no one else is chatting with this positive chap that makes Mary Poppins look like a five dollar crack whore cornering you behind the Bob's Rifles, Liquor and Adult Magazine Store (only because, hey, you thought you and your boys could stand to finish off another forty of Gray Goose, and this part of town isn't that bad) with a crooked smile, a broken bottle, and skin that looks like she might have had intimate relations with a sand blaster.
You catch out of the corner of your eye, the other people at the gathering giving you furtive, pitying glances. Like you are a fluffy bunny caught in the jaws of a long forgotten bear trap. Others look at you with a grim satisfaction, as if they were in your place not too long ago, and still bear the scars.
Time slows. Your mind -- the part that asks no questions and takes things at face value, the part that suckers you into buying a lottery ticket when the jackpot is some obscene number -- is quite happy to have found someone so energetic and so positive. So much better than the disaffected youth of, well, pretty much every era since man could feel disaffectation. What a gold mine! Why can't we all be as positive as this great guy! Bursting with verve and positivity! You might even make a silent promise to yourself to be more like this person, every day! Every day is a new day! A rebirth! A day to be born again! From the coursing rivers of blood.
Somewhere between talking about the unreasonable cost of vinyl siding and the generally accepted fact that politicians are grand lacerny artists with a gift for public speaking, he's caught you. That snapping sound is the wearied gears of the long forgotten bear trap springing into action.
The look of pity from the rest of the people is palpable now.
Luckily you can't dwell on those looks too much. You are busy thinking of every single socially acceptable reason to turn down this fellow's invitation to his group or church or really fantastic direct marketing opportunity. Something not too obvious, something that hasn't been repeated a thousand times. All the while firm in the notion that he has a quick and stunning counter-argument should your excuse be predictable enough.
Think fast now. Think hard.
And remember, do not taunt Happy Fun Ball™.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Oh, and produce!
I think it has to be a mark of adulthood to be excited about produce.
When I was a kid, and we'd go for some vacation to yet another boring landmark (with not a single arcade in sight) about some misguided explorer who had died along the way to a destination (where I'm sure he was expecting opium and cheap women, but who the plaques invariably cast as a starry eyed dreamer, bent on discovering the world for road-side diners and the more boring parts of textbooks). We'd inevitably find some long lost fruit stand. Abandoned except for a weather worn sign and a disaffected youth who oozed small-town teen resentment.
My dad would stop our full sized van (you remember the ones, they had the gas economy of a small tank and was made only slightly less uncool by dreams that it could be, with a paint job, some mags, and maybe a wicked red spoiler, look just like the van from the A-Team. They weren't 'crossovers', they gave no impression that they could do the Drakar rally or that they could handle the power if you dropped a hemi in it and tried to take down the local punks in an old school drag race. They were family-mobiles.) and get out excitedly. He and my mom would get bags and bags of cherries and apples and peaches and other things that were quite obviously not candy-bars.
They weren't even fruit roll-ups.
The rest of the trip would be them going through the produce, munching away, and always, always, trying to offer us fruit. As if it was some sort of treat! It must have been the trail fever, making them think they could pull a fast one like. What was next? Offering us asparagus instead of fries? A hot bath instead of a dip at the beach (also known as a near death experience with the coastal undertows)?
Vacation was clearly when the regimens of Healthy Eating were supposed to be loosened if not cast aside all together. Things should be deep fried, processed, re-processsed, post-processed, sugared, candied, and in other ways made to be only slightly less dangerous than injecting lard directly into the heart. Everyone knows that, especially children. It's something that must be written into our DNA : When vacation comes, you can eat anything and everything. Particularly those things that usually take a fair amount of wheedling to get otherwise. (It's my opinion that road-side attractions could save a lot of money on packaging and advertising if they just sold candied lard. It might be a bit of a tough sell at first, but I think the honesty would be refreshing.)
So it was quite alarming when my wife and I went for a road-trip to Alberta. Which, to anyone not from Canada, means absolutely zilch, what's important to note is that we had to go through many small towns filled with angst-affected youth manning all manner of fruits stands. And I'll be pickled if we didn't stop at some of them, hurry out of air-conditioned oasis and excitedly collect all manner of fruits. I think it was somewhere near my sixth cherry when I realized that unless I found a deep fryer to throw this fruit in post-haste, I'd lose all connection to my childhood.
