The Best 2004 Ever!

Well, I guess that about wraps it up for 2004. It’s been a heck of a year overall. I’m not going to recap it now – if you want to review it you can go back over the last 310 or so episodes. There are a couple things worth noting, however, looking back and looking forward.

I think over the year the quality of the writing here got better. I look back at some of my earlier favorite entries and they just feel a little sloppy. Sometimes sloppy is good—I’ll have to be careful not to become sterile, and there are certainly still some pretty crappy episodes—but overall readability has improved, I think. You might disagree. I think I was able to produce higher-quality episodes back then, but I didn’t take the time. Or did I? I don’t have anything else to show for those months. It’s all a blur now…

And hey! Check this out! This is a graph generated by Sitemeter that shows my traffic this year:

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There’s still a few hours of December left, so it’s easy to imagine hitting 1800 visits this month. The red line is my more conservative estimate of the number of people who visit on purpose. The actual number may be higher; it’s difficult to estimate between all the hits for eggs, alcohol, and sex. The red line is you, the people who actually read this stuff and leave comments and contribute to the community that this has become. The people who leave personal messages for each other in comment threads. As I sit here in a far-off land I still feel connected to you.

Hardest to estimate are the lurkers. I know there are some. Hello, lurkers! Thanks for stopping by! Come back again real soon!

(I was planning to do a fancy interactive thing with a comment for each month as you rolled over that column, but that started sounding an awful lot like work.)

I will not finish The Monster Within by midnight tonight. Part of the reason for that is I’m devoting more energy to smaller bits I can get published and build up a publishing credits list. The other part of the reason is that I’m lazy.

The smaller bits are coming along, though. That may affect the blog as well; some of the creative writing pieces that I had been starting to put up here may go to a different outlet instead. I’ll still put up fragments, but if something is more or less complete I’ll be shipping it elsewhere instead. Moonlight Sonata, which I posted here a while back as “a good start to a short story” now is a short story, and will be appearing soon over at Piker Press. Also, a vastly modified version of the american road myth will be appearing over there. So, obviously, there is still a place for my blog in my creative writing, but it may evolve.

As for New Year’s resolutions, I have but one: Get the pizza crumb out from under the “r” key.

Home is where you drink your beer

Sitting in Crazy Daisy tonight (It’s 4:30 and dark outside), I’m doing my best to not feel guilty about taking up a table while they’re busy. The waitresses and bartenders here are definitely prettier than the guys over at Roma, but they have mastered the apathetic surliness that is the curse of help staff everywhere. I count it as a small victory that I won a smile out of my waitress tonight.

At the row of tables down the middle of the restaurant a large party is gathering, and in their number is the Anti-Jerry. I spotted him right away. He glanced my direction but did not understand what we each represented, because as the Anti-Jerry he is ignorant of the deeper meanings of things. Clean-cut with a hint of the rascal, wearing a suit with style, polite and attentive, confident and easy-going. They made space for him in the middle of the table. The woman on his left is making no secrets about who she wants to be with tonight. The Anti-Jerry.

Still, it’s good to meet your anti-you every once in a while. It’s like looking in a reverse mirror. When I see the Anti-Jerry I see all the things I’m not that I wish I was, but I also see the things he’s not, that I’m glad I am. And if the waitresses don’t smile at him either, well then. I’ll just wait to meet the anti-waitress.

Just now the sound of glass shattering came from behind the bar, and I thought of Rose.

Episode 9: An Unexpected Call

Note: To read the entire story from the beginning click here.

The diner on the corner was doing a brisk business but Alice and I found a booth and settled in across from each other. Rita was working, as always. While the city bustled and changed all around this place, nothing ever changed in here. When the Dutch settlers purchased Manhattan from the wrong natives they celebrated here over meat loaf and mashed potatoes, and Rita took their order. As we sat Rita didn’t even bother walking over to the table, she just looked over her hornrims at us and called out, “The usual?” I nodded. She had seen those first Europeans coming though the forest and had already decided what their “usuals” would be by the time they reached the door. I don’t think I ever heard anyone order in that place.

“Can I please have a malt with mine?” Alice asked.

