Thursday, December 24, 2009


Harken back a few years. I was THE expert on luminarias in the old land. Tonight we decorated the Alaska house. Looking at the finished display, I had to laugh. The spacing was shoddy, some bag seams had been placed out (sinful!), and the little tea candles were barely bright enough to light the bags. We put out a third of the number I'd deem adequate, and our steeply pitched roof and lot don't make much of a palette for the maestro of Christmas candle light.
But our little display drew a minor parade of light watchers. Our neighbor's house blazes and both of our homes are visible from the main road, so quite a few folks drove by, many of whom I am sure, living in Alaska, had never seen luminarias.
Lame as it was in comparison to past efforts, I couldn't help but be as enchanted as ever. The soft flicker reached into my heart and pulled some favorite memories with friends and family. The thought of a village street in Penitente New Mexico on Christmas eve, a chosen young couple and baby leading the townsfolk along the farolito lined path to midnight mass, celebrating the birth of God's promise of peace and forgiveness; it charms and awes me still.
Merry Christmas Alaska. And Merry Christmas too to those who live in places with more Christmas tradition. May it never fail to stir us.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Company

Out takes from the best weekly report yet -
Facility One: Routine ops - Preparation for solstice party.
Facility Three: Whiteout conditions. Stayed inside for training covering new paperwork.
Facility Four: Completed an exercise on prevention and response to workplace violence.
Facility Seven: Almost finished knocking out our punch list...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Flaky Weather

- At first they were thumbnail sized feathers. You could count ten-miss'ippi from the time you saw them 'til they lighted. The trees were already laced with hoar-frost, so the flakes clung as if they were magnetized. So lacey and light the shovel wouldn't hold them. Should'a used the leaf blower. Overnight things got a bit more weighty. The shovel works now. The operator, however, is not so ambitious because the sky is still falling. I'm waiting for the right moment.
- The Christmas bear on the lawn has no legs and wears a white gnome hat. He's like one of those ads with a splotch of color in a black and white background, all the life in the picture blanketed or dulled by winter dim. "Another week and things will start lightening," we glibly tell ourselves, knowing full well that winter is just begun.
- Next week they predict we'll settle into negative numbers on the thermometer. "They" predict. I want that job. An Alaskan meteorologist is not held to any standard of accuracy. No expectations. Smile at the poor suffering populace from your warm studio and share your best wild ass guess. Don't keep records. Don't look back.
- The weather is unpredictable, so Alaskans wager. The Nenana ice classic puts a tripod on the river ice, and folks wager on the spring breakup. I know someone who missed the gist, and bought five tickets, then recorded the same time and date on all five. I told her she'd better hope not to win, for she'd be famous as a lucky idiot. She corrected me. She'd be a RICH famous lucky idiot, and would happily claim her five shares of the prize.
- The fluffy snow is taller than the rat terrier now. It's grand comedy to watch her poof her way to the shelter of the spruce tree for her morning business. Some day soon she'll brush a branch and get dumped on. Hope I see it.
No. Vik is sure to clear a path off the other side of the deck so the poor hairless mutt will have a place to go; when it stops snowing; IF it stops snowing. Meanwhile the dog sleeps all day in front of the wood stove... and tries to hold her water.
- The cat is well prepared for the outdoors. He's longhaired and white, with an excellent insulating layer of chubbiness. But his idea of winter adventure is demanding to be let out, then wandering to the edge of the deck to watch the occasional vole dart about under the bird feeder. After a minute or so of "hunting", he lazes back to the door and complains to be let back in. If I can't be a weatherman, I want the cat's job.
- Late in arriving this year; this is sure to be the storm that makes the pavement disappear. We'll drive on ice until April. One would think folks here would be expert winter drivers. One would think. Last year in January, there was a fluke rain over the ice. Eighteen cars were off the road in the sixteen miles between my house and the city. Over a hundred accidents in the metro area. Seems lots of folks have to learn every year to slow down, and that fancy SUVs still don't stop on glare ice.
- If you let it, the cold and gloom can overwhelm. If you let it, the serene beauty of Alaska in winter can overwhelm you, too. Right now the snow is fresh, and soft, and pure. The forest is frosted, the field is a quiet, untracked blanket. Snow has it's own smell, and faint wood smoke also hangs lightly in the air. You can hear the little sounds, like the chittering tiny birds, or the skier on the trail in the distance. Ravens return calls across the valley, and somewhere a steep roof whumps off its load. At night the city lights will bounce off the undersides of the clouds, creating a "snow-glow" in the distance. The mountains will reveal themselves after the storm, and the light will play off contours that only show themselves in winter. Ansel would be scrambling to capture the patterns of dark and light on film. I am content to sit here and describe them to you.
- My good neighbor ruins the silence with the little snowblower he loves to use. His dogs are supervising from the window. His wife will light the night with her holiday decorations, which she won't remove until March, when she'll start lighting the neighborhood in a different way with brilliant floral displays in her container garden.
- Now, though, the snow is getting heavier. The afternoon is waning. The fire needs stoking and dinner needs considering. The driveway will still be there, somewhere under there, in the morning.
UPDATE! - I used my own snowblower last night. Then we got another foot. The Christmas bear is gone. (buried) Valdez has blizzard warnings and six feet on the ground, so I won't complain. (much) Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Global Warming "Scientist"

The response to the recently hacked email from research scientists charged with documenting global warming has me miffed. Here's why:

- They took my money (tax) to produce scientific data (truth) and conspired to hide the facts (fraud) from the public (freedom of info act) because the actual numbers didn't support their agenda. Like an arsonist firefighter, a crooked judge, a bought legislator, they violated me, you, their cause, mankind. Science is the search for truth. When the data doesn't support a theory, you try to learn why. To ignore or manipulate the data is anti-science. Jones and Mann should be in prison for misuse of funds or at least banished from the scientific community. (DISPLAY their names!)

- Folks want to know who did the hack, who funded it, and why. Nice redirect, but wrong focus. If the emails are real, they bring into question the entire premise of global warming, casting a shadow on all the untainted research that's taken place. If that sells oil in the short run, blame the guys who lied about the cold temps, not the guys who caught them doing it.
- I know a few things about global warming. When I was a kid, we didn't need sunscreen. Glaciers, in general, have thinned and receded. Big chunks of polar ice are breaking off; of a size and frequency we've never heard of. China and India have horned in on our party, using energy at logarithmically increasing rates. Oil is a finite resource. We'd better be looking at how we will ADAPT to less available energy, much higher prices, and the possibility of high temps, storms, and drought.

- Bad science publicly predicted we'd be out of oil by 2000. Sold plenty of books. Bad science predicted the millenium would crash the world's computers. Maybe measures taken saved a few. Bad science has created plenty of folks conditioned to ignore good information that suggests we should change our ways, or at least prepare for what we think will happen if we don't. You really can't blame people for thinking the whole thing is a hoax, however. Like politics and religion, most folks won't hear what they don't want to believe. And weve also been conditioned to understand that EVERYBODY who gives us information is serving their own purposes, even those scientists paid with our own dollars to just give us the facts.

Monday, December 7, 2009


There are no handicapped people (certified) in our building. So don't bother scolding when I confess that I occasionally do business in the larger, quieter handicapped bathroom. No women, in particular, should gripe. When the cleaning dude had the door propped open, I saw their large private space, with it's floral display, scent plug-ins, wallpaper borders and fainting couch. I'm not really complaining; most guys (including me) are perfectly happy with our mini-stalls and no art on the walls... usually. But sometimes it's nice to have a more private room with a larger volume of air.
Anyway. Hung temporarily on the backside of the wide door for the nonexistant handicapped people is a sign that says 'OUT OF ORDER'. Perhaps there is occasional trouble here, when the sign is moved to the door front to protect people from danger I don't want to think about. I'm sitting in this quiet, large, clean, functionally perfect place, looking at the sign on the door leading out to an increasingly chaotic world. Out of order. How appropriate.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


The lady with the broken arm got her cast off, scheduled to start physical therapy this week. Now she can tell all the gals in line dancing class she's seeing a therapist, then wait for the rumor mill to start grinding out the stories.


I'm out of coffee. Yes, it is TOO worth posting about. No holiday shipment. I TOLD them this was an emergency. They just whined about "time with family" and such. And here it is Tuesday. I'm out of coffee and all any of you can do is sit there laughing in slow motion...
Still out of coffee. Tracking says it shipped. Tracking says it left the city. Tracking STILL says it left the city. Tracking NEEDS TO GET A MOVE ON!!
Brown truck on the block. I'm humming Wells Fargo Wagon song. Doesn't stop. It's getting dark, and I'm out of coffee.
Stripping the cabinets. I've got tea. I've got chocolate. No coffee. Not even crappy coffee. Next time I hide a baggy from myself. Dab the grinder with a wet finger, then remember to unplug it. Catch myself holding the empty mug, rubbing it, like a genie will pop out and give me some DAMN COFFEE!
Ok. Get a grip. Breathe deep, imagine yourself in a better place, like a Kenyan plantation or a high ridge in Jamaica. Focus your thought on anything but coffee. Not coffee. Some men survive without ever having tasted coffee, poor coffeeless bastards.
They have coffee in town. It's a poor imitation, but it's coffee. Three bucks for fuel and global warming be damned. I'm driving into town for five dollar coffee.
Coffee. I want coffee. This is a coffee shop, right? I want coffee. Black. Leave the pot.
Just fine, thanks for checking. The box was on the porch when I returned, brewed up a pot right then. Life just percolates along...