Unfortunately I was interrupted when I had to dodge a full-sized van that, with a paint job and a wicked spoiler, would be a dead ringer for the A-Team van.
The next blogger in this chain will be TBFKA Taosbound, who will have the unenviable task of making sense of this and writing something that, unlike this post, will have to resemble English.
My Midnight Muse
(The Blog Formerly Known as) Taosbound
The Death Wizard Chronicles
Kappa No He
A piece in the puzzle
Sound Off Blog
Virginia Lee: I Ain't Dead Yet!
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Sometimes I am under the deluded impression that I am special among the countless rank and file, that perhaps I can string together words just slightly better than the next bloke who can never spell 'weird' correctly and always smells of cheap cheese.
This delusion, of course, comes from friends, family, and yes, even strangers. I'll pass a piece I'm working on to a family/friend, they'll read, it, and think (or only say out loud) that it is indeed, the best thing since sliced bread. Maybe even the best thing since sliced pizza (which is when I know they are lying, some fibs are just too big).
I'll even submit it to any sundry number of online critique forums, where, admittedly, they don't exactly gush over it. But they don't quash it like the rubbish it quite rightly is. But when you are counting on that very same person you are critiquing to critique your 5000 word short story about a semi-sentient bat who has an affair with the farmer's daughter before ridding the world of the Robotical Demonoid Dragon King Ur'zahkoonaga, you tend to go a bit easy.
This is all a very round about way of saying that one can never, ever be sure if the fiction one writes is any good. Never. Or at least, I've not gotten to the point where I can tell. Which is a cruel trick of the gods, in my opinion. It's like being a painter, making your creation in the dark, and then sending it out sight unseen hoping that it's in fact, a painting of a gazelle on the serengetti and not a feeble attempt at erotic plush velvet art featuring My Little Pony and the only boy in the Strawberry Shortcake universe.
What makes this even more aggravating is that one isn't sure if the stuff you are sweating and grinding out is actually terrible, or just terrible for that one editor who has sent you a form letter with a neatly printed personal note at the bottom to 'Please, please stop sending me fiction, my eyes can only bleed so much until I'll need yet another transfusion'.
Is the piece crap? Or is that editor's taste just not yours? Is it any good? Or do you need to go through the requisite mountains of rejections? At what point does one just blindly believe in (what always sounds magnificently pompous) "the work"?
It's a balance between pig-headed faith in yourself and a sensitivity to the objective quality of your writing. One has to constantly shovel (yes, I do realize the image that brings up, its not entirely inappropriate) your work out there, blindly, hoping that at some point, some near sighted editor lets it slip by and you no longer have to wonder. As much.
Monday, August 20, 2007
Er, not so much.
We live in a semi-forest. It's a bit of a greenbelt that has a singular purpose: to conceal a veritable warren of townhouse complexes, constructed when sustainability and community-centered eco-dense living were, like, totally in man (as well as hashish, Fighting the Man, and mushrooms of the magical variety).
It's pleasant to gaze at the forest, the paradise of nature at your doorstep. A deer and her fawn frolicking among the salmonberry, dew still clinging to their chestnut coats. Tall, majestic trees, giving the first hints of autumns approach. Perhaps a robin, bringing breakfast to her hungry chicks, wrinkled necks craning to the cooing of their mother.
Nature is nothing if not a delicate interplay of life and death, biomass being recycled, created, life in all its forms struggling to fruition, for survival, against all odds. It's also a great place to find out how many things find you simply delectable. If it doesn't bite you, sting you, or give you an embarassing rash, it doesn't belong in nature.
Living in a forest reminds you of just how miserable our ancestors had it.
But we forget this. We have posters of great big (cougar concealing) trees and (mosquito infested) lakes posted up in our cubicles. We forget the life our ancestors lived on the raggedy edge, meting out a subsistence living in which one could either die from a warring tribe, a carnivorous mammal who nobody had bothered to name yet (everyone was a naturalist back then, I'd imagine, and things were either "oh good, eat!", or "oh shit, run!"), or from say, an appendicitis.
Yet there are days when I realize how good I have it in my slowly rotting wood and drywalled box. This morning, at approximately Bloody Early O'Clock, I was reminded that I do in fact, live in a rain forest -- even if we don't call it such -- and sometimes it gets monsoons. The rain fell in, not buckets, no, that would imply there was some space between the falling droplets, it was more like a fire-hose God had turned on us riotous mortals, while giving serious thought to Releasing the Hounds.
