Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Praying for the Big Easy

It breaks my heart to read the reports about New Orleans. It is one of my favorite citys. And now 80 percent of it is under water and they are predicting that thousands are dead. I am struck by how fragile things are. It's surreal to watch the news in detached horror.

I was just in New Orleans in March. It's a city like no other. I enjoyed walking cobblestone streets and marveling at the architecture and history. And now those streets have likely been washed away. I can barely imagine what it must be like for those people seeing their homes destroyed and their city crumble.

The closest I've ever been to a natural disaster was an earthquake in Seattle back in 2001. It was pretty sobering to watch buildings crumble from 30 seconds of the earth shaking. But it was nothing like a hurricane. I suppose the closest thing we could experience here would be for Mount Rainier to erupt or for a Sunami to hit.

Still I'm in shock at the loss of the Big Easy. Can it rise from the flood waters? I hope so. It would be a shame to lose the wonderful spirit of that great city.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Is blood thicker than water?

Tess and I have been having this discussion about whether or not being related to someone obligates you to well...even like them.

I don't say this for any particular reason or because of any particular person. But I don't think sharing a few common strands of DNA is enough to obligate you to care about a person.

My mother comes from a family of 13 kids. Most of them reproduced. I have more cousins, second cousins and half-cousins then you can shake a proverbial stick at. And I don't really know a single one of them.

For that matter, I don't really know any of my aunts or uncles, either. I know their names: Edgar, Alma, James, Marion, Herbert, Gladys, Ira, Irma, Dorthy, Dewey, Thomas, Lawrence and my mother, Jennie Ruth. Edgar was killed in a small plane crash years before I was born. Uncle Tommy died last October. Uncle Ira, the one who believed the Red Chinese were tunneling under my grandmother's house to kidnap him, died a few years ago. Gladys (or Happy Butt as I used to call her) is also dead. I've pretty sure most of the rest of them are alive. I'm sure my mother knows, but if I ask her about them I risk getting the long answer.

My point is that there are so many relatives on my mother's side of the family that they are no longer relevant in my life. None of my aunt's or uncles (except for maybe Ira's twin sister Irma) ever even really acknowledged that I existed. I can't really blame them. They all had big families of their own to deal with.

So this could influence my feeling about family in general. Which brings me to my own family. I have two older brothers. I will publicly acknowledge here that I love my brothers. But I will also openly admit that I don't know them. I will also lay good cash money on the fact that they don't know me. And I can also safely say that they don't read my blog, so anything I write here about them doesn't have much chance of getting back to them. No that I intend to write anything bad about them. They are both decent men.

But I don't feel close to my brothers. My oldest brother lives in Oregon. He has found Jesus (apparently living in the less developed areas of western Oregon). I never see him (my brother or Jesus). My other brother still lives in Boise. I see him and his family once a year at Thanksgiving. Most of my contact with my brothers is through my mother. I called her last night. For some reason in the conversation, she told me Dan said that he and I have different senses of humor. My response was, yes, I have one and he doesn't.

I've tried to cultivate a relationship with my niece and nephews. My oldest nephew, R, reads my blog. This means more to me than he probably realizes (happy belated birthday, btw). I left Boise when R was four or so. I'd see him once a year maybe when I'd make trips back to Boise. I thought I was his cool uncle. I first realized that I wasn't that cool when I gave him a Beavis and Butthead shirt and he pointed out that he' d get beat up at school if he ever wore it. One of my proudest moments was watching R get married to K in Las Vegas a couple of years ago. They had an Elvis impersonator and everything. For once, I felt that if I'd done nothing else for R, I'd inspired him with a sense of the absurd.

My other nephew and niece live in Boise. I send them presents on a regular basis, thinking that this makes me a good uncle. Or at least it makes me closer to them than any of my aunts or uncles ever were to me. I've even tried writing them e-mails, but they are teenagers and never respond. I'm told being teenagers gives them special permission to be rude. Regardless, I have watched them grow magically from babies to teenagers in one year increments without a real clue about the gaps in between.

And now I have Tess' family. I have four new nephews and less than a month ago, a new niece. I don't imagine the nephews will ever view me as an uncle, but maybe the niece will. And once again I'm faced with this question about what defines family. Is it blood? Or is it more?

I mean, I don't have the answer.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Leaving home

We signed the final papers to sell my old house on Wednesday. It was a legal formality. We've been in our new house for more than a week now and the old one is completely empty.

I didn't really think I was feeling anything emotional about the place. So much has gone on over the past few months that I really haven't thought much about what it would mean to actually close and lock the door for the last time.

So Tess and I drove over to the house Wednesday night for the last time. I took my digital camera and walked from room to empty room taking photos. I'm not sure why I felt compelled to take the photos. Maybe it is because I know I'll never see the inside of the house again.

As I moved from room to room, all of the memories of being in the house seemed to come alive and slam into me. I mean, good or bad, I spent 18 years in that house. Between refinishing floors, painting walls, laying tile, dealing with broken pipes, and replacing toilets, you put a lot of yourself into a place. But those are the physical things. There were the friends and family that had passed through and of course, since we know I am a cat person, my pets.

I walked through the backyard and up to where I'd buried my cat Cuervo. He was a big orange tabby. He died about six years ago. He was about 14 years old. Everyone in the neighborhood loved him. He was never the brightest bulb in the socket but he had a good heart. He had a tendency to get stuck up in the same tree over and over an never figure out how to get down unless I climbed up after him. Generally he would be so scared when I pulled him off the branch that he'd scratch me in the face. He also had a nasty habit of spraying around the house in odd places. Once he even sprayed in my Elvis shrine. It pissed me off, but pet owners tend to accept these flaws in their wards the same way parents accept children.

Cuervo was also one of the most loving animals I knew. He loved everyone. And in the down times when I felt like I didn't have a friend in the world or had just been dumped by a girlfriend, Cuervo would always climb up on my lap in the barcolounger and watch television with me. And when I came home from work, he'd usually be waiting for my by the front door next to a stone lion I have.

I found him one day sitting in my driveway bleeding from the nose. I rushed him to the vet. He died two days later of kidney failure. When I went to pick him up, they'd put him in an old cardboard box and placed a flower on top. I didn't have the heart to open the box and look at him or put him into something more appropriate. I took him home, dug a grave in the backyard and cried as I placed a slab of marble over the grave.

As I opened the patio door to the backyard to visit Cuervo one last time, I noticed a calico cat sitting there waiting. He remained motionless, watching while I walked past him toward Cuervo's grave to say goodbye. Then the calico slipped silently away.

I paused and silently said goodbye to Cuervo. And it dawned on me that maybe cats are reincarnated, too and the calico was Cuervo saying goodbye to me as well. Or at the very least, the calico was the messenger.

I went back inside and Tess and I walked through, turning off lights and then locked up the house for the last time. Before we left, I asked her to take a photo of me on my steps for the last time. For a moment, I faced the front door and fought the emotions that were bombarding me. I tried to force back the unmanly sobs that were coming out of nowhere. Tess came up and hugged me. Finally I regained my composure. I turned and smiled for the camera.

Then we got into my truck and drove to our new home.

I didn't look back.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Happy anniversary

It dawned on me this morning (get it...dawned...morning) that August is the one year anniversary of when I started my blog. It was August 4, 2004 at 4:35 p.m. to be exact. And the first thing I wrote was a disclaimer that I wasn't really a rabid Elvis fan. Because when you go around calling yourself Tim-Elvis, people are bound to get the wrong idea.

But I look back on those early blogs and I see that I peaked early. I mean, that's where the Monkey Playing Cymbals got his start (now he has his own blog and doesn't even write me, the sniffling little ingrate that he is). And that's where the Log Blogs began.

Who would have thought that my unread blog would eventually blossom into a major force in the blog world with as many as four regular readers on any given day. Some people would let this kind of unbridled success go to their heads. I, Tim-Elvis, however, remain humble and unchanged. In fact, as is wont with people my age, I find that sometimes I repeat the things I've said before in other blogs. But that is just because they are so fascinating, I know you want to read them again and again.

Anyway, it is been quite the year. Since I began the blog, I got engaged, got married, sold a house, bought a house and grew a beard. And along the way, I've encountered some great people in the blog world that I've grown to think of as friends (albeit generally faceless friends that I'll likely never meet or speak to...except for my nephew R...he's family). Anyway, thanks to Shandi, Lights in the Wake (what kind of name is that anyway...Scottish?) Teri and R. for the support and reading and commenting and sharing your blogs (except for R....he doesn't blog anymore for political reasons).

