Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Two Days Home from Work


1. Not being paid for this “vacation”.

2. Don’t know if I’ll have a workplace to return to due to massive flooding.


1. Wonderful day at the playground and the park tossing a ball around with my oldest girl in this gorgeous post-hurricane weather.

2. Lovely day with my littlest of little ones, stuffy and home from day care, watching kiddie shows, reading books, and chasing her around the living room.


What a rollercoaster this life has become!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Allan Quatermain

by H. Rider Haggard

One of the most pleasant discoveries I've made since I began this blog is that I love reading this author.

Allan Quatermain is the last novel in my Haggard compendium. Last summer I put away King Solomon's Mines and the summer before that, She. You know what? They're all good, real good. Surprisingly so, 'cause they aren't really what I look for in a novel.

Why do I like them?

At the risk of extreme simplification, Haggard knows how to tell an spellbinding story. There's none of the baggage of Victorian writing in his work. No hundred-word sentences, no flustery blustery prose, no pages upon pages of analysis of a social faux pas, no women beneath flowery umbrellae. There's no fretting and soul-searching and heart-rending hand-wringing. Indeed, whenever doubt creeps into a Haggardian character, he simply loads his elephant gun and kills a hippo.

He's credited with founding the "lost world" literary genre. Perhaps that's why I like his novels so. I remember the 4:30 movie on Channel 7 as a kid in the seventies, and I fondly recall "lost world" week. Iguanas masquerading as limb-tearing dinosaurs, giant spiders, diamonds and double-crossing, these pre-Indian Jones movies riveted me as a boy. Now, three decades later, the source material has me glued to the page.

I can't rightly rank them, though I think I liked She more than King Solomon. How could Haggard top those two, I thought, as I began Quatermain. But he did. In a way, Quatermain presents even a grander vision than the ones revealed in the previous novels. [I read the novels in the order I found them in the compendium: She, King Solomon's Mines, and Allan Quatermain. In chronological order, they appeared: King Solomon's Mines (1885), Allan Quatermain (1887), and She (later 1887).]

While She gives us Ayesha, an immortal queen, and King Solomon's Mines gives us, well, the fabled treasure mines of the Old Testament's King Solomon, Quatermain's quest is of even greater scope. Tantalizing hints of a lost civilization in the heart of the dark continent bring our aged hero - now an English millionaire pining for his deceased son - out of retirement. Dare I say it is a "white" civilization without being tarred and feathered? Whether descendendants of some Mediterranean society or a splintered branch of the Egyptian empire or one of the long lost tribes of Israel - rumour says little. Only the secondhand babblings of a dying man could get Allan out of his funk and repartnered with Sir Henry Curtis and Commodore Good and on safari in Africa for more lost worlds.

Immediately the party is attacked by ruthless and terrifying Masai warriors - warriors whose memory is long and wrath insatiable. A missionary's daughter is kidnapped for a fate worse than death, should not one of our three plucky heros offer himself in her place. Then there are suspenseful natural calamaties to be overcome. An unfortunate and uncontrolled descent into an underground river left me particularly claustrophobic and on the seat of my chair (especially the crab creature attack and the lava fountain of death). It kept me up past midnight one night to experience the resolution.

Then - the lost civilization of the Zu-Vendis is conveniently discovered. Two Queens this time, Nyleptha and Sorais, though mortal and very much jealous of each other and each's natural attractions to our various men of action. War tears the kingdom asunder as Allan treads a fine path to save it, his head, the heads of his friends, and the lives of millions of innocent men, women, and children. With his noble and in many ways superior Zulu warrior-comrade Umslopagaas (I love that!) Allan pulls it off - just barely - and at the probable cost of his own very life.

I loved it! Without a doubt, it was probably my best read this year so far, LotR notwithstanding. The pages flowed, the dialogue pulled me in, the action kept me up reading long after I should have been to bed. At the very end I felt a more-than-slight tinge of regret that I would no longer travel with these characters, these men, who have become endeared companions to me.

I give Allan Quatermain an A-minus.

There's also a new tradition of sorts that I've started: reading an H. Rider Haggard novel every August. My compendium's finished, but I have a couple of his titles to put on my Acquisitions List. Now, I don't know much about them besides a name and maybe a sentence-synopsis, but I'm willing to throw ten or twelve hours of my life into the kitty. Eric Brighteyes, a somewhat effeminately-titled Viking saga, and Belshazzar, possibly about that Biblical king who saw the writing on the wall are on it, as well as The World's Desire, Haggard's retelling of the Odyssey.


My review of She is here.

My review of King Solomon's Mines is here.

[I wrote this review without refreshing my memory of these other two reviews I wrote in 2009 and 2010.]

Monday, August 29, 2011

Irene Aftermath

Well, I got lucky.

Irene was scheduled to hit my part of New Jersey hardest between 3 am and noon on Sunday. I started hurricane-proofing the homestead Friday evening because forecasts called for rain much of Saturday, and I had my other errands to take care of anyway. So while the girls were chowing down on Friday night nuggets, I put all the lawn furniture and trash cans in the garage, cleaned and realigned gutters, resecured doors and windows, and latched that pesky loose cable wire to the side of the house.

Saturday morning the wife cooked us all some eggs and toast (trying to get rid of perishables). I paid a pressing bill then took the little ones out with me for a few quick runs: post office, dry cleaners, recycling center, gas station, and, yes, Barnes and Noble (for a book for the big Little One: trying to turn her into a mini-Michael Dell).

It started raining - misting, rather - at 10:30 that morning.

Got back and put candles and matches on the dining room table, charged up cell phones, ran dehumidifyer in the basement. The girls packed up and left for my parent's house 75 miles away in PA, on the predicted periphery of the storm. They left amid drizzling rains at 12:30 and I did something rare for me, especially of late.

I decided to work out.

I did a couple sets of one-arm curls, some push-ups, leg dips and calf raises. Stretched. Cooked myself some chicken and had a protein-fest for lunch. A refreshing shower, and then I was ready to tackle this perfect storm.

Spent the next three hours removing the air conditioning units (we have four of 'em) and getting all the books and papers off the basement floor (I have a library down there). Nervous glances outside every now and then as the trees started swaying and the rains came down a little harder. Watched a lot of teevee that afternoon and evening interspersed with bouts of Mayor Bloomberg speaking espanol at the podium and Geraldo squeegieing horizontal rain out of his ginormous 'stache.

Had more chicken with some pasta. Watched some news and saw the big storm approaching via Doppler radar; waited for the worse to hit. Then, I got sleepy. Tried to read my Wilhelm SF novel but couldn't concentrate. I figured if I was to be baling water out of my attic (if the roof leaked) or the basement (if those concrete blocks failed me) it'd be in the wee hours of the morning. So I went to sleep on the couch at 10. On the first-floor living room couch, because I was also worried the three giant, fifty-foot oaks behind my house might overturn and crush the bedrooms on the second floor.

