Neto’s Passtime Bar, Gila Bend, Arizona

I hadn’t planned on stopping today, but somewhere between Pistachio Rock and Gila Bend inspiration hit me head-on and I had to stop and do something about it.

It was one of those moments that catch you off-guard, although they seem to be more routine in the desert than elsewhere. I was driving into the sunset, in true western fashion, and let me tell you, it was one hell of a sunset. It started out subtle; the sky an ever-deepening blue, a few wispy clouds adding their own commas and question marks to the sky. I rounded a barren, jagged hill, and across the plain in front of me was splendor. Saguaros slid past, their arms akimbo in gestures of praise and wonder, standing in silhouette against the vibrant pinks and oranges that filled the western sky. Farther away the rocky hills became mysterious shapes, almost reminding me of things.

I spun the radio, and landed on a Spanish-language station without accordions. The next song that came on was achingly beautiful, a woman singing of sorrow in a language any human could understand. I will probably never hear that song again, and I will never know who the singer was. Like the sunset, it was just for that one moment and then gone forever.

The station fuzzed out on the outskirts of Gila Bend, but I decided to stop anyway. I found a hotel that advertised wireless internet and checked in. The signal doesn’t reach my room. The bathtub faucet was dripping — a sign of evil in this arid land — but I could not make it stop. I closed the bathroom door to at least shut out the sound, and realized I had a locked door between me and the toilet. The large Coke and 32-oz Gatorade I had consumed on my desert trek chose that very moment to make it known that their probation was up and they were ready to be released right now.

Back at the lobby to get a large paperclip to spring the door, I asked if there was a bar nearby, where I could sit, have a couple of beers, and maybe get some work done. The lobby staff exchanged a skeptical look. “Just down the street a couple of blocks,” the guy said, “there’s a bar. It’s the only bar in town.”

“Can I just sit in your restaurant and have a beer?”

“They don’t serve alcohol. There’s a circle-K across the street,” he added helpfully.

“Is the bar any good?” I asked.

The guy nodded, and got a confirming nod from the girl. “Yeah, it’s a good bar. I like it anyway.” Good enough for me. I had given him the opportunity to issue a safety warning and he hadn’t. Chances of getting beat up or knifed seemed low enough to take the walk up the road.

Now I sit in a long, narrow building constructed of cinder block, listening to “All My Ex’s Live In Texas”. There are no windows and no chairs that can be thrown in a fight. It is winter, and there is a large box fan set up on the table next to mine. Most of the light in here comes from neon beer signs (the only exception is a string of blue christmas lights), and almost everyone in here is sitting at the bar. The freight trains pass right outside the door, blowing their lonesome whistles through the security mesh and adding to the crooning of Patsy Cline doing a song I don’t recognize.

The only nice car in the parking lot belongs to a guy I assume to be the owner. Someone is wearing an obscene amount of perfume or cologne. I’ll sneak a picture once the locals have becomed accustomed to a guy being in the bar with a laptop. In a way, I feel like Diane Fossey with the mountain gorillas of Rwanda. They will accept me, but I can’t do too much all at once.

Beers are two dollars and everything comes in longneck bottles. I won’t tell you what I’m drinking, but rest assured the word “lite” is not in the name anywhere. An obscure Stevie Ray Vaughn song has just come on the juke box and it’s time to order a second beer.

Time has passed, just how much I’m not exactly sure. I’ve been here, trying to put a short story out of my misery. A few minutes ago a longneck appeared at my table. “It’s from that guy over there, Gary,” the bartender explained. I thanked her and sent a toast Gary’s way when he finally looked over.

This is a very friendly bar. I have spotted chairs that could be thrown, but I will not revise the above description because I like it, and reality be damned. There’s a good vibe here, the oasis-in-the-trackless-desert vibe. We come from different places, we’re going different places, but at this moment we are together, bound by a common need. And at the oasis there is an eclectic jukebox, and there is joy.

Pipiru piru piru pipiru pi!

A while back I gave you the lyrics for the opening theme to a Japanese animation called Cutey Honey Flash, a sublimely ridiculous retelling of a ’70’s televison series. This one may just top that.

