Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Moron Changes His Oil - Part One


The Moron was on his way home from his job at The Company. It was the middle of summer, so eight o'clock in the evening was bright and sunny; still plenty of daylight left for outdoor tasks. The Moron's car had actually suggested such a task to him by illuminating one of its dashboard lights. This was one of the many things the Moron liked about it--so full of ideas.

"It has to be outside. Can't jolly well change the car's oil down in the basement!" he remarked to his smiling reflection in the rear-view mirror. His reflection nodded its agreement back at him, and a furry lump of happiness tucked itself into his breast pocket like a contented hamster. "Unless we take the engine out," he continued. His reflected face looked contemplative before suddenly snapping to the right with an expression of horror, startling the hamster and making it flee.

The Moron swerved off the rumble strip and back into traffic.

The auto parts store on the way home was stocked with helpful men in red shirts and more oil filters the Moron could shake a stick at.

He had tried this once, just to prove a point to a friend, and was unceremoniously banned from the auto store across the street, where the men wore orange shirts with black stripes. No matter. The Moron liked this one better anyhow, and he would not be waving sticks around in this store. He strode in and stopped next to a stack of tires.

"All I need is an oil filter," he explained to one of the red-shirted men behind a long counter, loudly because he was twenty feet away. "I have oil at home."

He stood there and smiled radiantly.

"Well, uh," the man said haltingly. "They're, um, over against that wall." He pointed, and the Moron spun to face in that direction.

"Golly!" he said, and trotted off. He already knew where the oil filters were, of course, but he liked to make the red-shirted men feel helpful.

"Let's see here. Sure are a lot of different sizes. Oh! A book!" The Moron liked books. The TV shows he watched when he was a kid had explained, patiently, once a day, that books were like big voyages for the imagination. He had dutifully visited his local public library like the man said at the end of the show, and gone on many a voyage.

This voyage, the Moron thought as he giddily eyed the pages, will be about oil filters of various qualities arranged by the make, year, and model of car they are for. Hooray!

Then, an exciting thought bounced off of his brain, like a tennis ball hurled from a short distance down a sidewalk: what if my own car is in this book? That would be awesome!

It was. Right there near the front. What luck! And might it be possible for these artfully worded descriptions of the Purolator PureONE oil filters, which declare them to be "premium quality," to reference real live filters--filters that might perhaps be found at this very store?

The Moron squealed quietly to himself and tried very hard not to drop the book. "It's like a treasure hunt!" he tittered. He committed the model number of the relevant filter to memory, checked to see if he had enough water in his backpack, and set off.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Heeeeerrrrre's Jack!


Hi, this is Jack W. Regan. First, let me thank FooDaddy for allowing me to hijack his blog for the day. I promise I’ll be gone soon. However, he was kind enough to agree to be a part of my ongoing Virtual Book Tour to promote my new book, T’Aragam, book one in the Max Ransome Chronicles. This is an exciting new fantasy adventure series for tweens, kids who aren’t quite ready or interested by the normal teen fare, but yet advanced enough to be bored by books aimed at a younger audience. T’Aragam attempts to fill that gap. You can find out more about this new series by visiting: www.taragam.com

As a writer, I well know the tortures of editing and revision. I hate them both. One must learn to criticize one’s self and examine a personal work with as unbiased an eye as possible. Those inner editors can be a real nuisance, but they are a necessary evil. Although that shouldn’t stop us from having a bit of fun at their expense.


WRITING FOR PEANUTS

My thoughts were interrupted by a man rummaging through my glass of iced tea. He seemed intent on removing every ice cube that had nicely rounded edges. The pointy ones seemed to scare him and he dropped them back into the beverage where they splashed about, happy to be free of his meaty, grease-infested hand.

I looked into my drink, which until a minute ago had beckoned me with promises of cool refreshment. Now I could almost see the bacteria multiplying, squeezing refreshment about the throat and stomping its instep.

“You’ve ruined my glass of cool refreshment,” I said. “I demand you buy me another.”

“And I demand what you hand over that bag o’ peanuts you been eatin’,” the man said, chewing on an ice cube. His voice was sullen and sounded much like a strand of barbed wire being drawn through a length of metal piping.