Twice during the night I woke up; both times I noticed power had been out from blinking clock lights. Around 12:30 and 3:30 I made the rounds, and was satisfied that the house was keeping the water out. Since there was no air conditioners running, I had a fan in the living room on me that tends to drown out outside noise. I shut it off and heard the winds and rains slamming my little abode. Truth be known, I was really surprised that no water was seeping in anywhere. I still realized the worse was yet to come, but I was so exhausted I had no trouble falling back asleep both times.

I awoke at 8 the next morning and for a third time inspected my house with pleasant results. Called the wife and girls to check up on them. Had breakfast and fiddled around all day as the storm finally began to ebb. There was actually 90 minutes of sun beginning at 10:30 on Sunday morning that dried my driveway and street! Feeling guilty, I watched mass on EWTN. Managed to read over 80 pages of the Wilhelm book. Put the dining room AC back in to cool of the house. Went out to inspect the backyard deck and nearly stumbled over Floyd. Had pasta for lunch, read some more, did my exercise bike, and watched Death Race 2000 on my laptop. Yep, it was a random, strange day.

Late afternoon brought fierce winds but no rain as the tail end of Irene swept across northern Jersey. Thank God I slept through this the first time, because it's quite scary seeing the tops of those fifty-foot oaks sway back and forth ten feet in every direction.

Though my house never lost power, my parents out in rural PA did. My wife made the executive decision to stay over there a second night, which I concurred. Sunday evening for me was uneventful. I prepared to go to work Monday morning. I read still some more (this time some Ouspensky, of which I must blog about soon). Watched some more bad 70s cinema. Went to bed early again, exhausted again.

But the house survived unscathed! O ye of little faith, why didst thou doubt!

[PS - Though it kept out the water, the roof gave up a few shingles to the storm goddess. I also noticed some buckling up there that was not there before. Oh well. That is for the roofers to address as they make their pilgrimmage here later in the week.]

Friday, August 26, 2011

Storm Watch

Spending most of the evening hurricane-proofing the house. Making sure the gutters are clear and lead away from the foundations, securing lawn furniture and trash cans, removing air conditioners, getting laundry done (in case of power outtages), collecting all the flashlights and candles and whatnots on the dining room table.

The girls will probably go with their mother to my parents house and I will remain behind to make sure the house still stands. Though we’re not in the direct line of the storm, and fully aware of the media’s tendency to overhype these sort of events, I’m still a bit worried. Part of it’s due to the roof situation. Part of it’s due to the fact that the last storm we had water flowing into the house from the rear corner where the garage meets the basement ceiling. But we don’t have big trees hovering over us, and we’re towards the top of a hill. What we’ll eventually get is anyone’s guess.

So, no posting this weekend. Too much to do, too much on my mind. I promise to blog at least an update on Monday. Of course the job is expecting me there, rain or shine, flood or deluge.

I’m hoping something miraculous happens in the next sixty hours or so. I hope I’m rescued.

Good luck to you, too, if you reside somewhere near the eastern seaboard.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Oh boy. Wouldn't you know it. Right before Hurricane Apocalypto, I need a new roof on my house.

It all started back in April. Innocently enough, I called Geico to insure a new car we bought. Not to sound too much like an unpaid advertisement, I love Geico. They cut my auto rates a third when I signed up with them about four years ago, and they are an absolute pleasure to deal with on the phone. And I'm a stickler for good phone manners on behalf of the company I'm giving my money to.

Anyway, they asked if I'd like a free quote for my homeowner's insurance. Batting my eyelashes, I agreed, and spent the next thirty minutes answering esoteric questions about my house. When was the last time the electrical wiring was redone? What type of plumbing do I have, copper or PVC?

Long story short, I got a quote about a hundred bucks a year cheaper than what I was paying. I okayed the deal and thought that was the end of it (my mortgage company pays my homeowner's insurance on a monthly basis).

Then, about two months ago, I get a letter in the mail from my bank freaking out that I have no insurance on my house.


A call to Geico quickly tells me what I suspected. My new insurance company has denied my house. But not for the reason I suspected. It seems I was rejected because it was a two-family dwelling (it isn't) on a non-level lot (again, it isn't).

So the fine young lady on the phone persuaded me to try a second quote with another insurance company that goes through Geico. Another thirty minutes later, and I'm off the phone, with peace of mind thinking I'm now safe and covered.

Then, two days ago, I got a second letter in the mail. This time the cause of my rejection is - shingles are coming off of my roof!

I dropped the letter to the floor. Picture my horrified expression as the camera pans in close while the background recedes, Hitchcock-like, and the violins begin their staccato ree-ree-ree-rees.

I'm screwed.

The first thing that comes to my mind is the Hispanic dude who cleaned out my gutters last Fall. "Senor," he said, "you gonna need a new roof soon."

I smiled and waved and okayed him. "I'll have you guys do it when I need to," I tell him.

Now, it's a reality. I really need a new roof.

And with the Terrorcane blustering into the Tri-State area late this weekend!

Visions of me in the attic, wringing wet towels into pails as water cascades through the rotted wood planks. Or all four of us, me and the girls, plugging holes up there like a family of little Dutch boys, and every hole sprouting two or three more, Hydra-like, every time I stick a finger or a toe or God knows what else to stop it.

But worse of all, what woke me up at 3:55 this a.m. and refused to let me get back to the Land of Nod, worse of all is the vision of me opening up my checkbook (a bat flies out) and finding there's no more cookies in the cookie jar to pay the workmen. "Oh well," they say, packing up their tools, "we'll just take this with us," and they load up my new roof on the back of a flatbed truck and drive away.

Or the alternative: imitating the President of Our United States and signing up for another credit card, which will immediately be maxed out by this roof-thing, which will wind up costing two or three times more than what we even have now to pay for it.

The wife, to her eternal credit, is not the drama queen I am. Quietly and efficiently, she's joined Angie's List and found a whole bunch of reputable roofing companies to call. Most offer discounts of either five or ten percent off the job or $100 coupons. By the time I went out for lunch earlier today, she's already booked appointments with two to come in and inspect our house's hat.

Of course, that's provided we still have one after the Horrorcane hits ...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Pretend you are watching a teevee show about the solar system. Specifically, you’re viewing a scene of a planet orbiting about the sun from a bird’s-eye view, north looking down.

You can almost switch to thinking you’re watching an electron orbit a nucleus. But, no, let’s keep it to a planetary orbit. You see a sun on the flatscreen teevee and observe a planet – no bigger than a dot, really, circle around it.

Got the image in your mind?

Good. Let’s proceed.

What we’ve done is transfer a three-dimensional image down to two dimensions. For all intents and purposes, I could ask you to imagine a plain ol’ black dot circling about on a piece of paper.

In fact, let’s do.

Now, how can we explain this motion? This circling around of a dot about a central point.

In three dimensions, you can mention things like gravity or the electromagnetic force. But how would you explain it for this piece of paper?

