Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Coffee Visits the Grand Canyon

"Ask that guy over there if he knows where the canyon goats are."

It had been going on like this for perhaps the last hour. Truth be told, it had been going on the entire trip in one way or another, but the last hour was dedicated to the goats.

"Coffee, please shut up for one seven-hundredth of a second," I said wearily, peering through the viewfinder of my camera.

"What for?" he said, giving me a well-timed shove. "So you can take more pictures of rocks? You took pictures of those rocks over there already. This place sucks."

"Those rocks 'over there' weren't rocks. They were petrified trees. And that was yesterday." I deleted the blurred picture and aimed again.

"Oooh, excuse me. So you took some pictures of wussy trees pretending to be rocks. My bad. You know, if you wanted to hang around a bunch of liar trees, we could have just stayed home. This place doesn't even have any skunks. Have you seen any? I haven't seen skunk one."

The sun's disk was perfectly bisected by the horizon. The deep blue sky met the torn edge of the Earth as sunrise chased shadows out of the great canyon and etched its fiery mark on the undersides of the clouds. It was a magnificent sight. The appreciative sighs and snapping shutters of the tourists joined the birdsong and insect noises.

"Hey look! A hobo!" squealed Coffee.

"That's a park ranger," I said.

"He's got a beard."

"Doesn't mean he's a hobo."

"You got anything I can throw into the river down there? I bet that's at least a thousand feet down."

"Right in front of the ranger?"

"Aww, what's the hobo going to do? Splash some bum whiskey on us?"

"Dude. He's armed."

"Seriously. If I don't see any canyon goats or gorge skunks in about two minutes, I'm going to shove some fat kids over the edge."

"As impressive as the Grand Canyon is," the ranger was saying, "The solar system's largest known canyon system is actually on Mars. Its
Valles Marineris is over three times deeper than the Grand Canyon..."

"Ask that man if there are any goats in that one," Coffee slapped me on the back, and only the neck strap saved my camera.

"The canyon he's talking about is on Mars."


"Never mind."

The ranger led our group along the South Rim, toward Lookout Studio, talking as he went.

"Check this out," said Coffee. "An empty liquor bottle. It's called 'Hot Damn'! Isn't that hilarious?"

"It's kind of sad that some moron just dumped it here."

"It's kind of sad that some meh meh meh!" mocked Coffee in a whiny, singsong voice. "Let's throw it into the river then. I hear that some, like, crabs or something like to live in bottles and cans. You'll be doing them a favor. And here, smell it! It smells like gum!"

I waved away the bottle and its strong cinnamon odor. "How about you throw it in the trash can instead, and I'll let you have another Snickers bar."

Coffee eyed me skeptically. "I think you're just trying to screw with me now. You and whatever protein deficiency is keeping you from being cool want me to shut up so you can keep all the goats to yourself. Ain't happening mister."

I promised Coffee a trip to the Waffle House when the tour was over, and he agreed, but only after I took a few photos of the Hot Damn! bottle. I had close to thirty seconds of silence in which to operate my camera.

"Holy shit! A giant sparrow! Where's that bottle?"

"That's an eagle!" I said, aiming the camera.

"Oh. Never mind then."

"That's our national bird," I explained.

"Unless it poops on those children, I really don't care. You should have brought some bottle rockets. You know what you should do? Eat your lens cap and then fall down."

"Why the hell would I want to do that?"

"Hilarity. Something to take everyone's mind off the total lack of goats in this place. Ask that hobo if we can climb down there and look for some."

I had to admit, Coffee's repeated suggestion that we leave the tour group and climb down into the gorge was starting to sound like a good idea. The sun was well above the horizon now, and it was starting to get hot.

"See? Shade. Cool, refreshing, goat-harboring shade," Coffee said soothingly, tossing a handful of pennies over the edge.

"Okayokayokayokay! We'll climb down. We'll probably break our legs, but we'll climb down."

"Oh, don't be such a hamster. You'll heal up. Hey! A sand salamander!"

"That's a stick."

"You know what your problem is? No imagination at all. And no imagination means a whole backpack full of no fun. That's what you are. Six water bottles full to the brim of liquid dull, and a packet of crackers with lame between them."

"Oh man. Glad you mentioned that. We got our water bottles?"

"Sure do!"

He said that a little too quickly. I decided to check for myself.

"Whoa, hold on! What're you up to, Captain Killjoy?"

"I'm checking our water bot--"

"So...that's like a mechanical man made of water is it? See! You're making progress on that imagination thing already."

I turned the backpack over and dumped out our six bottles. All of them except one were full of gravel.

"Why," I asked in a measured tone, "are our water bottles full of rocks?"

"Not rocks!" screeched Coffee. "Ammo! Man. I must be giving you too much credit. You saw all those kids back there, right? And what did YOU bring to throw at them? Nothing."

"We're going back to the group."

"Yeah. And let all the goats get away."

"Yes. And give me that band saw. I don't even want to know what you were planning on doing with that."

"I'll tell you if we can go to the Waffle House right now, and skip the rest of this boring skunkless tour."

"Deal," I said.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On Art, Belief and Chewing Gum

"Doesn't it just...speak to you?" Eric said, his eyes filled with emotion and his mouth filled with Juicy Fruit.

"No," replied Melody.

Eric turned from the painting to face her. He looked her square in the eyeball and tried to fathom her.

"You're doing it again, aren't you?"

He moved his gum from one cheek to the other and went back to the painting. "What? Heavens no."

"You were fathoming me again. I can tell when you're doing it. You stop breathing and you look at me like I'm from another planet." Melody swung a hand in a dismissive arc. "I just don't like it."

Eric plunged into deep thought while the ambient noise dimmed and rolled off, becoming a phone conversation between strangers heard through a bucket of ping-pong balls. He wondered that two brains, ostensibly the same machinery in each, could react differently to the same stimuli. Was it, at its most fundamental, a simple chemical equation with different variables?

"Could you, darling, explain why you don't like it?" he said, his pondering on hold for the nonce.

She hated it when he asked questions like this. She was of the opinion that if something worked, you didn't go poking around in it. The painting was just ugly, is all. Nobody in their right mind would want to cover their walls with a wallpaper print made from it, so why should it look any better just sitting in this building's window?

Besides. Nobody ever has to explain why they like or dislike something unless it's to a person who disagrees. It was a pointless endeavor.

"I don't know. I just don't think it looks good. He painted a bunch of horses, which is totally fine, but he didn't even give them the right number of legs. It's creepy. And the sky looks like a bunch of melted purple crayons." Melody squinted through the window, cupping her hands around her eyes. "I think I can even see bits of Crayola paper in there."

The city was unusually loud for this time of night. It was holding an art competition, the winner receiving some hundreds of thousands of dollars. A publicity stunt for a city whose economy had been beaten with the knobbly end of the fiscal club. Paintings and sculptures dotted the grid of streets all over downtown, like little bits of soul confetti sprinkled on graph paper.

Eric took in Melody's words and mulled them over like a moose eying a branch laden with pine cones. He was one of those saps who believed that disagreements taught the disagree-ers something about each other. He could be forgiven for this, as it is a common misconception. What actually happens is each person simply adds to their list of things not to bring up in conversation with the other.

Everybody has a list like this. The people who are termed "annoying," are the ones who don't keep theirs up to date, or have lost it in the laundry entirely.

"The misshapen horses and the transparent washing machines they carry on their backs symbolize the artist's pain and his desire to see what his socks look like when they're spinning around in soapy water," Eric said. "It's sad and triumphant at the same time."

This, of course, was bullshit.

Melody jerked a thumb over her shoulder. "I liked the stuff back on 43rd a lot better. Those paintings actually looked like things in real life. More believable."

"How would you define a belief?" Eric prodded.

