When you’re staring at the stranger in the mirror, wondering who the fuck you are and how the fuck you got here, you may as well be flossing.
Today on the radio I heard an ad from McDonalds. It went like this: slow down from your hectic life and take a few minutes to wolf down a breakfast at our fast food chain.
To emphasize, we have the flag bearer of food with speed realizing that people aren’t slowing down enough to eat their breakfasts. So now they’re saying, “Hey, slow down, bud! Cut twelve minutes out of your day to have a McGriddle!”
I grew up in a small town, but one of my first visits to a large city carries with it an enduring memory. A man, skinny and bedraggled, on a street corner, shouting obscenities into his hat. I was just a kid back then, and didn’t understand the tragedy that man represented. I was just perplexed. I learned, somehow, later, to be afraid of people like that — maybe the reaction of the people around me that day informed that fear. Which is awful.
Yesterday, walking down the street in San Jose, there was another man standing on a corner shouting into the air, a stream of profanity. I just assumed he was on the phone.
Over there on Facebook, I got an ad for some kind of wedding-related thing. I wasn’t surprised to see it; in retrospect I was surprised that it took four months after changing my Facebook status to “engaged” for an ad like that to show up. Sloppy work, robots!
Oh, and in case you don’t all hang on my Facebook relationship status 24/7, I suppose I should announce here that Sam and I are getting married in December. Woo Hoo!
By now pretty much everything there is to be said about David Bowie has been, but sometimes sorrow, like wine, needs a little time to mature. David Bowie was never my favorite musician, and some of his songs don’t appeal to me much at all. Others, well…
I got Ziggy Stardust on cassette in the Safeway in Socorro, New Mexico, and while I’d heard plenty of Bowie before, and I’d even heard some of the songs on that album, I’d never immersed myself in his music the way I did as I played that tape at high volume while I drove across the desert. Big, buzzy guitars, lyrics that didn’t quite make sense in a poetic sort of way, all wrapped up in showmanship.
Many years later, I wrote a story that opens with a man in a spaceship, floating far above the world, a story I called “Tin Can.” Was I thinking of “Space Oddity” as I wrote it? Not really. But the song was there, part of my science fiction education, a story about loneliness as much as anything else. It’s a vibe that you can find in most of my favorite stories. There’s a little bit of Major Tom in all my favorite heroes.
My guilty pleasure: “China Girl”. I don’t hear that one mentioned in the eulogies that have sprouted up everywhere. Perhaps it just landed at the right time in my life, or perhaps I’m the only one on Earth with the taste and sophistication to appreciate it. That song’s kissin’ cousin, “Let’s Dance,” really doesn’t do much for me.
Recently, semi-accidentally, my sweetie and I watched Labyrinth. It’s… not very good. It sounds like all the dialog was re-recorded in the studio and without any regard for the environment the action was taking place in. Mr. Bowie, well, he does not succeed in rescuing the show. But I’m glad I watched. It was the last time I will experience David Bowie without the knowledge that he is gone, without wondering what he might do next.
And so we move on, flying through space, looking for something, not sure what, that was here a minute ago but doesn’t seem to be where we left it. That’s the hole we didn’t even know David Bowie was filling. He’s still here, of course, but everything he did is now tinged a little blue.
On the way home from work today I got to hear what the V12 Mercedes SL 65 AMG sounds like. It’s a quarter-million dollar car that, despite impressive numbers for power and whatnot, and an equally impressive string of unnecessary letters and numbers in its name, “only” goes 155 mph. (The sound: imagine a hive of bees, except instead of bees it’s full of bears who don’t want to wake up but have to.)
The Santa Clara Valley (aka Silicon Valley) is not the place to get a good cross-section of what America’s driving. Based on a survey here, you might think that Tesla is preparing to challenge Volvo. (Tesla is the government-subsidized overpowered electric vehicle that allows wealthy people to be profligate while fooling themselves into believing they are environmentalists. I call it a watt-guzzler — but I wouldn’t turn one down). Tesla’s sound at a traffic light: sweet blissful silence.
In my time commuting in this area, I’ve stopped saying “Hey! a Maserati!” or “Holy Shit! A Lamborghini!” Top-end BMW’s and Audis are a dime a dozen. I got to check out the new Jaguar F-Type because there’s one that parks at my building. (It sounds… magnificent.) Other Jags, a Lotus or two… you know, the usual.
I’ve only seen one of those million-buck-and-then-some Bugattis, in stop-and-go traffic on the freeway. It wasn’t that impressive.
