Friday, December 31, 2004


New Year's Eve

So, 2004 ends tonight at midnight.

In general, I have no problem with this at all.

I started off 2004 with food poisoning from a Chinese restaurant. I should have seen the ominous portends in that twelve hours of groaning and puking. But no, I thought it was an isolated incident, not a prologue to the rest of 2004.

By mid-year, when Janell got laid off and my own job prospects weren't turning into anything worth noting, I began to understand the significance of that sweet-and-sour nightmare from six months earlier.

It took five months, but we're comfortable again, back on our feet, focused, energized. And the year is ending, a new one beginning tomorrow. Will I be eating Chinese food in 2005? Possibly, but probably not.

New Year's Resolutions? I have none. I know better. I did it last year. Let's look at last year's short list...

*Publish a book. Hmm. Beyond my control, it turns out. Stupid reality. Stupid publishing industry.

*Capture an albino Bengal tiger. Sigfried and Roy were going to take care of this one for me. You remember how that turned out.

*Shoot The Hobbit before Peter Jackson does. Stupid reality. Stupid film rights industry. Stupid New Zealand and their work visas.

*Drink myself blind with joy when G.W. loses on election night. Well, it wasn't "with joy," but...

*Eat Chinese food until I puke. At least I achieved one resolution, and I did it right away, leaving the year open for the rest of my unreachable resolutions.

For 2005, I'm not only going to avoid setting the bar too high, I'm going to avoid setting the bar AT ALL. This is the year that I'll hold my head up with pride if I so much as sleep in successfully. This is the year that I'll smile when I admit that I lathered and rinsed AND repeated. This is the year I'll call it a watershed moment if I beat my high score on Tetris, return a book I borrowed three years ago to a friend who's forgotten I have it, or improve my Billy Bob Thorton's Sling Blade voice imitation.

This is the year I'll brag about how I finally tossed the eggnog from the fridge, even if it's July when I finally do it. This is the year I'll watch brainless reality TV without guilt or the desire to try out for next season. This is the year I'll admit I'm more Wheel of Fortune than Jeopardy.

Above all, this is the year I resolve to make no resolutions. Except maybe have some Chinese food tomorrow afternoon--sweet-and-sour PORK this time, though. That ought to solve the problem, don't you think?

Thursday, December 30, 2004


Tsunami concluded

Debra sent me some extremely reassuring links and commentaries, all of which indicated that Jakarta was unaffected by the tsunami. Other residents of that area, in fact, have begun to send relief to the hardest-hit regions of Indonesia. As Debra said to me, "I honestly and truly know in my heart that she's fine."

She is.

She sent me an email last night from Jakarta, asking if I'd received her first email on Tuesday? (I hadn't; it arrived about ten minutes after the second one, telling me that there's a server issue on her end for getting emails out.) She's safe, her family is safe, and she's still anticipating flying back to the U.S. this coming weekend.

I called this entry "Tsunami concluded" because I can stop worrying about Hellen... but the disaster in Southeast Asia is far from concluded.

I saw part of the Primetime Live special last night that showed the water sweeping away lives, literally, as it dragged running children down underneath it. I've sent money via CNN (it's right there on their front page, if you want to help), but it feels a million miles from enough. 116,000 dead. My God. It's unfathomable. Try to remember the last time you were at a big concert or a major sporting event. Try to remember looking around and the wave of faces... now multiple that times three, and kill them all at once. Football stadiums filled with dead people.

I hope to see Hellen when she's home next week, just to reassure myself, to draw some comfort from her presence about the horrors unfolding on the other side of our world. It feels like 9/11 to me; it feels like we've all been betrayed by our own planet.

I'll try to write something a little cheerier tomorrow. And I sympathize if you feel a little overwhelmed by the ubiquitous coverage of the tsunami. But even if we turn away from looking at it, I hope we're all thinking about it, if for no other reason than because it only takes one person... one person you care about... one person you value... in the middle of a nightmare like that... to make it REAL for you. It's no longer The Day After Tomorrow or a distressing two minutes at the beginning of ABC World News Tonight. It's a little bit of your own life unraveling while the lives of thousands end across the ocean from us.

And yet it could just as easily have been our own coastline, from Seattle down to Los Angeles, that woke up to a wall of water the day after Christmas. That underwater earthquake could have sent its ripple our way, and those three football stadiums full of bodies could be on this side of the world. Maybe we'd be looking to Southeast Asia for help. Because, in the end, all of us are on this tiny little planet together, and if we don't look out for each other, who will?

Wednesday, December 29, 2004


Tsunami Continued

Still nothing from Hellen. I've contacted CNN, where they're compiling lists of those believed missing. I'll be contacting the local news at the end of the week, if we still haven't heard anything. I don't know that any of it will do any good; my concern for Hellen is just a drop in this ocean of suffering that's ripped through Southeast Asia. What happened to all of us here in the States on 9/11 was vicious; what happened on the other side of the world last week is beyond comprehension. The equivalent of the entire population of my hometown was wiped out in Asia. Last night on the news, I see these flip-book images flickering past my eyes on the TV of bloated bodies in mass graves. I see young women wailing over their dead children. I see stone-eyed survivors, dying of thirst while the ocean laps at their ankles. In all of those faces, I look for Hellen. And while I'm looking, I'm thinking, This is impossible. She's fine. If I go look at my email right now, there's no doubt a letter from her, assuring me of her safety. This is impossible. This doesn't happen to people I know. This should not ever happen to Hellen.

I hang on to the confidence that we'll hear from her, that there's no electricity in Jakarta to power her computer or that she's been so preoccupied with the disaster that she's not checked voicemail or email. Or maybe she's suffering in a different way--maybe she's helping others, or maybe she's lost someone whom she's searching for herself.

If you're the praying kind, please do so--her name is Hellen Widjaja. If you're not, then please send your good thoughts, your karma, your cosmic spirit, your hope winging around the world to wherever she is, would you?

Tuesday, December 28, 2004



Three days ago, Sunday, I wrote to my friend Hellen. She and I worked together at AGP; like Rob, Chris, Mike, Traci, Lisa, and Debra, I've continued a good friendship with her long after I've left the company, and I just saw her a few weeks ago, when I rounded up the AGPers for my annual Christmas game. Hellen is always so gracious--she's soft-spoken and modest, far too classy to be friends with the likes of me. She's one of those people who give me pause when some juvenile bit of slobbering bathroom humor bubbles up in my brain. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson, she's one of those who make us all want to be better people.

Hellen is with her family in Indonesia for Christmas.

I've written to her. I've tried to call her on her cell phone. And I've written again. But so far, I--like hundreds of thousands of people all over the world--just wait.

Over 50,000 dead in all of Southeast Asia. Health officials estimate just as many will die from diesease in the coming days as water supplies and bodies deliver a vile epilogue to those who weren't swept away by the tsunami.

Jakarta, where I'm pretty sure Hellen is, is south of the prime area of devastation. But still, it's hard to draw any comfort from that. She could have been vacationing at the beach; it was Christmas, after all. And Hellen was very much looking forward to going to home, along with her sister, to spend time with her family. To relax.

I've heard from other AGPers--and we're all just waiting.

Monday, December 27, 2004


Christmas photos

A few photos from Christmas... more to come, if my mother will EVER let me take her picture...

BEFORE the eight garbage bags of paper and boxes and ribbons and bows...
Twelve photos like this... and Harrison smiled BETWEEN all of them.
Michelle and Luana came over on Christmas--and smiled DURING the photos, proving once and for all that girls are better than boys, I guess.
Not quite grasping that this is an ANNUAL event, Harrison anticipates more presents tomorrow.