Melody sucked in a lungful of the clammy September night air. She held it there for a few seconds, eyes to the stars. She let it out in a whoosh. "Well, I guess you could say that a belief is something someone holds to be true. It's like a personal fact. I know that's not quite right. It does disservice to the rigid definition of fact, I guess, since different people have different beliefs, you know?"

He craned his head back and spit his Juicy Fruit into the air. As it fell, he swatted it into the street with his hand. This is a trick he was immensely proud of, and he grinned at Melody. She favored him with an obligatory smile, even though she was a little jealous that she hadn't been able to do it yet. Of course, she didn't want to waste the gum practicing.

"That's pretty close, I think, especially the 'personal fact' part. But aren't all facts personal, at least to start with? Take something like the mass of the Earth. The first person to come up with the question in the first place was probably the first person to seek an answer. If he got one, he was the only one who had it. If he believed he was right, that his answer was true, it
was his own personal fact."

"He was probably wrong, though," said Melody. She looked back down at the painting in the window. "My personal fact is telling me that this painting is shitty. If I could do something myself, it doesn't merit my being all impressed when someone else does it."

"Right! Just like you're not impressed with my ability to use oxygen as an electron receptor in fueling the Kreb's Cycle to produce ATP, because you can do it too." He took several exaggerated breaths in quick succession to illustrate.

"When you put it that way, it actually does sound impressive."

"Doesn't it?" Eric often had free time at work, and spent more time on Wikipedia than was likely healthy. This led to the creation of a special little brain vault he could poke around in whenever he wanted to sprinkle his conversation with the spoken equivalent of a smirk. Just a little ground-up affected smug to add ironic punch. Some tongue-in-cheek spice. Expostulation seasoning.

Now he was a little hungry.

A Cadillac Escalade growled past, its windows festooned with sozzled hussies. Mingling with the aural medley of traffic, wind and distant speech, their drunken squeals pranced down the street and up the faces of the skyscrapers like retarded otters.

Melody and Eric both ran the previous scene through their brains, different coprocessors coming into play and different neural firing patterns returned the same result: no public event would be complete without at least one person incapable of having fun without getting dizzy.

"I stopped thinking being dizzy was fun when I was three," Melody said, watching the Escalade's taillights disappear around a corner.

"That's a fact. It's a personal fact, but it's also provable," said Eric.

Preferences themselves are sort of nebulous, their roots disappearing entirely into a tangle of chemical reactions if you trace them to their genesis...

"But a belief doesn't have to be a fact. It doesn't even have to be a personal fact!" he continued. "For example, what if I said 'wait here baby, I'll be right back' and then ran off down the sidewalk?"

"I would wonder about you. But I would probably do it. Why? Is that something you're likely to do?"

"Probably not," he said. "Unless you keep sassing me. Then I might just."

"Ha. You like my sass and you know it." She stuck her tongue out at him.

"But you'd wait. You would wait because you believed that I would come back, even though there's no proof that I would."

"You said you would."

"I say a lot of things."

"So, okay, I consider my belief well-founded because you have shown yourself to be reliable in the past. Except when it comes to navigation. Oh!" She favored him with a "yeah, I went there!" expression. Eyes and mouth wide in a parody of surprise.


"Tee hee!"

In turn, Eric put on his serious face with the half-smile and the one slightly-raised eyebrow. The one he used when a making point he was proud of.

"So a belief is merely a species of opinion you attach deep meaning to. An opinion can be readily changed if contrary facts are presented, but a belief is a little more stubborn. A lot of people believe some pretty crazy things despite overwhelming evidence, right?"

He put the expression away carefully. He liked that one.

"Like that the Apollo moon landing was faked? Even though you can see the rovers and landers and stuff with a powerful telescope?"


She moved over and draped an arm over his shoulder. She kissed him on the temple. "Honey?"


"That still doesn't change the fact that I think this painting is shitty."

"You wanna go look at the sculptures, then?"

"I believe I do."

Monday, September 21, 2009

Crispy the Lion Goes to Town
A Morally Heavy-Handed Tale

It was a bright sunny day on the plains where Crispy the Lion lived.

"I believe I shall journey into the big city today!" he told a bush.

"You go right ahead and do that," said a voice from inside the bush.

"What a polite and supportive bush you are!" said Crispy, delighted. "I will be sure to bring you back some nice bush food from the big city."

"I am not a bush," said the bush. "I am a wombat. Can I go with you to the big city, Crispy?" The wombat came out of the bush and looked at Crispy. "I promise I will be no trouble."

Crispy looked back at the wombat.

"So? Can I come?"

"Howdy, Wombat!" said Crispy. "I was just talking to this bush, and it was being very nice. I am going to the big city today! Do you want to come with me?"

All of the animals in the jungle liked Crispy the Lion. He was not a very good navigator, and he was not a very good waffle iron. But he had a heart three to five times bigger than all the other lions' put together.

Crispy and Wombat said goodbye to the bush and set out. Neither of them had seen the big city before. They were very excited to see it, but they did not know the way. So when they came upon a buffalo, they asked him for directions.

"Howdy, Buffalo!" said Crispy. "Wombat and I are going to the big city! I am going to bring back some bush food for my friend, that bush back there. Can you tell us how to get there?"

Most of the buffaloes in the jungle were kind and always obeyed the laws, but this one did not. He looked at Crispy the Lion. He saw that Crispy's mane was too poofy, and that he had the wrong number of claws. The buffalo decided to play a prank on Crispy.

"Yeah. You just keep going until the sun goes down, and when you wake up in the morning, you will be in the big city!" he buffaloed.

Crispy and Wombat thanked the tricky old buffalo and continued on their way. The buffalo watched them go. "That's a shitty lion," he said to himself.

After three quarters of an hour, Crispy and the wombat came upon a duck. "Wonk," said the duck.

"Howdy, Duck!" said Crispy.

"Wonk," replied the duck.

"Never mind," said Crispy, and walked away.

Much later, it began to get dark.

"It is beginning to get dark," said Wombat.

When the sun went down that night, Crispy the Lion slept in a big can while Wombat went out hunting. He was very tired and before he knew it, he was snoring. In another couple of minutes, he was fast asleep.

"Crispy! Wake up!" It was Wombat. He was poking Crispy in the mane, and he looked very excited.

"Howdy, Wombat!" said Crispy, blinking in the bright morning sun. "Did you have a good hunt last night?"

"Yes," replied Wombat. "I ate a leopard. I think you should come out and look at this."

Crispy crawled out of his can and shook all the apple cores out of his fur. He looked around and his eyes went wide. He took in the sights. He sniffed in the smells. He stomped in the stomps and chuckled in the snorkels.

"This is a magical land!" he declared.

"It's a junkyard," said Wombat. "That buffalo tricked us."

Crispy the Lion thought on the bright side. He could not believe that such a friendly looking buffalo could have told him a fib. He looked at all the rusty cars and trucks around him and was very glad he did not bonk into them in the dark.

"How do you know that this is not the big city if you have never seen the big city before?" Crispy said.

Wombat saw the logic in Crispy's statement and the smile on his face. "You are right, Crispy! I belieeeeeeve!"

Crispy winked at a bus. He was not a very good rock climber and he was not a very good classical composer. But he was definitely not silly. He knew that this place was not the big city and he had used positive thinking to turn it into something that was just as good.

"I still need to find some nice bush food. I do not want to disappoint my new friend," he told the bus. Crispy thought about all of the food he liked. Oatmeal cookies, burritos, gummi worms and doughnuts. He did not see any of those things in this place.

So he grunted. He strained. He closed both of his eyes and wished he was a walrus! When he opened them again, everything was exactly the same as before.

He bit a wheel off the bus.

"I found a giant doughnut for my friend the bush!" he declared. "We can journey home now."

