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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Procrastination Incorporated

The inlay designs for my brother's guitar, the novel, the short stories, the workshop critiques I'm supposed to be doing, I just haven't been getting traction on this shit.

'Maybe if you didn't spend so much time on your fucking blog,' my inner-Scold says.

Fair enough.

'Maybe if I didn't have a flood or a family medical emergency or whatever come up on a weekly basis,' I say back to my Scold.

For sure, my family is a million times more important than my novel. Even if I could get my novel where it made more sense than a bunch of random paragraphs scribbled on the insides of empty cigarette cartons, scattered throughout a house for the reader to find at random.

I used to write love letters on the insides of empty cigarette cartons. It's a pretty convenient size when you flatten it out, and good heavy stock. Not sure where it stands relative to the old 'foolscap' sizes.

Not smoking or working in a gas station, I tend to favor the more conventional stationary, the copier paper some people have taken to calling foolscap even though it's not even close to the same size. Is it the revulsion of the term 'letter size,' or that writer-types just hate to drop a word as charming as 'foolscap?'

And what size is 'foolscap' proper, anyway? 13 x 16 according to some accounts. This shows how an 'A0' sheet subdivides into those obscure variations that your HP printer seems willing to print on but that you don't really see. Actually the 8-1/2 x 11 U.S. letter size is often referred to as 'A4' but I think where the metric system rules, that A4 is actually something like 8-1/4 x 11. And they have foolscap down as a 17 x 13 with a question mark.

Why do I care? I don't know. I remember a visit to Emporia, to Grandma's, when we went to the drug store that actually had a soda fountain, I'd wander over to the office supply aisle and browse. My kid brother teased me unmerciful for being so fascinated with stationary and writing implements. I'm picky about the pens I use to the point of fetish, and when I find 'reporter's notebooks,' 4 x 8, bound at the top steno-style, the largest notebook that fits in a back pocket easily, I hoard them.

This, even though the only handwriting I can do legibly is with a keyboard.

I'm even picky about keyboards. I'll use a laptop in a pinch, but the feel just isn't right. They scrunched up the keys when miniaturization was the be-all of the industry, and now everyone wants bigger and bigger screens, and no matter how big the notebook pc is on account of it's ever larger screen, they put that same scrunchy keyboard on the damned thing.

And a big part of me is still nostalgic for the IBM Selectric. I took typing in 8th grade, and those were the best damned typewriters. My first 'word processor' was a Brother that had a 3-1/2" floppy drive, wrote a format no other machine could read, and used a conventional typewriter unit to punch out the finished result. You could do really awesome footnoting, fully justify your text if you wanted to, and spell check before you printed, but it was a glorified typewriter.

And spell-check has made me such an invalid when it comes to spelling. Max Barry's latest blog has Max griping about having to make his manuscript look like it was typed on a Selectric. It's a funny read both because of the power of STET and because it highlights the inertia of large companies. Penguin/Putnam is ostensibly a 'for profit' concern, yet they pretend the paper manuscript is the real thing the way it was once. I could see this as an accommodation to the aging Tom Wolfe, but as a requirement on a young lion? Word, PDF, OpenOffice, all these programs offer tools for editing and flagging and so on. A physical manuscript is a total anachronism.

Yet I print out a hard copy of my shit. I have it double spaced, 12 point courier, use underlining for my italics, all that. The header is upper right: 'McBride / Wealth Effects / ##' and so on.

Basically, except for the fact that I'm always scooting stuff around and doing little spot-edits, I do everything I can to pretend it's a physical manuscript.

Right now, I'm kind of trying to decide a course of action. I gained a lot my first year int he Cult workshops, so much so I paid the $60 to stay on when it went pay at the first of the year. I joined Write Club, which started as (I think) ten people with novels in progress, the idea being that we'd be able to focus on the attention longer works need. In a workshop that mainly draws short stories, it's hard to even get a novel excerpt critiqued. Really, a novel is a bunch of smaller stories that add up to a big story. And if you don't have tension in every segment, every paragraph really, why is the reader going to keep going? They aren't.

I was invited into Write Club in part because I wrote around 100 critiques in slightly under a year between the two Cult workshops. Writing those critiques grew me as a writer more than the feedback I got from submitting my work. Which isn't to say the feedback I got wasn't worthwhile, it almost invariably was.

Write Club is down to six writers, and I've done doodly squat in the way of critiques. I've read and critiqued a total of, I think, seven chapters by two authors there. And I've only submitted three chapters of my own book, which are a different three than were the 'beginning' when I started workshopping at the Cult. And probably a different three than I'll end up making the beginning of the next draft.

Jason Heim, author of 'Don't Forget to Blink' and organizer of Write Club has been bugging me for the fourth chapter, but I can't figure out which chapter is the fourth since I'm second guessing which are the first three.

And the comic book spreads that I've been trying to include, I'm starting to think it's better not to even describe them to the reader, just let Nelson's efforts to get it published and the reactions of the people who read it carry the weight. I'm not even a comic book reader for the most part. I buy Josh Kotter's books, and Evan Dorkin rocks (I even have a Milk & Cheese t-shirt), but I visited a comic book store for the first time a couple of years ago, as research for the book. I can enjoy 'Schizo' and 'I Feel Sick' and 'Eightball' but I still don't feel like a comic book fan.

I'll be getting my first taste of live NASCAR this weekend. For volunteering with the United Way to sell raffle tickets, I'll get to see the ARCA race (same cars as NASCAR, different circuit as I understand), the NASCAR pickups (which I wouldn't believe exist except I've seen them on TV), and on Sunday, they're racing Indy cars. This bears on the novel, as another of my protagonists is a big-time NASCAR head. I watched it on TV once, but it was like watching a video game I didn't have a joystick for.

Anyway, these things I do to get insight into my characters, just like the nonfiction research I do trying to figure out what's possible and how someone might go about it, they take up a lot of time and energy. But I tend to come back to my manuscript with new conviction after a binge of research. So hopefully the NASCAR weekend will fuel progress.

Still not sure if I've outgrown the online workshops or not. It's not that I think I'm such a great writer, it's more that I've started to feel like I need to beat up on my manuscript alone for a while. Craig Clevenger (I'm paraphrasing) says that if you're finding more faults in your work than your fellow workshoppers, consider yourself graduated.

He doesn't mean your manuscript is ready, more that you already know how to find its faults and figure out fixes for them. Of course, once you do that, agents and editors will have plenty to say about what still sucks. And eventually, I guess you have to invoke STET.

And then on to the next book. For likely no commercial rewards, why do I continue writing fiction? It's about as answerable as why I'd care what size 'foolscap' should be. Or why I think it's awesome that I now live in a town that has a pharmacy with a real soda fountain. Or why I still love the office supply section. And the office supply store.

Same reason I don't consider myself a comic book reader, even though I am in some ways. I relate to comic book readers, Batman, Superman, Spawn, these are the modern American versions of Greek gods and goddesses. Human ideals, weaknesses, etc., personified or deified.

And if I don't update this for a while, blame my inner-Scold. That is, if you feel the need for blame...

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The rest of the rebirthday thing and more...

No, I didn't get the life insurance policy. I've had two independents who sell policies from hundreds of companies scour for liberal medical underwriting, but heart attack at 32 is more than a red flag for insurers. Ironically, for almost anyone, a first heart attack is a surprise. You can rationalize away all those symptoms, ignore your high cholesterol, borderline blood pressure, etc. If you're young, you may not even know about some of those things.

So now I take more drugs than Abbie Hoffman, Zetia, Crestor, Niaspan, Atenelol, in addition to fish oil and so on. For about six months after the attack I was compulsive about going to the gym. I got to where I could go for an hour on the eliptical with it almost maxed out on resistance and tilt, hit the weights and then swim laps for half an hour, only to feel energized and refreshed.

I've backslid a lot on that. I'm easily a hundred pounds overweight and have lost that conditioning. Need to get back into that.

I'd also gone nearly vegan for months prior to the attack (in a vain attempt to avoid taking statins). It turned out not to be a regime I could stick to long term. I'm not great with moderation. I have on and off switches for pretty much everything.

In Other News

We got to take a trip to the ER this evening. Mo had a full blown six minute seizure, the first she's had in a couple of years. Absence seizures are more the norm with her.

I'd write more about that but my ass is kicked.

Happy Re-Birthday

Three years ago today I died. I didn't (as far as I can recall) experience the tunnel of light brain seizure, but I was mowing my Mom's lawn and the lights went out.

Okay, I'm not a religious guy, so this will probably drive you nuts if you are oriented towards faith.

You can refer to my thoughts on Intelligent Design (a few posts down) to see I'm not the militant atheist I once was.

When I was a militant atheist I delighted in aggravating religious people (who I believed were mentally ill or not paying attention) by saying things along the lines of, 'I don't need to be born again, my Mom got it right the first time.'

Then I met people who were not obviously mentally ill or fogged over who were deeply religious. My kid brother included, who I regarded as mentally deficient by default when I was growing up. He's actually very bright, probably brighter than I am.

Anyway, I found a different way to be born again. Same Mom even.

For a while leading up to this, when I exerted myself I'd feel out of breath. It felt like I couldn't get enough air in my lungs. Take a deep breath, you feel that relief, but no matter how long I inhaled I didn't feel the relief.

My Dad developed asthma long after he quit smoking, so I figured this was North Carolina's revenge on me for cutting off the funds that used to go to Big Tobacco. I would mow the front lawn of Mom's house, come in and take a breather, then go do the back. At one point, I even thought to ask her about maybe trying one of her nitro pills, see if it made a difference, but Denial stepped in. Denial said, 'You're 32, it's not your fucking heart. You have asthma, you'll have to carry a damned inhaler.'

I wish.

I had applied that spring for a $1 million life insurance policy. With two daughters, one that's autistic, I didn't want to leave my wife unexpectedly and have her have to worry about an income. A single parent with our kids, needs to be able to live on the dividends. Our youngest may be under our roof for good.

