Monday, January 31, 2011

Way Too Whelmed

Hi. Not much of a post today, ’cause I got a lot to do. I’m meeting with a recruiter this afternoon, which may be promising. Also have to negotiate the dreaded labyrinth of phone hell to get some info on my unemployment benefits. I’m about three-quarters through transitioning to a bigger, faster PC, and I’m borrowing a friend’s flash drive, so I need to finish that and return it to him. Need to pick up a recently-repaired lamp so we can have light in our living room. Have to call the rectory to get a statement of our givings over last year for our tax prep. Oh, and have to locate a couple of medical bills and other miscellaneous bills for said prep.

(catch breath …)

Laundry and the house is a mess. Must drop off Little One’s Daisy Scout cookie order form to her troop leader’s home. Also need to take Little One to the park so she can do a Community Project on it for school (and the park’s buried under three feet of snow!). I finished Tolkien a few days ago, and I’ve been working here and there on a couple of posts about it. Need to do grocery shopping at some point, too.

(sigh …)

So tired but I can’t sleep. Need a shave and a haircut – feel like a hippie or an untended sheep. Still can’t seem to get up the energy to hit the exercise bike once a day, let alone twice a day, and I got a lung scan looming up in the not-too-distant future. Oh, and we’re due for some more snow tomorrow and sleet-slash-freezing rain the day after.

Happy happy joy joy.

But on a more optimistic and upbeat note, I should have something neat up tomorrow …

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Portrait of the Artist

... as a kindergarten lad, c. 1973

[Actually, this picture served as the test subject for some free photo editing software I downloaded. Results: mixed, at best.]

Saturday, January 29, 2011

New Boss a.k.a. Old Boss

“Revolution in dictatorships comes not when the people want it. Not when the students want it. Not when the workers want it. Not when the aristocracy wants it. Revolution in dictatorships comes only when the security forces decide to switch sides.”

- Ole Gumms, Socio-Politico-Militaris Tractatus, c. 2125-2150

Friday, January 28, 2011


On Monday, the day before my flu symptoms kicked in, I read a story to my daughter’s first grade class.

This may or may not seem a big deal to you, but I’m an introverted guy, and I’ve always had internal trouble speaking in front of groups of anyone. Even though I’ve always done a good enough job at it, the prospect of public speaking terrifies me, as it does a good segment of the population.

Compound that with the fact that the Big Goal is to be a published author. Published authors make their living selling books. Published authors sell books by doing book signings and … book readings, in front of people. Now, I’m not ashamed of my fiction, and I know I do at least a passable job speaking in public, so what could possibly be the problem?

My irrational crazy self-destructive imagination, that’s what!

So when we found out early in the school year that Little One would be the Star Student the third week of January, I saw it for what it was. An opportunity for dad.

See, one of the treats the Star Student gets is that one of his or her parents comes in and reads a book to the class. Last year my wife read to our daughter’s kindergarten class. This year I realized it was time to man up and assume the mantle of public storyteller.

I justified it to myself that, hey, even though it’s not an appearance on C-SPAN Book TV or an exchange on the Charlie Rose show, it’s still experience. And when you have absolutely no experience, you take what you can get. In this case, reading to fifteen six-year-olds. It would make it that little less harder the next time I have to do it, which will hopefully be more on-track with my long-term career goal.

And hey, there’s always a danger when stepping in front of a group of first graders: honesty. Brutal honesty. Mess up, and they’ll let you know, usually with lots of finger-pointing and laughing.

An email exchange with my daughter’s teacher locked me in to a 9:30 Friday morning session. The night before I had Little One bring down ten – ten! – of her “favorite” books for me to triage to find an acceptable one. Acceptable meaning style and content: age-appropriate writing level and something for the boys as well as the girls. It proved a tougher task than it first seemed, as my daughter brought down everything from her pre-school picture books to her schizophrenic Fancy Nancy books to a book about Jesus and her Children’s Bible.

I picked one that I remembered took about fifteen minutes to read to her. Plus, it might showcase my unique vocal range, just in case I wanted to go the extra distance during my performance.

Anyway, we got snowed out last Friday. Though I wasn’t nervous and got all my sleep the night before, I did want to get it over with. So now I had seventy-two hours to forget about it.

Monday came quick enough, cold but clear, and I walked Little One to school. I returned home, had some breakfast, watched some teevee with the wife and Patch. Then I tucked my intended book under my arm and marched the three blocks and the twisting pathway to my daughter’s classroom.

The teacher greeted me warmly and introduced me to the class. Little One hovered about, proudly showing me off to her friends, who were all already sitting on a ten-by-ten foot rug by a window. I was told to have a seat in the “reading chair,” a catcher’s mitt of a wicker chair stuffed with bright red throw pillows. I sank into it so fast I had to white-knuckle the sides to keep eye-level with the children. My nervous smile quickly disappeared with a throat clearing.

“Let’s see,” I said. “I know you!” I pointed to my daughter’s BFF Steffie. Then I picked out a boy in the back. “I know you – you’re our neighbor!” I glanced around some more. “I know you … I know you, Colin, right? … I know you – we went to your party last month!”

I held up the book. “The book I’m going to read is one of our favorites: The Princess and the Magic Locket.” I opened the front corner. “It says here, ‘This book belongs to Sofia and Flynn.’ I don’t know who Sofia or Flynn is. We bought this book at a library book sale.”

Crickets. My observation was not received as witty, nor did a path for potential witticism open up.

Again I cleared the old pipes and began reading. A princess has a magic locket and a rhyme to let her cast spells. There’s a mean old witch who steals it and locks up the princess in a castle protected by a mean old dragon. But the mean old dragon actually is nice and befriends the princess. He contrives to bring young Prince Robert to the castle and the three defeat the witch. The dragon is rewarded and the Princess and Prince vow to be good friends.

Shortly into the reading the class began giggling uncontrollably. I raised my eyebrows and looked at the teacher. One of the girls blurted out, “You said, ‘Princess Robert’!” More hysterics ensued for about a minute. The teacher sympathized with me. “They’ll catch you every single time,” she chuckled knowingly.

