Tuesday, August 31, 2004

 

Noticing

At the McDonald's down the street from where I live, I notice the same shift manager every time I go in. (And if you know me, you know what a sweeping statement this is.) Let me emphasize: Safia is just a shift manager. She's not the frickin' owner.

I couldn't believe how often I was seeing her. So, I ran a little test. I stopped at random times, random days. A Thursday morning. A Sunday night. Middle of the day on Saturday. She is always there.

She's always nice to me, no matter how busy they are. She always asks about Harrison (though she can't remember his name). She is often at a full-tilt run when I see her, back and forth between drive-thru and the main counter. She is probably a little younger than me, a little overweight, definitely looking older around her tired eyes.

Over dinner the other night, Janell and I were talking about being rich. How much is rich? We didn't really settle on a number, but I suggested 5 million ought to do it pretty sweet. And I realized that most of what I want out of life isn't about money. I don't want expensive things. No cars, no fancy clothes, no expensive toys. The stuff I want all costs between $20 and $200, tops. And I'd like to go to Hong Kong and maybe back to Africa. The rest is all about security, not worrying about money, so 5 million might be overkill. So, I'd want to do something meaningful with some of it. Not random charities--I don't trust them to do what they say they'll do with the money.

"I'd keep my eye open as I came across people who I thought deserved it," I said to Janell. "Like Safia at McDonald's. A hundred thousand dollars would change her life, at least for a while."

To be honest, I feel guilty when I pass the people standing at the end of the exit ramp begging for money. But I don't usually give them money. I don't know if I believe their plight, and I'm ashamed to say I resent the begging. But people like Safia, they're trying to make it all come together. As far as I know, she's not asking anyone for anything.

So, I've made a resolution: the day I sell a book and get a check from a publisher, I'm going into McDonald's and giving some of it to Safia. A thank-you for always being nice to me, an acknowledgement of how hard she works, a gratuity for asking about my son every single time I see her. Maybe it won't be a lot of money--I doubt I'll get a lot in the first place. But I'm writing it down here to hold me accountable for a mental promise. She might even have a hard time accepting it, as would make sense coming from someone who works as hard as she does. But I'm pretty persuasive when I want to be. In the end, she'll take it, even if it's from a stranger.

And in truth, I sort of hope there's some stranger out there thinking good things about every single one of us. Just noticing when we're struggling and wishing they could help us, even if they can't right now. But maybe someday.

Man, wouldn't that be something?


Monday, August 30, 2004

 

Epi-blogue: Ninth Week, Ninth List: Great Movies You've Probably Never Seen

I watched a really solid movie not too long ago, a small film with next to no budget but a great premise and a fun style, and it got me to thinking about this era of independent films we live in. With so many people making movies now, it's so easy to miss the good stuff. If Tom Cruise is in it, you’ll read about it in Entertainment Weekly, but word of mouth leads you to the less-popular films, be they new or older. So, a couple of recommendations of films you've probably never seen (and maybe never even heard of!) make up my list this week...

*Interview with the Assassin. An ex-Marine dying of cancer makes a videotaped confession to his neighbor, an unemployed cameraman: the ex-Marine was the second assassin to shoot JFK in November of 1963. Shot like an amateur's documentary, this one sneaks up on you with all sorts of paranoia and conspiracy. You don't have to know anything about the Kennedy assassination to appreciate this sinister little piece. It helps, of course, that I'm a conspiracy nut. (2002)

*The Mosquito Coast. Until he did What Lies Beneath, this was Harrison Ford's "bad guy" role. He plays Allie Fox, an inventor and idealist who gets fed up with modern society and elects to drop out of it, taking his family with him. He creates his own little utopia in Central America, where he then becomes heady with the power to re-create society as he sees fit, playing God with his family and the locals whom he amazes with his city-wisdom. A gripping but tough film to watch. Interesting to note that River Phoenix, playing Ford's son, got his bit in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as a result of his work in this film. (1986)

*Seize the Day. Well, 1986 was apparently a good year for films about men struggling to find their lives again. Robin Williams plays Tommy Wilhelm, a middle-aged man, broke, unemployed, separated from his wife, and willing to do just about anything to simply be accepted and loved again. He seeks out his cold and emotionally abusive father for comfort and support, only to spiral into even greater depths of despair as he finds himself rejected over and over again yet unable to give up hope. Williams can move you with just the quiver of his lip, and this tight little film (based on an equally tight little book by Saul Bellow) will help you better understand some of the more recent roles he's taken on.

*The Road Home. Before she did Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, actress Zhang Ziyi (who is currently appearing in Hero and who has signed on to play the main character in the upcoming Memoirs of a Geisha) gave a solid performance in this 1999 Chinese film. A young businessman returns to his rural home village for the funeral of his father and recalls the tale of how his parents met in his small, isolated community and how his mother fell in love at first sight with the new schoolteacher. Zhang Ziyi plays his mother in flashback, and though the film is quiet and small, it's also romantic and sweet… utterly different from everything else I've recommended this week.

And now the fun part.. reader participation time!

Think of an obscure film you’ve seen that you thought everyone should know about. Doesn't have to have big stars. Doesn't have to be American. Hell, it could be a TV-movie-of-the-week. No genre limits, either. Now think: What was great about it? How did you find it? Why should everyone see it? Once you've thought this all out, leave a comment about it or send me an email and tell me about it, and I'll check out some of them for a future list.

It'll be a Readers' Recommendations Epi-blogue!

Sunday, August 29, 2004

 

88th Avenue: 4

After our dud of a garage sale yesterday--hours of set-up and breakdown for minutes of glory, a capsule version of the Olympics without having to return the medals because of "misjudging"--I was still pulling Harrison's old baby clothes back into the garage when Jim Bomball strolled across the yards.

"You missed it," I said. "Seven hours I do this, Jim, and you finally come when I'm breaking it down."

"Got anything good?" Jim asked; as nice as he is, he lacks a lot of tact. He peered into my garage like an indoor cat hestitating at the front door, taking in the vast outside for the first time.

"No, it's all garbage," I said. "The original copy of the Declaration of Independence hidden in an old cookie jar went for two bucks first thing this morning. Sorry."

"Oh, hell, I'd have given you at least five for it." He picked up a box of sleepers and followed me into the garage. "You know, I don't have a gun. I just said that to Bryan."

I put down my box, didn't look at him as I went back out into the drive. "Yeah?"

"Yeah, really. So, you want me to put this here?"

"Why would you say that to a fifteen-year-old kid?"

Jim tried to suppress an embarrassed grin. "Well, he's fourteen, truth be told and it usually isn't. I hoped he'd go tell his friends at school so the racing would stop. It didn't occur to me that he'd tell the neighbors."

Some people lie with the grace of a politician. And some people lie with the false bravado of a burglar stuck in a chimney while trying to break in, indignant as the firefighters break him out of his brick-and-mortar prison, complaining that shit, man, why don't they make chimneys bigger, save a man from getting trapped like a rat when all he's doing is checking that it's clean? Jim Bomball is the latter.

"I hope that gun you don't have doesn't go off and that we don't hear the sirens when no one on the street doesn't dial 9-1-1," I said.

"I'm just a tired old hippy," Jim said. (I don't know about "tired," but I can confirm the "old hippy" part). "Besides, I couldn't hit the barnside of a broad."

Tires squealed around the corner, maybe a block or two over, but close. I happened to be looking at Jim's face when the sound screeched across the rooftops to us, and for a moment I thought of Frederic March changing from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. Except in Jim's case, he looked more like goofy Gilligan changing into a monstrous madman when Ginger calls out "Fresh fish!"

I wondered how I looked. David Naughton in American Werewolf in London? Agonized but transformed. Snarling pink eyes. I saw that horrifying scene from Pet Sematary again. Little Gage's shoes, full of fresh red two-year-old's blood that had never been spilled until it was all spilled. I felt a dizzying moment of mentally racing through the house, looking for my little two-year-old Harrison with his sweet breath and his soft hands. His little heart beating in his chest so strong and sure, so young, a heart that should be beating many years after my own has stopped. A little heart that could have the life knocked out of it like a cobweb in a strong breeze by the grill of some teenage boy's muscle car.

"I know we don't really know each other all that well," I murmured as he cocked his head and narrowed his eyes, "but I want to tell you something. I won't testify. I don't know anything."

I don't know why I was encouraging him. I know I've been writing this all down. But I know where the delete button is, and then it's all hearsay.

The last echo of tires on the pavement drifted away. As if relieved by the silence again, Jim rolled his head and and sighed.

"Bryan said you mentioned speed bumps," he said.

"Yeah."

"You think those'll work?"

"No."

Jim said, "Me, neither. Know why? We're unincorporated King County. The city won't put them in. I already called. I'll testify to that."

I let him scan through the books from the garage sale. He bought six bucks' worth of old western paperbacks that I tried to read but never enjoyed, effectively doubling what I had made during the previous seven hours. I tossed in a VHS tape he had hovered over, the pilot for the old TV show Have Gun, Will Travel. The irony was just too good not to give it to him for free.


Saturday, August 28, 2004

 

Pros and Cons

So, the day was very yin-yang. Allow me to demostrate, grasshopper... (Can you tell I saw David Carradine in a movie tonight?)

CON: The garage sale was a bust. And not the good kind of bust, either. Janell and I made less than two hundred bucks on the venture, and that was for two of us to sit out in the driveway for seven hours, waiting for non-existent customers to not show up to decide not to buy the stuff we worked so hard last night to get ready for their rejection.

PRO: Watched a movie tonight. Kill Bill Vol. 2 was a satisfying, though notably different, follow-up to Kill Bill Vol. 1. Less blood, more dialogue, a couple of historical inaccuracies (if my source for Shaolin lore is correct) that the average viewer will miss, and lots of well-placed camp. And by the way, Asian chicks with shotguns apparently turn me on. Go figure.