It was still in the process when I collapsed after barely starting the back yard. I remember at least one of the times I was mowing having a bit of an ache in my left wrist but someone who types as much as I do often has that. Pop the joint and it usually feels better.

Those auto-shutoff levers that are supposed to save toes. That's what clued Mom in when I collapsed. She called 911 and started CPR. Mom's a retired oncology nurse, so it's not like it's the first time she did CPR on a non-plastic subject.

The ambulance was there in about five minutes, according to Mom. They must have been in the neighborhood because that is way ahead of normal response times 'round here.

They defibrilated me, bagged me, transported me.

My boss called my wife's cell phone wanting to know where the hell I was. I'd told him I'd pick up my paycheck later that day, before I knew I was going to experience cardiac arrest. Hell was a pretty good description for where I was, really, though I don't remember it.

Intubated, cardio-cathed, stented, Frau Lobster got to experience the brunt of this. I don't even remember much of the evening before the heart attack, and the first recollection I have at the hospital, I've got my CDs, a book, and pretty much everyone who's not my wife or Mom or daughters has already visited me. So I'm listening to Coltrane and reading David Sedaris and in a regular room, not ICU.

Friends and relatives came out of the woodwork when I went down. The ones living in New York or the Czech Republic couldn't visit, but friends drove from hundreds of miles to have the same conversation I don't remember.

I have to take their word for it, but it goes something like this:

Friend/Relative: Do you know where you are?
Me: Hospital?
Friend/Relative: Do you know why?
Me: Nope.
Friend/Relative: You had a heart attack.
Me: I'm too fucking young to have a heart attack.

One of my brothers recalls fondly how I had this conversation with Todd (another brother) and after Todd left I had this conversation with Larry-Boy. Several times in a row, I repeated it, then told Larry-Boy, 'I wonder if Todd will come by.'

Frau Lobster first thought I was fucking with people. Then she feared (thanks in part to a real wet-blanket of a doctor) that I was really that out of it and might never be better.

The answer, as it happens, I'm not better than I was before the heart attack, but I'm not worse. I have that blank around the 'event' itself, which is probably a combination of oxygen shortage to the brain, the drugs they used to vainly keep me from fighting the tubes, and, I suspect, the jillion volts they ran through me a couple times while defibrilating me. What got my heart going again would have had to overload my nervous system, brain included, with juice and that might not be the best thing for short-term memory.

I've gotten back some of the night before, which included a jazz lover's pub crawl. A friend got a picture of me chatting up Stan Kessler on a couch at 210 at Fedora's, a club I haven't been to on any other occasion, and that jogged a foggy recollection of what the place looks like. Have no idea what me and Stan talked about, and I don't remember seeing Guido there (who took the pic).

I also remember taking the bus from 18th & Vine to the Plaza as part of the tour. And that a certain (I won't name names) pianist I saw was even more of a jive-ass fuckup than I'd heard.

The day of, the lawn mowing, I don't know if those memories are from that day or of similar days in the weeks leading up to the attack.

It's getting past my bedtime, and there's more to tell. I visited my Dad at KU when he had bypass surgery less than a month after my attack. He'd had a couple of angioplasties before this. My Uncle Kenny who built me the guitar is a heart attack survivor. My Mom was already on nitroglycerin for her symptoms when she was giving me CPR. They'd give her a stress test and tell her everything was fine.

They told her this for four years, and a few weeks ago they finally did a cardio-cath on her, put a pair of stents in her right coronary artery, where there was an 80% blockage that somehow eluded other detection methods.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Sliding Down the Razor Blade of Life

I have a friend who's my age (roughly 35) who's on her third marriage. It's her husband's third as well.

I know some less extreme examples, but even my Dad took three wives to figure it out.

I have two friends who used to be married to each other. One is, as far as I know, happily married to his second wife with two kiddos. Honestly, if he'd put as much effort into his first marriage, he might not have gotten divorced, and he'd tell you the same.

My other friend, his ex, has a marriage that as far as I can tell is on the rocks. Though at first blush their marriage, like her ex's seemed to be one that had the efforts its predecessor lacked.

What makes it even harder to cipher, for me, is that when these two friends were on their first marriage (to each other) I saw only one or two signs of weakness in their relationship. A guy I'd asked to stand with me as best man at my own wedding shocked me by telling me he had moved back to his Mom's while sorting things out.

On the one hand, I can see the virtue of the 'go marriage' cheerleading squad. It's serious business, and I meant the 'until death' part of my vows. Still do. But I'm not a scold, and for all the people I see getting married and divorced on slim (both in and out) reason, I also see that sometimes breaking off a relationship is constructive.

A woman who stays with a man through REM behavior disturbance, where he thrashes in his sleep and she wakes up with bruises from a dream he doesn't remember, there's a saintly quality to that. Or a spouse who sticks it out after an affair. Or a heart attack, change of religion, etc.

Abuse is a whole other area. Verbal? Physical? Some things are obvious. I used to know a woman who met her husband in jail. She wasn't in jail, her future 'husband' was. She was just along with a girl visiting a boyfriend in jail, met the man of her dreams. The man of her so-called dreams was serving time for molesting his kids.

So she took him in after his unpardonable parole, and exposed her own kids to him.

They had no marriage license, no matter what they called each other, but she helped him maintain the appearance of an indepednet residence since he couldn't legally live with her (because of her kids). She used this asshole as a baby-sitter, and when the parole officer gave her 'husband' a polygraph she decided it was an 'anxiety disorder' that caused him to fail, not the misdeeds he'd been up to while she was off not earning her hourly wage.

People who see marriage and divorce as a black and white thing, and I have tendencies in that direction, probably don't put enough thought into marriages that end up like my friend's. Not the woman who shacked up with a paroled sex offender and basically fed her kids to him, that is NOT a friend of mine, and by calling her duplicitous, illegal and destructive relationship 'marriage' is abuse of he language.

Now, my friend of nearly half my life, she's in the middle of a situation I couldn't even begin to help. A long ways from the Lansing Love that I detailed, but in a painful place. And trying to decide which way to bet on a two-headed nickel flip.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Prairie Peace Park

Lobsters are big fans of 'Rare Visions and Roadside Revellations,' if you didn't know it.

This all started when I stopped to take a picture of this house, right off I-80, because it's just plain cool looking. While I was snapping this picture, the guy that runs the place (lives there?), came out and gave me a flyer, and I had to bring the girls back.

Some things that would improve the Peace Park experience: go when the weather is reasonable. It was in the mid 90's when we went, and that's too much for 27 acres of hilly trekking. Also, it's both smack up against I-80, and slopes towards the highway, so the roar of trucks and cars going by at 75mph is constant and deafening. Brace yourself.

You're supposed to go to the house for orientation first, and pay the $2 adult, $1 kid admission. But the old guy who had handed the flyer to me earlier in the day was nowhere to be seen, and what I took to be his car was still there. So was a minivan with a Harley Davidson decal in its rear window and a bumpers sticker that read 'End Worthlessness,' so we headed down into the park.

We were greeted by Don Iilly, and by an enormous and gentle black dog, which I took to be the mascot of the Peace Park. He walked up to the guest house with us, past flower planters made from the gas tanks off fighter jets.

"Do you know why the flowers are blooming so pretty," he asked Em.

"Because it's summer," she answered, which he had to admit was a good answer if not the symbolic one he was going for. He showed how he selectively plucks petals so the plant's energy can go towards the bud behind it. I don't think this works on all flowers, but a big part of what the Peace Park ephasizes is overpopulation. There is a bit of a gap in logic here, because a big war could really cut that population down to size. And I didn't ask if those flower petals were to symbolize the aborted babies that leave society's energy for the unconceived to come.

He has a turtle painted on the ground, with major population centers of the world on its legs represented by bricks with desk-bells mounted on them. He asked the girls to figure out where they fit, and I don't know if Mo could actually cut through the chaos of I-80 and autism all at once or if it was a luck guess but she immediately rang the New York bell, which was the closest choice (unless we're closer to Mexico City).

When Don turned me and my offspring loose, we walked down through the barrels made into an exibit of accelerating population doubling. A half barrel at 1 A.D., a full by 1650, a couple by 1830 (if memory serves) and so on. at the end of the trail, you can choose to keep world population stable at 9 billion or so, or go over to the projected umpteen billion represented by a huge cluster of red barrels. This Malthusian folk art is full of logical flaws. Industrialization leads to a reduction in birth rates that more than compensates for our longer lifespans. And yes, the U.S. does use a disproportionate amount of the natural resources, but that's just until India and China pass us in those areas. A strong argument could be made that the U.S. presently uses those resources very cleanly and efficiently by comparison. The farm crisis, which gets its own set of (very cool) folk sculptures is basically a crisis of finding people to eat all the food a smaller and smaller number of farmers can grow.

I'm not sure what the music staff has to do with the farm crisis except the artist that did these sculptures was using discarded farm implements. I guess more peaceful than turning ploughshares to swords. Plus, you can ride this one:

One of the more interesting displays was a set of model submarines and 32,000 little cones symbolizing the stockpile of nukes the U.S. accumulated during the Cold War. I personally believe that Levis and Coke did more to bring down the Berlin Wall than those 32,000 warheads, but I'm not as on the same page with guys like Don Lilly as that probably sounds. The Soviet Union was an expansionist power, very aggressive. Stalin was, if anything, deadlier than Hitler (and nearly as anti-Semitic). If it was justifiable to wage war on Germany to unseat Hitler, then there's no excuse for not continuing to Moscow. And in light of the Cultural Revolution and it's fallout, Bejing.

But the Cold War, I think when Ike warned of the Military Industrial Complex, he understood that as bad as the U.S.S.R. was (very), the combination of powerful industries that had tooled up for the second World War and a Congress with a vested interest in bringing home pork to every district was a recipe for excess.