In the city, it was almost pleasant. There were enough large acoustically deadening buildings to reduce the rain to a soothing pitter patter. In the forest, every single leaf is a Blaupunkt stereo, and I am the crotchety Eastern European neighbour who is just trying to make some pirogies in peace, damnit, why do you have to blare your music that sounds oddly like Niagara has been diverted to my backyard with the volume turned to eleven?!
It was knee weakening loud.
It brought images of old tribal gods being raised from the pagan dead to crash through the trees, and swallow me whole, their unspeakable hunger not unquenched, only reawakened to darker pursuits (yes, I've been reading some Neil Gaiman, why?)
One can absolutely understand why tribes believed in all sorts of deities linked to the weather. In that brief moment, as I stood in my carport, wielding my frightened umbrella , I kinda sorta didn't want to step out into the rain. And not just because I wouldn't be able to hear a semi-truck if it was two feet away.
It was the forest.
That them forest isn't all gummy bears and dewdrops. For a brief moment, I gave nature the deference, and yes, the fear, it so rightly deserves.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
Names have been changed to protect the privacy and whatever. For best effect, please read the following the most poshest British accent you can muster. Possible a voice that could do colour commentary for both the British Open and Wimbledon.
On a dreary day that washed the verve from our great city, lovers of sport held their breath. Before the day was over, blood would be shed, tears wept, and not a small part of Canadian history would be made; for on that downtrodden, rain-spattered August 10th, four warriors of athletic endeavour would clash on the field of sport. It was the 2nd round of Enrolment Services and Student Development & Services staff Bocce Tournament, and the game, was on.
That day, fighting for their tournament lives, were bocce veterans Stan Smith and Mary Jones versus upstarts and virtual unknowns Sam Emery (representing the UK) and Larry Spielman. While Smith was known to be still nursing a blown rotator cuff from the 06' All Euro Cup, Jones had improved significantly, placing in the money in several satellite tournaments and very well in early heat qualifiers. All eyes were on Smith, however, as Vegas odds put him at 10-1 odds of him bolting at the last minute. In addition to his tragic rotator injury, there are rumours of doping with 'Cappuccino', a highly addictive neurochemically unbalancing enhancer. He had been skittish of late, ducking all scheduled interviews with the press corps. Jones, ever the consumate professional, refused to entertain speculation that her long time bocce compatriot was anything but top fighting shape.
Their virtual unknown opponents were last minute wild cards whose pedigrees were far suspect, particularly when put up to the uncompromising light of the venerable Smith-Jones. Emery had cut his teeth in the no-holds barred bocce fields of Essex and had spent a number of years terrorizing the North Vancouver Bocce Clubs with his aggressive style, decidedly British puns, and a ruthless eye for measuring pallino distances. Spielman was far worse. Many speculated that his purported early years in the novice bocce fields of Maple Ridge were exaggerations at best, and more likely outright fabrications. He, like Smith, was haunted by accusations of addiction to 'Diet Coke', a drug that, while related to Jones's 'Cappuccino', was used only by less savoury players.
The thousands strong audience were in for a suprise as the golden pair of Jones and Smith was broken, Smith was absent from the field. Initial responses from his PR firm alluded to him having the flu, which was starkly retracted with a more broad statment regarding conflicting engagements. Jones had to hold the field against the two brazen players who, in this commentors opinion, were not fit to mow the lawn.
In a show of dazzingly athleticism, Jones took the early lead, beating out the rag-tag duo to the score of 2-0. The audience surged behind her early lead, and as if to put the last nails in the short bocce career of Emery-Spielman, Smith mounted the field. The game was all but over. Spielman, showing his uncultured and, dare I say, barbaric misunderstanding of the chivalrous sport of bocce, was heard to call the pallino 'that white ball thinger'. Emery looked lost, and stumbled across the field, his throws lacking that early promise of talent, however unrefined it may have been.
To the surprise of many, and to the chagrin of bocce lovers everywhere, the Emery-Spielman duo plowed ahead, showing their unlikely skill in the distasteful 'short game'. Leading at one point 12-6.