CON: Janell and I are both sore from the manual labor of setting up all that stuff for the garage sale, only to take it all down again (minus two hundred dollars' worth of incidentals). I always thought Manuel Labore was the president of Mexico. Took a nice long shower, though, only to discover I have forgotten most of the words to "Workin' in a Coal Mine."

PRO: As Elton John once sang, "But the sun's been quite kind." (I can remember his songs.) I've not spent much time in the sun in a long, long while. I'd forgotten how it momentarily heals whatever ails you. Presumably, this was NOT the philosophy of anyone who ever died in the desert.

CON: The Republican National Con. It starts day after tomorrow. The BIG CON, in many different senses of the word. We're being conned by the convicts at the convention, which definitely makes this a con, not a pro, in my book.

Of course, I also realize as I write this that I have no idea why we say "pro" and "con" to mean "a positive attribute" and "a negative attribute." What are these short for? Shouldn't they be pro and anti? Uncle and anti? Anti-eater? Anti-Em, Anti-Em, there's no place like home?

Yeah, I know. Today's entry is probably a CON, as far as you're concerned. But frankly, if I had made a few more bucks today, I'd have been more creative. PRObably.

Tomorrow's entry will be CONsiderably better. I PROmise.

Friday, August 27, 2004

 

Denial

Janell and I spent the evening preparing to host a garage sale tomorrow; we hauled boxes in and out of our garage (see, it's not a yard sale--it's a garage sale), we sorted stuff into loose categories, we arranged tables and rearranged the items on those tables.

And then I suddenly lost my focus. Just like that. It didn't swim in and out, testing the watery depths of my memory or my patience. Just, SNAP, and it was gone. Gibberish filled the void. I felt like my eyes should cross of my tongue should loll.

I was standing over a table loaded heavy with various puzzles, board games, and knick-knacks, and Janell was standing beside me with a pen and paper. We were determining pricing of said puzzles, board games, and knick-knacks. Yellow stickers went on the stuff that couldn't be lumped under a global heading for a sign. Janell's hands were full; she had the stickers, too. Mine were empty.

"What do you want to ask for the roleplaying stuff?" she asked. She gestured at the table with her pen.

That was when a thick wad of bubblegum stuck to the underside of my brain, the same pink color so well hidden, blocking rational thought as effectively as a big, fat hockey goalie. One with no teeth. Who's really pissed off, and most certainly in a threatening way.

This probably isn't the first time this has happened to me, but it sort of freaked me out because I think I deliberately forget all the other moments of weakness. I couldn't answer the question. Not right then, anyway. I was totally overwhelmed by the repercussions of such a simple question. What did I want to ask for the roleplaying stuff? What roleplaying stuff? Right, the old D&D books. But the edition's been updated, so is this stuff worth anything? But the game still plays the same. Wait, did she mean the old Everway RPG stuff? Should I have checked eBay first to see if it would move better there? Lord, wouldn't it all do better on eBay? But I'm much too lazy for that much work. I don't want to nickel-and-dime my way across eBay with all this crap. It would be like choosing to be Amish when, dear God, there are faster ways to get into town than horse and buggy.

I looked around at all the unfinished work. Signs that needed to be made. But you can't make the signs without knowing the prices. What prices? I didn't even know what was in some of the boxes near the garage doors. Some dipshit's going to come to my garage sale tomorrow morning and call the newspaper tomorrow afternoon to say he found a Da Vinci rolled up with a Sandra Bullock poster at a garage sale in Bothell today. Yeah, right, like I'd hold a garage sale if I had a Da Vinci. Figure that in the code, Dan Brown.

"Five dollars per book?" Janell asked.

Really, it was all gone. The elevator that goes to my top floor was stalled with passengers way below the penthouse. All those frickin' books over on that other table. Was I charging enough for them? What if nobody comes and I gotta haul all this stuff to Good Will? What if everybody comes and I'm not ready?

"Uh," I said to Janell. Translation: I don't know what we're doing. I wish I was in Dixie, away, away.

"I don't know what they're worth," she said.

"Uh." Translation: Who are you, exactly?

She wrote down five dollars. I saw it over her shoulder.

"You can tell me later on if that's not right," she said, and we moved to the next table.

Now, I don't know jack about nervous breakdowns, or the endorphins the brain allegedly releases in times of excruciating pain or stress, or what people think they're hearing when they hear voices and no one's really there. (You'd think they'd see faces to go with those voices, wouldn't you?) I do know, however, that denial is a basic human reaction to unpleasant circumstances; it's one of those five steps of grieving. The first, I think.

So, it seemed that I slipped into denial, full-blown and glorious, for about eight minutes tonight. The last twenty-four hours crashed into me with all the certainty of the iceberg into the Titanic. The job offer that didn't come today, the one I've been waiting for for two weeks. The other job I didn't get this afternoon and the allegedly good friend who turned his back on me when he could have helped me get it. The awesome friend who's moving away in just a few months and who I don't know when, or if, I'll ever see again. I could feel my thoughts shrinking to a cold and angry little pinpoint of light, and I let it come in, all the frustration and rage and despair of the last day, all the shit that I know happens to all of us but that we turn a blind eye to because if we don't, it does this to us. It sinks our beautiful ship on its maiden voyage. It sends our best intentions and our small glories down into dark, deep, uncharted waters. It makes it hard for us to think about rescue when that water's so damned cold all around us.

The minutes ticked by, as minutes do, whether we want them to or not.

"How much do you want to ask for the board games?" Janell asked.

"Five dollars each," I heard myself say. I'm pretty sure I was answering a question from eight minutes earlier. But at least I was answering.


Thursday, August 26, 2004

 

88th Avenue: 3

Bryan Bomball, the son of my next door neighbors, told me, oh-so-casually as I was unloading groceries from my Ford yesterday afternoon, that his dad has a gun.

Up to that point, I'd been engaging him as you do anyone you're not interested in talking to: "uh-huhs" and "mmms" and "sounds goods." Bryan is fourteen or fifteen, mostly arms and legs, with a shock of stiff blond hair that I'm sure the Bomballs were promised would darken as the infant Bryan grew older. No such luck. He looks like an L.A. beachcomber except for the pasty Seattle skin. He fidgeted with his skateboard while standing in the driveway with me in the drizzle, his stream-of-consciousness monologue punctuated with more "yeahs" than all two hours of Rain Man.

"Yeah, you know, my dad hates those guys from my school who race out here," Bryan was saying as I put the Pepsi twelve-packs in our garage. "Oh, yeah, he sure does. He's got a gun, he's so mad."

"Hang on. How's that again?" I asked. I shouldn't have turned and looked him square in the eye; I could see Bryan mentally backpedaling.

"Well, no, it's not a big one or anything," he said. "Just something to scare them with. Yeah, like that."

"Do you know those boys?" I asked him, and he shook his head but dropped his eyes. He knows them. "Well, someone should maybe warn them that your dad's on the warpath."

"Yeah, but they wouldn't care. Probably they think he can't hit anything anyway."

"That won't make any difference to the police. If your dad shoots at them, he'll get arrested."

"They were speeding, though," Bryan said as if it had already happened. "You guys have a little boy. What if they accidentally ran him over?"

Truth be told, I'd already envisioned this more than enough times as it was; I kept returning to a scene in that horror movie Pet Sematary where the dad can't catch his little son Gage before the child steps out in front of a racing eighteen-wheeler. The boy's shoes bounce down the pavement after he's been knocked out of them. "I totally get what you're saying, Bryan. But your dad is a smart enough guy to come up with another solution besides shooting at teenage boys."

"I don't know. He's pretty pissed." Bryan grinned toothily at the privilege of saying a semi-dirty word. "And it would do that Eric Myers good to have the shit scared out of him, I think. He's a punk."

"I thought you didn't know who they were?" I said, and Bryan paled. I let it go. "Punk or not, Eric Myers has the right not to be shot at. Your dad might be better off calling the city about putting a speed bump in. You can tell him Janell and I would sign a petition or something."

Bryan seemed to think about it, dismiss it, then bring it back to the forefront of his thoughts long enough to pretend for my sake like he was still considering it. He nodded, closed the trunk of the Ford for me, and then kicked his skateboard up into his hands. He didn't say goodbye as he dropped it, hopped it, and shot down the driveway and back out onto the sidewalk, gliding on across the street, jumping the curb in front of the mailboxes on the other side.

A moment later, Janell came out to help me with the groceries (though by then I'd strung the plastic bags all along both of my arms like I was carrying water buckets back from the well). She watched Bryan cruising on down the block. His skateboard make a whizzing clack-clack-clack sound as it rolled over the cracks in the sidewalk in the rain.

"Eric Myers, huh?" she said. "We should see if we can find that kid. Or his parents."

"You know, if you were listening all along," I said as she preceded me through the garage and into the house, "you could have come helped me with the groceries long before now."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," she said.

She sounded just like Bryan Bomball.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

 

Looking for Illumination


Sometimes, the cynicism I feel about the world is overwhelmed by moments of enlightenment, like when I watch Harrison experience something for the first time, something he can approach with unmarred, uninhibited joy.

A stray cat wandered onto our deck. Unlike the cat we own, which charges an hourly fee to be stroked, this stray was happy to give it away for free. And Harrison loved her at first sight. At that moment, he had no other thought, no other need, than to be near the soft, friendly kitty.


And it became apparent to me: I have completely forgotten how to be a child, forgiving of everything because nothing needs forgiveness. It goes away before bills and commitments and quiet greed for more than I already have. How do adults get back to such happiness when, as the poem goes, the world is too much with us?

