Friday, July 29, 2005

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.

Most mornings I enter the back door of the building I work in and walk up three flights of stairs to my office. I am normally absorbed in my iPod and clutching my Grande Americano in my hand as I trudge up the stairs without thinking. This morning I paused and looked at the light streaming through the windows, casting intricate shadows of the bannisters onto the wall. It dawned on me that the light is nothing without the shadows.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Sunny and chair: A shopping adventure

One thing you discover when you sell a house and buy a new one, is that one of those quantum physic's formulas kicks in:

h1-WP(2 dump 4)=(h2+FS4)*\$+/H1 E

Translation: h1 or the house you are selling-WP or Worldly Possessions (taken to the dump in four trips)=(h2 or the house you are buying + FS4 or at least four trips to furniture stores)* \$+ or major big bucks/H1E or all of the equity you have from selling the first house.

We spent much of the weekend walking through furniture stores trying to decide what to buy for our new house since we threw most of my old stuff away and nothing we have left really goes with the brand new house. And we have all of these rooms. Plus we have all of that equity from selling the house even after putting down a major down payment.

Fortunately, Tess and I see eye to eye on what types of furniture we like. She didn't roll her eyes anyway when I started looking at big screen tv's. And I managed to look at dining room sets without ripping out my eyes from the sockets.

But I have to tell you that furniture stores are a trip. We went to one called the Old Cannery in Sumner, Wash (go to their site and take the virtual tour...it's worth the download). It is called the Old Cannery because, coincidently, it is housed in what used to be...you guessed it...an old cannery. But the Old Cannery is to furniture what jam is to Knotts Berry Farm. Because the Old Cannery doesn't just sell furniture, they sell fun.

Case in point, you walk into the Old Cannery and you would think you were walking into a carnival midway. Large train sets run overhead. There is a snack bar and a booth that sells fudge (something I know I always get a hankering for when I'm looking at dining room sets). And scattered throughout the acres of furniture are talking mannequins and stuffed animals. A stuffed rooster squawks at you as you walk into the men's room and tells you about the great deals you'll find throughout the Old Cannery (I think it also reminds you to wash your hands).

One room is called Recliner World. For some reason a mannequin in a small airplane hangs from the ceiling and shouts at you about amazing furniture deals. Then there is the Crab Room where a giant crab hangs from the ceiling overlooking dining room sets. And of course the classic room houses 50s style memorabilia including a lifesized fiberglass...you guessed it Elvis.

In all honesty, if you can avoid being distracted by a talking rooster, the Old Cannery does have some pretty good furniture deals. We will very likely buy our dining room and bedroom sets there. But we had to go to Macy's Furniture Showcase to find our living room furniture.

Macy's had none of the Old Cannery's carnival atmosphere. Instead of talking mannequins, it had hordes of roving sales people that were obviously hungry people ready to eat novice furnture buyers for dinner. We walked in the door and several immediately swooped down on us, but Felcia got to us first:

Hi, have you heard about our no tax sale? (No, but you are going to tell us about it aren't you...she did)
What are you looking for? (Uhh...furniture? )
I don't like to bug people while they are looking. (Then why are you?)
I'll just leave you two alone, but you let me know if you need some help...my name is Felcia, what's yours? (Tim and Tess)
How cute! T& T: dynamite! (We've never heard that one...please leave us alone, I can't restrain Tess much longer).
I won't bother you any more.

Felcia finally left us alone and chased after another couple. I could hear her shouting, "Have you heard about our no tax sale?" as she scurried away. Tess and I quickly ducked around the corner and spent the next 45 minutes telling sale people we knew about the no tax sale and didn't need any questions answered about European leather versus vinyl.

We did end up buyin a leather couch, loveseat, chair and ottoman. We even had Felcia ring us up. She was in ecstasy, especially when we bought the extended care plan in case I went berzerk one night and slashed the couch with a butcher knife. Apparently all we have to do is call Macy's and they'll come out an fix it.

At least we'll have something to sit on in the new house. But we're going to have to go back to the Old Cannery soon, or we'll be sleeping and eating on leather couches. Plus I have an urge for some fudge.

Buying a new house is so much fun.

Friday, July 22, 2005

The bunny's lair...

It's been suggested lately that I turn my normally dark outlook on life, expressed through my short stories, more towards the lighter side and try and write about frolicking bunnies (and not cavorting bunnies because that would be too sexual in nature). This request comes from a person who insists they are not Stephen King though they have strong ties to Maine and have some pretty sophisticated knowledge of the Master of Macabre, so me thinks they doth protestith too much if you catch my drift.

Regardless, I do have some history of including rabbits in my writing (see "Silly Rabbit, Tricks are for Kids from August 2004). And then there is that whole Tim the Enchanter bit in Monty Python's Holy Grail with the evil, killer bunny.

Anyway, you can imagine my surprise when I am going through some photos to find my lighthouse shots from our trip to the Oregon Coast in April 2004 and I examine the photo you see above of the lighthouse keeper's house at Yaquina Point Lighthouse. Look closely at the window at the lower right. See that little white object standing in the window? Here's a closer look:

Am I mistaken? Is that is, or is that ain't a ghostly apparition of Mr. Peter "I'll rip your face off" Cottontail? Take an even closer look:

Freaks me out. I swear this is an undoctored photo. I remember even saying to Tess when I took it that maybe it would reveal some ghosts when I downloaded it from the digital camera. And smack my ass and call me Sally if that doesn't look like a spectral bunny to me. And it looks pretty darned hostile, as well.

Okay, it's not frolicking. But it has given me more fodder for my fertile imagination to further foster an idea that has been festering in my mind. Nice alliteration, eh?

I think I'll call the story, "The bunny's lair...."or perhaps, "Lair of the white bunny." Suffice it to say there will be much frolicking and despite the advice I've been given, a fair amount of cavorting as well (not to mention much tearing of limbs and shedding of blood to sate the evil bunny's hunger for human flesh).

I see a movie on the horizon as well: "Just when you thought Easter was safe, we bring you 'Lair of the white bunny.' You'll never hop down the bunny trail...alone, again." Or perhaps something more in the vein of an Alfred Hitchcock film promo: "There seems to be something very nasty and rotting in the Easter basket this year, but this time it isn't the rabbit who has died. "

Anyway, you get the idea. Rest assured, this story will have a hoppy endng or at least make you jumpy.

Sorry.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

There's a light....

Yaquina Point Lighthouse, Newport, Oregon: April 2004

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, Newport, Oregon: April 2004

Oregon Coast, April 2004

Haceta Head Lighthouse, Oregon Coast: April 2004

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

This is not my beautiful house...

And you may ask yourself Where is that large automobile?
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful house!
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful wife!
Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by/water flowing underground
Into the blue again/after the money's gone
Once in a lifetime/water flowing underground.
Same as it ever was...
Same as it ever was...
Same as it ever was...

There are strangers stomping through my house opening cupboards and flushing toilets. After 18-years of isolation, I find this a violation of my privacy. But it is unavoidable. We are selling it.

It is a helpless feeling though, scurrying out of the way as people evaluate your space and size it up for their own needs. Though, I walk from room to room and I don't really recognize it anymore. Tess transformed it into a model house, free of clutter and devoid of signs that anyone actual lives there. I find myself tiptoeing about afraid to disturb things or muss them for fear a potential buyer will shriek away in horror that a dustbunny has appeared.

The final agent passing through the house last night with a client turned to Tess and I and said, "You can tell this house has been treated with love." We smiled and nodded. When she left we broke down laughing. It's amazing what you can do with paint and spackle.