I just want you all to know that blogging has taught me a great deal about myself as well. I've discovered how obsessive/compulsive and a tad narcisstic I really am. Because I find myself checking my e-mail several times a day to see if anyone has commented on the blog. I also find myself getting aggitated if I log into my favorite blogs and they haven't posted anything new.

Then I quickly get distracted by bright, shiny objects and forget about it.

But I digress.

Anyway, who would have thought that one day I'd be engaged in an activity with a name that sounds like a marathon taking place in the swamps of Louisiana. Here's to the blog world! May we not go the way of the Dot.coms.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Mall Walkers

I had three meetings yesterday out of the office that were far enough away and far enough apart to prevent me from going back to the office. So I found myself driving along the freeway at about 9:30 a.m. with nothing to do for about two hours. I was passing a suburban mall and decided I would stop (mainly because I needed coffee and to use the restroom...not necessarily in that order).

Okay, I don't hang around malls. It wasn't part of my environment growing up. Boise didn't get it's first mall until about ten years after I left. Oh, I'd been to malls (primarily in southern California on vacations), but I was always pretty overwhelmed and over stimulated by the number of opportunities to buy things I didn't need or want by had to have.

Now just let me preface this by saying Tess and I were watching the remake of Night of the Living Dead the other night. Much of the movie is set in a mall because the people running from the zombies barricaded themselves there under the false presumption that zombies wouldn't find them there because everyone knows zombies feed on brains and there are not a lot of those to be found at your average mall.

Anyway, I walk into the mall and realize that it doesn't technically open for another 30 minutes and all of the stores have their gates down and maintenance people and mall workers are milling about drinking coffee. So I'm thinking about Night of the Living Dead and looking at possible places to hide when I see these figures in the distance walking erratically towards me with outstretched arms. And I swear I thought I heard them murmuring something about "brains" as they careened from side to side of the mall, advancing towards me.

I was just suppressing a shriek that would have rivaled any little girl when I overheard a security guard say, "Here come the mall walkers." I didn't know whether to be relieved or run away. There must have been have been maybe 50 of what my friend in the casino industry used to refer to as "blue heads" jockeying for position as they did laps of the mall before it opened.

I sat down on a bench and watched in fascination as the mall walkers staggered past me. And I know that I'm going to hell for this, but in my head I began to hear the voice of a race track announcer:
And on the outside there is Speed Walker with Handbreaks followed by Pacemaker by a head. Coming up on the outside is Plastic Rainbonnet with Shorts-n-Black Socks and Hip Replacement close behind. They are heading into the home stretch approaching the Cinnabon. And coming from behind is Oxygen Tank. Oh my, Plastic Rainbonnet is down. Now it's Speed Walker with Handbreaks and Oxygen Tank. It's Speed Walker with Handbreaks and Oxygen oh my oh my....IT'S OXYGEN TANK BY A NOSE HAIR!!!!
This kind of pissed me off because my money would have been on Speed Walker with Handbreaks. But I was quickly distracted by a security guard breaking up a scuffle in front of the Cinnabon. Apparently a new Cinnabon employee had made the mistake of handing out samples just as the Mall Walkers were passing by. I saw a tray hit the floor followed by the Cinnabon employee. Security guards began swooping in from all sides and the Mall Walkers began making a break for it in a blur of polyester with bits of cinnamon rolls clutched in their hands. And then they were gone.

I sat on the bench stunned at the drama that had just unfolded before me. Who would have thought this kind of thing went on at a shopping mall in the wee hours before the vendors open their gates and begin hawking lotions, cell phones and head massagers. I felt like Marlin Perkins from the old Wild Kingdom show witnessing the mating ritual of Nigerian Wombats.

I for one will never look at a mall in the same way.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Have you heard the one about...

We ordered blinds for all of the windows in our new house. The installer showed up Sunday afternoon to install them. I said something to him about how it was too bad, because the neighbors were enjoying the show. The installer looked at me blankly and mumbled something about what did the neighbors have to do with him installing blinds.

Humor is wasted on most people. Of course, humor is an extremely subjective thing. For example, when Tess told me that someone was coming over to install blinds, I said, wouldn't it be funny if someone who was blind opened up a business installing blinds? They could call it "The Blind Installing the Blinds." Then it dawned on me that maybe I was the only one who would think that would be funny and not in poor taste. And it raises a pretty good philosophical question: If I am the only one that thinks something is funny, is it really funny?

I suppose that is like one of those "If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound" type questions. Everyone will have a slightly different answer. But it does make me think. Why do some people think certain things are funny and others do not? What are the basic elements of humor?

For instance, what is funny about a pie in the face? When I was in college, I took a speech class. One of the assignments was to give a five minute speech to the class about any topic. I chose humor. I talked about jokes and the Three Stooges and then ended the speech by hitting myself in the face with a cream pie. I got a B+ because I went over the five minute time limit. I believe I did get a laugh. But I also learned that you can't breath with banana cream up your nose.

But why was that funny? I personally think it was funny because it was absurd given the context of the pie being smashed in my face. It was unexpected (at least to the rest of the class...I knew the pie was coming). I think most absurd, out of place things are funny. I think much of life is absurd, so I think much of life is funny.

I also think subtle, absurd humor is the best. The British are the masters of subtle, absurd humor. I think Douglas Adams, the author of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was a comic genius. I also love Monty Python. To this day, I can quote from the Holy Grail and crack myself up every time.

So, literal people, like the guy who was there to install blinds baffle me. Take this joke: A horse walks into a bar and orders a drink. The bartender asks him, "Why the long face?"

That is a stupid joke, but it cracks me up. It cracks me up because it is stupid and I recognize it as such. A literal person, however, listens to the same joke and asks, "Why was a horse allowed in a bar? And why was it depressed?"

I don't related to literal people. Engineers tend to fit into this category. It's a left brain, right brain kind of thing (though I can never remember which side controls what). And I'm not saying that people who think like engineers aren't important. I admire people who can focus on formulas for building bridges that won't collapse. They serve a purpose. But don't invite me to your parties.

I suppose humor is basically a personal thing. I mean, those people sitting on the bus laughing for no apparent reason obviously are privy to a private joke the rest of us have missed. But I do firmly believe that the survival of the human race depends upon our ability to laugh at the absurdity of existence.

So I guess I'll hang a sign over my blog that reads, "Lighten up all ye who enter here."

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Baby Phat

Phat is an adjective to describe approval in Hip Hop culture. Hence, someone or something that is phat could be cool, rich, entertaining, intelligent, fly or otherwise to be admired. The term derives from Black English Vernacular (Ebonics) as a deliberate misspelling of the word fat. Fake etymologies for "phat" state that the word originated as an acronym for "Pretty Hot And Tempting", "Plenty of Hips And Thighs" or "Pussy, Hips And Tits".
I was given the opportunity to receive one of these Baby Phat pink diamond studded phones via my e-mail today. And pretty hot and tempting as that offer might be, I'm going to pass. I just don't picture myself as the "Baby Phat" phone type.

Which brings me to my point regarding spam. Real marketing people understand the concept of target audiences and demographics. A little bit of research and perhaps the spammers could have found a fly audience for the Phat Phone. Personally, I find it frightening that such an audience exists. But hey, whatever floats your boat.

I just wish there was a way to find the person or persons responsible for each and every spam e-mail and lock them in the room with an endless loop playing at a very loud volume of Donnie and Marie Osmond singing, "I'm a little bit country." Oh and it would be an endless loop of the Phat dance hip hop version, too.

I'm sick of you telling me I'm qualified for a 2 percent interest mortgage. I'm sick of you trying to tell me I need Viagra and I'm sick of you trying to give me millions of dollars from the Nigerian lottery. I don't need a "genuine" college diploma. I don't want to become a certified minister in Billings, Montana and comfort my family in prison. And I'll be damned if I need to buy underwear for my cats wholesale. I'll continue to buy their underwear retail, thank you very much.

Why do you have to ruin the Internet with your endless scams and shoddy promotions? And now you are slowly figuring out we block you from our e-mail accounts and now you are oozing your slimey way into our blogs.

Enough all ready. I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore. From now on, I'm going to send really bad thoughts your way.

So there.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The backwards riding people

Now that we have moved to our new home in Edmonds, I get to ride the commuter train to work from Edmonds Station. First, let me say, it's pretty much the best commute I've ever had. The station is five minutes away from my house. The train runs almost entirely along the water so the view is fantastic and it drops me right next to where I work.