Wombat smiled to himself. Crispy sure was a splendid lion.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Shittiest Lion; A Children's Story
A refresher; new story in the works!

It was a bright sunny day on the plains where the Crispy the Lion lived.

"I believe I shall go call on my friend Mole today!" he told a tree.

So he set off across the continent to visit a mole. On his way, he came upon a lake, in which there were much dolphins.

"Howdy, dolphins!" he said. The dolphins did a dance, because they liked Crispy the Lion. They liked him because he was special. They tossed him a fish.

"Have a fish!" the dolphins said. Then they scooted backwards on their tails across to the other side of the lake.

"I sure wish I could do that," remarked Crispy sadly. "I am not a very good hunter and I am not a very good theoretical physicist." Crispy ate his fish and continued on his way.

That night, he slept in a hole.

When the sun came up the next morning, Crispy woke up.

"Howdy, sun!" he said to the sun.

"Ultraviolet," said the sun, and proceeded to toast Crispy the Lion.

"I must find some water," he said. "I am thirsty."

So he looked around for some water. He found a faucet on the side of a house, but he could not figure out how to make the water to come out of it. He had seen men get water out of it before.

"Well, hi there, Crispy!" said a man. "You look thirsty! Would you like a glass of water?"

"Howdy, man! Yes, I would please," Crispy said with the greatest of manners. After he drank his fill, he flopped onto his side and allowed the man and his children to rub his furry belly.

"Rrrow! That tickles!" His breath smelled like fish, so the children ran away. "Goodbye, Crispy!" they said. Their voices sounded funny because they were pinching their noses.

"That right there is one special lion," the man said, shaking his head and smiling as he watched Crispy bumble off into the underbrush.

After fifteen and a half minutes, a platypus came running up to Crispy. "Please help me!" she said. "There is a mean old moose bothering my children!"

"Howdy, Platypus!" said Crispy. "Where is this mean old moose?"

"Just north of here!" said the platypus.

"Um," said Crispy.

"That way!" said the platypus.

"Oh," said Crispy.

He followed the platypus to her motorhome. A big shaggy moose was showing the platypus children naughty magazines and smoking a cigar at them.

"Eeek!" said the platypus children.

"Bwuh huh huh," the moose chuckled gunkily.

"Howdy, moose!" said Crispy. The moose turned to look at him.

"Well, if it ain't Crispy, the Shittiest Lion!" he sneered.

"Eeek!" said the platypus children.

"If you do not leave those children alone, I will bite you in two!" he said, displaying a fang.

"You could not bite a potato in two!" snorkeled the moose. "I would like to see you try it!"

For years and years, Crispy the lion had been made fun of because he was different. He was not a very good hunter, and he was not a very good astronomer. He had the wrong number of claws, and his mane was always too poofy. But he had a heart bigger than all the other lions put together.

"I will!" he roared. He gathered his will. He gathered his strength. He pulled a potato out of his pocket and bit it right in two!

The mean old moose laughed so hard he swallowed his cigar and exploded.

"Eeek!" said the platypus children.

"Thank you, Crispy!" said the overjoyed Platypus. "Have an oatmeal cookie!"

Crispy the Lion loved oatmeal cookies.

"Mmmph! Wemm, I mmfta go nowmm. Gmbye Pmmattypuff!" he said, spraying cookie crumbs all over the place.

That night, he slept in a bus.

In the morning, Crispy jogged in place for no reason for about an hour.

After a little bit of jogging in different places, he came to his friend Mole's house.

"Howdy, Mole!" he said.

Mole was in his yard, putting up a satelite dish.

"'Sup, Crispy?" he said cheerfully. He had not seen his friend since the last book!

"I wish I could swim with my tail, like the dolphins," announced Crispy.

"That's stupid," explained Mole.

"Oh," said Crispy. "Well, have a potato, Mole!" he said, handing Mole half of a potato.

"Damn, cuz! Some dude put the munch move up on this thing! Right in two!"

The Shittiest Lion smiled to himself.

Based on a true story.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Photography: A Discourse

As my good buddy and sometimes colleague Jack Regan has mentioned on his blog, I am a photographer. Not only that, I am an expert photographer. I just thought I would take this opportunity to spread a little of my knowledge peanut butter on the bread of you, the public. Hand sanitizer and paper towels will be available in the back. Just ask your usher.

I was recently out on a "gig," as we photographers say. A "gig" is what we call a "random destination that we drive to so we can stand around with a camera dangling round our necks". Sometimes we actually look through the hole (called the "squinty portal" in cameraspeak) and push the button.

On this gig, I took a picture of a beetle.

A mighty fine shot, if I do say so myself. And of course I do. I used my Canon RangeGoblin DSLR with a Dweezlebaum filter over the front element. You get a little bit of frobbing around the edges with a Dweezlebaum, but the increase in overall sphinctering is worth it.

If you look very closely, you can see the tracks in the sand the beetle left behind. I'm not sure what kind of beetle it is, because I am a photographer and not a beetlologist.

The constraints of viewing a high-res picture in a browser becomes readily apparent in this case, as some may find it hard to pick out the beetle, who I have named Hank.

You'll have to click the image to make it bigger, as the downsampling tends to add smudge and wank to the titter mask.

If you (I do, because I'm a pro) have purchased the Pixelpuss™ plug-in for Adobe Photoshop, you can achieve some stunning results. Just thought I'd throw that out there.

Note the beetle's thorax and its many dots. Go on. Note them.

The original shot was framed on a quadpod with a Gravity Boom™ tracking system. This setup increases the areal density of pretty much any CMOS sensor, enabling the skilled artisan to utilize a technique called "pixel snubbing". It was worth the second mortgage.

As the image below clearly attests, the results are nothing short of pretty neat. Here is a zoomed-in crop of the original.

If Blogger's lousy Koala Image Engine hadn't stripped my images of their metadata, you could right-click them, select properties and view all the statistics. That is okay, though, as we enthusiasts love spouting meaningless (to you, the philistine) numbers attached to little bits of alphabet soup. Here are some now.

Fractal lenghth: 204 decibels.
Composure setting: Gritty (terminology may vary between camera models).
White balance setting was trimmed toward honky but the auto-crippling feature of the RangeGoblin tended towards the infra-red. Hopefully this will be addressed in future firmware releases.
RGB luminance quantifier: Knurled, but red-weighted with a high RPM trochoid setting.
Light metering: Squirrely.

The images were processed with Adobe Photoshop, which helped remove some of the lens flapping. I also employed the Imagemonkey® FrameSpackler Pro™ to fill in some of the dry spots.

Feel free to use my techniques for yourself, waste a bunch of money on high-end equipment to drop in the sand, and soon you will become an unbearable doofus in your own right!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fighting the Write Fight

Sure, have a seat there. Oh, him? Just brush him onto the floor. Oh! Ha! I'm sorry about that. He's not declawed. We'll get you some peroxide and gauze in a few minutes.

I'm glad you were able to come by and listen to me for a bit. I've talked about it before, so I'm sure you're aware of my, uh, brain issues.

No, please! It's not contagious. You can come back. If you start feeling lightheaded, it's probably nothing more than blood loss. This can easily be reversed by a technique called "blood finding," I assure you.

It's not a disease, at least not one that I've heard about before, but it seems that instead of a brain, I've got a whiny 3-year-old. I'm sure that sounds preposterous, given the embryological impossibilities involved, but hear me out.

I like to write. I'm not entirely sure that I would become suicidal if I were ever forced to stop, but I think that has more to do with being unable to imagine someone forcing me to stop writing. I don't know how they'd do it. Snap all my pencils? Rearrange all the letters on my keyboard? Fill my Writey Room with bats?

All that would do is make me mildly sullen. In the case of bats, I wouldn't be so much discouraged from writing as I would be happy to have a very interesting situation to tell folks about.