I bought the house in 1987. It was a VA repo. It needed TLC at the time, but it was structurally sound. I was a naive 29-year-old with amibition to transform the warts on my new toad into beauty marks. And, I was going to do it all by myself.

I stripped out the old green, shag carpet in the living room and two downstairs bedrooms that had been soaked with dog urine. The oak floors underneath were in relatively good condition (other than the urine stains). I rented a drum sander and a disc sander and set out to refinish them myself. That was when I discovered that refinishing a floor is one of the levels of hell. Refinishing a floor requires five passes with a drum sander with five different grades of sandpaper. It was uncharacteristically hot in Seattle that fall. Every time the drum sander would hit a urine stain, the stench would permiate my nostrils and make me want to toss cookies. And if you've ever used a drum sander, you know it's like steering an oil tanker. Plus, if you stopped with the drum engaged, you'd leave a nice divet in the floor.

After stripping and sanding the floor, I bought what I thought was a light oak stain. Like an idiot I pour it out in the middle of the floor without testing an inconspicous spot first. It was a dark walnut color. And thus the floors ended up very dark (except for the urine spots I'd tried to bleach out with wood bleach). Bottomline is that I know every inch of those floors and I'm aware of every blemish. So you can imagine my amusement as potential buyers pass through the house commenting on how beautiful the floors are and how unusual it is to see floors that rich, dark color.

I went through a few months of home improvement projects after I bought the house: quarry tile in the kitchen, new carpet in the family room, painting the interior and the exterior (another level of hell). I even tried remodeling the spare bathroom (I ripped out the green toilet with the padded toilet seat, the tourquoise linoleum and retiled the shower). The shower leaked so I abandoned the room.

After a couple of years of home repair, my enthusiasm waned significantly. You start to get complacent about holes in the walls.

It was only in the past year and a half that the home improvement kick returned. I knew that when Tess and I got married that the best thing to do was to sell our houses and buy something together that would be "ours" not his or hers. So we put in all new windows, paid someone to paint it, landscaped, had both bathrooms upgraded, put in new kitchen counters, new carpet and we painted the interior. And, as I wrote in a past blog entry, we made at least ten trips to the dump and an equal amount to Value Village to cleanse the house of my accummulated clutter. Plus you all know what I went through to get rid of the wood from the backyard.

So now the strangers are tramping through the house. And one put an offer on it last night. We accepted the offer and, barring any unforseen problems with the inspection it is sold. And we made an offer on a brand new house last week that was accepted. By the end of the month we'll be trading places and a chapter of my life will have ended and a new one began.

It's sad, but happy. It's exciting moving into a house that no one else has lived in. But it is odd leaving a place I lived in almost as long as the house I grew up in. And it makes me wonder if I'll leave the house just a little bit haunted with the ghost of my personality and 18-years of my emotions seeped into the walls. Maybe the new owner will be startled some time looking into the mirror and see my face staring back at her.

Or maybe I'll take my spirit with me and let it loose in our new house. But I know it will probably be a long time before I will be able to drive by the exit off the freeway I took for the past 18-years to get to my little house and not feel a twinge of nostalgia. And I'll hear David Byrne singing the lyrics to "Once in a Lifetime" in my head: "This is not my beautiful house...Letting the days go by...Same as it ever was, same as it ever was...."

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Reunion

The sandstone bricks of the old cellblocks and guard towers gave the illusion that the complex was a fantasy castle rather than a prison. Or at least it had been a prison. The state had turned the buildings of the old state penitentiary over to the city for a park after a new and more civilized institution had been constructed several miles from the city in a sagebrush-coated wasteland.

The territorial prison was now a tourist attraction where, for a modest fee, families could spend a lazy Sunday afternoon touring maximum security or "oohing" and "ahhhing" at death row where Idaho's last execution had taken place sometime in the early 50s. In the tradition of the west, the man had been hung, not from a tree or wooden gallows, but from a simple reinforced metal hook suspended over an innocuous trap door. All of the tourists agreed that the "death room" was the highlight of the tour.

Curious place for a high school reunion, he thought. He did however, appreciate the statement -- conscious or subconscious -- that the event planners had made by holding East High School's ten-year reunion there. After all, he thought with a grim smile, the institutions had similarities -- one imprisoned bodies and the other minds and spirits.

He'd forgotten how hot Boise got in the summer. A smoky inversion hung over the gray buildings of the warden's house. It seemed as though a new acre of the surrounding rain-starved forests was consumed by a lightening induced forest fire daily. The smoke added to the small city's big-town pollution problem.

He glanced up at the retreating sun. The heat bounced lazily off the gravel road. Strains of music wafted down to him in the smoky air. The Stones, he thought with a smile. Mick Jagger wailed over a girl named Angie. It had played in his father's old pick-up during his sophomore year. He'd had a crush on a girl named Robyn...Robyn Averson. The crush hadn't been mutual. His smile faded.

The gravel snapped in the heat as he made his way up the path towards the music. He could see knots of people clustered around small tables. Red and white balloons hung from bushes and lampposts. Big red, he thought numbly, home of the Mighty Braves.

A small line trailed away from a registration table just outside the garden area where faceless people milled about. He slipped silently into the back of the line, ignoring the squeals of recognition and laughter coming from the courtyard.

The couple in front of him turned and smiled self-consciously. He nodded mechanically. They turned back to the registration table where two young blonde women in summer dresses laughed and passed out nametags. They chatted amicably with the couple in front of him and checked off names on a long list. The couple slapped "HELLO MY NAME IS" tags on their chests and headed towards the reunion crowd.

He stepped up to the table.

"Hello," said the blonde on the right. He recognized the face, Jane Ray, senior cheerleader, ski team captain, and honor society treasurer. The hair was blonder and the face had aged but the plastic expression was the same. He nodded again.

"We're trying to guess everyone's name...let's see, it's no fair wearing sunglasses."

"Rex," he said without emotion. "Rex Bryant."

Jane's tanned brow furrowed. There was no look of recognition on her face. "Yes, Rex. How are you?"

He shrugged. The woman seated next to Jane searched the list of East High School class of 1976 reunion attendees. Rex remembered her too -- Colleen Grant, senior class vice-president and pep-club captain. Her nametag read Colleen Grant-Simpson. She looked up puzzled.

"I don't seem to have your name on the list Rex. Did you return your registration form?"

He stared at her through the dark lenses. Her frozen smile melted. "I didn't get an invitation. I move around a lot."

Colleen recovered her smile. "No problem Rex. We're glad you made it. There is a \$20 charge to help cover the cost of refreshments and the band."

Rex dug into the hip pocket off his Levi's and pulled out a crumpled and worn twenty-dollar bill. He handed it to Colleen. She took it and gingerly placed it in a slate-gray metal box on the table. Jane printed his name on a tag and handed it to him. "Enjoy the reunion..." Her words choked off as Rex's fingers brushed hers. He walked towards the reunion, crumpled the nametag and shoved it into his pocket.

The two women at the registration table turned and watched him fade into the crowd. "Do you remember him," Jane asked.

"Barely," Colleen replied. "I think he was in band. I always thought he was a creep."

"He hasn't changed," Jane said. They both laughed nervously. "You'd think he would have at least worn clean clothes. It looked like he's been wearing those jeans since high school."

"I know," Colleen agreed. "I hated even touching his money. It felt...moldy."

They both shrugged and turned as a limousine pulled up.

"Look, it's Ray Devine. He's in a tux," Jane said. "Now that's a classy entrance!" They forgot about Rex and turned back to their nametags.