The U.S.S.R. as a nuclear threat, I think, was inflated if not engineered to gain political support for obscene amounts of military spending. Korea and Vietnam were human sacrifices to this end, making the case that a Communist threat in Southeast Asia was the same as a Communist threat in Southern California.

For that matter, the present 'War on Terror' is remarkably similar. As bad as 9/11 was, the invasion of Iraq does not make sense. Saddam was a bad man, the U.N. corrupt, but subduing insurgents in Iraq seems unlikely when you consider the Union has not fully pacified the Confederacy. What it does do is use up munitions and place demands on recruitment of soldiers. Prior to the invasion, America already spent more on defense than the rest of the world combined. Occupying a country or two for the indefinite future is the Korea/Vietnam of this excuse of excessive military spending. And yeah, nuclear warheads as a 'deterrent' were ridiculous, but so is having a huge military to combat domestic terorists. It's like trying to swat mosquitos with earth haulers.

And after the folk art, we went into the maze. There's several there, mostly consisting of mown patterns in the grass. But the one made of privacy fence, that was a mistake to take Mo into. About the second dead-end and she panicked. Em went right through, but an already cranky Mo was inconsolable by the time Em got back to us and the three of us rediscovered the open air. Mo was in no mood for the power animals display and headed straight for the swings to cool her jets while Em went down into the grass maze of the U.S.

I did get a shot of them in front of the cool clay wall, sculped in Arizona and transfered to Nebraska by means that I didn't catch.

We went up to the house where Don showed the girls a video of further peace-movement propaganda. He gave the girls origami cranes that related to a Hiroshima survivor featured in the video. The other girl featured was one I vaguely remember. She wrote a letter to then Soviet Premier Andropov asking him to shame the United States for winning the arms race. Well, the Soviets couldn't pass up an opportunity like that! She was cute and articulate and in my view badly used. I understand the idealism, but it's unfair to criticize the U.S. for an arms race the Soviets gleefully participated in.

The creepy part, for me, came after they talked about how she'd gotten to ask Jesse Jackson and Michael Dukakis what they'd do different from Reagan. The after thought was that 'sadly' she and her father were killed in a plane crash.

Sadly? I'd say suspiciously! Between being used as a better-than-a-defector propaganda piece for the Soviets, the DNC obviously thought she would be a useful pawn in unseating Reagan. I'm not saying the American government had her offed, but she was playing a game she didn't understand with two superpowers, and too many parties who could cause a plane crash might have thought it convenient.

I know, planes crash all the time. People die all the time too, but when there's a motive, it's suspicious.

Anyway, there's much more to say, but it's late, I'm tired, and you've been reading too long if you're still with me. Don Lilly was incredibly generous, after all I'd done was make the 'suggested' donation of $4 for the three of us I got off the flyer, he came up with goodies from buttons to bumper stickers to a children's book by Kofi Anan's wife that Don signed to the girls. He gave us bottled water to cool our jets and took some of Mo's more disruptive moves in stride thanks to his special ed background.

The dog, incidentally, belonged to the pony-tailed biker type, who had stopped out of curiosity just like us. Don gave the enormous dog five bowls of water and run of the house and grounds until the dog's owner decided to go. As I said yesterday, I think a lot of Don's ideas are misguided, but his intentions are good. If you could subsitute him for every Idi Amin and Nicholai Ceaucesceu, you really wouldn't have any wars.

Intelligent Design and Kansas' Image

I'll get to the Praire Peace Park in due course. My friend J(ay), he sent me this link: An Open Letter to the Kansas School Board.

This was something of a jibe on J(ay)'s part, we've had an ongoing debate on the subject, both being essentially sans-faith, though in recent years, my atheism has suffered a crisis of a lack of a lack of faith. More appropriately, from early childhood I was fairly sure there was no such thing as God. They say Santa is the training wheels for God, but way before that, I can remember being told that this God fellow created everything out of some gasses (picturing the stuff Dad poured into the lawnmower as the building block of existence).

And since church attendance became mandatory around the time my curiosity about Sunday School turned to revulsion, I went through the confirmation thing and got baptized, but what can I say? It's not like I had my fingers crossed, but these weren't faith-based decisions. It was more out of a fear that this God fellow might actually be there, and if so, apparently this shuck and jive was what He required of me.

Yes, the idea that I could somehow 'trick' God into redemption is ridiculous. Approximately as ridiculous as the Sunday School teacher who, I'm not exaggerating, told me I should believe the world is flat because the Bible says so. He wasn't really representative of the congregation, he would have fit better at some snake-handling cult in Appalachia.

By my early teens I was in open rebellion against the church attendance, having found some backup that I wasn't alone in my conviction that there just wasn't any such thing as God. So I guess having Santa may be the training wheels for religion, but in my case in a 'Wizard of Oz' kind of way.

Which gets back to what I started off to get at. The fact that it's Kansas that is probably going to be the first state to take a step towards sanity in science curriculum makes it a real North Face situation. People from other parts of the country already assume Kansas translates to backwards. I even grew up thinking that way, even though I grew up in Kansas with evidence to the contrary all around me.

So as I wrote to J(ay):
There's been quite a lot of local news coverage on this stuff, and it probably doesn't help that the Intelligent Design crowd has had such success in Kansas.

Oddly, people I know who grew up in small towns in Kansas (as opposed to in the suburbs of Kansas City where I did), typically grew up in a house that subscribed to whatever local newspaper was available, as well as the Wichita Eagle or Topeka Journal (depending on which was closer) and the Kansas City Star. In more than one case, also the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, in addition to taking at least one news magazine.

Of course most of those publications are left to center-left in their orientation, but the point is, contrary to what I'd been led to believe growing up in a medium size metro, people way out in the sticks are if anything better read in current events than is the norm for city life.

Also, prior to the 1990s, places like Spearville, Tribune, Jetmore, Liberal, etc., didn't have cable or satellite in any significant amount, and depending on proximity to KC, Topeka or Wichita (out West, forget it), very little broadcast TV reached the house. Consequently, a lot more books. I've heard several of these people comment that they got to college and literally couldn't believe how much television their classmates were used to, and how little reading.

So here we are, center of international scrutiny for having a board of education that might introduce science standards that allow for Intelligent Design to be taught alongside Darwinian theory. And because it's Kansas, the hard-core atheists are in an uproar, because they feel it will hurt the image of the state (as if that was possible).

But unlike the Lampoon Henderson is trying, Intelligent Design actually has a body of legit scientists who can make a case in wholly secular terms. The Henderson piece reminds me of the National Lampoon piece from the 70's, made to look like a Time Magazine spread on the population 'explosion,' it showed a diagram that everyone has two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents and so on, and thus, we're in a Population Implosion, and if something isn't done, there will soon be no people at all.

Michael Behe's book doesn't even mention God. Behe is one of the guys who testified for the board here in KS, though he teaches in Pennsylvania. He's a legit microbiologist, not a crank. The hearings were boycotted by the doctrinaire Darwinists, with I think one exception.

J(ay)'s a Darwinist, but he's a scientist and his Darwinism is, at it's root, a faith. I probably see this the more clearly as a lapsed atheist. A lot of people think of atheism as the absence of faith, where it's really the faith that there is no such thing as the supernatural.

I continued:
Darwin never even proposed to explain the origin of life, only the way it differentiates. The Intelligent Design argument simply offers irreducible complexity as an argument against what post-Darwin evolutionists have claimed, that life as we know it just happened.

I went through Kansas' public schools, and came out 'knowing' that Darwin had proved that Evolution is how we all got here. And that any one who asserts otherwise is an insane religious zealot.

All the religious zealotry I see in the present debate is coming from the hard-core atheists, who are not evolutionists based on science but on the faith that there is no creator, couldn't possibly have been a creator, etc. They can't even tolerate the suggestion that there might have been one. They are the closest analogs to the radical Islamic clerics of the Middle East I can see in plain sight.

In fact, as a lapsed secular humanist myself, I'd say the Intelligent Design advocates should pursue it on the civil rights side: making it the law of the state that no tax supported school can teach anything but strict neo-Darwinist evolution amounts to establishing atheism as the state religion.

But they're not pursuing it that way, the Intelligent Design advocates are simply saying lay it all out. It's the very definition of a liberal education, present all the information that's known and let the student reach and defend their own conclusion using critical thinking.

Of course, critical thinking, and actual debate is not something you'll find much of in public schools, or for that matter American universities these days. It's deemed far more important to safeguard self-esteem, promote multi-cultural mythologies, and catalogue every student as a member of a minority group with grievances to be compensated for.

While I wrote this e-mail to J(ay) personally, I felt it was a fair summary of where I'm at on this. Since being a 'man of faith' is something that militant atheists use as de facto proof of either dishonesty or madness, I'm maybe slightly unique in being able to assert that I believe, on strictly scientific grounds, that life is the result of a creator, one of intelligence and power vastly greater than anything I've encountered directly.

Does that mean 'God?' I don't know. Irreducible complexity is a powerful argument, and I encourage anyone who thinks the Ingelligent Design advocates are trying to inject religion into school at the cost of science, to read Michael Behe's 'Darwin's Black Box' as a primer on the topic.

Basically, if you come across the Pyramids at Giza, does it make more sense to wonder who built them and why, or to marvel at the anomalous wind erosion? And the fascinating stains that almost appear to be paintings on the interior caves of those pyramids, the unusual formations of nearly pure gold that formed themselves around the bodies of dead kings who have been remarkably well preserved...

Every major religion I know of has a creation story. Some divide the duties up, a creator and a perserver, and other duties to be carried out by various aspects of the polytheistic powers that be. Even secular humanism takes the leap of faith that life sprung spontaneously from the primordial goo.

