A blue moon of a different color. As the full moon rose this evening, I was struck by the plain-vanilla look and feel of our nearest celestial neighbor. There was nothing blue about it, and my eyes were open wide, as they always are when they expect a special treat.

I won't say I'm disappointed, because that would imply an expectation of some sort. That's never a good idea where lunar phenomena are concerned. Instead, I'll just chalk it up to poor timing, and hope the hues are more favorable where you live, moonwise.

Up next: 2010. Is this getting predictable, or what?


Improvising Stew

A colorful holiday dish.

Holiday cheer may be muted by unfortunate events, but that doesn't mean it has to be kicked in the ribs afterward. That sort of thuggish behavior has no place at the table, and doesn't sit well in the ornamental chairs my grandmother so lovingly painted while she waited for the stew to congeal.

This year, it was tradition I had in mind as I prepared my own version of her celebrated holiday stew. The exact ingredients she used are lost, alas, in the mists of time, but that's where improvisation comes in. During the holiday season the air is thick with candy canes, which lend credibility to any festive dish. The small citrus fruit is a crucial ingredient, because holiday stew isn't worth beans if it isn't colorful.

Having accounted for the primary ingredients, I turned my attention to the stethoscope around my neck. I use this to listen for the telltale sound of boiling water, which, as my grandmother so relentlessly pointed out, is the crucial point in any culinary process. Then, satisfied that the liquid had reached its optimum state, I added the final ingredients.

I believe granny would agree that cotton socks simply make better stew, but as the kids are so fond of saying nowadays, your mileage may vary. In a similar way, the cigarette you choose for your own holiday stew is largely a matter of taste, while the number of miles you're willing to walk to obtain the smoothest blend is not.


My Stained Christmas

O, those ugly stains . . . Oh mama. Yesterday's attempt to short-circuit the holiday wishing well has gone terribly wrong, and it's all my fault. I thought I was so smart wishing for a lump of coal and some cramps, but the reverse psychology that should have saved me has backfired, leaving me with a waterlogged ceiling that willif all goes according to planfall into my open mouth during the night.

Like furnace failure, plumbing defects always come to light on holidays. Whether or not this is attributable to a secret agreement between Santa and the local plumbers' union, it's plain that the root of this evil lies squarely in the realm of karmic backlash.

So the joke is on me, and I'll do the crying myself. I hate you, Santa Clause.


All We Really Need

Light Teetering on the edge of Christmas, custom dictates what we wish upon others. Old favorites like Peace and Joy, All Our Best, and the all-encompassing Season's Greetings make a long story short. After all, I don't know what you really want for Christmas, do I?

Of course not. But whatever it is, I hope you don't get it. Instead, I hope you get what you need, especially if you aren't sure what that might be.

I hope I do, too.


Vanishing Point

Gone, but not forgotten. What a strange week. I knew something was missing the minute I saw Monday, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I tried everything, but nothing provided the sort of insight needed to solve the puzzle. Putting my finger on the shriveled grape I found under the refrigerator was fruitless, and the bit of lint in my navel only made me giggle when I touched it. I'm ticklish anyway, but my bellybutton is exceptionally reactive. I worry about it coming undone, which might be a dangerous situation if rudder control is lost and I accidentally fly through the kitchen window before someone has the chance to open it first. I didn't want to touch the old woman who lives next door, because sometimes people don't understand my motives as well as I do.

Tuesday came and went, but I wasn't any closer to an answer than I had been the day before, which was Monday. I'm going to skip over Wednesday and Thursday, which were so much like the first part of the week that there wouldn't be any point in discussing them. Friday was different, but not in the sense that I had anything figured out, so I'm going to jump ahead to Sunday. I don't like Sundays, but I think the reasons for that go back to childhood, where I was forced to sit at the table all day and eat sauerkraut and red cabbages without anything to drink. I hate short pants, too, but that doesn't really have anything to do with my story.

As it turns out, there were five or six drops of irony in the feeling that something was missing, because the missing thing was a feeling, so I wasn't feeling something so much as I wasn't feeling it, if you see what I mean. The gradual tapering of head pain at the end of a cluster-headache cycle means that I haven't been entirely pain-free since Julythat is, until this past week. It's a strange sensation, this nothingness between my ears. I'm not sure what to do with it.

Since you're sitting there wondering what happened to Saturday, I may as well come out and admit that I have no memory of anything that happened after foolishly downloading a certain ballad, and even more foolishly, listening to it . . .