Jessie's Wrong!

Two young men came to Alaska in May to work a bit, adventure a bit, pursue fame and fortune; the same things we all came for. Vikki put her arms around the younger one and asked if we could keep him. I didn't say yes. They're still hanging around. I've grown kinda fond of them. Don't tell them, though. I got a rep.
So the older kid left an "acquaintance" Outside. Jessie. She was raised in Alaska (Willow), and told the guys they wouldn't like it here. No pretty girls.
Now there is no documented evidence of my ever actually noticing any pretty girls in Alaska in all my time here, but when I heard this particular horse ploppage, I took issue. "Jessie's wrong," I suggested.
Once again, I want it understood that I was not involved in the mutual "noticing" that went on between the guys and a large contingent of gorgeous females in Anchorage. At a favorite bakery, one brother said to the other, "Jessie's wrong, Jessie's wrong, Jessie's wrong!", once for each of the smiling cashiers. He bought a loaf of bread at each register.
I overheard "Jessie's wrong! Ten o'clock!", when a lovely in snow boots popped out of a boutique. She may have overheard, but she definitely understood, and smiled at them. "How do they know?" he asked his brother. Perhaps it was the stopping in your tracks, googly eyed jaw drop that gave her a hint. Sheesh.
I don't know if Jessie has been made aware that her incorrect assertion is debunct, or that her name is now code. And I don't think the the sisterhood of the forty-ninth state has recognized her insult..., yet. That may change. The younger brother has a plan.
He intends to start a "Jessie's Wrong" Facebook site. He will start by meeting as many Alaskan girls as possible, taking his picture with them, and posting those pictures with a first name and where they live or visit in Alaska. He intends to create a craigslist ad asking for photos, explaining why he needs ladies' help (and their friends) in proving his point to miss Jess. To his credit, he says there will be no restrictions for age, race, body type, hair color, etc. He will just ask for a first name, a hometown, and a favorite pic; nothing racy and no contact info. All in the name of promoting the image of Alaskan women. Thousands will respond. A noble thing, he is convinced.
I told him Alaskan women are notoriously independent and strongly opinionated. He seems nonplussed. I told him some women will be offended, and many are very good shots. He says, not entirely correctly, that bullets do not travel along the cyber "inner tubes." He already has plans for Jessie's Wrong clone sites for other states. Hmmm. I told him I want a piece of the advertising action and if he needs a moderator...

Disclaimer: Vikki says she would be more concerned if I DIDN'T notice a beautiful woman. She says that.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


How quickly some young adults transition from "Won't it be great having no one telling me what to do!", to "I wish I was a kid again! I can't make all these decisions!"
I'm watching several just-launched independents struggle. We smiled knowingly when they sneered back at us from the edge of the precipice, having enthusiastically jumped ourselves, once. It's amazing how they can thumb their collective noses while freefalling. Observers with vested interest can only watch hoping they'll bounce, then remain ready with restrained support if despair gets the upper hand.
We've been sharing our collection of hardship stories since they were little, but it's nature's way for youth to unhear over-the-hillers so they'll have the courage to create tales of their own. And we are still amazed when they are faced with difficult classes, ominous rent payments, or work, and in spite of our discussions, they whine "This is HARD!"
And so: To the people I know who are newly adults and have yet to "bounce";
Yup. It IS hard. Almost as hard for the people who love you to watch as it is for you to struggle through. But, if you are ready to listen, I can help. My assistance won't be painless, though. It involves being honest with yourself. It means facing some hard realities. And it means spending a few minutes away from the clutter of your day, but that's a big part of my offering - Get rid of most of the clutter of your day.

1: Write it down.

Figure out what matters to you, and put it somewhere you can look at it. I'm not kidding. It may sound like a waste of time, but time is exactly what we're up against here.

Your life is half over. Really. Not measured in years, but measured in growth. Do you remember when you were little, and somebody told you you'd have to wait an hour for something you wanted? An hour was forever. An hour was a thousand toddler experiences. An hour felt like a lifetime. At your age, you are capable of more measurable accomplishments in an hour than you ever were or will be. You can cram four chapters, send fifty texts, type 100wpm (Yes you could!), reach highest score in a video game... and so forth. That's why you need to tackle things like college or a new job now. It doesn't get easier. I'd submit, though, that your mind as a toddler grew more in different ways in the same sixty minutes than you do even now.. Growth defines life in nature. If something (or someone) stops growing, changing, developing, it's dead. You'll be dead soon enough. Resolve to keep growing.
Have you ever been frustrated watching over your parent's shoulder while they slog on the computer, wanting to rip the mouse from their hand to just get the deed done, dying while they suffer through learning new software, setting up a dvd player or a game? Have you heard an older person ask where the last twenty years went? Have you seen them write a check in November with last year's date? It may be funny to you now, but I have depressing news. That's you before you'll see it coming. It seems so distant now...
You've read this far, so there's a chance you'll try this little exercise. List the things that are important to you. Yes, get up, get a pencil, and give up a few minutes to improve the quality of your life. Here's the hard part, though. I want you to be honest. Record the things that are, not the things you would like to be. Nobody but you is going to see the list. Put it in code if you want, but don't lie to yourself. The other thing I want you to be is selfish. I want you to list the things that matter more to YOU now, not what you think should matter, or what matters to anyone who might judge you. You don't know where to start? I'll throw some things out:
God: Once again, be honest. Don't list him because your Sunday school teacher said you should. If religion is important enough in your life that you commit a serious portion of your time and life to prayer and church, list God. If you have faith, but participate sporadically (most of us), that doesn't mean you won't fall back on God at some time in your life. List him. If he plays no part in your life, off the list.
Family: Do you depend on your family? Do you call them daily or on their birthdays? Measure the depth of your concern and communication. Try and feel what it would be like if they were taken from you today. Picture whether you could stand growing distant over time. This is an easy category to underrate when you have just left the control your parents exercised over you, you have sibling issues, or you were abused, but family is on the list for most of us.
Money: List it if your goal is great wealth, or if you are having trouble making payments. If it matters to you, list it.
Country: After 9/11, I felt and noticed a lot of selfless patriotism I didn't know existed. If you feel blessed to be an American, and you are committed to protecting what it stands for, or want to make it better, put it on the list.
Relationships: I'm talking about love interests, here. Casual or life partner, either one.
Friends: Don't underestimate what social animals we are. I hope you have friends, and they are important to you.
Cause celebre: Are you an activist? A politico? An artist? A volunteer?
Body: How important is maintaining your body, brain, and appearance?
Stuff: Flat screen TVs, laptops, phones, play stations, Chevelles, dishwasher... Do you collect? Could you live without it?
Partay!: Do you live for the social scene? Is fun your dominant drive? The pursuit of sex, memories, etc?
Learning for learning's sake, solitude, power, fame, a legacy; if it drives you, write it down.

Part 2: Priorities

Take your draft interests and rewrite them with numbers in front of them. Yeah, I know, you could just slap the numbers on the draft. But rewriting them gives you at least a few seconds to think about them. Again, I don't want you to put them in the order your parents would expect. If the hottie in chem class is THE dominant force in your life, admit it to yourself.
Chances are, you'll have to ask yourself some questions. If your iphone broke, or you found out the object of your desire preferred the other gender, how would your life change? Would your list change? I'm just asking you to order the things that matter to you most right now, considering the flightiness of most of the daily chaos you deal with. Think a bit about what type of events could change your list and what might make you celebrate or break your heart?
Got your new list? If you put yourself into it, you've got a snapshot of your character. You're going to need it. It helps to have an idea of who you are if you are to envision who you will become, and that's what I'm going to ask you to do next.

3: Suit Yourself!

There is one person you owe. If you thought I'd say "yourself", you're right, but with a twist. I want you to envision yourself in one of those forensics aging programs, turning fifty years old. I'm serious. Close your eyes and try to form an image. Design your face, imagine the setting, think of the people in the background. When the image is complete, visualize printing it on the back of your brain. (Hear the paper feed!) I should have warned you, once you capture the image, it's evidence. It's real. The person in that photo is someone you'll have as a consultant whenever there are decisions to be made. They are the person you are responsible to because they are you; and they are not that far away.
Take a look at the person you created. Are they smiling? Intense? Surrounded by family and friends? Do they have good stuff? A nice house, cars, clothes? Try to get into their head. Build a story and a character for them like you were writing a novel. Put some effort into your future self. You deserve it.
And now, treat yourself like an actor in your own movie. Put yourself in character as your future self, and redo your list. Think about how technology will change. Consider how your parents will have aged. Will you have a spouse? Children? What great memories or wisdoms will you have gathered? What will matter in thirty years that doesn't now? What on your current list will be meaningless? Sounds like work? You bet. Maybe more than you know. But what you'll have when you are done is a mentor; someone you can trust when you need advice.
If you pictured your future self behind bars or homeless, kid yourself that you just don't care, don't believe you'll live that long, if you choose not to look because you're scared of what you'll find, or if you accept that you're not worth taking seriously, it's time to grow up, and that's the next step.