Maybe an invisible string? One attached to a central point?

Perhaps. But let’s think a little deeper.

To do so, though, we have to cheat a bit, and move back into three dimensions.

Let’s imagine a slinky, one that’s a bit stretched out. Now imagine that piece of paper again, only make it of some immaterial construction, like a laser hologram of some smoky type you might spot Catherine Zeta Jones writhing through. Pass the slinky through this wispy piece of paper and what type of motion will you observe?

That’s right. A dot circling around a central point.

So two-dimensional “orbits” can be explained by moving a three-dimensional slinky – let’s call it a helix – through the two-dimensional plane.

Got it?

Here’s the really neat part. Now we move everything up a dimension.

Go back to that planet orbiting a star scenario, though imagine it as you would observe it from a spaceship. It’s really there. It’s right in front of you.

Could not this three-dimensional motion be explained as a four-dimensional helix passing through our reality?

How COOL is that idea?!?!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Earlier today I went out for lunch at 1:35. I only get a half-hour, and since my office is on a highway, there aren’t too many places to go and things to do during those thirty minutes. So I’ve been reading a bit after eating my sandwich in my car. Don’t feel sorry for me; it’s often the highlight of my day.

Anyway, today was the rare day that I forgot to bring a book. I didn’t want to listen to the radio, talk or tunes, and the weather was beautiful, so I reclined back, took off my glasses, and closed my eyes. Within five minutes I was in that pleasant alpha-state a level or two above full-fledged dozing.

Then, just before 2, my car started wobbling side to side. At first I thought it was just the wind and didn’t open my eyes. But then the swaying intensified. I glanced up, checking out the tree branches forty feet up. Yeah, there was a breeze, but nothing strong enough to buckle my fairly large and heavy sedan.

The thought that someone was pulling a trick on me popped into mind. I’m starting to become well acquainted with the valets and detailers at my job. They make half as much as me but enjoy life twice as much, so I wouldn’t put anything past them. One by one I hit all the rear view mirrors and spot nothing out of the ordinary.

Maybe five seconds have elapsed so far.

I sit up and see the cars on either side of me and the SUV I’m facing rocking back and forth too. Suddenly the notion that something weird’s happening saturates my consciousness. To be completely candid, I felt a little creepy, spooked a bit. I grabbed my cell and my bottle of water and got out of the car, and at that very second the shaking stopped.

As I approached the building I noticed a group of about twenty-five people mulling about, all excited and exhilarated. Apparently the whole building shook for a minute or two, tables and chairs moving about, hanging lamps swinging. Managers ordered their people outdoors. The lot guys and the car washers were whooping it up. It was truly a strange, surreal five or ten minutes.

For a solidly grounded Northeasterner like myself, this is the second earthquake I’ve experienced. I wrote about the first one, briefly, here. But this one was the first and only one I felt that actually, physically moved me.

Scary stuff.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Time and Eternity

1. Sit in a comfortable chair in a quiet, distraction-free room.

2. Progressively relax each and every muscle in your body, beginning at your toes and ending with your face. Take at least ten minutes to do this.

3. While remaining absolutely still, imagine yourself slowly descending levels in an elevator: 100 ... 99 ... 98 ... etc, all the way down to level 1. With every level you sink, feel yourself more and more disembodied.

4. Gradually turn your attention from your body or the endless train of thoughts bubbling up to perfect stillness.

5. Then, consider this:

Time is a line extending from the infinite future to the infinite past, perpendicular to each of the three spatial dimensions and parallel to none ... Eternity is not the infinite extension of time, but a LINE PERPENDICULAR TO TIME, for, if eternity exists, each moment is eternal.

When I did this, I heard a room of ten thousand Keanu Reeves simultaneously and reverently uttering, "Whoa!"

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Geek Boy Cred

Okay, I just watched 2010's Predators for the second time in three days while the wife and little ones are out and about. I confess; I liked it. I reviewed it here last year when me and my pal saw it in the theaters.

If you go on IMDB, it seems there's a lot of hubbub and todo over whether the movie's good or not. Or "faithful", as the geek boys like to state it. Nerds are in uproar, especially over the casting of Adrien Brody. Fishburne's fat! Topher Grace is unarmed - no, he's armed - no he's unarmed - no, he's ... well, you get the picture. Hordes of basemented losers are on the cyberwarpath, armed with anonymous insults and alias'd putdowns.

So, I figgered I'd lay down the guantlet. I'm an SF buff, more literary than cinematic, but I could throw down with the best of them. After all, I did cut my teeth on Alien as an eleven-year-old boy.

Without further ado, here's my ranking of the Alien-Predator franchise:

1. Alien (1979)
2. Aliens (1986)
3. Predator (1987)
4. Predators (2010)
5. Alien Resurrection (1997)
6. Alien vs. Predator (2004)
7. Alien 3 (1992)
8. Predator 2 (1990)
9. Alien vs Predator: Requiem (2009)

Though there's an entire universe of difference in the quality of the first four from the bottom five.

(And for the record, I've never seen number 9, nor will I ever, due to its extreme anti-life tone. Those in the know will know what I'm talking about.)

So there, nerdlings! Your Geek Elder Statesman has just issued a throw-down! To the basements!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Henry Redux

Well, I'm at the halfway point of Henry IV part II. I must say, after a three-week layoff from Willie the Shake, I'm really, really enjoying it. Moreso than I would have even thought three months ago, let alone a year back.

I mean, take in the sheer poetry of these lines:

In poison there is physic, and these news,
Having been well, that would have made me sick,
Being sick, have in some measure made me well.

What they mean, I'm not sure, but over them I've gone at least a dozen times attempting to unravel that knot. To me it's the literary equivalent of one of them funhouse mirror-mazes, one you go through while your in some sorta fever dream.

And Falstaff is back, too, Shakespeare's greatest creation. Listen:

CHIEF JUSTICE: Well, the truth is, Sir John, you live in great infamy.

FALSTAFF: He that buckles himself in my belt cannot live in less.

CHIEF JUSTICE: Your means are very slender, and your waste is great.

FALSTAFF: I would it were otherwise. I would my means were greater and my waist slender.

It's like Mel Brooks directing a scene penned by Frasier's writers. With apologies to the greatest writer in English, I don't think the analogy is too far off the mark.

After this, I tackle Lear. And after that, a comedy, Measure for Measure.

Tarry on!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Mathematical Proof of God

I shall now offer a mathematical proof for the existence of God.


Consider a right triangle of unit length 1. By the Pythagorean Theorem, the length of the hypotenuse, the side of the triangle opposite the 90-degree angle, is the square root of 2.

Consider a circle. The area of a circle is pi times the square of its radius, pi being the ratio of the circle’s circumference to its diameter. In fact, the circumference of a circle is 2 times pi times the radius.

Okay, I just lost half of you, but stick with me a moment.