* * *
Rex moved wordlessly through the crowd. Most of them were couples. He walked purposely to where the bulk of the crowd stood clustered about two silver kegs, plucked a large, bright red plastic cup from a stack and expertly filled it from the keg tap. To the amazement of several curious onlookers, he downed the beer in one large swallow and filled the cup again. A large man detached himself from the crowd and approached Rex.

"Whoa boy, save some for the rest of us!"

Rex stared at him expressionlessly from behind the glasses and brought the cup up to his lips. The man -- Dale Fredericks according to his nametag -- grinned good naturedly at Rex over a ponderous belly that had contained many beers in its time. His eyes grinned as well from beneath the receding hairline.

"Just trying to get my twenty bucks worth Dale," Rex finally said, a tight-lipped smile appearing. A hearty laugh shook Dale's beer-belly.

"I hear that...UH..." Dale replied, looking down at Rex's chest for a nametag.

"Rex...Rex Bryant."

"Rex...yeah Rex...I remember you," Dale said scratching his stomach. "You was in my German class with Herr Haddock, guten tag, wie gehts!"

"Danke gut, un dia?"

"Auch gut!" Dale slapped his back again. "Boy, you don't look much older than when we graduated. What you been up to Rex? Last I heard you'd gotten some scholarship up in Oregon. You always was an egghead."

Rex's smile faded. "I went to college for a couple of years."

"Don't tell me you dropped out," Dale said, weaving a bit, feeling the effects of the cheap keg beer.

"I learned what I needed to know," Rex said with a shrug. "Anyway what about you Dale?"

"I'm the assistant manager of a company that manufactures prefab log homes," Dale said proudly. "I'm married too. You remember Paulette Bennett don' ya?"

"Sure, she was in the band, played flute."

"Yeah, thas the one," Dale said as he turned. "Hey Paulette, com' on over here and see who I found." A large pleasant-faced and very pregnant woman edged through the crowd.

"Stop hollering Dale, you're embarrassing me." She looked up at Rex and smiled warmly. A puzzled look passed over her face.

"Doan cha remember? This here's ol' Rex Bryant. You and he was in band together."

Paulette smiled weakly and reached out her hand. "Of course I remember, how are you Rex?"

"Just fine Paulette, how about you?"

"Well, I'll feel better in a month," she said patting her swollen stomach. "This will be our third. You have any children Rex?"

Rex shook his head slowly. "No...no I never married."

"Smart man," Dale said, avoiding the elbow Paulette aimed at his gut.

"Listen, it was nice seeing both of you," Rex said softly. "I'm going to find a nice quiet corner and watch the festivities. You both take care. Give my best to the little ones...Patty and Ben wasn't it? I'm sure they'll like their new little sister."

Paulette nodded dumbly as Rex refilled his cup and slipped away into the crowd. Dale was concentrating on refilling his own cup. "Did you tell him the kids’ names Dale?" she asked with a perplexed look on her wide face.

"I'm not sure," replied Dale. "I might have, why?"

"Nothing, it's just...well I don't think I told him that the doctor said we were going to have another little girl. And I'm trying to recall something I heard about Rex after graduation. I wish I could remember."

"You worry too much woman...hey, well look there, it's Eddie, Eddie Colson and that pretty little wife of his!" He moved off into the crowd with Paulette trailing, still shaking her head.

* * *

He found a quiet table on the edge of the courtyard and sat down. The sun slipped behind the weatherworn blocks of sandstone that made up the main cellblock. It left behind the heat and the pungent odor of sagebrush from the surrounding foothills.

Rex reached into the breast pocket of his faded blue work shirt and pulled out an oversized deck of dog-eared cards. With expert casualness he began shuffling the deck, staring straight ahead, trusting his hands to do the work. Caterer's assistants passed among the tables, silent as alter boys unobtrusively lighting candles. When the candle at his table was lit and the attendant moved on, Rex stopped shuffling and placed the deck face down on the table. The plain black backs of the cards contrasted sharply with the white tablecloth. He sat motionless; eyes still hooded by the dark glasses.

A woman work her way through the milling bodies, stopping occasionally to acknowledge a greeting and hug a familiar figure. Most of the men's eyes at the reunion followed her progress hungrily. The women looked on disapprovingly, clicking their tongues as she passed and whispering to each other.

The woman moved in a practiced way, both aware and unaware of the eyes on her. It was a sensual walk accentuated by tight clothing. A silver bracelet wound snake-like up her tanned arm. Rex sensed a slight shakiness behind the walk despite the woman's feigned confidence. As she neared his table, she was jostled slightly, spilling her drink on Rex's shoulder.

"Shit, I'm sorry..."

Rex cocked his head slightly to one side, processing the voice. His face remained emotionless.
"Hello Traci."

The woman looked at him quizzically.

"You remember me, how sweet!"

"Traci Sauer, third period advanced humanities, sophomore cheerleader, gymnastics, national honor society, debate team, drill team and ski club."

Traci blushed. "Jesus, what you'd do, memorize the damned yearbook? I don't even remember half that shit."

Rex shrugged.

"You look familiar...UH?"

"Rex...Rex Bryant." He stared into her heavily made up face.

"Rex...yeah, I think I remember you. You were in my accelerated math class and advanced humanities. Quiet and smart. You used to help me with math. I think you even wrote a few humanities papers for me, didn't you."

"I'm flattered you remembered," Rex said.

"Considering all the beer I've had tonight, you should be. Mind if I sit down?"

Rex motioned towards the chair opposite him. Traci slid into the seat sensuously. She looked at the reunion crowds wandering about and sneered. "These people watch too much TV. We're talking Miami Vice-look here." She studied Rex's faded jeans and work shirt draped over a black Grateful Dead t-shirt. "I see you dressed down for the occasion, good for you!" The edges of Rex's mouth lifted slightly.

"So what're you doing over here in the corner?" Traci noticed the cards sitting face down on the table. "Were you going to play a game of solitaire? I know these reunions are a drag..."

"They're tarot cards," Rex said softly.

"Say what?"

"Tarot cards," he repeated patiently. "I used to do card readings while I was going to college to help pay tuition."

"You mean you're a fortuneteller?"

"Well, I prefer to think of myself as a visionary."

"So look into my future."

Rex shrugged, picked up the deck of cards and handed them to her. "Shuffle the cards while thinking of a question," he said. She took them from his hands.

"Damn, these cards feel cold." She looked at Rex’s face, trying to see his eyes, but all she saw was herself reflected in his glasses. She began shuffling the deck.

"What am I supposed to ask?"

"Whatever you'd like to know about," Rex replied without emotion.

She shuffled the cards carefully. "Okay, they're shuffled, now what?"

"Divide the deck into three piles face down on the table and tell me your question."

Traci's hand trembled slightly as she followed his instructions. She looked around self-consciously. "I want to know about romance...will I ever find it, I mean the real thing?" She gave a half-hearted attempt at a smile. A shadow of weariness showed through the carefully applied make-up.

Rex picked up the cards, beginning with the pile on the left and reformed the deck. He placed it in front of him on the table, his hands resting gently on the top card. He nodded his head for a moment as if in prayer. The sound of crickets wafted in from the prison grounds. Traci shivered involuntarily.

Rex lifted his head and began mechanically turning over cards from left to right, spreading the first six cards into a cross pattern. He then turned over four more cards and placed them carefully one above the other to the right of the cross.

"This is the Celtic cross, the most ancient method of spreading the cards," he intoned. "In the center of the cross is you, the questioner -- the Queen of Swords. The card represents a sad woman deprived of love." Traci took a long draw off her beer and stared intently at the cards as Rex flipped them over.