Since the creator didn't leave a maker's mark and serial number, I haven't been able to settle on a particular 'faith.' Call it Analysis Paralysis or agnosticism or whatever, but just as what I know of science has led me to believe in the basic premise of Intelligent Design, some of the other things that I know of science lead me to some decidedly irreligious notions of what that 'creator/creation' relationship might be.

As far as I know, all living things come to an end. It would seem to make since that since I'm no more immortal than a nematode, this creator would be no more immortal than I. Perhaps a longer lifespan, perhaps one so long as to even appear infinite to me if I could perceive it. Just as I might seem endless and eternal to a nematode if I could make my presence known to it.

This brings up the possibility that life as we know it was created by a being that is actually deceased. Francis Crick, of DNA fame, a Nobel Laureate and undisputed genius, believed aliens seeded the earth with life because his atheism was so strong he couldn't accept the implications of what he knew. Which of course begs the question who created these aliens?

Aliens or gods, either way, you can envision an unfathomable set of nesting beings if you like.

Or, what I think is more likely, while blood clotting and cell structure may be irreducibly complex, they may arise from something that is not. The creator, or creators, may very well be simple. Powerful, vastly intelligent, but not complex.

It's not impossible. Look at non-linear mathematics. Unbelievably simple equations, when fed into themselves and calculated many times over can create vastly complex charts. Charts that appear random if you don't have the computing power to render enough permuations that the pattern emerges.

For the sake of simplicity, call this creator George, and let's say he's a simple but powerful being who expresses himself in repeated permutations of nonlinear logic, the result of which is life. Is this George expecting a particular outcome? Does he have an emotional attachment to any particualr outcome, any point on the graph, so to speak? Or does this George create because that's just what he does?

These are unknowable, the province of faith. Irreducible complexity and the limits of Darwinsim, or to address part of Henderson's spoof, the serious questions that actually do exist about the accuracy of carbon dating, that's stuff that DOES belong in the class room. Suffer the little children to learn that science is unanimous about nothing except the scientific method. Let them cleave to whatever theory makes the most sense once they've been exposed to the likely candidates. Make them defend their intellectual stand, don't impose a religous one.

Even if the religion is atheism.

On the Road

Kerouac style. No, not really Kerouac style. The travel bureaus that hooked him up with lifts, I'm guessing they went the way of the linotype back when governments started passing laws against hitchiking (apparently they'd prefer guys on the bum to risk their necks hopping freights and getting beat up by RR bulls).

Not that my suburban panty-waste ass would be hopping any freights. For starters, I have to be back at work on Monday, and since I have no idea where the hell the trains that pass through my town go, I'd probably end up in Butte, Montanna asking a stranger, where am I? What day is it? Why isn't there a 110 outlet in a boxcar so I can plug in my CPAP?

Plus the trains that come through my town, we're out near the fringe so they're going a good sixty or so. If you did catch on, you're hand might be on the way to Butte, but the bloody stump and the rest of you would be be the tracks, maybe thirty or so feet from where you took the last step you ever remember.

Hobo jungles would make my town more interesting, but I'm addicted to the internet, and even with a laptop, no way could I continue so many of my favorite compulsive behviors as either a hobo or a hitch-hiker.

Oh, and then there's Frau Lobster, Mo & Em. Em whined about the distance we had to walk when I took her on a roughly one mile round trip trek through our town. Mo could probably walk to the South Pole, if you wanted to follow a really zig-zaggy path that stopped at anything you can climb on, jump off, or swim in. But getting her to walk hundreds of miles to a destination of your choosing, it's hard enough to get her to stay in a car long enough to cover those kind of distances. My wife's pretty tough, but we're Americans. We don't walk anywhere but to our car.

A family medical emergency that turned out not to be as severe as we feared is what headed us out of town. I'm not bitching, it was a relief.

Frau Lobster was adopted, and is one of those rare happy tales where she's gotten to know (as an adult) her birth mother. You only have one Mom, and Frau Lobster never confused that issue.

Turns out it's possible to also have a relationship with the person who, at 17, had the courage to refuse a trip out of town for an abortion. Instead, she put her baby up for adoption so she could grow up in a home no 17 year old girl could. Fortuitously, the parent who lobbied so hard for the abortion had already passed by the time contact was made between Frau Lobster and her birth mother, who lives with her second husband on a Nebraska farm. Getting to know them the past eight years or so has been great, and provides my daughters with an extra pair of adoring grandparents (you can't have too many, you know).

And a great-grandparent, the father of my wife's birth mother. He wasn't the one who felt the 'shame' of a teen pregnancy called for a death warrant, and he's as tough as he is sweet. But a few years ago, a bad heart attack nearly took him, and he's been left with congestive heart failure and other health problems. When we packed our bags in a hurry on Friday afternoon, it was looking bad. While we didn't get to spend as much time with the family up there, his condition was massively better than we had any reason to expect.

The guy's got 15% heart capacity left, is nearly blind, and has had to trade a cane for a wheelchair, among other things. His needs have also transcended the farm, where he's been staying, and after the hospital he's settling in to a nursing home eerily reminiscent of the one I remember visiting my own great grandmother in as a kiddo about Em's age. But he remembers Frau Lobster.

As far as the road trip goes, while I don't have anything to share that stacks up to Kerouac's Mexican brothels, it's been interesting. My job on the trip was largely to eat too much, drive, and attempt to wear the kiddos out in the hotel pool. This is difficult when you miss an exit the first night and end up in a motel with no pool, though it did have a pink Cadillac owned by an Elvis impersonator.

We passed 'Elmo's Liquor,' which came as a bit of a shocker. Also a boozeteria called 'Spirits and Awards' that can fill all your beer, wine, liquor and commemorative plaque needs.

First night, we passed up what might have been a bargain, called, no kidding, the 'One Star Motel.' The woman at the Casey's said she wouldn't board a dog there, and we found a Super 8, got the last room, with a crappy fold-out bed to make up for it being just the one king. The girls sanely rejected the fold-out, and spent the night depriving Frau Lobster of sleep in the one king bed while I managed to compress every single disc in my spine, from every angle.

For $15 more, tonight we're in a place with three queen beds, Internet thanks to Ron's loan of a wireless doo-hickey, and a pool.

The pool is critical, because short of hitching Mo to the van and making her pull it, there's just no other way to wear her out enough for sleep on a road trip.

And of course everything takes longer than expected, costs more than was budgeted, and doesn't work quite right but we've made it a fun trip overall. Mo has perfected a whine that is eerily reminiscent of Xena's war-cry (did that show get cancelled or did it just go away when we gave up cable 8 years ago?), and I have proven that while I can go a night or even several nights without a drop of booze, I get junk-sick when offline for only a few hours.

I'll have to do a seperate post to even come close to doing justice to the Prairie Peace Park, which I took the girls to while Frau Lobster took some time with rest homes and other kid unfriendly scenes.

I know, anyone who knows me would be stunned that I would expose my children to blatant peacenik indoctrination, but I'd rather my kiddos come to conclusions by critical thinking than shelter them from ideas. And if it wasn't three inches from I-80 and 93 degrees out, it would have been more fun. The guy who runs it may be a crank in a lot of ways, but he's a sweet old crank. And a retired special ed teacher, turns out, so he took Mo in stride and when she'd finally wreaked enough un-peace in the house that I felt the need to explain that she's autistic, he'd already figured it out.

A lot of his ideas for ending violence and war are naive at best, but it would definitely be a nicer world if there were more guys like Don Lilly. I didn't even have the heart to ask him how he reconciled folk art which attempts to illustrate the dangers of war, especially nuclear war, with folk art which attempts to illustrate the perils of overpopulation.

If he'd been an irritating sort of crank, I would have had to ask him, Wouldn't those 32,000 warheads go a long way towards getting rid of some of the billions of people you don't think the world can support?

This guy was so nice, I couldn't even give him my stock reply to anyone who suggests that population size itself is a problem: If we must thin the herd, after you...

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Foolkiller Visits Elmo's World

Okay, what do you have your kids do with sidewalk chalk? I swear, they came up with this on their own, drawing each other's outlines. And they drew an outline around Elmo while they were at it, so it looks like Elmo was murdered in my driveway.

I shall call her Mini-Me!

Okay, I've been over some of the obvious ways Em is like a cross-gender clone of me, but it turns out another heredetary trait is fascination with the guitar.

I spent a fortune on a digital piano with weighted, touch-sensitive keys and all three pedals to get as close to the 'real' piano experience as possible, then spent another fortune on weekly lessons that went from something Em got excited about to something she saw as an unbearable chore. This in less than two years.

My original plan was that my kids would have mandatory piano lessons from age five to high school graduation. I've heard so many pianists say they're glad their parents didn't let them quit.

Then I thought about my own experiences with Scouts, how my parents wouldn't let me quit until I made Webelo. Which took forever, because I hated the stupid merit-badge projects.

The taunts and even physical abuse my fellow Cub Scouts dished out to me. Right in front of the so-called Den Mother, who seemed to share my mates assessment that I was obnoxious and deserving of punishment for existing. I should have either acted up sufficiently to get expelled from the organization, claimed to be gay (I didn’t know that was a way out or I might have done it), or raced through the merit-badge projects and been done with it.

And it was just that my parents didn’t want me to learn the habit of quitting. I didn’t tell them about the bullying, because I had learned the habit of simply accepting a baseline of debasement at the hands of my peers. It didn’t seem remarkable to me because with no Den Mother or teacher in sight, these same boys really released the hounds.

It wasn’t until Frau Lobster talked me into a camping trip when I was in my early 20s that I found out there’s actually something besides hobby rockets, helicopter egg-drop and the archery range to be enjoyed in the woods. And I still don’t give a damn how to tie any kind of knot or any of the other projects I slogged through to finally get that Webelo rank and quit. Yeah, the little gravity propelled cars, that was kind of fun, but on the whole that blue and yellow uniform only reminds me what a bunch of assholes little boys can be.