I guess we watch our children, or somebody else's children, or we hope for a return to childhood in our old age, some kind of illumination in a growing darkness. I'm almost looking forward to it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

 

88th Avenue: 2

So, I went to see my neighbor Party Marty about the teenaged drag-racers on our street. I knew for an absolute fact that my other neighbor, Jim Bomball, hadn't gotten to him first because Jim and I crossed paths at the mailbox late yesterday afternoon. Up the street, Party Marty was revving the engine of his motorcycle over and over. He does this all the time; I'm sure he's tuning it or something, but Christ, how screwed up is that bike that he has to tune it every week? And let's cut to the chase, here: even most animals know you don't roar after midnight. The desire to sit outside his house in my old beat-up Ford Escort Wagon and just blare away on the car horn at 6 A.M. is an incredibly powerful one. Except for the thought of what the other neighbors--or my wife--might do to me later on.

"Just tuning the horn," I'd tell Marty when he came out grizzled and no doubt hung over.

At the mailbox, Jim jabbed one finger toward Marty's house. "I'm gunning for that bastard," he yelled over the blat-blat-blat of the motorcycle.

So, I thought I'd better go and spare our neighborhood making the news when round, soft-spoken Jim Bomball, with his gray Gandalf beard and his Drew Carey glasses, confronted Harley madman Marty, the dope-smoking girl-fondling party animal, and the former strangled the latter to death with a tie-dyed T-shirt.

As I trekked up Marty's driveway to his open garage, I realized I didn't even know his last name. This sort of limited my ability to be formally polite by calling him "Mister" Whatever. Mister Smith, Mister Jones. But Mister Hitler might've worked. I knew we were headed down a bad path when I saw the Budweiser Beer neon light and the girly posters on his garage walls, just above a workbench littered with cigarette butts, empty beer bottles, a handful of mismatched socket wrenches. Marty was standing shirtless over the engine of a Chevy in the garage, a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. He looked like a bearded Keith Richards, all veins and crags on his face, crazy eyes, the red bandana around his gray hair. But I don't think Richards has a swaztika tattooed on his upper arm.

"Hey," I said from garage entrance. Marty looked up as if he'd known I was there all along.

"Hey," he said, then turned back to his Chevy as if that was all I'd come to say.

"I'm Mike Ryan," I said. "I live across the street." I pointed back at my house, though he wasn't looking. "You might've seen me around. My wife and I sometimes take our two-year-old for walks around the block."

"Yeah, maybe." Marty banged away at something under the Chevy's hood. "Piece of shit car. This is what happens when you buy fucking American. What can I do you for?"

All three of his motorcycles, parked haphazardly in the other slot of his two-car garage, were American-made Harley-Davidsons, I noticed.

"I was wondering if maybe you know any of the kids who've been racing up and down the street the last couple of weeks?" I asked.

"Nope." Marty still hadn't looked at me again. He turned to his workbench, looking for something amidst all the garbage. "Haven't seen any kids."

"Well, maybe they're some of the kids that hang out here with your son or daughter?"

"Don't have a son or daughter."

So much for tact, I thought. "Maybe they hang out with you, then. I've seen them over here. Kids, I mean. Not necessarily the same kids I'm asking about."

Party Marty met my eyes now, and he pursed his lips like he was going to whistle. He squinted like he was trying really hard to think or maybe shit or maybe both at the same time. "You live next door to where the old folks were, right?"

The Bomballs are on one side of our house, and our neighbors on the other side had been a Chinese family who were caregivers for the elderly. A few Thanksgivings ago, an ambulance came roaring up the street, lights flashing and siren wailing, only to leave with lights but no siren, a bodybag in the back. Not long after, the Chinese couple gave up and moved away. The house has sat vacant for about a year and a half now, but in the last few weeks, the college-age son of the Chinese owners has moved in with a couple of his schoolmates.

"That's right," I said to Marty.

"You ever think it might be those slant-eyes living next to you?"

Even if my wife wasn't Korean, I'd have still decided the gloves were off.

"No, I'm pretty sure it's the white trash living across the street from me," I said.

He grinned as if I'd told him a real gutbuster. "Now what do you wanna go and say something like that for? We're just talking here."

"I'm going to call the cops if the racing doesn't stop," I said. "If you know who it is, you might want to tell them that they're picking a fight here. Jim Bomball's not too happy either."

"Yeah, you and Jim are the whole neighborhood, all right." Marty snorted, turning back to his car, effectively dismissing me. "Maybe Jim Bomball oughtta look to his own kind. I hear tell that Bryan kid of his is the little hellraiser when daddy ain't looking."

I looked over at his motorcycles as he swore at his Chevy again, banging it with his wrench for emphasis—and, I suspect, as a subtle warning to me to get the hell out of his garage. But I'm way too much of a gotta-have-the-last-word guy to just leave.

"You might want to get yourself a Toyota and some Yamahas," I said, gesturing at the Harleys. "The slant-eyes definitely make better cars and bikes than the skinhead crackers you've been buying from."

When I got to the end of Marty's driveway, I looked across the street, and Jim Bomball was on his way over. I met him in the middle of the road.

"Don't bother," I said. "Party Marty's a Nazi."

Jim smiled at me--such a different smile than Marty's sarcastic grin, so much more down-to-earth and kind, so much more naïve, I suppose. "That sounds like a Republican campaign slogan."

I went on back inside, leaving Jim standing there, considering Marty's house, right in the middle of the street where he predicted someone was going to get killed. I heard someone honk a minute or two later, but when I went and looked out the window, there was no car, Jim was nowhere to be seen, and Party Marty's garage door was closed. I guess one visitor was enough for him for the day.


Monday, August 23, 2004

 

Epi-blogue: Eighth Week, Eighth List--Oddities I Have Loved

This list contains no real people, though God knows I've loved some odd people over the years.

Sometimes stuff just tickles your fancy, and you can't explain why to anyone, even people who have their own little catalogs of weird stuff they like. And I'm not talking about enjoying Temptation Island (7 million people watched it weekly, so you have 6,999,999 fellow weirdos out there) or thinking that the REO Speedwagon was a "kick-ass" band. (Only if you say that about ABBA or Air Supply will you draw raised eyebrows from me.) Nor am I talking about the other extreme of enjoying hot-wax orgies or the taste of roasted squid cooked over an open fire. Let's try to stay in the realms that other humans can comprehend, shall we?

So, with the caveats in place, a few oddball things I've really, really loved in recent years…

*Kronk. Barely anyone actually saw Disney's The Emperor's New Groove, but the evil queen's sidekick Kronk (voiced perfectly by Patrick Warburton, David Putty on Seinfeld) is the best possible reason to buy the DVD. He speaks chipmunk; he wrestles with his villainy via his own little angel and devil. He's perfect comic relief, squeakity-squeak squeak.


I have days just like this... without the animated angel, though.


*Pepper Bar. Someone at Quizno's is taking LSD, folks. But dear God, it’s *so* quotable, especially if you can do it in a shrieking voice that makes small children cry. (And I can, trust me--I have a small child to experiment on.)


30 seconds of unadulterated nightmare waiting to happen.

*Mahna-Mahna. The Snowths don't impress me that much—in fact, they're a little creepy, like furry cows with an evil agenda—but you could build a religion around Mahna Mahna. Doesn't his struggle for creativity reflect the inner demon in all of us to aspire to individuality? Don't the Snowths represent all that is oppressive and conforming about our society, mouths agape in eternal mystified circles of condescending dismissal? Wait--maybe I just dig furry hippy puppets that can scat. Now that's a religion.


Sorta looks like Animal, huh? That's 'cause Jim Henson modeled both of them on himself.

*Pets.com Sock Puppet. It was like a small death to me when he popped up selling car insurance with a different voice and not an ounce of wit. Gone were the clever sayings like "He's got a stuffed thing! I love stuffed things!" Clearly, *I* love stuffed things, too. Or animated things. Or stuffed animated things.

During better days...

Fortunately, the Pets.com sock puppet seems to have a jones for me, too. I am clearly on its list of "Oddities a Sock Puppet Has Loved."

...and ultimately forced to hang out with the fans, recording answering-machine messages for $9.95 a pop.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

 

88th Avenue

I know for a fact that there are no checkered flags at either end of our street. As far as I know, NASCAR officials have never actually sanctioned 88th Avenue for races. You wouldn't be able to tell that, however, from the way the teenage boys in their muscle cars tear up and down it after midnight.

I heard the tires squealing, even in last night's downpour, and the engines roaring around 1:15 last night, and whn I sat up in bed and looked at the clock, I was briefly but completely disoriented. The noise wasn't sustained, so even the echo was gone, and since Harrison wasn't crying in his sleep, I didn't know why I was awake.

Then I heard it again--rubber burning on wet pavement, all eight cylinders rumbling, and the hooting and catcalling of high school boys. By the time I got to the front porch, flipping on the outside lights with righteous indignation and expecting the boys to scatter like cockroaches caught beneath the kitchen lights (like a middle-aged guy in an Old Navy t-shirt and checkered pajama bottoms is going to intimidate anyone, including cockroaches), they were long gone. And I got there pretty fast; I'd been practicing the quick race to the street ever since the ice cream man incident a few weeks ago.

A couple of houses down and across the street, lots of lights were on. A bunch of cars were parked up and down the block on both sides of the street. Janell and I have never met him, but other neighbors have told us about the man who lives there, "Party Marty," a middle-aged bachelor wh surrounds himself with teenagers for company. He's had scores of them drinking beer and smoking cigarettes in his garage, calling each other "ho" and "dickface" in voices pathetic with puberty, peeling out at two A.M., right about the time their parents are no doubt wondering if little Johnny and Susie are hanging out with the geriatric delinquent on 88th Avenue. I keep expecting to see Party Marty on the news for indecent liberties with a minor, statutory rape, or kiddy porn. Obviously, I expect the very best of everyone.

I didn't see any evidence that the tire-squealers last night were actually at Party Marty's house, though, and since there was no one actually in sight--just a vast yellow square of light to suggest that Party Marty's garage doors were definitely open--I decided to go back to bed. Besides, without Janell awake and ready to dial 9-1-1 as I stomp across the street in my slippers, I'm more candy-ass than bad-ass.