I only have one complaint: By the time the train gets to Edmonds, all of the people from Everett have snagged the seats that face forward near the windows. Almost everyone who gets on in Edmonds has to sit on the aisle seats facing backwards. One of my co-workers who has been commuting this way since the train started running referred to us as "the backwards riding people."

Perhaps this is how cults are started. I could start going door to door wearing a short sleeved white shirt with a skinny black tie. "Hi, my name is Tim and I am a backwards riding person. I'm here to spread the word that backwards is where its at...or at least was." I suppose I'd have to ride my bicycle backwards and strap my backpack on my chest to create the total effect (kind of like Kriss Kross). But then it would be a frontpack which is too much like a fanny pack which I can't stand because they make you look like you are wearing a codpiece.

But I digress.

Traveling the caboose of life seems to go against everything we've been taught to believe about life. I mean, the sun is supposed to come out tomorrow, not yesterday. But yesterday all of my troubles seemed so far away. So I suppose being a backwards traveling person does have a positive aspect to it.

I also suppose that you can be a leader while facing backwards. When I was a drum major in high school we used to march backwards so we could face the band while directing music. So I guess I have a history of traveling backward to the future.

This is not to say that I wouldn't jump at the opportunity to sit in a seat facing forward and stare in distain at the people traveling forward while facing backwards. I guess then I would feel a bit superior, too. But in the meantime, I guess I'm destined to be content with seeing where I've been and trusting that I'll end up (pun intended) where I'm going.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Amarikan Gothic

Owning a home is the Amarikan dream. Owning a brand spanking new home is an even better dream. I wanted Tess and I to pose for a photo in front of our new house that looked like "American Gothic," the 1930 oil painting by Grant Wood to commemorate our dream coming true. That being too complicated to arrange, I settled for the magic of PhotoShop to recreate it.

The original painting was inspired by a cottage Wood saw in a small Iowa town of Eldon. Wood asked his dentist and his sister Nan to pose for the painting that was later exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago and won a $300 prize.

I apologize to Grant Wood for taking liberties with his original work to celebrate our new home. But I thought it captured the moment well.

Our real estate agent Bob dropped the keys off Monday night after I got off from work. I asked Tess to meet me at our new house. I bought a bottle of champagne, a rose and a couple of champagne flutes (since we'd packed everything). When she pulled up to the house, I met her and then picked her up and carried her across the threshold inside where we toasted our new home. We spent the evening finishing the champagne and marveling at how big and new the house was and how lucky we were.

On Tuesday, I went to work and Tess was left on her own to supervise the movers. They turned out to be two very large and slow moving guys who were paid by the hour to make sure our carefully packed possessions would reach our new house in exactly the number of hours the moving company estimated it would take. Much to Tess' irritation, the movers arrived at 9 a.m. stared at the boxes for 15 minutes and then announced they were taking a break. They also insisted Tess NOT help them (which was about as cruel as tying her in a chair and making her stare at a crooked picture on the wall an not letting her straighten it).

Despite the movers deliberate and methodical movements, they finished moving our stuff in just under seven hours. I met Tess at our old house and loaded my truck with some of the items I mentioned in my last blog entry that the movers would not move (guitars, food stuffs and electronic equipment). We took the load to the new house (that no longer looked big and spacious now that our boxes were stacked around) and then returned to pick up the other items the movers refused to transport: our cats.

Okay, I'm going to get this out of the way for all of you cat haters out there rolling your eyes. Yes, Tess and I are considered DINKs (double income, no kids) and yes we both own cats, and yes, we love our cats. There, I said it. This doesn't mean I don't like dogs or have issues. I've owned cats since I was 19 and consider them pretty cool animals that manipulate people and trample on your emotions much in the same way as humans do.

Tess has two cats: Keliki, a fat cat she adopted while teaching in Jakarta and Lahaina, a white trash cat she adopted while living in Puyallup, Washington. Keliki's distinction is that he traveled from Jakarta to Seattle on his own with a brief stay at a pet hotel in Amsterdam. I picked him up at the airport in Seattle (which was a sure sign that I loved Tess). Lahaina's distinction is that she is polydactyl (which means she has 13 toes total on her front paws). These cats were originally bred on the East coast in sea towns where they were valued for being pretty good mousers (and Lahaina would make a pretty good fielder for the Mariners with her built in mitts).
I own one cat. Her name is Bailey. She is very small, but is a natural born killer. I call her the ninja, because with her black fur and stealthy nature, she can blend with the shadows and slip in and out of rooms unnoticed. She does this a great deal because Bailey is extremely anti-social. She also has the ability to leap 8-feet in the air from a standstill. In her younger days, she was always bringing me dead rats, moles, mice, birds and one time a garter snake. Now she mainly sleeps. I've had her for eight years.

Now I know I've violated all of my rules about the types of blogs I hate to read. I've told you about our cats, but they are a crucial part of the story of our first night in the new house. We kept the cats segregated in our old house. Bailey stayed upstairs and Keliki and Lahaina stayed downstairs. We tried introducing them a few times, but Bailey, being anti-social and Keliki, being a fat, dominate male didn't take to each other. Lahaina didn't really care much one way or the other as long as she had a floor to roll around on. We figure it was a territorial thing and all of them would be on neutral ground once they were thrown together in our new house.

So we packed them all in their respective cat carriers and transported them to the new house. We released Lahaina first and she proceeded to find a closet to cower in. We released Bailey next. She was more proactive. Like a good Ninja, she surveyed the territory and made note of places to hide that were easy to defend and launch attacks from

We kept Keliki locked up in his carrying cage while the other two cats acclimated. I swear he sat there like Hannibal Lector calmly watching everything until we unlocked the box. Then he sprung into action and began snorting like a truffle pig taking in all of the scents and ranging around the room like wild animal.

At first I thought every one was going to get along like Rodney King had wished. But then Keliki scented Bailey and the chase was on. He cornered her behind a couch and tried to squeeze his fat behind in after her. Bailey began making sounds like a Bruce Lee film and Tess threw herself into the melee with a bottle of kitty mace she'd picked up at Pet Smart that was supposed to calm cats down. It just made Keliki wet and pissed him off more. Then she began throwing catnip at him in the hopes that he would be distracted. It did for a moment and he began rolling and licking the catnip off from his fur. Bailey took the opportunity to dart for the closet Lahaina was hiding in and the two began hissing and spitting. Lahaina dashed out and ran for the futon couch and stayed cowering there for the rest of the night.

To make a long story short, we spent the rest of evening refereeing the cats between trying to find stuff in boxes that we needed for the night. We did manage to make it to a Safeway to pick up a three-foot sub sandwich and some soup for dinner (our refrigerator won't be in until Friday). We finally went to bed on the mattress on the floor at midnight and slept fitfully during the calm moments between cat fights. Tess finally put Keliki in solitary confinement in the utility room and we were able to sleep the final couple hours before we had to get up.

I caught the train to work this morning left Tess to deal with the cats, the Satellite dish installer, and the delivery of our new living room set.

It's the Amarikan Dream, but I really could use some more sleep.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Little boxes...

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky,
Little boxes, little boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.
--Malvina Reynolds
We spent all weekend packing. Having lived in the same house for the past 18-years, I haven't had a great deal of experience packing boxes. Oh, I've moved lots of people and moved boxes, but this packing thing truly sucks. Because we've hired movers to move us (we swore we would after the monster truck experience moving Tess out of her house and into the one we are moving out of now). And movers have lots of rules about packing and stuff they will move and won't move.

First rule, they will only move things in a box. And they are particular about the boxes. Books and heavy items need to go into smaller boxes or the movers will treat them with distain and not pick them up. Plus all boxes must be packed to the top with no space on top so that the boxes can be stacked without collapsing. And the movers won't move computers, musical instruments or food items.

I have lots of books and miscellaneous collections of things such as liquor decantors shaped like Elvis (I had a few weak moments on eBay). I have lots of computer equipment and I have lots of musical instruments (seven or so guitars and a banjo, to be unexact). So, pretty much the only things the movers will move of mine are the books and my liquor decantors shaped like Elvis.

I learned that packing books and Elvis-shaped liquor decantors is an artform, not unlike that of preparing a mummy for burial. I mean, it is a very similar process. You wrap the Elvis-shaped liquor decantors in swaths of bubble wrap and surround them with books (ironically many of them about Elvis). Then you seal them carefully, say a few prayers and hope the King will be reborn in my new house with all of his body parts intact.

