Moving the Blog!

Yesterday I was hacking at some code, fixing a problem with the way the site looks on the Opera browser. I use iBlog right now, a platform with some cool features and some pretty obvious warts. It was designed to work on servers where the blogger had no control over the server at all (say, Apple’s .mac servers), and therefore the way it did some things was… unusual. Without going into too much detail, iBlog does some things that have unpredictable results on some browsers, including the latest Opera. In addition, the company that made it stopped working on it some time ago and even the discussion forums are gone now.

I fixed the most obvious problem, but there were others, and once again I was faced with the choice of spending my time cobbling together the old system or shifting to a more robust platform. Sooner or later I’m going to have to move, so I decided not to spend any more time tweaking this one.

I’ve been looking into various blogging and content management packages, without finding one that matched the features of iBlog. A couple came close, however, and that’s going to have to do. I will be moving to WordPress sometime this spring. I should be able to make it do what I want, as long as I don’t mind getting my hands dirty. Looks like I’ll be learning a bit of php.

Here’s where you come in: I’ve got a test blog up and running, and out of the box it looks… boring. Slick and professional and all that, but not really me. I Browsed through the bazillion other options people have already created and, well, they’re not very good either – either stodgy or designed by illiterates for illiterates. “Oh, you want to read the text? Dang, I never considered that…”

I takes only a glance around here for you to to see that my design skills are no better; but now I’m going to be doing a ground-up redesign of the site, even if I want to keep it looking the same. I have some thoughts about some fairly ambitious things I’d like to try, but before I get carried away I’d like to know what you guys think of the way things look right now. What do you like? What don’t you like? Layout? Colors? Content? Too much in the sidebar? Not enough whatnot?

One idea I just had: a page with links to all my stories, with a way for people to rate them. The favorites would rise to the top. Yeah, I suspect that feature’s not coming soon. But maybe your crazy idea will work! Leave a comment! Go nuts!

I met a guy once

I met a guy once

I met a guy once, a big guy his skin black his teeth white his eyes red his laugh came from deep in his belly, and “who the hell are you?” he asked me.

Relativity is Relative

So I’m writing a story that takes place in the Tincaniverse, a neighborhood of the Science Fiction world that suspends a couple of physical laws because they are inconvenient, while still maintaing a general feeling that science is real. Anyone who writes a story with faster-than-light travel or spaceships with gravity holding people to the decks is playing in this same universe. Everyone knows time travel is sci-fi hooey, but time travel and faster-than-light travel are pretty much the same thing as far as physics is concerned. This is the inconvenient bit that writers and readers would prefer to ignore.

Time travel stories are really tough to do, because the writer is obliged to create an elaborate set of rules to prevent paradoxes. Many writers go for the branching-universe model for time travel, that posits that when you change an event in the past you spawn a branch universe that reflects the change, while there’s still another copy of the universe crashing along as if nothing ever happened. Which means the catastrophe the protagonist went back in time to prevent still happens, just not on his new time line. He’s just blown off his friends to horrible suffering while he goes and has fun with copies of them. Selfish bastard.

Still, time travel makes a good story once in a while. (See “William Ashbless” and “Red Dorakeen”)

Anyway, here I am in the Tincaniverse, thinking about the most poetic way to wrap up a story, and suddenly selective relativity is attractive. Distance and time being synonymous really works in this case. The question is, am I brazen enough to go for it?

Kindle 2 Rocks?

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Hmm… super-high resolution screen, and FREE unfettered internet access anywhere? Add to that books that cost a fraction of what they would on paper. Interesting. Very interesting. Is this one of those geat “writers don’t need stinking publishers anymore, they just need a bit of marketing and good word of mouth”, or is it “good writing will get buried in the noise because the traditional filters between the public and the host of really bad writers has been torn down” or is it “the era of the influential critic”?

Or is it all three?

By the way, the comic is xkcd, which will appeal to geeks of all stripes.