As I turned to come back inside, someone cleared their throat on the other side of my house, one more down from Marty's. A growl. I squinted from my little patch of porchlight; I could just make out my neighbor Jim Bomball's round body in the wee-hour shadows.

"Hey ya, Jim," I called. In the middle of the night, your voice falls flat as a stone outside.

"Mike," he said. I heard instead of saw the nod; Jim's a nodder. He didn't come any closer. He stayed over there on the sidewalk in front of his own house, facing my way, presumably staring down at Party Marty's place, too. I could see him rocking on his heels.

"I'm guessing you heard them, too," I said.

"Little bastards," Jim said. He sounded half-asleep and decidely not indignant or outraged. He might just as well have been telling me he needed to clean out his gutters and sure, he'd be glad to do mine since he knows I have issues with getting on the roof. "They're gonna kill someone out here one of these nights. Marty's an irresponsible shithead."

Not much to say to that. I let a minute of silence stand as my agreement, then I said goodnight. Jim didn't answer, and he was still standing out there when I went back inside and turned out the porchlight. (I went up into our formal living room and peeked out at him from behind the curtain. He stood there so long, I finally gave up trying to outlast him.)

I'm guessing one of us is going to need to go talk to Party Marty about his little teen fests sometime soon. Oddly enough, I know that Jim Bomball has a son in high school as well, a gangly kid named Bryan, so I'd assume Jim at least has common ground on which to begin the dialogue with Marty. Still, it's probably better if I go--I'm less likely to call Party Marty a shithead... unless Janell's awake to dial 9-1-1 when I go.




Saturday, August 21, 2004

 

Bachelorhood Retard

Yesterday, I didn't get a chance to add a blog entry--the first day I've officially missed--for a very simple reason: I'm retarded and just didn't know it.

Thursday night, with my wife and son off to my in-laws for 48 hours, I ate a bowl of Fruit Loops (for dinner) and settled down in front of my computer. Wrote a few emails. Made some notes about future blog entries. And no, I wasn't surfing porn, thank you for your absolute trust in me, when I accidentally hit a site that was the technological equivalent of a hand grenade tossed into the guts of my computer.

The pop-ups came at the speed of 50 or so a minute. Mortgage refinance. Car deals. Contests. I.Q. tests. Porn. Lots and lots of porn.

My homepage reset itself to something called WWWcoolsearch--take note that there's no period between WWW and "coolsearch." For the love of God, don't go there to look; that page alone must've planted a thousand little bugs in my system.

I tried to reset my homepage and close the pop-ups, but the finger had long since been removed from the dam. I was flooded. They came faster than I could close them. I could *watch* my browser reset my homepage from MSN.com to WWWcoolsearch--it would flip in my Internet Options right before my eyes as if I'd pasted it there.

I did all the stuff you're supposed to do--I ran all three spyware programs I have on my rickety Windows 98 computer. Adware and Spybot and SpySweeper all catch different stuff, and they caught HUNDREDS of bugs. In the end, it didn't matter--when I finished running them and rebooted, back came WWWcoolsearch and the porn pop-ups. Never have naked boobs enraged me so.

I repeated the process ad nauseum until well into the early A.M. hours. I went to bed around four o'clock, trembling with exhaustion and frustration. I slept three hours, then was back at it, bleary-eyed and trembling even more.

Around 9, I threw up my hands in surrender and called my mother, a computer guru. She advised me to restart this piece o' crap computer that I was on the verge of approaching with what my father called his "fine-tuning instrument"--a hammer--and restart it in "safe mode." She walked me through doing it. Then she had me run all those spyware programs again, and this time, when I restarted, it seemed fixed. My homepage was right. No pop-ups.

I left the computer and crashed for a little while longer.

The trouble started again sometime as I recovered from round one.

This time when I called my mom, I suggested that I should go looking for the files that were new on my computer that the spyware obviously wasn't finding. To do that, I searched by date. This led me to anything dated 8/19 or 8/20--ANYTHING with those dates, I need to stress--and the hacking was merciless.

I could hear the reservation creeping into my mom's voice as I went after the registry.

For those of you unfamiliar with the necessity of the registry--like I was less than 24 hours ago--it's the equivalent of a beating heart in a human body. Screw with it, you screw with the patient. Screw it up, and no more patient.

I used my delete button in the registry as a fine-tuning instrument.

When I rebooted, thinking I'd probably solved the problem at last (after all, I had surgically removed pretty much every major organ in my patient's body in an effort to eliminate the cancer), the patient did what the patient should have been expected to do: it died.

My Windows 98, already geriatric, did not respond to cardiac massage. The missing organs (read: files) that it needed to survive (read: run correctly) had been harvested (read: double-deleted).

My ethernet connection was also headed out in a body bag. And my scanner. And my CD burner. Hell, I'd even managed to perform a successful mercy-killing on my digital camera, which was nowhere near the scene of the crime but which was adversely affected by the fact that the software to download its pictures was within reach of my scalpel.

That's when I came up with another plan of action: curl up in a fetal position, wail like a dog in the moonlight, and rue the day that technology advanced beyond the wheel.

Two thousand miles away, my mother heard those wails. Even without the phone.

The dawn broke bleakly today. I had effectively trashed my computer beyond salvation. I'd already scribbled date and time of death on its toe tag. My friend Carmen, bless her soul, offered over the phone to have her brother Kenneth--also a computer guru--come 'round to try to fix it. Without the Windows 98 disks, though, he conceded, that might be hard. My mother said she could send her own registered copy of Windows 98 that she wasn't using anymore, and I could give it to Kenneth to try to install. I couldn't bear to ask Carmen if Kenneth knew anything about ethernets. It seemed better not to know how screwed I was if he didn't.

Then I remembered that my friend Rob had called earlier in the week. He'd been looking for a reference as he changed jobs from AGP to another company... where he would be their IT specialist. His number was still on my caller ID.

Rob arrived at 11:15. He didn't bat a disbelieving eye when I said I'd not been searching porn when this all started. He also didn't make the agonized face I'd expected when I told him about my deletion spree. He only flinched as if struck when I mentioned the hack job I'd done on the registry.

"Well, let's just see what we've got here," Rob said with both sympathy and encouragement. I took it more as pity at first.

But in 15 minutes, Rob had my ethernet up and running. Twenty minutes after that, he'd fixed my CD burner. The patient twitched, and I felt a rush of exhileration at the premature burial. (Doesn't everybody when they hear fingernails on the inside of the casket?)

He whizzed through files I didn't even know were on my computer; he deleted and rebooted, added files and rebooted, installed and uninstalled and rebooted. I asked him how in the name of God he'd learned to do all this (a question my mom can't answer, either, by the way), and he just shrugged as if I'd asked him why he likes chocolate ice cream.

Just shy of three hours, he had it all fixed. He grinned at me with the unmistakable pleasure of having succeeded, but he wouldn't take a dime, though I tried to press a check on him.

"I'm glad to be of help, my friend," he said as I walked him to the door.

So, now I'm back online, Janell and Harrison are back home--they walked in the door as Rob walked out, so my 48 hours of bachelorhood were spent primarily in front of my ailing computer--and though exhausted, I feel calm again. My throat still hurts from all the miserable wailing I did, but other than that, I'm no worse the wear for the experience.

George Carlin said once that, by process of elimination, somewhere out there in the world is the worst doctor. Mathematically, there simply must be one who is inferior to all the others. And the scary part is, someone has an appointment with that doctor tomorrow.

My poor computer had no idea that mathematics had put it in the hands of the worst, most retarded technician in the world. But I bet it knows now.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

 

Bachelorhood Redux

Janell took Harrison up to see his grandparents--her folks, not mine--and for the next couple of days, I'm on my own. A return to bachelorhood.

I know some bachelors. I know how they live. So, it's possible that such a return should be met with a bit of trepidation. Or maybe outright fear would be more reasonable.

Even when J's around, my eating habits are questionable. It's not that I'm likely to sit down and eat a whole box of Twinkies; rather, I'm likely to not eat at all. So, it's not outside the realm of believability that I'll subsist on a couple of bowls of Raisin Bran and a slice of cold pizza from when we ordered Pagliacci's a few days ago until she gets back and reminds me to eat.

Equally possible: my sleep pattern will be crazy. The one "advantage" to having the house to yourself, with no one else to bother, is that you can prowl until the wee hours, watching DVDs till dawn or doing laundry at 4 A.M. or banging around in the attic before reasonable people are out of bed. I made myself a list of "things to get done" while they're out, from the mundane to the ambitious. Just what's on those 50 or so unlabeled VHS tapes on the bottom shelf by the VCR? I can do that at three in the morning, no problem. The bird feeder needs to be refilled. Well, that can be done at 3 A.M., too, if need be. In fact, my long and elaborate list of things to accomplish impresses the hell out of me in terms of its scope and ambition. I admire the list. I love the list. I live the list.

To illustrate how I suspect the next 48 hours are going to go, I give the floor to Opus the Penguin...



To make matters even worse, my friend Traci loaned me a bunch of Gilligan's Island episodes on VHS. I should just go ahead and put them at the top of the list and have my fate sealed, I guess. But at least I won't have to refill that stupid bird feeder.


Wednesday, August 18, 2004

 

Back to Fictioneering: A Disclaimer

As much as I enjoy blogging--Christ, it's a verb now, too--I have to admit in that little room of the heart where guilt hangs out, waiting for a visitor, that I don't see it as writing.

It's fun, but it's a dalliance, quickly kissing a good-looking stranger once instead of going for the whole affair. On the one hand, it has an audience: I know from the site meter that somebody is reading this, as opposed to what happens when I write down 100,000 words and toss it out into the void beyond the safety of my little office. But I don't necessarily feel like I'm "saying" anything when I get overly self-indulgent and write about my trials with the Alphabet Pal. (The two of us are no longer on speaking terms, by the way--you should have heard the names it was calling me!) I've drifted from fiction for a time now; four unpublished novels seems like plenty to me. With five you get eggroll, I hear.