There is another art if packing for moving: not packing the essentials to get you through a couple of nights before you leave. As we packed all of our kitchen gear I made sure I left out survival tools including a corkscrew, pizza cutter and a couple of wine glasses. Those years as a cub scout have paid off.

In the process of boxing up all of the stuff in the house that hadn't been hauled to Value Village or the dump, I was still struck with how much crap I still have. Taking one last pass through my attic, I discover a few boxes I'd missed in the initial purge of possessions. Imagine my relief when I discovered my troll doll collection, Godzilla action figure and rubber chicken stashed away in a cardboard box. Then there was my soda pop bottle collection socked away when I realized that cans and plastic were making the old heavy pop bottles obsolete. I also found my dad's personalized bowling ball in lime green bag and an old ammo box with 30-year old 16-gauge shotgun shells for his old double-barreled shotgun. And low and behold, in a box of old Christmas ornaments, I found the reindeer antlers I'd bought for my old cat Cuervo (so named because the first thing he'd done when I'd brought him home as a kitten was throw up and leap over the pile of vomit...this reminded me of a similar experience I'd had with tequila). Cuervo has long since gone to the happy mouse hunting grounds in the sky, but the antlers remain to torment my current cats with.

The shock of packing things lead to the rediscovery of some treasures I'd all forgotten about. So I neatly repacked the boxes of crap in newer boxes and sealed them carefully to be reopened years from now in my new house.

I'm sure there is a moral here somewhere, but I'm too busy trying to get the cats to wear the reindeer antlers to think of it.

Tomorrow the movers come and soon my little house will be empty (except for the food, computers and guitars). I've been too wrapped up in getting married, selling and buying houses and cleaning and packing to think much about the emotional impact of leaving a place I'd lived in for so long. Having to pay to have a new furnance put in before the new owners would finalize the deal has greatly reduced any feelings of nostalgia I have for the place, but I imagine I will soon be hit with pangs of sweet sorrow.

But at least I can have a big screen tv in the new house. I'm easy.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Coffee is for closers

We signed the escrow papers on our new house this morning. For those of you who have never bought a house, this is the crucial point of no return when you sign and initial away most of your income for the next 30 years.

The beauty of it is, rarely is actual cash exchanged and the stacks of documents you are signing and initialing are so unintelligible to the average person that you are left blissfully clueless to what you have actually agreed to. But rest assured, everything you have signed is legally binding and cast in stone.

I'm always afraid someone will show up to my door in a few days with one of the papers I signed and say, "It says here you agreed to wear a pink, frilly frock and skip down the center of the express lanes of I-5 every other Thursday at 4 a.m."

"That's ridiculous. I didn't agree to any such thing," I'd protest.

They'd flip through the papers and point to the fourth paragraph. "Is this your signature."

And sure enough I'll discover I have indeed agreed to wear a pink, frilly frock and skip down the center of the express lanes of I-5 every other Thursday at 4 a.m. It's a good thing I have access to a pink, frilly frock.

But I digress.

Most mortgage companies' offices are housed in some pretty spiffy office complexes in the hinterlands. They are rarely easy to find and, once you do, you'll wander around well-appointed lobbies marveling at how nice the building is until you find the actual mortgage office. The first thing you'll notice about mortgage offices is that they don't channel any of their "fees" into fancy furnishings or receptionists. But one thing you will find consistently at all mortgage offices is a pot of lousy coffee and powered creamer waiting for you right inside the door. Why you ask? Because coffee is for closers.

Ha, ha.... Unless you have seen the movie, Glengarry Glenn Ross, that joke was completely lost on you, but trust me it was hilarious.

Anyway, after showing up at the Mortgage office they ushered us into a small office where a stack of paper about a foot tall sat in the middle of a desk next to two pens. The mortgage officer and the mortgage officer in training (there to watch us sign the stack of a papers as a learning experience) ask us to sit down and if we wanted any coffee. I, of course, respond, "Of course, because coffee is for closers." Obviously they had not seen the movie Glengarry Glenn Ross and stared at me blankly as if Tess had walked in leading the village idiot on a leash.

I was quiet for most of the rest of the time and patiently signed and dated papers and then initialed on the back of the paper that I had indeed signed the front of the paper. And then I patiently signed papers acknowledging that I understood that there was a fee being charged for having me sign the paper.

But I couldn't contain myself when the mortgage officer explained that the next paper I was signing and dating acknowledged that I understood that I would not use the property I was buying for farming or to operate a Meth lab. I feigned indignation and complained, "You mean to tell me I can't operate a farm or crank out Meth on my own property?" The mortgage officer informed me that no, I couldn't. That was why I was signing and initialing the paper.

"So," I asked. "I suppose you are going to tell me I can't grow marijuana on my property, either."

She nodded.

"And I thought this was America." The mortgage officer looked perplexed. The mortgage officer in training made a note on her notepad. Tess elbowed me.

The mortgage officer quickly turned over the next page and had me sign and date a declaration that I would agree to wear a pink, frilly frock and skip down the center of the express lanes of I-5 every other Thursday at 4 a.m.

But at least I'll have a walk in closet at our new house to keep it in.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Goodtime Tim-Elvis has got the blog blues

Blogging is a bizarre pasttime. To date I've created about 165 posts ranging from short stories, rants, photography, philosophy and firsthand commentary on the drama of my middle aged life. And while I've tried to remain true to myself and post things I want without trying to cater to an audience (real or imagined), I am human. I have to admit there is a certain euphoria inherent in having people actually read what you've written and tell you they like it. And so consciously or subconsciously I catch myself wanting to slap up stuff that I think will get me positive reinforcement.

And then I feel so dirty. Because if I go down that path, I'm not creating, I'm pandering. So then I might as well be doing this as part of my job.

It's not that I ever really envisioned myself being a commercial success. Oh, I'd sell the movie rights to my work in a second if someone offered me a lucrative deal that involved vulgar amounts of cash and an opportunity to moon my employers. I'm not stupid, after all and everyone has a price.

I just want you all to know that I do read other people's blogs, so I'm not as self-absorbed as I may seem. I find it awkward, though to comment much on other people's blogs. Because commentors seem to fall into one of these categories: gushers (people who heap praises on every entry even it is a steaming pile of wombat's crap), whack jobs (anonymous commentors who spew random steaming piles of wombat crap), lonely hearts (people too cheap to pay for Internet dating sites and think a blog is an invitation to mate), stalkers (they often begin as gushers or lonely hearts and become progressively more scary), read me's (people who comment on your blog only to get you to read their blogs) and the chosen few ( genuinely interesting people who appreciate intelligent interaction).

There is just something daunting about wading through a list of comments made by gushers and lonely hearts on a blog and then trying to think of a comment that doesn't make you sound like one of them. So often, I become what is known on the Web as a lurker. A lurker is someone who frequents a blog, news group or chat room and just reads what other people say.

Since my own blog posts don't attract very many comments except from my own chosen few (thanks Lights, Shandi and R), I can only hope that I have hundreds of lurkers reading my stuff on a regular basis and keeping their thoughts to themselves. Or they are afraid I am a whack job and don't want to comment for fear of turning me into a stalker (because god knows I will find you).

But, if you read my blog on a regular basis and don't comment, I want you to know I appreciate you anyway.

Okay, I'm glad I got that off my chest.

Sunday, August 07, 2005


Copyright 2005 by T.E. H****

The bus churned along the street, alternately lurching to a stop and jerking forward. The veteran riders rode the rolling coach like seasoned sailors riding out a storm. Many managed to read. Others talked with friends. A few muttered and stared out windows, occasionally chuckling and nudging the person next to them.

Shawn neither read nor talked with friends. He wasn't a mutterer either. He sat at a window, eyes shielded by sunglasses. His head was tilted to one side. He appeared to be sleeping. But Shawn wasn't asleep.

Behind the dark glasses his eyes moved, noting every person crammed onto the bus. His reflection stared intently back at him in the window. It was a plain face, thin with pale skin wrapped tightly around high cheekbones. His brown hair had a consistent tousled look. He ran his fingers through the hair and smiled a slightly crooked smile as the hair fell back into its accustomed place.

Shawn turned away from the window and listened intently to snatches of conversation drifting through the crowded bus.

"...and I told her that's how I work and if you don't like it...and then he took the report and told Edison it was his idea, that son of a see that game Sunday? They ought to get rid of Hasslebeck, that asshole couldn't throw a..."

Shawn saw familiar pavement rolling by outside. He reached up and pulled the chord, signaling the driver to stop. He edged down the aisle, juggling his briefcase and umbrella as he dug into his pocket for change. The driver nodded mechanically as the change slid into the coin box. The doors opened with a sigh and Shawn tripped down the steps as the bus lunged away in a noxious cloud of diesel.