Holding back the flood
Just don't do no good
You can't unclench your teeth
To howl the way you should

. . . before bursting into tears. Music is funny that way.


Lightness and Darkitude

Every picture tells a story, but not every story makes sense. Whenever I hear someone say that life isn't black and white, I have to laugh. Well, I don't have to, exactly. I know it's a decision, like spreading grape jelly on my shirts before ironing them, or staring directly into oncoming headlights instead of stepping onto the shoulder. Not that I would actually do that, of course. I haven't ironed my shirts in years.

Whether I decide to laugh out loud or cry in quiet, the little voice in my head reminds me that both are just two sides of the same coina Roosevelt dime, specificallywhich doesn't go very far when the time comes to buy favors from local politicians. "Caw!" says the little voice, and I can only nod and smile. I don't think laughter is an appropriate response, because that only encourages it.

Like a square wave at sea, life's binary, on-or-off, yes-or-no nature deserves an in-kind response from its participants. The frustrating palette of black and white thrust upon us by angry gods and their ambivalent overseers needn't lock us into a life of groping and bruised mouths. Just because it's too dark to find the switch doesn't mean we shouldn't go out and buy fireflies, or glowworms.


Tic Talk

How many tics in a jitter? Are you working? If you have a job, this question is as familiar to you as the locations of the stairwells and closets you use to escape the incessant hazing by superiors and coworkers, whose unwelcome intrusions into your none-of-their-business activities so often ruin an otherwise productive day. Fortunately, whether your response to the question is delivered with a carefree toss of the head or in a more venomous way, repeated insinuations of shiftlessness simply indicate a lack of understanding of the proper definition of work, which really isn't your problem at all.

Work equals force times distance. Take, for example, the hypercaffeinated worker whose spastic jittering could be mistaken for actual work by similarly incapacitated coworkers struggling to control the sparking within their own fields of vision. Converted to their kinetic equivalents, facial tics and other bodily Force equals work divided by distance. vibrations are sometimes evaluated with the primitive work equals force times distance formula used to justify continued employment, but rearranging the formulaas I've done on the rightdemonstrates just how misguided that approach really is.

Clearly, when distance is equal to zeroas it must be, since the twitchy employee never left her deskthe resulting force takes on the same irrational character that always comes from dividing something by nothing. In other words, it doesn't matter how many ticks there are in an houror an eight-hour daywhen no work is being done in the first place.

In the second place, simply exerting a force doesn't necessarily mean that work is being done, because if life were that simple I could spend my entire workday pushing on the wall. As it is, I can only do that for six hours, give or take, before my boss begins to wonder if I'm really working. I hate my job.


My Irrational Evening

Division by zero: It's what's for dinner. I got up this evening
On the inside of zero
Subtraction left nothing
Addition the same
The product of nothing
And nothing left nothing
But wide empty spaces
With nothing between
But then I saw zero
Below me
And suddenly nothing
Was real anymore.

Thanks to Craig and Gary for triggering this irrationality.

Consonants on Ice

Don't let negative temperatures rob you of meaningful speech. Stay away from that flagpole! We got up this morning
On the wrong side of zero
The flagpoles were covered
With neighborhood tongues
"Don't do it!" we shouted
But they wouldn't listen
So now they have vowels
With nothing between.

Eating Friends

Half-eaten friend. I am the eater of donuts
And kind of small
Am I empty?
Donuts fill the void
Distended but happy
A small price to pay
For small donuts
Small chocolate donuts
My friends
I love them
And they love me
But I think their feelings
Were stronger
Before I bit them.


Twenty Answers, Questioned

Listening to the DTMF, darkly, which definitely isn't a looking glass, Alice. 1) Do you have forensic evidence?

2) The proof of that is in the pudding, not the margarine.

3) How do you know?

4) Why do you say that?

5) I doubt it.

6) Not unless I woke up in Maine this morning.

7) What are you, the queen of Shiva?

8) What are you, the king of Vishnu?

9) Did you actually count them?

10) When pigs fly.

11) When flies pig out.

11) When fruit flies.

12) I'll bet you say that to all the liars.

13) That isn't an answer.

14) Why can't we be friends?

15) You must be thinking of the other Bob.

16) I don't think that's what you really mean.

17) Why do you always have to be so mean?

18) Prove it.

19) Is that all you ever think about?

20) Why?


Twenty Questions, Answered

Looking through the glass, darkly, which definitely isn't a looking glass, Alice.

