Sorting out the computer issues

My laptop is unhappy; the screen light keeps turning off. (This can’t possibly have anything to do with it falling out of my backpack last week. I had been distracted by my company at the time and didn’t take proper care as I zipped up.) I can make out the vague shapes of windows, but there’s no way to work on it.

I decided to finally bite the bullet and get the Intel-based Mac mini so I could use that while the old PowerBook is in the shop, and finally get an Intel version of Jer’s Novel Writer built and tested. Only problem is, there aren’t any Mac minis with the DVD burner to be had, nor will there be for a while. It seems there are none in the Czech Republic at this time, and one guy told me that Eurpoe is fresh out.

I did get a monitor, however, knowing I would need one for the mini when I finally got it anyway. I got it home a little while ago and set it up, and discovered that it even came with the DVI cable that matched my Mac’s Digital Video connector. Oddly, that cable could not be attached to the monitor. Yes, the monitor shipped with a cable that was completely useless without a DVI adapter. I have such an adapter, so no problem, but with the adapter, the regular cable that came with monitor works just fine also. Oh, well, another cable in the “things that might come in handy for some reason someday” bin.

So, I am back! Able to post blog entries and everything. Life is not perfect, however; unless I want to lug around the monitor, I am stuck at home until the laptop is fixed, and my seating position is a little torqued, as the new screen is next to the keyboard, rather than behind it. But if I send in the laptop for service, I won’t have anything. So do I bite the bullet and go computerless for a few days and then return to my carefree nomadic ways, or do I sit chained to my table until I can get the new machine, then sit chained to the table but at least productive while the laptop is repaired? Quite a conundrum.

2

Language Log is Ruining My Life

I mentioned before that I have added a link in the sidebar for Language Log, a blog that is the product of the musings of some (I am led to understand) pretty heavy names in the linguistics biz. That their writing is (generally) as accessible as it is interesting is a credit to them and a drug for me. It’s nice to find eggheads with a sense of humor.

Today I was drifting through the archives brushing up on profanity — how it’s encoded, and how it’s legislated, and what makes something taboo in the first place. Recently they have been posting comic pages that go “meta”, stepping outside the frame to look at just what is coming out of their mouths, as when Beetle Baily asks Sagre how a little flower symbol snuck into his invective. It reminded me of a time I actually laughed at The Wizard of Id:

PEASANT: I’m here about the job in the stables.
STABLE BOSS (holds out small object): What’s this?
PEASANT: Shinola
STABLE BOSS: You’re hired.

I laughed because a clean, family-oriented comic made a joke that was funny for no other reason than it made the reader think of the word “shit”. (It’s like saying to someone, “You’re full of something, and it’s not shinola.”) Certainly the lads in the stable refer to shoveling and various other animal waste-related activities, but this time, there was no escaping the shit — not the substance, but the word. The word is far more taboo than the offal it represents.

After that I read some stuff on recent debates about the nature of language. Some heavyweights in the field, including Chomsky (whose value to the science seems to be his ability to start fights), have proposed a definition for human language that damn near rules out Hemingway’s version of English. Some of those arguments were, admittedly, beyond me, but there is no doubt that my writing here, wandering and layered, a double-jointed drunkard lost in the desert (“recursive” is the word the wonks are all going on about these days), qualifies as human. The argument is that no other animal has true language, because other animals are not able to embed ideas within other ideas, and this embedding makes a language able to convey an infinite variety with a finite number of words. Or something like that.

Personally, I’m new to this game, and dangerously ignorant. As far as I can tell these arguments are all about the mechanics of the language, not what is done with it. If those guys asked me, the two distinguishing characteristics of humans are the ability to misuse tools and the ability to use metaphors. Other animals have developed primitive tool-using behaviors, but only people have invented screws and screwdrivers yet still pound screws in with hammers. Similarly, if you told Koko the gorilla, “You’re pounding a screw in with a hammer,” meaning she was going about something the wrong way, she would be confused because she did not even have a hammer. (Don’t give gorillas hammers. Trust me on this one.)

I’m pretty sure the folks in Language Log Plaza would consider the metaphor bit not to be germane to the current argument, which is OK for now as they are finding plenty of things to argue about already. But if they ever run dry, I’ve got a reservoir they can tap.