Sunday, December 26, 2004


The Haul the Day After

I noticed something early this morning, the morning you might expect to be tinged with the post-Christmas letdown: I'm not down at all. I have LOOT.

Upon reflection, I realized something. You build up for six weeks to Christmas, and then it's all over in a day. Most of us, whether we admit it or not, start anticipating our birthdays a month or so before it actually arrives. And weddings? Those things take a year to plan out, even the cheapy ones. All of these are events that come with luggage--the "wow, I can't believe it's over" kind of luggage.

And yet these highly anticipated occasions all come with the best possible anti-depressant: PRESENTS. The dragon's hoard you can sit amidst the morning after, in piles or spread out, even sorted the way you used to divvy up your Halloween candy into candy bars, hard candies, and "other" categories.

While I have scores of photos--and I'll restrict myself to posting only one or two this week, I promise--I also have BOOTY. Not that kind of booty; the GIFTS kind of booty. Books and DVDs and CDs and games and clothes and the odd knick-knacks and require explanation to those not as enamored of them. All the TREASURES of Christmas morning, in one pile of avarice.

Really, who could feel blue amidst all that green?

And if for some reason you still don't feel okay--your hoard's not quite the size you'd like, you got clothes when you were hoping for music, you have some sort of Catholic/Jewish/Jehovah's Witness/Mormon/Other guilt about gifts...

Well, the big sales start today, too.

Friday, December 24, 2004


Nutcracker photos!

I can't even begin to comment on my sister's comments to yesterday's blog... if I do, I'll sob. Online. It's a scary thing. She and I will talk tomorrow, and I'll tell her then how much I appreciate what she said and how much she means to me.

Instead... today... the day before Christmas... a few appropriate photos from our Nutcracker experience this week. In addition to the ballet, we acquired an autographed copy of the book, made even more precious to us when we heard from our friend Traci that next year's performance may not include the Maurice Sendak sets.

Tomorrow, Christmas, I'll take the day off from blogging. My mom and step-dad arrive in the afternoon. I see my goddaughters (I'm counting Luana these days) in the mid-morning. And Janell, Harrison, and I will do the classic rip-and-tear in the morning. No pink bunny costumes for Harrison this year (as far as I know), but we'll take lots of photos anyway.

Merry Christmas to all my friends and family, from just down the road in Bothell (Mike Lewis) all the way to Arusha, Tanzania in Africa (Abraham Mushi).

It is through the companionship of others that we learn the definition of who we are... and who we hope to be.


Most men have a well-motivated fear of nutcrackers...
...and most women have a well-motivated fear of giant rats, but they couldn't have children without us!

Thursday, December 23, 2004


Now that I Have My Sister's Attention...

...I knew she would log in to see if I had anything to say on her birthday, but hey--I'm a big brother. I have no obligation to do nice things for her unless it's tinged with that "big brother annoyance factor." I saved it for one more day, and I'm proud to say that she acknowledged this in her comment yesterday.

Because yesterday, my lil sis Tammy turned thirty-six.

And I've now not seen her in almost a year.

We won't be able to see each other this Christmas, and while I've been understanding of the necessity of this, it doesn't mean I'm happy about it. I miss Tammy. You've never met anyone who is wittier in conversation, who is as open about her political and social views, who is as passionate about her passions. When we were younger, we fought ferociously, the classic sibling rivalry thing. But as time has passed, we may not have mellowed, but at least we recognize that the battles are better fought against others more deserving of the grief.

I suppose I don't differentiate her much from the rest of us when I say that she's had some hardships. She's experienced intense loneliness. Long before I lost my dear friend Paul, Tammy lost a dear friend in a car accident, and it changed her fundamentally--she grew up one Christmas night, when the reality that teenagers are not truly immortal came home to her. Her career just won't do what she wants it to do. She has moved thousands of miles in pursuit of a dream that refuses to manifest itself.

But I believe the true difference lies in her persistence. My sister is a fighter. She's an old soldier now; the things that she wants might still be out of reach, but she will not give up, never.

Tammy's always been hard to read; as a family, we're not very emotional most of the time. We're not exactly the Brady Bunch. Hell, we're barely even the Bundys. Janell once observed that we never really say "thank you" to each other for the things we give to or do for each other. It's true--I never noticed it until I started watching for it, but we don't really do it. But Tammy called last night to say "thank you" for the birthday gift I sent her, and in those unexpected moments when we are affectionate, the fact that I've not seen her in a year doesn't seem so painful... and yet even more painful than ever.

Happy Birthday, Tammy. I love you. Thank you for being my sister. I wouldn't even trade you in for Marcia Brady.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004


The Nutcracker, Sets by Maurice Sendak

You may not know Tchaikovsky (except from the periodic Bugs Bunny cartoon or Lexus commercial), and you may not know Hoffman (who wrote the book that the play's based on), but you probably know who Sendak is. Where the Wild Things Are is a classic bit of escapism--especially for those of us who ruled, however briefly, the island of the monsters before we abdicated the throne. Sendak brings the same surreal, weird imagery of big eyes and gnashing teeth to the Pacific Northwest Ballet's production of The Nutrcracker.

Janell and I are off to it today, for the afternoon performance, and it sets in motion my strongest sense that Christmas is near. Nearly every year since we've been together, Janell and I have gone (we missed last year when the season... and Harrison... just overwhelmed us). I was bored the first year and have been bored by other ballet performances since then. Really bored. Throw-myself-out-of-the-balcony bored. but the second year, I was only disinterested. I was engaged the third year; and by the fourth, I was actually excited to go. Now it's a tradition. So, THAT'S how traditions begin: with boredom. Who'd have thought?

Wanna see more? Check out

Tuesday, December 21, 2004



I realized while contemplating today's blog that I rarely talk about Janell. You might've heard a bit about her--she's the one who foolishly hitched her wagon to my horse four-and-a-half years ago. Yet I've talked about Debra and Beverly and Scott and Warren--all worthy people, every one of them, and I know a couple dozen more who are equally deserving. But Janell? Janell deserves better than me, every day, and so this seemed like the right time to make sure I give her the accolades she so deserves.

I've not made a list in a week or two. So, my Janell list. My best list.

*She's beautiful. It goes without saying, but really, shouldn't it ALWAYS be said anyway?

*She creates memories for me--we picked up the word "mahalo" in Hawaii, and though it means "thank you," she made it "our" word by having it mean "hello" as a greeting only we two share.

*She's biting, sarcastic, self-righteous, egotistical, disdainful of the human race, unwilling to suffer fools, dismissive of the world. My God, she's me! No wonder I love her!

*With me... and with our boy... she's tender. She remembers that we are family. She remembers that families are sometimes very small and like a lifeboat on a scary, borderless sea. She steers us, and I believe there's always land even when I can't see it.

*She's ambitious, motivated, hard-working, goal-oriented, loaded with office savvy. My God, she's nothing like me! No wonder I love her!!

*She loves me. Many have not. Many have tried and changed their minds. But she loves me anyway. She never changes her mind about me, even if I change my mind about myself. That's love, the best kind.

I love you, Janell... even if I made you wait over 120 entries to see it written here.

Monday, December 20, 2004


Faithful, to the End

Most everyone I know is faithful to one author or another--those are the authors whose grocery lists we believe would still make interesting reading. The ones who, when the critics rightly trash some unpleasantry they've insisted on publishing, we defend with, "Well, [MY FAVORITE AUTHOR'S] work is still better than most of the garbage being published today."

I have said this numerous times about Stephen King. I've read everything he's ever published, right down to the rambling essays in Entertainment Weekly that sometimes read as if he banged them out while sitting on the toilet, doing a crossword and listening to the radio.