The reading took about ten minutes. Then came the Q-and-A.

Little One was called up and stood next to me as a dozen little hands fluttered in the air to choruses of “ooh-oh”s and “me-me”s.

It’s amazing how focused these children are on colors at this age. I thought it was just my daughter. Every weekend during our errand runs I have to listen to her tick off the list of her favorite colors, often ten or more. So within a couple of minutes, the questions revolved around various permutations of me and/or Little One’s favorite, least favorite, and “middle favorite” colors.

Then there were a couple of questions about what I like to do with my daughter, and what she likes to do with me. These were nice. We came to a consensus that our favorite thing to do was play air hockey at the local arcade after our Saturday morning errands were all done.

I had to confirm Little One’s favorite food (spaghetti and meat balls). The boys asked a couple of sports questions (I happened to be wearing a Yankee baseball cap). An interesting question was asked about the most fun vacation we ever took. “Puerto Rico,” I said, and Little One agreed. “Not Niagara Falls?” the teacher asked, and seeing the puzzled look on my face, she continued, “Or the Grand Canyon?”

“We never went there,” I stammered, and Little One turned beet red. Seems she’s a budding storyteller of her own. “But we did go to Puerto Rico, and swam in the ocean, and swam in a pool right on a cliff overlooking the sea!”

A half-hour flew by remarkably fast, and the children were ushered to their desks. They still had a full day of schoolwork to get to. The teacher showed me to the door and thanked me. She seemed to enjoy it, as did all the children, my daughter especially. Oh, and I liked it, too!

Bring on C-SPAN Book TV!

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Achy …

... Nauseous

Dizzy …

... Sweaty

Can’t think …

... Can’t write

Can barely type …

Hopefully something tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Monster Etymologies

“Hey, Daddy? Know I saw in the snow in the backyard?”



“Bigfoot footprints?”


“Sasquatch footprints?”


“Yeti footprints?”


“Abominable Snowman footprints?”


“Well, what type of footprints did you see?”

“Animal footprints.”

“Well, what do you think Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Yeti, or the Abominable Snowman is?”

Comfortable silence as we continue our walk to school.

“Daddy, what combination of monster is the Abominable Snowman?”

“He’s half abominable, and half snowman.”

Another pause.

“Hey Daddy! I know what combination a Sasquatch is!”


“He’s sassy, and he wears a watch!”

Then she jauntily sashays about in the snow, doing her six-year-old best to imitate a seven-foot-tall four-hundred-pound hairy hominid angling its arm about proudly showing off a very swanky timepiece.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Istari, Part II

Just came across an enlightening passage in Bradley J. Birzer’s excellent J. R. R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth, concerning the wizards, or Istari. Enlightening to me because it adds a couple of points to what I thought was a well-researched blog post last week.

Here’s the quote:

… Tolkien seemed genuinely puzzled over the names, whereabouts, and fate of the two unnamed wizards (members of the Istari) who arrived at roughly the same time as Gandalf, Saruman, and Radagast. Known only as the “Blue Wizards,” they simply fade from the legendarium, never to be seen by any of the characters who populate Middle-earth. Tolkien had predicted that either Sauron corrupted them to evil, or they had become the founders of Eastern mystery religions and gnostic cults. (pg. 28)

Wow! That last sentence is packed with potentiality. It kinda leads to my intuitive thesis that Tolkien accounts for every philosophic and theologic ism under the sun.

An immediate footnote adds more detail to our mysterious Blue Wizards:

… Tolkien offers yet another possibility concerning the Blue Wizards in his writings published posthumously. They might be, he argued, agitators against Sauron in the East of Mordor, perhaps “weakening and disarraying the forces of the East.” The names he gave them were “Morinehtar and Rómestámo,” meaning “Darkness-slayer and East-helper.”

So now there are four names for these two mysterious “Blue Wizards” floating along the periphery of Tolkienna:


Hey, forgive me this wild-goose chase. It’s an inexplicable childhood obsession!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Two Socio-Political Questions

1. Where were the “calls for civility” from the New York Times, the Washington Post, the news departments of CBS, NBC, ABC, and CNN, and the Democrat Party leadership during the eight years of the Bush Presidency?

2. What has happened to the anti-war movement, now that we have a Democrat in the White House? We are still actively involved in war in Iraq and Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay is still housing prisoners of war.

Don’t bother responding. I understand it’s not about Civility or Peace. The game’s about Power, and how to get some when the Other Guys currently hold it, and how to keep some when Your Guys are in control. I hope you understand that, too.

... < /cynicism >

[Note: the whole Power Principle applies to the Right as well as the Left. I’m partial to the Right, however, because I find their rational arguments more persuassive than those from the Left. Indeed, what I hear mostly from the Left is emotion-based thinking, not rational-based thinking. Please comment if you can prove me wrong!]

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Real Me

For those of you who do not know me, here’s an imaginative exercise that will show you how I, LE, really am once you really get to know me. (Or once I really get to know you. There is a difference, you know, and which algorithm is used depends on YOU.) To do this you must be familiar with the 2009 movie I Love You, Man and the current television show Big Bang Theory.

According to me wife, and I tend to agree, I am:

One-third Peter Klaven, the Paul Rudd character from I Love You, Man

One-third Sydney Fife, the Jason Segel character from I Love You, Man

and one-third Leonard Hofstadter, the Johnny Galecki character from Big Bang Theory.

Now, whichever aspect is dominant at a particular time usually depends on my present state of mind, who I am with, how many people I’m with, what I am reading at the time, and the situation I am placed in.