What a great job to have, where a major part of the job description is to sit around arguing about esoteric shit. To Koko, there is no shit that can’t be thrown.

2

Note to self

A crowded nightclub at 4am after a few hours of beers is neither the place nor the time to be stacking things.

2

As metaphoric as a lunchbox

Yesterday morning I came slowly out of the Land of Nod with a phrase resonating in my head: gaseous as Persephone. I toyed with it a bit, kind of liking the cadence and the classicalness of it. “She sat across the table, lost in the shadows, gaseous as Persephone…” Persephone’s got that whole underworld thing going for her, to boot. (She’s the first snowbird, finding a warmer place to spend winters.)

There’s only one problem with the phrase: it makes no sense whatsoever. Sure, I like imagery and metaphor as much as the next guy (maybe more), but Persephone was never reputed, to the best of my knowledge, to be gaseous. (Gassy, perhaps, if pomegranate seeds cause flatulence, but that’s hardly the image I was shooting for.)

Stooping to using nonsense like that is what we in the business call “putting on airs”, and writers do it all the time. Some are better at it than others; some can even make drivel like that into poetry. Those few only encourage a host of others to try their hands at it, and most of them suck. I’m sure I could go back and find plenty of times I’ve committed this very sin, but this time I managed not to. For that we can all be thankful.

While we’re on the subject, I’ve added a new link over in the “Blogs for Writers” section, to a place called Language Log. Warning: it cost me several hours of my life the other day. It’s a blog by a group of respected linguists across the US, created for non-linguists. Most entries are very interesting and well-written, and some are downright fascinating. The essays about Dan Brown are entertaining, as they look at his use of the English language. Although “gaseous as Persephone” isn’t linguistically horrible (or maybe it is — my ignorance of the field is staggering), I’m sure they would have something to say about it.

The first day of the year shorter than the day before

The days are long this time of year, and I like it that way. This far north it is common for people to go out before sunset and get home after sunrise. (Not for me, mind — I’ll leave that to the kids.)

I was in a chat with some piker pals yesterday morning, and one of them said “It’s all downhill from here,” which summed up my feelings as well. I may have mentioned it here, or perhaps in other writings in other places, but man is the only creature cursed with the imagination to ruin any good time. Three-legged dogs don’t think to themselves, “if I had another leg I could get to that ball faster.” No, they think “Ball! Ball! Ball! Whooeee!” When a cat is curled up in a sunbeam, it’s not thinking to itself, “too bad sunset’s coming,” the cat is just thinking, “waaaaaaaaaaarm.” Creativity and imagination are the bitter pill, as well as the source of hope.

Piker pal’s comment also reminded me of a story I wrote this spring. It’s not one of my better efforts (a bit too sticky-sweet for my taste), but it does describe how I feel about days like today. It’s been sitting on my hard drive in the junk pile, but here it is, for what it’s worth. The paragraphs about dark and light I wouldn’t mind working into a better story someday. The opening line is nice, too, but doesn’t fit.

The First Day of Spring

It started small, the way grand things do.

I was sitting on a park bench sipping my first beer of the afternoon, watching the people around me take advantage of the first truly beautiful day of the year. It was a false promise, I knew, a deception; more snowflakes would fall before winter was truly over.

Summer. It is not simply a segment of the year, not here. It is a gasp of air for the soul, before it is plunged back into the cold and the dark. Each summer seems shorter, the lift it gives diminished, and I know there will be a summer that is not a summer at all, and it will be my last.

A parade of cheery folks streamed past the bench where I sat. Some moved slowly — couples taking the same walk they had for fifty years — while others flashed past, here and gone in an instant — girls pushing themselves along on rollerblades, toned legs moving rhythmically, dodging dogs and children and grandparents.

“Need a refill?”

I looked up to see someone I vaguely recognized and I hoped she wouldn’t be insulted when I couldn’t remember her name. “Sure.” I reached into my pocket for some change.

She took my glass. “It’s on me,” she said. “I’m celebrating.” She turned and headed over to the beer window. I watched her walk and she seemed more familiar from that angle, as if she had walked away from me many times before. When she reached the line at the beer window she glanced back and caught me watching at her.

I wanted to inspect her as she returned, to see if that rang any bells, but that would have been difficult. Instead I looked out over the city spread below.