As Em started bucking the piano regime I thought about all the things my parents tried to regiment, and how it basically achieved the opposite of its intended result. They required me to put half my newspaper route money into savings, which is a smart thing to do, but I resented it. I’m not blaming my parents for my bad money management and spendthrift tendencies, but it’s not hard for me to figure out where my unhealthy habits and attitudes come from. The ‘balance time’ Dad expected me to put in, suffer an hour of music he thought was tolerable to pay for every hour of music I wanted to listen to.

No way did I want to raise my daughter to hate the piano, maybe hate playing music.

A couple of years go by, and now she’s asking to come down to my den and play the piano. And she’s co-opted Mo’s guitar and has been carrying it with her everywhere, even in the car, trying to figure it out. Accepting a limited amount of instruction from dear old Dad, still trying to get over the discomfort of fretting a string. In other words, she’s doing exactly what I was doing at her age. And it’s so wonderful!

Em on the road.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Lizmo's in the Blogosphere

And I can't believe I was here first. A year ago, I didn't know what a blog was, and probably still wouldn't know if I hadn't decided I needed to learn some web development. But she's here, and I've linked her blog in my 'and so on' section, but she posted this reply to my 'Damn!' post of 6/21.

Nice piece. (Leave that alone...) Seriously, the blocked-writer-but-unblocked-editor in me says, send this thing to a magazine that prints essays/creative nonfiction whatnot in December (lead time!) and see what happens for next year.

I started to respond thus:

This post or my blog in general? I tend to blog here because it's simpler than updating the Lobster or figuring out how to make it interactive.

In any case, I tend to feel guilty for the time I spend putting my 'world view' on this Big Chief tablet instead of working on the novel. Or participating in one of the three online workshops I'm in.

And then I decided that if I wanted that kind of back and forth in my comments, I would have to learn php and set up a damned bulletin board, and I'm not ready for the 'net to take up even more of my life.

But as to Lizmo's point, or Yorkist's reply to my Father's Day blog, for that matter, I really don't think of myself as a remarkable writer. That probably sounds like I'm fishing for compliments, but I've never been much for fishing. If I want to sit outside and drink beer, I don't see the need to burden the experience with bait, tackle, fishing licenses, etc. And since the only people outside my house that have ever read my blog, as far as I know, have already complimented my writing, I'm probably not even on a bank where additional compliments could be caught.

So if I don't think I'm a great writer, why am I spending time and energy on a novel? I can blog here for free, why do I need the constant reminders that I'm not a great writer in the form of rejection slips and no-replies?

As I mention in one of the rarely visited pages of Lobster Land I've been 'starting' to write a novel as long as I can remember and in a way, even before. I'm in love with storytelling, probably even more than I'm in love with music or beer. It's beyond love, it's addiction. A junkie is certain they'll die if they don't get their fix, and they even have biological/chemical evidence for the claim, and that's the way I am with stories.

There was a time when I didn't re-read books, but a lot of that had to do with two factors: I was reading crappy books, and I have a sharp memory. Hard to dig hard on a Ludlum riff when you remember all the surprises. But something like 'Underworld,' you can read that as many times as you like and you'll find shit you missed. It's like watching a clever movie and seeing the hidden guns you missed. Every time I watch 'Fight Club,' seems like I see another Tyler frame that I missed before.

It's that way with 'Survivor,' Palahniuk's best so far in my view. And I don't know if I'll ever tired of reading Mark Richard's 'Strays,' even though I know all the plot elements by heart.

Em asks me to tell her stories about when I was little. This is a family trait, I hounded my father for the same, and he picked it up from his father, a man I never met. My Dad's father died when Dad was a freshman in High School, and unlike a modern family, that translated into him being dead long before my memory picks up.

But Em doesn't say, 'I heard that one.' If anything, I have to sell her on a new story, because she never tires of hearing about me eating the jar of cake frosting on the sly, trying to hide the evidence, and eventually getting busted. My Mom always kept a box of cake mix and a jar of frosting in the pantry, so I don't know why I'd think she would fail to miss it. In Mom's universe, it's impossible for the pantry to have a box of cake mix and no jar of frosting. When you use them, you buy replacements for both. Not right away, on your next scheduled grocery trip, which is always the same day. I don't know if we had meatloaf every Tuesday, but I'm certain there was a circadian rhythm to the salmon patties that only my Mom actually liked.

But the stuff I write for the blogosphere, I try to treat it as a diary. If I write assuming I have no audience, I write less self-consciously. But it’s still the leftovers, from times I can’t bring myself to cope with the edits of ‘Wealth Effects.’ That manuscript is in such disorder, I forbid anyone to read it if I die as I damned well ought to have three years ago next week. It’s an incomplete, worse than an ABD. Someone who doesn’t know all the backstory I’ve cut or the way I want to reconcile some of its gaps, someone who isn’t me, well if I was still alive I’d probably be having to worry about SRS coming for my kids. My wife might divorce me, and not for the good reasons I’ve given her, but for the un-reasons that are in the manuscript as it presently exists.

Remember the TV show WKRP? It was one of my faves as a pre-adolescent, not sure how it would play to the adult version of me. But I remember an episode where Johnny Fever was giving advice to Bailey about her own show. ‘Pretend you’re talking to just one person,’ he told her. ‘Which in this case is probably true.’ Of course the show demonstrated that Johnny had an audience, an obedient one at that, and it freaked him out so bad he almost couldn’t continue being a DJ. That’s how I approach my blog.

This is the leftovers, from times I:

  • can’t focus on my book.
  • am tempted to burn my book.
  • have had a couple of beers and feel unfocused and blabby.
  • have some personal shit I want to get off my chest but don’t want to go to the effort of fictionalizing.
  • would probably be in some bar talking to a stranger but I mostly don’t live like that and couldn’t afford the tab if I did.

So basically, I don't feel like I'm a great writer, but I keep plugging away at my current novel, trying to knock the dust off it. My stepbrother is now in the same town as me, and he makes a good workshop, because he doesn't talk back. He groans at times, and I feel like if he makes that kind of effort I should make an effort to read meaning into it.

Barry Hannah's first novel was a finalist for the National Book Award, and no one's heard of him, even though he wrote nine more books after that. I'm definitely not saying that 'Wealth Effects' is going to be on a 'Geronimo Rex' caliber as much as I'm saying, if I don't aim for that home-run, I'll never get on base.

When I finally start pestering agents (way behind my New Year's goal of next month) about my novel, I aim for it to be polished.

Which is to say a better example of my writing than anything I put up in the Blogosphere. Or for that matter, my numerous non-fiction publicaitons to date. When I crashed on Karl's couch, he pulled up a CD review I'd done and asked why I hadn't given him any props for taking me to that show, where I first heard Steve Cardenas.

But hearing him read me aloud, in a publication that exists in 10,000 magazines as well as on the 'net, it hurt my ears. I couldn't believe I'd ever written something so childish.

So I'm no great writer, but I'm at least improving at it. Maybe by the time I'm 130 I'll have something I won't be ashamed of having in print...

The Lobster at the Kansas

Sissy was on a sleepover, so to treat our youngest, my wife packed up cook-out makings and when I got off work we headed to what people in my town refer to as 'the lake.'

It's just a little Corps of Engineers project, not particularly large or anything, just close by. That we've lived here for eight years and had never been, I can't account for. We've traveled to further lakes for camping and fishing. Not a lot, but some. Asking for directions to it was like standing on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and asking how to get to the Upper East Side.

So we get there, and there's this 'self pay' station at the entrance. Supposedly, even if you're not camping, you're required to have a vehicle permit to be in the park. Because it's a state park, from what I read. But the place we camp for free is a state park, we avoid the fee by camping in an area with no hookups or utilities, just fire rings, picnic tables, and outhouses.

We were just there to swim and picnic, so $6.50 seemed a lot to pay, just to 'be' in the park with a car. If I understood the signage, the only out would be to walk in from the entrance. It's not a big lake, but it's bigger than that.

They have envelopes, a form you fill out and put in this metal box that has a sign announcing that it is emptied daily. It looks anchored more firmly than an ATM, so I figured folks must be paying the $6.50. But all these cars were just driving past us while I tried to figure out if there was some loophole.

I finally decided I'd write a check, but I didn't have a pen, so I sealed the empty (and blank) envelope and put it in the box, took the stub that was supposed to show I had put an envelope in the box, and went in. Abbie Hoffman style.

But then we get to the beach area, and we couldn't see a single vehicle permit, anywhere. I got to fearing that by displaying it, we'd invite scrutiny.

The Lobster and Mo on the beach

It was hard letting my wife build the dinner fire, something I delight in, but someone had to go in the water with Mo, who could see sand and water and could scarcely be detained long enough to kick off her flip-flops. I didn't think my Frau Lobster was planning on going in. Mo is more or less a natural swimmer, she's not 100% there, you can't just let her go running in unsupervised.

The last time my wife went swimming, it was the Polar Plunge to raise money for Special Olympics.

Frau Lobster is out there by the big black wig.

And yes, the water really was this cold. I'm going in next year, I'm hoping to put together a grass skirt and coconut bra hula costume, go in as a Polynesian Bearded Lady...

So me and Mo had fun playing in the murky water. We sang about piggy-toes, and did Old McDonald as the Honkers, Dingers, Elephant Trunk and Aliens do on Sesame Street. I can trumpet my lips pretty well, and Mo still finds it thrilling and hilarious. We did 'piggybank' rides in water where she could touch the bottom if she fell off me.

Meanwhile Frau Lobster got the fire going without even using lighter fluid (impossible, but she does it), cooked the hamburgers and we ate. Well, after a fashion. I wolfed down a couple of burgers, Mo ate the patty off hers, played with some cheese and pickles, may have eaten a potato chip. My wife tried to eat a chip, tried to eat a burger, but she had three teeth pulled last Friday, in tree different quadrants, two absessed to the nerve. Pretty much everything she packed had more texture than she can manage with that many holes to avoid. She's actually getting tired of ice cream, which is one of the few things she can consistently eat. That's like me getting tired of beer.