I had known riding a bus three hundred miles to see my parents was a bad idea. But I hadn’t expected the trouble to start this early in the trip. The bus driver started the engine.

“We’re on our way!” The driver sounded happy and I glanced out the window, hoping to see some manner of calamity heading his way. But, alas, all was sunny and bright. Carefree children played in a nearby field, a game of Frisbee occupying their attention. On a street corner a bum was being helped to his feet and given the deed to a Montana cattle ranch. In an office on the top floor of a soaring skyscraper a mailroom clerk was being promoted to CEO. Inside the bus I sat in a seat half the size of my rear, while a devolving primate pilfered my nuts.

“Got any licorice?”

Hoping to keep him quiet I handed over a bagful. We had yet to leave the station and already my stash of food, designed to last the entire trip, was seriously depleted.

“This is red licorice,” the man whined. “I like the black.”

“You would.” I slouched in my seat and pulled my baseball cap over my eyes. “Black licorice is horrible, evil stuff, much like your soul.” I tried to relax and felt sleep nudge the back of my eyelids. Perhaps I’d be able to doze this trip away.

The man called me a name and filled his mouth with candy. “Could I have some o’ that iced tea?”

I pushed up the cap and gazed at him. “You’re asking me? Have you been born again?”

“Just wanted to know if you was sleepin,” he said.

A vein popped out on my neck and I tried to remember if I’d taken my medication. It had been hectic just getting to the bus station and had I known the frantic morning would be the high point of my day I would have remained in bed.

I replaced the cap and settled back into my seat.

“Are ya?”

“Am I what?”

“Sleepin’.”

“Quit speaking to me or I will tie your tonsils to the bumper of a passing semi,” I said. I was pretty sure I’d forgotten to take the medicine.

I slept for an hour before becoming aware of manic giggling. Nudging the baseball cap up, I saw the creature in the next seat holding my laptop and reading from the screen. I shot out of my seat and yanked the computer from his sweaty grasp.

“That’s funny stuff ya got there,” the man said. “You write all that?”

“Yes, I did. What’s funny about it?”

“Ain’t no characterization,” he grinned, showing a gob of licorice between two front teeth. “The plot don’t start til too late in the story and then it don’t make sense.”

“I suppose you’re an expert on prose?” I checked my laptop for damage and, having satisfied my immediate concerns, resumed my seat. “Have you ever written anything? Can you spell your name?”

“Yeah, I can write my name,” he said. “Wanna see?”

“No.”

“Want me to help ya fix yer stories?”

“No.”

The man turned away. He breathed on the window and wrote in the mist. “See? My very own name what my parents done named me.”

I looked over to read it. The mist had already started fading, but I could make out the first name, “Eddie.”

“So ya wanna know what’s wrong with yer stories?

Silence. I couldn’t handle it.

“All right!” I screamed, again shooting from my seat. My skull banged against an overhead luggage compartment. “Tell me!” I shouted. “Spill your pearls of wisdom before me that I may lap them up with reckless abandon!”

“Yer clich├ęd, for one thing,” the man said. “‘Reckless abandon.’ Where ain’t I heard that before? Yer dialogue don’t lead nowhere and yer characters got no depth. Ya wait too long to start the story and yer usin’ too many passive sentences. And yer wordy.”

“Anything else?”

“I could use another bag o’ peanuts.”

I stared at the man, taking a good look for the first time. He was large and unshaven. He wore ill-fitting clothes and his latest contact with soap had probably been recorded somewhere on an ancient cave wall. He didn’t appear to be the type of person one would seek in moments of writer’s angst and yet I had to admit he made some valid points. Issues I struggled with on a daily basis, he had managed to pinpoint in a matter of minutes.

Rummaging in my briefcase, I handed him my last bag of peanuts. “Okay,” I said, “but this better be good.”

* * *

“All out!”

I awoke with a start and looked up. The bus driver was getting out of his seat and stretching mightily. “Where are we?” I asked.

“Rock Island, Illinois,” said the driver.

“But that’s my stop!”

“Okay…so get off.”

My head whirled, but I stood and gathered my belongings. I turned to thank my traveling companion, but he wasn’t in his seat. As I struggled down the aisle carrying my bags, I spoke to the driver.

“What happened to the man sitting next to me? Did he get off at an earlier stop?”