Rita pursed her lips. She wanted to say no. “You want your coffee too or just the malt?”

“No coffee, thanks.”

Rita scowled and scribbled the order on her pad to pass back to the kitchen and turned to greet some other customers. Alice was toying with her silverware, looking at her hands. After a minute or so she said, “I know what you’re going to tell me.”

I hadn’t been aware I’d been planning to tell her anything, but I assumed she was right. She knew a lot more about me than I did. Once I thought about it, it was pretty obvious, though. After I paid for this meal, there would be no money left. The pay phone by the washroom door started to ring. No one paid it any attention. “Look,” I said. “You know better than I do that business is sour.” My mouth was sour as well. All the cheap booze I’d had that day was wearing me down. I thought back to the fine, earthy scotch I’d had at Jake’s, only a few hours ago.

“I can work for free for a while, ’till things get better.”

The phone hadn’t stopped ringing; it was starting to bug me. My nerves were delicate as the last of the barbarian rye faded, leaving behind a temple in shambles. “You know it’s no good, Doll. Things aren’t turning around. Not now. You need to find yourself a real job, so you can take care of your mother.” Out of the corner of my eye I saw someone moving toward the phone and sighed in relief. Alice was getting ready to blubber again. Twice in one day. That was good even for me. Next time I could afford a secretary I’d get her tear glands removed first. The pretty ones were the worst, and Alice was certainly one of those.

A man I didn’t know was standing by our table. Alice managed to stay buttoned up and I turned a red eye toward the visitor. “You Charles Lowell?” he asked. I didn’t answer; I just kept my eye on his hands, and I was ready to go for the gun I had in the holster under my coat. An afternoon like the one I’d just had would make anyone cautious. “Phone’s for you,” the man said, gesturing toward the corner. Alice looked up from her hands with surprise and hope. I was ready to tell the man shove off until I saw that look. I sighed and got slowly to my feet. “Try answering yourself next time,” the man muttered. I let it pass.

I was going to have to change my eating habits. I was getting far too easy to find by people I didn’t want to know. I tried not to guess who would be ruining my night. I picked up the reciever. “Lowell,” I said.

There was a pause on the other end and a sharp intake of breath. I could almost smell the wildflowers over the phone. “Mr. Lowell?” Her voice was more tentative this time, with a little more Kentucky in it. “I need to see you right away.”

“Listen, I told you before—” I cut myself off as I turned to look back at Alice. The food had arrived and she was working on her malt. She was watching me. I could hang up the phone right then, just walk away from all of them while I still had legs to walk with. If I did that, I’d never get another job in this town, or this country for that matter. Cello would see to that. If I hung up I’d be saying goodbye to Alice when I got back to the table. She was in a bad way.

“Please, Mr. Lowell. Just hear me out. I’ll pay you for your time.”

“Someone was shooting a gun outside Jake’s earlier. I don’t like loud noises.”

“I’ll pay an extra fee to compensate you for the risk.”

No amount of money was going to matter when I was feeding the eels at the bottom of the river. Alice was watching me still, hope giving way to concern. Concern for me. “All right,” I said.

She let out her breath. “A cab will be outside in five minutes,” she said. “Be waiting on the corner. He will ask if you are Mr. Jones. He knows where to bring you.”

“Can I at least tell my secretary where she can reach me?”

“I would rather not say over the phone.”

“All right.”

Her voice seemed to relax a little. “Mr. Lowell. Charles. Thank you. You don’t know what this means to me.”

“I’ll see you soon, Mrs. Fanutti.” I hung up and returned to the table.

“Who was it?” Alice asked.

I put the last of our money down on the table. “I’ve got to go,” I said. “I’ll see you in the office tomorrow.” I would if I was still alive by then.

Tune in next time for: Blood of the Saint!

Company’s Coming!

On the to-do list, just under “finish novel” and “learn czech” I have added “find own place”. Two reasons for that: first, the people who own this place are going to want it back soon, and second, I just heard from friends who want to come and visit in February. That’s soon! I really should have a place by then (see reason 1), but now I have to have furniture in it and everything.