Important things you should know: I get a kickback if you use the link to buy a Kindle. I’ve never even seen a Kindle in real life. Make sure when you buy it that you’re getting a Kindle 2.

Visitor in the Night

I almost didn’t answer the door. There was no one I was interested in seeing on a night like that. When the bell rang I was sitting in front of a fire, contemplating the book I had just completed, while the storm raged outside. Occasionally the warm glow in the room would be interrupted by an electric flash, followed almost instantly by a bone-jarring crash of thunder. But the doorbell rang, and after a brief hesitation I answered.

I opened the door and there she was, a lock of her raven hair stuck to her pale face, glued there by the rain. She was wearing a long jacket but no hat; she was soaked.

“May I come in?” she asked. I stood aside and she brushed past me. “Do you have anything to drink?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said. She followed me into the den, loosening the belt on her coat while she walked. In the doorway she watched as I poured her a drink, then she let her coat slide to the floor. Beneath was lace and not very much of that.

We collided in the middle of the room, a four-legged beast fueled by lust, a tangle of flesh and sweat and breath. Finally we lay on the couch, intertwined, spent.

She got up at last and crossed to where her coat lay on the floor. She pulled out a compact pistol and pointed it at me. “I’m sorry Mr. Jones, but now you must die,” she said.

“My name is Thompkins,” I said. “Jones lives next door.”

“Huh,” she said. She glanced around the room before meeting my eye. “This is awkward.”

Rejected At Last!

I sent a story off to Wierd Tales, a venerable monthly magazine that publishes stories that fit under the broad category ‘horror’. It is the magazine that H.P. Lovecraft published most of his stories in, back in the 1930’s. When I sent off the story I thought publication in that magazine would count as a pro sale for the Science Fiction Writers of America, a group I would like to qualify for someday. Turns out it wouldn’t have counted.

On top of that, after I submitted I had a lot of thoughts about how to make the story better. The thing was, as long as there was a possibility that they would publish the story in its current state, it was a bit of a waste to go editing it.

Time passed. A lot of time. I began to assume that I had been rejected but had somehow missed the notification. Then I heard that the two magazines that publisher puts out (the other one named for Lovecraft) were consolidating into one. One less market for genre writers. Now that their reorganization and shrinkification is complete, I got the rejection I’d been waiting for. Hours later, I have a better story.

On the subject of shrinking markets, one and a half true pro publications have also bit the dust. One is gone completely, the other is going from twelve to six issues annually. That’s the publication that has been kind to me in the past. Tough times. I have a better story, and now I need to find the right place to send it.

A Change in Schedule

So there we were, careening toward our three days of shooting, which were scheduled to be next week. I had run some mildly distressing numbers, and despite some help from a corporate sponsor it looked like we were going to go over budget.

Yesterday I got one of those good news/bad news calls from fuego. The good news: he was going to have enough cash to pitch in enough to pay for the rental of a really good camera. That was encouraging. We’d spent the previous evening trying to figure a way to get one. fuego, it seems, felt even more strongly after reading my blog episode that it would be a real shame to miss the opportunity to look as good as possible on film festival screens. If we get everything else right, it would be a real shame to have a lower-quality product just to save a few bucks. We began planning how to raise a little more cash.

Note: If you or the company you work for would like to sponsor an independent short movie, it’s not too late! Product placement might be tricky, but a mention in the credits would not be a problem. You too can be a patron of the arts! And now back to our regularly scheduled ramble:

So, the call from fuego. The good news, if you will recall, was that he had found a source of money. The bad news was that he was going to have to work for it. He’d been offered a job that would take him from Belgrade to Milan to Monte Carlo over the next couple of weeks, planning and executing a show for Zepter, a company that markets high-end household crap. In typical Zepter fashion, they called him yesterday and asked him to be in Belgrade today. Also in typical Zepter fashion, they offered to fly MaK and Z-Dawg to Monte Carlo so the family could celebrate Z’s first birthday together.