I like going to the beach this much!

Then to my surprise, she came swimming with us after dinner. I didn't even know she had her suit with her.

And she actually tried to teach Mo some swimming technique, instead of just wading and singing goofy songs and throwing wet sand around.

The facilties turned out to be pretty nice. I went to pee before we left and instead of the oversized outhouse I expected, there was an actual bathroom complete with flushing toilets, hot and cold running watter, showers, the works.

No one ticketed our car for not having a valid vehicle pass, so I'll have to find out if all the people in town who go there so often it's just referred to as 'the lake' flaunt the law without consequence or if they pony up. Or what an annual pass runs, and where you get them.

Because it'd be worth either the $6.50 or the annual fee or the fine for flaunting the law to see the delight on my daughter's face at going to the beach.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


I just found a couple more books that fall under the 'flood damage' flag. Including an interlibary loan of a book I'm reasonably sure is out of print.

The first person I talked to said she couldn't see the library charging for water damage, but the much senior employee standing by her when I brougth the books back, I'm already into it for $200 or so, and after the others I've found, probably $250 or more.

I can't pay my phone or internet bills. Water/electric, hopefully with overdraft protection I'll keep from being shut off.

And this while I'd like to adopt a third daughter (fluke could make it a son) from China, which would mean raiding a retirement account already underfunded.

We'll see what dreams may come.

Digital Quality

Something I should also get off my chest. It grates on me when I hear people promote 'digital quality sound' or video or any other thing you see.

Unless you're that Data character from the 'Next Generation' Star Trek shows, no way you can see pictures or hear sounds in a digital form. In order for you to see or hear anything like a TV show or a song, it has to go through a 'digital to analog converter,' a.k.a. DAC.

Not all DACs are created equal, there's some very good ones in high-end CD players, but they're all trying to do the same thing, take the one's and zeroes and translate them into an analog signal.

And any time you digitize an analog source, such as a song, you're losing data. The difference in DACs is how they fib in terms of filling in the gaps.

In any case, for satellite promotions to emphasize a 'digital' signal is nonsense. The technology wouldn't allow transmission of an analog signal, so of course it's digital. It's as much a selling point as beer 'in glass bottles.' For that glass-quality.

Or selling newspapers with 'print quality' content.

Where's my Big Chief tablet?

The cable guy comes down the street and it's just like the time the dish salesman came along.

Okay, a little different. The satellite kid wanted to know if I was happy with my cable, the cable guy wanted to know if I was on a dish.

I told the satellite kid I didn't have cable, and he said, 'So you're already on a dish?' I told the cable guy I didn't have a dish, and he looked at his sheet to be sure I didn't already have cable.

'An antennae,' I have to explain. 'On the roof, it came with the house, and there's no monthly bill or anything, it's just there.'

I know how Amish people must feel as folks in cars drive slowly past them, staring.

'How'd you like to get 130 channels in digital color and sound for only...' the Satellite pitch went. The Cable guy, he pointed out that since we're already past-due on our phone and internet bills to Time Warner, why not be past due on cable as well? It'd only be an extra seven bucks a month or something, a package deal.

And when I say, 'I don't know if I want the eight or nine channels I get now,' I know they're looking at my pickup in the driveway and wondering if there's some Amish sect that's allowed to drive old Fords. Since my truck is a '95, it's approximately horse-and-buggy level here in the sprawling burbs.

So I try to explain, that even when there's something harmless on TV, like, I don't know. Imagine something harmless gets broadcast, I know this is strictly theoretical. During this imaginary ‘harmless’ broadcast, they'll have commercials for 'Desperate Housewives,' for 'I Want to Be a Hilton,' for 'The Simple Life.' And commercials for a men's perfume that's supposed to get him mauled in elevators by Victoria's Secret models, or maybe even get him dragged by the neck into the next aisle of the grocery store, I think to have sex with a stranger. Oh, and there's the Victoria's Secret commercials, though they're pretty tame compared to previews for apocalypitic TV movies where guys get sucked out the side of skyscrapers.

I'm really not a prude, I have to tell these guys. And it's true, I'm not. These things don't offend me. Well, maybe the cologne commercials just because I don't like being treated like such an idiot. And the Hiltons, they fall short of basic criteria for being human, much less being held up as being something you'd aspire to be.

And here's the thing, I have kids, and it's a double edged sword because while they can learn lots of stuff from ‘educational’ shows and videos, they can also learn some fucked up values from even the commercials on TV. You have to constantly be pointing out to them that drinking low-carb beer will not make you glamorous or sexy or athletic. Cable just means more channels of crap you have to either try and filter or explain.

So anyway, how do you explain to the cable or dish salesman that you're comfortable with your inner Ignatius Reilly?

Plus, I can get sucked into watching four hours of the History Channel or those chopper guys. There’s a million things on TV, cable or not, I can get lost in. And four hours later, I’ve accomplished...nothing. It’s worse than heroin, at least a junkie develops a tolerance and can function, more or less. Rush Limbaugh sounded about the same stoned as he does sober. And even if you don’t like his show, he’s engaged in an activity more productive than watching TV for those three hours...

Monday, June 20, 2005

No internet wishing well but...

The flood damaged books. Oh, and I found another I missed when I collected the dried remains of my libary loans that got damaged in my den thanks to unual weather and a friend/contractor who doesn't understand the laws of gravity.

So aside from the basically unreplaceable decade of Zymurgy Magazines that flood turned into mush, before I can renew or check out any more books from my county library, I have to pay roughly $200. It's at $193 and change, but the book I found is a big coffee-table book that will probably be at least $30 to $40 when they get it back. And if you have fines over $25, they not only won't give you amnesty, they'll turn you over to a collection agency if you're not quick about it.

In one of the wealthiest counties in America. I mean, yeah, I have money troubles and so does almost almost everyone I know. But really, this is 90210 Lite, a third less conspicuous consumption than a Hollywood stereotype. Starter homes here, mine for instance, I couldn't afford to buy today.

You'd think the tax base of all the trophy homes being thrown with less care or structural integrity than a manufactured house would generate a MORE generous libary, not own that acted covetous of books it was probably about to sell off due to poor ciruclation.

For that matter, why build a 30-foot tall library that has one floor? For the same budget, they could have probabably doubled the shelf capactity of my local branch.

Often what they decomission and sell at garage sale prices, it's out of print. If you're going to steal people's money (taxes) to pay for a public library, shouldn't it be the best place to find the commercially marginal? Lets' face it, you wanna read Tom Clancy of Stephen King. Any one of their books, I dare you to ask your friends and family and not find someone who will loan or give you any book by those authors. Looking for 'Geronimo Rex' by Barry Hannah? Better check out Amazon or figure out an inter-library loan. And that was a National Book Award finalist.

So I've got high speed internet, which was necessary for the 10% of my income (roughly) I make freelance. The net profit varies a lot from year to year, and I'm pining for 1999, when my biggest customer was ready to spend whatever it took to look great. No more three hour uploads/downloads that end up not even working. And no more burning $8 of gas to deliver a CD with 80 MB.

And the cable phone deal, it's sweet. I hate cell phones, really, and the cable phone is awesome because there's almost no such thing as long distance, but I can browse a book store without worrying about turning a stupid little device to vibrate or getting interrupted.

And the Time-Warner guy came by today to let me know I could add cable to this package for $7 a month more. Or $14 more in past due if you want to change the frame a bit.

My friend Roj put up an Internet Wishing Well where you type in a wish and pay a buck to a legit Paypal link. I don't think he's made his first dollar, but it makes me want to put up the same. 'Pay the Lobster's Library Fines,' no donation is too large.

Maybe I'll have to wean myself off the library for a while. I did it before, when I let $125 in late fees keep me away for two years, until I realized that I spent more than that every single year at Amazon, often on books I could never see re-reading.

But in two days, I have to pull a rabit out of the hat or phone and high speed internet both go away.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Father's Day

I created cards for my Dad and my wife's Dad at work. Having access to an HP Indigo is nice, and while the stock we use isn't as heavy as I'd like, it's close enough for jazz. Having access to a great supply of stock photos and good graphics software doesn't hurt either. I can always think of ways they can be better, but bottom line, I gave four hours of my time in designing, printing, scoring, folding rather than six bucks to the Greeting Card Industrial Complex.

The Lobster hanging with Dad on Father's Day '05.

And they're one of a kinds, I'm all about that. And doing my Dad's got me to thinking about the memories both good and bad I have of Dad.

It'd be an exceptional person who would have no mixed feelings about their parents, but my Dad and I had more than Standard Issue tension. He wasn't abusive, and I wasn't quite a delinquent, it's nothing as dramatic as what I know some people go through.

There was a period not long after my parents divorced though, where we weren't on speaking terms. I opted out of the joint custody arrangement my folks had set up after an idiotic and overblown argument, start of which I can't recall. I'm not sure we fully mended fences until I was out of high school, though I think it was only a year or two where we were totally estranged.

So if I work at it, (didn't Epicureus have a formula for making yourself love someone or quit loving them by focusing only on their virtues or vices?), I can still conjure some of my adolescent and even pre-adolescent rage over things my Dad was unreasonable (in my view), insensitive, etc. about. It's a silly thing to do, since I was guilty of some of the most obnoxious manifestations of teen rebellion and a lot of Dad's would have written me off and turned their backs totally and forever.

But of course, I wasn't really on that wavelength anyway, because I was trying to come up with a Father's Day Card. A Hallmark moment.