It was only a block walk to his building. It was in the center of the city. Most old and once fashionable hotels in the area were slowly being refurbished and sold as co-ops or condos. Many housed fashionable studios. Shawn's building was one of the buildings in transition. Only a small portion of the rooms had been sold as co-ops. The rest were still rented to the city's transient and not so transient population. Shawn liked that. That was one of the reasons he'd bought the studio co-op here. So much color, so much life to watch. So many emotions, so much pain.

The dowager of a building sat primly on the corner. It sternly faced a nameless 24-hour restaurant on the corner -- infamous for its clientele. Shawn looked in the window as he passed. A woman with permanent youth painted on her face smiled from a window seat. Shawn looked down shyly as he passed. The woman laughed and nudged her companion. Shawn felt their eyes on his back as he fought the urge to run for the sanctuary of his building. He felt humiliating warmth spread across his face as blood rushed to his cheeks, branding him with embarrassment. He cursed softly under his breath. Damn. They were just hookers. They're the only ones that eat there. He didn't need to be embarrassed. But it was as if the woman had looked through his sunglasses and into his eyes, boring into his brain...his soul. He shivered and pushed through the plate glass door to his building.

The lobby always reminded him of a scene from a 1940s movie. A ceiling fan turned lazily overhead, stirring palm fronds in huge cast-iron planters. Rattan couches and chairs faced each other over a worn oriental carpet. The scene was spoiled slightly by a gurgling soda machine and an out-of-order video game lurking in the corner. I should fire the set designer, Shawn thought, smiling his crooked smile again.

The bored desk clerk looked up from a vintage black and white television set and nodded, "Evening Mr. Killary."

Shawn reluctantly removed his sunglasses and returned the greeting. "Hello, Andy, any mail?"
The clerk checked the cubbyholes behind the desk and handed Shawn a stack of envelopes. He then turned back to the flickering television set.

Nothing earth shattering. Just the regular YOU HAVE ALREADY WON garbage and a few bills. Shawn punched the button on the ancient elevator and waited patiently as it groaned its way down to the lobby. He shoved the mail into his overcoat pocket. The elevator door slid open and he stepped in and punched the seventh floor. The overhead light flickered as the door creaked shut and the elevator began rising with less than usual protest. He looked up, mesmerized by the strobe-effect the light created in the dim car as it rose. He shook himself out of the trance as the car lurched to a stop at his floor and spit him out.

As he walked down the dark hallway, the once rich carpet muffled his footsteps. He liked that. He felt almost invisible as he slipped down the hall lined with rows of dark doors with faded numbers. He imagined prying eyes pressed to the peep holes watching in vain as he walked calmly to his door unseen.

Fishing his key from his pocket he gently pushed the key in the lock and turned it slowly. He paused for a moment, listening. The doorknob felt cool in his hand. With a brief glance over his shoulder he quickly turned the knob and stepped quickly into the room. He quickly eased the door shut behind him with an almost inaudible click. He slid the bolt and attached the chain guard with a sigh.

The room was dark. All of the shades on the windows were tightly drawn. Shadows flickered on the back wall of the small room. Light from a glowing screen provided the only illumination for the room. Figures moved about on the screen without sound. Shawn stood momentarily transfixed by the colorful shapes. No sound came from the box. He left the set running most of the time but he seldom turned up the sound. He preferred to make up his own dialogue -- create his own scenarios from the scattered images. The images on the screen blurred and were replaced with a different screen in a different time.

It was a game he'd made up when he was small. Both parents had worked. A cheap black and white portable had been his combination babysitter; daycare center and imaginary playmate all rolled up into one nice neat and inexpensive package.

His was a working-class family. At first his mother had only worked part-time. Later it seemed that he was left alone more and more. His mother would always come home in time to prepare dinner.

Dinner. Shawn snapped out of the memory. That reminded him he should eat something. Shawn turned from screen and hung up his umbrella and overcoat. It was a tiny, studio apartment with a small kitchen and bath. There was little in the way of furnishings. The television dominated the room. A worn, overstuffed easy chair sat across from it. His bed was folded neatly into the wall. A walk-in closet held his three suits and casual clothes.

He removed his suit and changed into a faded pair of gray Levis and a dark sweatshirt. He made his way to tiny kitchen, filled a pan with water and placed in on the stove to boil. He opened the geriatric refrigerator and fished out a can of Stroh's. He popped the top and sat down on an old wooden kitchen chair with a cracked wicker seat and watched as steam slowly began to rise. He heard his mother's voice.

"You always had funny eyes boy," his mother would tell him as he watched her prepare dinner. "You came into the world hard, face up, not face down like you was supposed to. You almost died, drowning on the fluids that was giving you life. I always thought you saw something then when you came so close to the maker."

He'd watch and listen without comment. Her tired face lined with years of hard work. She so seldom spoke. When she did it was inevitably some biblical quote garnered from the glowing evangelists on Sunday morning TV. His mother had never read the Bible. She couldn't read.
His father would come in, sit his lunch box on the counter and nod at his mother and look in Shawn's direction.

It had always like that. He had never cried much as a child. His father wouldn't stand for that. He'd never been prepared to deal with children. He'd been an only child as well. His own father had been a no-nonsense working man. The old "seen but not heard" attitude was law. Shawn learned that lesson well.

His father worked in a warehouse year after year. It was hard work, tedious work. He turned to the modern miracle of television as his escape from the rigors of his mundane life. The strongest image Shawn had of his father was of a shapeless figure merged with the overstuffed easy chair, bathed in the holy glow of the TV. When his father was watched television, which was most of his free time, he demanded the same silence and reverence one would expect within the sanctity of a cathedral. A violation of that sanctity received quick and emotionless retribution. Shawn shuddered involuntarily.

His father had died when Shawn was twelve. Shawn had not cried. His father had trained him well. Relatives he had seldom seen attended the funeral. They dropped by the apartment afterwards to pay their respects. He remembered sitting in his father's chair staring at the blank screen of the TV, wishing his mother would allow him to turn it on. Meanwhile the adults stood about, looking at him with misty eyes and shaking their heads sadly.

After that his mother worked more and more talked less and less. She became more adamant about him learning the lord's word by listening to hour after hour of video preachers. She lived another six years. One morning when he went to wake her for work he found her body twisted grotesquely on her bed, her eyelids half closed, staring up at him. He'd looked closely into her eyes before gently closing them with his fingertips. He'd cried afterwards.

Somehow she had managed to save enough money to keep up payments on a life insurance policy. The money had got him through college with enough left over to buy his co-op. Instead of the hard, manual-labor that had aged and killed his parents, he was a white-collar worker who spent each day staring into a computer screen pouring over the credit histories of countless strangers.

The water in the pot began boiling over, spitting as it hit the burner. He dumped a box of macaroni into the water and walked into the other room absently sipping from the Stroh's.
With a shrug Shawn sat the can down and threw himself into the easy chair, picking up the remote control and vacantly began zapping through the channels.

It was amazing how much Shawn picked up from TV. He knew how to read by the time he was four. By the time he started kindergarten he had developed quite a vocabulary. But he rarely talked. He preferred to listen and above all, observe.

He'd always done well in school. He absorbed the subjects his teachers presented. But he never mixed with the other children. He remembered the countless notations on report cards: "Shawn does exceptional work but he has difficulty relating to others...Shawn fails to participate in class discussions...Shawn lacks social skills."

The timer on the stove buzzed harshly. Shawn rose to drain the macaroni, mechanically dumping the powdered cheese-mix, butter and milk in with the noodles. He carried the pan of rapidly congealing macaroni back to the easy chair and methodically spooned it into his mouth as the images flickered across his face.

Through the corner of his eye he watched as the last vestiges of sunlight had faded behind the tightly pulled shades. He rose with a sigh, set the half-eaten pan of macaroni and cheese in the sink and walked to the three windows that filled up the balance of the west wall of his apartment. With the care of a Legionnaire raising the American flag on the 4th of July he raised each shade. He gasped slightly. Before him the lights of a universe of windows blinked at him.
It was the reason he'd picked this apartment. He stared mesmerized at the cityscape. He loved the way the night softened the lines of the buildings clustered before him. Most of all he loved the sea of windows, each with an untold story.