If they really wanted to me to stop writing, they would find some way to give my brain even more control over me than it already has. It's a cantankerous little beast, my brain. Like it never gets enough naptime, and it's always hungry.

"I want to write a story!" I'll say.

Bleah, my brain will reply. Don't wanna.

"Come on. It'll be fun! I'll give you a cookie afterward." I usually try positive reinforcement before I resort to beatings. I figure if it works on real 3-year-olds, it might work on my brain too.

Can't we just go play the Xbox instead? I'm tired, and the last stuff you forced me to help you write sucked.

Kids and their video games! It's not that games are particularly bad for you, I believe, but that playing them, with a few notable exceptions, reminds you that there are a lot of stupid people out there who get paid a lot. That kind of thing can depress a fella, and make him want to go write about bats.

"Look. What if I promise that this piece will be really, really good? I can even do another Crispy the Lion post. You liked him, right?"

You're a douchepuppy.

"So now we're resorting to name-calling? Don't you make me come in there! I want to write something, and if you're not going to help, then I'm going to just leave you here for the seagulls and go do it by myself. Is that what you want?"

Want ice cream. Hmph.

"You're jolly well not going to get ice cream after the way you've behaved, mister."

It goes on like this until either my brain wins and we both just go watch TV or catch up on the chores (which don't usually involve my brain) or I win and we go write. Someday I hope the little bastard will grow up and I can really buckle down.

Usually you can tell when I've been writing without the help of my brain, can't you?

What's that? Yes, you're right. It is getting quite late, but I'm afraid I'll have to decline your invitation to "shoot that thing," as you've so delicately put it. He eats bugs, you see, which is an invaluable service I'd as soon not lose.

Please give my regards to the tetanus shot man, won't you?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Coffee Goes Off-Roading

Gravel pinged off the car's sides as the rear end swung out and it plowed a dark arc in the dusty switchback. I punched the clutch in and gave the throttle a tap. The tach needle jumped, and I downshifted to third, dropping the clutch and planting my foot hard on the accelerator. The four-wheel-drive dug in and I exited the turn, leaving behind a rolling cloud of dust and gummi bears.

"Whee!" said Coffee. "Go back and do that again!"

"No," I said. I squinted through the dirty windshield, scanning the road for holes. "And quit throwing all our gummi bears out the window. We need those for stamina."

Coffee hit me with his clipboard. "Look. It says right here in the official rally rules that if you are spanky-dope, you have to go back and do the fun turns twice," he said. "Besides, you're way ahead of those other guys."

"Doesn't matter. We're being timed. Keep an eye on the road, willya? What's coming up next?"

"I sincerely doubt that." Coffee consulted his map and pacenotes. He scanned the roadside. "Looks like we're entering hippo country," he said in an exaggerated Texas drawl.

I tapped the brakes to put the car into a slide, and we drifted effortlessly around a shallow bend. "Hippo country? The hell?" I tried to steal a glance at the clipboard, but Coffee hunched over it, obscuring it with his shoulder.

"Yep. Better watch out for the ones with little birds on them. Those are the mean ones."

"If you don't tell me what turns to expect, we're going to lose the race," I said, nervously eying the narrowing road ahead. It was lined with little bent trees.

"Oh, boo hoo! Whatever will you do if the nice man in the suit doesn't give you a pretty little wreath made out of flowers? You'll have to grow your own and maybe have to touch an earwig!"

"There's also the money and the semi truck full of Oatmeal Creme Pies," I reminded him. Coffee was a sucker for OCPs.

"You know," he said, "That might just be a good enough excuse for being lame that I'll let you off this time. One hundred meters, left kink, severity three."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome."

The course straightened out in front of me, and I upshifted and flogged all four hundred horses. The car picked up speed, the trees whooshing by in a green blur, surprised squirrels bouncing off the windshield. The engine's scream was punctuated by thumps and clatters as the car's suspension tracked the pitted road surface. Coffee sat rigidly, arms at his sides, staring grimly ahead, totally focused. The relative silence unnerved me.

"Severity three?" I asked.

"Moose!" Coffee screamed, pointing.

I planted the brake, and the car slewed off the road. We ended up sliding sideways down a steep embankment, crunching through bushes and throwing up plumes of sand.

"No. Wait. I'm sorry. That wasn't a moose," Coffee said, after the car came to rest and the dust settled. "I'm pretty sure that was a yak."

I willed my redlining heart to slow, and loosened my death grip on the wheel. "Dammit. I should have known. That's, what, the third moose you've seen in the last twenty minutes?"

"It was a yak, you doofus. Gummi bear?"

"No thanks." I looked around. I couldn't see the track from here. As far as I could tell, the car was a tiny dot on an endless expanse of scrubland. "Where the hell are we?"

"How the putz should I know? This looks like a good place to get out and run around in circles, though. You up for that?" He poked me jovially with a box wrench.

"What do your notes say?" I prodded.

"Watch out for hippos," Coffee read off the clipboard. "And we haven't hit one yet! You're lucky I came with you on your sweaty little road trip. Can you imagine all the hippos and giraffes and stuff you would have bonked into if I wasn't here? Can I have some pop?"

"I didn't bring any pop," I said, wearily scrubbing the grit from my eyes with the back of a hand. "We came from that way, judging by the path of destruction and skidmarks. Which direction were we supposed to go after that last straight?"

"Don't be a weenie. I put some pop in the trunk before we left. You had an extra wheel in there, which was stupid, so I threw it away." He swung the trunk open. "I brought Mr. Piddle and some Grumpy Cola in case you wanted pop too. Want one?"

"Sure," I sighed. "Eeew. It's all warm."

Coffee released a belch that left the air full of the patter of fleeing small animals and a distinctly cherry odor. "Duh. This is the desert and all my ice probably melted a long time ago. Come on. Let's get out of here. There's no skunks here, and none of these bushes have any suspicious berries in 'em. It's boring."

"So you know which way to go?"

"Of course. You just try not to run into any hippos, and I'll do the rest. Can I listen to the radio?"

"There is no radio."

"This car sucks."

We were off. I didn't hold out a lot of hope that we would be able to put in the fastest time, but we might be able to place in the top five, and I could live with that. Even fifth place won you your weight in Oatmeal Creme Pies.

"Shallow left here. Two hundred; switchback. Bridge. Ducks. No, seriously! Ducks. Sharp right." Coffee's directions came fast and accurate. Before long we were back on a dirt road. Then pavement took over. Soon, I was passing houses.

"Are you sure we're still on course?" I asked Coffee.

He reached over and turned on the wipers. "Trust me. Have I ever gotten you in trouble before?"

"Did you see that? We just went through a red light. There are other cars on this road! That last one was a minivan full of kids!"

"Don't worry so much. They were just little kids, and you have a helmet. Slow down. Square right."

I sighed. We'd pretty much blown the race, so I might as well make the turn. I pulled into the parking lot and stopped.

"Waffle House. You happy?"

Coffee tittered. "Yes! You know what this means, right?"

"Enlighten me."

"It means that we can eat bacon and make fun of men with hats. It means we're winners!" I pulled the door open and Coffee pranced inside.

"You paying?" I asked him.

"Hell no. You still owe me for that pop I gave you."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Literary-Based Geological Relocation (Recycled)

A friend of mine recently told me that in order to "move mountains with my words," I would have to address "larger" subjects in my writing.

Naturally, I was under the impression that I already was moving them. Twice daily. Like a tectonic game of checkers, I was chucking mountains all over the place, stacking them, putting them in rows and generally having myself a grand old time.

Unfortunately, it seems one's lack of navigation prowess (which makes the mountain-moving a little random, but that is neither here nor there) is not considered a "big" idea. "People actually have to be paying attention to your words as well," my brain reminded me. I wept silently and not a little bitterly.

