Non-Stop… IS A LIE!!

The non-stop snack bar stopped. I had no business being there at that point, anyway, but Pavel (the guy on the next stool) and Hanka (the bartender) turned out to be very friendly folk. I was there much longer than I had planned to be. At one point, near the end, Hanka took the keys and locked the front door. “She is closing,” Pavel explained to me, “but she says it is all right if we stay.”

It had started when Pavel asked me what I did for a living. “I’m a writer,” I said. something something Spisovatel something he said to Hanka. something something piš something she said back to him. “She is worried you will write about this place,” he translated.

“I already have,” I said.

Things just got rolling from there. I paid for Pavel’s next beer. I was at my limit by that time, but then Pavel bought me a beer. Now it’s tomorrow afternoon.

Non-Stop Snack Bar

Names of businesses are descriptive here, and Non-Stop Snack Bar is a perfect example. It’s a snack bar (emphasis on bar), and it never closes. This place is a little unusual in that the beer served is not prominently displayed. There are only two things a czech bar patron wants to know: when is the bar open and what beer is served. The rest is inconsequential.

This is the closest all-night place to where I live, and I have never been here before. Strašnica is not really your party-all-night kind of neighborhood.

I was just getting ready to write “this is a cash on the barrelhead kind of place.” I paid for my first two beers when they arrived, and I’ve watched other patrons, some obviously regulars, do the same. Third beer (laptop open), she marked a piece of paper and waved off the payment. I think the real reason is that she’s too busy scarfing down Buffalo Wings that she had delivered from somewhere else. Yes, it’s a snack bar, but the emphasis really is on bar. And Herna. There are slot machines all around me, taking the space where my favorite table would be, but they’re in quiet mode, softly purring in an almost soothing manner.

The TV is on. There’s a movie on with Harrison Ford in it. There is a limited pool of good dubbing actors, and the one who is playing whoever the hell Harrison Ford is supposed to be has a distinctive voice – kind of high and nasal. I don’t hear much czech TV, but I hear this guy all the time. Tonight the movie went into commercial break and we were treated to an ad for cold medicine where the guy had the same distinctive voice as the lead actor in the feature. There was another commercial that didn’t include him, but then the next one did.

I have been sensitized to his voice to the point where any time I’m listening to the television I can’t help but say, “There’s that guy again!”

Scrive Diem

Many years ago, one pit-digging day (Ah, pit-digging day. One of the most hallowed days of the year. The Friday before the first Saturday after the first full moon in July. Big dogs with dirty tongues, kegs of beer, shovels, and campfires. Twenty years after the first pit-diggig day celebration, four of the five key participants contribute to this blog), I lamented to Jess that none of us present had a camera.

“Some people make history,” he said, “others record it.”

This blog shows pretty well which side of that divide I have landed on. Other people go to bars to drink with their friends; I go to bars to watch people and write about them. Keith asked if thinking about how I’m going to record an event alters the way I experience it. (Actually, I don’t think he was talking about me in particular, he made some comment about quality or some other nonsense.)

I may not be the one to answer a question like that in the first place. You have to understand that when I write, “I’m in the Cheap Beer Place…” I really am in the Cheap Beer Place, right then, as I’m writing it. (I’m in the Cheap Beer Place right now. Tall Brunette Slivovice-Pusher has been replaced by Little Blonde Cutie. LBC is new here, and hasn’t been around enough to earn anything more than a purely descriptive nickname.) In general, I’m not just thinking about how I might record the experience, I’m actively recording it. I’m like the photographer at the wedding – I’m not really part of the festivities at all. When I’m not writing about the events and people around me, I’m writing about the events and people in my head, who are usually more interesting.