Having the director on set during filming is fairly important, so we immediately began juggling the schedule. fuego gets back about the time Lenka leaves on a trip, and then when she gets back fuego is gone again, and that all adds up to push the schedule a month. Wow. fuego may cancel his second trip, but he’s already paid for it, so it comes down to finding someone to go in his place. Not something we can really plan around.

So, dang. That pushes editing into April. I think we don’t have to worry about the April 17th deadline for Karlovy Vary (which would be a sweet, sweet, place to premiere the film), since the handful of shorts they show seem to go through a different application process. No matter the date, getting it through post-production will be important, if only to let me see it before I head for the states.

Kofola… Isn’t Very Good

Back around 1959 or soon thereafter, the powers that be in the Czech Republic were looking for something to do with some sort of caffeinated byproduct of the coffee roasting process. They turned the problem over to a chemistry lab which developed KOFO syrup. Shortly thereafter Kofola was born, and Eastern Europe rejoiced that their children could also rot their teeth on carbonated sugar water.

Kofola boasts some 14 “natural” ingredients, and while the various references agree on the number, I could find no list stating what all of them were. The Wikipedia article (and the dozen other places that quote Wikipedia without citing it) focuses on things like apple extract, while others mention cardamom and licorice. They are proud to have less sugar than Coca-cola (almost certainly beet sugar in Kofola’s case), and essentially the same amount of caffeine as Coke, which is pretty tame by today’s standards.

According to the boys at Kofola, they are every bit as popular as the American invaders, but in my personal experience I don’t see how that could be true. Maybe it’s a city-country thing. More likely it’s a generational divide, and the people who drink Kofola were the ones who learned to like soda when the western options were limited. Among the people I know, however, Kofola drinkers are rare enough that in my years here I had never tasted Kofola. I decided this was one of the things I had to do before my return to the US.

I went to the corner store to buy a small bottle of the stuff. While I stood scanning the soft drink choices I noticed that the 2-liter bottle was the same price as the 1/2-liter bottle. Hm… I paid my money and hauled the big boy home. After all, if I liked the stuff, I wouldn’t want to regret not getting more for the same price.

I held my anticipation in check, deciding that my first taste of the stuff should be chilled. I wedged the bottle in the freezer next to the carp and waited. Before long I felt tired so I moved the drink from freezer to fridge and went to sleep.

The next morning I was up at the crack of midmorning and ready to try Kofola. I poured a glass, sniffed, swigged. As you might recall from the title of this episode, Kofola isn’t very good. I can also say that it defies description. Anyone who buys into Dr. Pepper’s claim as the most original soft drink in the world has not had Kofola. Perhaps if the communists had asked a kitchen to develop the syrup rather than a chemistry lab things might be different. Perhaps. Perhaps the recipe is “the fourteen things they had a surplus of in 1960.”

Now I have in my refrigerator most of two liters of Kofola (I had a second glass of the stuff to see if it might be one of those flavors that grows on you), and two carp. In the spirit of Communist Czechoslovakia, perhaps I should find a recipe that combines the ingredients I have a surplus of. CArp au Kofola, anyone?

My Walk Home Tonight

I left St. Nicholas (the bar, not the jolly elf) feeling a little bad because while I left more than enough money to cover myself, Brad was there at my invitation and I couldn’t cover for him (despite the money I sponged off fuego earlier). So I left feeling a little shabby (although I did teach one of the Drunken English Girls at the next table about shooting without a flash). I also left with an assurance from the owner that if I ever wanted to shoot a film there it was OK by him.

So, emotions mixed, I exited the friendly space into a chilly Prague evening, complete with light snowfall. Prague is a lady who wears snow well; it softens the stone and gives her the blush of a virgin bride on her wedding night.