He touched a card placed horizontally across the first card. "Crossing the questioner is the card representing those forces in play at this time -- the Moon. This card represents a yearning for fulfillment. Above the Moon is what the questioner hopes for..." Rex paused and looked up at Traci, candlelight reflected in the dark lenses of his glasses. "...the two of cups -- love, a spiritual union."

"No shit," Traci muttered.

"Below the questioner is the card representing the foundation of the question asked."

"Say what?"

"What you've experienced relative to the question so far that has a bearing on the future," Rex explained.

"Oh." She fumbled nervously in her purse for a cigarette and lit it with the candle.

"The five of cups -- disappointment, possibly a marriage carrying with it bitterness and frustration."

"Hit that one on the head."

"To the left of the questioner is the card representing the immediate past -- the Devil." Rex stopped and took a drink of his own beer. “The devil represents...”

"You don't have to tell me, I've spent some time with him."

Rex nodded and continued. "The card to the right of the questioner represents the immediate future -- the Wheel of Fortune. The card suggests the ups and downs of life, constant change. You must find the still center of the wheel to find peace." Traci nodded.

Rex pointed to the bottom card of the row next to the cross. "This card represents your attitude towards the question -- in this case love." The picture on the card showed a hooded figure with a beard walking a solitary path. "The Hermit represents withdrawal and reflection." Traci stared at the cards silently.

"Above the Hermit is the card representing your environment -- the Five of Pentacles. The card represents spiritual impoverishment and loneliness."

The color drained from Traci's face. "I'm not sure I want to go on with this."

"We're almost through," Rex replied, a trace of sympathy in his voice. Traci wished she could see his eyes.

"Go on then."

"Above the card representing your environment is the card which symbolizes your hopes and fears -- the Lovers." The card was upside down. It showed a man and woman embracing. "An upside down card indicates a reversed meaning. The Lovers reversed implies quarrels, frustration of romance or marriage, and failure."

Traci stared at the cards. "Get to the punch line."

"The final card indicates the outcome of the matter, the culmination of all the influences at work in the preceding cards -- the Ace of Swords. The card indicates the triumph of a great force, either love or hate."

"Which one?"

Rex shrugged. "You tell me, we live in a universe of choices and we all have the power to make those choices."

Traci laughed nervously. "This is just a game, isn't it? All of this crap is so general it could have applied to any woman in this room."

Rex gazed at a point over Traci's shoulder. He began speaking in a soft, but clear and emotionless voice.

"Upon graduation from high school you turned down scholarships to two prestigious schools on the East Coast. You were afraid of failure. To the embarrassment of your parents you enrolled at a local university. In the first year of college you met a man named Larry Poulson. You didn't love him but he fit into your parent’s mold of a perfect partner. You became pregnant, married the man and three months later had a miscarriage. The marriage ended.

"In a few months, you met a man named Robert Tenny. Thinking you were in love, you moved in with him. The man was heavily involved in drugs. He repeatedly stole from you and abused you mentally and physically. It wasn't until you were hospitalized after a particularly severe beating that your parents convinced you to move home.

"You attended counseling sessions for a few months and then moved into your own apartment. You ended counseling and began holding private sessions at several bars in town. You had brief affairs with several men, many of which you can't remember because of frequent blackouts due to your heavy drinking.

"Finally, in the last year you stopped going to bars. You now spend most of your time at home falling asleep alone with a bottle. Is all that specific enough for you?"

"You bastard," Traci cried with a choking sound. "How could you...did you...know all that?"

"The cards reflect the questioner."

"Bullshit," she sobbed. "It must be the talk of the reunion. If a nobody like you knows my life story then everybody here must know."

Rex flinched slightly. "No one here knows. They perceive you only as they remember you. You asked me a question and I gave you an answer. It's as simple as that."

"You expect me to believe that you dredged up all that dirt on me from a stack of cardboard with pretty pictures on it?" Mascara-stained tears ran down her face.

"Whether you believe in the Tarot or not is of little consequence," Rex said softly. "The truth remains the truth."

"I asked you about future love," she sobbed. "All you told me about was past pain. You're not much of a fortuneteller."

Rex sighed. "If I told you that you would meet a tall, dark and handsome stranger, fall in love and live happily ever after, would you have been satisfied?"

"It would have been better than reminding me of what a failure my life has been," she snapped.

"I came to this reunion to try and regain a little of the happiness I felt when I was in High School. I was popular then, liked and looked up to."

"You were envied, despised and talked about behind your back," Rex replied.

"You're just a regular ray of sunshine, aren't you you bastard," Traci spat out. "Why the hell did you come to this reunion anyway? You didn't fit in when you were in high school and you don't look like you've made a raging success of your life."

Rex shook his head sadly. "No, I don't have many fond memories of high school. Let's just say I have a few debts to pay."

"What kind of debts? You want to drag everyone down to your pitiful level?" Traci was interrupted abruptly by a drum roll and a loud voice blaring over loudspeakers. She turned and watched a man in a Brooks Brothers blue jacket and burgundy tie at a microphone trying to get the attention of the crowd.

"Whoa everybody...can I have your attention." A few catcalls came from the crowd around the kegs. "I just want to say a few words..."

"SO WHAT'S NEW," someone called from the crowd.

The man laughed the polished laugh of a politician and raised his hands in mock surrender. "Guilty as charged...in case some of you don't remember, I'm John Ostrander, president of East High School class of 76." A spattering of applause rippled through the crowd. Ostrander smiled the canned smile again.

"Seems like only ten years ago that I was standing in front of most of you at graduation," he said smoothly.

"DOESN'T SEEM LIKE LONG ENOUGH," a voice called out.

"Is that you Ed...Ed Cropke? Did you finally graduate?" The crowd around a blushing Ed Cropke erupted with laughter, slapping him on the back and spilling beer. Ostrander continued. "Anyway, I'd like to welcome all of you to East High School's class of 1976 ten-year reunion." A few people cheered.

Ostrander droned on. "No high school reunion would be complete without awards. So before we're entertained with sounds of the 70s by our band tonight, Strawberry Fields -- which incidentally includes the Class of 76's own Kelly Carter on the drums...," Carter hit a cymbal and twirled a drumstick amidst cheers.

"Anyway, " Ostrander said scowling impatiently, "Time for the awards." He fished into his jacket pocket, pulling out a folded piece of paper. "Let's see, the first award is the Yul Brenner Memorial award for the person whose head has outgrown his hair.

Ostrander paused for dramatic affect. "And the winner...by a head...is Gary Lynman!" A cheer went up from the crowd as Lynman worked his way towards the microphone. "We have an appropriate prize," Ostrander said, reaching into a box behind him, "An East Braves baseball cap!" Lynman snatched the cap and pulled down over his glistening crown. The drunken crowd cheered again.

"The next award is for the most unusual occupation," Ostrander continued. "And the winner is...John Steelsmith. John is an architect who specializes in designing golf courses." An exaggerated "ooooh..." rose from the beer-keg crowd. Steelsmith worked his way through the crowd.

Traci stood up. "Wait a minute," She called out. "I've got somebody here that's got a more unusual occupation than that."

Ostrander looked slightly flustered but quickly recovered. "Sorry Traci, whatever you do may be kinkier but not necessarily more unusual." Some of the men in the crowd snickered lecherously.

"I'm not talking about me," Traci continued undaunted. "I'm talking about good ol' Rex Bryant here. He's a fortuneteller and a mind reader." The entire crowd turned to stare at Rex. He stared straight ahead as if detached from the debate.

"Come on Traci, the awards have already been decided on," Ostrander said, his cool slowly melting.