Oh, and remember the 85 percent rule for this blog!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

January 22, 1973

O thou, whose eyes were closed in death’s pale night,
Ere fate revealed thee to my aching sight;
Ambiguous something, by no standard fixed,
Frail span, of naught and of existence mixed;
Embryo, imperfect as my tort’ring thought,
Sad outcast of existence and of naught;
Thou, who to guilty love first ow’st thy frame,
Whom guilty honour kills to hide its shame;
Dire offspring! formed by love’s too pleasing pow’r!
Honour’s dire victim in a luckless hour!
Soften the pangs that still revenge thy doom:
Nor, from the dark abyss of nature’s womb,
Where back I cast thee, let revolving time
Call up past scenes to aggravate my crime.
Two adverse tyrants ruled thy wayward fate,
Thyself a helpless victim to their hate;
Love, spite of honour’s dictates, gave thee breath;
Honour, in spite of love, pronounced thy death.

- Anonymous, Epitaph on a Child Killed by Procured Abortion

Friday, January 21, 2011

Zen Fat Kid

I walk my daughter back and forth to school every day, and every single day I see the same little boy. Out of a campus of 300-plus, I see him just about every day. Perhaps my reticular activating system is keyed in on him. I don’t know. But there’s something odd about him. At the risk of venturing into non-PC-land, I’ve mentally labeled him the “Zen Fat Kid.”

He’s probably twice the weight of the average boy in his grade, as wide as he is tall. He has no neck I can discern, and his head seems football-shaped, like Baby Stewie’s, although this could be a trick of the eye due to the fur-lined winter cap I always see him wearing. The thing that strikes me most when I walk past him is the look on his face. There’s a hint of a half-smile, like he’s reminiscing about the world’s funniest joke in a language that only he understands. And his eyes hold a perpetual far-away gaze, as if he’s looking down the corridors of time instead of the hallway outside the door of his classroom.

Always the same handful of questions pop into my mind rapid-fire when I see him.

1. Does he know he is dangerously unhealthy?
2. Is he ashamed?
3. Do the other children make fun of him?
4. Does he have some sort of medical condition causing extreme weight gain?
5. Or does he have über-enabler parents at home, a mother who constantly worries, perhaps, that he’s getting too skinny?
6. Is he the fifteenth reincarnation of the Dalai Lama?

Okay, not that last question, but certainly the others.

I said “Hey buddy” to him in passing once, and he just looked past me.

[By the way, isn’t Zen Fat Kid an awesome name for a rock band? Or one of their albums?]

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Children of the Corn?

I have a disturbing and thankfully vague memory. I know it happened, but I can’t seem to recall the time, place, or exact circumstances. As you may know, I am prone to wild flights of imagination, so I’ll try to keep out the adjectives here and describe the memory as clearly and concisely as possible.

There was a party out in the country when I was about ten or eleven. Wide-open spaces and fields, lots of people I didn’t know but who knew my parents. I have no memory whatsoever of the house, but since it was summertime, it was an outdoorsy celebratory affair. Me and my brother made friends with the other little folks there and we played all sorts of games outside.

Across the street was a cornfield, so, naturally, we decided to explore and investigate. Being from the suburbs where my neighbors’ houses stood but ten feet away, we were awestruck by the concept of a cornfield. It was fun and quickly we all decided to play a game of hide-and-go-seek.

We did this for a while uneventfully. Then, I remember being a little nervous because I ran too far into the cornfield. Did I get a sudden chill, or did it actually get colder, as if the sun went behind dark clouds while the wind picked up? I don’t know, but it was getting late, because I could hear my mother’s faraway voice calling for me as it was approaching the time to leave.

I recall feeling relieved, and made my way out to where I thought the street was. I came into a clearing and I looked away from the house, back towards the body of this massless, sizeless, boundless field, and froze in terror. About fifty yards away – a guess, really – I saw ears of corn being tossed into the air, one after the other, quietly and unmistakably coming closer to where I stood.

You know that unpleasant feeling when your heart seems to stop to allow all that adrenaline to be dumped into your bloodstream? So intense where you almost flicker out of consciousness for a second? Well, that was me. Fortunately I found my feet a half-second later and tore off down that path to the street and to the safety of all the people in the house beyond.

I stuttered to my mother but she and another lady just chuckled about “monsters in the fields.” We left for home and that was that.

And this was at least three or four years before I read “Children of the Corn,” from that most excellent collection of Stephen King horror tales, Night Shift.

Now, I probably just saw some other kids playing in the fields, too short to poke their heads above the high stalks of corn. But if so, they were deep in the field. Still, up to that point in my short life, it was one of the most frightening thirty seconds I have ever experienced.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Reading Nook

Ah, my poor man’s man cave! My refuge from the noise, the bustle, the chaos, that his Casa LE. Well, actually, it’s only a refuge from the noise and bustle and chaos after the little ones and the wife have gone to sleep. Then, I lean up against the 200-lb armoire and a comfy cushion, stretch out, and burn through the paragraphs and pages. It’s really more cozy than it looks, partially because I can fold up my legs in a number of ways against that mini-wall to keep me propped up at a 45-degree angle most conducive to reading. It’s my reading nook, my little slice of heaven this side of the afterlife.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Istari

Right after finishing my first (and only) reading of The Lord of the Rings back in the summer of 1981, I jumped into The Silmarillion. And hit a speed bump. As a matter of fact, it properly derailed me. I recall reading Tolkien’s theogony on the beach at Lavalette, thinking, “Where are the hobbits?” Yes, I was a bit too young for that work.

But my insane desire for more Tolkien only intensified. Never did it cross my mind to re-read the Rings epic. No. Instead, I went to my uncle’s shelves and read through a slim volume pairing of Tolkien’s peripheral works, Farmer Giles of Ham and Smith of Wootton Major. Since neither novella had any bearing on or foundation in Middle-earth, I quickly lost interest.

At the time, the only way to expand and fill-in gaps was to consult two Tolkien dictionaries. My uncle had one, The Tolkien Companion, by J. E. A. Tyler. My best friend at the time had the other, The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth, by Robert Foster. So I borrowed both and wound up reading them, hour after hour after hour off and on over the next year or so. Not cover to cover, for they were encyclopedias. But I would pick any entry at random, and very quickly a chain of reading/researching would sprout. For hours.