He frowned. “There wasn’t anybody sitting next to you,” he said. “You were alone the entire trip.”

Once out on the station platform I opened my briefcase. Inside were packages of peanuts and licorice…all empty. I didn’t remember eating a thing. I booted up my laptop and opened a story file. The pages were filled with tiny notes, headers, footers, and markups. I scrolled to the end and saw this little note typed at the bottom of the last page.

About time you finally began listening to me. Hope these changes help.

Your Inner Editor, aka, Eddie.

P.S. Thanks for the peanuts.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Guest Post Coming!

Very soon, actually. Around midnight. ON midnight, if I can manage. In fact, I will have it all ready to go, and I will click Blogger's big orange "PUBLISH POST" button right at midnight.

So all of you--hang around here and be watching closely at the cusp of midnight for some guest postery.

Actually, you'll have to click your browser's Refresh button in order to see the midnight update. So hover, all of you.

You know what? Never mind that rubbish. I probably won't manage to get it right at midnight. But now that I have you all excited, I expect the Blogger folks to be running around, bonking into each other and discharging fire extinguishers at random when they detect what seems to be a huge Denial Of Service attack.

What it will be, quite benignly, is a bunch of Jack Regan fans clicking their Refresh buttons in joyous tandem in hopes of catching a glimpse of the illustrious man.

And glimpse him you shall, but not in any of the dirty ways, mind you. He will be presented to you (in a matter of hours!) in the guise of about 1,300 words dressed in the literary tuxedo that is Times New Roman.

Put on some Hindemith, clear your minds, and be enlightened. What, you may ask, will the FooDaddy be doing to prepare himself? Why, I plan to mask my jealousy of Regan's disgustingly efficient work ethic by writing a glowing intro post.

Hail Regan! May thine Home Row be worn shiny with the works of thine fingertips.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Shopping for the Addict


When I was young, my religious upbringing held sway over a rather large swath of my opinions and actions.

Now, of course, I'm a filthy heathen. I'm attracted to women during the Sabbath and everything. But that's another story.

Most of the things I believed back when I was 15 changed gradually, but one thing changed in a matter of minutes, and I can even remember the day it happened: reaction to the testimony of others.

You see, I had been instructed to express euphoria and cheer and smile and laugh and cheer some more and basically act all-over impressed whenever I heard a story about someone discovering the error of their ways and Coming To The Lord.

"Hi kids. My name is Ruddiger, and when I was your age, I used to drink gasoline and kick babies every night. I was addicted to every drug known to man, and my family was real embarrassed to have me over for Thanksgiving. I used to smoke and drink and swear and lick prostitutes and pee on nuns, until one day when I drank way more gasoline than normal. I was so fogged I couldn't even see straight, and I kicked what I thought was a baby. It turned out to be a statue of a cherub. The spark my steel-toed boot made when it struck that statue set me on fire, and they rushed me to the hospital. On the way there, I died six times, and it was between the fourth and fifth time that I decided that my life was headed in the wrong direction."

My schoolmates and I were being subjected to one such testimony when it hit me: it took almost dying to finally make this person realize they could be practicing better time management?

So when the cheering started, I didn't join in.

Bring this person's empathetic best friend out here and have him tell how he avoided the temptation to do all those things in the first place and then I'll cheer.

Sadly, this is how I saw the world until I became an addict myself. Coffee is my gasoline.

Before one has seen the world through the coffee-stained bottom of a glass mug, one is not fit to judge. It looks kind of brown and smudgy, and it is comforting until the Costco stops carrying your addict beans.

Oh, up until then, everything was swell! I had my big ol' bag of these evil-looking oily beans--beans that looked like petroleum beetles and smelled like crystallized laughter--and all was right in the mill and with the world. I was down to my last Mason jar of them, and the Father and I set out for Costco so that I might resupply.

In junkie lingo, I was "makin' a run" to my "connection" for the "shit" so that I could "grind" it in my "coffee mill," "drink" it and "get toasted on the roasted."

When I saw that they did not have my "shit," I panicked.

"It's gotta be here!" I squealed. "They had a whole skid of it last time! What do they want from me!? I have money, you barbarians! I can pay you!"