Jones and Smith buckled down, dug deep, and found the champion duo that so dazzled the world in the 2003 India-Asia Finals during the fabled 'Uproar In Bangalore'. Smith, coming out of what many saw as a caffeinenated stupour, strategized with Jones to play the more honourable -and as a happy circumstance, their opponent's weakness- 'long game' . They clawed their way back, kicking the Emery-Spielman duo for every rung they dared ascend. It was a grueling battle, where the bocce balls were often measured in tenths of a millimetre. Natural obstacles featured well in this match, notably where the Emery-Spielman team benefited from an unlikely series of lucky bounces, while the more talented, and far more deserving Jones-Smith suffered set back after setback through no fault of their own.
In the end, the poorer team caught too many lucky breaks and sent the real champions, Jones-Smith, back to the training fields of BC. It was sad and upsetting day for bocce purist everywhere, a day not soon forgotten by this commentator.
Monday, August 06, 2007
It's not like, say, Walmart; people don't have strong opinions of Costco. Either you need to buy a three years supply of almonds, or you don't.
But before Walmart --blight-upon-small-towns-- gained the ire of well-meaning progressive types, Costco might have been a small blip. It ostensibly would have raised the hackles of well-paid professionals at their twice monthly cocktail parties and benefit silent auctions. It's a blight on the landscape, many would have said, it pulls people away from independent groceries and shopping centers : the supposed heart of any community. It's impersonal, corporate. It would have had had many of the same criticisms that Walmart has now. Minus the really really evil ones.
Although, as an armchair city-planner and would-be dictator of the world, I'm not sure the things Costco has taken from us are all that important. Important to me, that is. Maybe I'm the sort who doesn't feel a compulsion to socialise with Old Man Cooper who has owned the grocery by the roadside diner for coming on thirty ought years, and damned if he still is trying to sell rutabagas (50% off). I don't find a small collection of locally owned shops to be preferable to a hangar of goods with it's own gravitational orbit.
Shopping is not a social experience for me.
Hell, if I had my choice, I'd get my comestibles and toiletries sent to me via a complex yet aesthetically pleasing series of pneumatic tubes. Someone name Fourier would man the tubes. He'd have a PhD in Steam Works Arcanum or some cool shit like that. My food would come in heavily riveted containers with my initials embossed in faint blue lettering. Yes, maybe I've thought about this a lot. Or maybe I'm just trying to drive home the idea that shopping need not be social.
Besides, Costco, for all it rips from the hearts of small towns, gives us something that's been lacking in this permissive and lax society: dedication. Real, earnest dedication. No hemming and hawing and "Oh I better phone Ethel, she'll know what to do, she always knows what to do" and checking tea leaves with tarot cards and a small portable weegie board for good measure. No. None of that nonsense.
Costco asks, nay, DEMANDS dedication. Because when you buy that 18 pack of Irish Spring, you better be DAMN sure and dedicated to using Irish Spring for however long it takes a normal person to go through 18 bars of Irish Spring. And who cares how it desiccates every pore of your body and leaves you a lifeless shell, crying out for the blessed touch of a French moisturizer that may have aloe and possibly vera. Who cares that your dry skin has become so flakey that your boss has sent you to get checked for leprosy three times.
This is Costco, this is how Costco rolls. You better know what you like. And you better like it, alot. You better be the damn editor of the local newsletter that covers that product. You better have been invited to the production plant where they make said item and filled out many and multifarious questionnaires. The CEO of that company better have you on his personal Christmas card list. Because you'll be buying enough to supply a small island nation, or a one of those crazy families that are always on TLC with 23 or something children and the mom has a look of bliss that, without a fraction of a doubt, is driven purely by barbituates whose high concentration is non-lethal only to King Kong or a mother who has given birth to 23 or something children.
At Costco, you don't buy reasonably amounts of food. You buy goddamn blocks. Blocks, bricks, cubes. Large, heavy, shrink wrapped shapes that could easily be used to construct a makeshift house or a scale model of the Great Wall of China.
And it takes a dogged determination to finish those things. Dedication to using every last bar of that goddamn shipment of Irish Soap. Because you are a Costco Shopper. And you revel in knowing that you will indeed be eating Captain Tasty's Fish Stix for 4 straight fricking months.