“Here you go,” she said, handing me my beer. “They raised the price this year.”

“I’ll get the next round.”

“Don’t worry about it.” She stood holding her beer, this woman who had been here before, who knew me, waiting for me to say something more. Finally she gave up. She took a sip and said with a beer-foam mustache, “Mind if I join you?”

I joked to cover my impoliteness. “It’ll cost you.”

“I’m sure it will.” She sat, not too close, not too far. “Na zdravi.”

Na zdravi” I raised my glass to hers, careful to make eye contact. Around here, toasting without looking the other in the eye is like a limp handshake. She met my gaze. Her eyes were green with golden flecks, and the corners were crunched just a little bit, like there was a smile just beneath the surface — the punch line to a joke she was enjoying telling.

“Aren’t you going to ask me?”

I hesitated, then remembered. “Celebrating what?”

The smile came a little closer to the surface. “It’s my first anniversary.”

“Ah.” I raised my glass again. “Happy anniversary.” It seemed a strange way to celebrate it, buying beers for guys in the park.

She sipped her beer and looked out on the city of a hundred spires. “This is the second-best bench in the park,” she said.

Whoever she was, she knew her benches, as well. “The lady with the plastic hat had already taken the best one when I got here.”

My benchmate smiled. “She’s back? Good.”

“She’s got a new hat.”

“I hope it’s ugly.”

“She’s outdone herself this year.”

She laughed, took a sip of her beer. “Aren’t you going to ask me?”

I thought for a minute. “Anniversary of what?”

“Of the first time I came up here. It was the first warm day last year. I started down by the river and hiked all over until I found myself up here.”

The first warm day. A sacred day, a day that doesn’t go on the calendar but is universally recognized. Not a national holiday, but a human one. “It’s my favorite day,” I said.

“Mine too. There’s so much promise; the air itself is telling us how wonderful the summer is going to be.”

I sipped. She was right, but it was also the first day I started to feel the summer slip away, sand though my fingers, lost and gone forever.

“You were on the other bench that day.”

“Was I?”

“Yeah. The sun was bright, but you were dark and brooding. You scared me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Then I caught you checking out my butt.”

“Uh…”

“I love it up here. I came back every chance I got, and you were always here, on one of these benches, adding a little darkness to the day.”

My beer was empty. I wanted to go get another, or find any reason to walk away from this conversation, if only for a moment.

“You think too much,” she said.

“Pardon?”

“You think too much. Nothing is simple for you. When you watch the sun rise you think of night, but when the sun goes down, you know the day will follow. You prefer the dark, because only then can you contemplate light without sadness. But still you take pleasure in the simple things, like sitting on a bench on a sunny day. That’s what I like about you, that you can be both happy and sad at the same time.” She took my glass and stood. “Aren’t you going to ask me?”

I looked up at her standing over me, waiting, expectant. “What’s your name?”

The punch line. The smile that used her whole face. “Allison,” she said. “I’ll get another round. It’s our anniversary, after all.”

I followed her with my eyes and I thought of the bright days ahead, and the winter that must surely follow.

My own World Cup scorekeeping system shows that Argentina is a bunch of babies

Just so you know, I use a bit of strong language in this episode. If the use of the word ‘pussy’ to denote ‘someone lacking the personal fortitude to participate in a physical contest of sport’ offends you, well, uh… too late, but maybe you should stop now. I’m going to use it again.

It’s halftime in the game between Norway and Argentina, and I care not at all who wins. But it’s on the TV here in the Little Café Near Home, and I am watching the game because the box with moving colors and sound controls me with substantially more power than it seems to have over other people. I decided as this match started, though, that I would put on my journalist hat and cover this game for you from my own personal angle.

I mentioned in a previous episode that Argentina was a bunch of ankle-grabbing, whining wimps. Tonight I decided to keep score.

Minute 12: The first Argentina player went down. Oh! The agony! Judging by the pain etched into his face, I thought we were facing a career-ending tragedy. Such promise! Such talent! Wasted, years of productive ball-kicking cruelly wrested from this young lion by a horrible injury to… well, that wasn’t exactly clear. While he gasped in pain, the team captain went over to consult with the coach, discussing strategy, I assume. The stretcher came out (more on that later), and after more delay (not sure, but I think he eschewed the stretcher so he could walk to the sidelines much more slowly than the stretcher would have done) he was on the sidelines, standing, while a trainer sprayed chilly stuff on his knee. Oh, man, the knee. That’s the absolute last place you would want to have an injury like that.