It also makes the sidewalks really damn slick. Soon after I left St. Nick’s I reminded myself that when I leave this town, my shoes are not coming with me. Weighing disease and frostbite against injury from falling, I probably would have been safer taking my shoes off and walking barefoot over the icy cobbled sidewalks. Yet shod I stayed, mostly because I was worried about being taken in by the cops as an obvious nutjob. Also, my foot was really starting to hurt.

I crossed the bridge and surprised myself with my ability to navigate to a stop where tram 51 went by. For a while I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. I passed near Tesco, which for me is the disorientation point of the city. I swear that damn place is rotated ninety degrees out of synch with the rest of the space-time continuum.

Anyway, I got to the tram stop and checked the schedule. Tram 51 runs every half-hour, and passes there at :03 and :33. I hadn’t the slightest idea what time it might be, so I pulled out my phone to check. My phone was dead. “Bummer,” I thought. “I don’t know how long I’ll have to wait.” Then I realized an even bigger bummer: My phone was the only way I had to pay for my ride.

I decided to walk up to the next stop, which was a metro station, more to reduce the chance I’d get caught on the tram than to find a way to pay. I was about halfway there when tram 51 rumbled past. It’s a sound that on a quiet night you can hear from a long way off, the kind of sound that ordinarily gives you enough warning that you need to pick up your pace to reach the next stop in time — except that some stops are farther apart than others, and when you get caught in between and your shoes are skis and your foot hurts and it would be just plain stupid to run, that’s when the night tram is sure to go by.

I am home now, safe and sound (although, did I menion my foot hurts?), and once more I can look out at this city in her light veil of snow, and I forget the pain in the ass of getting home. After all, it’s not Prague’s fault my phone died, or that my shoes have super non-grip soles, or even that my foot hurts. I should be thankful they have a tram, even if it didn’t work out for me tonight.

Though, you know, I can’t think of any other city to blame for my foot.

The Red

In Japan, heroes often come in bunches. Take Power Rangers, for instance. Five heroes (almost always five, it seems, though I don’t watch those shows much) dressed in colorful costumes, working together to fight evil across the world (or at least the part of the world that matters). In these groups, one of them is the leader. You can tell at a glance which one it is, even if you’ve never seen the show before, because the leader wears red. When kids play, they argue over which one is “The Red.”

In the film world, when you say “Red” you conjure a different image, but the same feeling of awe. The Red is a camera. I’d heard people talking about it in the past, but as we head toward shooting I’ve heard that name from all sorts of people. The Red is one of those products that Changes Things. Specifically it means that people with budgets only somewhat larger than ours can shoot digital video at cinema quality.

The reasons this camera is so great are mired in technical details at which I generally nod and rub my chin in feigned understanding. “His is one of the older 4K ones,” one person told me while pimping a buddy’s Red. There’s stuff about dynamic range (one of the things that really differentiates film and video, apparently), and a host of other specs. In the end, it comes down to “there’s never been anything that can match this quality for anywhere near the price.” The fact that the Red still seems to be without peer indicates just what sort of breakthrough it represents.

“I know a guy with a Red,” I’ve heard more than once. “Maybe he can give you a deal on the price.” Unfortunately, although the Red represents a breakthrough in price/performance, renting one through normal channels for three days (along with all the gear and tech that goes with it – this thing produces an enormous amount of data) would equal our entire budget. Even getting a price break, it would still take up a lot of cash I’d rather spend on actors and musicians. We’ll use less expensive technology, and it will still exceed the abilities of HD television monitors.

Still, there’s a little part of me that pauses. Might I be saying, a year from now, “That came out so well. The lighting was awesome, the acting was great, the sound full and rich; it’s a pity we didn’t shoot it on a cinema-quality camera.” I answer myself, “when they pay us to do the next one, we’ll use the Red.”