4: Grow!
When you were two (more or less), you went through one of the toughest times ever. From the whole world rotating around you and only you, you were shocked into the reality that the planet and the people on it were not created for only your pleasure. Demands and tantrums were ignored or even punished, and you had to start exploring ways of getting by, to make it work for you. If your parents were being parents, they helped you cope, to make that transition more easily. Later they helped you adjust to having people tell you what to do (like teachers and bosses), how to apply yourself to earn what you want across time instead of expecting gifts, and how to compromise to grow relationships. If your parents were really good at their jobs, you didn't even realise you were changing, you were so confident and competent. But, unfortunately, you didn't come with a manual, and the perfect parent doesn't exist. So you may have to fill in some gaps. News flash! You are going through another transition, and you are not the only person to have ever gone through it. Let me define growing up for you. It means taking responsibility for the person you intend to become. Things may not work out exactly as you have them pictured now, but having that vision of your quality future self, putting forth real effort to become them, and making short term compromises and sacrifices to that end are what matters.
Not growing up is not an option any more than not growing taller (or aging), so complaining about it is wasted effort. Excessive worry doesn't help, either. When you are faced with a decision, gather all the facts, consult your future self (and the list), act, and don't look back. Take solace in the fact you made the best decision you could at the time based on all the information you had, and understand you are going to make mistakes. Most of those mistakes you'll be able to fix, or at least overcome. The most important part is that you don't keep repeating them.
Again,that's what growing up really means. Making decisions rather than avoiding them, taking the reins of your life rather than letting things just happen to you. Living, rather than existing. Your future self wants some positive memories, honor, health, and self respect. Why deny yourself?

5: Getting Started
If your future self didn't make a list yet, tell them to get busy. You need concrete terms to live by.
Next, you'll need a routine. Remember I said your life is half over and that time is the enemy? Taking control of your time is the hardest part of being an adult. A century ago, most people had lives ruled by routine, but you are lucky enough to have been born into a wonderfully complex age, full of opportunities, but also chock full of distractions from what you need to be accomplishing for your future self.
Make a schedule. Write it down. Reserve time for your needs, first. Make yourself understand that sleep, diet, and exercise are time stretchers, rather than time wasters. You'll function better every day and for a lot more days if you take care of yourself. Don't deplete your sleep bank, but don't use sleep as escapism, either. Wake up at a regular time. It's easy when you get used to it. Have you noticed how many people complain about jet lag when daylight savings changes their schedule by an hour? Circadian rhythms are real, and fighting them makes you less alive.
Exercise is simple. Reserve time to move. What you don't use, you rapidly lose, and your future self doesn't want to do without.
Nutrition is trickier. You can make a production of a meal that is less nutritious than some fast food. Generally, though, you intuit what you need and what is good for you. Reserve the time to put together the right number of decent meals and snacks. You really are what you eat and so many of us are, well, crap. Make up your mind to eat well. Like every routine, diet may be hard to establish, but after a few repetitions, becomes automatic.
Lay out your hygiene needs, clothes and and other personal routines. Keep it simple. Try to create efficiencies.

START NOW! Choose the clothes you'll wear tomorrow morning. Set out your toothbrush, towel, etc. Think about your meals. Block time to move. Resolve to do these routine things every day until they become so automatic you can do them in your sleep. Some day you'll have to.

After your needs routines come your responsibilities. Try to think of your responsibilities as creating a body of work, like a resume. Showing up for work (on time), studying, paying bills, personal finances, growing professionally, and keeping a decent household and vehicle. Responsibilities are fulfilling your contract, doing what you tell others (and your future self) you'll do. Like a credit rating, think of it as an honor rating. Depending on your priority list, you may consider maintaining certain relationships as responsibilities as well. Only you can weight them. But the point here is to take care of your responsibilities before you move on to other things, like wants. I'm not saying your future self is so rigid you can't take a personal phone call before folding the laundry, but if you feel a tinge about leaving necessary tasks, you need to take care of business. Things undone clutter the brain. They nag at you and waste thought and time. Save yourself the trouble. Get it done on a schedule and then go enjoy yourself.
Now the hard part. Wants. With small children, it's all about wants. Part of growing up is learning to weigh our desires against their cost. We should learn early on the value of paying up front with money we have earned ourselves, but we live in such a land of plenty that for generations the American dream has been so easily grasped that many consider it a birthright. Stuff and entertainment dominate our lives. Marketers have trained us to the point of addiction, spending our resources (money and time) on new technologies and distractions to the point we have little time for anything else. An average American spends 4 hrs daily with the TV on. Video games are the new bonding medium for males. Texting, Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace interrupt the flow of hundreds of millions of otherwise productive days. My point here is that only you can decide how important it is to read your "friend's" post that they are going to the bathroom, but if it is distracting you from your adult responsibilities, then you have a problem you need to deal with. If you play video games or surf for more than an hour per day you probably have an addiction. If your passion is porn, methamphetamines, or Halo, you are cheating your future self.
I'm not saying you should not have wants. If your future self would value a high game score over a backpacking trip or a night out, or a credit rating, or... well that's between you and them.

6: Success and Failure

Traditional success may not be your thing, but I'll tell you why it matters. Doing what you should do now opens doors for what you want to do later. When that great investment opportunity or bargain pops up, you need cash in the bank to take advantage of it. When the job you love becomes available, you need the skills and history to land it. When things happen in life that require strength or resourcefulness, you will be glad for having gathered some. If you have to rely on friends or family for support, those relationships will only be as strong as the foundation you've built. Take an honest look, and judge for yourself how much you've contributed to your own future. I can almost guarantee the future you envision won't be the exact reality you'll find, but thinking about where you are headed and moving that direction will make where you DO end up a much better place. Failure is allowing yourself to become stagnant, giving up on yourself. Picture your future self as someone who likes who they've become, rather than someone who "didn't pass the IQ test."

7: Education and Altruism

Look at education as a way to listen to dead people. Humans have been heaping this huge mound of information throughout history, and universities glean and concentrate the best stuff so that you don't have to. You can't learn everything about everything in a lifetime. You can't even learn everything about one topic in a lifetime. All you CAN do is pick a pile of knowledge you think you can use and tackle it the best you know how. You have to trust the dead people, at least a little, to give you mostly truth without too much extraneous BS. You can't learn it all any more than you can finish the internet, but the system is there for a reason, and one reason is to help you succeed. But there's a problem. Educational systems also exist for other reasons. They block stamp needed "professionals", and they do research to further expand human knowledge and experience. Sometimes students are lost in the cross purposes.
A degree defines you as someone with the basic theoretical skills to do a job society needs. The paper also tells the world you have the discipline and self respect (grown upp-ed-ness) it takes to wade through all of the structural obstacles and bureaucracy the system will throw at you. The degree says you weren't sitting on your butt for the last few years. What a degree does not show is whether you have acquired the social skills required to get by in the real world. It doesn't say you've made goals, or you're competitive, or that you care about others, or you have ambitions to change the world. Of course the lack of a degree doesn't demonstrate those things either.
One of the most successful people I admire believed that "school got in the way of his education." He never got a diploma, but studied literature on his own, traveled, and lived one grand adventure after another. He knew he wanted to write. He woke up every day reminding himself of the writer he wished to become and the stories he wished to tell. Others saw him as a renegade, a free spirit, a person living without structure. Actually, he was very disciplined. He worked for money to live and money to move on to the next adventure. He played hard, studied books, and studied people. He was blessed with the ability and desire to keep learning and growing throughout his long life. He's proof that you don't require a paper of approval from a university to succeed if you are sufficiently talented, and lucky.
For most of us, though, it's easier to work within the system, making it work for us, to get what we want. What all of us want is to have our basic needs met first, like food and shelter. That takes money, but it's amazing how little of it, if we choose to live simply. Next we want freedom and love, an interesting contradiction that takes at least the effort required for money. And when those needs are met, most of us crave purpose.
It's tough when you are young to consider your immortality. But growing up requires you to do just that. Some day you'll wake up dead, and you will have made a difference in the world, or not. I hope you will leave the world a better place for those that follow. I hope you will add to the big ol' pile of human knowledge and understanding. It's up to you. It's a choice. It starts now.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


I am not joking, she was naked. I don't joke about nude women, you know my situation.