Let’s focus on the square root of 2 and pi.

They are perhaps the two most well-known examples of a set of numbers called irrational numbers.

Now, they’re not irrational because they’re crazy or unpredictable. They’re called irrational because they cannot be expressed as a ratio between two numbers.

What does this mean?

If you attempt to express these numbers not as a ratio but as a decimal, you’ll quickly run out of paper. There is no solution. You can go on for millions and millions of digits, and never come to an exact figure for the square root of 2 or pi. For all we know, both expressions are infinite.

Here’s where God comes in.

Although we can never find a exact length for the hypotenuse of a right triangle of unit length 1 and can never find the exact length of the circumference, we can obviously see that these measurements are finite.

How can something infinite become finite?


Does it remind you of anything? This infinitude becoming finite?

Let’s not read too much into that previous teaser statement. At the most fundamental level, a quantity which can’t be quantified somehow becomes an exact quantity, be it a line in a triangle or the perimeter of a circle.

How can this be?

It’s almost supernatural, supernatural being “above” or “greater than” the natural. Transcendent, almost.

And this transcendence, I call God.

Your move, sir.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Strange Vibrations

I’m wondering – did this ever happen to you?

While sitting here at my desk thinking about what to write, I glanced behind me to put on some music and a couple of CDs catch my eye. Seems I can put these into two groups, a couple of CDs by one band, and a couple by another.

Back in November of 2007 I was scheduled for a medical procedure where a catheter would enter the artery by my groin, travel up my body, and enter my heart, where it would burn tissue to correct atrial fibrillation. I’d have to be completely knocked out, and that kinda scared me. I learned I have a phobia about going to sleep and never waking up again. Plus not being in control of events.

Anyway, that month I started listening to the Grateful Dead. Don’t know why. Never really did in the past, and never really have since. I bought four CDs and listened to them every day. Then I had the surgery, and have listened to them maybe a handful of times since.

In April of 2008 I had to go back in to the hospital for the exact same procedure. This time, my musical muse turned me to Frank Zappa. Again, I listened to a bit of his stuff as a young twentysomething guitar player. I bought three CDs and borrowed two from the library, and for that whole month all I listened to was Zappa. Post-surgery, I listened to them maybe twice.

Isn’t that strange? Is it uncommon? This has never happened to me before or since. Yeah, I go through musical phases, but never so short, so powerful, and so out of the blue.

Weird, like me.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

BDC Bama-style

Let's say you work at a car dealership as a manager of an internet department. You know, you hire a bunch of twentysomethings to gab with customers on the dealer's website or over the phone. Pay them ten bucks an hour, and let them earn a commission. Something like, oh, fifteen bucks for every customer they get to physically come into the store and thirty bucks if said customer buys a vehicle. You get a nice salary and a piece of their action.

Now, say your HR Manager comes to you with a dilemma. It seems dealership policy allows one-point-five lates a week, or six instances of tardiness a month. If anyone accumulates a dozen tardies in two months, they're outta there. No exceptions. Your HR Manager is tracking two of your internet worker bees approaching that dreaded twelve-in-two figure.

One of them booked 175 appointments last month, 32 of which purchased a car. The other one brought only 66 customers in, with 8 buying. They've both only been in your employ for six weeks, and both possess that typically Gen-Y trait of refusing to be beholden to a clock.

No - let's ratchet things up a notch. Say two more weeks go by and, despite a talking-to by you, both our little internet sellers rack up three lates each. HR guy, sweating from pressure from above, thrusts papers in front of you and wants you to act.

Question: What do you do?

Obviously, you want to keep the productive dude and toss the dead weight. But - can you?

For the remainder of my post, I am going to assume a speaking style reminiscent of our Commander-in-Chief in full campaign mode. Please imagine it as you read further. So let me clear my throat, pull up my teleprompter, and begin.

"There are some who say, 'You should fire both employees.' Both employees broke the rules they signed on to when they joined the organization. Now, we call these folks, socialists. These folks'll be all jumpin' and shoutin' for social justice and all. And they have a point. Fair's fair, n all that.

"There are others who say, 'You should keep the productive employee and fire the rule-breaker.' After all, the purpose of a business is to turn a profit. The first employee helps in that regard, and the second, well, let's say he's just all jumpin' and shoutin' for a commission check that's not gonna be comin' his way. We call these folks, capitalists. Free-market capitalists, with maybe a streak of libertarian in 'em.

"Then there are still others who say, 'You should reward the productive employee with flexible hours, so long as he keeps up his sales, and put the second one on probation.' Work with 'em, help 'em, so in a month or two he'll be all jumpin' and shoutin' with all the money he's makin'. These folks, folks who say things like this, we call smart businessmen."

All right - enough of that. If I was that manager, I'd obviously take the third route. Wouldn't you? The real question is how to keep that rabid HR guy off your back ...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


So we're all at the dinner table a few nights ago, digging into one of those grocery store rotisserie chickens. I like to eat the legs and wings. Surprisingly, neither of my two daughters nor my wife like the dark meat. Both girls stare at me while I wrestle with the bird to get a leg off. Eventually I have to saw into it with the butcher knife.

A few minutes later I'm gnawing on the darn thing, only half-hearing my wife answer a Little One question. I think she asked if a chicken has the same bones as we do. I hear my wife talking about bones and ligaments and tendons and joints. Then my ears perk up when Little One asks with her child's innocence, "What's a joint?"

I drop my food and raise a finger, commanding the table to silence. Well, not quite; at the very most my gesture commands cursory glances from the females as they ignore me and continue discussions. But there's a strange glint in my eye that my wife catches. An evil smile spreads across my lips as I clear my throat.

"I'd like to answer that question."

The wife returns my evil grin with a you-better-not-say-what-I-think-you're-going-to-say look.

"A joint is," I begin, expansively, capturing Little One's attention, "a joint is ..."

My better half sets her jaw and I see the warning lights going off in her eyes and feel her blood pressure rising from across the table.

" ... a Spike Lee movie," I conclude with a toothy smile.

Then I'm ignored again as conversation immediately resumes amongst the ladies.

But I've had my fun for the night.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Shadows in the Sun

© 1954 by Chad Oliver

Paul Ellery has a problem. See, he’s an anthropologist, and in between teaching gigs at minor league colleges, he’s doing something he thinks is clever. Most anthropologists go off to New Guinea or some South Pacific island for a year or two and study tribes that have never seen the white man before. Paul has a better idea, though. He’s going out to an out-of-the-way Texas town and will put his fellow Americans under the microscope. It seems that ain’t never been done before, and he’s curious as to what he may find.

Now, he’s doubting his sanity. For the past two months, the town has been on to him. It’s shutting him out. There may even be a vague menace behind it, or that may just be his imagination, growing more paranoid by the day. For Paul has discovered something strange about this town, name of Jefferson Springs. Something strange indeed.