I scanned the Blog archives and found that of my roster of characters, only The Hardass would move mountains. He would do it with his fists and jaw. Since that is more akin to "strip mining" than moving mountains in the metaphorical sense, which is what I'm sure my friend meant, even he is out of the running.

Then came the soul-searching. What subjects should I tackle? Which ones could I, given the limited space inside my head, even including my sinuses? And by "big" did my friend mean "exhibiting strong human relativity" or "sailing deep and uncharted philosophical waters"?

Farts are 100% relative.

Deities are uncharted. (Those who claim to have charted them are later discovered to be insane).


Perhaps she meant I should express an opinion on things that exert a greater emotional pull on the general populace. Tort reform or abortion rights?

Now I see the problem: Discussing things like that endanger the delicate stupid plants we have carefully nurtured in putz pots here on the Blog. In other words, it would do irreparable harm to the Ambient Moronics (shameful plug, I know), in much the same way that CFCs munch up the ozone layer.

I find people who take themselves very seriously to be somewhat worrisome. I am concerned for their blood pressure, and I am concerned for whomever they're planning to bomb. Ecoterrorists and false prophets are the logical extreme.

More importantly, they are not funny.

So rest assured, wasters of time, you will not load up your (surely bookmarked) link to the Blog of Stupid and find The Hardass discussing Gnosticism or Paul the CrimeFighter wrestling internally with the question of where to draw the line between "nice" and "euphemistic," and whether or not they overlap with "obscurantist".

If you want to know my stance on these things, meet me at Bob Evans, and we shall discuss them over a plate of sausages.

Friday, September 11, 2009

"I Sawr Me a Toad!"

As it does once every seven days, the weekend had woken me like an overenthusiastic golden retriever. It knocked my bedroom door open with its big head, jumped up on the bed and started pawing my covers.

"Alright, alright! I'm up!" I told it, shooing the weekend away before it could lick my face again. It bounced happily down the hallway ahead of me as I trudged to the bathroom. I couldn't sleep in forever. I knew I had things to do today that I normally couldn't do during the work week. I knew further that this was a lie--I just didn't want to do them during the work week.

One of the things I had to do was go shopping. As I'm sure I have mentioned before, I'm not really wild about shopping. Shopping takes you out into The Public where one runs the risk of being asked for directions by strangers. Even if, miraculously, I know exactly where the place is and how to get there, my brain always picks that exact moment to sabotage me by playing a game of Mad Libs:

"If you want to get to Dirty Larry's cabbage patch, keep heading downwind on Wonkville Terrace, and turn sideways 'til your doors turn blue. Then when you see Bigfoot shouting 'howdy, squirrels!' on the corner, make a quick squeak and fall down. It'll be on the mashed potatoes with gravy."

I was at the local superstore, making my surgical shopping strike and I had almost gotten out of it unscathed, when I felt the presence of a weirdo.

I was standing in line at the express checkout, eyeing the gum and wondering what the store did with all of those stupid checkout magazines they never sell, when I heard footsteps behind me. Normally this would be of no concern, even to an agoraphobe like myself. This time it gave me pause. Were those...slippers I heard?

I had to find out. I didn't want to just twist 'round and look down at the person's feet and say "oh! I see! That settles it, then!" and then go back to staring at the gum. That would be awkward. So naturally, it's exactly what I did.

"It shore do!" said the man behind me as I turned back around and got the gum in focus again.

Dammit. Now I had to turn around again and explain myself or have a conversation or something equally unpleasant. Mentally berating myself for displaying wanton curiosity, I took a deep breath and faced the stranger. I noticed that in addition to the slippers, he was wearing a bathrobe and a cowboy hat.

"Merp!" he said.

I quickly spun again and stared straight ahead. Merp? This guy was definitely a weirdo. Maybe if I held real still and breathed real shallow, he would go away. I felt a finger jab me in the shoulderblade. I somehow knew that that finger was dusted with day-glo orange Cheetos powders.

"Um. Hi," I said.

"Wunst, I sawr me a toad at work!" the stranger ejaculated. He pulled a single Cheeto out of his bag and looked very closely at it.

"Where do you work?" my traitorous mouth asked. It was evidently dead-set on me continuing this conversation whether I liked it or not. The stranger put his Cheeto back in the bag and frowned at me.

"Hurh?" he said.

Dammit. I probably offended him. I quickly scanned the area for someone in a white coat pushing an empty wheelchair or holding a straitjacket. Alas, this fellow seemed to be on his own.

"I mean, uh," I began.

"Oh! Phooey. I works down yonder, you git me? At that place whut makes them little nubbins whut keeps yer cabbnit doors frum bangin' when they clap shet. Soggy donkey balloons." He pulled another cheesy specimen from his bag and gave it the scrutiny.

This line was possibly the slowest-moving I had ever stood in. I craned forward to get a look at the person currently at the register. She had a shopping cart full of children and toys; clearly more than the 10 items or less, not including the kids. I fired a full barrage of hate-rays at the back of her head. I again wondered how people with such lousy math skills managed to stay employed long enough to afford to go shopping.

"Hey, mister," said the stranger behind me. When I turned, he tucked the Cheeto into my breast pocket. "That 'un's fer you."

"Thanks," I said.

"So that toad? Lil' faller was on the blacktop and I suz to m'self, I suz 'you shouldn't be on the blacktop ya crazy toad!' I went ta pick 'im up, and he squirted right out my grip, like so." The stranger held his arms out straight, his hands cupped one over the other, and squeezed a Cheeto out from between them. "Thurrrrbth! Just like that."

The command from the Broca's area of my motor cortex instructed my mouth to make a dismissive noise so I could go back to staring at the gum and hating the other shoppers, but it got distorted somewhere along the way.

"Did you ever manage to catch him?" I said instead.

"Honk jiggly!"

There were many ways to construe that phrase, none of them accompanied by an attractive mental image. I was going to resign myself to the conversation trap I was in and ask for clarification, but it was forthcoming.

"I sho did. I picks him right up, see, and I chunked him in the weeds. Toads b'long in the weeds, see, so that's whur I pit him."

"Good," I said. I was proud of myself for that one. It was a good reply.

The stranger rooted around in his Cheetos bag. It appeared empty. He pulled his hand out, stared at his palm for a good five seconds, then looked up at me.

"Hey, mister. I might jes wanna git that one Cheeto back frum ya."

I obliged. He crammed it into his mouth without opening it first. A fine dust of Cheeto shrapnel caught in his beard and glowed there majestically. He seemed content, so I turned around yet again to face the front of the line. The woman with the full cart was digging in her purse. Probably looking for her checkbook. I felt the finger in my back again.

"Did I tell you I sawr a toad at work yestaday?" the stranger asked.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

G.I. FooDaddy (Recycled)

Disclaimer: The entirety of the research involved in writing this post comes from a mish-mash of all the war video games I have played over the last few years. So don't expect it to make a whole lot of sense. Fighting Germans in the jungle? Why not?

I am also aware of the intense focus exhibited by a well-trained soldier. This, I would not be. I imagine it'd be like in the video games, where my character spends most of his time bumping into walls, tripping over logs and trying to find his grenades. Getting shot also takes up a good deal of my time, but at least in video games, all you have to do is rest up a little. Who knew you could cure existing gunshot wounds by simply not incurring any new ones?

Also, there is a good deal of gratuitous cussage in this one, just like in the video games. Tell the kiddies to go outside.

In the hundred-and-eight degree jungle, the heat was nearly anthropomorphic in its unrelenting hostility. Only another member of the human race would know what buttons to press, which weaknesses to exploit; how to be so perfectly unpleasant. The sandy rattle of semi-automatic rifle fire and the relentless mosquitoes churned the air into a eddying pool of exquisite hatefulness.