The bumper was pushed into the body just enough to make it worth a claim, and she ran into me! I heard the tire slide shoosh on the ice, and that sick thoonk of deforming plastic, and I knew I'd be late for work again and my insurance rates were going up. I thought she must have seen the scowl on my face as I got out of the car, because she had rolled down the window and was holding a hand toward toward me in the classic crossing guard STOP position. She yelled, "Wait, Please!"

I stopped. She was frantic, tearing at the passenger seat with her free hand, still holding me at a distance with her palm hung out in the frigid air.

"Oh fiddlesticks, I. don't have time for this'" I muttered and walked a few steps toward her before the possibility of her digging for a pistol stopped me again just paces from her windshield.

She was having no success ripping the cover from the seat, and she hadn't noticed my approach. She mumbled a gentle curse, and sat up. She saw me, and I saw her. Our faces expanded together into silent screams. She ripped her arms across her chest, and I mumbled a little curse of my own. It seemed a long time, but surely just a moment, we stayed frozen that way.

She composed herself before I could. "Um... I'm not wearing any clothes."

"Yes," was all I could manage.

"Do you have a blanket, or something..."

I woke from my trance and started thinking again. I crunched back to my car, glancing down at the licence plate, repeating it to register in my muddled mind. If this was an escape ploy and she took off, I'd need more for the police than "Find a crazy woman with perfect auburn hair, fresh makeup, and an ample chest responding to the crisp morning!" They'd probably throw me in jail.

There was nothing in the car to use for a cover. I did look. I wasn't even wearing a jacket, just a flannel shirt. So I took off my shirt and walked back to the scene of the accident. Averting my head, I handed it through the window. I heard a shuffle, then she thanked me.

"I'll want it back," I laughed, but the cold was already biting at me.

She had a sheepish little smirk. "I really am sorry. Haven't had a chance to mount the studded tires, you know."

"Okay." Oh yeah. The accident. I'd almost forgotten. "We should probably pull into the parking lot there and swap information."

She nodded and drove into the lot while I repeated her tag number one more time. I followed, and we parked in front of the coffee shop I'd left just minutes before. My glove box had my insurance info and a pack of post-its, but no pen. My cell phone had 2 missed calls. That would be my buddy at work, telling me to get my rear in there before my supervisor missed me.

"Do you have a pencil?" I asked, waving my post-its.

"Sure! Right here in my p..." She reached for the purse that wasn't there, stopped, then turned back, slowly shaking her head.

I thought for a minute, then remembered the coffee shop waitress with the embroidered name tag. Amy. She'd been my surly waitress and snippy cashier, resentful that I hadn't tipped after she'd left my cup empty, then responded with sarcasm when I refilled it myself from the waitress station. But she had a pen. I extended my "wait-a-minute" finger to the naked lady, and went into the cafe.

I've been through those doors a thousand times, and I'd never noticed that little No shirt, No shoes, No service notice. Honesty in advertising should require them to add that service is not guaranteed, however, even to those in tuxedos. Shirtless through the doors I went, and there stood a glib Amy, one hand on her hip and one hand in the same traffic cop stop the naked lady had used.

For all the customers to hear, she read the sign in a sing-songy twang, then pointed to the door.

"No wait, I don't need service. I just need to borrow a ..."

"I saaaaiid...," she interrupted, "Noooo shirt..,"

I walked out. Then I remembered my oil rag. Perfect. Wrapped around the jack stand in my car was a filthy torn t-shirt I'd long ago tossed into the cleaning bin, and eventually stuffed in the car to quiet rattles and wipe the dipstick when I checked the fluids. I put the god-awful rag on, winked at the naked lady, strolled right past Amy (wiping the smugness off her) and went straight to the cashier desk. I'd remembered using a pen there. I hadn't remembered it being on a chain.

Amy walked over. "Do you have a pen?", I asked. She just nodded at the chained pen.

"What kind of waitress doesn't carry a pen?" She just looked at me.

"Alrighty then." I tried to remove the pen from the chain, but the damn thing wouldn't release.

"How do you get this blasted thing off?", I said to myself.

"S'bove my pay grade!", Amy said as she wheeled and walked away.

Then there was a knock on the glass. The naked lady had evidently seen my dilemma, dug in her car, and found a pen. She was standing in the full length window in my shirt waving the pen and knocking. Every face in the place was glued to the action. If I hadn't been too much of a gentleman to notice, I'd seen she had long shapely goosebumped legs that, as my father used to say, went aaalllll the way down to the ground. When I didn't respond right away, she came through the door. All the chatter and silverware clanking stopped.

"I found one!" was all she said.

I caught Amy checking the woman's feet. The woman had evidently watched the shirt&shoes exchange, then donned a pair of ice grippers found when searching for a pen. They weren't exactly shoes, just friction strips that strap over normal footwear, but evidently they were shoe-ish enough to pass muster with Amy.

I couldn't help but think ' this woman has no winter tires or underpants, but she's got a shirt (borrowed) and shoes. (after a fashion)

I don't know why we got a table (booth, actually), but it was warmer inside, so we swapped info and got a cup of coffee from Amy to justify the use of the table. When she sat the shirt hiked up a bit and she politely spread a napkin and put it in her lap. An eight year old still got cuffed by his mother for leaning to gain a better vantage.

"I guess I ought to explain," she started, flipping her hands.

"Gotta admit, I'm curious," I said.

"I was just going to check the mail. No wait, let me go back. I was getting dressed, I had my face done, my hair done, and my underwear on. I had laid out my favorite blue power dress because I've got a meeting today with the board. I set everything on the counter last night and I didn't realise my cat had slept on them until I started to put the dress on. There was white hair everywhere."

A pair of prim ladies stopped at the table on their way out of the shop. "I have never needed coffee THAT bad!", one of them said. "Here, dear", she offered, "I always carry an extra pair.", and she put a little bundle in the naked lady's hand. After they'd left, the naked lady opened the packet, and laughed at the tiniest thong either of us had ever seen. She discreetly slipped them on, commenting on beggars being choosers, then continuing with her story. The eight year old was piqued again, and his mom tweaked his ear and changed places with him, probably because she wanted nearly as badly to see what was going on.

"I put all my clothes in the dryer to fluff the hair off them. I keep one of those tape hair removers in my car, so I went into the garage to find it, but while I was there, I saw the list I'd made the day before, and got distracted."

A great big guy in old work clothes slowed down as he walked past our table. I glared at him, but she just smiled and went on about her clothes; or lack thereof.

"On the list was 'deposit paycheck'. I was really worried about my paycheck. It always shows up on Thursday, even though it's dated Friday and the bank won't cash it until then. But it wasn't in the box. That's the first time. I've been meaning to get direct deposit, but I still don't trust them, you know? And I still like the feel of it, in my hand."

The big guy was back, and he was carrying what looked like a pile of black canvas. "Ma'am? This here's just a set of bibs. They won't fit, but they'll get you by 'til you find your pants. My name's in 'em. I'm just down the road."

"Bless you!", she said. He absolutely glowed as he cuffed my shoulder and strode away.

"So! I'm in the car, worried about my check, and I'm late. The sun's not up yet, I have tinted side windows, and the mailbox is just two houses away! I fire it up and go for it!"

She's sliding the coveralls on, now, and the little boy sitting backwards in his seat is heartbroken. She doubles the cuff twice, but a satisfied sigh says they'll do.

"I get to the mailbox and my neighbor, Ernie, is just coming off the bike trail. He sees me and waves, then starts going through his mail. He can't see into the car, but I'm not stopping. I flip a youie, and wait for him to leave. I forgot, though, that now the box is now on the wrong side of the vehicle, and I never went after the mail without clothes on, so now I have to drive completely around the neighborhood to get back to where I can get at the box. My neighborhood is steep, and I wasn't aware it snowed. The first time I slipped, I thought I'd better give up on the mail and take the gentler hill back to the house. So now I'm in traffic. And I'm hiding. And I hit you. And I'm so totally embarrassed."

I followed her home. The car did fine. She returned my shirt. I smelled like used oil for a week. I wish I could tell you we got together, had twelve kids, and lived happily ever after, but I didn't see her again. I got written up for missing work, the deductible was higher than the damages to my car, and my rates went up anyway.

I see the big North Slope worker once in a while. He got his bibs back the same day. Said she was a really sweet lady. He introduced me to his friend as his hero; the only guy he's ever known with naked women chasing him down the public thoroughfares.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Death of a Woman

You can knock off the good cop bad cop grilling routine. If you'll shut up and listen, I'll tell you my story, then you can decide if I need arresting, or what.

I've had a carry permit for six months, not because I see myself as a superhero or some sort of right to arms ideologue, but just because I thought it would be a cool thing to do, and because I believed a few people would back away from violent crimes if enough of us are packing. Looking back, if I'd known what a pain in the ass it is, the classes, giving up private data and biometrics for FBI files, the cost, the liability; I'd have run from the idea. But I didn't. So there I was, sitting in the lecture hall, bored to death listening to the whiny foreign grad student monotoning the same stuff I'd read online, my little Beretta (a lady's gun, ironically) tucked in the shoulder holster, when a crazy looking bald dude ran in waving his own pistol and screaming his head off.