"GIVE THE AWARD TO REX, FORTUNE-TELLING BEATS DESIGNING GOLF COURSES," someone called. A chorus of supporting and slurred voices echoed the sentiment.

Ostrander held up his hands for quiet. "Traci's just joking. Let's just get on with the awards."
“I’m not joking, John. He's a card-carrying fortuneteller. Have him come up there and show you." The crowd started cheering and chanting Rex's name.

"Okay, okay," Ostrander said, glaring at Traci. "Rex why don't you come up here before we have a prison riot." The crowd began chanting again. Rex sat motionless for a few moments and rose. The crowd cheered wildly.

"Let's see you get out of this one fortuneteller," Traci whispered with controlled menace. Rex turned towards her and smiled gently. He touched her arm and the hate disappeared from her face.

"It's okay Traci." She sunk into her chair, tears streaming down her face. Rex began walking...almost floating, towards the stage. The crowd opened up. A few of the bolder ones slapped him on the back and pulled away as if they'd touched a live power line. Rex stepped up onto the stage. The crowd became quiet.

Ostrander assessed the situation with a practiced emcee's eye and regained his composure. "Democracy rules Rex; you win the award for the most unusual occupation. Since you're a fortuneteller, perhaps you can tell me what the prize is." He winked at the crowd and held the microphone up to Rex's face.

Rex stared passively at the microphone. The crowd waited expectantly. A few coughed and snickered. Ostrander seized upon the moment. "Please, please. We must give the Amazing Rex complete silence in order for him to commune with the spirits." He held an envelope up to his forehead and closed his eyes. "I'm picturing the prize in my mind Rex, are you picking up anything."

"Yes," Rex said softly. The crowd cheered.

Ostrander opened one annoyed eye. "Well, what is it?"

"You're hoping no one will ever find out you've embezzled funds from your father's company because, although you're a impressive public speaker, you are a very poor business man with expensive vices. Although you appear quite conservative, your sexual practices aren't...S & M is the popular term for it isn't it, John?"

Ostrander's face flushed a bright red. "Why you..you..", he gasped.

"Oh, and the prize is a pass to see the East High drama club's fall production of 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.'"

"Get out of here," Ostrander said, thrusting the envelope at Rex. The fascinated crowd watched with growing confusion. Sporadic cheers sputtered through the crowd. Rex started to leave the stage.

"TELL SOME MORE FORTUNES," a voice shouted. The crowd agreed. People began calling out questions. Ostrander stuttered a protest and tried to shove Rex from the stage. A couple of men intervened, restrained Ostrander and handed the microphone to Rex. Ostrander broke free and ran from the stage amidst catcalls and jeers. He was quickly forgotten as all attention turned to Rex standing silently at center stage.

A barrage of drunken questions were hurled at him. Rex held up one hand. “I will answer all of your questions, but one at a time.”

"Who's gonna win this year's Super bowl," an anonymous voice called out.

Rex shook his head slightly and replied with a sigh, "A football team." A few people laughed.
"Surely you have a more important questions, Bob," Rex challenged, "Perhaps you'd like to know where your wife is?" A beefy looking man in front of the keg looked startled.
"Listen you little freak, my wife is at home taking care of the kids."

"I'm sorry Bob, you're right. She is home taking care of your children. Of course we both know it's not your home." Rex smiled a close-lipped smile.

Bob's face blanched white. "How...where is she," he stammered.

"She's safe Bob, out-of-state and happy. You should get the divorce papers sometime next week."

"That bitch can't divorce me, I'll...I'll..."

"Beat her up again," Rex finished. "I suggest you sign the papers and let her go, for both your sakes."

Bob shook his head and downed his beer. "Bullshit, he's lying. Wife's at home..." He looked around to his former classmates. Heads turned away. "It's bullshit..." He pushed his way through the crowd and disappeared.

"More questions," Rex asked. The faces around the courtyard looked uncomfortably at each other and then back at Rex.

A huge man with thinning hair pushed his way to the edge of the stage. A jumbo-sized lime green tux, straining at the seams, was wrapped around his huge frame. Rex looked down at the man. He recognized the 6-foot-by-3-foot frame immediately -- Ray Devine, star fullback of the East Braves varsity football team. An image of a younger Devine surfaced in his mind, almost as large and every bit as intimidating. The last time they'd met, Ray had been demonstrating his kicking and passing abilities with Rex's body. The painful image faded.

“Okay, Bryant, the joke has gone on long enough,” the big man boomed. "Why don't you just apologize and we'll get back to the party."

Murmurs of agreement rippled through the onlookers. By virtue of his size, Ray had always been in charge of most situations during high school.

"No joke, Ray," Rex said calmly. "I was asked to tell fortunes. That's what I'm doing."

"Wrong, you're up here spreading rumors about people and ruining this reunion."

"Ruining this reunion," Rex replied in mock innocence. "What could be more entertaining and refreshing at a reunion than the truth about your classmates? Perhaps everyone would be interested to have me unveil what's behind that stuffed tuxedo of yours."

Faces pushed closer to the stage, watching with fascination the absurd verbal duel between the frail-looking young man in the work shirt and the giant in the tuxedo.

"Kick his ass, Ray," someone called.

"Listen, Bryant," Ray said, menace creeping into his voice. "Get off the stage while you can still walk."

Rex smiled. "Breaking legs is your specialty isn't it, Ray. That's one of the things you employer in Seattle pays you to do."

"What's this bullshit Bryant, everyone knows I run a finance company in Seattle." Devine looked around and several heads quickly nodded in agreement.

"That's true Ray. It is a finance company of sorts, but you don't run it. You just a collect bad debts for a larger organization. Unfortunately, your collection techniques are a bit crude. You got a little bit too rough last week. You killed a poor old man, Ray, killed him because he couldn't come up with \$150.00. Cheap price for a life."

Devine looked as though a defensive lineman had kicked him in the stomach. "I...he...he was just a stinking junky, I didn't mean to...he owed...," Ray gasped. He turned to face the silent crowd.

"He's lying...I'm a businessman." Familiar faces turned away.

Rage filled Ray's eyes as he turned to face the young man on stage. "You little bastard, this is your fault." He reached out an oversized hand and grabbed the fortuneteller by the shirtfront. The thin, young man made no move to resist. "I want to see your face before I kick your ass."
"Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set ye free," Rex said with nasty chuckle. He pulled off his dark glasses and pressed his face up to Devine's. A whimper escaped from the huge man's lips as he stared deep into two empty sockets. Devine pulled back, the rage in his eyes replaced by numbing fear. He stumbling drunkenly from the stage and into the obsidian darkness that pressed closer to the edge of the reunion crowd.

Rex stood alone on the stage. It was quiet except for a chorus of crickets from the nearby foothills. He tilted his head slightly towards the microphone. "Are there anymore questions?" His sightless sockets swept across the stunned audience. Faces turned away, avoiding the empty gaze. No one stepped forward. No one spoke.

"I didn't think so," Rex said, nodding. "Since we seem to have lost our emcee, I suggest we get on with the music. How about it Kelly?" Carter jerked as if he'd been slapped. Rex smiled. "I'll make the first request to get the ball rolling. Do you guys know 'Lyin' Eyes' by the Eagles?" Carter nodded weakly and whispered to the other members of the band. The band started playing, shakily at first, but building as they concentrated on the music.

Rex stepped up to the microphone one last time. "Hey, it was good seeing everyone. What's say we all get together again in another ten years, okay"?

The lines of the Eagles tune began filtering through the crowd. "You can't hide your lying eyes. And a smile is a thin disguise. Thought by now you'd realize, there ain't no way to hide you're lying eyes..."