Meet the Staff

I am mentally composing an episode to tell you about how things are going, focussing on two participants you haven’t heard much about yet. Before I did that I thought I should give you a run-down of the major people we’ve suckered into our adventure. As I get permission I’ll provide links to facebook pages and whatnot. (update: Facebooks links are apparently useless to people who are not already friends with that person — as far as I can tell — so I will not be including as many links here as I’d hoped.)

Me — I may not be the most important person on this project but it’s my blog so I’m going first. Plus, I’m the one who started the ball rolling by putting a small amount of money where my mouth was. I am the writer of the original story and a co-aurhor of the screenplay, along with my brother fuego. You already know more about me than probably you want to, so we’ll leave it at that.

fuego — the director. My younger brother and veteran of many major film productions. In fuego’s hands this project quickly escalated far beyond my original expectations. It only made sense that he upped the ante; he’s not in the business to produce crap, and to be worth his time the result of our endeavor has to be something he can show at film festivals with pride. His first message on the subject was titled “Taking over the world.” Not only has he been critical for adapting the story for the screen, he has been able to bring in plenty of film professionals who are between gigs right now. (The entire Prague film business is between gigs.)

Martin — Assistant SomethingOrOther, or maybe Assistant Everything. I met Martin a long time ago because we both spend too much time at Little Café Near Home. Martin knows a lot of film students and has done a good job connecting us with the best of them. He was especially important early on, asking questions I didn’t know to ask and generally thinking things through. When fuego and I asked him for someone to help us negotiate locations, he brought us Lenka.

Lenka — we really need to figure out the right titles for these people. It is because of Lenka that negotiations for locations are going so smoothly, and much more cheaply than we dared hope. When she is given a task she doesn’t schedule it, she does it. After reading the script, she felt strongly that one of our locations wasn’t right, got on the phone and set up another place in half an hour. While we were there for a planning session, she gave me a quick report on how her money-raising efforts were going. I tried not to get too excited, but it had quite simply never occurred to me to go out and ask people for money in exchange for a mention in the credits. “One can maybe do the catering,” she said, “and then pay a little more.” (Note to self: find out what a “media partner” is.)

Soup Boy — Director of Photography and storyboard artist. I’m actually the only one who calls him that, but there you go. Soup Boy is a good guy as well as a talented dude with a camera. He’s got a lot of things going on, so I feel fortunate that he has some time to work with us on this thing. His name will start to show up more and more as we get closer to shooting.

Jakub — Editor. When Soup Boy turned down the “opportunity” to edit our little show, Martin recommended Jakub, his brother, who is apparently tired of editing documentaries for television and would enjoy working on something that’s narrative fiction. He hasn’t been involved much yet, except to answer a few questions here and there, but he’s a good egg and works five minutes’ walk from me, so I’ll be able to pester him to my heart’s content.

We also have a sound guy, Aleš, and sound post-production (important with all the music). One challenge for me: Don’t get all neurotic about the sound after the problems with Pirates. Also we’ve had the invaluable support of Jessica, fuego’s mother-in-law, for casting facilities.

With the team coming together, I’m getting more and more excited about this thing. We have a chance to make something very cool, and not everyone gets an opportunity like that. I’m in over my head, but there are enough people around to lend me some buoyancy. Only a week and a half until we shoot!

A Quiet Day. Too Quiet.

We arranged with family members to borrow a casting studio for today, then sent out word onto the grapevine that we were looking for people. It turns out that perhaps we assumed too much about the grapevine; it seems word didn’t get out as far as we would have liked. We’ve had three people come in so far, and none of the people we were particularly hoping to see. Also, it seems that there’s a commercial casting today. Commercials pay well, especially compared to self-financed short films with artsy airs.

So here I sit in Cine-Jessy, pondering life in general, staring at my navel on occasion, and wishing there was wireless internet here. Still, the three actors we’ve seen were all good in their own ways, all experienced, and there are others who have sent apologies who might also be good. We’ll get there.

* * *

Addendum: just as casting was closing and we were discussing whether to do it again another day, one of the people we were most interested in showed up. So, if we can work things out with him, then at least one of the hig questions is answered.