I don't flinch much anymore. Maybe my fight 'n flight sensors have died, or perhaps I've just learned that you panic in the wrong direction often as not, but I didn't budge. I do remember the rest of the class all sucked in their breath; all together, you could hear it. If my brain had clicked right then, I might have been able to stop the whole thing, but it'd be my luck that I'd shoot some squirt gun prankster. I started gathering it in. Say what you want about when and how you think you'd act, but until you've got some wired asshole waving a cannon in you're face, don't presume. What? Yeah, it was a 45. Looked like a cannon from my angle.

A wide eyed kid next to me tried to sneak a pic with his cell phone but the gunner saw him and ran growling over. He raised his gun like he'd hit him with the butt, and a bunch of folks screamed. But he grabbed the phone instead and smashed it. That's when he noticed me. I probably stood out, older than the rest and wearing a blazer.

He said, "Do nothing stupid. I will kill you." He was standing over the kid, but he was looking straight into my eyes. I believed him.

When the gunman backed away, I checked on the kid. He was in a trance, frozen, staring at the crushed phone on the carpet.

What did he look like? Jesus. Where do they find you guys. Come on. You know what he looks like. Come to think of it, he looked like Jesus. A bald Jesus with the back half of a mullet. No, I didn't recognise his accent. Could have been any guy, El Paso to Montreal, I don't know.

Anyway, he made everybody stand up and moved all the women over near the side exit, and roared at them to sit down. He was watching me again. I might have been able to draw my weapon in the shuffle, but there would have been folks between us, and I never saw an opening. Even if I could have got the jump, I don't think I'd have fired at that point. I'd have just told him to drop his firearm. I still didn't know the situation.

Some of the women were cowering, and some were glaring. The men just sat helplessly, staring at the floor like kids in class, afraid they might have to answer a question.

Then a tear rolled down his face, and he spoke to the women, emphasizing his points by wagging the barrel, moving it from face to face.

"Look what you have done." He raised his arms. I might have been able take him then, with his vision blurred, but I wanted to know what this was about.

"My Serena left me. She took my babies. And it's YOUR fault!" He screamed the last part, then refocused.

Aw for cryin' out loud, I thought. All of this 'cause his girlfriend left him? "Dude," I wanted to tell him, "get over it. You're blowing your life up over a woman. That's the way it goes today. You're just a sperm donor and a walking wallet." But I didn't say anything.

"Feminists!" He almost spit the word. "You are hate mongers! You are destroyers of civil society!"

So that's where we're going, I thought. I've got to admit, I've had similar thoughts. Women's rights started with voting, grew into the workplace, and changed dramatically with access to contraception. Equal opportunity was the goal. It has morphed, at least in its more radical form, into a movement bent on destroying half of our population in order to achieve a sick balance of power that demeans us all. None of these women were alive of course, in the twenties, or the sixties, when the real and necessary gains for women were made. The female rights bus has left the station, in my opinion, but women's studies programs at many a college are popular and profitable, so they won't go away soon. But waving a gun in these women's face won't change any of that.

"Serena took a vow. All she wanted was to be loved and to raise a family. She had that. But now, no. She wants to 'experience' other men. She wants to have more money and time. She dresses my daughter like a whore. She 'understands' why the teachers in my son's school ignore him! And I can't negotiate these things!"

Wow. Welcome to the real world, dude. Did you not watch 'Sex and the City'? Size matters. Every woman wants Mr. Big. Big dick, big portfolio, big jerk, but that's unimportant. Your little girl is just modeling today's successful woman, and your boy will get little from today's public schools. Look at the test scores. As to compromise in a relationship, geez, what fundamentalist country have you been hiding in?

"She has a lawyer. Thirty percent of what she takes from us will go to the lawyer. I will get the kids occasionally if I can afford to travel to them! Child support will keep me from doing that."

There are women who make a living marrying dolts and breaking them. I knew a case where she didn't get the house, but took the fixtures. In our state, child welfare folks will garnish your wages for twenty seven percent of your pre tax income for two kids. Forget ever owning anything or getting to see your children. Prenups dull the romance, but what's the value of romance today? God. I'm actually listening to this... terrorist.

"I can't earn enough money to make her happy. Five times I've been passed by for promotions by women less qualified."

Yup, The legendary glass ceiling has been shattered. Only three percent of CEOs nationwide are women, but fifty two percent of upper and middle management jobs are now filled by females. Considering the different career choices females make, it's hard to argue the equal pay for equal work take. I asked one of my coworkers why so many women seemed to carry a chip on their shoulder where men were concerned. She told me the chip had been put there back when she took a position in a traditionally male industry. I suggested that thirty years was a long time to carry a grudge against half the people she'd meet. You've got to be careful, though. Women are a protected category in the workplace. She can tell all the dirty degrading jokes she chooses in whatever company, but I'd be fired. I'm wondering though, what does this guy expect to gain by complaining here?

"Serena watches talk show television for women and sitcoms where men are all idiots. She goes to a women-only club. She gives money we need to politicians, breast cancer research, and women's support groups. She says 'You Go Girl!' for every woman's success and scowls at every man in the news."

Sounds to me like this guy's wife is addicted. He's slowed down now. More sad than angry. Maybe he'll just say his bit and leave. Some of the women are sobbing; more from fear, I suspect, than anything he is saying. One woman with very short hair starts to speak, but he cuts her off.

"Are you gay? Maybe you are, born that way. But most people who say they are, aren't. They play at being gay because it's fashionable. You recruit them into your lifestyle. You gain numbers and power. You deprive their future partners of their soul mate."

Uh oh. He's winding up, again. Pacing now.

"Serena disrespects me. All I have ever done is love her. But she treats me like a date rapist or a child molester. I can't horseplay with the neighbor kids because some might get the wrong idea. I cannot tease the cashier at the store because I could appear to be letch. I can't have spontaneous sex or share a romantic moment with my own wife. She acts like I am using, taking advantage of her. Our children are her children. My input is unwelcome. I am a man, but if I act like one, she ridicules me. I get angry, but she knows I could never harm her. I have no leverage. No power. She has emasculated me."

He swings the gun our way. "Go, all of you over there. Get out!"

Several of the younger students bolt to the top of the lecture hall and out the doors. The rest of us file slowly up the aisle. The kid who lost his phone looks sadly back at it, gathers his backpack and study materials, and follows up the stairs.

What? What do you think I was thinking? I had actually listened to this guy's speech, and I was LEAVING. I was justifying my inaction, telling myself I hadn't managed a clear opportunity, that the police would handle the hostage situation better than I could, that I'm abandoning those poor women, that chivalry is dead in me, that I'm a coward, that I'm still unbelievingly walking away for my own safety...

"And that," he said as I reached the top step, "is the saddest part of what YOU have created. I'm not alone. Look at them. They are sheep. They used to be conquerors and guardians. Fathers, heroes. Look at them now."

Yeah. That stopped me. I thought, "You bastard. When the SWAT team blows through that door, I hope they take you out!" And I kept walking.

I'd barely made it through the door, I could see flashing lights silently approaching in the distance, and there were screams, followed by two thuds, then several more. I think I screamed myself. It felt like the adrenaline exploded in my head. I ran back into the building, pistol drawn. I dove halfway down the steps, pulled up behind the mixer table and took aim. He was just firing into the group of terrified women, the deafening shots and echoes dulling the groans and screeches from the huddled students. I fired twice, changed position, then fired twice more. He didn't stop except to slap another magazine into his pistol, which thundered again and again compared to the hand clap of my little gun. I thought he might be wearing a vest, so I shot him in the leg, and he stumbled. He looked over at me, and without raising his gun, mouthed "Thank you!" I put my last round into his neck, and he collapsed. Then I noticed the seeps where he bled from my first ineffectual shots. I went to help the victims. I remember there was so much blood. I remember the deceased had a N.O.W t-shirt. I remember one lady shot through the arm told me she was pregnant, and she didn't want to lose her baby. I remember suddenly being surrounded by cops and medical personnel. It happened so fast, and I'm remembering more, and I don't want to...

Still pretty drafty fiction.

Monday, October 26, 2009

For Joey

I'm mourning this dog more than any of the people I've lost in the past ten years. Earlier today the grief leaked out, my body making sounds I didn't know it could. It doesn't help there's no shoulder near to cry on, or that night shift makes emotions tougher to control. Perhaps weeping is weakness, but I'm just now realizing the weight of the role he played in this simplified life I've made, and the hole that's left, and I am weak, and so I weep. When you shut out the world, and you lose one of the few treasures you do embrace, it hurts.