1) If I get all the way through this, do I get a prize?

2) Who do you think will win in 2012? Palin or Quetzalcoatl?

3) When company arrives, is it better to show them the door or wait until they notice it on their own?

4) I hate the twelve days of Christmas. Why can't we have four, or thirteen?

5) How can I be sure that Mick Jagger isn't my biological father?

6) Why does it only hurt when I laugh?

7) What should I do if my mother gives me the finger?

8) Why am I being watched?

9) Why is the alarm on my cell phone waking me at random times during the night?

10) Is there some such thing as Virginia?

11) Our Thanksgiving turkey this year had absolutely no white meat. Neither did our neighbor's. You only like white meat. Do you know anything about that?

12) Why did you take a picture of my bathroom window for this? Are you a stalker?

13) How many morons does it take to unscrew a light bulb?

14) Did Janis Joplin really think that freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose? I mean, nothing left to lose is four words, not one. Or was she just making a joke?

15) Is it possible to be wise and unemployed at the same time?

16) Why is there an interdimensional portal on my front lawn?

17) I don't drink, use drugs, or watch TV. Is something wrong with me?

18) I've been told I have the mentality of a five-year-old. Is that a good thing, or a bad thing?

19) My neighbor says she's my friend, but my friend thinks my neighbor is a liar. Who do I believe?

20) Why?

1) We'll see.

2) Do you think this is my first rodeo? Everyone knows they're the same person.

3) It depends on how many are in the party. Long division is an effective method for separating the company from the crowd, since multiples of three generally indicates a problem during the invitation phase. Multiples of twelve means that someone has removed the hinges, thus eliminating the need for a doorbell.

4) Your revolving credit account doesn't accumulate much interest in only four days, which means your lender's children don't get any toys for Christmas. Thirteen throws off the cadence of the song, which means no one would want to sing it anymore, which means no holiday spirit, which means your lender's children don't get any toys for Christmas. What a Scrooge you are.

5) You can't. No one can ever be completely sure about that.

6) It doesn't, really. It hurts all the time, but laughter has a magnification factor of 10, while weeping only magnifies things by 8x.

7) It should be carried in a shirt pocket, or hung around one's neck on a shoelace. Refrigerators are never appropriate places to store gifts from one's mother.

8) That's paranoid. I'm the one being watched.

9) It isn't. What you perceive as randomness is due to the pseudorandom timing algorithms used for synchronizing spread-spectrum encoding of voices from the other side of town. True randomness occurs only in nature, and is beyond technology's present state of the art.

10) Nice try, Santa. Don't you have something to do right now?

11) No.

12) How do you know it's your bathroom window? Since you brought it up, maybe that's your wavy, distorted face I see every morning while I'm brushing my teeth. Do my teeth fascinate you? If you're so fascinated with teeth, maybe you should get a set of your own. Maybe you should mind you own teeth, stalker!

13) Only one. Those who nod and smile in approval may have a strong aversion to light, or may simply enjoy the sensation that comes from walking into walls.

14) It wasn't a joke. She was being ironic, but that isn't always the same thing. For example, say you lose your wallet in a crowded restaurant, and then when the waiter brings your dinner, there's your wallet hiding under the sirloin. It's ironic because the wallet you ate for dinner was the same one you needed to pay for the dinner you ate, which was really your wallet all along, even though you didn't know it until there was nothing left to lose. Something that's in your stomach isn't lost. That's all Janis was really trying to say.

15) Don't be stupid. Wise people always have jobs.

16) That isn't real. By the way, I'll need the names and addresses of anyone you might have mentioned this to.

17) I'm sure it's nothing. By the way, I'll need the names and addresses of anyone you might have mentioned this to.

18) It depends. Some five-year-olds still require diapers, while others are autonomous, potty-trained adults in miniature. Whether or not the comments you mention are intended in a positive way depends on how you handle yourself in the bathroom.

19) Which one is better looking? That's the one you should believe.

20) Ask Alice. Or Adam. Or Odin.


Exercising Demons

Don't be fooled. It's still a demon. Just cute. Proper nutrition and a daily fitness regimen are as important to our wellbeing as clean laundry. The proof of this can be seen in the faces of those whose steady diet of frozen burritos and soiled undergarments has robbed them of the vim required to get out of bed on weekends. Vim isn't a right but a responsibility, even among those fortunate enough to have only one chin.