But can the two things go together--blogging and real creative writing?

Jack London said, "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." So, yesterday, when I was doing a bit of cleaning in the family room, I was dusting the DVDs and Citizen Kane caught my eye.

It was an easy leap to Welles's radio production of War of the Worlds. You know the one--Welles made it as real as possible with the barest minimum number of interruptions to remind listeners that they were listening to a radio drama. As a result, his audience believed it, bought into it, even ran scared from it. The alien invaders were real because Welles bellowed that they were and only occasionally whispered that they weren't.

The shelf down from Citizen Kane has The Blair Witch Project on it. I remember reading that it was fiction, but when I saw it, I still caught myself thinking, Oh, no. This is real. Whoever said it was made-up was just mistaken.

I had to chase it twice around the room, down the hall, and behind the shower curtain in the downstairs bathroom, but I clubbed inspiration quite effectively. I'm wearing its pelt now.

So, this is my Wellesian moment, my disclaimer.


***

There's a story coming, folks--it's NOT REAL. My neighbors are actually really cool, pleasant people. My neighborhood is safe and calm, and nary a gun has been fired here since I moved in almost three years ago.

Like Welles, I've tried to incorporate as much of the real world as I can to make it believable. But again, it's NOT REAL. All made up. An exercise in combining fictioneering with blogging, the original intent of this site. I'll officially announce it's conclusion when it's done with something obvious, like THE END. So, please, don't call the police... or the morgue.

***

Now, if you've just read the above for the first time after encountering a series of rapidly escalating blog entries that would suggest there's going to be bloodshed in my neighborhood, all I can say is, HA HA! (Think it in the voice of Nelson from The Simpsons.) This whole entry was written so you wouldn't freak out, and you did anyway. Cool, huh?

And if you're reading it before encountering the actual story... Well, try to forget you ever read this.

It'll make the ride down my street a LOT more fun.


Tuesday, August 17, 2004

 

Alphabet Pal

Like any nine year old, I like to see if I can make dirty words using the numbers on a calculator. (7734 looks, upside down--and not in this font--like the word "hell," for instance.) And when I recently discovered that my son's toy "Alphabet Pal" could do the same, I was thrilled. In a sort of nine-year-old boy's way.

The toy is a caterpillar with 26 legs, one for each letter of the alphabet. Depending on the setting, it will pronounce the letter or--and this is the fun part--sound it out phonetically. It doesn't trouble itself with covering all of the phonetics of any given letter; my names sounds like "Meh-kul" instead of "Mi-kul" when you tap the M, I, K, and L.

Interestingly, the U sounds like "uh" instead of "you."

Insert sinister laughter here.

There's only one place to go when you've discovered this and you're harboring the restless soul of a nine-year-old boy who didn't get to explore all of the variants of dirty words during his stolen youth. You crack your knuckles and explore.

Ff
Uh
"Giggle, giggle, that tickles!"
Kuh

I tried it slower. I tried it faster. And it's always the same, with the last sound pronounced long after it responds to the attempt at the word...

Fff
Uh
"Giggle, giggle, that tickles!"
Kuh


The new bane of my existence

Yes, the folks at LeapFrog Enterprises are not going to be tricked by the likes of me into having their toy recalled because you can make it say the queen-mother of all dirty words. I can get it say "shit" without difficulty (though it's a bit like learning to type again, since the first and last letters are on Alphabet Pal's same side, and the middle two are on the other). I can get it say "butt." But try this one…

Puh
eR
Ih
"Giggle, giggle, that tickles!"
Kuh

Same thing with…

Puh
Ih
"Giggle, giggle, that tickles!"
Ss

I am amazed by this toy. I’m stumped by it. I've spent more time experimenting with dirty words on this toy than I ever did with the calculator.

When Alphabet Pal signs off, it happily expresses its appreciation. "Thanks for learning with LeapFrog. Bye-bye!"

But really, if the words you'll get the most use out of as an adult are the only ones it won't teach you, how much learning is really going on here?


Monday, August 16, 2004

 

Epi-blogue: Seventh Week, Seventh List--Coming Clean

Even with the freedom to stretch my cleaning responsibilities out over the course of an entire week (or longer, if the grime suits me), I still detest certain household chores. I spent the better part of an hour doing one of them this morning (see below), and it got me to thinking about the other insidious forms of self-torture we have all deliberately introduced into our domestic lives. I'm sure you hate some of these as much, if not more, than I do.

*Ironing. The 60-minute time-waste from this morning. I own a couple of linen shirts that have more wrinkles in them than a retirement home. Worse, I always try to rush through the task--ironing reminds me of a Peanuts cartoon in which Lucy is praising Linus for how attractive his shoes are now that he's shined them. When he turns around, however, she can see that he didn't shine the heels, and she points this out to him. "I don't care what people think of me as I'm leaving," he says. This mindset leads me perilously close to not ironing the backs of my shirts.

*Dusting. My mother wrecked this one for me. One of my chores as a boy was to dust AND clean these hideous glass tables in our living room, the kind you inevitably bang your shins on because you can't see the fuckers in low lighting, and my mom would usually come along behind me, lift the various knick-knacks on the table, and show me the rings of dust where I hadn't moved said knick-knacks. "You have to take everything off the table before you dust it," she'd say. "And be sure to dust the Avon bottles, too." Ugh. God forbid that the Ben Franklin perfume bottle with the removable head would gather dust. That would imply nobody liked it.

It doesn't help that I own something like 50 Disney snowglobes that gather dust like my unpublished books. I use those little spray cans of air on them, but in the end, I have to dust each of them with a cloth by hand. It's penance for wanting knick-knacks. A hereditary flaw. Thanks again, Mama-san.

*Emptying the catbox. Ah, the smell of ammonia and feces on an empty stomach. I have never once in the last four years failed to scoop the catbox without snarling out loud, "When is that bitch going to die?" But she's fifteen--she's NEVER going to die. She's like a vampire cat, growing fatter and fatter on the blood of her owners. She'll probably one day mistake my coffin for a catbox and pee on my corpse.

Worse, I'm thinking about getting a dog one day in the next couple of years. A big dog. The kind that craps piles taller than my son. Sigh.

*Yardwork. Any yardwork. Another albatross around my neck from my parents. Before I was old enough to run the lawnmower, my folks had my sister and me walk the yard to pick up sticks and rocks that might clog the mower. We sometimes had to weed the garden (note that, as an anti-vegetarian, I never actually ate anything that came out of that stupid patch of weeds), and later, I mowed. So, now I have a lawn service that comes to do my yard; it's worth every penny, and I've not touched a weed in years. So someday, when Harrison is a teenager and he balks at doing yardwork, I'll let him off the hook without question.

"I understand," I'll say. "I hate it, too. So, how about you go clean the catbox instead?"

And I can already hear him in my head, ten years from now, glaring as he goes back into the house: "When is that bitch going to die?"


Sunday, August 15, 2004

 

The Ice Cream Man Cometh

I was on the deck at the back of my house, rolling a big metal Tonka truck back and forth with my two-year-old son, when my wife Janell cocked her head and looked over at me.

"Hear it?" she said.

Another few seconds passed with Harrison squawking impatiently for me to roll the damn truck back before I heard it--music. "The Entertainer," that theme song from the movie The Sting, sounding for all the world as if it was being played on a gigantic wind-up music box. It drifted over the picket fences and low hedges of our little neighborhood.

Do do DO-do DO-do DO-do...

"It's the ice cream man!" I bellowed. Harrison started as if I'd thrown the Tonka at him, but I didn't stay to comfort him. I was already bolting through the sliding glass doors and struggling into my sandals. Through the dining room to the top of the stairs of our split-level.

Do do DO-do DO-do DO-do...

I could tell he'd turned the corner of our street as I roared into my downstairs office, frantically looking for my wallet. Where was it?? I always keep it in the same place, right there on the bookshelf by my keys and watch. Shit, the keys and watch weren't there either! That meant I'd put them all down somewhere else! Not on the desk, not on the shelf by the door...

When I hastily bent down to tighten the Velcro on my sandals, I saw my watch hanging from my belt. I reached back. My right ass-cheek was fat with wallet. Dammit.

Do do DO-do DO-do DO-do...

"Ice Cream Man!" I shouted in my best Eddie Murphy impression. Yes, he'd earned initial capital letters by this point; I had my wallet, I had my shoes on, and I had at least a vague idea of what I wanted. I scrambled back up the stairs to the front door.

You know exactly where this story is going, I assume.

Do do DO-do DO-do DO-do...

Yes, that's right. The font was getting smaller. Uh, I mean, the music was receding.

I left the front door open behind me and pinwheeled down the walk, leaping the row of flowers between it and the yard, bound for the street. Our yard is a steep incline. I thundered down it, waving my arms frantically to be noticed. My shirttail came untucked.

"Ice Cream Man! Ice Cream Man! Wait, ICE CREAM MAN!"

My left ankle twisted before I got to the sidewalk. I limped on.

"COME BACK, ICE CREAM MAN!"

Do-do DO-do DO-do DO-do...

My ankle throbbed. Visions of orange sherbet Push-Ups and cherry popsicles and vanilla ice cream sandwiches were fast fading. I caught a glimpse of the ice cream truck as it reached the distant corner of our street. It was the kind that looks more like a converted mail truck than a hot rod--but it was doing at least 50, so "hot rod" is a better descriptor. At that speed, the driver wouldn't see a kid with a quarter in her little hand until he ran her over. His tires squealed as he took the corner.

Do-do DO-do DO-do DO-do...

And then he was gone, as if he'd never been.

I waited on the street for a long time, until the sun was almost down, straining to hear the distant tinkle of music that would tell me he was returning. Sometimes I thought I heard it, but then I realized it was probably someone's car radio or maybe someone winding up a snowglobe somewhere.