Then there's the guilt; That I wasn't there when he needed me in his last moments, that I was distracted from our time together in recent days, that I may have missed something grave that was fixable or might have eased his stoic pain. But that's my MO. I haven't intentionally hurt any of those I love, but through selfish distraction or inaction, I've hurt them all; damaged them even. Joey loved me anyway.

Yeah, I know. He's a dog. And he had a pretty good life. A full life. We've been watching his muzzle start to gray and his powerful stride become less fluid. He nearly made a golden age and I should be thankful we didn't have to watch him suffer through a long decline. I felt he still had a few years left, though. That's the devil's deal you accept with a puppy. You won't grow old together. But I wasn't ready. A few more shifts and I had plans for him. We'd spend three weeks catching up after our summer was stolen from us. I owed him. We did everything together. He loved our time.

I didn't even choose him, nor would I have. Pit Bulls are a liability, or so I thought. We believed he might have some boxer blood, with long pasterns and a tall elegant frame. When people asked, we called him a Staffordshire, which is just an American pit bull. Terriers are bred to fight, and Joey was true to his instinct. We worked against it, but if another dog challenged him, he could be fierce. However, he was gentle and careful with kids, our cat, and even the little rat terrier that drove him to distraction. He was tireless in coaxing a tossed frisbee. He selected a smooth rock every outing, bringing it back to his garden at home. He sometimes carried them lengthwise like a cigar, or vertically stretching his jaws open, drool dripping from his goofy stone-loving face. He loved rocks.

When Vik found him, the poor family she visited was desperate to rid themselves of the litter. "They're beagles, medium sized!", they said. She knew better. We laughed about our medium sized beagle as our bond grew. He muscled up to seventy pounds. Most puppies are cute, and he was extraordinary. I'd trained a number of dogs, and was interested in Vikki. So I offered to take him on, not really knowing what to expect. The toughest dog I'd worked with was a St Bernard who stubbornly reverted as soon as his owner took the reins, and I didn't know bulldogs, or Vikki. But he was so eager, so full of life, so quick to learn and so anxious to please, there were no problems. He mastered basic obedience in days, and picked up hand signals as quickly as any lab or shepherd I've known. Vikki became my life partner, and Joey became my dog. He adored Vik, but he was my dog. He house trained himself, using the existing cat door. When he got too large for the door (which didn't take long), he'd still poke his head through to watch and bark at the world passing the little farm. I snuck up on him once and goosed his haunches. He yelped with startled embarrassment, then lurched his head back in. That was the first time I saw his wry smile. Those who think dogs can't smile didn't know Joey. He usually got the joke. His face was was so expressive. He loved to smile.

He still used the cat door as a window, but watched for ambushers. He grew until his head was too large for the opening, and one day when he became excited about a passing rattly cattle trailer (his favorite), he forced his head through anyway. He skulked into our room wearing the door he'd ripped from the wall, and we could only laugh and replace the door with a larger model. When I gave my old car to my teen aged daughter, I spent some time and money on it, including a paint job. Joey didn't jump on cars normally, but, seeing my daughter, he used the door for a banked turn and deeply scratched the still soft paint. We said he saved her the effort of avoiding the first damage, and she laughed about his "autograph". He knew that car and could hear it a mile away, trembling with joy at the promise of the affection it brought. He loved that car.

Some people cut a bulldogs ears, presumably to make better fighters of them. Sad. Joeys ears were like ermine, and he would sit or lay next to my chair while I typed or relaxed. He'd gently move his head under my palm, and I would unconsciously start to rub his ears. If I were distracted and accidentally pinched him, he would yerp like he'd been hit. But then he'd run his muzzle back under my wrist and look up with those huge soft brown eyes, and I'd know I was forgiven. He loved his ear rubs.

I don't know if Joey hated or enjoyed my harmonica playing. Before I played a note, just lifting it to my lips, he would start to sing. I should have filmed the times he matched the rhythm, or howled the saddest blues when the musical mood was right. It was more than coincidence; there was music in him. He loved to sing.

My mother came to visit and she wasn't well. I was concerned she might fall on the stairs, so I trained Joey to stay out from underfoot when she was on them. He shadowed her everywhere for the first few weeks of her visit. She'd climb fourteen steps, reach the top, and Joey would scramble up behind her. She'd forget why she'd come up the stairs and go back down. Joey would let her touch the bottom step and then tumble after. She laughs that he would "raise those ears and turn his head sideways as if to ask 'What the heck?'" When she felt better, she would walk the stairs to "improve her wind." And Joey improved his wind as well. She claims the stairs and Joey's good humor saved her life. He loved a good game, and he loved house guests.

While many folks would shy from attributing human-like qualities and feelings to any dog, I wish more people would demonstrate some of the behaviors this dog did. When his people were angry with each other, he'd pick up a frisbee and work his way between them. When we were down, he'd be sad with us, hugs and long faces all around. He had a joyous dance, a quizzical curious look when he played, a menacing tug of war growl and a gloating grin when he won (always wiggling back to give you another chance). He was a subtle manipulator, turning his back to the dinner table but just far enough away to avoid trouble while he drooled. If he was tossed a treat, he seldom missed a catch, but he always allowed the little dog to snatch any drops, knowing he'd get his share. He wasn't supposed to get on our bed, but we weren't consistent, so he'd sometimes wait until we started breathing deeper, then slowly transfer his weight one leg at a time onto the bed. If he were caught, he'd give you an "Oh hi, you're awake!" smile and try to curl up there anyway. Guests invariably slept with Joey at their feet; you couldn't resist him. When he welcomed visitors, he'd run up to them and place his head just below their knees; his version of a hug. When he sensed concern, he'd put himself between us and danger, real or perceived. I never doubted he'd die to protect us. When he met strangers, he let them know they were on his turf with a big voice and a serious posture, but once you cleared them, he started charming them, and he won almost everyone over. Our neighbor had been attacked by a dog as a child, and was terrified of Joey. I saw him go up to her one day and, beyond arm's length, lower his ears and sit, dropping his head in a submissive bow. She managed to take one careful step and pat him, just once. He knew. Her husband came into the yard and within minutes he and Joey were rolling in the grass. He was sensitive, generous, and affectionate. He loved people.

I did get caught over-pondering the depths of his imagination once. The desert sunset was stunning, and Joey was calmly sitting on the huge patio, gazing at the twisted black thorn tree silhouetted against a red ball on a brilliant orange horizon. I wondered if it were possible that a dog would notice a glorious sunset, or even think it beautiful. He certainly seemed focused on it. But as the sun sank, I noticed movement in the tree, and made out the shape of a distressed cat, stranded on a prickly branch, unable to move without getting stabbed or falling into the jaws of an attentive bulldog. That cat was always hunting birds near our feeders, and Joey had taken real dislike to it. I took Joey inside, and he sat in the window, watching the cat daintily picking a path down, shaking sore paws every time they were pricked. Joey didn't bark, but slowly wagged his tail. I thought again that perhaps he did value aesthetics, and the sight of that cat slinking painfully away was beautiful to him. He was loving it.

We'll be telling Joey stories the rest of our lives. I'm missing him hard, just now, but spilling here has helped replace some of the self pity with gratitude. I take comfort in the knowledge that Joey knew he was cared for. And I'm grateful we had the opportunity to be blessedly embraced by the complete devoted unquestioning love a great dog can give. If there is any truth to dogs resembling their human companions, then I am honored.

Good bye, my true friend. Thank you. It was a privilege to have known you.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Thirst and Howl

I thought I'd post a flyer about the keg and karaoke theme party I doubt I'll host on day three of next Month. I'm calling it " The Thirst and Howl the Third" party. We'll serve Maryann snaps. (Everyone liked her best) Fat guys singing sailor songs, skinny guys in silly hats, girls wearing coconut shells, and prizes for anyone who can sing the entire "Minnow" theme. It's sure to be the best time that ever wasn't, and I'll tell you why. Or not.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Floyd The Coward

Foolhardy, that's what it was. We were stopped at the light on Old Lake Road behind a whiny piped pickup full of side-hatted teenagers when a wadded Lota-Burger bag flew from the truck window. Floyd muttered from my passenger seat. He threw his door open, strode to the opposite lane, gathered the grease stained paper, and tossed it back into the truck bed. A skinhead with a cholo t-shirt and a wispy mustache growled out the rear window as Floyd ambled back toward our car.

"What the HELL do you think you're doing, OLD MAN?"

Floyd wheeled. "I'm returning trash to the garbage who threw it in my street." He glared.

Before the teen could respond, the light changed and the truck took off, spraying gravel. The kid in the window lost his balance and lurched back into the truck, causing his buddies to guffaw as they sped off, middle fingers flying.

The drivers behind honked while Floyd was painfully slow making his way back into the car. When I'd picked him up that afternoon, I'd noticed he had a hitch in his walk, and a look in his eye that was unlike any I'd ever seen there. He'd looked fearful, terrified even, and I'd never known Floyd be scared of much. But now he had Floyd's version of a Clint Eastwood swagger, and I was wishing he'd liven it up a bit. Ours was the only other car to make it through the intersection, and I wondered if I should be more wary of what waited in front of us or what followed behind.