In a similar way, the demon with whom you share your body and soul can't be expected to keep its mouth shut at the grocery store if it hasn't done a bloody thing all day. Demons need exercise, too, especially when their nutrition is hampered by the childish whims of their hosts. Of course it's going to whine, and of course it's going to hide inappropriate items in the shopping cart when you aren't looking. And yes, we all know how awkward it is to have to explain why your head is rotating as you wait in the checkout line.

To maintain the health and longevity of one's demon, it's important to recognize the difference between the needs of the otherworldly versus those of the merely physical. While your body may be grateful for the opportunity to walk to the neighborhood convenience store for a pack of smokes, the bulk of your demon exists in the fifth and sixth dimensions, leaving only its four stubby legs on which to navigate the physical plane. Since the average demon is roughly the size of a chipmunk, putting it on a leash for your evening stroll generally isn't worth the time and effort required to fasten a collar around a neck that isn't even in the same dimension to begin with.

Fortunately, there's an easy way to provide your demon with the exercise it deserves. Your local pet-supply store probably already stocks everything you'll need, including the colorful plastic tubing favored by hamsters and other small rodents. How much tubing you'll need depends on the size and layout of your home, but a good rule of thumb is to multiply your home's square footage by 3.14, then add the resulting number to your demon's height in the fifth dimension. An exercise wheel isn't recommended for demonic applications, as demons are nocturnal creatures, and also quite unable to resist the impulse to run.

Its fitness needs met, your demon is less likely to insist on snack foods and other quasinutritional items from your grocer's freezer. This will not only reduce your monthly food bill, it will ease the tension during those long waits in the checkout line. Shopping is sufficiently stressful already without the embarrassment of unwanted head rotation, which isn't going to happen if your demon is sleeping peacefully after a good night's workout.

Of course, if you happen to be a night owlor just an owlthat won't apply to you. If it isn't possible to modify your sleeping habits, you may want to look into the possibility of ordering a demon from a different part of the world, where sleeping hours more closely approximate your own.


Phases of the Dreaming Moon

Escaping the prison planet New moon
Dreamer in the matrix
Many among many
Always alone.

Full moon
Dreamer in the vortex
One among many
Forever alone.

Blue moon
Dreamer in the mirror
Two among many
Never alone.

Excavating the Subbasement of Deity

Don't expect Qaotlkumquatquetzalquat to want eggs for breakfast. As you know, Quetzalcoatl is slated to appearby which I mean reappearin three years, give or take. Since he's been here before, the act of returning will be a relatively straightforward matter, but not every deity owns a reliable timepiece.

Take, for example, Quetzalkvetch and Coatlkvetch, the dissimilar twins abandoned at birth by Quetzalcoatl's mother, who had little desire to multiply by three the dissonant clang of odd consonants rubbing against displaced vowels every evening at suppertime. Cursed with a poor sense of timing and no wrists on which to hang wristwatches, their return to various worlds led to embarrassment when it became evident that they weren't returning so much as arriving for the first time, which, while dramatic, isn't at all the same thing. Sacrifices are difficult to plan when no one is sure which deity might be expecting one, and if there's one thing a vegan deity can't stomach, it's a big plate of hardboiled eggs left on the alter overnight.

Of course, these issues won't be a problem for Qaotlkumquatquetzalquat, Quetzalcoatl's third cousin twice removed, who had the foresight to nip such problems in their respective buds long before they had the opportunity to ruin her schedule, or her appetite. Her entourage will include a jeweler to freshen the battery in her chronograph, and a botanist, whose responsibility it is to prepare the lotus blossoms that form the foundation of Qaotlkumquatquetzalquat's healthful diet.

What lies below that foundation is anyone's guess. After all, no one could expect Qaotlkumquatquetzalquat to carry a shovel in her purse, or a backhoe. That would be absurd.


How I Became Funky

Claws belong on Santa, not on a bathtub. I haven't taken a bath since it first dawned on me that I might go down the drain with the water. The idea of sitting in a big white deathtrap with no clothes on is frightening enough already, so whoever decided to put claws on certain bathtubs was either sadistic by nature, or simply too preoccupied with the feet of predatory beasts to care about my personal hygiene.