"Ain't it the truth though," Rex said with a chuckle as he stepped from the stage. The stunned crowd parted as he slipped silently into the night.

No one moved at first. Hushed sobs broke out here and there in the clusters of people. The sound broke the spell. Beer began flowing and people began talking, first in hushed tones and then loudly. Within minutes muted laughter returned and the ritual handshaking and hugging began again.

* * *

Traci sat at the table on the edge of the reunion staring into the flickering candle. Tears rolled gently over her sculptured cheekbones and flowed unchecked in tiny rivulets down her neck.
She started as a hand grasped her shoulder."Traci..." She turned, half expecting to see her face reflected in a pair of dark glasses. She sighed, unsure of whether in relieve or disappointment when she stared into a much fuller face framed in tortoise shell designer frames.

"It's Jeff...Jeff Mays," the man said, "Don't destroy my ego and tell me you don't remember your favorite prom date." Traci forced a smile and tried in vain to brush away some of the tears.

"Of course I remember you Jeff, it's good to see you."

"You could have fooled me, why the tears?" He sat down and offered Traci a handkerchief.

"Thanks, that whole thing with Rex got to me."

"What thing with Rex?" Jeff asked.

"The awards, the fortune telling...Ray Devine. Don't tell me it didn't upset you."

"I don't know what you're talking about, Traci, I just got here. Doesn't seem like much of a party. Everyone's acting like they're in a trance. What happened?"

"It's a long story. John Ostrander was announcing some ridiculous awards -- you know, for most hair lost and the most unusual occupation." Jeff nodded. "Anyway, he was giving an award to John Steelsmith and I interrupted and demanded he give the award to Rex Bryant for being a fortuneteller. I wanted to embarrass Rex. He'd been telling my fortune and...well it just hit too close to home."

Jeff looked puzzled. "You say that Bryant was telling your fortune and you talked Ostrander into giving him an award for the most unusual occupation?"

"Yeah, I know it sounds ridiculous..."

"Are you talking about Rex Bryant, the skinny, smart kid that never said much in high school?" Jeff asked skeptically. Traci nodded.

"Well either someone is playing a very sick joke or Rex should have received the award for traveling the farthest to come to this reunion."

"Why do you say that," Traci asked defensively.

"The Rex Bryant we went to high school with had a scholarship to the same college I went to."

"So?"

"So, Bryant didn't do much better socially in college then he did in High School."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, he killed himself half-way through his sophomore year."

"What...how...," Traci gasped.

“Acid...LSD...he overdosed on the stuff. It was quite the scandal on campus. Pretty gruesome about his eyes too."

"What do you mean, what about his eyes?" Traci could feel her insides churning.

"Well," Jeff said, looking around uncomfortably. "Apparently he was tripping out pretty badly and seeing some scary stuff. According to the reports, he...he gouged out his own eyes."

"Oh my God..." Traci began shivering. In the background the band struck up a song by Credence Clearwater Revival. Dancers began gyrating on the dance floor as Kelly Carter, doing a fair of imitation of John Fogarty, rasped out, "Don't go around tonight, you're bound to lose your life. There's a bad moon on the rise..."

###

Friday, July 15, 2005

Don't be cowed by bull

I took these photos of a local charity art project in Atlanta while I was there last fall. They seemed appropriate to my recent blog entries. The titles are mostly my own inventions since I didn't write down the official ones (so my apologies to the artists):

"Holy Cow"

"Moo Shoe"

"Moo-tramony"

"Bull-vis"

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Baby you can drive my Karma

Instant Karma's gonna get you
Gonna knock you right on the head
You better get yourself together
Pretty soon you're gonna be dead
What in the world you thinking of
Laughing in the face of love
What on earth you tryin' to do
It's up to you, yeah you

Instant Karma, John Lennon
To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction; or, the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal and act in opposite directions.

Third Law of Motion, Sir Issac Newton

E=MC2
Albert Einstein

There's a debate going on on another blog regarding karma. I've learned the hard way (a characteristic of humans that separates us from animals and inanimate objects) not to engage in debates on other people's blogs. Generally debates via blog comments lack civilized rules and end up with people angrily typing in all caps: THAT'S BULL SHIT as their rebuttal (very like Penn and Teller...see yesterday's entry regarding white noise).

As with anyone who has gone through puberty, I've gone through various phases of searching for truth in my life. This has involved at varying degrees religion, astrology, love, lust, obsession, crystals, tarot cards, the I-Ching, chanting, bongs, Carlos Casteneda, Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Robbins, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, carnival beads in New Orleans, Pink Floyd, organic mushrooms, Elvis, playing Beatles records backwards, Reno and Quantum Physics.

First, I don't claim to have discovered "the truth." I have learned to distrust those who say they have discovered the truth (if you meet the Buddah by the side of the road, kill him). I also learned that, after you turn forty, it is pretty much hard to muster up enthusiasm for "the truth." I mean, I can deal with "a truth" once in awhile, but not "the truth." I am pretty much content these days to sit in the ol' Barcalounger and watch "Beauty and the Geek."

This is not to say that I don't have an opinion about philosophical things. I think I've gleaned what I think were the kernals out of the many truths out there and formulated my own truth. Of course the Catch 22 of formulating your own truth is this little thing called "self-delusion." But I also think that self-delusion has it's place in our lives. It allows us to look in the mirror each day and tell ourselves we haven't changed a bit and still keep a straight face.

My self-deluded mutation of many truths includes the premise that there are no absolutes. I don't believe there is a "one truth" or "one path" or "one religion." Conversely, I also don't believe that you can thumb your nose at long-term established belief systems with an ostrich-head-in-the-hole attitude of, "I don't believe any of that horse pucky." I recall a stand-up comedian I saw once asking if there were any atheists in the audience. A couple of people in the audience raised their hands (a bad move at a comedy club). The comedian then said to them, "So, you don't believe in god, huh." They nodded. He continued, "Then you don't mind if I tell you to go to hell."

I thought that was funny and profound.

But let's talk about much misunderstood karma. Too often, people oversimplify the concept of karma and think that it simply means that we get done to us whatever we do to others. I prefer to think of karma as a long-term investment we make in our soul bank. You put a little in bit by bit and it pays out in the long term whatever you put in it. I don't think it is a matter of good and evil. People tend to apply those black and white term to everything because it simplfies our world view.

Okay, the science world pretty much accepts that energy is neither created nor can it be destroyed. And one of the laws of thermodynamics talks about every action having an equal and opposite reaction. I think karma operates like that. When you do something, you expend energy. That energy causes a reaction, either immediate or delayed.

In the Occult Glossary: A Compendium of Oriental and Theosophical Terms, G. de Purucker defines karma as:
...essentially a chain of causation, stretching back into the infinity of the past and therefore necessarily destined to stretch into the infinity of the future. It is unescapable, because it is in universal nature, which is infinite and therefore everywhere and timeless; and sooner or later the reaction will inevitably be felt by the entity which aroused it.

G. de Purucker goes on to explain that Karma is not fate. We aren't locked into a world of reward and punishment that is out of our control. Why? G. de Purucker gives the same answer the Jesuits used to give me when I asked them why evil existed. If god created everything and god was the ultimate good, it didn't make sense to me that he/she would create evil. Their answer and G. de Purucker's answer was "free will." We all have a choice. We make choices that affect our lives and those choices affect our environment which in turn affects others.

To me, it's a bit more palatable that karma is simply another word for consequences of one's actions. And consequences can be good as well as bad. Or, morals aside, they can simply be what happens based on circumstances of your actions.