Thirty seconds of playing time later, he was back in the match.

Minute uh, let’s call it 15: Another terrifically painful injury, this time to an Argentine wrist, maybe. Not sure, but too horrible to allow the poor guy to stand, at least for a bit. No stretcher was required; play resumed eventually.

Minute 18: Argentine player Rodriguez was tackled hard but cleanly. He went down and rolled over, holding his ankle. No whistle. He looked around and hopped back up to his feet. Whew! Another horrible injury narrowly averted. (As I edit this at minute 55 the exact same thing happened again.)

And so it went. Twice a Netherlands player took all of five seconds to get up after a rough tackle. There were more Argentine-on-the-grass incidents as the half progressed, but in documenting the first ones I managed to forget the rest I had carefully catalogued in my sieve-like brain. It doesn’t matter; you get the idea.

Argentina may be the best team in this tournament, but they are also the perfect example of why this game will not work in the US as it’s currently played. For the Argentines, being a little pussy and rolling on the grass, crying to the ref for redress, is good strategy. For Americans, it’s just acting like a pussy. In hockey, you don’t have stretchers coming out just so players can’t delay the game as much by grabbing a body part and crying like babies. In hockey, the harder someone hits you, the more important it is to get up and skate like nothing happened. I haven’t watched that many games this cup, but I’ve only seen one player bleeding. He kept playing, got stitches at the half, and came right back out. He was on the US team. (In hockey, they do the sutures on the bench, between shifts.)

Soccer is the ball sport with no balls, at least when Argentina is playing. It’s crazy, because they really might be the most skilled team in the cup. They don’t need to pull this kind of crap. But they do. You know why? It’s who they are.

***
As a coda to this, I have to add that I have seen an increasing tendency in American sport for the players to go begging to the refs for a call. — this just in! Minute 61: Man, I think that guy is done for. He’s in agony! Oh, wait. He’s OK. Back to the diatribe — They don’t pretend to be hurt, it’s more of a big-mouth self-advocacy thing. Still thoroughly distasteful. These little prima donna bitches that play sports for big money seem to think they are entitled to a call, especially in the US — so don’t for a minute think I’m letting the American Whiners off with this assessment of soccer. My heroes are the ones who are a solid bruise the day after the game, but during the contest they gave nothing away. I like the guys who get their uniforms dirty during warmup.

Minute 66: A Nederlander took 15 seconds to rise from the turf. I think his thigh was stepped on, but I’m not sure.

Distasteful. I was disappointed to see players in the world cup (somehow I still associate soccer with class) performing premeditated ceremonies after a goal. Tacky, tacky. tacky. Class players cheer — they have every right to be happy, and I wouldn’t take that from them — they hug the guys who all helped create the opportunity, they thank the fans, and they go back to doing their jobs. Now, doing one’s job in sports has become a marketing opportunity, and you have elementary school kids working on their touchdown dances. Crass, lame, and shameful. My message to the kid wearing pads for the first time is the same as my message to the members of perhaps the best side in soccer. Play the game.

Play the game.

Well, THAT wasn’t the response I was hoping for…

A couple days ago, I dropped a line to Miss Snark. (Miss Snark is a literary agent who, with her own snarky and anonymous voice, answers all the stupid and neurotic questions that writers have about the business.) I had picked up a couple of comments here and there that writers living outside the US are more difficult for an agent to represent. More difficult means, of course, that the other manuscript that is almost as good gets promoted. So I dropped her a question about how early on I should mention that the difficulties cited don’t apply so much to me, as, really, there is nothing whatsoever preventing me from waking up breathing American oxygen the day after tomorrow.

The reply was less than encouraging.

Here is my question:

Dear Miss Snark,

Evil Editor made a comment the other day that made one of those question marks pop up over my head. I managed to get rid of it, but they keep coming back (usually late at night, keeping me awake with their eery luminescence and faint wood-burning smell).

Currently I am living outside the United States. Evil Editor mentioned in passing that he would consider that a strike against an author because the author would not be available to participate in book promotion. I believe you have also mentioned payment headaches when dealing with authors not in the US.