The Last Bluesman

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Rene Trossman and band in an empty room.

I have in the past complained that for all Prague’s charms, the live music scene isn’t that great. I still think this is the case, so much of the music here is from DJ’s, and not very good DJ’s at that. However, over the last few weeks I’ve seen more live music than I would have thought possible, and discovered some pretty cool venues in the process. (My ‘discovery’ of these places is much like Columbus discovering America. There were quite a few folks who already knew about those places before.)

The evening started with hockey (Sparta won in overtime), and after the game we paused at the French Creperie while the crowds dispersed, then headed over to Mala Strana for the show.

Apparently, it’s February. Apparently, February is an unpredictable month when it comes to putting on shows in Prague. Rene Trossman, whose sweet home is Chicago, normally pulls a good crowd but tonight the joint was d-e-a-d dead. There was one person in the place besides fuego and me, meaning the band outnumbered the audience. They put on a good show, but there just wasn’t the energy in the room that leads to a memorable performance.

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It’s the blues!

I really liked the band, though. Piano (required for our story), upright bass, and a drummer with a minimalist kit who played tight and clean, with occasional flashes of humor — on one song he provided the punctuation at the end by letting go of his sticks. The bass player has the closest look I have seen for one of the roles in Moonlight, but he’s Ukranian, and his voice won’t be convincing audiences he’s from Detroit.

After the first break a few more people showed up (including some of fuego’s long-lost in-laws), but even though the venue was very small, it felt deserted. A pity, but that’s February for you.

Tomorrow we must decide which musician to recruit, and rope that guy in.

The Yellow Line

I haven’t been doing much lately, blog-wise, so I thought I’d dig up something from the past and let folks chew on it. I knew even as I wrote this a while back that it was doomed to never be completed, but it does have a couple of good lines in there. It’s a nice setup, but to be honest I have only the faintest idea what I would do with it if I were to continue it. Also it has profanity. I thought about toning the language down for this audience, but in the end Mr. Michaels lacks some of the social graces, and that’s just part of who he is. In many ways he’s really not very nice.

The Yellow Line

They looked almost human, staring at me through the glass, eyes wide with innocent wonder. To be honest, it kind of pissed me off. I’ve never liked zoos, and this one least of all. I stepped forward, crossing the Yellow Line, and, even though I knew it was against the rules, I reached up and tapped the glass of the enclosure. They retreated, their eyes round, ready to flee but with nowhere to go. I snorted with contempt.

“Step behind the yellow line,” a security guard snapped. “Do not tap the glass. Harassment is a violation—”

“—of zoo regulations,” I finished for him. I’d heard the speech before. I stepped back, behind the line, proving I was no braver than the pathetic cowering things on the other side of the glass. There was one of them, though, that was looking at me funny. I couldn’t tell them apart, not really, but I thought maybe this one was a female. I stared right at her, then, “Raaablablabla!” I screamed, waving my arms wildly and shaking my head violently. Gets them every time. By the time I got my eyeballs straightened out she was long gone.

A security guard appeared at my elbow. “Sir, please come this way.” Behind me there was a faint buzz, indicating that the door into the bowels of the zoo was open to me. I had no choice, in the end. As I stepped through into the underzoo the security guy fell in next to me. His head came up to my shoulder, but he was armed and I wasn’t and that’s how it always was. He’s more afraid of you than you are of him, I reminded myself. According to the nature documentaries I watched as a kid, this is the case even with Grizzly Bears. I must be pretty damn scary.

The hall was narrow, the walls just gray enough to make the whole place depressing. We passed through a heavy steel door into a wider corridor, just as institutional, with more doors on either side. They could make this view of the zoo another exhibit, and people could watch the petty bureaucrats scurry about in their natural habitat. Everyone gave me plenty of space, however; most of them had seen me in those hallways before. One good thing about a bad reputation.