"Sweatin' like a fuckin' giraffe over here," muttered Pvt. Jake Toboggan. He lay flat on his back in the trench, staring up into the hazy afternoon sky, balancing his M1 Garand rifle, barrel down, on the palm of his hand. "When do we get that ice cream you promised us?"

Major General Whack Buffalo glared over his shoulder at the private. "You'll get your goddamn ice cream whenever I jolly the damn well fucking damn say you get it! Damn!"

The Major was a big angry man. He always had been. That's why he had those stripes and was the only one Central Command allowed to carry the big box of C4.

"Now sit the shit still, soldiers! Fuck it sideways, Toboggan, would you fix yer puking gig line! Zip your goddamn fly, son, or your goddamn bayonet'll fall the damn out! Jesus Christ!"

Private Toboggan put down the grenades he was juggling and zipped his fly. He didn't bother lining up all his buttons. Most of them were missing anyway.

"Hey. I, uh, can't find my Browning. You seen it?" asked Randy Sourhill. Randy was the worst sniper in the world, and Jake's best friend.

"You were using it to shoot at those beetles about half a mile back. What'd you do with it after that?" said Jake.

"Holy dancing whores! Would you two fucktards shut the dick up? You want Jerry to find us down here? Balls!" Major General Buffalo screamed. Brightly colored birds took startled flight for miles around.

The Major General was mad. The company could tell because of the way he kept eating C4 by the handful.

"No, I meant my little chocolate cakes. Brownies, I guess. I always get those two mixed up. I have my pistol gun thing right here," Randy whispered, patting his cargo pants. Suddenly there was a sharp crack and a flash of light from Randy's thigh.

"You really shouldn't keep it cocked," advised Jake, handing him a roll of tactical duct tape. "This should stop the bleeding."

"Fuckitty damn damn balls!" screamed the Major. "Cockin' yer gun, boy? Jesus Bob Christ!" He pulled a dirty magazine out of his pack, ogled it furiously for three seconds, then punched a hole in the earthen wall of the trench.

A Focke-Wulf droned by overhead.

"Germans! Aw, crap, man, right there! Take 'em down! Americaaaaaa!" Jake and Randy both emptied an M1 clip at the plane. When the hammer clicked on an empty chamber, Randy threw his gun at the aircraft and fished a beer out of his flak jacket.

"Time to celebrate!" he said. He popped the cap, and stood up. "To the Allies!" he said, and got shot in the shoulder.


"Dropped your beer," Jake said, pointing.

"Rusty ass-varnish!" thundered Major Buffalo. "Fer chrissake boy, quit getting shot! We're gonna flank the fuck outta that machine gun nest and we need you to stop the damn shit rabbit fuck chocolate--!"

At this point, the Major became too enraged to see straight, so the chaplain had to lead him by the hand so he could in turn lead the charge. The Whoop of Victory tore from the throats of Cheddar Company, as they broke cover and fanned out.

"Holy shit! These guys have guns! Nobody said they'd have guns!" Jake screamed, dodging machine gun fire and flying debris. "This is totally not fair!"

Limping and grasping his shoulder, Randy followed close behind. "Let's see if we can get behind that hill. I can take out that gun emplacement. Cover me?"

"Hell no! Didn't you just hear me? Jerry has guns!"

"Bah fuckitty cunt a ding dong!" howled the Major General. He skidded to a halt and wrenched the bumper off an infantry transport truck. Holding it like a Samurai sword, he charged a line of German infantry. He detonated a smoke grenade, and was lost from view. Metallic bonging noises and German curses drifted out of the cloud.

"Hope the Major don't get shot," Jake muttered, throwing himself behind the hill. Bullets pelted the dirt and mud on the other side. "Hey, a Snickers wrapper! What's this doing here?"

"Okay. Jake, keep an eye out for guys in the trees. See that gunner in the pillbox over there?"


"Whatever his name is, that cracker's gettin' capped."

Randy went prone. He opened the case and extracted his gun's stock, action, scope and barrel and began to quickly assemble them.

"Is that a Springfield M1903A4?" Jake asked, tucking the Snickers wrapper under his helmet.

"Only the finest!" squealed Randy, happily twisting the screw on a hose clamp.

"I, uh, didn't know they came apart like that."

"They do. This thing was a bitch to disassemble, though. I had to use a hacksaw. Hand me that C-clamp, wouldja?"

Randy mounted his gun on a tripod and took a deep breath. He squinted into the glass eye of his scope. He took the cap off the end and tried again. He slowly let his held breath escape in a carefully measured--

"What the hell!?" The Springfield toppled off the tripod and into the mud as nearby gunfire startled the hapless sniper.

"Oh, sorry. Saw a parrot," grinned Jake, re-holstering his Browning.

"Did you get him?"

Jake's grin melted like wax lips on the sun-washed hood of a Willys Jeep. "No."

"Hey man, don't cry. Maybe we can shoot at some monkeys when we're done here. Remember when we were back in Japan and you shot that lizard?"

"That wasn't in Japan," sniffed Jake.

"Wasn't it? Oh. Well. Still."

Randy re-mounted his rifle and took careful aim. He centered on his target, then moved slightly up and to the right to compensate for wind and distance. He slowly squeezed the trigger. The Springfield spat a brief burst of flame from its muzzle and the scope fell off.

"Ow! Hey, what the fuck?" A dismayed cry from Cheddar Company.

"Oh, geez. Sorry Gerard!"

"You shot me in the ass, Sourhill! Goddammit, that's the second time today!"

"Totally uncalled for, man! I said I was sorry!"

Jake stealthily pulled the pin on a grenade. "Look. A turtle."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What To Write?

A Surreal Journey Around Writer's Block

The Blogger meandered amongst the armchairs.

He considered writing about some hilarious little scenario that unfolded at work today, but sadly nothing hilarious happened there. He supposed he could make something up, but that felt dishonest for some reason.

"You could just change the POV to third-person, change the names, and bingo! Hilarious workplace antics," suggested one of his cats.

The Blogger shooed it away.

That didn't actually happen, and it was a cheap trick to play on his reader. Being scrupled did not change the fact that he was stuck for a subject to write about, though.

He continued his thoughtful trek around the living room. Whenever the Blogger suffered from blogger's block, he wandered. As if the idea were somewhere around the house, wedged between the couch cushions or stuck in the dryer's lint trap, and he could find it if he walked around enough.

An image of his father floated across his mind, as images are wont to float into people's head in a metaphoric sense.

"Doctor! I've never seen anything like this before. He somehow managed to get a picture of a bearded fellow stuck inside his skull! It appears to have floated there. Don't ask me how."

That was just silly. English is silly.

The image of his father clearly showed the beardy gent wearing a homburg hat and sitting at a table. Spread out on the table were three or four pairs of headphones in various states of disassembly, and one plate containing the man's favorite vegetarian dish. The Blogger detected curry in the dish.

"What's wrong with you, boy?" asked his father. "I'm serious. You need to start going to bed earlier. If you're looking for something, you need to equip y'self with an LED flashlight. Gummy bear?"

The Blogger shook his head. The image popped free and floated in a lazy see-saw down to the carpet.

"Alright! Curry!" said the cat, pouncing on and eating the image.

"I suppose I could offer an opinion on some contemporary subject. Maybe make it funny somehow," the Blogger muttered, making another circuit around the furniture.

"I wouldn't suggest that," said Alan Orloff.

"What're you doing in my imagination?" the Blogger asked.

"Sweaty, horrible things. Never you mind. The nugget of wisdom I wish to leave you with before I take my leave is this: never never write about your opinions. No matter how right you may think you are, (and in the capital-A Absolute sense you very well may be right) you will find no shortage of knuckle-draggers all too willing to take it as an invitation to offer their own stupid opinions. Most of these opinions they will have formed while angrily relieving themselves in a gas station restroom. They will bother you."