Take for instance the wood: I chose to have the trees in my backyard cut down. The evil tree service cut the trees down. I was stuck with the consequences of my decision to have the trees cut down and not picking a reputable tree service -- a shitload of wood in my backyard that I felt I'd never get rid of. All of my moping and moaning was useless until I made a choice to split the wood into more manageable pieces that someone else made a choice to buy and haul away.

That's really what karma is. Things don't just happen to us. Things that happen to us are the result of choices we make. Say we are walking down a city sidewalk and a piano falls on our head from a crane as it is being hoisted up to a second story window. I don't think this happens because we beat our dog, are a bad person and it is our just reward. The piano falls on our head because we chose to walk on that sidewalk on that day at that time and didn't look up when workmen start screaming at us to watch out. The piano also falls on our head because the mother of Sherman decided he needed piano lessons instead of the guitar and hoisting the new piano up to the window was the only way to get it into the apartment.

I make my observations about karma based on my understanding of it, not to further a debate or convince anyone that I am right or wrong. If someone reads this and takes exception to my understanding of karma, rest assured I have my rebuttal ready:

THAT'S BULL SHIT, MAN.

And I'm ready to accept the consequences of that rebuttal as well.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

White noise

We watched the movie White Noise with Michael Keaton the other night. It's about an architect whose wife dies tragically and then stays in contact via Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVPs). For the ghostbuster technology impaired, EVPs are random audio or video recordings that capture messages from the dead (not Jerry Garcia, though he is technically dead).

I had mixed feelings about the movie. It was an interesting premise, but the Michael Keaton character gets a bit too caught up in taping static off from multiple televisions he has purchased and playing back the signals enhanced with mega computer equipment. A normal person would have stared at the static on his television and been pissed that the cable was out.

Coincidently, a day or so after we watched the movie, I saw an episode of Penn and Teller's Bullshit. Now, I don't particularily care for Penn and Teller. They are about as amusing as a hang nail. But I am fascinated by the number of times Penn is able to shout, "Bullshit" in a 30-minute period. Anyway, this particular episode was about ghosthunters. And they of course touched on EVPs. In their usual degrading fashion, Penn and Teller made two groups of psychic investigators look like complete morons as they snapped digital photos of closets and gloated over magnetic readings jumping near light sockets. And Penn and Teller had a couple of "genuine" scientists come on the program to tell us that psychic investigators are full of...you guessed it...bullshit and that there is no such thing as a ghost.

I've got to admit that I was disappointed. Just once, I'd like to watch a program about psychic phenonenom that actually shows us evidence of an afterlife. I would take great comfort in that. But most of the time all they can really show us are photos with psychic "orbs" and recordings of static that when listened to 500 or so times begins to sound like a ghostly voice commanding us to "drink Ovaltine."

My mom used to take lots of snapshots with "orbs" in them when I was growing up and we just thought it was due to a crappy camera and having them processed at K-Mart.

I suppose the closest thing to a EVPs I've ever experienced was a few months ago. I was cleaning out a drawer and I found a cassette tape with a "talking letter" my parents had sent me at least 15 or 16 years ago when my father was still alive. I popped it into a tape player and hit play. And though I knew it was a tape sent my parents years before, I was still startled to hear my father's voice say, "Hi Tim, I just wanted to say hello and I hope you are doing well." Then the tape broke. My father has been dead for 14 years. Sure, it was recorded while he was still alive, but it freaked me that that would be the one phrase I'd hear and then have the tape break.
And for some reason it was comforting to hear my father's voice checking in with me to see if I was okay.

It strikes me that the sad thing about the whole desire to communicate with the dead is that we don't generally put the same amount of effort in communicating with the living. Take my mom for instance. She's 80-years old. I love her dearly, but I really don't call her as much as I should. I catch myself getting annoyed when I do talk to her. I'm impatient with her stories about what she ate for breakfast or how her dog chased a squirrel. I can't wait to hang up the phone and get back to my "fast paced" world. So it dawns on me that rather than being put out by the time I am wasting talking to her on the phone, I should be grateful that I still can talk to her.

But, my callous selfishness aside, I still hope there is an afterlife. I just hope it doesn't involve sitting around, shouting random phrases into a microphone in hopes someone will hear me. Maybe, just maybe, by the time I die, they'll figure out a way for us to blog from the afterlife.

I just hope the wood doesn't follow me there.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The wood's last laugh

Author's Note: For the many people who do not regularly follow the meanderings of my blog, let me recap briefly the saga of the wood. In Sept. 2004, I hired an evil tree service to "remove" two fir trees from my backyard and paid them \$750 to do so. They cut down the two trees and left their battered tree bodies strewn in 18-inch rounds around my backyard for me to use as firewood. Jokes on me: both of my fireplaces are gas. The logs lounged around my backyard throughout the winter. This spring I began calling various firms to try and get the wood removed from my backyard. I was basically told that, since the wood wasn't split into manageable pieces, it would cost me more than it cost to cut the trees down to have it hauled away. So, the wood sat there like an unwanted relative, reluctant to ever leave even though my hospitality was running out. Finally, maul and wedge in hand, I split the wood and stacked it neatly behind my shed. Then I tempted people via Craig's List to come take the wood away and pay me \$50 for the pleasure. Someone nibbled at my bait and hauled the wood up into the mountains to burn in a cabin. The saga would seem to have ended there.
After smuggily ridding myself of the unwanted wood, it dawned on me that I should have someone from the gas company come inspect my gas fireplaces before I placed my now wood-free home on the real estate market. We called. A repairman came out and quickly began berating me for the sorry state of my gas fireplaces. He informed me that one was actually a woodburning fireplace that had been converted to gas in the many years prior to my having purchased my home. And he informed me that said "woodburning" fireplace converted to gas was not legal. For a mere \$100, he could cap the gas line running to it and return it to it's legal job of...you guessed it...burning wood.

You can see where I'm going here. I now have a fireplace that burns wood, but no wood because I sold all of the wood I'd split to a woman for \$50. And I had to use the \$50 I got for the wood to convert my gas fireplace back to a woodburning fireplace. This would be a fitting new stanza for Alanis Morrisette's song, "Isn't it ironic."

Damn you wood.

I'd cry if I wasn't still laughing.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Useless things...

As I was walking in the rain from the bus to my office this morning, I passed a guy on the plaza with a gas powered leaf blower happily blowing crap around. It dawned on me that leaf blowers are a useless invention. What is the point of simply blowing crap from one spot to another (unless it is into your neighbor's yard)?

Life seems full of useless things:
1. Making the bed.
2. Fuzzy toilet seat covers. They prevent the lid from staying up at crucial moments.
3. Wasps (the insects, not the White Anglo Saxton Protestants...though they could be on the list). They sting, bite and don't seem to contribute much to the environment (ironically like the White Anglo Saxton Protestants).
4. Plumbers (all repair people for that matter). They get paid obscene amounts of money to turn minor repairs into major projects.
5. Silent letters like the "b" in plumbers.
6. Greeters at WalMart.
7. Greeting cards. Come on. Do you really think it says how much you care to send someone a piece of cardboard with a verse written by a total stranger?
8. E-Cards. They show that you are too cheap to even buy the piece of cardboard with a verse written by a total stranger.
9. Vice Presidents.
10. Spam. How many zero down mortgages can one person have?
11. Personal Diary blogs. No one cares.
12. Pierced noses (especially on fast food employees).
13. Car air freshners shaped like pine trees.
14. Semi colons.
15. Many of my co-workers.
Funny how life works.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Senseless...

I don't like writing about current affairs or politics. The blog world is full of it (political commentary, that is). And it seems to be stating the obvious that it is senseless that terrorist's set off bombs in London's transit system and killed innocent people. It saddens me. But it also saddens me to watch the press and politicians reactions to the tragedy.