However, I am not only willing to spend time knocking about the US flogging my work, I’m looking forward to it. Also there would be no problem paying me in dollars and I would pay my taxes in the US.

I assume these things aren’t deal killers, but are they worth mentioning in a query letter to an agent?

And, an excerpt of her reply:

I’m going to tell you the honest to dog truth.
I hardly read the stuff that comes in from overseas cause I’m just so unenthusiastic about the headaches associated with a client that far away. You’d have to write something REALLY great to get over that hurdle.

While this is only one agent speaking, she is still 100% of the sample, and I think I have to deal with this. I see a few options:

  • Put a paragraph in my cover letter expressing that I am geographically disconnected and I’ll live in hell if it’ll help my career (I’d have some good literary company there, I think. It’s even more hip than Prague.)
  • Make all initial correspondence reflect a US address. Because it’s always good to start a business relationship with an intentional deception.
  • Move back to the States and live in Mom’s basement
  • Move to the former Soviet republic of Georgia, and hope they don’t look at the address too closely, or wonder about all those stamps on the SASE.

I’m leaning toward that last option, myself. I could pepper my correspondence with y’all’s and references to Waffle House and whatnot, to reinforce the impression without actually lying. Plus, I hear they have nice beaches there.

Where are you from?

It’s a simple enough question, and most people have a ready answer. In general, the question could be rephrased “where do you call home?” During my childhood years through college, the answer was Los Alamos, New Mexico. Once I moved out to the west coast, I gradually changed from being from New Mexico to being from California. (This was partly a pragmatic move, as telling people I’m from New Mexico will confuse some folks, and there’s no explaininig it because they don’t even know they’re confused. So, I was from San Diego, unless the person asking also lived there, in which case the question can usually be phrased “where did you live before you moved to California?” In my generation at least, there proportion of native Californians to emmigrants is tiny. Everyone is from somewhere else. The fact I actually was born in California just adds to the ambiguity.

On the homeless tour, as I puttered around the back roads of North America, I usually answered “California” when asked that question, for simplicity’s sake, but as time passed my association of San Diego with home began to fade. Now, I life in Prague, but I am hardly from Prague. Now, when someone asks me where I’m from it can generally be translated to “What part of the US did you come from?” (People can guess my nationality quite easily. Shorts, facial hair, bad at speaking the local tongue: American.) Generally I answer California, because it has a semi-mythic image here, a strange paradise of palm trees, movie stars, beaches, and violent crime. Sometimes I say New Mexico, however, and generally people know where it is, even if they have no image to associate with it. It is a squarish area on the map, and is likely desert because it is next to Arizona, and probably has cowboys because it is next to Texas.

When I got back from Spain I let out a deep sigh and said, “it’s good to be home.” But what did I mean by that?

Trying to come up with non-fiction markets

I’ve been trying to think of ways to sell the sort of writing I do here in the blog (only more polished, of course). I’m not coming up with much. Travel mags in general want articles about fun places, not someone’s experiences in them. They are not looking for what goes by the name “narrative nonfiction”; instead they want descriptions (and photos) of local landmarks and tourist attractions. They don’t care about the pretty bartender in some back alley pub, or my musings on a conversation overheard, or about a man with no nose.

I suppose I could write in a more traditional travel style, but there are lots of people gunning for those gigs (“Paid to travel? Cool!”), and while few of them are very good, that still leaves more than enough to fill the void, people whose style is naturally more matter-of-fact than mine. Articles for those who actually go to the attractions when they visit a place are best written by people who travel the same way, rather than some guy who prefers to hang out in dark and quiet bars and watch the locals.

Magazines and Newspapers often have columnists who are more or less free to ramble, as long as they keep the focus relevant to the readers, which generally means “local”. The only place I’d be able to contribute something like that would be a rag catering to ex-pats in Prague, but in general my “local” is much different than theirs, and when I write about how annoying ex-pats can be, it may not go over very well. Still, it’s something I should look into. Maybe someone’s looking for an irascible voice that will piss people off. The other tricky part about that is that I would have to lead a more interesting life, and write about it with fewer words.