Not a single damn Viper. Other modern muscle is represented, but not the top shark in the tank. The lack of creature comforts doesn’t play well here, I suppose — although a brief look at the Viper Web site indicates that the interior has been upgraded quite a bit from the old days. Race-inspired my ass. (Although, of the sites I flitted past for ‘research’ on this episode, give Viper credit for having a section dedicated to braking. That’s a huge part of performance.)
Which brings me to wonder: How much of the awesome of these cars is ever experienced? How often are drivers inconvenienced because their V12 wonder-engine can only get their buggy up to 155 mph? I haven’t even taken my Miata up to top speed. In everyday driving, what benefit is that massive motor?
Answer: the sound. Once, walking down the street in a quiet Prague suburb, I heard the unmistakeable sound of an American muscle car, purring like a tiger kitten choking on shots of testosterone. Rubmble-rumble chaka-huh rumble… I turned to see a Coke-bottle Corvette with a vent in the hood, idling down the main street of Strašnice. The driver gently stroked the accelerator and the neighborhood shook with a sound not often heard in Europe. There’s anger in that sound. In Europe they ask “why?” “Because fuck you,” this car answered. I love that sound.
Jaguar has mastered a more civilized version of that sound, and the twelve cylinders under the hood of the Mercedes SL 65 AMG PDQ BYPFD 0I812 produce a pretty satisfying note. You may never drive 160 mph, but your car will tell the rabble around you that you could if you wanted to.
Unless, of course, you’re trapped in traffic with a Bugatti.
It was my first chance to spend the day with my sweetie on her birthday, and it was a big birthday at that. Yesterday my honey turned forty years old, and I was there to help celebrate. We didn’t whoop it up or anything, just let someone else do the cooking, opened up a nice bottle of wine, and watched a movie. We’ll be having a slightly larger celebration when more family is in town.
In the meantime, happy birthday, sweetie! Let’s do that again lots of times!
“How’s the writing going?” People often ask me. “Not bad,” I answer, “but the selling isn’t going so well.” The problem is that I would much rather spend time writing a new story than trying to get someone to pay for a story I’ve already written. What I needed, I decided, was a way to keep track of where each story had been submitted and where next it should go. I had a partial implementation of that in place, but I thought maybe if there was something available at a glance right up there on the wall I’d do a better job keeping up.
Meanwhile, I’m working on a story that starts out with several separate threads that converge. Getting the timing right between the different bits has been a challenge, even with software that lets me rearrange bits easily. I thought to do color-coded post-its that I could rearrange, but first I needed to go out and buy the damn sticky notes. My sweetie was also dubious about the glue marks the sticky notes would leave all over the walls. She suggested a bulletin board.
Naturally I did nothing about these ideas, but last week I went to a friend’s house to mix beer and heavy machinery. When I got back the wall over my desk was adorned with two new features, already mounted on the wall and awaiting my pleasure. What a great surprise! The bulletin board is closer to my desk, as is fitting for its more interactive purpose while I write, while I only have to glance up and to my left to see how I’m progressing with submissions for my current short stories.
As far as the whiteboard goes, the stories listed cover everything from humorous flash horror to non-fiction, but most of the stories will fit at several of the markets listed across the top. Red X’s are rejections. Blue boxes are the markets to submit a story to next. Green dates indicate when I should hear back about a submitted story. As you can see, at this time only two of the eight stories are out there being read, with another awaiting a trip to the post office and another waiting for the reading period at the magazine. That’s two and two halves more than a week ago, so I have to say the system is succeeding so far.
On the bulletin board I have act one of Dark War. The threads are color-coded, and scenes that involve two threads are taped together with the significance to each thread spelled out separately. I will be finishing Dark War up as quickly as possible so I can spend the rest of the time before the World Fantasy Convention getting ready to sell The Monster Within. In the next day or two I’ll be compressing Act One up at the top of the board to make room for Act 2. Considering I’ve already written this damn thing twice, there sure is a lot of work to do.
But however much work there is to do, I have someone at my back who knows the best way to spur me on to greatness is to help me get the tools together to do my job well. That means a lot to me.
I am here on this cruise because my parents thought this would be a great way to celebrate their fifty years of wedded bliss. Last night we had the big celebration at dinner, with all of us as dressed up as we could reasonably get. We got a group portrait taken and we were served a special cake at dinner (after the regular dessert). Good times.
Fifty years they’ve been married. That takes some doing. Earlier in the day I had to smile as we walked down a market street in Kobe; my parents were holding hands.
Congratulations, guys. Here’s to many more years of hand-holding in exotic locations.