When I finally decided there was no more point in waiting for him, I did two things. First, I limped into the back yard, found a baseball-sized rock, and put it in the grass by the edge of the driveway. I'm guessing I can throw it a solid 100 feet. For next time.

Then I went back into the house, went to the kitchen, and fixed myself a large bowl of Breyer's chocolate ice cream. Like anyone who's ever been jilted, I sat at the kitchen table, wolfing down my ice cream, seething with the thought, Who needs him?

And I'll probably never watch The Sting again either.


Saturday, August 14, 2004

 

First Time for a Second Entry: Comments

Hi, all,

I don't normally do two entries in one day, but I wanted to point out today that I'm now using a different comment format that makes it easier for you to leave comments on any entry you like. The previous means required registration, and only Debra felt brave enough to weather that hassle. But now I'm using Haloscan, which is a whole lot easier to maneuver. (Sorry, Debra, the conversion over wiped out all the old comments. Sorry, sorry, sorry! You can leave them again, though!) So, please, don't hesitate to leave comments if you are so inclined.

Or send money. I don't mind money. Hell, skip the comments, and just send twenty-dollar bills.


 

Shel Silverstein Wannabe

Shel Silverstein is pretty keen
The things he's seen, his rhymes so clean
You know what I mean, when I say he's between
the actor James Dean and the Boss Springsteen?
Like the pea or the bean, my envy is green
for the wisdom I glean from Shel Silverstein.
(Written when I was lean and still only thirteen.)

***
"What God has created, let no man tear asunder,"
said the priest, giving my wife her bouquet to toss it.
Later, I quoted this to her lover who was under
our bed, and my own who was in the closet.
***
"A short blog," sentenced the King of Siam
So, this is my entry, my sentence: "I am."


Friday, August 13, 2004

 

Catablog

I like catalogs.

I mention this because the new Disney catalog arrived this week, and I damn-near swooned. As the Christmas season approaches, they're starting to unleash the good stuff. I mean, come on, people--don't you all need a Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas" Disney Park Haunted Mansion (page 82) to add to your Disney-themed Christmas villages?

What is wrong with you people?

But I don't like catalogs quite the way that the catalog makers seem to think I like them. I get as many as 30 a month--yet take note that I never signed up for more than three. This is where that whole "customer list" swapping comes into play. As a result of some catalogs selling my name to other catalogs, I get "The Music Stand," a catalog centered around gift items with musical symbols and themes to them. I can't play a musical instrument; I can barely play a radio. On the other hand, the "Design Tascano" catalog (check DesignTascano.com) is just eclectic enough to keep my attention and to order something periodically to ensure I keep getting it. The life-size resin black rhinoceros wall trophy head will fit in my office somewhere, I'm sure.

But for the real catalog hound, I periodically receive the "Catalog of Catalogs." You can ORDER this catalog so you can ORDER catalogs from which to ORDER more stuff. This one, I throw away quickly. It seems like an enormous amount of work to give your money away on wind chimes, "authentic reproductions" of art, or autographed baseballs.

But now, thanks to Janell's overly enthusiastic use of search engines, I know about a way to really hit the catalogs without having 75 of them spilling off the endtables in the family room. Simply go to google.com, click on the "more>>" button, and voila! Catalogs.

Google searches thousands of online catalogs for you based on your keyword search (I even found a fiction book in which a murder victim Mike Ryan sparks more murders all centered around the name "Michael Ryan." This is why you shouldn't put your name into search engines, I suppose). Some of the catalogs are old--Disney, for instance, keeps at least the last four months online, so the items they're offering are probably out of stock by now.

Also, be careful putting in too general of a popular term. Can you imagine what "Star Wars" brings up? (No need to imagine; I can assure you from personal experience, it's shocking. May the Patience be with you.) Take this as a Friday the 13th warning, and don't search for "Star Wars" until tomorrow.

This is the way to shop catalogs, and I'm sure in time it'll eliminate the paper kind... or at least reduce the number of them that get sent to me. Because as much as I like them, I like catalogs even more when the postal carrier doesn't have to bring them to my door because they won't fit in my mailbox.


Thursday, August 12, 2004

 

A Short Short Blog Entry

Recently, a couple of readers have noted to me that my blog entries are really long (oh, you know who you are, people, but more important, I know who you are). So, to that end, I'm taking a cue from the anthology The World's Shortest Stories (edited by Steve Moss) for today's post. "Fifty-Five Fiction," he calls it, because the story can't be longer than 55 words.

So, to those who have wondered why all my entries have to be so long, I give you "Garage Sale."

***

Joel's garage sale was the best the block had seen. Balloons, burgers on the grill, and quality rummage, including a lot of Pamela's wardrobe.

"She's gained weight," Joel explained, embarrassed for his absent wife.


The police came in early afternoon, as Joel was closing down. Later, each neighbor who'd had a pamburger was called upon to testify.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

 

Crash

I heard the thunder, but there had been no lightning before it.

The house shook; in Seattle, we get earthquakes, but really, not as many earthquakes as serial killers. So, no one knows how to deal with them--the earthquakes, not the serial killers. Books tumbled off the shelves in my office. Upstairs, I heard breaking sounds from the formal living room, and I just hoped it wasn't any of my Disney snowglobes. It was early enough that Harrison was still asleep, so no screaming fits begging "Dada Mama back!"

An earthquake makes a distinctive sound, a rolling noise, the sound of a fan trembling its way across a hardwood floor.

This wasn't that sound.

It sounded, of all things, like hooves.

When the first shadow passed my office window--which is only a foot or so above ground level--I bolted out of my chair, snagged my digital camera from where it hangs behind the door, and raced out through the garage and around the corner of the house. The thunder had stopped by the time I reached the garbage cans, and when I rounded the corner into the back yard, I saw the first of them staring at me through the hedges.

Two of them. Fair-sized, though not the largest I've ever seen. But here, in suburbia? I thought it was some kind of joke, a Crocodile Hunter variant on Candid Camera. Nevertheless, I snapped a quick picture as their stares drifted my way, then I backpedaled as I spotted the rest of the them.


I am spotted by the leaders. Unlike the leopard I saw at the Safeway yesterday, these two are not spotted.


It hadn't been a crash of thunder at all; it had been a crash of stuffed rhinos. They were stuffing themselves right there, on the lawn.


At least one of them had clearly been captured and tagged by the Ty Beanie Babies Animal Preservation Squad.

Thank God it wasn't a bloat of stuffed hippos. I'm not sure our kiddy swimming pool could have taken it.



Tuesday, August 10, 2004

 

Disney's Baby Princesses

One of the weirder things that Disney has done in recent years is take the classic princesses--Cinderella, Snow White, Aurora (that's Sleeping Beauty to you commoners)--and recast them as little girls. Little girls, people. Come on. Bad enough that they hang out together like they've known each other since their backlot days, but the little girl angle... Well, I scoffed appropriately at this the first time I saw them. I thought it was ridiculous and a black hole for future sales. What's the hook? You know when you look at her that baby Cinderella has at least 15 more years of indentured servitude to her wicked stepmother to go, right? That's just sadistic. Why not cross-promote the princesses with Cabbage Patch Kids? They've already "updated" Ariel and Belle to be swingin' teenage girls in a rock band a la Bratz. So, sure, why the hell not, exploit the Japanese anime angle by having big-eyed little girls who are vaguely recognizable as the princesses by their costume.

What little of this stuff that sells will turn up in myriad garage sales in 2005. No one in their right mind, I said (with growing disdain as they did baby Jasmine from Aladdin) is going to buy products centered around this woefully misguided marketing ploy.

Well, except maybe me.


Stupid Disney. I hate them. Sell-outs. Shameless profiteers, debasing my favorite character.

I hope they release the doll soon.

Monday, August 09, 2004

 

Epi-blogue: Sixth Week, Sixth List--The Waiting Game List

Some stuff is worth the wait. And some stuff, you just gotta guess.

A short list of things I'm waiting for...

*Stephen King's last Dark Tower book (book seven, The Dark Tower, is due next month). Over 20 years, I've been committed to this series. I haven't been committed to Pepsi that long, and that's a serious commitment.

*The last season of The Sopranos. 2006, we're being told now. The actor who plays Uncle Junior will be dead long before they get around to killing off his character.

*Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, expanded DVD. Along with the Star Wars trilogy on DVD, Disney's platinum edition of Aladdin, the special edition of Mulan, and the first three seasons of Seinfeld, this is a must-have this fall. Yet the release date remains ambiguous. Amazon pulled the date of September that was originally projected months ago. Sort of like Mulan 2. Disney even advertised it as a preview on Alice in Wonderland, and now there's no longer a release date. Anybody knows anything about schedules for either LOTR: ROTK or Mulan 2, drop me a line (michaelgryan2@msn.com) and let me know what you know!

*Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. When's it due? Who knows. Rowlings recently announced she's expecting a second child, so I'm guessing I'll see this book just before my two-year-old heads off for college. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to the final book in the series, the one after this one, as a retirement gift.

*Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (opens Thursday, May 19, 2005). Since I can't hope with any sincerity for the next Indiana Jones flick, I'll put my eggs in the Star Wars basket and pray Jar-Jar Binks gets light-sabered this time around by Obi-Wan to protect the secret of where the infants Luke and Leia are hidden. Or maybe just because he's annoying.

*The Presidential elections (early November, or whenever Homeland Security says it's okay to vote, once they're sure Bush is in the lead in the polls). Who wins, the Rebellion or the Empire? Unlike Revenge of the Sith, I feel like this one still has some hope of a happy ending...