"Like a town hall meeting?"

"Hey! What did I just say?" said Mr. Orloff, fading back into the blog from whence he'd come.

"Strange," thought the Blogger. "Usually the voices that give me advice belong to people I have actually met." Which reminded him of an idea he had once.

He had been reading about some modern day Tool of Jehova who had set fire to his whole family because he believed God had told him to. It had struck him as funny that nobody ever seemed to hear voices that told them to do nice things. Those poor souls who claimed to have been taking orders from God or nuclear skunks or whatever...they always seemed to be told to perpetrate really rotten deeds.

"Sir, can you tell us why you personally funded the FooDaddy Wing for the Terminally Clumsy at this hospital?"

"Well, Samantha, I did it because I woke up one morning, and my cats--and I distinctly remember them both being in agreement, which is rare--were telling me to go donate all my money to the local medical concern. They also told me to offer you a treat. Gummy bear?"

It's probably because folks are much more willing to take credit for their actions when they aren't likely to be jailed for them. Blame it on the voices, and maybe they'll just give you some pills and let you go back home.

That was silly. People are silly.

"That's it! I could write about how silly some things seem if you look at them too long!" the Blogger exclaimed. "I'll get started as soon as I finish procrastinating and throwing up roadblocks of my own devising."

The Blogger considered that some pretty good social commentary, and decided to leave it at that.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

She Loves Me; She Loves You Not

“You do realize, Buck Studsworth, that she does not love you as much as you believe she does?”

“That’s a lie!” roared Buck with such force that Thurgood Bastardson's hair blew back on the gale of his manly breaths.

“It might be,” said Thurgood, “but it’s not. Do you remember that day the two of you walked hand in hand along the creek?”

“The babbling one whose course brings it near my cabin, filling it with its music on the quiet, moon-bathed nights?”

Thurgood gagged a little, but managed to hide it with a well-placed chuckle. “Yes, the very one. Do you also remember the conversation you and the Swoony woman had?”

“The recollection of that glorious time,” Buck said, unhinging his knees and thrusting his Buckhood forward, “is as the initials of lovers carved just yesterday into the vital bark of a thriving tree!”

“It, uh, was yesterday, Studsworth.”

“Ha! Then I gain the upper hand, Bastardson!” said Buck, thrusting in triumph. “I shall now refer to thee solely by thy last name, in order that I may patronize thee with my tone.”

Thurgood Bastardson stomped his feet and shook his fists. This wasn’t going to be as easy as he thought. This man, this willfully willful man, possessed powers of obliviousness whose true bulk lay mostly concealed, like stupid icebergs in a sea of irrational thought.

“That’s not the point, fool! The point is that Cassidy Swoony loves another man!”

Buck stopped his victory thrust in mid-tilt. His piercing gaze of blue ice skated over Bastardson’s twisted visage like a pack of skate-wolves.

“Other? What you say is truth. I am that other man. I am the only one in whom she feels secure,” he said, but his voice carried an undertone of uncertainty that did not go unnoticed by Bastardson. He pressed in, meaning to clear the penguins off Buck’s icebergs one by one with his mental shotgun of deception. He chuckled.

“Oh, I think you know what I mean. Throw your mind back, Studsworth, and you will recall one particular line of your dialogue. It was when you remarked how wonderful it was to find someone who understood you. Do you remember what she said?”

“As if it were lover’s initials--”

“Yes or no!”

“Yes, I remember.”

“And what did she say, Studsworth? Tell me what she said!” Bastardson screamed. He was really working himself up, face red, hands shaking feverishly.

“She remarked that she found rabbits particularly cute.”

“BEFORE that!”

“Aye. Before that, she turned her face upon mine and told me with feeling that there was yet out there a man who could do the same for her.” Buck said steadily. He pointed to himself. “Me.”

“Arrogant, arrogant man!” Bastardson shook his head. He slammed his fist down onto the table, upsetting the salt shaker and the checkers. “You merely assumed it was you? You just thought that since she happened to be speaking to you, she was speaking about you? The folly! You must allow me a chuckle!”

Before Buck could answer, he took one. It tumbled around the room like a sack of malicious ferrets. Finishing up, he wiped his streaming eyes and glared levelly at Buck.
“She’s a nice woman. A lady. Ladies don’t offer their hearts to savage, uncultured cowboys, Studsworth. You’ll have to learn sooner or later that this is the way the world works.”

“We constructed large quantities of love! Right there in the birch grove!”

“Pity sex.”

“She screamed my name over and over again upon her climax!”

“Autonomic guilt reaction.”

“She told me that if she could cut off one of her legs that she would do so that I might always have it with me!”

“Post-coital crazy talk. Means nothing.”

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Ideal Complainer

Let's see here. I found two aces, and this stack seems to have a lot of clubs and spades in it, thought Nathan. I really must learn how to play solitaire someday. He clicked on a stack of cards, and watched a bunch of them fly meaninglessly around the screen. Except that I won't, because it's such a stupid game.

It was one of those days.

Nathan worked the help desk for a local something-or-other, and the people who called him fit neatly into two camps: those with familiar problems that he could easily solve himself, and those with problems that sounded like they were most likely caused by evil spirits and should not be talked about ever again, lest the demons become restless. These latter he usually passed on to his supervisor, a skilled exorcist.

With a very few exceptions, both varieties of caller were generally patient and calm, however, because they were professionals.

Nathan's phone rang. He quickly un-slouched himself, jabbed the line connect button and swung the handset up to his ear in one fluid motion.

"So-And-So Concern, this is Nathan!" he said cheerfully.



"Oh, I'm sooo sorry!" said a voice. This voice belonged either to a super villain or a benevolent school headmaster. "Things are just going so wrong over here right now, I didn't even hear your greeting, blast my ears! This is Larry from that concern you tech-support, and I was wondering, you know, if you could help me out."

"I will most certainly try, Larry!" Nathan replied.

"Well, oh my gosh, I'm not even sure where to begin. I don't know if this was even the right number to call! It seems that---is it still doing that? It is? Well, I'm going to trust that this is the right number, and even if it's not! Oh!"

There was a muffled explosion and Larry's voice sounded echoey and far away. "Somebody better get a lot of rags," he said. There was some further rustling, and Larry's voice regained its normal volume and timbre. "I'm sorry about that Nathan, but it seems that things are actively on fire over here! Wouldn't you know it? And on a Monday too, isn't that always the way things go?"

"Of course. It wouldn't be a Monday without some sort of calamity, huh?" Nathan said in a reassuringly jokey manner. He pulled a pencil and scratch pad out of his desk drawer. This sounded like one of those problems he might have to take notes on.

"Nathan, allow me to explain. It seems we have had some people calling in and complaining that a certain service is not working for them! It's hanging up on them and calling them names, and telling them nasty stories about their spouses. That wouldn't be something you could take care of, would it?"

Nathan put away his pad and pencil and smiled. This wasn't anything new after all, but a problem he was actually familiar with.

"Larry, I believe I can actually fix this problem for you," he said.

"That would be SPLENDID, Nathan!"

"Sounds like the ol' CRS machine just needs to be reset. I'll get right on it."

"Oooooh, thank you Nathan! This is wonderful news, and I'll surely pass it on if I can make it out from under these collapsed girders without, you know, sawing my legs off. You have a great day now."

"Thanks, Larry, you too!"

Nathan placed the handset back in its cradle and resumed his slouch. That guy was awesome. If Larry survived, Nathan hoped he would call again soon. Talking to Larry beat solitaire hands-down.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Sociophobe Orders an Omelet

The Sociophobe was not feeling his most chipper. He certainly had occasions to feel chipper before, so he knew what it was like.

This was not it.