Still, there are times I go out without my laptop. Those times aren’t frequent, and I always have a moment of panic when I leave a place without my backpack. Phantom laptop syndrome. When the laptop is closed, however, I can usually stop writing and enjoy the moment. When I’m having an interesting conversation, I’m not thinking about how to describe it later. If I’m hanging in a bar watching sports on TV, that’s pretty much all I’m doing. In the words of Pink Floyd, I have amazing powers of concentration. That means I’m either all the way with you or all the way gone. If my head is somewhere else, I can still struggle along with a conversation, but it is frustrating for both parties.

There are times when I’ve realized that someone was talking to me, but I was someplace else entirely. Once you get to know me you start to recognize the faraway look that tells you I’m writing at the moment, even if it looks like I’m staring into space. Those are the moments when Amy and Melinda would steal my shoes.

One place you can just forget about me is at a live concert when the music is good. I don’t know what it is about those events, but as soon as the band starts to blow I disconnect from the place entirely. Occasionally I’ll think about writing about the concert, but more often I’m off in some fiction-world, either one built from scratch just for the occasion, or one already under construction. Unless the music’s really, really, good. Then I’m in the concert hall and a fully participating member of the band. Either way my friends are ignored unless the music sucks.

Some people make history, other people record it. Some, a very few, make history by recording it well. That’s what I’m shooting for.

One more release to go…

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks hammering on the word processor, fixing bugs, improving performance, and adding some of the little things that make good software great. (Along with a dangerous excursion into Photoshop to make less-ugly interface icons.) The number of users is climbing steadily as well; there’s a buzz building which is bringing a bunch of new users. With more users comes more work supporting them, and if I’m not careful I can lose an entire afternoon Takin’ Care of Business.

I haven’t gotten much writing done lately. There’s always a slump for me before November, but this year the tasks around JNW have really grown. Imagine when I start charging money for it. I think my customer service is already far better than that of most companies, but it’s going to be a real challenge to keep that up in the future. Maybe I’ll just overcharge for the software to keep my customer base small.

Even when I do sit to write, my brain is still working in a very technical space. It’s a good zone to be in, and probably why I’ve been able to make so much progress on the software, but it’s not so good for writing or planning novels. It’s time to shift my priorities, and concentrate on the more difficult and risky task of writing good prose.

I got a release out today, and it’s a good one, and I plan to do one more little release with the ability to turn off some of the warnings and alerts. Then its time to put the code on the shelf for a couple of weeks and use the software for its intended purpose.

De Brug – echoes

A couple of days later I was talking with Soup Boy. Soup Boy is certainly popular with the ladies, and has a healthy and active social life. He was bugging me about working fourteen hours every day and not getting out and meeting people. In my own defense I mentioned my encounter at De Brug. I started to describe her, but I didn’t get far.

“Black hair down to her butt?” Soup Boy asked.

“Yeah, ” I said.

“I know her. Damn, it’s a small town. She’s a trip. And she’s hot.”

“She just broke up with her boyfriend,” I said.

“Reeealy…”

“Yeah, we spent the afternoon disparaging North Carolina. He sounded like a real goober.”

“I never could figure out what she saw in that guy.”

“Well, she’s not seeing it any more.”

The conversation continued like that for a while, mostly at Goober’s expense. I wondered if I would hear from her again about her writing. She had said her life could fill ten books, and from what I heard from Soup Boy, she might not have been exaggerating.

Two days later Soup Boy and I were on a tram, and he says, “I have some gossip for you. It’s about Cleo.” It took me a moment to figure out who Cleo was, but then I was all ears. “I was at a party last night,” he said, “and I thought she might be there. I asked about her and they said she was in the hospital.”

“Holy cow.”

“Not the hospital, really, the psycho ward. I guess she’s kind of freaking out about her boyfriend.” She had seemed sad when I met her, but hardly freaking out. Still, people keep things inside. Then Soup Boy dropped the bomb. “Apparently she stabbed herself pretty seriously, a couple of times.”

Not even ‘holy cow’ could convey what I felt then, so I didn’t say anything at first. Eventually conversation turned to the futility of grand gestures of desperation, the fleeting nature of life, Soup Boy’s ex-girlfriends, and what a goober Goober was.