I quickly came up with more things than I could fit on the card. My Dad took me down to the railroad tracks in the town we lived in until I was five, and we laid coins on the track for the train to flatten. The trains were slow there, pulling away from a grain elevator, I believe. I've tried it where I live now, but a 60mph train may flatten a coin, but you'll never find, it gets flung, probably against the underside of the car, then who knows where it ricochets. And in the bottoms by the haunted houses, where the trains move slow, I encountered a Railroad Bull who was hands down the baddest law enforcement character I've ever met.

Dad taught me and my brother to play poker, draw and stud, at my Grandma's apartment. He had a set of chips (much less elaborate than the immitation casino chips that are popular today), and it wasn't for money, just for a change from Hearts and Gin, but in the process he also told us great stories about his time in the Navy, which is naturally where he did most of his poker playing.

He made us rubber band guns, bigger than normal, and made rubber bands from an old inner tube that we could duel with. Shows how far times change, a guy could probably get a visit from Social Services doing that today. We had cap guns too, and they didn't have any markings to show they weren't real back then. BB guns were okay but not to shoot at each other, so he got us these guns that shot little green plastic pellets that couldn't put an eye out, and we shot each other up with those too. For whatever reason, the more serious pellet guns were not allowed, nor were decent slingshots.

He took us fishing when I was very young. The height of my fishing career was age four or five, when I caught a 12-inch bass. And kites, conventional and box, we flew those.

Music was a source of conflict for us, with his demand that I engage in 'balance time' for instance (this was an hour-for-hour trade where for every hour I listened to KISS or AC/DC, I was supposed to listen to an hour of easy listening or classical music). And he'd confiscate albums he thought were too raunchy, though they were all songs I heard regularly on the radio.

But music was also a bridge. When I got into jazz, his ecclectic collection provided me with some of my first jazz records. He didn't have much jazz, but he did have Gary Burton's 'Passengers,' which got me onto Pat Metheny as well as Burton. He bought me my first electric guitar, and when I turned out to be fairly serious about it, he sprung for a Skylark, a strange looking but quite playable solid-body J.C. Penny's sold. It had a through-neck, deep double cutaways to the 24th fret, a lot of the features that make Carvins a good buy in the solid-body arena. I saved my own money for the Gibson that replaced it, and the Yamaha Archtop that replaced the Gibson (see 'part two' of the history of Lobsterism and Kenny's Guitars for more on that.

Which brings us to one of the grandest gestures my Dad ever went to. When Kenny expressed an interest in turning his magnificent luthiering on a Benedetto type archtop for me, Dad picked up the materials bill, which is considerable, witness that I still haven't come up with the dough for the seven string sequel (not that I've mastered a six string). And Dad and I had a fun trip to Houston to pick it up and I got to know my Uncle a lot better in the process.

Houston, Christmas '02

And Dad and Kenny shed a ton of light on how their father and later stepfather was. And how Kenny's fatherhood experience was. And we all got to talk about the delights of heart disease, as Kenny and I are both heart attack survivors, and Dad had two angioplasties prior to the bypass he had a couple weeks after my heart attack.

Which brings up the biggest gift Dad gave me in many ways. Ten years ago, when I, to use addict lingo, hit rock bottom and decided to quit smoking cigarettes, Dad was key. I had no health insurance, and I was broke. He paid for me to see his doctor, because the patch wasn't over-the-counter yet. I think I may have bought the patches, but I'm not 100% sure Dad didn't give me the $40 or so the box of them cost.

The patch, by the way, only helped in a VERY indirect way. I'd just taken my wife to the ER twice in a weekend without insurance, so I had medical bills I couldn't imagine how to pay for. I think my take-home pay at the time was slightly over $200 a week. My wife made more, she'd just started at AT&T (which would eventually provide us the most spectacular health insurance we've ever had). And the patch, it came with these warnings about how it elevates your blood nicotine level, and you can have overdose induced seizures smoking while wearing them. Since I was a chainsmoker of unfiltered cigarettes, burning up 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 packs a day, the doctor had me on the highest dose patch for starters.

So fear of a third ER bill was really what kept me from lighting up. I came close, really close. I fished a butt out of an ashtray I hadn't gotten around to emptying on the third day. It was about 2/3 smoked, but there was three or four good drags to be had there. I had the butt in my mouth, the match lit.

Instead of lighting it, I called my Dad. Which I'd been doing a lot. I told him about how close I'd come, about how I almost blew 72 hours of withdrawal suffering. All those attempts I'd made to quit, I'd get six, eight, twelve hours along and I'd cave and it just resets the clock when you do, especially that early.

Dad was my AA meeting for cigarettes. He'd been off them for 20+ years, but he knew where I was at. He even told me how he sometimes still wanted one, but that he knew that having one would be the first step to a carton a week. He also told me how he had to learn to deal with each situation he smoked in one at a time. Which is how I ended up approaching it.

You learn to finish a meal without lighting up. Drive to work, that was three fags for me, I had to learn to commute without lighting up. A friend gave me a stage cigarette which looked and felt about right in the hand, had a piece of orange foil in the tip to make it look real, and that helped with the 'something to do with your hands' aspect, and something to suck on.

The fifth day, I forgot to change patches and I felt just like hell. Junk-sick, but here's the thing: no worse than I was the days before that. So I quit wearing the patches, didn't refill the prescription, but after coping with five days, I had too much misery invested to backslide.

'No way I'm going through this week again,' I told myself.

'I haven't had a cigarette in 112 hours,' I told my Dad. He told me I'd never make it if I counted the hours, and eventually I counted days, weeks, months. Now I have to think about it to be sure how many years it's been (ten). Not counting the experiment the other day, which really reinforced my quittedness. Or the rare time I have a cigar, which is not something I inhale off of, and definitely don't get any nicotine buzz from. And it's been over a year since I had one of those. This might not make sense to folks who've never smoked or whatever, but it just doesn't scratch the same itch. Back when I was a cigarette smoker, I'd finish a cigar absolutely craving a cigarette.

So anyway, without the help my Dad gave me on many levels, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have gotten the cigarette monkey off my back. And when I had the heart attack, already seven years off the butts, I saw the stress of people in cardiac rehab with me. Trying to change our diets, get over the psychological barriers to taking he cardiac drugs (especially if you're young, the idea of taking Lipitor or Atenelol is hard to take). Trying to get into an excercise regime, all these adjustments are hard by themselves. But a guy even younger than me, who was only 27 in fact, he was having to kick cigarettes on top of all this. So were some of the older, more age-appropriate patients.

And even back in my teens, when my Dad and I struggled to maintain even detente, I just thought of something else he did for me:

After the divorce (which both my parents were extraordinarily civilized about), Dad rented a house for a while but of course went ahead and bought one. He made a point of making it close to my Mom's house so we wouldn't have a long travel. Made sure we each had a room of our own, so it'd be as much 'home' as the one we were used to calling 'home.' And the first one he picked out, it was a neat looking stone house, I'm sure he'd have liked it a lot better than the one he ended up buying. He had put his $1000 earnest money deposit on it, and drove my brother and me by it to show us. It was caddy-corner to the house of a guy who was one of a group at my grade school who'd ritually bullied me. To an extent that I transferred for junior high so I wouldn't start seventh grade with this clique. All I said, and I'd had a year of NOT having to put up with the guy, was 'There's So and So's house.'

I didn't say it as a plea, I'd alienated a whole new set of kids at the junior high I'd transfered to and I didn't really fear the guy anymore. I just noticed it, because I remembered it from the bus route. So Dad started questioning me about that, about whether I'd be able to hang loose with this kid across the street. He'd put $1000 of non-refundable money up, and while the 'underpaid teacher' is at least partially mythical, it was a ton of money to him.

I felt fairly resigned to it, as I recall. I think I may have said that I wouldn't have picked the spot on purpose but I could handle it. I do remember Dad said something about talking to the Realtor and seeing how firm they were about keeping the earnest money.

I don't know if my Dad fibbed for my sake, he let on like they gave him the money back. I think he'd decided it was worth a grand if it kept me from having to fight that kid and his crew. And maybe he'd also thought about how similar this guy was to some characters a few years older on my Mom's block who were responsible for most of the vandalism in our neighborhood.

I think my Dad tried to be a better father than he'd had, and from what I can tell, he was a better father than either my grandfather (who I never knew) or my Grandma's second husband, the only 'Grandpa' I ever knew. I know I've tried to be a better Dad, and maybe I've avoided some of the areas my Dad blew it, but I'm sure there's areas where I've just replaced one shortcoming for another.

And for all the ways I try to be different from my Dad, I call my kids Honyocks, just like he did. I'm at least as much of a packrat as he is, I don't even try to fight it anymore, I embrace my packratting. And while our politics are in many ways polar opposites, I'm tilting at windmills just like my Dad does. Or trying to talk them to death.

Yes, Dad is definitely where I got my love of stories, which has passed to yet another generation. He recorded my first story, 'The Three Turtles' on reel-to-reel when I was three or four. His library is still an enviable one, as he at one time fancied pursuing a PhD in English, and set about collecting the authors of note. And he'd picked up less 'important' books at the garage sales he was addictted to. It was a collection I raided at an early age, sometimes to my Dad's horror. He had the notion that Terry Southern's ribald comedy 'Candy,' Philip Dick's 'Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch' and some of my other selections might not be appropriate reading for a third grader. I did get in hot water in third grade for my oral book report of Peter Benchley's 'Jaws,' because I couldn't resist sharing the goriest details no matter how many times the teacher tried to warn me off.

Which reminds me of another story (will have to be the last, this has got to be the longest blog entry ever). When I turned 12, I asked for Dad to take me and a couple of friends to a movie. I'd picked 'Arthur,' which had gotten a PG rating, and after, my Dad launched into a fit of vituperation against the entire motion picture industry for the obscenity he'd not only witnessed but had exposed three sixth-graders to. I think he was afraid the parents of the other two would get on his case when they found out what we'd seen, but Dad didn't know their parents very well. The biker guy who was one of the father's in question could have taught sailers to swear, and the other father had a pornography stash so vast that an astonishing number of back issues filtered into the neighborhood (including most of the first few collections I got caught with) and the father never even noticed them missing. Or wouldn't admit enough to owning them to look further into it.