A few days back my sweetie and I were at Target on a quest for the propane cartridges that fit our grill. Those are hidden away in the sporting goods section, and while we wandered up and down the aisles looking for them, my better half discovered the exercise gizmo department right next door. Uh, oh. We already work out three days a week, but we wanted to get something to help us on the off days. After some deliberation we decided on the TriCord Total Body Workout Kit. It was inexpensive, and since the TriCord TBWK includes three cords of different resistances, it was a TBWK that the two of us could use at the same time. “I’ll use the low-resistance cord, and you can use the medium,” my sweetie said. Perfect! Home came the TriCord.
The box contained four things: three colored rubber tubes with handles on the ends, and a DVD. The DVD is where the real value is for things like this, providing a routine that fits in a known time and provides a more-or-less complete workout.
Monday day we got into workout clothes, broke out the rubber bands, and popped the DVD into the player for the first time. The intro told us how great the product we already owned was, then introduced us to the workout. There were three people to lead us, arrayed on mats at the edge of a pond in a beautiful Japanese garden. Charles was a big muscly man, the guy whose name appears on the box, and who narrated the DVD. Advanced users, he said, people of strength and virtue, should follow him and use the high-resistance band. To his left, Eve and her large breasts were going to pursue a more aerobic workout with the medium-resistance band.
Then there’s Jim. To the instructor’s right was a graying gentleman, not tall, obviously not a “fitness professional”, just a regular guy. “For you losers out there,” Charles explained, “you fat and worthless wastes of oxygen, here’s Jim. Jim will use the lowest-resistance band and cheat on every exercise to make them easier. He will shrink from exerting himself while he ponders what TV shows he’s missing. We paid him in donuts.” (I don’t think that’s quite exactly what Charles said, but you get the idea.)
The introduction ended; the time had come to work out. I took in hand the green medium-resistance band, emulating Eve and her large breasts. I stretched the band a few times, experimentally. Feeling good. After a few limbering-up exercises it was time to start pulling rubber. Clumsily I assumed the first position and stretched along with Chuck, Eve’s breasts, and Jim. So far, they were all doing pretty much the same thing. We moved on to the next exercise. Most exercises involved combining a body motion, like a lunge, with the pulling action, so that the routine had aerobic and resistance training at the same time. Most of the real work in this routine seems to concentrate on arms and shoulders, so I’m not sure about the “Total” in Total Body Workout Kit. Still, I was starting to break a sweat, and there was a long way to go yet.
Soon I abandoned following Eve and turned my gaze to Jim, the gray-haired beer-drinking slacking cheater. The guy like me. The thing is, after a while Jim was kicking my ass, too. “Four more,” Chuck said gently while soothing music played. I made one more attempt to pull both arms up and gave up. One thing I’ll say for the TriCord TBWK, it keeps you honest. I discovered just how much weaker my left arm is. It’s easy to cheat on exercise machines. Yet there was Jim, swinging his arms up, elbows straight, a bored expression on his face.
In the end, Jim kicked my ass and didn’t break a sweat doing it. To be fair I was using a higher-resistance band, and I didn’t have some big muscly guy standing between me and the beautiful woman exercising with me, so I did score a couple of points toward a moral victory. Still, Jim kicked my ass.
But not for long, folks! I’m gunning for Jim and his wooden expression, his deceptively-toned muscles, and his stomach flatter than mine. Someday, when he least expects it, I will triumph over him, and with the green rubber band, to boot!
It was hot in San Jose last Sunday, that uncomfortable sticky sort of hot that saps the will of strong men. My sweetie, fuego and I were feeling lethargic as we made our plans for the day. Two options presented themselves: go to a movie or go over the hill to Santa Cruz. After some muddling around we chose the latter. We loaded up the fnord and made our way south.
Along with half the city who had the same idea. Traffic was heavy; we came to a full stop on the freeway before we even reached highway 17. Once past the summit things loosened up until we reached the outskirts of Santa Cruz itself. Then is was all stop-and-go, inching our way toward the boardwalk. As we crawled along, however, we noted that it was quite a bit cooler on this side, and there was a fresh breeze to keep things reasonable. Finally, finally we paid the fee and parked in one of the big lots. When we parked we were given a bunch of coupons that pretty much offset the cost of parking.
I felt the stress of the traffic lift from my shoulders as I stood in the parking-lot breeze and wondered if I should have brought more clothing. No matter. It was time to have fun. We sauntered onto the boardwalk and took the lay of the land. The first thing one does at those places is pay, and naturally there were enough options for payment that three indecisive people can spend a long time figuring things out. Finally we elected to go with the unlimited ride wristbands, so we could pay once and stop thinking. The deal included tickets that could be redeemed for arcade tokens. It was without a doubt the right choice.