I’ve only watched one episode of the show, but Club-to-Death Angel Dokuro-chan may be my new favorite. The show involves Dokuro-chan, cute as a button with her halo, who has inexplicably moved into the bedroom of a high school student named Sakuro. The guy’s not as lucky as you might think, however; this little angel has a bit of a temper and a giant baseball bat with wicked spikes, which she does not hesitate to use. In the first episode, she decapitates Sakuro with Excalibolg at least three times in great fountains of blood.

It’s hilarious.

As quick as she is to anger, she immediately feels remorse and with a “Pipiru piru piru pipiru pi!” she twirls Ecalibolg cheerleader-style and restores the fragments of his skull. “That hurt,” he said one time after being killed.

She declares that she will be going to school with him, and he makes her promise not to crush anyone’s skull. She reluctantly agrees. Then she agrees not to reveal that she is an angel.

“And of course, you can’t use any of your mysterious angelic powers, either.”

“No angelic powers.”

“No tear gas, either.”

“No firing of tear gas, either.”

“Don’t forget our promise, Okay?”

I don’t want to give it all away, but she’s not a terribly trustworthy angel.

The show opens with Dokuro-chan flying among the clouds, cute little angel wings flapping, a frightfully happy smile on her little face, the vicious-looking bat flying along next to her, while a perky girl-voice sings:

Pipiru piru piru pipiru pi
Pipiru piru piru pipiru pi
The bat that can do anything, Excalibolg!
Pipiru piru piru pipiru pi
Pipiru piru piru pipiru pi
When you hear my magical spell, you’ll be reborn again.
No, no, don’t be like that, dummy!
Don’t glare at me like that! Please!
Club-to-Death Angel, spraying blood everywhere, Dokuro-chan!
Club-to-Death Angel, she makes you bleed from the heart, Dokuro-chan!
I’ll step on you, tie you up, beat you up,
Kick you, be a cocktease, hang you,
But that’s just how I express my love!
Club-to-Death Angel, who pounds you with her bat, Dokuro-chan!
Club-to-Death Angel, blood-stained all over, Dokuro-chan!
I’ll cut you, punch you, toy with you,
Stab you, leave you out in the cold, drip stuff on you,
But that’s just how I express my love!
Pipiru piru piru pipiru pi!

“Bleed from the heart” is more literal in this translation than usual. During the opening credits there is a sequence where she is dancing around like a cheerleader, swinging her bat, and with each stroke more blood splatters about. She ends by dong the splits, hands raised, bat twirling, smiling from ear to ear, a twinkle in her eye, while blood drips down the screen. Priceless.


Christmas Eve in Los Alamos – Farolitolicious!

The stars are close here, and on a still, cold, cloudless, moonless night there are a lot of them. Find a dark place, look up, and you will see them. 2.7 fucking buttloads of them, to be exact. (This number was scientifically determined many years ago by our crack stellar research team.)

On Christmas Eve the street lights are turned off over much of Barranca Mesa, and cars drive slowly, with only their running lights, and the stars shine down in all their brilliance. It’s a good night to take a little walk.

Just why are such unsafe driving conditions not only tolerated, but encouraged? Farolitos, of course. Often called lumenarias (opening the speaker up to correction by the more pedantic traditionalists), these little fires were first invented to act as runway markers for when the Baby Jesus was coming in for a landing. These days their job is simply to look cool, to provide a festive atmosphere without resorting to brash blinking and color. Farolitos glow, a calm and peaceful light that is more a “Silent Night” feeling than a “Jingle Bells” one. It fits with the tempo of New Mexico – it’s not a hurly-burly go-go-go sort of decoration.

Out at the end of Barranca Mesa, the whole neighborhood farolitafies, the street lights are turned off, and the neighborhood becomes a destination for people to slowly cruise or (better) walk, taking in the simple beauty for miles.

Farolito 101

For those among you not familiar with this tradition, farolitos require a little more effort to set up than strings of little blinky lights, but when you and friends work as a team things go quickly and it’s a nice way to spend the waning hours of Christmas Eve. The construction is simple, requiring a paper bag, ballast (usually sand), and a candle.

… and that’s all there is to it (although you do not want me to be in charge of folding over the tops of the paper bags. Many bags were injured this year in the creation of farolitos at my house).

Of course, technology never rests, and at the olde homestead we no longer use primitive sand for the ballast, rather we have specialized bricks, just the size of a typical farolito bag, with a hole ready to accommodate a typical votive candle.