He pulled himself away from the window and walked to the closet. Carefully he picked up an object shrouded in plastic supported by a sturdy wooden tripod. He gently carried it to the window and spread the legs of the tripod. He methodically slid the plastic cover from the telescope and removed the lens caps from both ends marveling at the smoothness of the concave eye of the scope. It stared unblinking into the night.

He pulled one of the kitchen chairs up to the scope and settled down carefully bringing his face up to the eyepiece. With skilled hands he adjusted the focus and while adjusting the telescope power. The unblinking eye pulled in a window.

A family was settling down to dinner -- a mother, a father and two children. Shawn watched silently as food was passed around the table. The father spoke. The woman and children laughed. Shawn pulled back from the scope and rubbed his eyes. He felt pain as protesting brain cells exploded behind his eyes. He shuffled to the kitchen and tapped three aspirin out of a half-empty bottle and washed it down with the rest of the Stroh's. He returned to the window.
The family was still eating dinner. He marveled at how happy they seemed. The father was talking again. Shawn zoomed in on his face.

His eyes smile, he thought. He shifted to the mother. She reached over and touched her husband. Her eyes met his. Shawn pulled the zoom back, framing the entire scene. The children squirmed in their seats. Shawn caught his breath, waiting for an angry hand to strike out. The man and woman merely laughed and the children darted from the table. Shawn released the air from his lungs. It was time to move on.

He shifted the telescope eye from window to window, pausing, sometimes for seconds, sometimes for minutes and absorbing each scene. Occasionally he would look down at his watch impatiently. Finally, the hands hit 9 p.m. and he expertly scanned a row of brightly-lit windows. He stopped and refocused carefully.

She was there. She was always there, or she had been for the last three months. Sometimes at a different window, sometimes with different people, but always there. He liked that -- needed that.

He zoomed in closely on her face and sighed. She met his gaze unblinking. Her eyes sparkled with a hint of laughter and sadness. Blonde, perfectly styled hair framed her sculptured face. One corner of her mouth raised slightly creating an effect of innocence and knowing. She continued to return his stare, daring him to be the first to look away.

He zoomed back slightly. Her model's frame was draped carefully in a long, black dress, clinging seductively to her body. One hand curled around a champagne glass. Other figures were in the background but Shawn had no interest in them.

He had no idea what the building was. He had never been in it or even near it. Oh, he knew where it was. He'd fantasized about walking by it in the daylight and accidentally running into her. But he couldn't do that.

He imagined it was an exclusive club -- a place reserved for the beautiful people. That was what his mother had always called people with money. People, she had carefully pointed out, he had no business knowing about or being around. "And the meek shall inherit the earth..." she had recited.

Again he imagined he was walking up to the building. She would be coming out and their eyes would meet. He would start to say something and then the laughter would start. "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO..." he screamed, clasping his hands to his ears. "Not her, she wouldn't laugh."

He felt sweat trickling down his neck. The throbbing behind his eyes was returning. Shivering slightly, he stood up and walked shakily to the kitchen for more aspirin and another beer. He downed the tablets and held the cold can against his forehead. Ridiculous, he thought. He'd never even met this woman but he knew he loved her.

He walked back to the window and sat down. Gently he leaned over and pressed his eye to the telescope. For a brief, terrifying moment he hesitated, sure that he would see her perfect face marred by a mocking sneer. But, no, her expression was frozen with that look that had haunted him since the first time he'd picked her window. She was for him. He knew that.

Shawn looked down at his watch. It was well past 10 p.m. He longed to stay with her but it was past time for bed. He had work in the morning. It was important that he keep himself in check. With one last look he methodically replaced the lens caps on the telescope, covered it up and carried it back to the closet. He walked back to the window and slowly lowered the shade, staring into the direction of her window as the city was blotted out.

In the bathroom he opened the medicine cabinet, avoiding his image in the cracked mirror and pulled out a brown plastic prescription bottle. Pushing and turning he lifted the lid and rolled out one capsule. He carried it back to the living room. The television screen still flickered and rolled. Shawn pulled the bed down from its place in the wall, stripped out of his clothes and climbed under the cover.

He held the capsule up and looked at it in the pale light of the television. With a sigh he reached for his now warm beer and washed it down. He lay back on the bed and stared into space. The woman's face stared back. She smiled and he closed his eyes. The capsule blotted out his thoughts and his mind slipped into a world of white noise and static.

* * *

A tendril of light pried open one eye. He blinked away a test pattern and twisted awake. His mouth tasted stale. He grimaced and shuffled across the room to the bathroom. He twisted on the cold water and waited for the rust to clear away before splashing some into his face. He reached for his toothbrush, aimed a stream of paste at it and scrubbed the staleness from his mouth.

He shuffled into the kitchen and started coffee and then maneuvered mechanically back into the bathroom and started the shower. He shuddered as he stepped into the spray. Groping for a bottle of shampoo, he lathered his hair and vainly attempted to scrub the staleness from his brain.

He hated the capsules, but it was the only way he could tune-out and sleep. Dever had prescribed them. "When in doubt prescribe tranquilizers." should be inscribed above the man's desk, Shawn mused, or perhaps a drug for all reasons.

The warm spray began to work. His brain began to respond. He turned off the shower and listened to the pipes protest in response. Wrapping one towel around his waist and using another to massage his body, he dripped a trail into the kitchen as the last of the coffee gurgled through the filter. He rummaged through the cupboard and pulled out a cracked mug, filling it carefully with steaming black liquid. He took a mouthful of the coffee into his mouth, ignoring the protesting nerves in his mouth. The acidic bitterness brought out a slight grimace. A soft "Ahhhhhhh" escaped his lips as the caffeine began rousing the rest of his snoozing brain cells. He slurped down the remainder of the cup and returned to the bathroom.

Continuing his ritual, he shaved and dressed. He leaned over staring intently at the bathroom mirror. He pulled down one eyelid and groaned. "Patriotic eyes," he said to face in the mirror. "Red, white and blue..." Oh well, he thought. At least it's Friday.

Shawn slipped a pre-tied tie over his head and tightened the knot. He poured down one more cup of coffee and headed for the door. He paused briefly and looked longingly at the faces flashing across the television screen. Finally he pulled away and slipped out the door, softly locking the deadbolt behind him, double-checking it before he headed for the elevator.
Time to get down to reality, he thought.

* * *

The bus ride to work was uneventful. The morning riders were regulars. He got to work at his usual time and poured his usual cup of coffee and carried it to his terminal. He sipped slowly as he flipped the switch bringing the glowing screen to life. His in basket was piled high with the morning searches to do. Background checks mainly, confirming references and crosschecking files for risks. It was simple enough work yet it stimulated him. So much of a person's personality was revealed by his credit history. So little privacy in the world. Every time a credit card was used, electronic trails were being blazed across the country, across the world. Personally, Shawn preferred to use cash.

The day slipped by. Shawn's steadily processed lives from his in-basket to his out-basket. On his breaks he stared into the screen and saw the woman's serene face. She had become so much part of his life, his routine that he couldn't imagine life without her.

5 p.m. came and Shawn signed-off his terminal and switched off the power switch. He slipped into his overcoat, picked up his umbrella and filed out amidst the other office workers.
Once outside he headed in the opposite direction of his bus stop. It was his day to see Dr. Dever.

* * *

He hated Dever's office. The receptionist nodded when he walked in. She stared at him through an open panel in a glass-enclosed office area. He wanted to stick out his tongue and hop around like a chicken to give her the signs of insanity she seemed to expect but he didn't. He couldn't even return her stare. I wonder if she reads all of Dever's files, Shawn thought.

He sat down in an ugly vinyl chair and picked up a dog-eared magazine. He absently flipped through the pages without really looking at it. The minute hand on the office clock clicked painfully loud as it marked off time. Dever was late as usual. I wonder if he does it on purpose, Shawn thought. He didn't know how he could possible be late. He always ended Shawn's session on exactly on time regardless of what they were talking about.

The door to Dever's office opened and the doctor leaned out. "Hello Shawn, please come in and sit down, I'll just be a minute."

Shawn obediently entered the office and sat down in a large leather chair. He remembered being disappointed the first time he'd entered the office expecting to see a couch. The psychiatrists on TV all had couches.

Dever sat at a desk, writing. Finally he closed his notebook rose slowly and sat down in a chair opposite Shawn. Shawn looked down at his feet.

"Well...," Dever said. The word hung in the air and then struck Shawn. He squirmed slightly.

"Well," Dever repeated. "What's new?"

"Nothing much," Shawn replied softly.

Dever removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "Then let's talk about your week," he said, pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket and carefully rubbing the lenses of the glasses. "Have you been trying some of the techniques we talked about?"