I could write thousands of words on what I learned from these two books (and I probably will, in some form or another here at the Hopper). But one item in particular fascinated me to no end: the Istari, the wizards of Middle-earth. During the Council of Elrond, at the beginning of book II of The Fellowship of the Ring, we learn that there are five wizards – of which Gandalf and Saruman are the chief – come to Middle-earth in the middle of the Third Age, to aid Elves and Men in their struggle against Sauron.

What really, really got me was Tolkien’s deliberate vagueness behind the idea of the Istari. I had several questions, and all went unanswered. Why five? (Somewheres it’s written “at least five” …) Gandalf and Saruman play prominent roles in LotR, and Radagast the Brown is mentioned, but who were the other two? Were they mentioned in the LotR? Why or why not? Who sent them? What were they, exactly?

Now, the answers to two of those questions may have been answered back then. The wizards may have been sent by the Valar, the gods of Tolkien’s world, and they themselves might have been a lesser degree of angelic being, Maiar. Even when he supplies answers (or the answers are supplied to us readers via the encyclopedias), we have those troubling words may and might. That element of uncertainty was maddening to me.

But the most infuriating thing for me were those two unnamed Istari. I vividly recall spending hours on the couch at my grandparent’s house thumbing through The Tolkien Companion in a fruitless search for their identity. Never mind what their mission was or what they did, just their mere names would suffice.

Never did find out. Never forgot it over the years.

Then, about two months ago, I got bit by the Tolkien bug again, coming a few months after reading The Children of Hurin. I found Tyler’s Complete Companion in the library, but made an astonishing discovery. It seems in the years since I first read the master, a whole cottage industry has arisen making his heirs multigazillionaires.

When I was a kid, there was only The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion to draw from. Now, Christopher Tolkien has gone through so much of his father’s notes that nearly a dozen volumes of notes and essays have been published. I have now the 492-page paperback Unfinished Tales, and there is a ten-volume Histories of Middle-earth that I have yet to investigate. However, it seems that both Tyler and Foster have utilized this vast body of newly-released source material to expand both their encyclopedias.

And now I have my answer to the Unknown and Unnamed Wizards.

I first found it in Tyler’s updated encyclopedia, but the answer is also found in the Unfinished Tales.

The two wizards I searched for three decades ago were called the Blue Wizards. There names are Alatar and Pallando, and “are said” to have traveled far into the East with Saruman. But unlike the chief of the Istari, they never returned to play a role in the War of the Ring.

Still lots of unanswered questions that may never be answered, but it’s just personal proof to me that, with perseverance and patience, a preponderance of puzzling pablum will pass away into partial yet placid pellucidity.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sir Steinbeck

Busy weekend, lot of running around, doing errands, cleaning the house, running Little One here and there, hosting my father-in-law. Watched the football games, watched my oldest practice her basketball game. Put away close to a hundred pages of The Two Towers.

But the highlight for me was scoring a rare book. Go figure!

Me and the two little ones were zipping through Barnes & Noble, searching for a birthday gift for Grandpa, the third of about six errands we needed to do Saturday morning. Now, I never let a B&N visit go to waste, so we detoured to the SF-Fantasy used paperback section. Since I’ve been re-reading Tolkien, I’ve had a notion to read some Mary Stewart, she of the Crystal Cave-Hollow Hills Arthurian updates that we all had to read as part of our high school summer reading programs, if you went to high school in the early 80s.

I remembered seeing used hardcover books of hers there, so I bribed the younglings with some chocolate milk and proceeded to scour the shelves. No luck. Then, something caught my eye, something I had been aware of only vaguely at some point (it was on my Acquisitions List an unknown time ago): The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by none other than … John Steinbeck.

The fact that Steinbeck wrote his take on the Arthurian legend somehow strikes me as must-read. I know nothing of the book or how it was received half-a-century ago. I’m not much versed on Steinbeck, either, except for reading In Dubious Battle, twice. Despite the fact that the politics of the book are 180 degrees of mine, I absolutely and enthusiastically love that novel, back when I first read it in high school as well as a re-read some seven or eight years back.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Arthur and his knights for most of my life. As a kid I loved that movie Excalibur. As an adult I bought the DVD for a re-watch and hated it. I loved my first read of T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, but a subsequent reading was intolerable. I enjoy Tennyson’s Idylls of the King but have never been able to read through the whole thing. Go figure!

So, I snatched up Steinbeck’s book, debited the $2.70, and excitedly put it on its proper spot on the shelf behind me as I type this, the on-deck circle, upon which twenty-eight books currently sit. But I’ll bump it up a bit in the rotation. Maybe you’ll be reading a review of it, here at the Hopper, some time early fall …

Sunday, January 16, 2011


I’m driving my 6-year-old back from basketball practice yesterday afternoon when suddenly she pipes up excitedly from the backseat. “Hey Daddy! I know what oith is!”

Huh? Did I miss something?

“I know what oith is!”

Okay, I’m game. “What’s oith?”

In the rear-view mirror I see a big smile beaming back at me. “Oith is what Bugs Bunny calls the Earth!”

And so it is, Little One. So it is …

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Friday, January 14, 2011

Mathematical Jerk

I just learned an interesting factoid today that I never heard before.

One of my biggest complaints when they learned me some math way back when was that, occasionally, they explained you the formula without necessarily telling you the real-life practical meaning behind it.

For a very basic example, I didn’t know that integration was a method to determine the area under a curve until I got to college math. But as I write this I realize a goodly portion of the blame for things like this lie at my feet. After all, in high school I had a lot more on the mind than calculus.

Anyway, imagine a polynomial equation with variable t representing time and x representing position. Let’s say it’s the result of computer analysis of a typical kick-off run back. It zigs and zigs, speeds up, curves this way and that, and ends. The equation describes the player’s position at any given t.

Now get the first derivative of the polynomial. What does this describe?