Which is all why, I think, Costco no longer takes the heat that Walmart so rightfully enjoys now. Costco is sacrifice. Costco is dedication. Oh, and Costco doesn't do that whole 'exploit their workers' and 'take life insurance out on them so that the company can profit from their death' thing either.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
We went to go buy a sectional a few days ago. Now that we are out in the burbs, we have enough room for furniture that is not featured in the latest dystopian sci-fi film with a good-on-paper but terrible-in-practice brainwashing authoritarian regimes and limitless seas of white people dressed in grey. Films that illuminate the unreachable spark of the human soul and how the bastions of technology and society will never breach it, nay, not in a thousand years, not in a thousand million years, and definitely not with shock troopers that have been creatively garbed using 3 gallons of white spray paint and a $57 spent at the army surplus store.
In fewer words, we can now afford furniture that can fit more than two petite, overly polite exchange students.
So we went to the area around town that sells furniture: it has great edifices built on the idea that industrial warehouses can be semi-attractive and not depressing at all furniture showrooms. Never mind the exposed metal rafters overhead, or the fact that the waste incinerator is a scant 30 meters away. No, keep your eyes downward. To the richly textured laminate flooring which expertly reflects the more boring hits from the 70's, 80's (and the tamer parts of the 90's) piping from two tinny speakers across the vastness of the warehouse.
I mean showroom.
And it's not enough to have one of these monstrosities. No, we have to have several of them. All in a row. Which gives one the silly impression that maybe there are savings to be had. Large showrooms brings to mind bulk sales, which brings to mind vaguely shoddy furniture at deep deep discounts.
You would be wrong, of course. They aren't any cheaper. The stores managed to maintain whatever sliver of pretension they had; before they became enormous repositories of dark green corduroy barcaloungers that will never be as valuable as your father-in-law cherishes it in-between rousing NFL plays.
Salespeople hover nearby, dressed three times better then you even at your own funeral. They dote. They question. They cajole. But not too much. They don't lay it on thick. They know today's internet-ipod-community -sourced-edgey -XGen-progressively -forwardly-backpatible-yuppie -ecowarriors are wise to the old plays. The motormouth listing of features. Grandiose comments on luxury and nefarious claims on 'quality'. No no no. That won't due. For the consumer nowadays knows what Finnish village the lumberjack grew up in who happened to fell the particular white spruce that makes up the main supporting frame of the ottoman. They know price per yard of this or that fabric. They know the commission rate of the sale-peoples, the latest benefits to be cut from the warehousing staff, and the why light mauve will NEVER be the 'new black'.
And so we trudged, we walked, we marched through all the stores. Comparing, squeezing, measuring. We were treated with distance.
Particularly in the stores that were for only the upscale clientele. The ones with ostentatious chandeliers (are there ever un-ostentatious chandeliers?) and salespeople who look too well monied and well-bred to be working at all, and perhaps work the job every odd Thursday as a lark, and to get away from Odessa Wordsworth, who simply won't stop crowing about her latest small slam at that bridge tournament three months prior. In places like this, ordinary furniture has prices of biblical proportions. A child's bookcase can run a full $1500. One thousand five HUNDRED dollars! All to carry a few completely ignored toys, one beloved stuffed teddy bear from the latest cartoon, and a single book that is read, by memory, every single night.
So those stores we quickly run from. But the rest, no matter how different their branding is, always manages to be the same inside. The same couches, the same salespeople, hedging around you, making sure not to tread on any well-known and well trodden booby trap. Respecting the customer, letting the customer come to them.
It got tiring.
On our last trip, to the last store, in the Great Big Furniture Store Block of Massiveness, we were met, or, er, intercepted, by a salesman. Not a salesperson. A salesman. Because when he started his career, there were only men on the floor. They smoked cigarettes and made disparaging remarks about the 'damn pinko ruskies'. They wore one type of glass frame (horn rimmed with enough plastic to withstand the shrapnel from a point blank grenade) if they did at all. They had the same ranting discussions about baseball, or hockey, and somehow still managed to blame it on the 'commies'.
So this fellow intercepts us. His moustache and hair are dyed in what can only be described as a Black-Hole Black. So overly dyed that you can hear the screams from photons as they got sucked into the pigmentation. Light steadfastly refused to reflect off of the hair.