Sunday, August 08, 2004

 

Small in the Family

Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.
--George Burns

All around me lately, it seems, other couples I know are reproducing at a furious rate, adding baby #2 or #3 or #17, in my friend Doug's case, and it periodically makes me a little jealous. I have a whole story to tell about the disintegration of a family and how much smaller it can become following the death of the patriarch. It's just a few of us now; my aunts and uncles and cousins are ancient history, people I don't see anymore. There's a long, convoluted story about all of this--one I think anyone who's ever had a family feud can understand--but I think for now I'd just like to put my own little family on display... I'm feeling in an oddly famial sort of mood... granted, it can only feel so strong with so small a family...

NOT said patriarch, but don't I look like my grandfather when he was my age? Hmmm... wait...
The real McCoy... or in this case, the real Glenn Johnson, my granddad, the patriarch of our little family
The whole of the Ryans by blood... my mom, Irma (NOT a nurse; don't believe everything people wear), me, my son Harrison (being a "relatively" good sport about the photo), and my sister, Tammy (looking suspiciously happy; if you knew her, you'd question that smile...)
My portrait of the family living in my house... the cat, Selena, refused to sit for a photo, so I had to come up with another idea for a picture... stupid cat


My mom and step-dad live in Illinois, roughly 2000 miles from my home in Seattle. My sister lives down in L.A. with her long-time boyfriend, a short commute but an expensive one for a pair of broke siblings. We write and telephone, but the three of us haven't been in the same place at the same time for eight months now. We get along great being so far apart, as George Burns rightly points out, but it takes its emotional toll on me often of late. I want my mom to spend time with her only grandson, my sister with her only nephew.

So, I tried to make up for that. I mailed my sister the cat. Did I mention that she's my little sister?

Saturday, August 07, 2004

 

Saturday Funnies

When I was a kid, I piled out of bed at the crack of dawn every Saturday morning to catch the four hours of cartoons that were, essentially, my church-going experience of the week. My sister Tammy and I put newspapers down on the floor (because we ate our cold cereal like bovines at a trough) and settled in with mild impatience to Davey and Goliath. It was better than the test-pattern that preceded it. But it smacked a bit too much of "Goofus and Gallant" from Highlights magazine--a sermon in disguise. Tammy and I were not be trifled with. We knew God was actually a Zenith that broadcast in living color.

The Banana Splits, Josie and the Pussycats, H.R. Pufnstuff... if only cartoons of our time had had a message. I mean, The Smurfs, Pokemon, Strawberry Shortcake... isn't the message obvious? (Sure it is. Now, please tell me what it is, will ya?)

Sometime around 10:30 or 11 A.M., the cartoons gave way to sports--football's the one I remember, sort of the way you remember the first animal that bit you (it was a dog, in my case)--and that's when Tammy and I abandoned the TV for less satisfying pursuits, like physical exercise or reading. The rest of the weekend seemed like a waste after the Saturday morning fix.

Until the Sunday funnies.

I think my sister's favorite was either Mary Worth, Brenda Starr, or Apt. 3-G (if you know my sister, you know why this is a very funny joke on my part). Needless to say, these were NOT my faves. I would read Ziggy and Family Circus before the soap opera cartoons. (And Family Circus wasn't too far removed from Davey and Goliath, if you think about it.)

But the idea of Sunday funnies, combined with Saturday morning cartoons, has always seemed like the perfect marriage to me. So, I thought I'd post a couple of my all-time favorite comic strips... on Saturday morning... to create the Saturday funnies. Trust me, it'll be a Michael cycle in no time. (Gotta work that cliche, people.)


For some reason, "Philistines" is a funny insult to me. This is where I learned the word, in fact. Proof that comic strips are educational.




The morbidity of this one is perfect, but if you don't know who killed Davy Crockett, the humor of this one is lost on you. You Philistine.



And for what it's worth, I didn't realize until after my son was born that my wife had an egg in her.



I have quoted this one a thousand times. It's the perfect quote for life. I mean, really, you've read this blog, right? Isn't it Hamlet, Othello, and Macbeth all rolled into one?

Well, fine. A plague on all your houses, then. Philistines. See? It works over and over again!


Friday, August 06, 2004

 

Derailing the Train of Thought

I had some insightful stuff to say today. In fact, I had so much insightful stuff to say today that I was making notes, trying to decide what to write about. Personal or professional? Cultural observations? Political commentary?

How about this one: My ex-wife had a baby this week, a boy named Caleb, and I envisioned out loud a meeting between my son Harrison and Melody's son Caleb twenty years from now. ("Say, Caleb," Harrison might say, "what do you know about the six-degrees of separation theory? Well, listen to these degrees...")

Or, I read that Nicholson Baker's book Checkpoint is coming out just in time for the Republican National Convention. A mere 115 pages of two guys bitching about G.W. Bush (one of them is contemplating assassinating the President using radio-controlled flying saws. Oh brother.). As someone who hates Bush more than asparagus--and no, that's not a misplaced modifier: aspargus hates him, too--even I don't want to read this joke of a novel. The excerpts I've read are like Michael Moore channeling Al Franken over Mexican radio. And both of them are drunk. There's enough fact to build my foundation of distaste for the short-sighted warmonger running our country; I don't think I need fiction to reinforce it. I can just watch the nightly news.

Plus, I hate the fact that Baker can write a book that's only 115 pages long, sell it, get an Entertainment Weekly review (with his picture, even!), and I'm still pulling a Bruce Springsteen by dancing in the dark. By myself.

Or, I could go on at length about a fantasy novel I'm trying to write. I thought I'd call this blog "The Reality of Fantasy." But I'll probably use that as a header in an interview article I'm writing about Bob Salvatore.

I was contemplating all these topics, wading through them and a dozen more, gleeful. Look at all the choices! A veritable cornucopia of options!

Then the cat walked into my office, farted, and walked out again.

Now I can't think of anything else. Dear God, what are we feeding that animal? Road kill smothered in rotten mustard?

It was the look that got me, to be honest. I watched her consider the assault. Like a meatloaf covered in gray hair, she parked that prodigious ass just out of reach of my foot, did that half-squint that cats do--like they're going to fall asleep standing up, but really, they're wondering how easy you'd be to kill if you were the one who was asleep--and pulled the anal ripcord.

It's rare to hear a cat fart, I happen to know. Their farts fit their personalities perfectly: sneaky and deadly. "The silent killers." And unlike a dog, which will look guilty when you gasp with disgust and try to tear your nose from your face to stop the madness, a cat only stares at you like you had it coming. One from the vault for you, Daddy, she seemed to say. I don't care much for Iams anymore. Steak, please.

So, sorry, no witticisms today. No insights, no banter, no soapboxes. I am typing at a furious pace so I can get out of my office quickly. Do you treat farts like smoke in a housefire? Do I need to get down close to the floor where the only safe air still remains? The smell is making it difficult for me to think. That's not Iams cat food, oh no. That's peanut butter, my friend. My cat's been eating peanut butter, I can tell.

It probably also would have helped if I hadn't farted about two minutes before she came in. But really, how am I supposed to write a creative blog entry with peanut butter gas building up inside of me?

I guess I know now why she just turned around and left again.


Thursday, August 05, 2004

 

Creating a Cliche

I think most people who write sort of dig cliches, especially the ones that don't get used all that often. A couple that need to be used more often, in my opinion:

*Gray Eminence. It's a reference to someone who is an influential figure in the background, usually a shadowy figure. For example, "Dick Cheney is the Gray Eminence of the Bush administration." Not that I have a political opinion about this, of course.

*Hoist by his own petard. (A petard is a medieval exploding device meant to blow open gates, by the way.) You know this, though you probably don't use it often enough--it means to be a victim of his own plot or device. The engineer who worked with the petard might blow himself up by mistake due to the imperfect predictability of explosives way back when. Shakespeare even uses this expression in Hamlet. He says

"Aye, that the bush should be burdened by a dick or rice
And let the rummy be hoist with his own petard."

Or something like that.

*Beat around Bush. Self-explanatory, I think.


So, I thought it would be cool to try to make up my own cliche, get readers to use it, and make my way into some lexicon somewhere as the source for a commonly used expression. Where did it come from? students will ask years from now. Why, a blog on the internet! So, allow me to introduce you to my very own cliche, all vanity and allusionary...

"The Michael cycle."

Definition: Something that remains consistent despite obvious external factors that should adversely affect its consistency.

For example...

"The Presidential elections are on a Michael cycle--no terrorist attack or economic disaster could delay them. Though the Republicans want to, if Bush is behind in the polls in early November."

"If our workplace had even a shadow of a Michael cycle, our suicide rate among employees would be much lower."

"My uncle Waldo's bowel movements are on a Michael cycle. We had to leave the movies early, even. How does The Village end, anyway?"

So, come on, people--let's use this expression until it becomes old and tired and... cliched! Let's not let anyone question our ability to introduce more useless phrases into our already overwhelmed vocabulary! Let's not accept criticism, plow ahead insisting that there are good reasons to use this phrase because we say there are good reasons (we don't have to actually justify our reasons, take note--unless a commission gets formed that disagrees with our position, and even then, we'll just keep saying we have good reasons anway). In other words, let us begin to ride the Michael cycle, people!

It'll be like falling off a bike. Or maybe that should be "like falling off Mike." Hmmm....


Wednesday, August 04, 2004

 

I Dreamed of Africa

I dreamed of Africa last night.

There's no point sugarcoating it: I dreamed of having a bowel movement on the Serengeti. Of all the stupid things. And it was more a memory than a dream, so I looked it up in my journal from that safari I took back in 2001, and sure enough, there it was, in all its glory. On my mother's birthday, in fact. The day gets better, I promise.

Sunday, October 21

Happy birthday, Mama-san. I wish I could call you, but there's almost no way to make a call out here on the Serengeti except in dire emergencies… and maybe not even then. I won't be back to civilization for another 10 days. But I did remember it, and I did think of you the moment I woke up.