He forked a sausage and lifted it to eye-level. He noted all the little dents in its surface, and what appeared to be a liberal sprinkling of pepper cooked right into the meat. He wondered if it really was pepper. It looked like pepper.

He ate the sausage. Tasted like it might be pepper in there after all.

Chewing, he wondered why when he got depressed he always noticed things like that. The texture of his sausage.

Or the little embossed designs on his napkin.

He wondered if anyone would notice if one day they suddenly stopped embossing the napkins. Or if they did, would they care? The Sociophobe thought that people would probably care. The napkins wouldn’t look as fancy, and people would complain that they were sub-par. They would look down on the plain, unembossed napkins, despite the fact that they were probably every bit as good as the embossed ones.

The Sociophobe ran a finger across the little bumps on his napkin, like a blind man reading Braille. Yeah. If they were just smooth, people would think they were cheap. Even if they worked just as well as the bumpy ones.

He pulled himself out of his daydream with a shake of his head. Here he was, sitting at a restaurant, feeling sorry for napkins, for Christ’s sake. He’d never even seen a restaurant napkin without embossing on it, but he was feeling sorry for any unlucky plain ones out there. That was kind of pathetic, so he opened up the lid of his ThinkPad laptop computer and launched his word processor. This way, he would look like he was doing something important. Perhaps he was a student, working his way to a prestigious degree in being a rich guy. Or maybe he was already a rich guy who just came to this restaurant when he needed to get away from his crowds of friends.

Or maybe he was just depressed, and it seemed fitting that he should come to an empty restaurant and get a booth to himself.

A grey cloud of carcinogens drifted unimpeded over to the Sociophobe’s table and settled in a haze around the ineffectual ventilation system.

He coughed and looked back down at his laptop. Its screen, which was a nice wide model capable of displaying two documents side-by-side, according to the box it came in, was displaying zero documents.

The window was maximized, showing clearly and full-screenly that there wasn’t a single word not part of a toolbar on the barren expanse of LCD white. The Sociophobe pointed at the blinking cursor. “Any moment now, a torrent of brilliance will fill the page and make me rich,” he fantasized aloud.

“Sounds exciting,” said a female voice to his right. The Sociophobe jumped. “Can I start you out with anything to drink? Coffee, iced tea, Pepsi products?” his waitress asked sweetly, hand poised over one of those waitress notepads.

“Oh, coffee, please.”

“You want cream with that?”

“How about your telephone number with that?” the Sociophobe imagined himself saying, gesturing suavely out the window to his Porsche with a nod.

“No thanks,” he said with a nod that made his sunglasses fall off the top of his head and into the booth behind him.

“Okay! Do you know what you want yet?”

“A Porsche.”

“Heh. Don’t we all? If you need a few minutes, I can go get your coffee while you decide.”

“That’d be spiffy.”

“I’m Megan, if you need anything else, okay?”

“I know,” the Sociophobe muttered quietly as she walked away.

It was the Sociophobe’s habit to lope into this Bob Evans location with his laptop at least once a week to look interesting. At least that was the plan. Anyone in a restaurant by himself without a book or a laptop computer was probably a stalker or some sort of sex criminal. The Sociophobe was neither, and since he fancied himself a writer, he toted his laptop under his arm whenever he ate alone.

This is, of course, what his brain told him.

“You can’t go in there by yourself, man! It ain’t done that way ‘round these parts.”

“These parts? You think West Michigan is some sort of giant, multi-county cult?”

“Yes. A conservative one. Look out for the Christian Reformed Church and their arsenal of lame white person food!”

“Okay. You have a point there. A cynical one. But still…what’s wrong with going into a restaurant by yourself?”

“People will look at you.”

“They have to. Otherwise, they’d bump into me.”

“Aww! Lookit you trying to be witty! You get a gold star for effort. What I meant, though, is that they’ll suspect you.”

“Of what?”

“Oh, you know. The kinds of things you hear about on the news when people are being interviewed about a serial killer the police caught in their area. ‘He was a quiet man. Always ate at Bob Evans by himself. Good tipper, but he liked mustard on his pancakes. That was a little weird, now that I think about it.’”

“That’s ridiculous.”

It was, of course, but what started as a laughable little seed of a scenario had grown into a festering social anxiety bush, complete with suspicious berries and teeming with awkward squirrels.

The Sociophobe looked around the restaurant and saw an elderly couple standing at the pulpit thing by the doors, doing what the sign on it told them to do. Waiting to be seated. He looked back down at his LCD before they could make eye contact. It had powered itself off to save battery power, and he poked the TrackPoint nubbin to wake it back up.

“Here’s your coffee!” said the returning Megan. She set a white mug with a blue stripe around the inside of the rim down in front of him on a napkin. Next to it, she set a little bowl of tiny garbage cans filled with Half and Half. Waitresses always asked him if he wanted cream with his coffee, and he always said no, but they always brought him some anyway. There was perhaps something telling about that, but the Sociophobe couldn’t think of what it might be. Maybe he just looked like one of those guys who enjoyed lying about wanting cream.

“Do you know what you want? There’s a special today on pancakes with stuff in ‘em. Do you like pancakes with stuff in ‘em?”

The Sociophobe preferred pancakes with stuff on them. He deftly avoided conflict by ordering an omelet.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Captain Michigan and the Grungy City

The night was misty and full of rain. A perverted wind slithered between the skyscrapers, lifting the skirts of the prostitutes and whipping the ash from the ends of the pimps' cigars. Somewhere a car alarm was abruptly silenced, replaced by the howl of spinning tires.

Captain Michigan looked out over Grungy City, his expression stolid, his glass half-full of gin and tonic.

"Crud," he said into the teeth of the gale. He did this with great effort, as his window was closed. He compensated by being extra squinty. Like that other paragon of crime-bashing and badguy-spanking...ol' what's-his-name...Squint Eastwood.

"Come on, CM. Just sit down. Hang up your shield and come back to the game. It's your turn," said Captain Michigan's girl, a classy dame named Leggy Smalls.

"By the goofy little tufts on the side of my head that vaguely resemble wings!" Captain Michigan roared, "I will not rest until--!"

"Darling, we know about your dedication to kicking crime in the dinky," Leggy interrupted. "It's basically your entire persona. You want me to roll for you? You're on Baltic right now."

Captain Michigan beat his begauntleted fist upon his mitten-shaped shield, the reverberant bonnnng! echoing 'round the apartment. "And betray my city? Leggy! I thought you knew me better than that."

"Stop calling me 'Leggy'."

"Yo, Mitch, you owe me sixty bucks from last time you landed on one of my railroads. We gonna keep playing or did you want to go punch some pimps tonight? The rain's gonna get your mask all soggy, but I'll still go with you if you want," said Captain Michigan's faithful sidekick, Dude Detroit.

"Don't encourage him!" scolded Leggy.

"By the lumpy waters of the great Grand River, let it be so!" Captain Michigan fetched up his Saginaw sword and buckled on his belt of sand bombs. "To the Chevy!" he cried.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


I dee-mand to know just what the hell is goin on here.

I was just trying to get a recipe for meatloaf, and all of a sudden I'm on this stupid site and some bonehead's talking to me. I find this highly objectionable.

Doesn't anybody actually do anything useful in their spare time? When I was this guy's age, I already owned my own company. It was in a brown building, and it made end tables.

Now, ya might be wonderin what an end table is. I'll tellya if you'd listen. Where'd a man put his Coke if it weren't for end tables?

Oh. Hold on a second.

What? The floor? Hell!

That was my no-good son. He said he puts his Coke on the floor, if you can believe it.

I hate kids.

Where was I?

Oh. Right. This stupid website. I suppose I'm done giving it what for. If anybody is reading this, and I sincerely doubt it, I would go find something better to do with your time. Go build yourself an end table. It'll keep the badgers outta yer Coke.

Trust me. I been there.