Farolitos are a gentle light, and while photogenic, they require a long exposure. Most of the pics I took this year are hopelessly shaken (I should have used the 2-second delay even when using my little mini-tripod). Here is one of the homestead, including fuego’s giant automobile (dubbed by fuego the “hotelsmobile” and by my parents as “the #[email protected]*!! thing blocking the driveway that has long overstayed its welcome”).

As you can see, the parents favor a combination of electric and external combustion, enjoying the everyday colored lights and augmenting them on christmas eve with the farolitos. This is not uncommon, and allows the festive feeling to continue long after the candles have all burned away.

On the walk between John H’s place and Jojo’s, lugging beers and stopping often for photos, we met others out as well, enjoying the unseasonably warm evening. I’ll be putting up more photos at the gallery shortly.

Word on the street… it’s Christmas.

Tonight is a complicated story, filled with intrigue and the betrayal of innocence. Rudolph garroted and hauled off to the slaughterhouse. I have the pictures, but I’m tired now, so good night and merry christmas.

Remember the Google!

As most of you already know, I like to watch and see just what it is that brings the accidental tourist to this site. Google and its buddies form and extremely important role in the Websphere, finding for people the information they need in this big, disorganized pile of fact and opinion.

The search engines are imperfect, however, and sometimes people end up here.

Usually the search phrase is innocuous, “plate of shrimp” or something like that, but occasionally the search will be interesting, either for the odd phrase or where it linked to. Old-timers can have a little fun chuckling at the resonances between the search and remembered episodes, while newcomers can use this page as a guided tour of some of what has gone before. Search terms I do not want to attract to this page are, as always, haphazardly obfuscated with spaces.

  • b o w l i n g ball rack designs – linked to get-poor-quick page, with team b o w l i n g
  • what does poop look like in dipper’s? – linked to an episode like this one, in which many of those words were scattered about
  • squirrel cult – the SSDC is still popular after all these years…
  • obfuscated pronunciation – linked to yet another episode like this one, for obvious, if obfuscated, reasons
  • goofy footwear – linked to the observations category page, where I devote a very short episode to the subject.
  • haiku on drinking – linked to a description of a very pleasant moment I had. There’s no haiku there, though, just the teaser for the crap shop.
  • arrogant assholes – We know what major metropolis that refers to, right?
  • “sound of p o w e r” – Linked to an episode about, well, the sound of p o w e r.
  • when is the next sign ups for the Kids A m e r i c a n I d l e? – that spelling joke never gets old…
  • “pretty b l i n d girl” – linked to an episode about someone I saw waiting for a tram.
  • c o w b o y gets pulled over and dances – didn’t check the link, but I figure it probably linked to The C o w b o y God
  • b e e r e n a – linked to a episode about a woman in a bar.
  • czechs and beer – the two go hand in hand
  • m e a t rhymes – linked to an episode about hockey, which is obviously what they were looking for
  • st. louis drivers are assholes – I just said they were really bad. And they are. Really, really bad.
  • rumble rumble – linked to an episode about grocery shopping in Prague
  • team b o w l i n g – already starting to make a splash!
  • can’t wait a minute czech lyrics – linked to the main page here
  • s q u i r r e l t r a i n e r – linked to the first shocking exposé of the Suicide Squirrel Death Cult. But… who was looking for a s q u i r r e l t r a i n e r anyway?
  • death to squirrels – likewise
  • triangles in architecture – got quite a few hits on queries like this one, actually, but no architecture guys have chimed in.
  • S W E A T CHEESE – the classic Czech dish is back, this time shouted.
  • poop explosion photo – linked to the Idle Chit-Chat category. Poop comes up in a lot of queries these days, and gets routed here mainly because of episodes like this one, where I discuss previous poop queries.
  • give red flower means pink flower – linked to my erudite and unassailable writings on the meanings of flowers
  • funny spiritual stories and pics – because, you know, I’m famous for those
  • night elf breasts – speaking of spiritual stories, I’ve got your spiritual story with elf breasts right here, pal.
  • make up ideas after wearing glass for a long time – maybe I should try that, but where do you wear the glass? Linked to the main page here.
  • Sunday bloody sunday karaoke – this episode was about the morning after the White Wedding Incident at karaoke.
  • SCARY Squirrel THE GAME – linked, surprisingly, to a story in a czech pub.
  • site : humtum te – top link! (Um, Yippee, I guess…) Led to an episode with whining in it.
  • M e a t parade – everyone loves a parade!