I understand her stay in the hospital was brief, but I have not heard from her since. I hope she does write her ten volumes, and I hope writing them brings her peace.

She Who Smiles Rarely is in fine form today.

I haven’t seen her for a while; I was starting to wonder if she still worked here at Crazy Daisy. No worries, on a quiet Sunday afternoon we are here together, and just as far apart as ever.

At one point as she was approaching my table I looked up, and I read her thoughts with startling clarity. She was preparing herself in case I smiled at her as she passed by, mustering the resolve to perhaps smile back a little if she had to. I looked back down at my work but smiled anyway, letting her off the hook but perhaps still sharing a little cheer.

I did get one smile, as she was taking my menu. It wasn’t even particularly forced.

An architecture question

I’m sitting at the Little Café Near Home, planing my November, which is looking bright, and somewhere along the way I started thinking of triangles — not sure what set it off — and a missed opportunity by my math teachers in seventh grade.

My memory being notoriously bad, I’m amazed I remember any of this stuff, but we spent a lot of time in geometry class messing with triangles. One thing that was pounded into our heads was that once you define the lengths of the sides of a triangle, you’re done. That triangle is fixed. I think we called it the side-side-side theorem, or SSS for short. It was just another fact. Just another checkbox in the curriculum.

It might have caught my interest more, and perhaps the interest of others who didn’t take to math so well, it someone had mentioned that it could be the single most important fact in mechanical engineering and architecture. Triangles are rigid.

Now I remember how I started thinking this way — most of the chairs in this place, sturdily made of steel, are distorted. Over the months and years of use people have leaned back in them until now they are all somewhat out of shape. They are sturdy, but they are all about rectangles, not triangles. It would not take much to redesign these chairs to be much sturdier.

So you put a chair like this in front of a high school math class and say, “Behold, the power of the triangle in your everyday life.”

But then I did some more thinking. Thoughts often lead to thinking, and thinking to thoughts, in a vicious cycle interrupted only by head trauma or the presence of a member of the opposite sex. I thought of Notre Dame Cathedral. No triangles. Apparently stone is not a material for triangles. It’s good with compression, but tensile strength is laughable. It can only be flexed one direction.

But wood is certainly a good triangle material. I remember as a kid staring up at the rafters in church, seeing the triangles there, admiring the way they were made with parallel planks bolted together like a giant tinkertoy. I remember those rafters better than any sermon.

But older examples of triangles in architecture, I’m having a hard time with. There’s the old footage of the great New York skyscrapers racing each other into the sky, giant rectangular steel frames with steeplejacks racing about with hot rivets. There must have been triangles in there or the whole mess would have twisted and fallen, but they’re not apparent in those old movies.

So, architecture guys: Sacre Coeur, no triangles; then there was that skyscraper where exotriangles were added when they realized after they built the thing that the wind tunnel tests on the models were flawed. If you were given half an hour in front of a semi-comatose group of young math students who don’t give a rat’s ass about SSS, what would you tell them? How do you pass on that this seemingly esoteric fact is a cornerstone of our civilization? In your absence, how do you advise teachers to do the same?

The scope of this ramble is rapidly expanding, to where I now want to create a framework that allows professionals to pass on their passion to students who don’t have any way to recognize when they are confronted by a potentially life-changing fact. I want a footnote in the book that links to a video of an architect getting really gung-ho about triangles, or a chemist going batshit over – uh – whatever chemists go batshit over. I want to challenge leaders in every field to think back to the most basic fact their profession is based upon, the thing they take most for granted, and explain it to people who have never heard it before. They would be giving meaning to the really important bits, things that would otherwise be lost in the noise, but simple facts that could decide a career. There’s some kid in that geometry class, not so good at proofs and theorems, but when given an important tool for buildin’ stuff, might just perk up a bit, might see the connection between all these numbers and building a hotel on the moon.

For me.