"Valid question", I said.


"Exactly what the hell do you think you're doing? That was suicide! Kids today carry guns! It's not like when we were their age. Next time you want to call out a gang for littering, make sure it's YOUR car they find to destroy later, and maybe consult me about having your back." I paused dramatically. "I... have a LIFE!"

"Do you?"

I had to ponder that one. How could he ask? Of course I had a life. I had a set career path, an IRA, a girlfriend of a couple of years, a nice car and newer house. Compared with Floyd, I had plenty to lose! It was Floyd who'd made a mess of his life. He'd had several great jobs, but left them just about the time he verged on successful because he'd found something more exciting. He'd married his high school sweetheart and was booted only to grieve over his kids every day after. He once told me "I gave her everything she wanted, including getting out of her life when she asked me to." Child support had kept him pretty well broke, and his ex made visiting the kids so painful he just quit going. Lately, I noticed he was thinner and looked his age for the first time in the decades I'd known him. I was the closest of the few friends he had, and, for the moment, I was rethinking that.

When I didn't answer, he asked "Would you..? Have had my back?"

"Well yeah, I guess. It's not like you gave me a choice!"

"You guess. Wow. How underwhelming."

What did he expect? At eighteen we were sure we were bulletproof, and I'd have been silly enough to fight in the street over nothing, but I'd learned a few things he obviously hadn't. Was this the "huge favor" he'd called to ask for? To battle some midlife crisis? I was scared it might become a crisis of the end-of-life variety, and I wasn't ready to stand by him there. He'd griped about an insurance policy clause, and I'd convinced myself he probably just needed some cash, but decided to draw the line at a grand. At the very least, perhaps I could talk him out of whatever hare-brained scheme he was cooking.

I continued, "So, you were thinking I'd jump at the opportunity?" I mocked him. " Like, hell yeah! Let's kick some punk ass? Hooyah!"

"Something like that." He looked away, dejected.

I couldn't stop. "There were four young guys in that truck. They'd have killed us."

He didn't speak. I took a hard look. He seemed really down, overreacting a bit, I thought. His face was long and gaunt. His skin was milky and his eyes glazed. It hit me that he had not taken very good care of himself. In fact, in the conversation we'd been having before the road was trashed, he'd made a reference to a recent hospital visit, and now I wondered who or what insane act had put him there. I thought of my own fitness fetish and how I'd managed to stave off any serious illness. I remember inviting Floyd to the club once, but he said life is too short to run circles. If he had run a few circuits, maybe he wouldn't look so very tired now.

"So," I changed the subject, deciding to quit worrying about Floyd's question and get it over with. "What was it you needed? Whatever it is, you've got it. I owe you big time for that birthday shopping thing, oh, but I'm not available Sunday. I promised Kim..."

"Ah hell, never mind," he interrupted, but just then the little truck came into sight in the Dairy Queen parking lot. I managed to swerve into the treed drive behind the cemetery just in time, before we were sighted, but I could hear the thumping of their stereo as we drove away. I smiled over at Floyd as we escaped unscathed, and he was slowly shaking his head, resigned. He pointed to his sister's place as we drove by, so I swung around and dropped him off.

I never saw Floyd again. When I learned he'd been shot, I thought immediately of the kids in the truck. I called a guy I know on the police force and told him what I knew. He thanked me and said he'd look into it, but sounded less than enthusiastic. The newspaper said Floyd had been found on Old Lake road by his brother-in-law, Jake, who always seemed to me a smart and decent guy. He (Jake) had driven past the camp that morning on his way fishing, recognizing Floyd's old jeep. (I didn't know he fished.) He stopped that afternoon and found what was left of Floyd, thankfully before some innocent or family member showed up. The cops didn't find a weapon, and estimated the body had been there since the night before. They asked Jake a few questions, but I haven't heard any more about it, so I suppose it's a cold case now. At the funeral, Floyd's sister told me that the doctors had taken a good portion of what money Floyd had, but what was left, plus the insurance, had really helped his kids. And that was his entire legacy, except for some memories that haunt me.

Occasionally, an opportunity to make an honorable difference comes into our lives, sometimes involving risk. We may have to set our fear aside to even see the chance. I miss Floyd. I'm sure I could have helped, but deep in my brain I was too tied up to let myself know he was asking.

Resurrected fiction for the writing contest at

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I'm working on the mower in the front yard. It's not going well. High in the spruce trees, a bird is chittering his spring mating call. In the distance, a competing male answers him. They go at it for a good thirty minutes before I decide it's time for a talk. I scan the trees until his silouette is in focus against the mountain.

Dude. She's not even hearing you.

No answer, but no song, either. He's listening.

Right now she's partying with some biker scumbird,exploring the limits of her wildness while you twitter here in my tree.

He hops down a branch, leans forward.

Oh, don't worry, He'll dump her at some point and she'll rebound toward someone more traditional; someone sweeter and committed, like you. It won't be your song that attracts her then, though. It'll be your timing and location. Have a nesting site or two picked out, and show her you're willing to work.

He puffed his chest a bit.

That's as good as it'll get, though.

He cocked his head.

Once her eggs are fertile, you become a tool; an accessory. You're dropped in the pecking order. Your value is the worms you dig. And when the chicks fly, the relationship is over.

The tree was silent.

Sorry, Dude.

Then the bird in the distance called. No response from our end.

Now hold on. I'm not saying quitting is an option. You sing because that's what you are. Your responsibility is to build the boldest and brightest song; a song that will attract a mate, but also a song that will define a legacy, a song that will represent your species, a song that will give your kind a better chance to survive. I know that's a lot to ask. I know this is a tiny piece of a large forest, and your contribution seems miniscule, but trust me on this; your effort matters! It does. So sing. Boldly and brightly.

He did.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Food for Thought

My wife had nightmares after pizza. Something someone over at Moose Tooth Pizzeria put in the sauce worked its way into her inner consciousness and woke all the best monsters. I'd listen for a while when she spoke in her sleep to see if she'd divulge anything useful, but usually about the third scream I'd kinda lose interest and poke her and tell her to pipe down. We're not together any more, but I still honor our tradition of Friday night pizza, though it's not near as fun. But it got me to thinking, the pizza nightmares did, of how different foods affect our minds and our behaviors. So I asked around, and by golly it's amazing how many folks I know that have some food or another that changes them.

Buck doesn't drink tequila any more because it made him think he was Superman and he found out when someone sets out to conquer evil when they're NOT Superman evil hurts them a lot, so he quit. I know tequila isn't really a food, but Buck pretty much lives on hard liquor and ball park cuisine, so that's all he could come up with.

Ernie overheard his new girlfriend tell her other friend that mushrooms make her amorous. Ernie became a quick study on everything fungus. He bought books and started cooking with all the exotic Japanese shrooms. He quit fishing and started hiking in search of wild Morels. He borrowed some manure from Langleys and farmed mushrooms in his crawlspace. His girlfriend's therapist said he had some kind of addiction and she should shed herself of him. His new girlfriend likes horses.

Ted said Nutter Butter cookies always put some stupid song in his head that sticks there for days and he can't get rid of it. Sometimes he doesn't even have to eat a cookie, just look at the picture on the package. "Damndest annoying thing", he says.

Ice cream came up in my research a bunch of times. Everybody at the poker table agreed that the headaches are the worst and it hurts too much to think when your having them. But different flavors seemed to affect some of the guys differently. Flash, when eating pistachio, always designs little golf courses on the scoops with his spoon. 'Mo never hums unless he is eating his homemade peach cream, walking around mmming with his mouth full and that squeaky voice of his and you have shut him up. Walt says ice cream is for kids and won't have any until you tell him to go ahead and have some, then fills a whole bowl and scarfs it quick. Then he gets real animated and tells you everything even if you don't want to hear it, but falls asleep in his chair after an hour or so. We all told him he ought to check his sugar, but he says rocky road always gets him and he works nights besides.

Tim has a sad story about broccoli. He actually likes broccoli, but had to pretend to hate it when he was growing up, because all of his brothers and sisters did. His mom made quite a fuss over him to get him to eat his broccoli, and now that she's gone, he can't eat broccoli without thinking of her and all that attention he got. Jake likes broccoli too, but gets so uncomfortable over what it does to his system that he won't eat it if he's going to be around anybody. Truth be known, just about everything Jake eats is going to make anyone around him uncomfortable later, but broccoli is the one thing he just won't get near.

Almost everyone tells of being sent out in the night by their pregnant wives for strange foods. We figure it's one of natures mysteries, that there are women who are so tuned to the nutritional needs of whats growing in them that they will miss a development window if they don't get an ingredient in pickling spice or Clamato RIGHT NOW. Of course, we also believe there are women who just enjoy the thought of their poor sap making his fortieth trip this week to the Tastee Freeze for soft serve.