On top of everything, the exchange rate just keeps getting worse. I regularly pay a dollar for a beer in restaurants now. The horror! I’m starting to adopt the R’n’R (Rice and Ramen) diet. I’m not broke or anything, and I want to keep it that way. Gotta watch the burn rate so I can be a foolish spendthrift when guests are here.

As far as that goes, if you’re reading this, you are invited to swing by Prague and crash at my place. (You may want to wait until I have a place, but that’s just details.) When I look at places I will definitely be finding a place with room for guests. Maybe not very much room, but I promise you’ll be able to lie flat while sleeping.

Speaking of finishing the novel, The Monster Within is almost done. That’s a big part of why you haven’t heard much of substance from me lately.

And speaking of not much substance, that’s about all you get from me today as well. That’s the way it goes, sometimes.

A Very Merry Christmas, Indeed!

While all you across the big pond yet entertain cavorting sugar plums, here in Old Europe the day is under way (I hear my two Japanese readers scoff). I woke earlyish this morning, and actually felt a little of the season creeping into my curmudgeonly old soul. On a whim I pulled out a CD that I’ve been dragging around with me, wondering why the whole time. It’s called Tierra Santa. Tierra Santa is a suburb of San Diego, and this is a collection of original Christmas music by San Diego musicians. Many of those singer/songwriters have gone on to vanish into obscurity, but a few of them are plugging away ten years later. I haven’t listened to this CD in years, but for some reason it was in my CD case when I hit the road, and here it is. This morning it’s justifying itself.

Most years Christmas is just like any other day for me, but not this year. Last night Marek (an aspiring photographer and bartender at Roma) gave me a really nice card featuring one of his prints. It’s beautiful. And later today, I will be published.

Now, before you get too excited, this is a fairly small deal. It’s a little online publication, but it has actual Editors and standards and stuff, so it is a little bit of a big deal. Most of you that read this will already be familiar with The Cowboy God. Today readers of The Piker Press (www.pikerpress.com/) will see a slightly edited version.

No white Christmas here in Prague, but that’s OK. It’s snowing somewhere. And my sincere thanks go out to all of you who have wished me well. I hope the season finds you happy and prosperous, and closer to your dreams. And when I say I’m a writer and people ask, “Have you published anything?” I can answer “yes”. I guess it is a big deal.

There’s No Google Like Show Google

Sometimes when I look at the search strings that lead people here I think there must be a message buried in the words. It feels like some sort of barometer of the world mood. Then I see that someone went through seven pages of results for the search “get girls drunk” to wind up at this humble site and I realize that overall humanity is pretty stupid, and the Web just facilitates that. Here then is a measure of that stupidity. That I can offer myself up as a paragon of stupid, the brass ring on the idiot carousel, makes me proud.

As tradition dictates, phrases I want to ensure do not distract the search engines are obfuscated with spaces.