Dever put his glasses back on and sat back in his chair. Shawn swallowed and began fishing for words. "I...I...uh did try talking to some of the people I work with."

"And how did you feel about that?"

"I didn't feel anything." Shawn began rubbing his head.

"Are you still getting your headaches?"

Shawn's hand involuntarily went to his mouth and he began chewing a fingernail. A barely audible yes escaped from the corner of his mouth.

"Have you been taking your medication regularly?"


"And have you curtailed your nightly viewing activities?"

Shawn began rocking slowly in his seat.

"We have discussed this many times Shawn," Dever said without emotion. "One of the reasons you get headaches is because you are suppressing the guilt you feel for spying on people, invading their privacy. You are denying real human contact and living through the one-dimensional world you see through your telescope."

"You don't understand," Shawn replied softly.

"What's that, I couldn't hear you."

"YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND," Shawn screamed. He began rocking back and forth again. Tears began rolling down his cheek. He hated tears. He hated Dever for forcing it out of him.

"Make me understand...tell me how you feel when you watch people." Dever leaned forward expectantly. He handed a box of tissues to Shawn. Shawn took one and wiped his face.

"I feel alive, part of things," he began. "I have control, if I see something I don't like I move on."

"What about the woman," Dever urged. "Tell me how you feel when you watch her."

Shawn looked up and for a moment met Dever's eyes. "You know I don't like to talk about her."

"Do you watch her you become aroused when you watch her?"

"NO...don't talk that way about her."

"Shawn, does the woman remind you of your mother?"

Shawn laughed and shook his head.

Dever punctured the air before him with his finger as he talked. "The woman you watch is safe...she can't reject you the way you feel your mother rejected you."

"It has nothing to do with my mother," Shawn said without feeling. "This woman is...well...different from anyone I've ever seen...she's perfect."

"But you've never met her, talked to her," Dever replied. "You must realize that this woman is merely another human. In order to be well you must accept this."

Shawn covered his face with his hands.

"I think it is time you met this woman, confronted's the only way you can learn to discern reality. Do you understand?"

Shawn nodded slowly. The throbbing in his head rose in a crescendo of pain. Dever looked at his watch and stood up. "Well, is time, I'll see you next week...we'll talk about your meeting with this woman. Good night."

Shawn rose silently and walked out. He could feel the receptionist's eyes boring into his back as he stumbled through the waiting room, fumbled clumsily with the door and stepped into the hall. He fought back the tear as he stepped outside into the descending darkness. Dever was right. It was time to meet the woman.

* * *

Shawn sat at the telescope. The woman's face was framed in the eye of the lens. She was alone tonight. He was glad.

He rose and walked to his closet. He slipped a tie over his freshly laundered shirt and carefully pulled on a sports jacket. He moved back to the window and paused momentarily staring into the night. His heart pumped loudly in his ears and his breathing became shallow. Be calm, he told himself. Relax. He sucked in air slowly and walked to the bathroom. The harsh light of a single overhead bulb cast a sickly yellow over the tiny room. He leaned over the sink and stared closely at his reflection. A small crack ran down the center of the mirror, splitting the image of his face in two. He shuddered slightly and ran a comb through his hair. With a sigh he switched off the light and headed for the door. It was time.

* * *

He stood in the shadow of the entryway and turned his face away as a car passed by. The light of the headlights flooded the doorway for a moment and he fought back the urge to run back to his apartment to the gentle gray light of the TV. He shook his head and turned around. The street was empty. With a frightened look both ways, he dashed across the street. He looked back at his building. It seemed so far away. He felt paralyzed. He felt a gentle tug on his sleeve. He whirled around eyes blazing crazily.

"Whoa, honey...nothing to be scared of." It was the women from the corner restaurant -- he recognized her mocking smile from the day before. He opened his mouth to speak but he couldn't seem to form any words.

"Whatcha doin' out all alone baby, you lookin’ for a date?" She pressed her body against him and could see the lines etched in the face beneath her make-up. The sickly sweet smell of rose perfume mingled with the odor of alcohol. He began to gag. Her plastic smile quickly changed to menacing sneer.

"What'sa matter, you queer or somethin‘...what'er ya staring at?"

His head began to pound and his throat constricted, cutting off his air. He pushed out and the prostitute tumbled onto the sidewalk amidst a string of curses. He whirled and ran. Her screams echoed in his ears and finally died out as he ran and ducked into an alleyway. Gravel crunched loudly beneath his feet. The alley was dark. Foreign sounds echoed all around him and the smell of urine and garbage stung his nostrils. Still he ran. The light of a street loomed before him, pulling him forward. He imagined hands reaching out, clutching at his coat, pulling him back into the alley. He burst out of the alley and collapsed on the steps of a building entry. Buildings rose on every side. He looked up and felt dizzy. The once friendly light of windows now seemed far away.

Shawn sat for a few minutes. His breathing became regular and he stood up. The muscles in his legs protested slightly as he massaged them into moving. He walked to the nearest street corner and checked the street signs to get his bearings. "Seventh and Pine...her building should be just a few blocks west," he said out loud. The sound of his own voice startled him. It echoed slightly before being absorbed by the night. He headed west, hugging the shadows.

Shawn recognized the unique shape of the building from a block away. Lights blazed from an almost solid line of windows at street level. Shapes loomed in several of the windows. His mouth felt dry.

It was definitely the fashionable part of the city. Expensive shops and restaurants lined the street. There was very little activity at this hour.

Shawn looked at his watch. It was close to eleven. He hoped she'd still be there. He moved ahead slowly, his eyes fixed on the line of windows. A cold drizzle began to fall. A blurred image of the building loomed ahead as Shawn blinked away drops of stinging rain. Suddenly it hit him like a jolt of electricity. She was there.

She stood at the window as if waiting, aware of his presence. He stopped. An aura of light hung on her, reminding him a little of a stained-glass image illuminated by bright sunlight. Shawn felt some of her glow merge with him. Her perfect smile looked down invitingly.

The image became suddenly marred and Shawn gasped in horror as a door opened behind the woman. A bearded man in coveralls entered and moved towards her. Still she stared serenely into the night, seemingly oblivious to the intruder. The man grasped her roughly from behind. Shawn's body reacted. His face twisted into a savage mask of primitive rage as he sprung forward, covering the endless space between him and the woman. Drawing on some hidden reserve of strength he hurtled him self through the window. Shards of glass cascaded into the room. The bearded man cried out in terror and dropped his delicate burden. He fell through the door and ran, his screams echoing obscenely.

Shawn knelt next to the woman and reached out to gently cradle her body. Her body felt cold and hard in his hands. Numbly he turned her body over. His mind shrieked as synapses after synapse exploded in agony at the sight. The serene smile was still there despite a jagged crack running down the middle of her face. Her cold, blue eyes stared glassily into his. He pulled away and as he did one of her arms came off in his hand. He shrieked in agony and looked around him. Through the open door row after row of neatly displayed merchandise stretched into the gloom. He was suddenly aware of the shrill wailing of an alarm. Still grasping the arm to his chest he leapt out of the window and ran.

* * *
His building was before him. Time had ceased to have any meaning. Shawn lurched drunkenly across the street. A car horn blared. He pushed through the main entrance. The desk clerk at his perpetual station glanced up. His eyes widened.

"My God, Mr. Killary, what happened?" Shawn was suddenly aware of blood dripping down his face. His brain acknowledged his awareness with a wave of nausea mixed with pain. He staggered to the elevator and punched the button leaving a bloody print across the up arrow.

"Mr. Killary...what's that you're holding...MY GOD IT'S AN ARM...what's going on?"

The elevator door lurched open. Shawn fell through and punched seven. The door shut cutting off the clerk's panic-stricken voice. The elevator car shuddered and rose. Shawn leaned into the corner and looked up. The overhead light still flashed, reminding him of the flickering images of a silent film. The door slide open. He stumbled down the hall, a trail of crimson drops falling closely behind him. He ignored the rows of doors lined up on either side with peepholes staring accusingly as he passed. He fumbled for his key, juggling his obscene load. His hands were slippery with his blood. The lock clicked and he fell into the apartment, slamming the door behind him.

The television screen flickered and flashed mockingly as he lie on the floor. He gazed into it and was filled with the frustration of countless wasted years. He struggled to his feet and stood opposite the set. Abruptly he grasped the plastic arm in both hands, brought it back swiftly and swung it into the glowing eye. The tube shattered in a shower of sparks, sputtering sporadically before casting the room in darkness. The wail of sirens rose from the street.
Shawn collapsed in his easy chair and reached for the phone. He lifted the receiver and dialed carefully in the dark.