I had to make a substitution, obviously, as there were plenty of other types of coffee available. But I was an addict, and I did not WANT any other coffee. I wanted MY coffee. The junkie panic fermented into junkie petulance, and I looked around for a Costco logo to glare at.

"Quit squintin' at the signs, boy," my father intervened.

"Hmph."

"Look, they have other dark roasts. Let's try one of them."

"Don't want to. Want mine. Those bags are the wrong color. I don't like the drawing of meerkats on that one."

Eventually he wore me down, and I ended up taking home three different types of coffee to audition. Three. Once home, I set about pouring the beans into Mason jars to preserve the freshness.

Oh no.

This just wasn't fair.

I didn't have enough Mason jars.

It was then, dear time-wasters, that I realized my life was headed in the wrong direction.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

88 Years; A Memoir

Howdy, kids. Gather 'round, I implore you. Yes, that will be fine. Just don't put your feet up on the cushions, please.

Would you like a juice box?

Heh. Juice boxes. Back in my day, juice only came in cans. Technology, you're a fickle mistress! Left me behind years ago.

You would? What flavor? Doesn't matter--they're all the same mixture of corn syrup and colored water. Cherry? Fine.

A story? Why, of course. What would you like to hear about? Jeremy? A story from when I was your age, eh? Kids, that was a long time ago! I don't know if I can remember any. I'm 88 years old, you know. What's that? No, Jennifer, I didn't get to ride a dinosaur to school. That was a few years before my time. Horses, yes.

Horses? Well, they're sort of like dinosaurs, except that they're hairy. In fact, when I was a younger man, we used horse hair in everything. We used it in our car seats and in our draperies and I remember I even had a counterpane stuffed with horse hair.

What's a counterpane? I'm not entirely sure, Braden. It's sort of like a quilt, except that it's part window and a part counter. That was a long time ago, and things have changed a bit since then. I don't know if they even make counterpanes any more.

Did I ever tell you I served in World War two? Indeedy! I was a Thompson gunner. Or maybe I was a medic. It was a long time ago, and I'm tired a lot these days. I do remember that I had to hide in holes a lot. Maybe I was a sniper.

A sniper? Well, Lizzy, a sniper is sort of like...do you know what a lemur looks like? You do? Good. How about a hay wagon? Yes, like the ones you ride in on Halloween. Well, a sniper is sort of a cross between the two.

They help soldiers, yes. Did I help them a lot? Did I ever! I remember when our unit was in Montana, and we were pinned down by--Montana? It's a place in Europe. It's where chocolate and watches come from, if I'm not mistaken. When you get home, ask your mommies and daddies about it. Maybe they will take you there some day.

Where was I? Oh yes. Nebraska. I was driving a milk truck and my co-pilot and I were lost. GPS? Oh! No, no, Jennifer. We didn't have GPS back then, goodness no. It would have been wonderful, and I'm glad I have lived long enough to see it.

Braden? Could you bring grandpa his flask? Thanks little fella. What's in it? Well, maybe I'll tell you when you're older.

Okay, okay! Settle down, kids! I'll tell you now, I suppose. How old are you, Braden? Five? I suppose that's old enough. I will now lean down, wincing as my old back bends, give you a roguish wink, and ask that you not tell your mommies and daddies where you learned about flasks, because I am a free-spirited and mildly deceitful old coot.

Flasks are what grown-ups keep their mouthwash in so they can carry it around with them. Well, Jeremy, when you get old, you have to use a lot of mouthwash. It'll happen to you some day, bucko!

What's that? Coots? Oh, well, coots are like squirrels except that they have really long ears and little raccoon hands. They like chocolate, if I'm not mistaken.

Yes, there are a lot of coots in Montana.

Eh? Whussat? I am sorry, Jeremy. I am merely emitting rusty and good-natured chuckles because what you have brought me is not my flask, but a Zippo brand lighter.

Chuckle! I will tell you, Sarah. I don't think you've spoken the whole time! You're still the quiet one, I see. A Zippo lighter is a lighter that is made specially to set Zippos on fire. A Zippo is a big animal that lives in rivers. It's a nasty habit, kids, and I don't want to hear from your parents that any of you have started it. Please put the lighter back where you found it, Jeremy. There's a good lad. I don't use it any more, and I would just as soon keep it out of sight.