Claude gets misty every time he hears the word gruyere, as in cheese. He was sitting in Simon and Sieforts, looking out over the inlet eating $20 fried cheese with the girl he planned to marry when she let him know they were breaking up because he wasn't romantic enough. Ernie told him he thought the cheese S&S serves is actually brie, but Claude has gruyere and that girl tied together in his brain and when he gets all soap-boxy about something stupid like literature or music we work "gruyere" into the conversation and his switch gets flipped.

Cliff got a green Budweiser when he was a kid. He says looking at a label or seeing a clydesdale on TV still makes him just a little green himself. Cliff's wife heard that red wine, blueberries, and garlic make you healthy, and she's gone a little overboard with all three. She perks up and gets happy about their healthy future whenever she has some, so Cliff makes sure the house is always stocked with a box of each.

It turns out we have a scientist of sorts in the gang; the new guy, Kansas. We call him Kansas though his name is Rollie. Seems the kind thing to do even though he's never been to Kansas. Rollie has been exploring the corners of his brain box combining all kinds of foods with Ambien, the sleep drug. Ever since the judge let him off for sleep-driving his volkswagon into the DMV with his head through the wrong hole of his pajamas, claiming his sister needed to be pulled out of the fire even though there was no fire and he's an only child, Ambien has become his drug of choice.
That's a pretty ringing endorsement, because Kansas has been "expanding his horizons" since the late sixties. He claims the sleep drug is a kind of accelerant for the thoughts and moods produced by certain foods, and he's been documenting (when he's able) what he eats and what goes on after. Kansas thinks he has found a subject of study which will fill the rest of his days with purpose and leave his mark on mankind. Ernie thinks those days are short numbered and the only mark left by Kansas will be the dent in the DMV building, but the results Kansas shared are interesting, so I'll offer a sample and take my chances with any future copyright infringement.
Kansas says the best food for concentration is tuna salad. You can see it in his writing after an "experiment", he says. He probably wouldn't have wrecked the volkswagon if he'd just downed a deli-pint before he went to sleep, he says.
Fast food burgers have some mystery chemical (he's going to find) that takes your "full" signal away. One night he ran a test, and ate seven quarter pounders without his body telling him to quit. He thinks the chemical may be related to another he experienced back when you were allowed to grow your own, that would allow you to eat cardboard and crave more.
Mexican food makes Kansas "virile". He held his clenched fist at arms length with his other hand over his elbow when he told us this. Not just any Mexican food though, just the kind with real hot Hatch chile, sharp cheese, and charred refried beans. The thought of a virile Kansas is more of a Taco Bell kind of experience to the rest of us, so we didn't let him get into any depth on the subject, but there you are.
German food makes him sleepy. "Combined with Ambien, how could you tell?" was my first thought, but Kansas insisted that after controlled dosages and multiple trials, sausages, potato salad, beer, and bread make him listless and dull.
Kansas made some comment about food from Great Britain, but I don't remember it. I do remember we had a discussion afterward trying to define what English food actually is, but no one could think of any, besides Guinness, of course.
Breakfast foods actually ARE the most important meal of the day according to Kansas, even when consumed at midnight. A "train wreck" scramble from Leroy's all night cafe may look like a predigested hash of floor leavings, but Kansas claims the eggs in particular provide 8-10 hrs of staying power to conduct science and write all night.
All but the organic wines make him crazy. Most sandwich meats do the same thing. Evidently, sulfates, sulfites, nitrates, and nitrites combined with Ambien are the makings of psychopaths and radio talk show hosts according to Kansas. Cliff wanted to hear more (He has quite an assortment of Slim Jims - the factory burned and they may be collectible) but Kansas was convinced we were not capable of dealing with such ugly realities, and he moved on.
Chinese almost always spun him into depression. It only lasted for a few hours, but consistently darkened his mood. If he ever gets too happy, he says, Mongolian beef will snap him out of it.
Kansas went on quite a rave concerning Italian food. He suspects anise or oregano, but marinara makes him reflective, romantic, and deeper thinking. According to Kansas, if we spent more time with fresh pasta, heavily spiced sausage, ricotta, and organic chianti, the world would be a better place. Can't argue with him there.

Offered with an apology to Scribbit ( even though it's fishing season.

Friday, April 3, 2009

What They Hear

I love you. You can't be hungry again. Rock-a-bye.
Winnie the Pooh goes on the front, unless he's on the inside.
Childproof. Terrible twos.
You are what you eat, my little potting soil.
I hear you lying with eyes in the back of my head.
This hurts me more and it's best for you.
Pick up your dirty socks and clean your plate.
Did you want to burn the house down?
Express yourself appropriately.
I'm not the one who wanted a hound.
Words we don't use in THIS house.
You can be anything you choose, but...
Structured play. Age appropriate.
To protect AND empower you in the REAL world.
Safe sports. Adventure games.
Gifted and practice makes perfect.
I spoke with your teacher.
How many times do I have to tell you?
You are NOT other kids who have a cell phone.
Texting? You're three feet apart!
Imagine, dream, and create on schedule.
Show me again how to use the parental control.
What I meant when I said WATCH your sister...
Born in a barn with starving children,
where money trees grow on junk food.
Trust you, and check your email.
It's NOT all about grades.
Make the right decisions.
With whom? Have a good time, check in, and be home by...
Follow your dreams, and make a living wage.
And when did you plan to bring her by to introduce us?
Wrap you, free you, and why haven't you called?
I love you. I'm proud of you. I miss you.
I did the best I could.

Hail Hunks of Halibut

Several years ago, The bar and grill at the Millenium Hotel served a halibut sandwich that no desert rat (like me) could fathom. Fresh sourdough toasted to crispy buttered perfection, a grilled halibut fillet with a just-touched-the-grill crust and flaky textured full flavored fish that must have just jumped off the boat. Microbrew and seaplanes out the window only added to the experience. I've been back a few times, but it wasn't the same. Chewy or mushy fish is such a disappointment.
Then last night we chanced into the Noisy Goose Cafe in Palmer at the right time. I overheard the waitress and chef discussing patrons raving about the halibut. Vik ordered it with the usual sharing agreement. Breaded and fried is not my favorite fish technique, but I'm here to tell you, done right, good fish is not insulted by hot oil. My patty melt was decent for a patty melt, but fork wounds in my wrist mark my efforts to extract a small portion of halibut fingerlings. They were more like toe-lings short and chunky, flaky and filled with flavor, breaded with a crisp and ever so subtly spiced crust... extremis. Toe-lings doesn't sound so good, they were more like earlings, or thumblings, perhaps. Anyway, they were dang good, and I'm drooling like a bulldog over bacon just remembering them.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Special Needs

At Carl's Jr in Eagle River, I met a young man named Joey. I'd guess he's sixteen, and might weigh all of a hundred pounds. He told me that he had cleaned the table where I sat waiting for my take out. He used degreaser, in a spray bottle, and all of the tables on my side of the restaurant were no longer sticky. For some reason they HAD been sticky, but he had used degreaser, and people could now sit at clean tables. I told him he was doing a good job, and he agreed. (He was. He worked the entire time we spoke.) I asked him how long he had worked at the restaurant. He told me he has four paychecks in the bank. He wants to go to college after joining the military. First he has to graduate, and that's hard. He's good at math, but that's all he's good at. I told him we need people who are good at math. He told me he hopes we still need people like him when he gets out of the military. I told him we would always need people who work hard, and are good at math. The girl who brought my order explained that Joey has special needs. "Don't we all," I told her. She thought I didn't understand. He seemed pretty together to me.

Happy Birthday, Mother!

- My mother is eighty seven-today. She's okay with that. She never hid her age, grateful (she says) for waking to see another day. She's never been asked (she says) for the secret to her longevity, but understands that day is coming; the day people around her come to the conclusion she is old. Then, perhaps, she'll realize it herself. Until then, age is irrelevant, unless of course it works in her favor.
- My mom line dances. Not surprisingly, she's the oldest in her class. Not surprisingly, she's never chosen to graduate from the slower newbie class. "Well! I'm not fifty anymore!", she explains.
- When she tires, she sits. When she sits, several others usually drop out, as well. When someone whines about their aches, the savvy instructor usually asks "Lorene? How old are you again?" She puffs out her chest and tells them, and the complaining stops, for a while.
- Mom made a new friend recently. When Mom was asked to remind the class of her age, a spry lady of only eighty one replied "That makes me sick!!" The room broke up. When the instructor restored order and the music started, Mom took her place at the back of the line, and the "new" student fell in behind her. The dance was fresh and Mom messed up the steps and broke from the line, but being the experienced remedial line dancer she is, kept dancing to the side of the room and sat down. The new student, of course, stayed attached and plopped into the chair beside her.
- "What", the instructor asked, "Tired already?"
- "Oh no!" the new lady answered. "It's just, at our age, we don't like being told what to do!"
- The instructor had to restart the music, and the senior van takes Mom and her friend to lunch on Tuesdays.