"Dr. Dever's Answering Service, may I help you?"

"Yes, I need to speak to Dever."

"I'm sorry sir, it is after midnight, the doctor is unavailable right now, may I take a message?"

"Just tell him I met the woman and I won't be able to make my next appointment."

"Yes, sir and what was your name?

"Killary, Shawn Killary...oh yeah, tell him I'm now in touch with reality."

"Uh...yes, sir, good night."

"Good night." Shawn rose slowly and walked to the window. He pulled the shade. The city spread out before him. The mist and rain blurred the universe of windows. Shawn stared emotionlessly into the night. A pounding began at the door. He looked over his shoulder briefly.

"Mr. Killary, open up, this is the police."

Shawn looked down at the arm clutched next to his chest. The room suddenly felt hot. The knocking became more insistent. "I need some air," Shawn said softly. He looked up at the window and plunged through. The cold air and rain felt good as he rushed towards the ground. The lights from neighboring building's windows were a blur as he descended. He closed his eyes and relaxed his grip on the plastic arm. Sean smiled his crooked smile into the night and waited for the impact.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

What is the bogeyman afraid of?

I used to wonder about things like that as a kid. Shoot, I wonder about things like that now. What are the things that we are afraid of, afraid of?

Tess called out yesterday that there was a spider on the ceiling the size of Rhode Island. I came out of my office and she was staring up at this spider that was pretty damned big. But it was just sitting there staring back at us. "Should I get rid of it? " She asked. She was getting ready to go to a conference that morning and was heading out the door.

"I don't think it is big enough to eat the cats," I replied. Tess rolled her eyes and and kept one of them on the spider as she scurried out the door.

That evening I was sitting in my office again and I heard Tess call out that the spider was still there on the ceiling. Then I heard a shriek. I assumed that she had dispatched the poor thing or it had made it's move. She came into my office shaking her head. "The spider was on the ceiling and it shook a leg at me and opened up it's mouth or mandible or whatever you call those things. I went into the kitchen to get a paper towel to take it outside with, came back and it was on the floor dead."

It dawned on me that the spider was probably more afraid of us than we were of it and we had likely scared it to death. I wondered if that was the case with most things we are afraid of. Or at least the living things we are afraid of like spiders, insects, mice, etc. Even larger creatures like bears and mountain lions seem more often than not more in a hurry to get away from humans than humans are to get away from them.

But what about the imaginary or supernatural things we are afraid of, like the bogeyman. Is the bogeyman laying there under the bed scared to death that you'll look under the bed and find him? Or is he cowering in your closet hiding behind your clothes because he's also afraid of the dark.

I carried on similar debates with myself as a kid. I wondered if I would be as afraid of what was under my bed if I actually hid under there myself. I even conjectured that maybe, if I was actually the bogeyman, then I wouldn't have to be afraid of him anymore.

And that leads to our fears of tangible things that pose real threats like muggers, terrorists and the like. What are they afraid of? The police? Capture? Death? The bogeyman?

Most of my life, I've had almost an unnatural fear of someone breaking in my house. No one ever has. And I don't really have anything much that someone would want to steal. But still my dreams are haunted with nightmares about unlocked doors and broken windows. Shadowy figures that I can never quite make out are lurking outside the door. And the slightest noise at night makes me sit up and listen, wondering if an intruder has broken in. But it is always just one of the cats.

One time, several years ago, there was a pounding at my door at around 2 a.m. I immediately jumped up, pulled on a sweatshirt and ran downstairs. My heart was pounding and the adrenalin was pumping. I shouted out, "Who is it?" I hear, "It's the police, open the door."

This was like a bad movie plot. I resisted the urge to holler back, "Show me your badges," but I knew the patented response would likely be, "Badges, badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges." So I opened the door and this big county cop stepped in. My brain was still trying to sort out why I was standing downstairs at 2 a.m. with a cop in the living room. I nervously asked the cop what seemed to be the problem. He said that they had a report of a prowler in the neighborhood and asked me for some ID. I excused myself, grabbed my wallet off from the dresser and returned with my driver's license and handed it to the cop. He looked at it, wrote down my name and license information in a notebook and handed it back to me.

My brain began to kick in, nudged me and whispered that the cop wasn't there to ask me if I noticed anything suspicious. He thought I was the prowler. I began to feel a little indignant. The cop began asking me if I had been outside. I told him I was asleep. He then took on a little more threatening tone and told me that I wasn't asleep. He claimed he saw someone pull aside the drape and look out when he was walking up the sidewalk. I looked down at the cat who sheepishly slipped out of the room.

I began to protest, but the copy just shook a finger at me and warned me to stay inside my house. Then he left. I stood there shaking with anger that I'd been woken up, asked for ID, then accused of prowling around the neighborhood, all while standing in my own house, barefoot in shorts and a sweatshirt.

Of course I called the precinct the next morning and complained to the cop's supervisor. He said that the neighbor had called the police complaining that someone was prowling around their yard. He explained that the cop had arrived and claimed to see someone duck around the corner of my house when he approached and then saw someone looking out the window at him a minute later. So he was justified in confronting me. I protested that the cop had accused me of lying to him in my own house and the leutenent on the phone simply responded that, unfortunately, lying was a pretty common occurance for most police.

To make a long story short, I talked to my neighbor and she said that they had seen the guy who was the prowler and told the cops it wasn't me. Turns out it was some kid that had the hots for their teenaged daughter and was hanging outside her window.

I understand that the cop was just doing his job, but it made me realize how vulnerable I was even in my own home. There was definitely an air of "guilty until proven innocent" in the whole situation.

The irony of this story was that the intruder of my nightmares turned out not to be a criminal, but a police officer. So now I've added them to my list of things that go bump in the night.

But I can only imagine what, and how many things cops are afraid of, too.

It's a paradox, don't you think? Everything we are afraid of likely is afraid of something else, even the bogeyman.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Dining has gone to the dogs

We were in Fife last Saturday, sitting in the car in the parking lot of the Poodle Dog Restaurant. We never actually went into the Poodle Dog or their lounge (the Pup Room) but I've been assured it is legendary. Fife is within spitting distance (literally) of Tacoma, Washington.

There was nothing sinister about us sitting in the car at the Poodle Dog. We were waiting for Tess' nephew to be dropped off by his grandfather so we could take him out to dinner for his 16th birthday. He lives with his grandparents out in the boonies of Washington in an area where they have a chainsaw sculpture school (I kid you not). So having him dropped off at the Poodle Dog saved us a journey into the frontier.

But it struck me as we sat there watching bikers and truckers saunter into the Pup Room how much the place resembled hundreds of similar places I'd seen traveling the backroads of the country over the years. And cheesy as they seem, it makes me sad to see them rapidly disappearing in the face of fast food joints and places like Denny's. I mean, look at that sign. It's art on a neon canvas.

When I first moved to Seattle years ago, one of the first places I ended up one late night was a 24-hour joint at the corner of Seventh and Bell--the Dog House. It's motto was, "All roads lead to the Dog House." The menu was your typical diner fare, but all of the items had names like "the Pooch" and the "Bowser Burger." All of the waitresses had worked there since the 40s and treated you like dirt. It was great. And they even had a lounge singer that took requests on the Lowry Organ. The first time I ate there, I could hear the theme song from Woody Woodpecker lofting out of the bar along with many happy, drunken voices. The place closed in 1993 and the dogs moved on to other hydrants. The place is now the Hurricane, and though I've never been there, I know it couldn't be the same.

The Doghouse Restaurant closing was followed by the Twin Teepees Restaurant on Aurora Avenue catching fire in 1997 and then again in 2000. It was finally bulldozed in July of 2001.

I took my nephew, R, to the Twin Teepees years ago for dinner when he was passing through the city with his school choir (I believe). I've always known how to impress my family.

I think it is tragic that the Twin Teepees was bulldozed, because they just don't build structures like that much these days. The Twin Teepees was an example of what is commonly known as "Vernacular Architecture" or structures built outside of "academic tradition." In other words, it was kind of a kitschy eyesore. But that was what I liked about it.

Malls and fast food chains have truly sucked the marrow out of our kitschy culture. How can we be nostalgic about Krispy Kremes or McDonalds? You go to any town across America and they are all the same. So I vote that we start putting funky diners into the historic structures category and save them for our children. Because come on, where else would you be able to order a sandwich called the Pooch with a straight face?