Did I ever tell you that milk used to come in trucks? Yes! This was back before plastic was invented, so there were no containers around to put milk in, so it had to go in trucks. Every morning, the truck would come by, and a man would get out and unhook a hose from the back. All us kids would line up on the curb, and the man would squirt some milk on our cereal with the hose. He would smile, and we would give him a dime, and we'd go back inside and eat our breakfast.

I drove a milk truck when I was just twelve. I believe I had a co-pilot who got me lost a lot too, but he might have been a Thompson gunner.

Well, when you get old, your memory tends to wander a bit.

Oh, goodness! Was that the doorbell? Well, would you look at that--four o'clock already. Time does fly! I will see you kids next week. Remember what I told you about the flask! I am making a zipping-up motion across my lips, as you can see, so take that to heart.

Grandpa's going to bed now.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Moron Fills In - Finale (Finally!)


For the other Moron Fills In posts, you're going to have to visit the old Blog of Stupid to get parts ONE and TWO.

The client, a man in his early twenties wearing the hip and trendy clothes of his generation, looked up from the clipboard and smiled halfheartedly.

"Oooooohhhh," said the Moron. This wouldn't do. Not at all. "Hailey? Can I, uh, talk to you in the back room for just a second?"

Ignoring him, she waved a hand, indicating the client. "This is Martin. He's one of Megan's regulars. He can tell you how she does his cut."

The Moron put on an impressive burst of sidling and was instantly at Hailey's side. "Yes," he whispered, "but that's a dude. I don't want to touch some strange dude."

"Tough Skittles," she said. "None of us are particularly wild about it."

The Moron held his hands in front of his chest, the tips of his index fingers touching, as if each were accusing the other of being a liar. "I thought I was going to be styling lady hair," he explained, one professional to another.

"Nope. Barber shop implies male clients," she said matter-of-factly. "It's even called 'Dude's'." Raising her voice, she continued, "Martin? This is the Moron. He's filling in for Megan today."

"Hey," said Martin seating himself in the Moron's chair.

The Moron gave the back of Hailey's head one last glare and turned to size Martin up.

He didn't like Martin. His hairstyle, with the teased ends and streaks of unearthly blonde stood in total opposition to the businesslike decorum of his beloved office environment.

"So! Where do you work?" the Moron asked casually, scanning his workspace for a spray bottle.

"Oh, just in an office," Martin said dismissively.

"You don't say!" the Moron chirped, pleasantly surprised. "Do you use Excel?" This might be easier than he thought! He found the spray bottle filled with water. It didn't matter that he was a little unsure about its use, because he had a topic he could use as a tactical distraction while he worked it out.

"Yeah," said Martin. "I think Megan used a Number 2 on the sides."

This was a little odd, the Moron thought. He knew his girlfriend possessed a knowledge of hair cuttery that dwarfed his own, but he was still surprised that she was using pencils to do it. She had always used electric clippers on his own hair.

He twiddled the nozzle on the spray bottle in an extremely competent manner.

"Did you ever figure out how to make one of the little boxes turn green?" This ought to impress the fellow, he thought. He'd managed to do it by dropping the mouse, proving that even his accidents yielded greatness. He squeezed the lever and fired a jet of water into Martin's left ear.

"Geez! Yeah, I know how to shade cells. By the way, Megan always used the clippers on the sides and back before she wet the rest down. If you could sort of do that too, that'd be cool. And can I have a cape?"

"Certainly!" the Moron said. Who was he to squash this man's superhero ambitions? "This one says 'Dude's' on the front, and it's black. That makes it badass."

While Martin put the cape on, the Moron swapped the spray bottle for a set of electric clippers. He'd seen these before. Megan always turned them on and then sprayed the blades with air freshener or something. The Moron turned these on, but the counter did not have any air freshener on it. The only aerosol can in reach was a can of hairspray.


Well, anything aerosol is pretty much the same as the rest, or else it wouldn't spray out of the can like that. He gave the clippers a liberal wetdown from the can of Televangelist Strength Gillette.

The blades immediately ground to a halt. The clippers just sat there, humming, in his hand.

"Well! Looks like they're going to need a new one of these!" the Moron guffawed good-naturedly. He tossed the worthless machine into the trash can. He poked a finger into Martin's hair to judge its depth. A nice upscale place like Dude's should have a radar thingie for this, like bass fishermen have, he thought.