Another turn and I found myself standing in front of the zoo administrator’s door. We waited, the guard and I, and soon the door swung open. I stepped into the cramped office, the security guard waited outside.

It was a small office, cluttered with the accumulation of references, trinkets, and technology that fills the offices of academics everywhere. On the walls were charts showing the anatomies of exotic beasts alternating with images from the locations where those beasts used to live. His eyes strayed often to the vid screen on his desk, monitoring the stream of information and correspondence, all the things he would prefer to be dealing with at the moment.

I sat awkwardly on the stool facing his desk as Axel shook his head sadly. “I thought we had an understanding, Mr. Michaels.”

“We do have an understanding. You’re going to tell me not to cross the line, and I will anyway.”

“Please. This is a zoo. A place of study, a place of learning. It is our goal to provide the best possible conditions for our patrons to encounter other species, creatures they would not have a chance to understand otherwise. To promote understanding, it is important that both the exhibits and the guests have a comfortable and relaxed environment.”

“If I’m so damn disruptive, throw me out. I’ll find my own way home.”

“You know we can’t do that.”

“The fuck you can’t.”

“Mr. Michaels. You are very important to us here at the zoo, but I’m afraid that reasoning with you has been unsuccessful. I am putting you on notice. If you cross the Yellow Line again, you will be punished. If you touch the glass, the punishment will be more severe.”

“Fuck you,” I said. “Fuck you and all your fucking patrons. Now you’ve pissed me off.”

“Mr. Michaels, please. Think about it for a while in your private quarters. There is no reason to be belligerent.”

I forced myself to be calm. Nothing could come of this argument that would do me any good. “All right,” I said.

“I knew you would behave rationally in the end.”

I resisted the urge to kill him.

Back through the tunnels, following the well-worn path. Back to my private quarters. Solitary confinement. “Next time you’re out stealing shit from Earth, get a library,” I said to my unseen watchers. It was not the first time I had made the demand.

I paced and stewed in my little apartment, but finally managed to be calm. I needed to get out of there, but I had no idea what waited outside the zoo. I could speak a little of the local lingo, but there was no way I would be able to fool anyone.

I’d burn that bridge when I came to it, I decided. No way to plan for the complete unknown. The first challenge was to get the hell out of there.

Some time during the night a plan came to me. I smiled in the darkness. One way or another I would soon be free.

Two days later I was put back on public display. I sat, trying to control my breathing, trying not to let my watchers see my increasing agitation. Were there security measures I didn’t know about? Probably.

I watched the forms of the so-called civilized universe file past my living room window, pausing to gawk at me, a steady parade of wide eyes darting from me to the informative signs posted for visitors to learn about the intelligence indigenous to Sol III. Apparently we are considered bellicose and mildly irrational.

When I stood the milling crowd outside went still. I thought I recognized a couple of them, but it was difficult to tell. I chose one of the familiar-looking ones and ran straight at it. At the yellow line I leapt.

The window didn’t break, but my head did.

I regained consciousness in the infirmary, still inside the zoo, still alive. I had failed. I lay strapped to a bed adjusted to my size, in a small room with bare walls. My nose was assaulted by a thousand odors I could not place, the chemical byproducts of a hundred different metabolisms. No doubt my own odor was just as disturbing to the other residents, but I hadn’t asked to be there. My head was bandaged and hurt like hell.

Apparently someone was monitoring my condition because it wasn’t long before a parade of three of my captors came into the room, filling it up. I pulled at the straps but they held me tight. The one I recognized as the zoo vet was the first to speak. “You are fortunate, sir, that our medical technology is advanced so far beyond your own.”

“I suppose that depends on your definition of ‘fortunate’,” I said.

The zoo administrator, the one I called Axel, was the second in the parade. “Mr. Michaels, you are very valuable to us. Your self-destrictive behavior harms us all.”

“That’s the point, asshole,” I said.