If you’ve ever seen a certain famous black-and-white science fiction film of 1956, directed by Don Siegel and starring Kevin McCarthy, you’ll know where I’m going here.

[here be major spoilers!]

Relatively early on, by page 13 of my Ballantine paperback, actually, we discover what’s happening. Our suspicion proves correct, sort of. Used to the general dumbth-ness of the visual “sci-fi” media, we expect an alien invasion. A gooey, slithering, gross-out, disgusting, oozey monster takeover of our fair planet earth.

Well, Oliver does deliver a type of invasion. But remember, the man’s an anthropologist, so think with me for a moment.

Yes, aliens are invading earth.

But the aliens are – humans.

Oliver present a compelling case for the natural evolution of humanity on earthlike planets scattered throughout the galaxy. Even more so, humanity is a natural by-product of the earthlike planet orbiting the earthlike sun, so much so that it (we) have infected the entire galaxy. There are more people than there are places to live. So, quite quietly, humanity from the stars is slowly colonizing humanity from the cradle world called earth.

This is casually revealed to Paul by the “aliens.” What can Paul do? He can’t fight a galaxy-size force. He can’t enlist help from his fellow earthmen, for who would believe him? His choice is simply to forget it all and court insanity, or join these star-men and be sent to some sort of “re-education camp.”

The whole “re-education camp” thing made me think that the entire novel might be a metaphor for 50s cold war communism, but I think Oliver focuses more on what happens when a superior civilization encounters a more primitive one. One hundred percent of the time, we’ve been on that “superior” side, the winning side in these culture clashes. The most obvious example is the Indian tribes who’ve lost the culture war on the continental US by the end of the nineteenth century. Oliver turns the table on us and makes us the primitives who stand no chance against the superior invading force. In fact, these aliens are so advanced that there simply is no way to fight them.

Or is there?

Turns out, there isn’t. The main moral thrust of the novel is Paul’s decision. Does he join up or not? If he does, what can he do to fight the colonization? And – should he even fight the colonization. A lot of interesting questions are posed. A lot of interesting characterizations of the colonizing force come out, too, as Paul discovers they really do think of him as a primitive.

Very good novel in its originality, and its valiant attempt to take on some deep questions. Short and quick and surprisingly readable. I enjoyed Shadows in the Sun immensely and recommend it.

My grade: B+.

For my thoughts as I just began reading the novel, see here.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What's Heaven Like?

"What's heaven like?" Little One asked me yesterday.

We had a lot of deep discussions, me and the six-year-old, on our errand run. Everything from the differences between Judaism and Christianity to how recycled paper is made to who me and mommy are voting for the next presidential election.

So how to you explain heaven to a second-grader?

To paraphrase, I said something along the lines of, "No one knows exactly what heaven will be like, but we are promised that it will be better than anything we can ever imagine. I mean, think of the best possible thing you can do, or think of the best possible place you can be, well, heaven will be infinitely more better than that."

I glance in the rear-view mirror and meet her eyes.

"I think it will be like a birthday party that never ends," she says with a smile.

"Perfect!" I am impressed. "Excellent! That's exactly what I'm talking about. I think for many little boys and girls who go to heaven before they get old and become adults, I think that heaven is exactly like that for them."

"What would heaven be like for you, Daddy?"

Hmmm. "You know how I like to read? You know how we're on our way to our second library today?" Nods in the back seat. "Well, I guess, for me, heaven would be like a giant library. An infinitely large library, with every book ever written or every book that is yet to be written, every book that was lost and every book that was imagined. And I would have some superability to read any book I wanted to in one second, though it would feel I lived through it entirely. Understand?"

Again she nods. I think a little more as we're driving down back roads and stopping for traffic lights.

Heaven would also contain every world ever though up. All those science fiction books I read - well, the worlds those writers crafted would actually exist, and I could visit them. The authors, too, they'd be at my disposal, and oh what bull sessions we'd have. (Because in heaven, I'd have no problem speaking my mind to anyone.) Even the two worlds I created in my two novels would exist, physically, really exist, like Hugh Everett parallel-worlds exist, and I'd be able to step over that line in the sand and enter them as casually as I would leave the front door to go to work tomorrow morning.

But most of all, I think, the visions in the last book of the Bible, Revelation, would become really truly real. Fleshed out. Gain physical existence and ontological meaning. John's final book would be like Cliff Notes of Cliff Notes compared to what we'd see and feel and hear and experience.

How's that for trying to put into words something we will never know this side of eternity?

What a great time I have every Saturday during these errands!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Messages from the Aether

A couple of weeks ago I posted about the odd phenomenon of synchronicity that often greets me on a daily basis. I will often see something on the tube that tickles my fancy, then I'll catch something similar later on the net, or I'll be in a library and spot a book on that same topic out of hundreds of others on the shelves, or I'll read a reference to the aforementioned fancy in a completely non-related book. Sometimes, it's downright eerie.

The past couple of days it's been a trio of oddities:

D. B. Cooper

The Son of Sam killings of 1976-77

The Oak Island "Money Pit"

Why, I don't know. I guess because, to me at least, these three items, with their various degrees of grimmishness, fall into that "weirdity" category that immediately peaks me interest.

I saw a news report on Cooper - that dude who hijacked a plane in the early 70s in Washington state and parachuted into oblivion with $200,000 - about two weeks ago. Don't even remember the topic per se as it was on the lunchroom teevee at work and I was just passing by. But, lo and behold, four or five days later I'm in one of my local libraries with Little One, not even browsing, just trying to herd her out of there, when - bang! - a book on Cooper catches my eye from the shelf like it was lit up like Times Square on December 31st.

The Son of Sam killings really freaked me out back then. I was nine going on ten and it seemed stories of mayhem, murder, Mr. Monster and talking dogs were splashed across the Daily News my parents had delivered to the house. I wrote about it a bit here on the blog, probably several times. I started doing a more comprehensive article but never finished it. Then, two or three days ago, I happen across a commercial on one of the History channels for a show which investigates old crimes. This one will be studying - you guessed it - David Berkowitz, and the theory that he did not act alone.

The Oak Island Money Pit is this huge hole dug into the ground over decades by various individuals and groups trying to get down far enough to rumoured pirate gold. The farther down you go, the more oddities you encounter: wooden planks, weird little traps, evidence to whet the treasure-seeker's whistle. It's also claimed the lives of a more than a couple people. I skimmed it in one of my strange used books (I think it was one written by John Keel, but I could be wrong) about a week ago. Then, today, at the library, hunting with my daughter for a book on vampires, I come across a child's book of weirdities that has a whole chapter on -

Well, you know.

I know there's a logical explanation. There's this thing called the Reticular Activating System. Every moment of the day we're bombarded with thousands and thousands of stimuli that the minds learns to ignore. When you suddenly become aware of a certain stimuli, when it gains some sort of meaning for you, then you notice it all the time.