He takes one look at us. I'm not even sure if he breathes before he's off and running with his pitch. It's fast, it's furious. His arguments and points go up, around, does a little loop-de-loop, buzzs the control tower, then explode into several smaller, faster planes, which continue on their paths. He's confused, we're confused, but he continues on. He makes wild claims on quality, outrageous remarks about luxury. And although his speech is fast, it has an easy-going quality. One gets the impression he missed a very good living being a highly successful -- if FBI-sougt-after cult -- leader.
I look around, wondering if maybe we wandered on a used car lot without really knowing. But we haven't, and he isn't selling cars. He's selling us a fabulous sofa. It's ridiculously fabulous. Why is he even selling anything else? The showroom is a waste of space is what it is. Waste of space. This right here is top of the line. Better than (insert some sofa brand we supposedly know about) and much better than (insert another name, possibly a sofa brand, possibly a brand of unfiltered cigarettes). Hell, the material is (mention an arbitrary value, say, British Coinage Stamps per farthing).
It's hard not to get wrapped up. Luckily, he is selling a sort of good product. It's made by local furniture makers. It has a really good warranty. It, as the saying goes, practically sells itself. Which is either a testament to how conducive I am to slick devil-may-care salespeople, or a reflection on the very real sectional we'll be getting in 2 to 3 weeks.
Hey, maybe those dystopian sci-fi brainwashing films were onto something.
Monday, July 23, 2007
Buying a new computer is a geek rite of passage. For the masses -- those who have no idea what a d20 is and have really no opinion on Greedo and his itchy trigger finger --it's a foreign concept. They know not the agony of buying a computer; for them, it's a simple matter of buying it from Dell.
Ah, but the geek carries a heavy burden. For the geek, there are endless reviews to read. Specs and opinions, reliability ratings, benchmarks, and voltage readings. For the geek must, must find the optimum component for his computer, and cobble it together, piecemeal, a Dr. Frankenstein working in digital parts.
He must give birth to the perfect PC.
And it's arduous. Technology moves fast. What may have been the perfect price/performance ratio for your overclocked RAM will be worse than old if you don't move fast. Did you check up on the intermittent disk failures for that harddrive you have decided on, specifically when you video encode Bulgarian Soap Operas? Did you know that the chip maker is going to discontinue that chip and double pump the L2 cache in just two weeks? What about the current strikes in that video card's factory? Reliability for those cards have gone way down!
But the geek may not, must not, take the easy way out. Must never fall back on the ease of a pre-made system. If they have children, are going through quintiple double bypass surgery, and staying up late to get the latest Matrix Figurine at the local comic shop, they may get a fellow geek to make the system for them.
But never, ever should they pick a system that they would have *gasp* technical support. Nay, that way lies madness. Never should they be able to tell the average non-geek where they had got their system without the non-geek looking at them, stifling a yawn and responding with "So, not Dell huh?". Yes, the computer shop should be obscure, possibly with some nonsensical acronym, even better if most people casually confuse it for a shop that sells Chinese fuse boxes.
It's a sticky, ugly business, this PC building. It's somewhat the equivalent of buying a gearbox, tires, chassis, electrical system, and drivetrain all separately. Then making sure each part works correctly together, slapping it all together, turning the key, and hoping for the best. The rite itself is a bit of madness, a bit of alchemy, a bit of hopeful conjecture.
But then, rites are meant to be difficult.
EDIT: Oh hells, I've been blogging for a whole year! Go me! And Web 2.0! And push button web publishing! How long have you guys been reading this? Come on, admit it. Yes, even you, Spambot ver. 2980491a Beta 3.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
So when a particularly nippy winter hits us, we always get the transplanted Ontario-an/Newfoundlander/etc roll their eyes, purse their lips, slap their short-wearing leg and say "You think this is cold? This ain't cold..", then proceed with a none too entertaining foray into the finer points of hypothermia and the futile effort to combat it with a Tim Horton's double double.
There is something within the (let's face it) male psyche that yearns to undergo the greatest hardship, the most extreme conditions. For bragging rights on who is the most 'rugged', 'manly', and heretofore undisputed Man of the Woods. As a BCer, you must sigh, take another sip of your half-decaf-none-fat-soy-double-expresso-capu-double-froth-machiatto frappe, slowly finish your marijuana roach, and say "You don't say?"