Faithful, I cannot finish.

I'm pretty devoted. I'll undoubtedly try again and again (and maybe even again) to get through it, but let's cut to the chase: this is NOT a Stephen King book. It's a baseball book that happens to be by Stephen King. And another guy, Stewart O'Nan. And I hate the name "Stew." The book's pop culture references are restricted to Boston Red Sox players and trivia, and to be honest, I dont really get it. Maybe you have to just LOVE baseball. Maybe you have to know who Red Sox hitting coach Ron Jackson is (I don't; well, I do now, but I don't care, so I might as well not know).

It's a sad moment when you realize you're actually going to put a book back on the shelf unread. It's a sad moment when you discover that even your literary heroes have their Achilles's heels. It's an even sadder moment when it cost you $26.00 for the hardback to find all this out.

Sunday, December 19, 2004


The Power of the Blog

One thing that most people don't realize: if you're plugged in to the movers and shakers of the tech world, you can really, REALLY make your blog a power tool. Specifically, a drill. Even more specifically, a drill for drilling into people's private lives.

My friend Doug, who's been my friend for 27 years now, works as a security specialist for Cisco Systems. My wife Janell, who's been my wife for 5 years next May, works for the end-all, be-all of tech companies, Microsoft. My mother Irma, who's been my mom for 40 years last November, is--in the word's of Wile E. Coyote--a "soopha-GENius" when it comes to computers.

In other words, between the three of them, they've given me the ability to use MY blog to see through YOUR computer. It's like having a peephole built into my hardware. Now granted, you have to be actually READING my blog for it to work, and as soon as you log off, I can't see your room anymore, but as long as you keep cruising this page, I can watch you like a TV show. In most cases, a sitcom.

To be fair to some of my friends who have since figured out that I can do this, I've included this detector: if the bracketed text below appears in bold-faced red, then I can see you. Right now. So behave yourself.

Bloglar-User (TM) is logged on.

If you see black text, I must not be online; otherwise, if it's red, I'm looking into your office right this minute. So... hi! :)


Case in point: Hi, John and Marge. I can see your office (since I have scan ability, I can't tell if you're on the Mac or the PC, but if I shut off the scan mode, I have a more limited view of your office). For instance, if I rotate view... I can see the mousepad with kittens on it. Cute. That's the one by the Mac. If I scan this way.... Ah, you've added the black metal bookcase, the one to the right of the office door over by the coat tree, since the last time I scanned. Nice. I clicked in one day earlier this month, and there was a guy moving stuff around, and it was the first time I'd gotten a good look at the light blue carpeting you have in here. This office has really come together. I'm not sure that chair you're sitting in really "goes" since it's gray, but overall, it's coming together.

Now, I know what you're thinking, but I promise I've never seen anything I shouldn't. Sometimes if you leave the computer on, I can see the couches out in the formal living room (which I can't see right now, of course, since you're blocking my view while you're sitting at the computer), but I've never seen anything going on out there that you should be worried about either. I've only shut my view mode off once, and that was just because John wasn't quite as dressed as I was comfortable with when he came in to sit at the computer. Other than that...

Well, that's enough for today. My mom's coming out to Seattle for Christmas, and she said she knows how to hook up a digital camera to my view mode so that I can take still photographs of what I see. Here's looking forward to the morning of December 26!

Bye, John and Marge! See you soon... though probably not if you see me first. :)

Bloglar-User (TM) has logged off. Viewpath 14428-621-3412 closed.

Saturday, December 18, 2004


Character Study #3: Scott the Doppelganger

Way back last summer--pre-blog days, even--Janell and I planted a row of hedges along the edge of our front yard. They went in with the best of intentions: we knew a squadron of college-aged boy would soon be moving in next door, and we were building the wall of Jericho with evergreens. The shrubbery equivalent of a line in the sand.

So, Janell's folks came down to help us (her dad Jerry did a healthy chunk of digging; her mom Bonnie's contribution was to caution us that we were about five seconds from hitting a power, water, or phone cable and bringing destruction down on the neighborhood). We dug a trench and put the transplanted hedges down in it.

That trench might as well have been a grave. Those hedges were dead in 72 hours.

Now, I can kill a cactus with nary an effort; Janell, on the other hand, has a certain degree of success in nurturing life that comes from the earth, provided it stays in the earth. (If you're a houseplant destined for *our* house, you'd better say goodbye to your loved ones.) We were mystified that the hedges died, and we offered all those inane rationales that you give when you don't really know what you're talking about. "We didn't get them in the ground fast enough." "They need more watering." "They're buried too close to cables." (Janell's mom's explanation.)

So, that was the end of the transplanted hedge experience. Except for one small thing. Scott.

We bought the hedges from a couple Janell had contacted, Scott and Wendy. Wendy was pregnant at the time with their second child, and Scott was doing some home improvement projects before the summer ended and they had TWO children (which leaves you just enough time to blink twice a day before you need to tend their needs again, as I understand it). One of his projects: replace the hedges, sell the old ones. So, we ambitiously took my Ford Escort wagon up to their place to put these hedges in the back and haul them home.

Take note: TWO of these hedges would fit in my car. There were 15 of them.

Without hesitation, Scott volunteered to put them in the back of his pickup truck and haul them down for us. With equally lack of hesitation, we accepted. It was that or come back 8 times to get them all home.

While hauling scratchy greenery back and forth from earth to truck, Scott and I got to talking. Turns out he was a Star Wars Insider subscriber, which I used to write for (and which I'm still hoping to again--where are you, editor-in-chief Brett Rector?). He knew my work. And if you talk about Star Wars, you can talk about Lord of the Rings, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, and The Matrix, and The Simpsons, and...

And pretty soon, I was inviting Scott in to see some of my Harrison Ford autograph on my Star Wars Insider article and loaning him some VHS tapes, like the Star Wars Holiday Special, that he'd never seen.

That's how it began, way back last summer. I've seen Scott only ONE time since then--I'm not sure I could pick him out of a crowd of guys who were all tall with tight haircuts--but through the wonder of email, we've become friends.

And I'm pretty sure he's my doppelganger.

The conversations between us flow with exceptional ease; the one time we went to lunch, we gabbed like we'd known each other for years. "Did you see...?" "What do you think of...?" "Oh, I gotta tell you about this thing I read...."

I've not met anyone in years who shares so many of like interests with me. Of course, we were both in line for Star Wars on DVD, but the similarities between us go way beyond that singular film series. I ran a list of musicians I really like in a blog once, and Scott had CDs by EACH of them in his truck on the way to work that morning. We've read a bunch of the same books. We share a political conviction (and these days, victimization) about the Presidency, if you insist on calling Bush "President." Of course, we both have kids and forego sleep in hopes of watching an additional hour of movies or TV. Soon, he'll be ready to plow through his TiVoed episodes of Lost and Desperate Housewives, and we'll share theories about both shows when he does.

Next Monday, we're going to lunch for only the second time, and I'll take him the Return of the King DVDs I picked up for him at Best Buy last Tuesday. Like my friends Ethan and Carmen, Scott knows how to find a deal--a week before it came out, he was sending my info about what the various stores and online vendors would be selling it for. Best Buy, he finally determined, had the "best buy" by about 58 cents.

This, we do not share. I'd have bought it blind at Fred Meyer for eight more bucks and never thought twice about it. I'm lucky to have friends like Ethan, Carmen, and Scott, who can guide me away from being the classic stupid consumer.