Gonzo Travel Magazine, that’s what I need. Maybe Letters From a Bowling Alley, or perhaps Rock Stacking World. That would be a sweet gig, traveling the world on assignment, hanging out in rocky places, meeting other stackers, and just generally screwing around. Remind me to search Writer’s Market for rock stacking.

Any of you guys have any ideas? Do you know any magazines or newspapers that actually exist that might like this sort of thing?

Meanwhile, one of the waiters here at the Bowling alley is blindfolded. I bet there’s a story there.

The quiet between games

It is quiet in the LIttle Café Near Home right now. Franta has thankfully hung the horn back up on the wall, the music is peaceful, and most of the patrons have gone home. Clouds in the west have hastened twilight, and the weekend streets are quiet. There is a hint of rain in the air, just a little extra something on the breeze that steals in through the open window from time to time. Pretty girls come in, buy cigarettes, and leave again.

Ghana beat the Czechs. The US team is about to play Italy. As you read this, you already know what happened (assuming you care at all). Consider this a message from the past, when things known to you were still mysteries. It is a naive message from an innocent time, a time when we suspected the US team was a joke, but we weren’t completely sure yet.

Ghana beat the Czechs. Italy must be celebrating as they prepare to meet their North American adversaries. If Italy beats the Americans, they advance. The Czechs will play Italy next, but they will play a man short due to a senseless red card in today’s game. If the US loses to both Italy and Ghana, the Czechs could very easily be eliminated, and Ghana would advance to the next round instead. Now the Czechs really, really need the US to win at least one of their games. That may be asking too much of the Americans.

It is game time, but the music plays on.

The oddest rejection to date

A couple of days ago I sent an essay to a national magazine. It was an account of my time visiting friends in a small town and going with the family to a Little League game on a hot summer afternoon. I’m pretty happy with the piece, so I’ve been sending it to larger magazines, which, as a side effect, tend to pay pretty well (relatively speaking, of course). Within hours of sending the story I had a reply. “That’s not a good sign,” I thought. It didn’t seem like it was enough time for anyone to read it at all.

Well, in fact, someone did read the piece. The message was a polite note from the publisher himself, and said, in part:

Thanks for this submission. It’s a very nicely-written piece, and I enjoyed it. However, it appears to be a fictional piece (although you said it was non-fiction) and we do not publish fiction.

[snip]

I was really anticipating that the trick play was going to work…nice twist.

Nice twist indeed. I’d be proud of that twist if it weren’t for the fact I didn’t make it up. In fairness, the style of the piece is, well, mine, and sometimes when I’m on a roll I can give the world a fairy-tale feeling. My favorite blog episodes are that way. Also, I must confess that I am quite flattered by the italicized “very”. It’s a bit of extra effort on his part for no other purpose than to pay me a compliment. It’s funny how much I cling to those things, these days.

And hang on a sec… was I even rejected? There’s no actual “no” in the message. Perhaps he just wanted clarification and now a check is in the mail.

The message also included a conversational question, so I used the opportunity to send a response assuring him that the piece is entirely non-fiction, but in the two days following he has not responded. I probably should have composed my response more carefully; I have (in my mind, anyway) put myself in an ambiguous position. If I can convince him it’s non-fiction, is he still interested, or does he feel that his readers will think it is fiction in any case? Maybe I can ghost-write an accompanying article with the coach of the team, diagramming the trick play.

Maybe he meant… gah! I have witnessed this phenomenon in the correspondence of other writers; I call it thinking too much. Writers have a lot of time to think, and the imagination to really spin things to preposterous conclusions. It’s our job. If only we could turn this power to the good.

It’s not the heat, it’s… well actually it is the heat

There’s only one thing to do on a hot summer day in Prague. Yes, you guessed it; a day like today is made for sitting in a beer garden on an untrafficed street, well-situated to watch passers-by, ordering a tall, cool pivo, and opening up the ol’ laptop to get some work done. How much work I manage we shall have to wait and see; Prague on a warm day makes for some mighty fine people-wataching. Long women in short dresses; uptight businessmen refreshing their cologne; people with packs and guitar cases strapped to their backs; stroller pushers and shopping cart pullers; inept parallel parkers: guys with purses: a woman whose hair matches her magenta dress and makes it all look good; an old man with his glass of dark beer drifting past, his knobby white legs dangling out beneath his shorts — all these people and more have passed by in the time it took me to write that sentence.