Are you itchy? Probably not. But go outside on the deck for dinner and spot a mosquito on your arm. Swat it away, and all you'll think about for the next hour is mosquitoes. You'll start scratching your legs and your arms, trying to sooth those (most likely) imaginary itches.

How about this. Ever test drive a car? Or ride in a new car a friend buys? Suddenly, for seemingly mysterious reasons, for the next couple of days-weeks-months, all you'll see on the highway now are those same model vehicles. Everywhere you look you'll see them. You'll wonder where they all came from and how that car maker is suddenly selling gazillions of these things.

So something like that happens to me. That's the logical explanation.

I reject that.

I tend to believe, somewhat romantically, and that's an eighteenth-century notion of "romance", in the aether. That's right, the a-e-t-h-e-r. That's a catch-all phrase for the multiplicities of dimensions intimately surrounding us, outside of space, outside of time. The domain of angels. The domain of demons. A world much greater than our petty "scientific" minds can conceive of, but one that is, nonetheless, real. And these synchronicitous events are simply ...

Messages from the aether.


Friday, August 12, 2011

This Made Me Laugh

Though I would've changed Bush to Republicans.

Thanks Ginny!

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Okay, I’m officially exhausted.

Just got back from the local carnival. Patch is having a meltdown two floors above me. My body, fueled for the past six weeks on the caffeine of Diet Coke, is ready to shut down. The head’s pounding from the Chaos of Work (similar to the Fog of War). The molecules of pizza orbiting the compounds of luncheon meats swirling about my bloodstream is doing nothing to help.

After I post this I am going to take a long, hot, Epsom-loaded bath. I’ll be in central Africa with Allan Quatermain, fending off Masai warriors in a valiant attempt to save the life of a missionary’s innocent little daughter. That is, if I don’t fall asleep and drown in the three or four inch deep soup of me.

I do have a lot of interesting stuff to post. Thing is, most of it’s still between my ears. Have to post a review of Shadows in the Sun. (My email box has been bombarded with requests for that one! Please, people, I’ll get to it!) Plus I got a lot of little weirdities to expand. See, I’ll be reading and a line will catch my attention, and I’ll twist it around to form a line of my own. Like this: what’s the difference between nothing and nowhere? I could write a thousand words on that subject and convince myself I’ve written something profound in the process. So, there’s that stuff to compose.

But most of all, I need a little R&R. No OT this weekend for me. No yardwork, either, though I do need to sit down and make sense of the family’s finances before the bank sends a band of thugs to my home to remove me from it. Recorded a lot of cool movies on the DVR (an Orson Welles, a Chuck Heston). Want to take the little ones out on Saturday morning errands again. Just one more day of work to plow through.

Ergo, more later, if not sooner.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Eagle Boy

For the briefest of moments, I soared among the clouds, eagle-like. I chanced a glance down, rewarded with the most beautiful vision ever to enter my aquiline eyes. I took in the great edifice, the wondrous castle being built below me. I saw the walls and the parapets made of crystal, the jewel-encrusted roofs, the streets lined with gleaming golden stones. I saw the geometric shapes below, perfect as it approached its telos, and the brilliant vision of what was yet to come blinded me.

Then I remembered that only moments away I would be back on the ground, in the mud and the humidity, struggling to haul the bricks broke by my own hand, straining against ropes with poles, hewing raw rock and carving formless stone. I heard the grunts and the shouts and the cries of misery, I tasted dirt in my mouth and the agony of a purposeless life.

And I plummeted earthward, and woke up.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Zane Grey

I spent the month of July reading two Zane Grey novels. I felt the itch for a couple of reasons. I do enjoy the occassional western movie on teevee or on the big screen. I also hadn't read a full-fledged cowboy novel since Lonesome Dove and Streets of Laredo sometime in the mid-90s - both were good, though the former more than the latter. But the main reason was, believe it or not, the strange karmic fact that the Zane Grey museum lies a few miles from my parents retirement home, and they live out in the sticks.

[They also live about twenty miles from Milford, PA, once home of SF writer, editor, and popularizer Damon Knight. Throughout the 50s and 60s Knight and his wife, fellow SF scribe Kate Wilhelm, resided there and held summer workshops for budding writers. SFian James Blish also lived there are participated. But since I've yet to find a house or museum or even a plaque acknowledging this in the gentrified streets of Milford, I have not ran off an a crazy tangent to digest as many books by those writers as possible. Yet ...]

So, I've been feeling this pull to browse through the Zane Grey museum. But I'd feel somewhat hypocritical if I hadn't put away any of his books beforehand. Luckily, during the beginning of the summer, one just jumped off the shelf at me while browsing the used book section of my local store. And I shelled out full price for a new copy of his most famous work.

The first book was a 1908 yarn called The Last Trail, and deals more with colonial times than the traditional Wild West. The setting's the untamed frontier of Ohio, and we're dealing with bordermen protecting settlers from the Shawnees and corrupt white men.

The new book I purchased was Grey's famous 1911 Riders of the Purple Sage. This takes place in Utah, and the main conflict is a soap opera between a good-hearted Mormon ma'am, some evil Mormon elders, and a group of unsavory rustlers within the mazelike caverns of 1870s Utah.

Verdict: OK. Not my cup of tea, but I can appreciate them.

Or rather, parts of them. Let me explain.

I think I have the formula down for a Zane Grey novel. Now, if any die-hard Zanian is reading this, please take it as it's offered, tongue-in-cheek. The man penned at least 90 books (posthumous ones still come out) and became one of the first writer millionaires by the time he reached middle age. I don't mean to disparage his credentials and accomplishments. But I must comment on these two books. I put the time in, so now the universe has to hear my cry. Or at least the eighteen to thirty unique visitors I get every day.

Boiled down, the formula for a Zane Grey novel is:

1/3 breathtakingly beautiful evocations of Old West scenery;

1/3 showdown between the good bad guys and the bad bad guys;

1/3 romance - Romance, capital-R, among the protagonists.

The man knows how to paint a picture with words. Reading his descriptions of the woods, valleys, the plains and river beds, the stone houses and forest fortresses put me there, really there, in my mind's eye. Some of the best nature writing, in my limited experience, since I read The Lord of the Rings a few months back. You really get the sense of the man's passionate love for the scenes and sights of the terrain out of our nation's past. He's able to pull you in from this angle.

In every good western tale there's a showdown. Riders begins with one, ends with one, and has a handful in the 285 intervening pages. Last Trail has it's share, too, though none as like those commonly expected by our generation. I noted, too, how much of the confrontation takes place off-page, and we only hear about it later from characters witnessing to us. While it may sound like a poor writer's cop-out, I recall thinking that Grey pulled it off, as evaluated by my suspicious mind. And I mentioned the "good bad guys", as distinct from the "bad bad guys", because every gunslinger has a checkered past, done dirty deeds cheap he's none too proud of. Those in Grey's novels are no exception.