And like me, the freelance writer, Scott is also an entrepeneur--while he writes exceedingly well, however, his creative line of self-employment isn't the same as mine. He and Wendy run a small business on personalized ornaments and pictures, and he generously sent me one this year. They are adorable, and most certainly worth checking out at

You're down to a week until Christmas as of today, so if you want one, I'm betting you'd better hurry. The trio of bears with Janell's, Harrison's, and my names on their hats is so cute, and it went right onto the tree.

And in the end, Scott is a really, really nice guy. He's friendly and generous, he's open and enthusiastic about the world, he speaks with such honesty and affection about his wife and daughters (he now has two and sleep has become an ancient memory, or so both he and Ethan tell me), and he always has something funny or interesting to share with me. I'm a sloppy correspondent, as most of my friends can attest to; I always feel a little guilty that I, the writer, am behind in answering his latest missive, but he's also always quite understanding about being overwhelmed by the world. I like to believe I'm the same way with people I'm waiting to hear from.

Doppelganger. Or long-lost twin. I'm calling my mom to be sure there's not something she forgot to tell me about my birth...

Friday, December 17, 2004


Reality Check

Five weeks. That's how long it's been since the elections (read: coup d'etat). And unless you're from Washington state, they're probably now off your radar like a fast-sinking ocean liner.

Like I said, unless you're from Washington state. We're still trying to figure out who our next governor's going to be. And the votes of the 28 people in my office alone might be the ones that decide it.

When all the votes were tallied, the Republican candidate, Dino Rossi, had won... by less than 100 votes. Democrat Christine Gregoire called for a recount, two of which are permissible BY LAW.

Machines whirl and machines twirl, and back come the numbers a second time. It's more or less than same--three million people vote and the difference between the votes for the two candidates is about the number of people I invite to my Oscar parties.

Gregoire calls for the second recount, which is to be by hand. The Republicans howl that she should do the "right thing" and concede. With .001 percent difference between them, SHE should give up.

The hand count proceeds. Gregoire's middle finger is symbolically raised to the Republicans.

Now it gets fun. Election officials in King County, where Seattle is (and where Democrats congregate en masse), seem to have some serious organizational problems keeping track of votes or determining what actually qualifies as a vote. If these people were running my daycare, I'd yank my kid in a minute before they let him wander off the playground.

They come up with ballots that were overlooked, lost in the machines, ballots that reflect "voter intent" (when some dipshit somehow misses the instructions that are in 24-point bold type, all caps at the top of every page). The court cases have been flying this week. Out of this veritable train wreck has come the revelation that--surprise!--a bunch of votes that were cast legitmately and correctly weren't counted because the voter's signatures couldn't be found on file.

These last ones, they should be counted with contest. Yet the Republicans are digging their heels in. If it wasn't counted before, they argue, don't count it now; they know that new votes from King County are very likely to be Gregoire votes, and with the difference in votes being the number of customers at Pizza Hut on a good night, they don't want to take any chances. They boo-hoo to the media that the election is being "stolen" from them, that it's "rigged."

Shades of Florida 2000, huh? Jeb Bush down there, counting those votes oh-so-carefully for his brother. And Washington's electoral joke still doesn't hold a candle to the Ohio precinct that had roughly 600 registered voters but that somehow still tabulated some 6000 votes in the Presidential election, most of them for Bush. Let's remember that Ohio gave Bush another four years as narcissistic miliataristic dictator. And Kerry conceded before we could get the reality check on Ohio cashed.

If only he'd raised his middle finger, too.

Thursday, December 16, 2004


And Yet the World Keeps Turning...

Christmas can be an illusion, the fog wrapped around the aftermath of a tragic wreck.

Bows and pretty paper, the allure of what's inside a box with your name on it, flickering lights on a tree, even an undisturbed fall of snow, these cannot always fulfill the promise our culture has told us they can.

They cannot heal the heartbreak of a romance that's ending.

I have a friend whose world is upside down right now. She's in the midst of loss while everyone around her is looking for the Scotch tape and stopping by the Hallmark store for that forgotten Christmas card.

And yet she soldiers on. And the world keeps turning, the time keeps passing, and in ten days, Christmas 2004 will have passed. Life will no longer turn on gift exchanges, and time will, in essence, slow down. Just a little. Just enough to breathe.

She knows I'm here, if she needs me, regardless of the time of year. I remember having my heart broken and discovering that time is relentless, that holidays don't get delayed to give you the chance to deal. In fact, I promised myself back then never to forget what it feels like to lose someone you really, really wanted--empathy is the greatest means of understanding we have. So, if she needs it, there's a guest room and a new fireplace and an unopened bottle of wine just waiting for her.

We can even sit around the Christmas tree and let that illusionary fog surround us, at least long enough to forget hearbreak for one evening.

I'll even put a bow on it, and we can call empathy and forgetting it a gift. It's the best one I have to give under these circumstances.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004


Christmas in Seattle... and Car Problems

No, it's not a recent photo, but it got your attention, didn't it?

I rolled my old Ford Escort Pony back in 1994. Three flips down Interstate-72 at 70 miles an hour. Whee. A carnival ride without cotton candy... or fun... or assurance of survival....

I revisited the memories of that blissful January morning this last week when, in the middle of a torrential Seattle rain--our winter weather from about the beginning of October until the following May--my windshield wipers stopped working.

Next time you're tooling down the highway at 65 and it's even just drizzling, try turning your wipers off for a half-mile. Do it at night (which begins at 4 P.M. here), and watch the pretty, pretty prisms of light that the reflecting headlights make as they BLIND YOU because the water doesn't get removed from your windshield. Try to guess where the edge of the road is; even those white reflectors that make you think you have a flat when you run over them are tough to see. You turn into Stevie Wonder driving himself home from work.

I rolled my Ford Escort Wagon (my replacement for the shattered Pony) into the dealership near work to have the wipers looked at. Four hundred bucks later, they still barely work--I'm pretty sure they broke something while "fixing" them, since Brooks, the "team lead" who serves as liaison between pissed-off customers and half-witted mechanics, insisted that NOW I had a broken ball-joint in the wipers. Another hundred fifty dollars, he said jovially... as if I'd just schedule that for tomorrow, Brooks. Roll it right in. Break something else while you're at it--it's a nine-year-old Ford. Ford. Fixed-Or-Repaired Daily. If something else is no longer performing "at top-notch quality" (yes, he said that to me about my car, the one Janell affectionately calls the Mocha Turd), it undoubtedly should be repaired post-haste.

Or I could just start a new impression while driving. How about Ray Charles?

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


More Christmas Photos!

Every year, I add a few more buildings to my Disney Christmas village. Just a few. Roger Rabbit's Toontown House here, Geppetto's Toyshop there. It always seems to me that it's incomplete, that it's still a work in progress.

Except I added 13 buildings this last calendar year, and it occupied an eight-foot-long table.

Clearly, I need a new hobby... or a bigger living room. Let's go with the bigger living room.

Nightmare Before Christmas, Toontown, Disneyland, Princess cottages, and Pooh Corner buildings. See how it gets out of hand?

Monday, December 13, 2004


Christmas game, finale

Of the six people--all AGPers or ex-AGPers--who came to play, only Traci had read the blog before arriving. She netted a bonus draw from the deck to choose a different card, but in the end, she was content with the card she had.

While I was checking out, the woman at the counter marveled at the game we were playing, especially when she heard some of the rules and parameters. (Mike, Chris, and Rob threw in together and made a game for me before they arrived--I had to spell out "Seattle" and either Seahawks, Sonics, or Mariners using the letters in the titles of my purchases. Whoo-whee. Harder than I thought!)

"I wanna work where you guys work," the woman at the checkout said enthusiastically.

Please, lady, I wanted to say. It was as if she just told a bunch of ex-cons, "You make the *bestest* friends in prison, don't you?"