  • beer genuis – if beer makes you smarter, then by damn I must be a genius, too. In this case, it linked here
  • sheep all dressed up – unfortunately comcast.net searches are hard to work back with to see how that could possibly have come here. But you have to like the phrase.
  • billionaires give me a car – linked to my general Get Poor Quick category page, where I ask for multi-billionaires to step forward to fund my space launch idea.
  • first, decipher this cowboy’s symbols, Th – I think we’ve found the limit to how long a url Sitemeter can store. I never did learn what to do next, but it probably had to do with coming in out of the rain.
  • free spells for bring people to come to your site – now there’s a way to drive up traffic I hadn’t thought of.
  • handstand pee dogs – OK, come on people! What do you expect to find with that? If you want to learn about spike you just have to ask.
  • sam’s p l a c e lake t a h o e norm – notable among the many hits I get on that bar because Norm is a regular there. This was not a search on the bar, but a search on a guy in the bar. Viva Norm!
  • trumpet bell making – you know among all the people who come here hoping to find methods to get members of the opposite sex wasted as quickly as possible, every once in a while comes along a true artist who is looking for innovation in horn design.
  • bring a slave – linked to the good ‘ol beer slave episode
  • temper of a rattlesnake – I used that phrase in a Feeding the Eels episode.
  • freeloading – while I’ve used the term many times, the episode with that title was from when I was borrowing Jojo’s WiFi from her back porch while she wasn’t home.
  • lyrics to “C h r i s t m a s C a r o l of my own” – I had the only match! Links to the Bars of the World tour page, which includes, well, a C h r i s t m a s C a r o l of my own.
  • existentialism blog jer 2004 Dec – they must have been looking for me. My only mention of existentialism, however, was to admit that I didn’t know much about it.
  • h a r d b o d y girl – I saw a tremendous surge in traffic last week (well, tremendous for me, anyway; it would have been unnoticeable on a larger site) and it seems part of the reason is that as of this writing Google ranks me number one of all sites for that phrase. I was excited by the increase in traffic for a while, but even now it’s tapering off and I realize that none of it means a damn thing. Are there more regulars than before? Hard to tell, but the ratio of regular to accidental visitor is certainly shrinking.
  • what movie contained the line, sometimes you just have to say, what the heck – came to the main page. I haven’t figured out the whole convergence there.
  • the statement the smell of cigarette smoke is erotic – I sure as hell never said that.
  • pictures of white churches on fire – OK, sure, I do mention white church steeples in Through the V a l l e y of F i r e&nbsp to the B o s o m of B o b b i , but it’s not the kind of title you would expect someone interested in churches, on fire or not, to click.
  • how to get poor – now there’s someone who came to the right place.
  • sax between mom daughter – it’s nice to know there’s still interest in musical families.
  • i gave her beer and now she is dead – Linked to my beer s l a v e episode. I’m kind of surprised at that. Nobody dies.
  • t i k i l o v e g o d – well, clearly they were looking for me, but in fact I haven’t been to Tiki in a long time.
  • sexy m e g a n – notable mainly because in the past the hit has been m e g a n stinks
  • marmaduke dog name – umm… Marmaduke? Linked to a fairly incoherent ramble (beer may have been involved) that included the line “If Marmaduke was to choke to death on Garfield’s corpse, the world would be a better place.”
  • gary sinese – by the time I checked, I had slipped off (or over?) page 22 of aol’s search results. So I ask: who in all the seventeen hells would enter a popular actor’s name, go through twenty-two pages of search results and finally choose to come here?
  • squirrel drinking beer – if that is not the most unlikely yet perfectly tuned three words to bring someone to this sordid site, I don’t know what is. Not three days ago I sent Brian a picture of a squirrel drinking beer. Don’t ask me to find it again.
  • great driving roads in virginia – Because it shamelessly sucks off the name of a popular song, the episode Take Me Home, Country Roads gets more than its fair share of attention. In its defense, it does describe one of the top two highways in that fair state.

Time rolls past. MR&HBI is no longer the top hit for “h a r d b o d y g ir l s”. You must search on h a r d b o d y b r e a s t s to find MR&HBI in the top slot. Damn, I’m proud (*sniff*). Meanwhile, many of the top hits for “h a r d b o d y g i r l s” are sites telling teens the virtues of being a herdbody. (That was a typo, but you know, I’m sticking with it.) I imagine articles with titles like “Anorexia: Make it Work for You”.

Egg cooking, of course, accounts for a couple hundred visits a week (although only 20 out of the last 100 visits), and there are always people looking for the lowdown on particular bars. The volume of traffic by people who can’t figure out for themselves how to get drunk and what to do once they get there is increasing (and alarming). It’s not a mystery, kids. Mini blimps and x-ray gogs remain popular.

What does this all mean? Why would someone search the web for the name of a dog they mention by name? Why do so many people turn to the blogosphere for cooking advice? Why do I spend so much time tracking it?

What else ya gonna do?

Programming note

It doesn’t look much different, but behind the scenes it has changed dramatically. The best part is that after today I will no longer have to republish more than 350 pages when I tweak the banner.

Of course with change comes risk. I’m getting deeper into the CSS, which means that Internet Explorer users may have problems. Let me know if you have trouble, and what browser you are using. Interestingly, although much older, the Mac version of IE renders this page quite a bit better than the Windows version. I thought IE Mac would choke on the CSS.

Here’s a link to the Firefox download, for IE users who haven’t caught on yet. (Hint: Smaller, faster, safer, and standards-compliant.)