But what struck me the most and what probably will keep me from exploring more Zane Grey is the romance aspect of his novels. I imagined some bizarre cross between aw shucks stumbling Victorian mores and bodice-ripping Danielle Steele novel covers. Riders has two main love arcs, Last Trail just one, but the latter has a prominent couple in contented marital bliss and a main character who's rugged devotion to duty kept him from cupid's arrow. Now, I'm not against love and romance and all that sort, but that's not quite my choice of escapist reading. It bugged me in a big, unexpected, unusual way.

So, LE, the Hopper, the SF buff, the amateur philosopher of the weird, grades his excursions into the literary world of Zane Grey as solid Bs. Not my bag, but I can appreciate its merit. Now I can walk through the doors of that museum with at least a little bit of knowledge, head held high, hunting for something weird or unique or comical to make a modest little blog post.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Three Days from ...

Have more on my plate the next three days than I've had in any three-day period since maybe 2008 or so. So busy. So much to do, so little time, and so little compensation for it.

But I'm not complaining. Well, technically I am. Perhaps I mean to say, I'm not ungrateful. The stress that comes from having a job is so much more preferable than the stress that comes from being unemployed. I have to keep reminding myself that.

I've been battling a mucousy cold over the past ten days. I've also worked 12 out of the last 14 days. That's about eighteen hours of OT all totaled, which I get paid for, which basically results in a transfer payment to Target for the girls' school supplies and fall clothing next month. But I'm getting the hang of the myriad of policies and procedures at the new place, and I'm beginning to earn some juice amongst both workers and management. And my desk is finally reaching some stage of manageable organization.

I had a wedding Friday night which wiped my tired and sick butt out. Had to work five hours Saturday, then got home and mowed the lawn. The wife and I took the girls out for ice cream, then she went out to the movies with her girlfriend. I had my ice cream at home watching the campy 1957 flick The Cyclops. Began reading Haggard's Allan Quatermain. Then I passed out at 10, and slept straight until 9:30 the next morning.

Spent Sunday resting up for my three-day tribulation. Stayed horizontal as much as possible. Bed, couch, tub. Read my Haggard, read some of Benedict. Read a quite intriguing Philip Jose Farmer book about Doc Savage. Did some necessary laundry, but that was the extent of my domestic chores. Spit up a lot of phlegm. Yes, it's the little details that paint the prettiest pictures.

Monday I have to learn how to navigate this hand clock thingie at work. 122 employees went off time cards the Thursday past and expect to be paid properly this Wednesday. Otherwise I'll have a line of unhappy worker bees outside my office door. So I need to calculate all those hours and compensate for the confused who couldn't master the fine art of clocking in and out via a biometric hand reading. Plus I've commissions to figure out, schedules to clean, folders to fill and files to file, overtime reports to run and a phone to answer, one that rings four to six times an hour with people needing fires put out.

Then I have to rush home and sign my name to thirty papers writ in an ancient, foreign language. That's right, we've refinanced the home a second time within two-and-a-half years. Though we'll be penalized in some obscure way which won't be revealed to us until we try to sell the darn thing, we now have some monthly breathing room, to the tune of about $300. At least on paper ...

Tuesday my company is sending me to the airport Marriott for an all-day seminar on Hiring and Retention. Great, but extremely poor timing. This effectively cancels out any progress I've made organizational-wise over the past week or so. I've always said that if I did nothing but sit silently at my desk from first thing in the morning, by lunch time I'd have four hours of new work to complete by five. I also want to type up my notes for the day for the bosses so I can show them, well, that I can do that sort of thing.

Wednesday is payroll day, where I have eight hours to make sure 122 people are properly paid. That's assuming all the info from the various departments gets to my desk by 10 am, which so far has never happened. It's a stressful, headachy, ulcer-inducing bimonthly event that I'm learning to dread. For one thing, I can't do payroll at my desk because it's too in-the-open. Remedy: do it at my boss's desk, with my boss's never-ending ringing phone, with my boss's never-ending parade of people with fires marching in and out like some mid-to-lower-level ring of Dante's hell.

So I'm going to be struggling. Then, relief! Blessed relief! Well, that won't really come until next weekend.

Fortunately I did some noodling on the laptop Sunday afternoon and have two reviews for those of you interested in all things bookish. After that, I have no idea what to write, so I'm begging for the Great Muse to throw a bone or two my way.

Enjoy the next couple of days. I will, but only when I'm journeying into the heart of darkness with Macumazahn or into the heart of Christ with Cardinal Ratzinger.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Crop Circle!

Rather, grass circle!

Finally, I have proof that WE ARE NOT ALONE!

Saucers have been landing in my backyard! (Yes, plural: If you look carefully, you can see outlines for two UFOs hulls burned into the grass.)

To whom do I send this photo??

APRO? NICAP? MUFON? The United States Air Force???

I Want to Believe!

The Truth is Out There!

[Actually, the truth is just what you'd expect - the little ones' blow-up pool, left out in the backyard all week, killed 28.27 square feet of my lawn ...]

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Decisions, decisions

My agenda for plowing through Shakespeare is to read a play and then watch a play, then move on to the next. One of my local libraries has a whole slew of Folger’s interpretations of the plays (my favorite versions), as well as the local bookstore for about four bucks a piece. The same library has every edition of the BBC Shakespeare 1977-1985 series of plays. So far it’s worked for me, as I’m 7 ½ plays in, close to 20 percent, of my Shakespearean journey.

Now I face a dilemma. One that needs to be resolved this weekend before I derail and hop on to other valleys and vistas.

After reading a couple of histories I switched over to Twelfth Night, which I stole from B&N for two dollars. Had trouble getting into it, this somewhat disconcerting for I read that this is one of Shakespeare’s most critically regarded comedies. So I said to myself, “Perhaps I’ll pick up on much detail I missed in my first reading when I watch the BBC play.” Well, I didn’t say it out loud. More like thought it. Though I do tend to say such things out loud. Usually when I’m alone in the car.

Anyway, in the meantime, I came across a rare Folger’s edition of Henry IV part II. I’d given up on reading part II because, a) I heard it’s a rarely performed play, and b) I ain’t never found a copy nowhere. And I looked, because I enjoyed part I immensely. No library carried. No bookstore carried it. Until I went to Border’s Going Out of Business sale and picked it up, discounted.

But I still had Twelfth Night on the brain. Went to my library to get the BBC DVD and – they didn’t have it! Shakespeare’s most noted comedy, and they didn’t have it! But they did have – Henry IV part II, that most rarely-performed of plays!

Go figure, as they say.

So, do I move on to Henry, or do I keep looking for that Twelfth Night DVD? I’m kinda stuck between gears. I’m like a turtle on it’s back. Like a rock ’em sock ’em robot with his head popped off.

I gotta work today, so I can’t physically get to the library. I could probably log on to the website and put a hold on the play, if it exists and if it’s currently out. That’s probably what I’ll do to resolve this. And in the meantime jump over to Henry. It’ll be a break in continuity, but, hey, it ain’t a perfect world. And if that’s my only complaint today, well, then I’ll consider today a successful one.