But it led me to a pertinent observation: I really like my old AGP gang.

I made some friends for life at Wizards of the Coast--Mark, Lora, Warren, Beverly, Rick, Carmen--and I had assumed it was the nature of the beast. Gamers tend to congregate. The AGP folks are not gamers; I think I'm the only one of the group, including Debra (who wasn't able to come to the Christmas game), who has ever played D&D or Magic. So, there's obviously something more to friendship than the common bond of a shared activity. And in this case, it extends beyond escape from an unpleasant work environment: only Traci and Hellen are still there. For the most part, they don't hang out together--Chris and Rob have been friends for years, and Mike and Chris share a football obsession, so the three of them still move in the same circles. Yet I speak or exchange email with all of them at least once every two weeks or so. There's something different about each one of them that makes me feel close to them. As far as I can tell, I'll still be friends with each of them ten years from now. And AGP will be such ancient history that using it as a crutch to explain a common bond for friendship will be long past.

In the end, I checked out the gang's stuff, said Happy Holidays to everyone, and most of them had to go, off to their next seasonal activity--shopping, football, wrapping. Hellen gave me a Christmas gift before she left (a DVD I've been wanting and a great set of blown-glass Mickey Mouse ornaments), and then they were off.

I assume much fun was had by all... and I got to make an interesting observation about friendship. Everybody got something they wanted.

Sunday, December 12, 2004


Christmas Game

Today, I'll get together with my former gang from AGP (Mike, Rob, Chris, Traci, Hellen, and Lisa; Debra can't make it today) to Christmas shop for them.

Actually, as is our ritual, *they'll* do the shopping. I'll just hang out in Borders until they're done.

For the last three years, I've taken the gang to a store and cut them loose to shop for a precise dollar amount, one they cannot exceed but that they want to get as close to as possible. The first year, they had a time restriction; the second year, they had the same time restriction (half-an-hour) AND the titles of the things they chose had to collectively contain all five vowels plus Y.

This year, we'll play a variant of last year, but a little harder. I've made a collection of cards. Each one contains a stiuplation for shopping. In turn, each player will draw three of these cards, choose the stipulation he or she feels can best be played, then return the other two cards to the pile. For example, if I drew these three cards...

*One of your items must have a copyright date of 2002.
*None of your items can have the letter E in the title.
*You can choose to keep this card until every other player has selected a card. Then, look at everyone else's cards and choose 1 to steal. That player then draws again.

...I'd go with the last one. More options, right?

The set contains at least one danger card...

*Choose one other player now. Give this card to that player, whos new card is "the titles of your items must collectively include the entire alphabet except for X and Z and one other letter of your choosing." That player now draws cards and chooses one for you.

Oooh, there's a fight forthcoming if someone plays *this* card. :)

It took me about two weeks to latch onto the game and about two hours to actually develop it. Could I have shopped for six people in two hours? Not me. This makes everyone happy... except whoever gets that card above bestowed upon them.

And now the burning question: will any of the people who are coming to play today read this blog before they come and thus gain an advantage over the other players?

If one of you has and you say to me before the game begins, "Nice blog entry today," you'll get a bonus when we play. See? The game's already afoot!

Saturday, December 11, 2004


List: Favorite Christmas Stuff

I'm sure you have your own list, and this is the time of year to think about them. We have two weeks to enjoy this season; if you haven't yet, make your list of favorites, then MAKE a chance to enjoy them. No one will carve that time out for you--you have to do it yourself, or come January, you might feel like the season skipped you by.

*Favorite Christmas movie: A Christmas Story. I had the glasses and the BB-gun obsession as a boy.

*Favorite Christmas TV special: A Charlie Brown Christmas. Remember when CBS "Special Presentation" Christmas cartoons opened with that horn-and-percussion graphic of the 3-D letters coming toward you? Charlie Brown takes me right back to that, just waiting for the two hours of cartoon special to begin.

*Favorite Christmas song: No, it's not "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." Man, does that guy need therapy. I like "Run Rudolph Run" by Chuck Berry, or "Winter Wonderland" by Elvis (which ends with the King's trademark rockabilly taking over), or "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" by John Lennon, though only a few times before the message dominates the spirit.

*Favorite Christmas ritual: I can't wait to go see the Pacific Northwest Ballet's rendition of The Nutcracker. We missed last year (babysitters are as rare as platinum), and I thought about it until June.

*Favorite Christmas treat: Would you drink eggnog in July, even if it hadn't been in someone's fridge for seven months? Doubtful. The taste is exclusively December.

*Favorite Christmas memory: My sister came home on Christmas morning, 1968. I was livid. My dad picked me up from my grandparents, where I'd been THOROUGHLY enjoying my brand-new metal gas station--this was in the era when attendants still simultaneously pumped your gas, checked your oil, cleaned your windshield, and checked your tire pressure, so the station came with dozen little plastic men. I was taken kicking and screaming to the car to go get my mom and newborn sister at St. Mary's Hospital. I'm sure my dad meant it as a Band-Aid when he stopped by our house to let me see the gifts Santa had left. Instead, it was borderline child abuse when I only had two minutes with my new Lionel train set before being whisked back into the car, once again bound for St. Mary's. I remember thinking we weren't going back, that that was it. I'd had a total of 15 minutes max with my gifts, and now Christmas was over. At the age of four, I was able to clearly define "rip-off" for anyone who asked.

My sister was like every other three-day-old baby, I've since figured out--silent, swaddled like burrito, eyes closed, vaguely resembling an eighty-year-old man. I held her in the car for a few minutes, grudgingly but with a certain fascination. Tammy. It wasn't just three of us anymore; we were four now.


But it's my favorite memory anyway. When my sister, who lives a thousand miles from me now, calls or writes, I feel a floodgate moment--I have a thousand things to tell her, from the latest theory I've built around Lost to something I heard on CNN last night to a funny joke someone told me at work. There are those we connect with in a most fundamental way that makes us want to info-dump. The people you call for no reason at all yet talk for an hour. When we call, the conversations always end reluctantly, like there's something left unsaid, one more thing to add. Tammy's one of those. I got such a gift that Christmas, though I've under-appreciated it far too many times since that then.

At the time, it was my worst Christmas memory. A sister? What am I going to do with a sister? Can I trade her for an airport to go with my train and gas station? How about for the farm, the one with the barn and the fences?

But hey, I'd only had four Christmases at that point, right? What did I know?

And now I wouldn't trade her, or that memory, for anything.

Well, maybe for the airport and the farm.

Friday, December 10, 2004


Peachtree Road

I'll come back to the Christmas madness--hell, it's here for two more weeks, right?--but one of those weird, quirky things that I do a lot is latch onto a CD and play it mercilessly through a project. In the two months it took me to bang out the novel Mama, She Done Told Me, I only listened to the Elvis Presley CD, 2nd to None. During the three months I wrote Mad Season, it was Matchbox Twenty's More than You Think You Are.

Getting through this Christmas season, it's Elton John's new one, Peachtree Road.

Elton John is one of those musicians whose every radio release is one I know. All of 'em, even the one from Road to Eldorado. (Anyone else know it?) But his CDs? I only own the greatest hits.

After all, the guy has 43 CDs. Let me say that again. Forty-frickin'-three CDs. That's a heavy load to pick up if you're just getting into someone with earnest. As I am.

I think the CD is great, something I can listen to beginning to end without digging around for the remote to skip a track. I read a review on Amazon in which some South Bend, Indiana dork named "EJ Fan Metrotitle Man" said the CD was second-rate... in part because some of the lines "don't rhyme." Nice to see that literacy and musical criticism is alive and well in the Midwest.

Let's try it from the view of an unjaded reviewer who hasn't listened to 42 other CDs by the same guy.