I was listening to NPR this morning. I rarely listen to NPR. I find the monotone drone of NPR announcers akin to listening to my high school geometry teacher, Mr. Hogg (you can imagine what he endured with a name like that) lecturing me on the merits of an acute angle. But this morning I had to drive a company car to a press conference at a county emergency services headquarter about what our local transit agencies were doing to beef up security in light of the bombings in London. I had never been to the county's emergency headquarters before and was concentrating too much on finding it to bother and change the radio station. And it seemed appropriate to learn about the tragedy that had triggered the local press conference so I kept the radio on and tuned to NPR.

And what did I learn from NPR? Most of the leaders of most of the countries in the world condemned the act of terrorism. I also heard interview after interview with people on the streets of London about how they felt about the bombings. They largely condemned the act of terrorism as well.

My response? Well, duh. What is the point in spouting that kind of platitude? And what is the point of reporting it over and over?

We have apparently become so enamored with the need to dwelve in minutia, that the press is tripping over itself to find anything or anyone remotely related to a story and then spend 15 minutes going over and over it.

REPORTER: What were you wearing when the blast went off?
BYSTANDER: A shirt and trousers...but I'm not sure what difference...
BYSTANDER: I suppose so, but...
REPORTER: What would you normally be wearing on a day that a bomb doesn't go off in your train?
BYSTANDER: Well...something similar, I suppose.
REPORTER: Back to you Wolf...

This interview would likely be followed by commentary by experts in the field of "Dressing for terrorist attacks."

And before someone yells at me, I'm not making light of the bombings or the loss of life. I'm just pleading that we don't cheapen it with the mundane sensationalism that our media seems to have sunken to.

I'm stepping off my soapbox now and turning off NPR. My heart goes out to the people in London who have suffered.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Life needs a soundtrack

I've always thought that one of the things that is missing out of life is that it doesn't have a soundtrack like the movies and television. I think it would really help us cope much better with the screenplays that are our lives.

I've also thought that our lives should be like musicals, too. Think about it. Did you ever really see a musical that wasn't upbeat and had a happy ending? And being able to burst into song accompanied by a full orchestra would certainly help eliminate those awkward moments when conversation lags.

My iPod is kind of like having a soundtrack for my life. Sometimes I like to time songs with good beats for the moment I step off the bus. It's like I'm making a grand entrance into the world. Of course, I'm the only one who can hear the music and know how cool I am.

It's kind of like the opening sequence from Saturday Night Fever where all you see is John Travolta's feet and you hear the BeeGee's singing, "You can tell by the way I use my walk, I'm a lady's man, no time for talk..." Was that cool or what? I mean, I had to go out an buy one of those short leather jackets with the big pointed collars after I saw that film the first time. I loved that jacket. And if I was still able to wear a size 38 jacket without looking like a monkey in a squeeze cage, I'd be wearing it today.

But enough about my growth spurts.

Some of the greatest scenes in movie history would have been nothing without the soundtrack. Would Rocky have been so inspiring if he'd ran up those stairs at the Philadelphia Art Museum without his theme song? And sleeping with the fishes would be less romantic without the Godfather theme.

Maybe I long for music to help me navigate through life because I was a drum major in high school and got used to moving to music. For you band-impaired people out there, the drum major did not play drums. The drum major did not play any musical instrument (at least not during marching season). The drum major "orchestrated" the music. The drum major maintained the rhythm and kept everyone on beat...theoretically. It was probably the one time in my life people were actually marching to my inner drummer.

Bottomline is that life needs a soundtrack. I think Elvis said it best in an acceptance speech for the 1970 Outstanding Young Men of the Nation Award. He simple stated, "I learned very early in life that: ‘Without a song, the day would never end; without a song, a man ain’t got a friend; without a song, the road would never bend - without a song.' So I keep singing a song. Goodnight. Thank you."

The King has spoken.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Playing with fire

When I was a kid, the Fourth of July was practically my favorite holiday (next to Christmas). Let's face it, it's a time when playing with fire is pretty much expected if not condoned.

Not that we had access to "real" fireworks. The good stuff was always banned. Oh, they started selling "Safe and Sane" fireworks when I was in grade school and I'd line up with the rest of the suckers at the booths that began cropping up a couple of weeks before the Fourth. We'd buy our snakes, sparklers, Morning Glories, Picollo Petes and smoke bombs. If we could scrap together enough allowance, we'd spring for the kits with names like Colossusor Vesuvius. They'd contain larger fireworks fountains with names that sounded like Kung Fu movie (i.e. Blooming Ground Flower, Whistling Tiger, Crouching Bottom Dweller or Sparking Hog Wallow).

I'd line up my firework purchases for days, figuring out the perfect order to light them off on the Fourth. Then, when the actual day was upon me, I'd anxiously count the hours until it was dark enough. To take the edge off, I'd periodically light snakes or smoke bombs.

Finally, dusk would inch its way in and I'd prepare for the show. Lots of times we'd invite the neighbors to come over and pool their fireworks with ours. The adults would sit in lawn chairs and talk about the fireworks they had as kids: Roman Candles, Silver Salutes, Skyrockets, firecrackers and Cherry bombs.

No matter how many Safe and Sane fireworks I had or how big the kit was, it never took more than three minutes for them to go up in smoke. And the bigger the cone or tube fountain was, the more disappointing it was. My mom would "ooh" and "ahh" for our benefit, but everyone pretty much accepted that we could have gotten just as much of a fireworks show out of burning the money we paid for the crap.

After we'd finished torching our stash, we'd either jump in our stationwagon to drive to a location where we could watch professional fireworks being set off at Bronco Stadium. I don't think we ever actually went into the stadium to watch them because you had to pay. It was just as good to sit on the room or hood of the car in the parking lot and watch the skyrockets exploding in the sky above the stadium and cover our ears at the explosions. Sometimes we wouldn't even have to drive to see the fireworks. We'd climb on top of my grandmother's garage and lie on our backs and watch the firebursts above the tree line on the horizon.

As I got older, we figured out how to genetically alter safe and sane fireworks to make them a little more satisfying. We discovered that you could use pliers to pinch a Picolo Pete at the base so it exploded at the end of its piercing whistle. And we learned that we could use the gunpowder my brother used to reload shotgun shells to pack empty smoke bombs to create homemade cherry bombs.

Eventually, we found out that we could procure Unsafe and Insane fireworks from makeshift booths on Indian reservations outside of Boise. I was almost in tears the first time I was able to purchase a belt of a thousand Black Cat firecrackers. And then there were the Roman Candles that you were supposed to stick in the ground and light. It was much more fun to hold them and feel the percussion as the fireballs spit out the ends like fiery magic wands.

But, as with Christmas, the magic eventually fades as you enter adulthood, and the joy of setting off fireworks is folded up and placed with mothballs in the back of your memory. Fourth of July becomes just another time off with too much traffic and unwelcome hype. And you sneer at the suckers lined up at booths waiting to burn up perfectly good money.

A couple of years ago, though, Tess and I drove to Boise to visit my brother and sister-in-law and my niece and nephew. Brendan was about the age I was when I horded my fireworks and counted them daily like a miser with gold. And sure enough, he'd bought a super colossal fireworks kits with all of the safe and sane fireworks I'd had as a kid. And sure enough I edged him out in the race to light fuses after darkness fell that Fourth of July in Boise. He protested briefly, but then stood in awe with me as we watched the Blooming Ground Flower ignite and spew sparks. Then we raced each other to see who could light the next firebreathing cone.

I guess you are never too old to play with fire.