The usuals were there, although egg frying is not bringing in the unsuspecting guests the way it once did. I’ll have to do something about that. And, after all this time denying I have a picture of elk poop, I find that I do have one after all (it’s right there in the middle). Unfortunately no one is coming here looking for elk poop anymore. “M e a t” is becoming an increasingly popular word in searches that bring people here, and I hadn’t considered before just how cool a word that is. I think I’ll say it again. M e a t.

A milestone, I guess

I just left the post office, where I sent off four packages. Two were to fairly large magazines, and two were to literary agents. It was a pain in the ass figuring out all the different do’s and don’ts, and it ended up being much more time-consuming than I had imagined. What I thought would take a couple of days sucked up my whole week. I wish I had numbered the drafts of the letters for the agents, the number would be very high now. Cover letters accompanying my fiction were simpler, but I hope in the future to hone them to let my personality shine through a bit more. (Carefully crafted casualness.)

I didn’t include mention of my media empire in the letters, and now I’m thinking I should have. It could be an important asset when it comes to promoting my books. Or… something like that.

An anecdote you won’t give a rat’s ass about:

I spent several hours agonizing over a two-sentence description of Hunter for my brief description of The Monster Within. I had a longer version and one that came across as glib. After quite a bit of sweat I came up with a compromise that didn’t bother me too much. Then it was time to review the synopsis, and right there in the second paragraph was the exact sentence I was looking for. Should have known to look where I had already made a compact version of the story when trying to come up with a compact description.

I managed to avoid revealing the Big Plot Twist until the third sentence. There wasn’t much more I could do about that.

I’ll be getting one more short story out tomorrow, then I’m gonna take it easy for a while.

By the way, a special thanks to Jojo – not only is she a fine beer slave, she has been providing lots of valuable information and encouragement. She made things much easier for me this last week.

Only in Los Alamos

I saw a truck today, a big ol’ Dodge 4×4, mud-splattered but in good condition. The front vanity plate read “Forget 911… I dial .357!” and had a drawing of a revolver pointed directly at the reader.

On the rear of the cab were stickers. Some proclaimed the owner of the truck to be in favor of various causes favored by the conservative crowd: POW/MIA, the right to bear arms, and so on. There were also five stickers in a row, white ovals modeled after the stickers that in europe indicate country of origin. In this case, the stickers indicated that the driver was from PHP, WWW, MP3, C++, and W3C. Man, what a geek.

El Parasol

It is one of the simple pleasures of life, sitting down to a well-constructed cheeseburger, taking a bite, and tasting the green chile, feeling the burn but more than that appreciating the pungent flavor.

There is something going horribly wrong in our nation right now, as restaurants compete to put more and more beef on their burgers. Half pound and three quarter pound burgers are supplanting more rational sizes as the marketing departments of restaurants and fast food chains have decided that More is Better. This is a very American sort of trend, but now we are faced with burgers out of balance. Sure, beef is an important part of the burger, but a carefully crafted hamburger is not only about the beef, it is an ensemble, with each element making a valuable contribution. This is especially true of the green chile cheeseburger.

The pinnacle of humanity’s culinary progress, the properly-constructed green chile cheeseburger is a delicate — and subjective — art form, an organic sculpture that bursts in your mouth with the first bite and lingers long after the final swallow. The chile must be hot and flavorful, and abundant, yet the meat, cheese, and other fixings must not be overpowered. Each ingredient has a role to play, from the crunch of the onions to the smoothness of the cheese.

I just polished off a darn fine green chile cheeseburger here at El Parasol. For those who know the town, it is located where Los Alamos Building and Loan was when I opened my first bank account there a bazillion years ago.

One side effect of not going overboard with the beef: the burgers are cheaper as well. The guy in line in front of me ordered a GCCB, as did the woman behind me. Looking around I see some people with burritos and other New Mexican fare, but the GCCB’s are all around me. And no wonder. Mine was damn yummy.

Perhaps I am being less critical, as it is the first green chile cheeseburger that I’ve had in a long time, but boy did it hit the spot. I wonder what it would take to get them to open one of these in Prague…

You know you have the right sorts of friends when…

Beer consumption:

Negra Modelo: 38
Fat Tire: 33
Red Stripe: 31
Bud Lite: 0

Not one Bud Lite for the entire three hours of the ho-down. Sweet.