The curse of a being in BC is that the body is simply not exposed to any extremes in temperature. Extremes in annual precipitation, yes. Extremes in combating Seasonal Affect Disorder while biting back tears of anguish about living the middle of a temperate rain-forest where it actually rains, certainly. But the body of a BCer simply has no defense or preparation for any weather that cannot be countered by a good Gore-Tex™ shell.
Which is why when it gets hot in BC, specifically the Lower Mainland, it gets Really Hot. Where Really Hot is a function of absolute temperature multiplied by the Coefficient of Weather Wimpiness. In short, it's been approximately 50 degrees Celsius (in perceived heat) here in the Lower Mainland. Entire cars are melting on the street. Black top on slightly inclined streets are flowing down like so much rock infested, tarred molasses. The very air we breath hints of brimstone and there have been reports that this air moved at a breeze can set small pets afire. Clouds literally explode in the air, like some sort of napalm experiment gone awry. Every building has faded under the sun making all of Vancouver look like a massive, poorly designed Disney Theme Park ghost town. Horned demons have been seen to be lazing about on park benches, attired in what can only be described as "sauna wear". People worry not so much about hyperthermia than they do about igniting instantly in a fury of spontaneous combustion. At least, this is the perception of many Vancouverites, particularly me.
But you know, it's just heat. In a month or two, it'll be back to monsoon season. At least we won't have to have our Canadian-ness assaulted by Arctic Winter Loving Easterners. For now, at least, there is no national pride in suffering through a heat wave.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Particleboard Assembly & Interaugmentational kNackery is a time honoured craft. While it is new, and doesn't have the panache of say, masonry, or the callus-on-the-hands down-to-earthedness of roofing, it has its charms; to wit, the Allen Key. Ah the Allen Key, simplistic hexagonal faux-screwdriver for the mechanically disinclined. A champion in a sea of hard to learn and impossible to understand 'crafstmanship' and 'professional workmanship'. A leveller, if you will, for those who would like to walk into the local Rona with pride, or at least, with a little less angst.
Sure, sure, all you are doing is reapplying some European engineers assembly plans to cobble together reconstituted sawdust. But hey, sometimes that sawdust has a very striking (if not very convincing) wood grain veneer! It's also is oh so handy as a stand in for real furniture. Which is what PAIN is all about: making the house a home, feeling some bit of mastery over the physical world. Bending (pre-made, super compressed, reconstituted bits of) wood to one's mighty arm, creating form and function where there was chaos (or seventeen neatly ordered planks with neatly printed instructions and a precise number of wooden pegs and fasteners). This is where PAIN really makes life bracing (ly painful) and refreshing (as a bath of slightly foul smelling acid). Man alive, am I ever so glad to have just waste-- invested the better part of two days doing it.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
It was a nice a road trip. Down to a sleepy town on the coast in the States. A touristy town known for (predictably) its salt water taffy. Or it's plethora of video arcades, that have sadly declined over the years, and therefore have all the cutting age technology of 1998. I mean, my phone can play more advanced games. My rotary phone.
Be that as it may, it was quite pretty. The ocean, miles of beach populated only by the locals, it seems, as we missed the Summer Crush of 2007 (school's still in session?). Our time at the town was marked by having greasy burgers with enough net calories to feed most of South America or the hungrier parts of Africa, and by walking down the boulevard. We also bought some cheap touristy type stuff to cram into some closet and promptly forget until our untimely move into an old folk's home whose name sentimentally references meadows.
But the views. Wow, the views were pretty great. Ocean, sand, rocks, and sometimes, if we drove a little bit out of the way, really big rocks. You know you are an adult when you get excited about driving slowly down a forgotten highway and hopefully find some governmentally sanctioned Lookout Point. Some place to take a few photos of some geological formation that has been photographed some 12 sextillion times. I almost have an urge to post some of those photos here. But that would be folly. Just go to flickr and search for "towns by the sea", or "rocks", or maybe "pretty large rocks by a nice sandy beach". You'll get the idea.
It was an idyllic vacation, filled with the easy drone of lazy summer days spent doing nothing in particular. To give me some respite from my dangerously un-stressful job and our collective non-busy non-rushed life.
And then we went to Seattle. And that was all a blur. I remember things smelling of fish. There might have been a few shops along the way, perhaps a space needle viewing. And now we're home. I promise I'll think of something more original to write about next post.