Friday, August 5, 2011


God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine -
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The captains and the kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law -
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And, guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word -
Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!

- "Recessional" (1897) by Rudyard Kipling

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Biometric Clock

So it's like the Brazilian rain forest down in the shop, and I'm there, dressed in my black suit pants and button-up Ralph Lauren dress shirt. The mechanics are circling around me, and beyond them, the lot boys and the detailers and the parts countermen and drivers. I'm literally bathing in sweat, not in the least due to the palpable heat and humidity, but mainly because of the fact that I don't know what I'm doing.

"All right," I say, scanning the directions the help desk told me to ignore. "It should only take twenty seconds to log each one of you in. We should be done in fifteen or twenty minutes."

Looks ranging from boredom to distrust to non-comprehension are flung my way. Of course it takes a couple of tries for me myself to log in to the machine, to make sure the biometric hand clock registers me and recognizes me as the boss. The clock admin, that is, the dude in the store who puts all the other handprints into the system and tracks Time and Attendance and Payroll.

Eventually I get things moving. For the initial enrollment, each man is required to put in the last four digits of his social security number and then the machine takes three palm readings. It actually walks them through the process, readouts instructing them to place the hand down on the scanner and then remove it, once, twice, thrice. Contrary to popular belief these biometric hand clocks don't record fingerprints or handprints. They take 150 specific measurements of a person's hand from every conceivable angle, verified three times, and that's the beauty of the security of it. No one can punch in for anyone else.

As should be expected and anticipated, it takes longer than twenty minutes. Much longer. I eventually wind up taking two hours to get everybody in. The sauna of the repair shop poofs my hair out into an Art Garfunklish fro. In the interim the guys go back to the cars they're washing or working on or otherwise break up into small groups to gab while I get one man after another into the machine.

Some guys laugh and some guys are suspicious. Some guys can't read English and I have to walk them through the process. One guy, though, is actually a little bit scared. Of course he doesn't outwardly show it, but I see he's nervous and hesistant and doesn't want to put his hand down to get scanned.

"There's nothing to worry about," I deadpan. "The worse that can happen is the machine will generate a duplicate of you to take your place tomorrow."

The tech chuckles while he walks away, but I can see him nursing his hand uncertainly as he throws a furtive glance at his new mechanical overlord . . .

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Yesterday was a milestone for me.

You know how they say that every seven years you're a new person? How every cell in your body is regenerated over the course of seven summers? Though the soul remains unchanged and unchangeable, its earthly package, the body, is completely overhauled every 2,555 days.

At least, that's what they say.

Well, you know what?

I had my last cigarette seven years ago yesterday.

Last cigarette ever.

So this body that's sitting in the dining room chair typing this out on the laptop has never known a cigarette. Never tasted tobacco. Never sucked on a coffin nail.

I'd given up pack-a-day smoking in the late 90s just after meeting my wife (not a militant non-smoker, just a firm one). But I couldn't kick the habit when I drank. Unfortunately, I hung with a couple of guys who appreciated an ice cold beer on a hot day. Rather, an ice cold suitcase of beer on a hot day. And we'd all drink and smoke and drink and smoke, no matter what time of year really, while the ladies chatted in the kitchen watching the little ones in diapers.

Then we bought a house and I spent a mad summer of 2004 painting every room in the damn thing. On August 2, 2004, I transformed our living room walls from faded pink to sandstone cove. It was hot, there was no AC, but there was a couple of Spaaten in the fridge. I popped the cap off one and sat down on the deck stairs out in the backyard and smoked the last Marlboro Light I had.

And I haven't had another since.

Why not?

Well, at this point, Little One was just about 8/9s cooked in my wife's belly. I remember thinking about that, sitting there in the dusk with a beer in one hand and the cigarette in the other. Now, the earth didn't shake, nor did my nerves. There were no epiphanies. No voices in my ear, no signs and wonders. Just took a sip and swallowed. Took a drag and exhaled. Watched the fireflies do their three-dimensional lawn dances.

I just realized it was time to give it up.

Like I did about nine hundred times before, but this time, it stuck.

Seven years ago, yesterday.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Shadows in the Sun, Preliminaries

Wow! I am floored with how good my newest read is!

I zipped through ten pages Sunday and got hooked - but circumstances kept me from getting further involved. Yesterday, I snuck out of work for a brief lunch break and put away three chapters before I regrettably had to go back in. I stopped right at a point where some Great Reveals were about to be ... uh ... revealed.

The book is Shadows in the Sun and it's by Chad Oliver, an anthropologist-slash-SF writer who I never heard of before. It starts out with an anthropologist (imagine that!), studying a small Texas town, who realizes that all is not what it seems to be. More specifically, the people act strange. Bland, generic, xeroxy strange. Our hero gasps as his research uncovers an entire townsfolk replaced over a period of fifteen years.

At first I thought it would be an Invasion of the Body Snatchers retread. (Well, since the book was published in 1954, it might have been the source material for the famous movie.) Not so. A flying saucer quickly makes an appearance - but what a creepy appearance it is! Aliens logically follow. But none of it follows my preprogrammed anticipatory guesses! I love when I'm surprised, and this book surprises.

The writing is quite good, too. Check this out:

The blazing white sun hung in the sky, almost motionless, as though it too were too hot to move. No cloud braved that furnace, and the heat beat down like boiled, invisible rain. Heat waves shimmered like glass in the still air and the parched earth took on the consistency of forgotten pottery.

Jefferson Springs, from the coolest corner in the thick, square icehouse to the baked metal of the top of the water tower, held its breath and waited for evening.

That's awesome writing, no two ways about it.

And a few paragraphs down, Oliver throws away an observation that floored me with its simplistic brilliance:

If you wish to devise a problem that cannot be solved, the simplest way is to make it appear that there is no problem.

Heavvvvvvvvvy! There's a blog post somewhere in them thar words.

* * *

Full book review to follow in a few short days ...

Monday, August 1, 2011

Signature Dish

A lot of these cooking shows – Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, and their seemingly endless variations – begin with the contestant cooking his “signature dish.” The dish that best exemplifies him as a cook. It’s meant to show the cold-hearted judges in a few bites his talent, imagination, and personality.

In that spirit, I offer to you my “signature dish.”

It’s a dish I’ve been cooking as long as I’ve been cooking (at least twenty-five years). I’m proud of it, and to this day I eat it often. When I was out of work, especially during the cold winter months, I’d eat a version of this five days a week for lunch.



1 cup Barilla pasta
1 can Progresso soup

Heat pot of water over stove until boiling. Pour in pasta and let cook for ten minutes. Stir occasionally. Drain into colander.

Open can of Progresso soup and pour into empty but still hot pot. Put over stove and pour pasta back in. Cook over lighted flame for five to six minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serves: One.