The first derivative describes the speed (velocity) of the player at any given t. I knew this from my physics classes.

What does the second derivative of the polynomial represent?

Again, from physics, I learned that this describes the player’s acceleration.

Now, how about the the third derivative? What does this tell us?

Answer: the jerk. This is what I learned the other day.

Jerk is the highly technical term for acceleration acting on acceleration.

In my example, Santonio Holmes fields the ball at t = 0. Then he speeds up the field in a zig-zagging pattern, accelerating here and there. Let’s assume his velocity suddenly increases (accelerates) between, say, t = 4 and t = 5 as he’s trying to squeeze through a closing hole between tacklers. Suddenly he’s hit from behind by an opponent, as sometimes happens when all the players converge on the ball carrier. This acceleration on his acceleration would be the “jerk”, and we can see it when Santonio’s crumpled form is slammed to the ground.

Under constant velocity, acceleration is zero. When velocity increases or decreases, that’s acceleration.

Under constant acceleration, jerk is zero. When acceleration increases or decreases, that’s jerk.

At least, I think.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sailing Off the Roof

My garage is attached to my house. Just like millions of other houses and garages. But, my garage has a flat roof. Not an arched roof, not a triangular roof. A flat roof. Open the door from my bedroom, and there’s the flat roof. This flatness, though, gives it the unfortunate habit of allowing water to pool atop it, and when it’s winter, that water pooling atop it is snow. Heavy snow.

So, one of my duties in the wintertime is to shovel the snow off the garage roof. It is perhaps the most dangerous activity in this man’s sedate, suburban, middle-aged, bookwormish, pot-bellied life.

One day, my wife fears, I’m going to go sailing off the roof. As is, I’m forbidden going up on the house roof to remove leaves in the fall. Shoveling snow off a potentially icy slick roof would be out of the question, had we not been informed by the home inspector that it was a must-do every snowstorm.

“This roof will collapse if enough snow sits on it,” he warned. The wife and I smiled obliviously and closed on the house a week later.

How much danger are we talking about? I must admit it’s very, very low on the danger scale. Especially in an age where we have heroes fighting for us in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan. Heck, even a patrolman in my town probably faces more danger, and I live in a fairly nice suburb. However, I also have to admit, that given an extremely rare and vile piece of luck, I could meet my demise if I sailed off the roof at a particular angle and landed in a particular spot with a particular part of my anatomy.

The front edge of the garage roof looks down on my driveway, about a ten-foot drop to the asphalt. The back edge overhangs some very piney-smelling hedges about six-feet down. Both these edges are about ten feet in length. The real danger comes from the side edge, about twenty feet in length. Directly below is a three-foot wide walkway a dozen feet down. The walkway is bordered by a stone wall. My neighbor’s yard begins immediately on the other side of this stone wall, four or five feet below my property. Worst-case scenario is I fall on my rear, slide off the side edge of the roof backwards, land head-first on that stone wall twelve feet down, then flip over and land against my neighbor’s house five feet later.

Yes, I realize I’m being grim. I’m also trying to hone my dark comedy bones.

But – have no fear, friends of LE! There’s no cause for alarm over at the Hopper’s house post-snowstorm. For now I only go out onto the roof with a bedsheet tied around my ankle and fastened to the bedpost …

See! I’m not telling tall tales here. This is a picture from just beyond the center of my garage roof, facing southeast. For reference, that chain-link fence gate in the lower right corner is about eight feet below the top of the roof. Yikes!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


They say when you have writer’s block to think about something that inflames your passion. Something you love intensely and immensely. Or something you hate. Despise. Detest.

Since I’m too jaded at the moment to write about something I love, I’m gonna spew on something I hate. A couple of things. Specifically, those petty, teeny, tiny, annoying l’il things that are the thousand and one paper cuts we all have to suffer through on a daily basis in life.

Some of my pet peeves.

Admittedly, most of my pet peeves are petty indeed. And most really don’t bother me, not in the long run. They don’t keep me up at night. They won’t bar me from heaven (at least I don’t think they will). But if I’m in a certain mood, a certain rare mood, a mood that’s mercilessly exacerbated by sleep deprivation and a negative mindset, if I’m in this funky evil type of mood and one of these pet peeves comes at me, then –

Watch out!

Here they are in no particular order …

How come when I get the trash out curbside by 7 am, the truck doesn’t come by until 12:30 in the afternoon? And when I decide to wait until I get back from walking my daughter to school in the morning, they zoom down the street at 7:55? It’s an iron-clad law! They must have operatives in the bushes across the street monitoring me!

Why are the commercials 10 decibels louder than the teevee shows? (I know this is a common pet peeve with people.) And it is me, or are they generally even more louder after 8 pm, when my two little ones are trying to sleep upstairs?

Why do I need an advanced degree in topology and a pair of space-age scissors to open a box of cereal? Every time I try to open up a small corner so I can pour my death sugar flakes into a bowl I wind up ripping a seven-inch vertical tear in the plastic bag? Every time!

This is a fairly common peeve, too, but lately I’m getting it in spades. Why is it that my children will generally ignore me and let me be until I hide in the corner with a book in my hand?!? It’s as if a neon sign suddenly appears over my head flashing IT’S NOW AN ACCEPTABLE TIME TO PILE ON DADDY!

Also, how come whenever I’m in the kitchen trying to sneak a chocolate football or a small holiday cookie, the little ones spontaneously and inevitably circle about my feet like tiger sharks? I swear they must have olfactory sensitivities comparable to bloodhounds when it comes to candy and cookies. They can also hear a candy wrapper crinkling at two hundred yards. Easily.

We have two cars. How is it physically possible that, every other day, given a random selection of either of these two cars, I will always choose the one that’s running on gas fumes, necessitating a trip to the nearest gas station and the surly attendents therein?

