It’s late. I climbed the steps to my rooms and as always scanned ahead for letters. They wait for me on the steps. Tonight as I ascended I caught the flash of white, and I rushed forward. There was an envelope there, artfully stamped. I didn’t have to pick it up to know that a rejection lay within. You get a feeling for that.

The Czechs are a precise people; when there is a lot of bad news they stack it carefully, so at first glance you might mistake disaster for misfortune. There was not just one envelope waiting for me, but three. I haven’t opened any of them yet, but I know what’s inside.

Two Secrets

Back when I played in band, the director passed out very simple arrangements of Bach and guys like that for us to warm up on. They were designed for the purpose, with long sustained notes so that those who were into that kind of thing could check their intonation. Nevertheless, despite their simplicity, when played well they sounded pretty nice.

My hard drive has a directory called “scribbles” cluttered with bits like that, things I wrote to get myself into a certain mood or just to explore a single moment or sketch a character. No big twists or surprises, no character development, just a few paragraphs that develop a feeling. Most of these derelicts aren’t terribly interesting, but now and then I write one that I put in the “slightly better” section of the junk drawer. I think now I’ll take those slightly better bits and put them here instead. Heck, I’m writing them anyway, I may as well get a blog episode out of them once in a while.

For example, here’s one from yesterday. Keep in mind that a polished final work is not the goal of the exercise.

The moment had to come, when the front door clicked shut behind her and she was back in her apartment, alone. The noise from the street outside was distant, only making the silence in the messy room all the more tangible. She stood, one arm holding the other, surveying a place that was no longer a home. It was changed, irrevocably; already the smell of Camel unfiltereds was fading, replaced by something else, something stale and dead.

Jillian had been waiting for this moment, tired of fighting through all the well-intentioned are-you-sure?’s and sympathetic smiles. She was sure — sure she didn’t want to be around any of those people anymore. People who pretended to understand but didn’t have the slightest clue, with their advice and empty assurances, people who couldn’t just shut the fuck up for a moment. Couldn’t they feel anything at all, these people? Couldn’t they see that she just needed some time to think?

She would be leaving soon. The only question was how far she would go. How far would the petty noise of all those people follow her, how far could their voices reach? There was one voice she could never escape, no matter how far she went, the voice she would never hear again.

She took another step into the room. The ash tray on the coffee table was overflowing, around it were empty beer bottles, Chinese take-out containers and pizza boxes. How many arguments had the clutter caused in the last two years? Two years! How had they not killed each other in that time?

Two years, and two secrets. Horrible, dark things, lurking, waiting to destroy. Jillian looked at the mess. Had Carla’s secret been written here all along, spelled out in alcohol and days on the sofa? Had she been slowly dissolving herself right before Jillian’s eyes, until the final act of dissolution was just another step in a long progression? Had Jillian ever truly heard her roommate’s voice, or had she drowned it out with her own?

Now there was only one secret. One secret, with nowhere to go, stripped of meaning, but heavier than ever. How many times had she tried to tell Carla, how many hints and clues had she left, telling her roommate that she loved her? How many nights had she jumped up from the sofa while they shared a blanket, watching a movie and munching popcorn, afraid of what she might do if she stayed? How many nights had she cried alone?

Had Carla been crying, too, on those lonely nights?


Insignificant Programming Note

Due to an administrative error, some votes in the current poll were misdirected to adjacent candidates. There really should be a Florida joke here, but none of them turned out funny. I will use my own voting powers over the next few days to restore the votes that were lost when I fixed things. It’s not like there were that many. In the meantime, you, the faithful electorate are encouraged to continue in the best ballot-stuffing tradition.

As long as I’m doing one of these programming note thingies, I may as well mention the new section over there in the sidebar. It turns out these days that actual strangers and folks we don’t know happen by, and I figured a little orientation might help them get a feel for the place. Plus, a friend and fellow writer recently mentioned that I should brag more, after he read “Serpent”. He said a lot of nice things about that story. So, I’m bragging more, or at least giving people a shot at reading my stuff, as long as it’s out there.