-- "Weight of the World" is poetic.
--"Porch Swing in Tupelo" is lazy and Southern, a song about Elvis.
--"Answer in the Sky," the radio release, is quite memorable as a tune.
--"Turn the Lights Out When You Leave." I hate country music; I like this country music.
--"My Elusive Drug" is close to forgettable, I think.
--"They Call Her the Cat" is honky-tonk fun, albeit weird.
--"Freaks in Love." I totally get this song. It's the very definition of love.
--"All That I'm Allowed" is a bit overproduced but fine.
--"I Stop and I Breathe" is another poetic song, with some solid vocal work.
--"Too Many Tears" is a "message" song, and man, I get tired of message songs.
--"It's Getting Dark in Here" is sad and sincere. I could do without the background vocals.
--"I Can't Keep This from You" is one of those songs that I'm not quite sure what it's about.

In all, I think it's a CD worth my while; I recommended it to my friend Scott (who shares my myriad passions note for note, as I plan to outline in greater detail in a future blog!!), and he came back with a similar review. I think Scott knows better than I; I'm also looking forward to my friend Mitch's comments, since he knows Elton John pretty well, too.

For samples of ALL of the songs, check out and put "Peachtree Road" in the search engine.

Thursday, December 09, 2004


Mr. Ryan's Neighborhood, Holiday Edition

Won't you be my Christmas neighbor?

If I had a cardigan sweater, this picture would be complete. Or a cup of eggnog. I should be changing my shoes, or talking to the Postman, shouldn't I?

As it is, you can at least see the tree and the newly updated (to gas) fireplace. Thus far, none of us have felt that special Christmas headrush of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Take note the lack of gifts under the tree. This is where *you* come in, right??!

Ho, ho, ho. :)

Wednesday, December 08, 2004



I was writing an article for my high school paper--I was a sophomore, and I'd interviewed the senior class clown for an inane "human interest" story, and I was struggling to make Kenny sound like something other than a complete jerkface who would ultimately drain my tax dollars for a prison cell. It was my dad's birthday; I had a piece of cake beside my typewriter on the dining room table. In the next room, Monday Night Football was inexplicably on TV. No one in my home ever watched football, ever, but it was on just the same.

And then John Lennon was dead.

Howard Cosell told us, during a break in the game. First John was shot and being rushed to the hospital. And then John was gone.

My dad came in and turned off the TV. He was an enormous Beatles fan. He'd turned me on to them when I was just a boy. For his birthday that day, I'd given him the new Lennon album, Double Fantasy. He put it on the turntable in the dining room and we listened. We didn't talk hardly at all. Because John Lennon was dead. Because a friend we never even met had been gunned down.

In the days that passed, we learned it was a fan who did it to him. A fanatic. A guy who'd asked for John's autograph earlier that evening, the last man to have his picture taken with the ex-Beatle, the man who would forever be in the last photo of John taken while he was alive. It would make me cautious about being an open fan to celebrities for the rest of my life--they can't trust us to just be fans when some of our number stalk them or haunt them or hurt them or kill them.

I went to a vigil that next Saturday. It's one of the last things I remember doing with my dad before he and my mom's marriage started that slow-motion disintegration that's really moving at light speed. It was cold in Decatur's Central Park. We gathered in a small crowd, and we observed Yoko Ono's period of silence in honor of her fallen husband.

Twenty-four years later to the day, December 8. I still mourn John. Thinking about his passing makes me look at the corner I seemed to turn, as if his death changed things, just a start, the butterfly effect. Once or twice I've wondered if somehow John's murder contributed to my parents' divorce or the slow separation I've undergone from my dad or my own cautionary approach to being a fan of Ming-Na or Yunjin Kim or Harrison Ford. A stranger dies, but the ripple gets to us all eventually, doesn't it?

The last picture.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004



My company, which makes the Pokemon trading card game, had its Christmas bash tonight.

I suspect I'm one of the few employees who will remember it.

In an upscale restaurant called El Gaucho, the beer and wine did flow. Janell and I had a glass of red wine from the bar, and then someone at our table ordered a NICE bottle of Merlot. The difference between the two was ratpiss and divine nectar.

As Leo Sayer once sang, "There was ham and there was turkey, there was caviar, and long tall of glasse of wine up to yar." To be truthful, food spreads rarely impress me (because I can't really tell the quality difference between a McBurger and a Porterhouse steak without seeing the pricetag first). But this buffet was amazing, elegant, and "Jimmy." (Get it? Jimmy buffet? Let's try to introduce this into the language to describe a good buffet, people!) I had steak and shrimp and scallops and mushrooms that tasted like steak and cheesecake that tasted like... well, cheesecake. But really, really GOOD cheesecake.

By 10:00, most of the room was hammered. That was when the microphone on the stage was finally turned on, and the speeches began. At least two of said speeches were in a language similar to English called "Inebrish." You need another drunk person to interpret for you to get the full gist of it.

They gave us great toys just for coming (a wireless hand-held Nintendo game station that acts sort of as a chat toy, too!), and Janell and I slipped out second, behind one of the VPs, in order to come home to pay Traci for watching Harrison. I think the VP who left had a sitter, too--the ultimate escape hatch.

As Janell was waiting for her coat, two of my teammates, both from the Graphic Design department, approached me one after the other. Rick, squinting at me through eyes that had turned the color of gin, slapped one arm around my shoulder.

"Mike," he said eloquently. "I love ya, man."

Then he was promptly distracted by a lightbulb above the bar and moved away.

Where was that coat-check lady?

Then Ginny came up to me. "I haven't got to talk to you all night," she said. "Is it got or gotten? You're an editor."

"Go with 'been able,'" I said.

She nodded quite seriously. "I just wanted to tell you that I'm so happy you're at the company. I haven't got... been able to gotten to tell you that. Not really. You're a big help to me. You really make my job so much easier."

"It's my pleasure, Ginny," I said. The coat-check woman came back with Janell's coat.

"And I want you to know," she said, leaning in, "that this is not just the wine talking."

It never is.

As the Latin saying goes, "It is well to remember that there are five reasons for drinking: the arrival of a friend; one's present or future thirst; the excellence of the wine; or any other reason." Tonight's Christmas party would most certainly qualify.

Monday, December 06, 2004


Christmas Decor: Part II

Tonight, the rest of the Christmas decorations went up. Sort of.

In isolation, most Christmas ornaments are cute. They're small, too. And they're purchased, at least in my house, without the immediate evaluation of just how many other ornaments I already have.

I now officially have more ornaments in boxes put back in the attic than were actually put on the tree. At least 51% waste.

But rest ye weary gentlefeet, because it's all done. Our great friends Beverly and Rick came over to have dinner and exchange Christmas gifts tonight, and after much merriment (and some freakin' awesome gifts; I don't think I know *anyone* as generous as them, and I know a LOT of people), they headed home, Harrison headed to bed, and Janell and I headed back into the attic. By 11:00, our formal living room had been transformed into a Yuletide wonderland.

We can tear it all down again in three weeks. Ho ho ho.

One final note about Christmas: Beverly told me that each year, she picks one person to show a special time, to give her top gift to, to really indulge. Well, she did it for me this year, and though I was thrilled BEYOND words, I was also puzzled. Why me? What criteria does she use?

"Your blog," she told me. "About me on my birthday. It was the nicest thing anyone has done for me in, like, forever."

(If you want to see it, it's September 14th.)

As I told B, if I'd known being honest in a blog would net me awesome gifts, I'd write something nice about her every week!