Making the leap, one baby step at a time.

I’m tidying up a couple of stories, wrapping them with a neat little christmas bows, and sending them out to publications that… pay for writing. Yes, indeed, it is time to face rejection. To date, nothing I’ve submitted anywhere has been rejected. (At least since Junior High – those ninth graders so totally should have used my column in their underground rag. Probably it was just too sophisticated for them. Not that it bothered me.) While Piker Press has been berry berry good to me, I need to take a few baby steps out of my comfort zone and find more competitive markets.

There are several factors that make a market competitive. One of the biggest factors is the pay rate. Not surprisingly, the more a periodical pays, the more quality submissions they receive, and the more writing they reject. Although there have been some very promising new writers over at the Piker Press lately, it is a weekly, and therefore has a voracious appetite for content. The editorial quality over there is steadily improving and they have some promising new writers, but there’s no denying that they have a long way to go to compete with some of the other magazines out there. Ironically, one of the ways I can help them out the most is to become known in other venues.

So, what the hell, it’s time to get rejected, and I intend to start out by getting rejected by some of the top magazines in the country. Heck, why not?

Well, there’s one reason. Most of these publications still want submissions in the dead-tree format, and with double-spacing and huge margins even a modest short story can consume a lot of pages. Between my short stories and my submissions of novel manuscripts to agents, an acceleration of the deforestation of Canada and the Pacific Northwest is inevitable. (I’m told they can plant new trees, so future generations can chop them down once more, in a process known as ‘agriculture’. I find this encouraging.)

So ask your stockbroker for tips on paper companies, and maybe put a little into the toner cartridge market as well. Maybe you can find a paper-and-ink mutual fund. If there isn’t one, there ought to be.

Gambler’s Alert!

Sure they’ve won a bunch of games, and they’re playing at home and they’re big favorites — but don’t bet on the San Diego Chargers today. Why? Because I’m in North America, that’s why. It’s possible that I’m still far enough away that they will win the game, but by two touchdowns? I think not.

A (Chemically) Balanced Breakfast

I’m in a mall right now, at the food court, surrounded by neon and bright decorations in a vaguely southwest style. Rattlesnake sculptures with glowing red tongues and rattles, gila monsters with neon haloes, and the like adorn the pillars in this boomy place, and all around me are the classics: Wendys, Dairy Queen, Orange Julius.

Of course I sat with a view of the Hot Dog On A Stick franchise. I don’t think they ever sell any food, rather I think the chain is funded by a sadistic old man performing a long-term social experiment to discover the lower limit of human pride by paying pretty girls to wear the ugliest clothes imaginable in public.

I chose none of the above delights to break my fast; I was drawn to a blue neon sign hollering “Ichiban” into the void. They were just bringing the first trays of chow from the back, and I looked over the vaguely asian fare as it lay glistening under the lamps. The red peppers I call “hot little mothers” were abundant in a couple of the dishes, and I knew I had found my chow.

I am woefully out of shape; the hot little mothers are really hot this morning. Still, after eating a few of them, I can feel the endorphins start to work. Add the fat, salt, and sugar from the food, top it off with a refill of Coke, and I’m processing a chemical cocktail that is working very well with the jet-lag, thank you very much. Synergy at its finest.

Now I’m off to Bigass Bookstore to look for a book about pet therapy that is technical, at least 150 pages long, and hasn’t been translated into czech yet. (It’s for a friend! Really!) Wish me luck.

Who are you?

In Czech, “to teach” is učit “to learn” is učit se which, although it doesn’t seem like the czechs think of it this way, translates as “to teach myself”. Likewise, půjčit means “to lend” while půjčit si means “to borrow”. There is a very appealing symmetry there. Apparently “lend”, “borrow”, and “return” in English forms an inscrutable quagmire for the native czech.

When the verb is accompanied by se, it is an indication that the action of the verb is being reflected back onto the speaker. Si, on the other hand, indicates that the action is being applied to another object.