We were up at six--I was awake well before Abu, our camp manager, came around to wake everyone. I'd gotten up to use the toilet; those vegetables and fruists had to catch up with me eventually, didn't they? I used my flashlight once I was beyond the range of the lone kerosene lamp in front of my tent. We each have a lamp--according to Karashi, it keeps the animals from attacking the tents. Comforting.

To dispense with niceties, shitting over a hole in the ground in the flickering shadow of a single flashlight while things growl on the savannah around you is an astonishing deterrent to the leisurely Sunday morning bowel movement. When I was back in my bunk, I was flush with pride for having ventured out (pardon the toilet pun).

So, when Abu drifted through the camp, calling "hodi" (ho-dee) from outside--it means "may I come in?"--I was already dressing. Breakfast at 6:30, leaving for Tarangire Park at seven A.M. sharp. In Tanzania, punctuality is extremely important, and when Dick and Jane (not as funny as it was the first few days of saying their names together) were 15 minutes late, the displeasure in Karashi and Abraham was obvious.

We ate amazing toast with local peanut butter--the best I’ve ever had, and that's a hard thing for Jiff boy to admit--with various melons and finally, eggs, scrambled. Much juice and bottled water. Even the porridge was excellent. It's that idiot's adage that food prepared outdoors is somehow superior, but maybe it's not so idiotic after all. Despite a few latecomers, we were on the road on time, rumbling along to Tarangire. The name comes from the Maasai word meaning "blood"; the only other Maasai words we've learned came from a brief exchange between Lisa and Metaroni, our Maasai warrior guide. "Sopi?" (pronounced "soap-eye"), he would say. "Epa!" she would answer. "How are you?" and "I’m fine!" They'd shout it about 20 times, and neither ever tired of laughing that they were conversing… sort of. By the time we left, we were all in on it. "Sopi?" "Epa!" It was like listening to a mindless hive of bees buzz in lousy harmony.


Michael and Metaroni, NOT the San Francisco treat

As we passed through the Maasai village en route to the park, children ran from their huts to chase the trucks. Some just wanted to wave and be waved to; others, according to Abraham, were looking for a handout. These ones don't even bother waving; instead, they simply stick their hands out and yell at the Land Rovers in Swahili. Abraham ignored them; we did, too.

We passed a lone Maasai man, maybe forty years old, standing in a field. No huts anywhere in sight; no animals, no people. He wore a traditional red wrap and carried a sizable spear. He raised one hand to greet the passing truck, and I was the only one who saw him. I waved back, and when I did, he smiled. We passed him by, and he put his hand down and went on his way.

How many American men can say they've exchanged a greeting with a Maasai warrior? He and I are from completely different worlds, and our paths will never, ever cross again. It's not even a possibility. I will go back to the States, he will go back to his world. Yet I feel something oddly important happened there. Is it any different than a brief exchange with a clerk in a Seven-Eleven when you're visiting the other coast in the U.S.? Yes. It is. Is it any different than the same sort of greeting from a French waiter, a German you pass on the streets of Hamburg, a Russian soldier standing guard outside a palace you're touring in St. Petersburg?

I think so. Because he knows nothing about my culture. NOTHING.

The Maasai are nomadic, living exactly as they have for thousands of years. What money they get from tourists goes to food. They have their own medicines. He's unlikely to have heard of CNN or Chicago or champagne. But he waves anyway--because he's kind or because he approves of tourists, or because he likes foreigners. Who knows. I felt it was important, at least to me. I felt changed by a wave, a butterfly effect, a ripple in my short existence. I have no way of ever knowing it it bore any importance to him. Will I figure in a tale he tells someday as he figures in mine?

"Sopi, Maasai rafiki?"

I'm still fine here. Thanks for thinking of me, if you ever do.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

 

Addendum: Blog Ness Monsters

I realized while exploring fear yesterday that I left out the most obvious category: monsters. Not the more urban monsters we're all accustomed to dealing with (cereal killers--I knew Snap and Crackle had done it and were trying to frame Pop. Court TV is such a daily high!), but the mythic monsters, the kind that come from late-night black-and-white monster movies.

I grew up on Dr. Terror's Tales of Terror, Creature Feature, and Kolchak: The Night Stalker. The first was one of those local programs that features a spooky host (in this case, Dr. Terror) who introduces the film for the night and makes editorial commentary during the commerical breaks. Sort of the central Illinois version of Elvira. Dr. Terror was played by a guy named Mike Cheever, who was better than Bela, Boris, and Lon put together, in the mind of a ten-year-old boy. When I was older and working as a stocker in the Kroger store on King Street, he used to come shopping there with his wife. Dr. Terror was a job now years behind him, but I hadn't let go of that imagery yet. So you can imagine my moment of clarity, as recovering alcoholics call it, when I saw Dr. Terror in flip-flops and cut-off jeans. Like David Cassidy (who's sickeningly self-important in person), oh, how the mighty have fallen.

I saw Don't Be Afraid of the Dark on Tales of Terror. Made me afraid of flower arrangements where nasty little gremlins hide. I saw War of the Gargantuans on ToT as well. I was flipped out when one of these rampaging Godzilla wannabes snatched a screaming Japanese woman off the sidewalk, popped her in its mouth, chewed her up, then spit back out her dress... in perfect condition. Not her shoes, her bra, her hair clips--just her dress. In perfect condition. Made perfect sense to me, though. It struck me as eating around the lettuce on your BLT.

So, a couple of the monsters that didn't make it onto Tales of Terror or The Outer Limits or Green Acres... yet still scared me as much as Arnold the pig ever could...

*Tupperware Wolves. You can hear their distant burping during the full moon.

*Bigfoots. Bigfeet? Hmmm. Maybe that's why there's only one.

*Ghouls. I'm equally afraid of boys, if that matters.

*Land sharks. I mean, really, don't you pause with a moment of trepidation whenever your doorbell rings but you're not expecting anyone? You know why you feel that... land sharks.

*Loan sharks. Same thing as land sharks, but they want their money back. Or to eat your kneecaps. Shudder.

*Vanpires. They sleep in their VW buses and SUVs until the sun goes down, then emerge to suck the blood of turnips. They are the very reason that expression exists.


My days as a vanpire, before I joined the Hair Club for Men


*And of course, the one we're all afraid of: Republicans. They actually eat the dress as well. And you can hear them burping during the full moon....


Monday, August 02, 2004

 

Epi-blogue: Fifth Week, Fifth List--Fear Factor

Way back in 1986, Stephen King (yeah, I mention him more than I mention Jesus, I know) published a handy little essay called "The Horror Writer and the Ten Bears." It's King's top-ten list of shit that scares him, individually or in combination with one another. His list:

1. Fear of the dark
2. Fear of squishy things
3. Fear of deformity
4. Fear of snakes
5. Fear of rats
6. Fear of closed-in spaces
7. Fear of insects (especially spiders, flies, beetles)
8. Fear of death
9. Fear of others (paranoia)
10. Fear for someone else

Now, this is pretty all encompassing. He hits one of my big ones (spiders--good God, is there anything on earth that looks more pissed off than a spider on alert??) and one of my wife's top three (even wave a rubber snake at Janell, and you're looking at hospitalization, buddy). I'm betting he's since added "getting hit by a car," though that might fall under #3 and #8, and maybe #2, depending on how the accident leaves your body.

And he's not bothering with the more esoteric fears, either. Fear of poverty, fear of being unloved, fear that George W. Bush will win the next Presidential election, fear of cable going out while you're recording something that might NEVER BE REPEATED. (If anyone knows what program that might be, feel free to chime in.)

So, inspired by the list--and by my recent ten-year-reunion with fear of poverty; poverty never ages compared to those high school football players and cheerleaders, let me assure you--I thought I'd add a few that I like to think of as my own little gems of shame. Forgive the effort to justify them just the same.

1. Fear of the dentist.
One of them sends you home doped up just long enough to reach your kitchen before the PAIN kicks in and the accidentally unstitched holes in your head where your wisdom teeth used to be start gushing blood like a garden hose, you'll have this fear, too. (My current dentist, Dr. Desiree Fletcher, listened to this horror story with a seriously sympathetic look and has treated me like a two-year-old in the chair ever since. No other dentist will now ever touch me but her.)

2. Fear of heights.
The tree limb in the apple tree from which I fell was, I discovered years later while revisiting the site as an adult, about three feet off the ground. But to an eight-year-old, it was three-quarters a a mile down, and the nasty double-click breaking sound of both bones in my left forearm snapping hasn't stopped echoing yet. Nor has the snapshot in my head faded, the one of my arm hanging at an impossible right angle with bone poking through my skin. I now prefer not to be more than three feet off the ground, if I can help it. I bungee-jumped a few years back, and that cured part of my fear, but the recent roof incident reminded me that we are never entirely cured of our own stupidities.

3. Fear of falling asleep in a moving car.
Seven A.M., January of 1994, I fell asleep driving the 45 miles from Decatur to Champaign where I worked for the National Council of Teachers of English. I was alone; I had a seatbelt on. But I was also driving a Ford Escort Pony, which is only slightly larger than a child's Big Wheel, and not as stable. I flipped four times at 70 miles per hour, ending upright at the bottom of the grassy ravine between the four lanes of nonexistent traffic. I suffered bruises--where the seatbelt grabbed me. Oh, and a wild-eyed terror of nodding off in a car, even in the backseat. You don't want to be the hapless driver next to me when I sit bolt-upright in the passenger seat after falling asleep, screaming at the top of my lungs, certain that we're going to die. If that ever happens to you and me, believe me that it really doesn't have anything to do with your driving.

Now, I have another fear, a whopper, the big one. I'm afraid that I'll fall asleep in a car driven by my dentist, and that I'll wake up as the car plummets over a cliff, down into the only known pit of live tarantulas on the planet.

And George W. Bush will be the lone person who can save me from death... but only if I vote Republican in November.

I'm pretty sure that's how I'm going to die. I'd rather vote for the dentist. Or the spiders.

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