That said, I was both surprised and touched that the blog meant that much to her. As she pointed out, people don't really say the nice things they think about each other. Maybe we whisper them in the dark to someone we love, or maybe we hold somebody's hand when they're sick or dying to be sure they know how we feel. But I guess she's right--as a rule, we don't say what we really think of people.

I guess we always assume that they already know.

Beverly and Rick, I love you both. Your devotion and commitment to your friendships is unparalled. Rick always makes a point of confirming when we'll see each other again before he says goodbye. Beverly always outlines her upcoming travel schedules so I'll know when and where to find her. Both of them show infinite patience with Harrison, though they're not "kid" people and everybody but Harrison knows it. Even my cat, Selena, comes out from under whatever rock she's hidden under (the storage space under the stairs, actually) when she hears their voices. She knows good cat people from afar.

And you're both so, so generous. Thank you for the gifts and the time and, most important, the unspoken promise of more years of friendship to come. The material things from you are awesome; the non-material things are even better.

Sunday, December 05, 2004


Christmas Decor: Part I

Ten hours.

That's how long I spent today on Christmas decorations. I went for extra batteries, spare lights, and more extension cords--because God forbid I'd plan in advance for this day--and the local Fred Meyer looked like the opening sequence in Saving Private Ryan. You know the aisle you normally go down to get from the back of the store to the front, the aisle that always seems empty? In Fred Meyer, it's the "Ethnic Food/Aluminum Foil" aisle. Weird combo, but it's usually pretty sparsely populated, so you can roar your cart the width of the store with minimal blockage.

Today, even that aisle had eight carts blockading it. Even Methuselah's mom was shopping for soy sauce.

But Fred Meyer was the healthy breather from today's festivities. Christmas village houses and nutcrackers and more ornaments that a Hallmark warehouse came out of our attic today. You ever break a sweat around your house, doing household things? Neither do I... except today, you'd have thought I ran a marathon.

To Harrison, this was a source of much amusement. Whatever Daddy's up to, I'm going to be up to it, too. Having a two-year-old "help" you move furniture is a Fear Factor challenge. The goldfish Janell bought him today wasn't even sufficient a distraction; setting up a Disney Christmas village with umpteen extension cords and power strips was MUCH more entertaining than a bowl swimmer.

So, after a full day's worth of work, it's all up... except for the ornaments on the tree. The lights are on it, but the ornaments remain in their boxes because exhaustion caught up with us before the joy of decorating could trump it. So, we're leaving that for tomorrow night.

My original plan was to post a photo of the finished living room here--oh, did I mention that all this work was for ONE FRICKIN' ROOM??? Anyway, I didn't get to the photo. You don't want to see pictures of boxes and me looking vaguely like Saddam Hussein right after he came out of the hole in the ground. So, here's hoping for Tuesday's blog to have a photo... unless those ornaments have to be postponed. In which case, I'll get that photo up sometime around December 25.

Saturday, December 04, 2004


Moving Day

My friends Rob and Jackie moved this weekend from their condo into a brand-new 2200 square-foot two-story home. Foregoing actual movers, they recruited 10 friends to come over on a rainy Saturday morning to load (and subsequently unload) all of their material goods.

Now, I've done this before. Dozens of times. It nearly ALWAYS goes badly. You end up standing around while the homeowners pack the last 72 boxes, or someone drops the nineteenth-century armoire that belonged to the wife's great-grandmother, or three guys spend a half-hour trying to figure out how to get a king-sized mattress up a queen-sized stairwell (which is when someone will invariably start quoting the Friends episode where Ross cries "PIVOT!" over and over.)

Rob and Jackie's entire move--the ENTIRE move--took just at 3 hours.

They were packed, down to the last spoon. They had labeled every box. They had the truck on time, they had a plan for filling it with boxes then furniture, they had doughnuts and bottled water. In short, they had a plan.

It was the easiest move I've ever participated in.

I worked inside the truck for most of the morning, so I ended up touching every single thing they own. If anyone ever gets killed in Rob and Jackie's house, I'll be a suspect because my fingerprints are all over everything. My days as stocker at Kroger's, loading and unloading grocery trucks, came back like a bad penny.

The most entertaining moment of the day was when, on the unpacking end, the crew split in two--those inside (with no shoes on), moving boxes at Jackie's direction to the rooms where they belonged, while those outside (yeah, with shoes on) brought the boxes inside or into the garage at Rob's behest.

Mike, one of the outside movers, handed me a box like he was passing drugs.

"Rob says this goes into the loft," he said to me in a low, conspiratorial voice. He glanced over my shoulder. "And he says not to say anything to Jackie."

I shrugged. "Okay."

I took the box and turned around--right into Jackie and her raised eyebrows.

"Garage," she said.

I hesitated. "Uh, Rob said loft."

Rob foolishly picked that moment to step inside to pass along another box to the inside crew.

"This is garage," Jackie said, turning to Rob.

"What is it?" I asked.

"Computer stuff/garbage," they both answered. Guess who said which descriptor.

There was a moment of Old West, High Noon gunslinging as they stared at each other, waiting for resolution. You could hear the spaghetti western music. I stood there thinking, man, this box is kind of heavy.

"Spare bedroom," Jackie finally said.

Rob visibly sagged with relief.

"Is that in the garage?" I asked.

I have a suspicions that this box, which ended up in the spare bedroom with the futon (if you're reading this and wondering where *I* put it, Rob), has some migratory skills. I wouldn't be surprised if it's already taken flight for the winter, headed south, back downstairs, maybe even to the curb next Friday morning when Rabanco Disposal cruises their block in search of moving day treasures.

By the way, a lesson learned from that moment: if you're involved in someone else's moving day, pick one spouse and stick with that person's loading/unloading principles. It may not give you a good blog entry, but it'll spare you the awkward gunslinging moment.

Friday, December 03, 2004


Rupert Boneham Wrote to Me!

Way back before the All-Stars, Rupert was the favorite Survivor player in our house. He's my age; he had the "fat kid" bullies when he was a boy (I had the "skinny kid" bullies, who had timeshares with the fat-kid bullies); he's a Midwest guy from Indianapolis, just a skip across a state line from where I grew up. He seems like the kind of guy who would've played D&D when he was younger.

More important than anything, he was a big, gruff, tenderhearted person. As a counselor from troubled kids, he seemed to know the balance between tough love and gentle comfort. He was the first Survivor player we actually openly rooted for.

So, when Rupert lost the first game, we were crushed. It seemed brutally unfair. When he didn't win All-Stars, we were indignant. It was brutally unfair. When the unexpected "fan favorite" call-in voting netted Rupert a million dollars of his own, we cheered in our living room. It was karma, finally.

When he was voted out that first time, we wrote him a letter to tell him his fan base was out here. He had said in his closing statements that he was so disappointed; he felt like a failure. Janell, with that scary Microsoft access, found his address, and we told him how wonderful we thought he was, that it was just a game and not a reflection of the man, that if we had a million bucks to give to someone, he could have it--his talk about founding Rupert's Kids in Indy sounded noble and worthy of support.

Yesterday, Rupert wrote back.

"Dear Michael,

Thanks for your letter and kind words during my time on Survivor, Pearl Islands. I'm glad you liked Survivor. When I returned from Pearl Islands, I couldn't believe how much mail I had, and I began answering my mail myself. Then I was asked to return on All Stars, and when I returned home the second time, the mail was totally overwhelming. My original letter to you became misplaced in all the chaos after Survivor All Stars.

Laura, Raya, and I have been very busy since Survivor. One of the things that has kept us busy is the starting of Rupert's Kids, a non-profit organization that will provide mentoring and support to young people as they transition into adulthood. On September 14, 2004, we launched our website,

I apologize again for the length of time it has taken me to answer your letter. Michael, I can't believe how many folks have written me that had the same challenges in childhood as you and I. What I have learned is we are who we are and we have to be the best at who and what we are and then give back to others.