When you get to washing, this becomes interesting. You can say, míju – “I wash” – but that applies strictly to the general act of self-cleaning. When you are washing your hands, Míješ si ruce you are washing some external object. Your hands are not you. Built into the language is a separation of the parts and the whole. You could name any part: heart, brain, foot, and that part is not you. It’s not even part of you. It is something separate, an object you interact with the same way you would with a stone.

And there you have, built into the Czech language, a distinction between the whole and the parts.

Meat Parade

I was a fuego’s, watering the plants, when the call came from Soup Boy. “You wanna come downtown?”

“I just came from there.”

“I know. But I have an idea.”

I was pretty sure I knew what his idea was. There’s a place down there in Slovansky Dům called Ambiente. The restaurant is based on a simple idea, modeled, I think on similar restaurants in Brazil. You sit, order drinks, and they hand you a menu. Only it’s not a menu, really, it’s more of a guide, explaining what all the different items are.

The subject of this restaurant had come up some time before when I was reminiscing about sushi. There are a couple of pretty dang good sushi places in San Diego, and it has been a long time since I’ve been to one. Ambiente has sushi.

Ordering is simple there; you have two choices. Meat or no meat. No meat means you must be content with the rather lavish “salad bar”, which includes lots of tasty things, including meat and sushi. If you order meat, not only do you have salad bar privileges, but you also get to partake of the meat parade. As it was my first time, naturally I had to get the whole experience. I ordered Meat.

When Soup Boy had first come to Prague, this location had been a bar called Joshua Tree, and his first job in town was bartending there. The ownership had changed, but the wood paneling on the walls still had U2 lyrics artfully carved into it. The place was well-lit and busy, but not uncomfortably so. They apologized; without a reservation there was only room in the non-smoking section. A bonus not to be take for granted here. After we ordered I was awarded a giant Meat Plate and a small set of tongs as a symbol of my quest. Soup Boy, recovering from illness as he was, chose to go small-scale.

He explained the tongs. “Sometimes when they are serving you meat, you will use these to help.”

Then began the Meat Parade. Between the tables passed servers carrying skewers of various dead animals, everything from chicken hearts to beef filet with Parmesan. Sausage, pork, various beef, veal, chicken (when the chicken wrapped with bacon came by, Soup Boy said, “Any time you take one animal, and wrap it around another animal, it’s going to be good.”), and fish. On and on it went, more than a dozen different dishes altogether, including roasted pineapple, which I discovered made all the other things on my plate less filling. The Meat Parade continued, and some of the servers were quite insistent that I take more of whatever it was they were flogging at the moment. Between that and two loads from the salad bar I ate a lot — I mean a lot, of good food. (Although, the sushi, truth be told, was limited in variety and not the best. Not the worst, either – I had quite a lot of it.)

By the time I got home, I was approaching comatose. My belly was a ponderous mountain as I lay on my back. I had joined the Meat Parade, and I had done my share. I am honestly amazed at how much I was able to eat.

It has been about eighteen hours since I got the call, and now, as I write this, I’m starting to feel just a wee bit hungry again.

The Mysterious Secret Message

I got a text message from fuego, leaping wide oceans in a single bound. “Pirates script due Jan. 8.”

I assume he is not referring to the script we have already written, as, well, a deadline in the future would not be very noteworthy. Unless it’s a Pirates script that includes the ad-libs and other changes made during the shooting, that are not reflected in the master document. That might be it, but what would the point of such a script be?

No, I’m guessing that for some reason we need a new Pirates script, of unknown length (probably significantly longer), for an unknown audience, for an unknown purpose, and for some reason the window of opportunity closes on January 8th.

A good guess is that we need something for a feature-length movie or a television pilot. I hadn’t considered how different those two things can be until tonight as I sat down and started thinking through an outline of the plot. For a TV pilot you need to establish the style that the series will adopt, which limits you to styles that work in smaller chunks and won’t confuse first-time viewers. That means you can’t get too carried away with nonlinear structures and other devices that take time to build. Also, a pilot defines the main issues the characters will face, whereas a movie resolves them.

Getting a polished work of that size done in a month will be a big, big, challenge. We’re with Unlikely on Impossible’s front porch, and we’re ringing the doorbell.

Hopefully by the time I can get this posted I will already have the answers, but right now I’m anxious to start working. If only I knew what to work on.

Post Script: It’s all cool now. I’m a little rusty with english, apparently – I didn’t recognize “jan” as an abbreviation for “June”