And the ultimate pet peeve, the $64,000 question of pet peeves, the daddy mack of pet peeves, is this: We live in a three-story house. Writing office and laundry room in the semi-furnished basement; kitchen, dining room, living room on the ground floor; bedrooms and full bath above that. Know where I’m going with this? How come every single thing I might need at any given moment, be it a book or a computer or an article of clothing (shoes, slippers, sneakers, jackets, or baseball caps) – whatever – the odds that it will be on a different level is one hundred percent. One hundred percent. Every. Single. Time. If I was to break down that percentage, I’d say this: if I’m in the basement or the second storey, the odds that my necessary object will be two floors away is eighty percent. Eighty percent! It. Never. Fails.

All right. ’Nuff of this. I need to meditate to get my blood pressure down …

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Gondor, Rohan, and Mordor

I was about halfway through book I of The Two Towers when an intriguing possibility burst into my mind. Within the same paragraph, in adjacent sentences, the lands of Gondor and Rohan were mentioned. My mind’s eye, or rather my eye seeing with my mind’s eye, stepping back and re-read those two sentences. Rather again, meta-read them. Focusing specifically on Gondor and Rohan – no, the words Gondor and Rohan.

No, even that’s not right. The capital-G and the capital-R demanded something of me.

I paused a moment, then “Rohan” grew larger until that lower-case-h transformed into an “m”.

That’s interesting. Something I never heard before, though, admittedly, I’m about 99 percent short of being a Tolkien scholar.

What if – now, hear me out – what if Gondor is Tolkien’s stand-in, representative, or metaphor for Greece, and Rohan is his analog, simile, or transposition for Rome?

G onder = G reece

R ohan = R ome

Not a bad insight, right? In The Lord of the Rings, Gondor is the princely kingdom, and Rohan is the more barbaric, younger rival. The analogy isn’t exact, and I really haven’t developed it more than this, but I think it’s neat, if not exactly a true proposition.

But assume it is. What then does Mordor represent?

I’ve heard it said that Mordor represents Nazi Germany. I’ve also read, in a book quoting Professor Tolkien’s letters, that such analogies should not be pursued and are false.

Let’s ignore the professor, okay, just for this off-the-record little chat between friends over some mugs of ale.

So much is made in The Lord of the Rings of the West-East dichotomy. Specifically, the “West” is good, and the “East” is evil. Traveling West, particularly from an Elvish point of view, is always better. Traveling West, you have Middle-earth, then Númenor, then the Island of Tol Eressea, then the continent of Aman, which holds the Elven realms of Eldamar, and, beyond a mountain range, Valinor, the home of the “gods,” the Valar. The further west one goes, if one is allowed to proceed, the higher in spirituality one progresses, sort of.

Anyway, this West-East bilaterality frequently brings a knee-jerk reaction in me of the Cold War. West is NATO, is good; East is the Warsaw Pact, is evil. So, might a better clue to what Mordor truly represents be the Soviet Union?

Possibly. LotR was published in 1954-55, and was written in the sixteen or seventeen years prior. My question is – and I’m a history buff not a history major – was the evils of the Soviet Union well-known in the West during the late 30s and throughout the 40s as it became during the later 50s and the decades of the 60s and 70s?

Then an even better idea came to me. On the shelf, patiently awaiting reading over the past fourteen months (haven’t gotten to it yet) is Dante’s Inferno. Modern translation, by Ciardi, but still considered decent. For those not familiar with it, Dante is walking lost through the woods when he stumbles upon the multi-leveled terrifying pit of Hell.

Might Mordor be a physical realization of the spiritual plane of Hell?

More possible, I think, than either Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. It would really be neat if Dante’s pit was located somewhere in the “East,” but, alas, I read the first canto and seem not to find that clue.

Oh well. That’s my little insight, and I’m gonna stick with it, at least for a while.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Test Results

Just got the test results back from my latest bloodwork. My doctor says my cheese count is dangerously low.

“We need to put you on a strict, emergency regimen,” he said over the phone. “I’m faxing a prescription for some Imported Finlandia Swiss to your local deli as we speak.”

How dangerously low are we talking about?

My doctor is thinking about adding Parmesan supplements to my morning bowl of cereal. “But that’s something I want you to discuss with your wife and family first.”

“I’d also like to see you work in two to three calzones a week over the next month,” he added. “How soon can you get to a pizzeria?”

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Arizona Shooting

Some random thoughts –

The Christian love-thy-enemy part of me is really struggling with the Hammurabic execute the s. o. b. or s. o. b.s responsible for this tragedy.

Shame on all those commentators knee-jerking faux condemnation against the likes of Sarah Palin, Glen Beck, et. al.

That poor 9-year-old girl! Elected president of her student council, and attending the meet-and-greet with her representative on the suggestion of a neighbor. So full of promise, only to be cut down without mercy by a sicko.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: these worthless pieces of excrement – who punch out of living a noble and constructive life – why do they have to turn their guns on others before, or instead of, turning it on themselves, if they absolutely must turn it on any living human being?

Speaking of noble and constructive, how brilliant and wonderful are those surgeons who worked on those victims, saving a good many of them who might have been written off as casualties only a few years earlier!

I pray that Representative Giffords makes a full and speedy recovery, though that may take months if not years and she may no longer be able to serve. As of this writing, I understand she is responsive to verbal questions and can move slightly.

Though news reports oddly leave out whether or not Giffords is a mother, I kept thinking what an extraordinary family they must be. Can you imagine coming home from school with anything less than an A when your mother is a United States Congresswoman and your father is a Space Shuttle pilot?

Saturday, January 8, 2011


I laugh when I hear that the fish in the water is thirsty. I laugh when I hear that men go on a pilgrimage to find God.

- Kabir, Indian mystic and poet, 1440-1518

The Holy Spirit does not rest where there is idleness, or sadness, or ribaldry, or frivolity, or empty speech. But only where there is joy.

- Midrash Psalms

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Third Plane

Okay, so I’m reading this cheesy book called The Philadelphia Experiment. Written at the tail end of the 70s, it purports to detail the sketchy “facts” behind the alleged actual physical disappearance and teleportation of a Navy vessel in October of 1943.