“Several of our guests were quite traumatized. Three are still bein
g treated. One almost died.”

“Two almost died,” I said.

“Two? Oh, yes, you mean yourself.”

“One of the two was here voluntarily.”

There was a time when my head jailer would have pressed me, trying to find an explanation for my actions that fit with his definition of rational. Then he would have pointed out that my actions were not rational, with the expectation that I would instantly see reason and stop. Perhaps he had decided that repeating the same discussion was also not rational. “Well. I’d like you to meet Grr’nth Mt’dhe, a very important person.”

I didn’t bother to comment. The last of my guests spoke. “Good sir,” he said, “I’ve come to appeal to you. We need your help.”

“Screw you,” I said.

“Mr. Michaels, please. This is more important than either of us. It is a time to put aside old grudges and fight together for our very survival. Our civilization is under attack, pressed by great hoardes of… barbarians, you might call them. We need someone to lead us, someone who understands these primitive violent impulses.”

I raised my head as far as I could and looked at the alien. “You’re shitting me.”

The other made a wheezing noise and began to blink rapidly, an expression I’d only recently learned was some sort of laughter. “Of course I’m… shitting you.” The others began to laugh as well. “It was a joke,” Important Guy said, in case he misinterpreted my colloquialism.

I put my head back down on the mattress and looked at the gray cieling. “Not bad. I’ll try to spare your life when I break out of here. Wear a white carnation so I can tell it’s you.” It was my turn to laugh in the ensuing shocked silence. “I’m joking,” I said.

The others laughed as well, more from relief than from humor, I expect. Axel became thoughtful. “Wait, were you joking about the killing or the not-killing?”

“So why are you here?” I asked Important Guy.

Grr’nth looked a little uneasy. “The guests who were traumatized,” he said. “It would help them to see that you are all right.”

“I’m not all right.”

The vet spoke. “I can assure you that the damage to your brain has been fully repaired.”

Grr’nth said, “I’m sure you’ll agree that the incident reflects poorly on all of us. You are one of the most popular exhibits at our facility, and your actions are often discussed in public forums. Your latest demonstration has put all of us in a delicate position.”

“As delicate as being strapped to a table while your captors stand over you?”

“Some of those who were there that day wish to speak with you. It would be best for all of us if you could reassure them of your well-being. Things might get unpleasant otherwise. Especially for you.”

“Worse than what I’ve already tried to do to myself?”

“Yes. Quite a lot worse. It is quite possible that the survival of your species depends on repairing public opinion about your kind.”

I didn’t have to ask. He wasn’t shitting me.

Scouting for Bluesmen

There is an American-owned bar in town that serves good beer (for a bit more than I like to pay) and has a cozy underground chamber that has live music fairly often. U Malého Glena (roughly, “Little Glen’s Place”) is a very comfortable bar and it turns out Glen is a pretty good guy. Monday fuego and I made the pilgramage to the neighborhood of Malá Strana to scout listen to Stan the Bohemian Blues Man. It was a very good show, and he had that Stratocaster blues sound that I always imagined when working on the story.

While there we also judged whether U Malého Glena would be a good place to shoot the blues concert, but while it had a lot going for it, it is just too small to give us room for the film crew to work. Nice place to hear a concert, though. Our most likely location for that part of the movie remains Blues Sklep, but we would have to shoot during the day. That’s not a real problem as long as the extras can maintain energy. The alternative is to find a place that is available at night and sponsor an actual show. That would be more fun, except maybe for the editor.

I thought it was going to be my last late night out, and fuego had promised his family that the late-night sessions were coming to a close as well. However, talking to Glen before the show (and echoed by the owner of another blues joint in town), we really should listen to one more guy before making a decision. Luckily he is playing at Glen’s Place tonight. By an interesting coincidence, he is already scheduled to play at Blues Sklep the week we would like to shoot. Could we coopt his gig? An interesting thought…