"Everything okay back there, cheif?" asked Martin. The Moron gave him a soothing pat on the head.

The door chimes sounded. The Moron grinned ruefully at the returning Stephanie. "You're gonna need a new set of clippers over here," he said. "These other ones just burned out."

Stephanie sighed. "Okay. You're going to have to fill out a requisition form for a new set," she said. "In the meantime, you can use Marie's. Where are the old ones?"

"Already taken care of!" Honestly, he thought. Pshaw! Phooey! As if he were incapable of throwing something away. He'd been doing that for months. In fact, The Company had recently put him in charge of every trash can in the entire office.

"Hey, do you smell smoke?" Martin asked, shifting in the chair.

"Probably just that cape you're smelling," the Moron said dismissively. He retrieved the pair of clippers from the workstation next door. "Now how did you want me to buzz off the hair back here? Any specific length you'd like it, or you want me to just use my expert judgement?"

The Moron hoped that Martin would opt for the latter, as his judgement was exceedingly good. That, and it looked like the clippers would make it difficult to maintain an even depth on anything other than a close shave. Fortunately, his judgement said that a close shave was exactly what this fellow needed.

"No, seriously, something smells like it's burning in here."

"I sincerely doubt that," the Moron said calmly, as if explaining the non-existence of goblins to a toddler.

Then he spotted a curl of smoke rising from the trash can with the humming clippers in it.

Oh yeah. Probably should have unplugged those. He leaned over for a better look.

"Seems some tissues in here got kind of hot and set themselves on fire," he explained with a shrug. "They do that sometimes. Not to worry." Thinking back to high-school physics class, the Moron recalled that heat was little more than excited air molecules bonking into each other like drunks at a nightclub. Fire was made of heat, so therefore to stop fire, you needed to get those air molecules to hold still.

The Moron made a quick judgement call and selected the can of Gillette for its maximum hold properties.

His cape on fire, Martin left the barbershop a less than satisified customer. Following Stephanie and Hailey out the door on the run, the Moron made for his car.

"Not to worry, ladies! I know just what we need!" A fire extinguisher, of course. He knew that The Company kept one in the supply closet, and The Company was only twenty minutes away.

If only he had one of those slick Chevy Cavaliers, he could make it there even quicker.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Return of Henry



After four days of empty bushes, they are once again filled with a cat.

It was dark outside; perhaps 10:00 or 10:30 in the evening, and I was sitting at my computer.

"I believe I will put some of these files over here, and then I will delete them. Ooo, they make such a lovely pile! I simply can't delete them. I will move them around the network so I can watch some progress indicators. Maybe I'll go reboot something."

Basically, just nerding it up.

Suddenly, an unearthly howl filled the room. Starting low and quickly ramping to a piercing crescendo, it assaulted my sensitive ears; ears that at the time were tuned to listen for pixel movement. (Pixels are very discreet.)

Surprised, my legs shot out straight, rocking me out of my chair and onto my back. My arms, flung outward and up, hurled my mouse out the door behind me, where it was immediately pounced upon by Clutch, the Ever Watchful.

I lay very still for a few seconds, recovering. The noise sounded again.

"Henry!"

Reaching for the nearest flashlight I scrambled to my feet. I dashed out into the hall, nimbly leaping over Clutch, who was busily devouring the mouse's batteries, and out into the cool July night.

I was immediately eaten by bats.

Well, not really, but the rest is pretty boring. The last I saw of Henry was him disappearing under the porch on the back of the house, and then I didn't see him for a few days.

But he's back now, and eating the food I bought specially for him. Don't tell him that I bought it for him because it's cheaper than the stuff I feed my own cats, because that might make him howl and leave again.

So! Anybody want him? Otherwise he might continue to fight ghost badgers or whatever, and eventually die. Shameful of me to be so emotionally manipulative, but it's for a good cause.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

You Feelin' Lucky, Putz?

I went to a casino for the first time!

Half the audience will be thinking "well, good for him! He went out and tried something new. He has expanded his horizons and inhaled some nice spicy tobacco smoke," and the other half will be thinking "what a moron this moron is."

You're both right.