And Hey golly! That’s what the poll is about! I could have sworn I wrote some funny things for Piker Press, but the five candidates in the poll were the best I could come up with. One of those ought to go in the favorites list, just to give perusers a change of pace. But which one? You be the judge!

Miss America is Not the Problem

I am sitting at the Budvar Bar, basking in the glow of writing what might be a really good story. It might not be — a review and edit a few days from now will determine that — but right now I feel good about it. I’m not supposed to be working on short stories right now, but there are going to be days like this.

On the television is the Czech version of Miss America. The Czechs, still being old school, have no problem with the fact that being sexy is an important qualification. They know that people are tuning in to see hot women in small clothes. With that in mind, I considered the Miss America pageant. Its television ratings, apparently, are plummeting, and the event is caught in a hard place where they used to sell it with sex but they’re not allowed to do that anymore. Judging women by their physical appearance is now only done shamefully, in secret. By everyone.

It occurred to me that while the Miss America contest is getting less and less sexy, the US Congress is getting better looking every election. So while we cringe at giving some woman an ultimately meaningless title on the basis of her looks, we will not give a man or woman the power to declare war on another nation unless they look like a professional athlete or a model. It’s not that I care much about the idea of Miss America, I just wish we’d apply that same queasy skepticism where it really mattered.

The Perfect Dodge

I was invited to a party tonight. It promises to be a good one; it’s the 30th birthday of a friend who has been around for a while, and who as a result has plenty of people to invite to a shindig like this one. It’s at a shiny, popular bar somewhere in the center of the city.

I’m not going to go. It’s just not the right day for alcohol, noise, and forced gaiety. As the appointed hour approaches, I find myself sliding in the opposite direction, toward quiet introspection and the gentle melancholy that sometimes heralds better writing. Already I have a short warm-up mood piece I quite like.

Me blowing off a party is hardly noteworthy, but I’m pretty proud of the way I weaseled out of this one. I sent the hostess a message saying, “Would you forgive me for not coming to your party if I bought you lunch next week?” I explained that I was in a write-sad-things sort of groove.

“Perfectly understandable,” she wrote back.

So now I’m off the hook for tonight and I’m meeting a pretty woman for lunch on Monday. That worked out pretty well, I think.


O2 is my internet service provider. It used to be České Telecom, and back when I was dealing with a Czech company, things were working fine. (Note that this is contrary to all logic as we know it.) Now that ČT has been sucked into a giant pan-European company, my service has gone steadily downhill. Most of the time I’m still connected, but there is no DNS. If I happened to know the IP addresses of all the sites I wanted to visit, I’d be fine. (DNS is like a giant automatic phone book that takes text like jerssoftwarehut.com/ and looks up the string of numbers that identifies the correct machine on the Internet.)

In my setup I can enter an alternate IP address for DNS. I’d like to try that to see if it helps, but I’m not sure what to put there. Any of you techno-geek people know the IP of a reliable DNS?

Now if I could only post this…

Free Electricity!

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to share with you the first whacked-out muddled invention of 2007.

My little apartment is heated with radiators; there is a unit hanging on the wall in the bathroom that heats water using natural gas, which it then circulates using an electric pump. The pump is starting to make a lot of noise; it’s only a matter of time before it gives out. While pondering the pump it occurred to me that it was too bad there was no way to use the pressure in the water main to circulate the hot water through the radiators.

In fact, it would be easy to do that, but you would wind up pouring a lot of water down the drain. I had just reinvented the water wheel.

But wait a minute, I thought as I stood in the shower, I already send a lot of water down the drain. Why can’t I make it do a little work for me first?

The easiest thing would be to put a little turbine and generator in the water main, so that it would turn every time I ran water. The downside is that the water pressure for the whole place would be reduced. But we don’t always need the water to be at full pressure — that’s why faucets have variable valves. So what if your faucet had a variable-resistance generator instead of a valve? You would adjust the rate of flow from the faucet by changing the resistance of the generator. You’d get the same control over water flow you do now, but you would be getting a little bit of electrical bonus every time you use water. Woo hoo!

My electro-faucet isn’t quite ready to market yet — I’m still working on the catchy name.