I hope you enjoy the picture I've enclosed. Thanks for your support.


Maybe it's a form letter; certainly some of it is. But he wrote back anyway, and that's very, very cool. And I think the man is a great guy who handles his celebrity and money to the benefit of others, and since Ben Affleck and Paris Hilton don't seem to be doing that, that elevates Rupert in my book.

Rupert's Kids has a toll-free number (888-662-9275) if you want to check it out and see if the man's goals deserve your support, too.

Thursday, December 02, 2004



I come home yesterday evening to find a sticker on my front door. UPS has been at the house during the day, trying to deliver packages--you know, those things you order lots of during the holiday season?--and no one was home. So, instead of leaving the boxes, they left the sticker, saying they'd try to deliver again tomorrow, i.e., today.

You know, today... when no one will still be home.

But that's cool--I'll sign the note and have them leave the packages on the front porch. But wait... UPS wants a signature. Huh? Who the hell is sending me packages that necessitate a signature?! I haven't ordered anything that requires a signature, though I have about eight boxes coming from them. Annoying. And just brilliant, this time of year, to demand signatures when people are racing various holiday deadlines. I'm one of them--I need these packages by the weekend.

So, I call UPS on their toll-free number. Twenty minutes later...

"Can I just have them leave the boxes on my porch?" I ask.

"Is the box on the sticker checked that says 'please sign to have packages left'?" the woman with the Southern drawl asks me.


"Then, no, sir. If the driver requires a signature, he can't leave the box."

"See, your driver is trying to deliver between the hours of 9 and 5 on a weekday. When most people have jobs. No one will be here."

"Then you'll have to make other arrangements, sir," she says.

I'm scanning the sticker for a loophole, sure there's one there, when she asks, "Can you have a neighbor receive it?"

"I suppose," I say reluctantly. I'm not too keen to trek next door and ask someone to keep one eye open for my Christmas packages, but I'm starting to feel like my back is to the wall here.

"You can check the box that says 'leave package with neighbor' and the driver will go to the address you indicate," the woman says.

And the little light flashes in my head.

"Will it be the same driver from today?" I ask.

"I can't say for certain, sir," she says. "Possibly not. But if you tell the new driver that a neighbor will sign for it, he'll take it there."

I tell her that's what I'll do, and I hang up. I find a black pen--the same color that the driver filled out the sticker with--and check the box that says "please sign to have packages left." Why, now it would appear that the *driver* checked that box, wouldn't it? Then I switch to a blue pen, flip over the sticker, and sign it, as directed by "the driver" on the other side.

I slap the sticker on my front door again.

The packages were delivered to my front porch today... along with the next "we need your signature" sticker.

Let me see if I can find my black and blue pens....

Wednesday, December 01, 2004



A week ago, Warren packed a truck with most of his material possessions and, with a one-way return plane ticket in hand, drove off cross-country toward St. Louis. His son and daughter both live there; his old gaming community (presumably comprised of mostly men over sixty, his peer group) is there; the storytellers' organization he loves is there. Unlike Seattle, St. Louis might offer him a job, something he wants more than he needs financially and something he needs more than he wants socially. He's closer in St. Louis to the woman he loves. In all, St. Louis has so much to offer him compared to Seattle.

Except I'm here in Seattle.

With his rental truck returned in St. Louis, he flew back for one more night in Seattle, a night to pack the last of his boxes into his car, wipe down the walls in his old apartment, and see a few friends before he headed out on the road again. His intention is to drive cross-country for a few weeks, stopping and seeing various sites along the way. Warren is good at being alone; such a drive will swell his soul.

On his list of things to do before he left: meet me for lunch today.

I special-ordered his Christmas present to be sure it arrived on time--since he'll be doing the tourist thing for the next few weeks, there's no telling where I'll be able to ship it to him before the holiday. When the gift came, I wrapped it in classic Mike manner: excessive amounts of paper and enough tape to hold a commuter plane together. Warren's a no-frills kind of guy, so I dispensed with the bow.

Now, Warren is hard to shop for, especially if you're not breaking new ground. He likes what he likes and *doesn't* like what he doesn't like. No DVDs or CDs for Warren, but if you try to buy his board games or books, you're taking a big risk. I've recommended two books to him over the years; he faithfully took a stab at both of them, and abandoned both after the first chapter. Yet he's read everything by Nora Roberts. Go figure.

But I know his passion for the universe. I based a character on him in one of my books, so strong a part of him is drawn to the stars. So, I found a spectactular book from National Geographic that features photos of the universe as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. A magnificent coffee table book, hardback, full-color. It's a shame such a prize was wrapped by the likes of me.

And this morning, before I called him to arrange where we'd meet for lunch, I wrote him a letter. Just something to tell him how much he's meant to me. We've been friends for almost a decade, and in that time, he's become one of my best friends. You know the ones you treasure the most--they're the ones you fight with and still come back. The ones you tease and then wish you hadn't. The ones who tease you back and stop when you ask them to. The ones you call just to say "hey" and "I saw something on TV I thought you'd think was cool..." The ones you discover you are counting on.

Warren came to stay with me when my first wife left me. Warren praised my work when he thought it was good and criticized it when he thought it was bad, and both opinions made my work better. For all his time as a rough-and-tumble FBI agent, Warren found a center of peace and calm, and he conveyed it to me without hesitation.

"There's so much violence and heartbreak in the world," he said to me once, explaining why certain films and books were on his DO NOT CALL list. "I dont want to see it in my entertainment."

I learned to assess my entertainment as "Rated W: Might be inappropriate for Warren's sensibilities."

I tried to condense a lot of feelings into less than 200 words, a sheet of paper. It surprises me sometimes how such a simplistic concept of love requires reams of paper to convey it. At the bottom, I wrote down all of my contact info--address, phone, cell, emails, everything that he might need to reach me.

And then, waiting to meet him, I had to admit to myself that I don't know when I'll see him again. As much as he loved Seattle while he was here, Warren has more in St. Louis. And with a two-year-old, I don't travel much anymore. I might not see him for years. I might never see him again. My dear friend, who I have spent thousands of hours with over the years, and I might not see him again. I thought about this standing on the street corner, waiting for him to pick me up.

I was resolving to myself that I would reiterate to him over lunch that we MUST make sure we find a way to see each other in times to come when he called on my cell.

"There's too much," he said. "There are more boxes than I had imagined, and I haven't even started the cleaning. And I have to go to the bank, or else things are just going to be a mess when I get to St. Louis."

"I understand," I said. I felt suddenly conspicuous, standing on a windy street corner with a wrapped Christmas gift, as if passers-by could tell in my face that I wouldn't be delivering it. "Do you want to try to get together later toni--?"

"I have hotel reservations," he said. "I have to leave right away."

"Okay," I said.

Even over the wind that made a hollow sound over the mouthpiece of my phone, I could hear him swallow. "I'm sorry," he said.

"It's okay. You have to go."

"I have to go." He was quiet for a moment, then said, "I'll see you later, Mike."

And we hung up.

I went back into my building and took his gift back to my car. I put his letter with it, the one that tried to say all the things I've said here but with a bit more brevity and a bit more polish.

And when I headed out around 4:30 to pick up my son from his daycare, it was already getting dark outside. By then, I figured, Warren was already on the road, driving into the night, maybe even already reaching his first hotel, the first stop on his cross-country journey back to his new home.

I hope he knows tonight that I miss not getting to say goodbye to him, and that I'm just waiting to say hello again.

Bye, Warren.

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