In any case, I remember well that Dad's rant included praise of the days when Kansas had a board that reviewed movies and gave them a thumbs up or down with regards to their obscenity. Yeah, Dad was pining for censorship, no kidding.

And 'Arthur' touched even more nerves though, because aside from the vulgar content, he thought it glamorized alcoholism and showed prostitution in a favorable light. But the biggest fault, I think was that the protagonist was rich on top of it all. Dad's socialist tendencies just revolt at a multi-millionaire as protagonist. I think if you removed every word that couldn't be said on television, removed the prostitution and alcoholism, I think Dad would still gladly build a gulag for anyone who makes a movie where an irresponsible and wealthy protagonist comes out on top is not obscene.

So much for 'responsible.'

My den flooded a couple of weeks ago.

Good news: my guitar was not on the floor. My hi-fi, well, I'm glad my subwoofer (worth more than the truck I drive to work) has isolation spikes.

Anyway, in addition to the loss of my entire 10-year Zymurgy archive, there were numerous library books that got hit. I did my best to dehydrate them wth my dehimidifer, and I managed to save a One book out of an armload that required me to push the wheelchair button to get into the libary.

I've paid exhorbitant late fees before, but at a rough guess, when they get done 'processing' what I returned, I'll be on the hook for $250 to $400 of books I would have bought if I could and/or wanted to...

This after a different library employee told me she couldn't recall charging anyone for water damage. I threw myself on the mercy of the library and there was no quarter...

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Call 1-800-BETS-ON!!!

Part of the ongoing fundraising my Relay for Life team did was a Poker tournament that we held today.

When I suggested it at the team meeting, I specifically pointed out that BJ's Oasis, a total shot & beer dive next to the Huff & Puff Cigarette Outlet would be the perfect place to host the game. Biker poker-runs stop there a couple of tims a year, playing poker for charity, so I can't see where they'd turn down a local Relay team wanting to have a poker tournament. Even our VP of Operations grumbled about it being a booze-free game, on account of it being held in a damned Senior Center (and our turnout was hampered in no small part by their slow answer to whether we could even play there).

It was a $10 buy in, no rebuy, and we had the center for four hours. My suggestion was to let players knocked out rebuy, because that way the ACS gets more dough when someone gets a bad beat and decides they don't want to quit yet. But the time limit. Plus, smokers were running outside during breaks to get their nicotine, and they could have lit up while the game went on at a bar like the Oasis. Plus, the alcoholic constituency could have had frosty mugs of beer to cloud their judgment in the betting process.

And if you let them rebuy, the game could go until closing time when they get DUI's leaving the bar.

But it'd been about ten years since I played Hold 'Em with people instead of a computer. I even forgot which way to hand the cut when I was the dealer. Prior to the event, Grasshopper printedout hierarchy cards for poker, in order of strength of hand. For years, I'd thought a flush beat a full house, and you can imagine (if you want to) what that did for my betting...

I succeded in my goal not to be the fist employee to go out. The VP who plays poker for real money and makes money at it got knocked out ahead of me, and he's no doubt the best player who showed. And when I thought I'd convinced Grasshopper I was such a moron I could bluff him out of a hand, he called me, thinking I actually had a flush like he did but with a lower kicker. And I was out.

I also learned, during the game, that some of my coworkers have a 'pitch & bitch' game going with a $20 buy-in. Now I'll just have to trick them into forgetting that they get totally enough of me at work so they'll invite me to come play...

The other thing I wasn't used to was a progressive upping of the blind. At a poker club where games go on night and day, it would be counter-productive (as would the inability to rebuy). Every half hour, the blind and small blind doubled up, so it became harder to fold crappy cards with only the blind out and stretch your chips.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Barley the dog-faced boy

Our dog, Barley, should get some sort of medal or award or something. If this isn't the most awesome dog on earth, worthy of being named after a beer ingredient...

When you tell people that your kid is a flight risk, the usual response is a nervous laugh. They think you're cracking wise, making some joke about your kid being an inmate of some sort.

Having a bright though autistic daughter means having to say, 'no really, if you see her and don't see one of us, call us, it's serious.'

I'm too tired to give you the usual, verbose, explanation. This is a kid who can defeat locks that would stump Houdini. Also a very logical, literal-minded kid. Cars, why fear those? You buckle up, next thing you know you're getting chicken strips or maybe even ice cream. The problem is this kind of thought process doesn't necessarily lend itself to adequate caution regarding moving cars that you're not in.

My daughter has also, with astonishing alacrity, jumped our fence and walked in the back door of our neighbor's house and just started exploring. She's strong, fast, curious, and with few exceptions, utterly without fear.

So it's the middle of the night, and Barley is whining and bugging my wife like he's going to piss the rug right this second if she doesn't let him out. He bugs her over and over until she wakes up, grumpily stomps after him down the hall to find that the front door of our house is standing open. And our autistic daughter (who's sleep patterns don't even qualify as a 'pattern' at times), is out playing in the driveway.

If Barley hadn't woken my wife up, no telling where our kid would have wandered to. A kid who has way too limited language, for instance, to explain to a cop where she lives and why she's walking to the park or something at 3:00 a.m. If the dog was as dumb as he pretends at times, there's no way he would have been alarmed by this, but he's a herder, and is only really at ease when the whole herd is together. Preferably in the same room where he can watch and make sure.

We call him Barley, our dog faced boy. He is, incidentally, the only dog big or small our autistic daughter is not afraid of.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Strange day even my Lobster standards...

Strange day. Tired too. Roj, who is so manic in his preparations for taking over Los Angeles that he is always begging off of having a drink with me sent me a long e-mail. With his characteristically questionable judgment, he praised the looks of the current Lobster Land, the one I’m trying to remodel with a bulldozer. Plus, he said he’s been reading my blog, which is a shocker. My web site doesn’t get visitors, who the hell is reading my blog?

Okay, I know Mitch does, because she replied to a post, and I think my wife checks on what I’ve been up to from time to time by reading it. But really, I write this shit with the assumption that no one is reading it. It probably aids in me being candid.

So I arrive at the office late, which isn’t a big deal right now. We’re slow as hell and people are encouraged to work undertime. A job I’d done had, on first appearance, blown up like a loaded cigarette. Turns out the die cutter just needed to turn the stack of paper over, but there was that period of worry/panic that I’d really fucked the dog.

After my exoneration, I asked my boss for a cigarette. I’ve been off them for a decade, and my boss is a non-smoker, so the request was made in jest.

“Do you really want one?” he asked me.

Okay, yeah, I did. Not to relieve stress or anything, but it’s been so long, I’ve been intensely curious for weeks now. Being a heart attack survivor, I have an even better than usual reason to stay the hell away from them. Which is why I wouldn’t buy a pack, or more in character for me, a roller and papers and loose tobacco. Time was, I could get good Turkish tobacco cut for rolling bulk at Cigar & Tobac. The best flavor, as well as a good nicotine hit.

But I knew if I bought a pack, it would be psychologically difficult to throw away 19 cigarettes after I’d settled the curiosity. And if I had a bag of high grade Turkish (the Yenidje I loved best, the makings of Balkan Sobranies, is apparently no longer available in the states), flushing or trashing the remainder of that bag would seem a gross waste.

So it’d be a slippery slope. Maybe it would take me a month to use up that pack, but there’d be another, and another, and it wouldn’t be long before I once again structured my life around cancerettes.

But my boss, he’s a freak for the unusual. Need some pickled ginger only available through some Tibetan coop? He’s your man. If you’ve got a hankering for some wasabi-seasoned soy nuts, look on his desk. But like I say, a non-smoker, so imagine my surprise when he pulls a square box of Indian cigarettes from his desk drawer. Red-dot Indian, not Iron Eyes Cody Indian.

100% organic tobacco wrapped in an ebony leaf, tied at the skinny end with string. I smoked pretty much any tobacco that didn’t have a filter before I quit, and this guy pulls the one cigarette unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

Yeah, I smoked it, sort of.

I’m hairy, growing my hair to donate to ‘Locks of Love,’ and I also have an extravagant beard. It was windy out, and these days apparently, all smoking occurs outdoors. When I smoked, I smoked everywhere, but times have changed.

That ebony leaf, it burned for shit. I couldn’t shelter a match well enough to light the thing, so I lit it off the cherry of a coworker’s cigarette. It was the only way to light it at all without pulling a Michael Jackson Pepsi Commercial.

And it went out after a couple of puffs, so I had to relight it. Twice. And even then, I smoked maybe half of the thing.

I remember when I quit, one of the hardest things to get over was missing the sensation of smoke entering my lungs. It’s no longer a pleasurable thing, it feels like a violation.

The smell and flavor, I’d say those India folks are buying some Turkish tobacco, but then maybe any tobacco would smell and taste sweet and strong with my taste buds and nasal passages innocent of their former coating of tar. The head rush, well, those neuro-receptors are still there, and they like the nicotine. And when you’re smoking out of curiosity instead of as a way to forestall withdrawals, you can enjoy that. Still, for a drug as addictive as heroin, it’s got a terrible reward to risk ratio.

So the experiment did all the right things. It got the notion out of my head, and it did not make me want to start back up with the habit. And I doubt the three or so good drags I took made any actual impact on my longevity.

In other weird news, my wife and I went to another informational meeting on adopting a kiddo out of China. They ran long, and our babysitting was turning into a pumpkin so we had to scram before the breakout groups, but it’s something we’re still looking to figure a way to do. Not that we can really handle the two we’ve got, but explaining why you’d trade your retirement savings for an additional parenting responsibility, that’s harder than explaining a heart attack survivor having a cigarette...