I had a day off of work, intending originally to spend it thrashing about in a river with a stick, but since our canoeing trip got canceled, we went to a casino.

I don't want to ruin the magic for the uninitiated, so I will call it the Snoring Seagull casino, located in Mt. Decent, Michigan. It was at least a two-hour drive from my home in Lieoming, the Town of Great Untruths, also known as Fakestown or FooDaddyopolis.

"We're going to a casino this weekend," The Girlfriend informed me.

"Okay," I said.

I had never been, and it's good for us agoraphobes to get out there and do new things to kind of build up a tolerance, like an oyster who hates shopping. The entire extent of my exposure to and knowledge of casinos comes from the opening sequence to the show CSI. I expected a lot of flashing lights, a lot of women whose clothes had been picked out by horny sequin salesmen, and perhaps a murder victim behind the slot machines.

What I saw when I arrived looked more like a weird shopping mall, amusment park hybrid. There was also a whole dealer's lot worth of cars parked under the huge awning out front. Quite a few of them had their headlights on, and there were maroon-vested valets popping up here and there amongst the rows of cars, like prairie dogs with hats.

"Strange," I muttered, and pulled the door open.

Inside was a sprawling grid of lights, constantly in motion. To simulate this for yourself, turn on your television and put your nose about an inch from the screen. See all those little colored dots all in rows? Now imagine a tiny little grim-faced senior citizen sitting behind each of them, swatting at buttons. That's the Snoring Seagull's game floor seen from the entrance.

"None of those people look like they're having any fun," I remarked to nobody. "It looks like some kind of evil ski lodge in here," I continued to my audience of me, noting the rough-hewn wooden rafters and bird themed decor.

After our group of four huddled in the lobby for a few minutes, we sent out tentative probes; one of us would dart out, look at a brochure, and then make a report. This is how we found the bill changer machines.

Looking back, the bill changer was the most enjoyable machine that Snoring Seagull had. You never lost a cent, and you still got to push buttons and watch flashing lights.

I put a ten dollar bill in, and it grunted a bit and spit out two fives.

"Heh," I said. I put one of my fives in the slot and it was magically transformed into the appropriate number of singles. I was going to keep going until I got down to pennies, and then put one of those in to see what the machine did, but there was a line of hollow-eyed folks behind me. I grabbed my ones and scooted. Time to hit the slots.

What a choice! Hundreds of machines, all shaped the same with the same controls, but with different colorful graphics and numbers of dials. Did I want to have my money stolen by an Arabian prince? Or how about a monkey with diamonds for eyes? Perhaps a walrus in a limousine would be just what I needed? I wandered around until I found the old-looking machines that still had the levers on the side and real, mechanical dials--the infamous "one-armed bandits".

I gave the bandit a dollar. For this modest fee, I was treated to the joy and wonder of spinning wheels with meaningless numbers and pictures on them that click to a halt in a precise sequence that, when decoded, meant the bandit got to keep my dollar.

"Whee," I said, and gave it another.

My buddy Craig was the first to find out that if you went up to the Visitor's Center and stood in line for a while, you could get a little plastic card on a lanyard with ten bucks programmed onto its magnetic stripe.

"They figure you'll lose it back to them, and then some if you're still feeling lucky," he said with a shrug.

He was right, of course. I had already burned through all of my ones and had just fed my fiver into the slot machine.

"Lemme just try this once more." I pulled the lever, the dials clicked off one by one, and...

...oh my God...

I was a winner! A $3.75 winner! Before the bandit could tempt me further with its sly sevens or its enticingly shiny lever, I pressed the "Collect Winnings" button.

I tensed.

I expected to be showered with nickels; a tidal wave of them, gushing from the tray at the machine's base, me trying to catch them in my hat while fending off with punches and kicks the human vultures who fell upon my winnings with their clutching hands!

What happened was the machine printed me a receipt. This slid languidly out of a little slot and then just hung there limply, swaying in the gentle breeze of a passing octogenarian.

"Fuck," I said.

So I got my ten dollar first-timer card. I ended up losing eight of it in various other slot machines and then I just left it in one of them. Let some poor sucker try to figure out my PIN and suck the last two bucks out of it. I was done with the Snoring Seagull and with slot machines entirely.

Perhaps my luck will be better down at the track.