Wristbands on, we decided it was time to do some rollercoasting. The Santa Cruz Boardwalk (“Voted the best seaside amusement park in the world!”) boasts the venerable Giand Dipper, the sixth-oldest roller coaster in the world (according to them; when I checked on the web it came in 12th). It’s been through a major earthquake that flattened much of downtown Santa Cruz and it’s still going strong.
Despite the fierce traffic to reach the park the lines for the rides were not long. Perhaps we had dithered away so much of the day that many people were wrapping up their visits by the time we got there. In any case it wasn’t long before we were seated in one of the cars.
One of the challenges of roller coaster design is keeping the entire ride interesting. The cars are dragged way up, then go through plunges and gyrations, gradually losing energy. This makes the most intense part of the ride near the beginning. The Giant Dipper does a good job of using the last few feet of drop by using them immediately after you get on the ride, before you go way up. We rolled away from the loading area into a pitch-black tunnel as we twisted and turned. Whoa! I wasn’t expecting that!
Then it was up to the top and over, under, and around. Good fun. Not heart-stopping by modern standards, but a whole lot of fun. We got off the ride and fuego sprang for the photo. Good call, fuego!
Then it was bumper cars, a really lame haunted house, and some arcade fun. The love of my life, it seems, spent some time as an arcade rat. “I hope we can find Addams Family Pinball,” she said. We did. We played. Also we played a lot of head-to-head skeeball and rode some other rides. And more bumper cars. Then there was the Fright Walk, a different haunted house that was way better.
Meanwhile fuego was in touch with our cousin and her husband, who live nearby, about meeting up for drinks and a snack after we were done. “A couple more hours,” he told them once, then three hours later, “it looks like we’re finishing up.” It turned out we weren’t.
Naturally we had to have some of the “food” available. My sweetie had long ago learned that I had never had a deep-fried twinkie, and she was not going to let the opportunity pass. We watched as the guy impaled a twinkie, dipped it in heavy batter, and dropped it in the fryer. Wow. We split a single calorie bomb three ways, and I sampled with strawberry syrup and the traditional chocolate. It was everything I imagined it would be, and then some.
We had finished up with Family Guy pinball and fuego and I were in an air hockey showdown when the announcement came that the park was closing. We had defeated Santa Cruz boardwalk. Hooray us! Tired and happy we made the long trek back to the car, now alone in the vast parking lot, and drove to the brew pub where we were to meet the others. It was closed, but there was a crepe place called “The Crepe Place” that was still open. We sat and had a great time chatting and catching up, then it was time to drive through deserted streets back over the mountains and home.
It was a very good day.
For a couple of weeks now I’ve been living with my sweetie, an arrangement that takes some getting used to for all concerned. It’s also an opportunity. What I do for the next few weeks will likely form patterns that shape the rest of my life. No pressure or anything.
Generally I’m a pretty agreeable guy, not a bad roommate overall, but I can be lazy. I like having someone take care of me, and the love of my life enjoys doing it. Over fifty years, however, that could get old, so I’ve tried to find a couple of things I can do to make life go more smoothly, like drying and putting away the dishes. That one is fun because we’re in the kitchen together, and it’s something that doesn’t have a lot of “you’re doing it wrong!” potential (at least once I figure out where everything goes).
That and I carry stuff. Hm… maybe I need to find a couple more.
Other new habits I’ve inherited. I now work out three times a week. It still seems a little odd to me to stay indoors walking on a treadmill when it’s a nice day for a walk outside, but the exercise excursion is a group thing, which means I actually do it, rather than idly think about what a nice day it would be to take a walk.
Diet has also changed dramatically. Where I would prepare myself a dish, my best friend makes meals, complete with the healthy parts. Friuts consumption is way up, and also leafy greens. Even… broccoli. A while back my girlfriend said, “if I could change one thing about you, it would be to have you like broccoli.” Considering all my other warts, it was pretty generous of her to put that at the top of the list, so I figured I’d give the nasty things another shot. And you know what? Add broccoli to the list of things that should never be cooked. Whoever first cooked the stuff and then did it again knowing the result is a sick individual. I won’t say that the broc is my favorite veggie or that I go out of my way to get the biggest chunks in the salad bowl, but I’ll eat the stuff and know that it’s making me healthier and my sweetheart happier.
Tonight is steak, with other stuff, and a big bowl of salad that we share after the main meal. The salad part is a new tradition that I really like. It’s healthy and fun! Now we just have to break the bad habit of watching tv late and sleeping too late in the mornings. It’s just so nice hanging out together in the evenings, eating salad or other snacks, and enjoying the company.
So here I am, a dish-towel-totin’, broccoli-eatin’ dude, in charge of opening the wine. Don’t worry, though. I still say ‘hefti’ after I belch.