I can see the Cheap Beer Place across the corner of the square from here, and the beer is definitely more expensive here, but the shade is better and there are far fewer cars on this street. It’s much more peaceful.

Until, as I wrote that, two things happened. The old electronic song from the seventies, “Popcorn with Butter” (I think it was called) came on the radio. This is a tune the ex had stuck in her head for the first two years I knew her. Dangerous stuff. Fortunately(?) the song has been completely drowned out by the arrival here on the patio of two more guests, one of whom is American and while not particularly loud is particularly annoying.

To be fair, most (but not all) of the things his is saying are not obnoxious at all, but my ability to turn off the conversations around me has atrophied in the time I’ve been here, since I can’t understand most of the things said around me anyway. Up to now I think most of the other patrons have been German. So now I have to dive in deep, maximum concentration, or put in the earphones. I really don’t want to lose the singing birds and snatches of czech conversation floating by, however.

And now, several minutes later, one of the other patrons has started whistling snatches of “Popcorn with Butter”. Učet, prosím!

Lost: one funny bone

I just read that Piker Press is looking for more of the lighter fare that is their signature. Apparently they’ve had a glut of heavy stuff in their in-boxes lately, despite the arrival of K. K. Brown and his well-written, whimsical stories. So if you have something lighthearted in you, now might be a good chance to give it wings.

I, however, seem to have run out of funny. I’m sure I had some lying around before I headed out to Spain; I suspect Soup Boy swiped it. He was heading off to Budapest when I came back; I bet he spread it around down there, while all the Budapestians slapped his back, exclaiming in broken English, “What a witty American are you!” (On a side note, the Hungarians really like their exclamation points. They even use them on their money.)

Maybe it’s the World Cup. I’ve probably watched as much TV in the last week as I had for the year to date — it’s just unavoidable if I want to go anywhere. TV certainly makes people stupid, perhaps it also makes them less funny. (An easy theory to promote — look how much TV Americans watch, and they’ve entirely lost their sense of humor.)

Or perhaps I, like Samson and his strength, did not realize until too late that all my funny was in my hair. Miss Adventure Delilah’d me, and now I must wait for the flowing tresses to grow back out before I can resume laying people low with the jaw of an ass.

Whatever the cause, I’ll have to find a way around it. “Elephants of Doom” is unfinished, along with two other short stories that are supposed to be humorous. Piker Press could use a chuckle, and Lord knows I need to do my part to address the world humor shortage. (As with all shortages, the Chinese are to blame.)

If you have any extra bit of funny lying around, throw it my way, would you? I’ll be the one in the corner writing about little girls in an orphanage dying of pneumonia while being exploited as slave labor. Whoo!

By request, my analysis of US v CZ

Before the game, it was generally agreed by the people around me that the Czechs were fielding a better team. There was one ding against the local favorites, however: they don’t play well until their backs are against the wall.

Brief game analysis: The US held the ball much of the time; the Czechs were content to let the Americans dick around at midfield all they wanted. When the US boys actually tried to move the ball forward, that was a different story. A very short story, with an unhappy ending.

It may be that the Czechs tried to play down to the US level, but no! The Unites States had the last laugh. Ha ha! No one was going to reach their level, no siree bob! The US team dove so hard for the depths of suck that even Jaques Cousteau blanched (and he’s dead). The US team was hopeless, ineffective, and just plain lame. They sucked so bad the Czechs around me didn’t even bother to taunt me. I think they even felt a little bad for me.

Any questions?

Love Pentagram

All these names are made up, but the people are painfully real, and make me glad I’m a crusty old codger.

Veronika is nutty crazy for Vaclav. Sadly, Vaclav is completely blind to any woman other than Martina, who is committed to Tomas. Finally there is Miki, who seems to alternate between pining for Veronika and Martina. Happy Tomas and Martina! They actually like each other, mutually, and they are one of those ‘cute couples’. This just adds to the anguish of the other three points of the pentagram; the joy of the loving couple is what we all seek. When that lightning smile flashes between the two everyone in the room wants to catch the electricity; I know how good it would feel to be bathed in the warmth of her bright-eyed smile. Anyone would want to feel that.

The other points live in a balance of hope and despair, mistaking the person for the emotion. And I? I watch, quietly, not courting hope, not risking despair.