Not until page 76 (out of a 162 page book) do we get our first nugget of real “physics.” And a few pages later, I come across something that I must admit, begrudgingly, is intriguing.

Let me just confess that my physics is extremely rusty. Rusty like that old swingset that came with the house. Rusty like every door hinge in my house when I’m tiptoing about at 3 am in an insomniac fit. Though I enthusiastically took three semesters of physics and math classes and got decent grades, we’re talking nearly twenty years ago. I’ve forgotten more physics than most people know, though I never really knew much to begin with.

So take the following explanation with a great big saltshaker.

In a nutshell, electricity and magnetism are two fundamental phenomena unified as the electromagnetic force. An electric field generated in a metal coil induces a magnetic field at a right angle to the first field. There was a physical mnemonic we learned where you held up a hand – I forget which one – thumb upwards. The thumb represents one field, and the fingers at a 90 degree angle to the palm represent the other.

Now what the authors of this book propose – or the sources quoted in the book, I should say – is a third field, one at right angles to the other two. This is because our physical space consists of three dimensions. They drop hints that this third field is a gravitational field, is something that Einstein was considering for his Unified Field Theory, and is something that the Navy was tinkering with during this Philadelphia Experiment. I continue reading on to see if and how these ideas are followed up on.

[Note: In this two-dimensional diagram, the x-plane represents time. But we actually live in a 4-dimensional spacetime. Therefore, that third plane still sits there, awaiting discovery, as the wave travels through time ...]

Doesn’t this sound intriguing? I lack the in-the-know, however, to tell intuitively whether this is legit or bogus. Perhaps if I was independently wealthy, or a bachelor hermit, or a hungry, up-and-coming grad student, I’d look into this much further. But for the time being, I have to remain content to read these guilty pleasures and wonder.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


So, my guilty pleasure is starting its new season completely overhauled in the next couple of weeks. I watch it mainly for two reasons, and the lesser of the two reasons is no longer there.

Instead, he’s been replaced by what I’ve come to think of as the million-year-old stoney hippy iguana gypsy who’s had a tad too much plastic surgery and is worth a billion dollars.

So, do I watch it, or do I devote those four hours a week to something more worthwhile, like writing a book or something.

Decisions, decisions.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Insomnia Blues

Last night I did a good thing. I went to bed at 10:30. This is about an hour or ninety minutes earlier than my usual bedtime. I treated myself to a nice hot shower at 9 when the house was quiet, dressed in comfy sweats, read a chapter-and-a-half each of The Two Towers and The Philadelphia Experiment. 10:30 pm rolled around, I yawned, I stretched, I pulled the comforter up and switched off the light.

I woke up, however, at 1:30. Used the facilities. Went back to sleep. Whew. Dodged a bullet.

Then, I woke again, this time at 3 am. And could not get back to sleep if my life depended on it.

This is fairly common for me, going back for at least a decade. My current and dire financial and occupational straits play a role, but they are not the cause of my chronic insomnia. But the bottom line is, once I’m up, I’m up.

I laid in bed for ten, maybe fifteen minutes before I felt the need to end the charade. I was not getting back to sleep. I lay on my side, my thoughts stream out randomly but magnetically tend to the negative. I flip over to the other side, and the mental process is repeated. I fluff the pillows. I try laying on my back. I try reciting a list of accomplishments from the day before, then some prayers, then some stuff I recently studied, then the plot developments of the Tolkien I’m reading. Nothing sticks. The quiet urge to get up grows exponentially, but it’s nothing but inky blackness – save for the glowing time on the cable box – and coldness. In response the radiators start banging.

So I get up and fight the urge to surf the web. If I do that, before I know it the Little One’s alarm clock will be going off and it’ll be time to get her dressed and walk her to school. Maybe if I read a bit I’ll get tired again. Hasn’t happened yet, but there’s always a first time for everything. I read a dozen more pages of Tolkien. I turn off the light and flip and flop. Though the house is chilly, under the comforter is uncomfortably warm, and I start to sweat. I glance at the cable box. It’s almost 4.

There’s a bad taste in my mouth and my stomach gurgles awake, too. I go into the kitchen and make myself a bowl of Kashi Cinnamon Harvest shredded wheat. Then I pad on down the basement stairs and switch on the PC. I gulp down the cereal as my Dell eventually powers up.

Then I spend the next two hours surfing the web, though I can swear only a half-hour goes by. I hit the my news sites to see if any tragedies have happened in the past six hours or if anyone famous has died. I know it’s morbid, but it’s habit. Then I check National Review, The Corner, Newsbusters. Next comes my movie sites, Big Hollywood, Kindertrauma, and the Jabootu blog. After that I switch gears to a more spiritual frame of mind: Mark Shea’s blog, then Patrick Madrid’s, then the Catholic Answers forums (which I’m a member but don’t post in). Then I start from the beginning and cycle through the sites again. Maybe some news has broken. Shampoo, wash, rinse, repeat. At least four or five times.

While I’m doing this I’m suppressing a nagging feeling. That feeling is, “You’re not using this time wisely!” Although, in my mind, it’s more like, “You’re not using this time wisely, you f&c!%#g jack*ss!”

What would be a good use of the time? Well, how ’bout doing a blog. Or fleshing out a novel outline. I have three fairly flushed out novel ideas. They just need to be outlined before I start writing them. It’s been four years since I wrote my second novel. It’s been seven months since I wrote anything over 5,000 words. So, parts of my brain are itching to do this.

But it’s not easy, because I only have about four hours of sleep tucked under my hat. That’s not a lot. Especially since, over the past week, I’ve gotten 3, 7, 9, 6, 6, 5, and 4 hours of sleep. That’s 40 hours even, or 5.7 hours daily, resulting in a negative-two-hour sleep debt every day. I’m in my early forties, so the body doesn’t bounce back like it did two decades back. I’m feeling it, and judging by my eye bags, I’m looking it.

Writer’s Block loves to flourish, I’ve found, during these periods. I just can’t write. Nor can I exercise, or even read for any length of time, which is just about my favorite way to spend time. So I surf the web, the hands on the clock spiral round, the earth spins and the sun rises. And the rest of the house wakes up and wonder who this zombie is stumbling around to greet them.

I’m taking the phone off the hook this afternoon and napping when Patch goes down. If I’m lucky I’ll be granted a 90 minute layover in Oblivion.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


“What did you blush for, Sam?” said Pippin. “You soon broke down. Anyone would have thought you had a guilty conscience. I hope it was nothing worse than a wicked plot to steal one of my blankets.”

“I never thought no such thing,” answered Sam, in no mood for jest. “If you want to know, I felt as if I hadn’t got nothing on, and I didn’t like it. She seemed to be looking inside me and asking me what I would do if she gave me the chance of flying back home to the Shire to a nice little hole with – with a bit of garden of my own.”

“That’s funny,” said Merry. “Almost exactly what I felt myself; only, only well, I don’t think I’ll say any more,” he ended lamely.

All of them, it seemed, had fared alike; each had felt that he was offered a choice between a shadow full of fear that lay ahead, and something that he greatly desired: clear before his mind it lay, and to get it he had only to turn aside from the road and leave the Quest and the war against Sauron to others.

- Chapter 7, “The Mirror of Galadriel”, Book II of The Fellowship of the Ring


I paused when reading this last night, particularly that last paragraph. Now I don’t want to read too much into Tolkien, as regards Christian allegory and such, as the great man himself tended to discourage such speculation on metaphors and hidden meanings in his work. But The Lord of the Rings is a Christian work by a Christian author. And though there are no churches or religious sects in Middle-earth, Tolkien himself writes that the book is set in “ a monothiestic world of ‘natural theology.’ ” I think a fair and open-minded reading of the work, as well as The Silmarillion, reveals this to the reader.

That being said, the possibilities of interpretation of that last paragraph above kept resounding in my mind. Read it again. Now change some words, the way they were changed for me as I pondered the passage before sleep:

Each of us is offered a choice between a “shadow full of fear that lies ahead” and “something he greatly desires.” All we have to do is turn aside and leave the Battle to others.

Now the way I interpret that, coming from a Catholic perspective, is that we face, almost every second of every day, a choice. Choose God’s will or your own will. And when we choose our own will we leave the Great Work, by default, to others. We become bystanders instead of active participants. Sure, the days will flow by more pleasantly (at least superficially, and at least for a little while), but in the end, will not the regret be overpowering?

I’m not sure I articulated exactly what I wanted to say in the best way I could have said it. But the thought is something I wrestle with on a daily basis, and regularly come up short.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Best of 2010

Here are the nominees for LE’s Best Read of the Year, 2010:

This Immortal
The Grayspace Beast
A Case of Conscience
The Fluger

Envelope please …

And the winner is:


This Immortal !

(Note: the award-winning Zelazny novel narrowly edged out three other contenders, thankfully avoiding an embarrassing four-way tie.)

* * * * * * * * * *

As a corollary, since I like to do the occasional movie review here at the Hopper

Best Watch of 2010:

Man on Wire


Paranormal Activity

Sunday, January 2, 2011

My Favorite Number

Non-prime, that is, would have to be



First, it’s the product of three consecutive prime numbers, 7, 11, and 13.

Which gives it the neat property that follows:

Take any three-digit number and multiply it by 7, then 11, then 13.

What do you get?

That exact same three-digit number appearing twice in the product.

So, 123 x 7 x 11 x 13 = 123,123.

999 x 7 x 11 x 13 = 999,999.

Not supremely practical, but interesting nonetheless.

It’s also the first four-digit palindromic number (reads the same front-to-back as back-to-front).

Finally, 1,001 is binary for the decimal number 9, which is the number of my daughter’s jersey on her soccer team.

I will now let you resume your normal daily lives.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Most Feard Book in the World

I was browsing through the For Sale books at the local public library down near my in-law’s home in South Carolina a few days ago. Not much to offer, but they had a decent-sized selection of children’s books, usually for fifty cents or a dollar apiece. It’s where Little One found that Frankenstein book re-written for a fourth-grade mind that she read last summer with me.

Suddenly, the Children’s Bible I had as a kid leaped off the shelves at me. Memories of reading it with my seven or eight-year-old feet pressed firmly against the heating ducts flooded forth in a deluge. The illustrations especially raised goosebumps, and though I could not distinctly recall a particular one, a sensation of familiarity enveloped me. I had seen these drawings and read these stories and spent a lot of time with this book thirty-five years ago.

Cost: $2. It was a hardcover.

So I brought it over to the counter to pay for it.

“All done?” the librarian asked. She was perhaps ten years older than me, attractive and thin and wearing a very sophisticated outfit. Not exactly the stereotypical matronly spinster the word “librarian” conjures up.

“Yes. I think I’ll go with the Children’s Bible.”

“Oh.” She paused. “I didn’t know Bibles were allowed here.”

Huh? I was still in a good mood from the discovery, so I asked with a chuckle, “Why not?”

“I don’t know.” She thought for a moment as she studied at the cover, then added, quickly, “Not that I agree with it, or anything. That’ll be two dollars.”

I handed over the money and left. Driving back to the house, a few thoughts popped into my mind. I should have brought them up with her, but I’m a slow thinker. First off, what did that “here” mean that she referred to? Did she mean that Bibles were not allowed in the library, or just in the For Sale section? Regardless, who would make such a decision? And why single out Bibles?

Then I realized how true that cliché is, how all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people not to rise up and take a stand. This woman did not agree with whoever set the policy on Bibles – and I admit, I don’t know the exact policy, so I may be making too much of this. Surveys show variously that 95 percent of this country believes in a deity, and 80 percent of this country considers itself Christian. Yet you hear a lot of how a fringe atheistic minority is bullying a lot of us common folk.

But it reinforces in my mind that the Bible is without a doubt the most feared book in the world.