Sure, a hundred years ago the clawfoot tub was more novelty than necessity. In those days, no one wanted to take a shower because most of the water invariably wound up on the floor, but that was before Hitchcock invented the shower curtain. During initial testing, he often stood just outside the tub in order to measure the effectiveness of his plastic brainchild, asking the tester how she was getting along while picking at his fingernails with a hunting knife. A modified version of his frequent "How ya doin', eh?" queries would later become his trademark opening line as he traveled the globe in search of retail opportunities for his new line of bathroom fixtures.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, and even more down the drains of modern tubs equipped with sliding barriers designed to prevent unwanted flooding. The custom molding that hides the claws of certain ancient bathtubs hasn't yet been adopted by certain owners of certain turn-of-the-century carriage houses that served as apartments for certain tenants who may not live there anymore due to a fear of clawed bathtubs, not to mention being washed down the drain, but I didn't think the place would still smell like that a month after I moved out. Sorry.


How Do We Forget to Communicate?

The new communication
One hundred forty characters
Of txt
This is progress?

Well, maybe I can use this for writing poems then. Let's see...
I tweet not
Therefore I am
A twit
Hear me roar.

Lovely poem, if I do say so myse

Curses. I was just getting to the interesting part when I ran out of space. My thumb hurts now, too. Can't imagine using this for actual...oh no
Hello world. It's me. You know, the guy with the pink mustache. Right, I can post to my blog from my phone now! How cool is...crud I'm out of spa

Second-guessing Preconceptions

Where does it all stop, really? One particularly troubling facet of human awareness is the ability to perceive ourselves in the act of perception. I include you in this group, dear reader, simply because I know that dolphins don't give a fig for reading, while squirrels lack the attention span to even make it to the second sentence. This amounts to double jeopardy, since I've already made two assumptions based on nothing more than my own perception, which might be a misperception. In other words, how can I ever be sure that second-guessing my first perception is any more reliable than first-guessing the second?

For example, let's say I'm staring at that tool shed over there behind the tree. How do I know it's really a tree? It might be a flounder, or a Volvo. And since I keep all my tools in a small paper box behind the stove, the whole idea of a tool shed is absurd. I don't need a tool shed any more than I need a second set of teeth, or pockets. When I removed the pockets from every pair of pants I own, I knew it would prevent the dangerous buildup of dryer lint, which is explosive. There's no need to second-guess that.

When I perceive myself in the act of misperception, I stop to ask myself one important question: How can I trust myself to keep track of which perception I'm working on at the momentthe copy or the originaland (2) what's the point of wasting precious nutrients on a mind that can't even make itself up?

But then I have to laugh, because that's what vitamins are for.  


Water Dreams

Water Dreams

An old dream
A sunlit labyrinth
I know the dreamers
By name
Janus approaches
I tear the reason
From my mind
She will be free.

A black dream
A lightless labyrinth
Two shadows
Two dreamers
One is immobile
I push the shadows
With intent
She will be free.

A new dream
A liquid labyrinth
I know the dreamers
By heart
One is drowning
I pull the water
With my fingers
She will be free.

Eyeing Copyright

Hey, isn't that my stuff on your site? Guess what? Right, it's test time! You won't need to sharpen your #2 pencils, because even a dull pencil can ruin the look and feel of a perfectly good LCD, and probably won't improve a CRT display, either. Use a marking pen instead.

Ready? Begin.

1) It's okay to use any words, images, or other original material I happen to find on the Internet on my own site, because if their creator hadn't wanted me to use them, (s)he wouldn't have left them lying around like that.

[ ] True [ ] False

2) It's okay to use any words, images, or other original material I happen to find on my computer on my own site, because if their creator hadn't wanted me to use them, (s)he wouldn't have left them lying around like that.

[ ] True [ ] False

3) I'm the rightful owner of any photograph or video in which I appear. The photographer or videographer can't claim copyright in that case.

[ ] True [ ] False

4) The absence of any words or symbols expressing ownership (e.g. Copyright © 2009 Somebody All Rights Reserved) means that any rights to ownership are expressly waived.

[ ] True [ ] False

5) Someone I know personally won't mind if I use his/her words, images, or other original material. There's no need to ask.

[ ] True [ ] False

6) Original ideas aren't protected by copyright law. That's what patents are for.

[ ] True [ ] False

Okay, time's up. Put down your marker, pass your test to the person in front of you, and we'll see how you did.

. . . tick tock tick tock tick tock tick . . .

Well, we have a problem here. Most of you marked questions one through five as true, and question six as false. That's a score of zero, which is an F, which means no restroom privileges for a week.

Diapers are in the box by the door.


Freedom Is A Lonely Word

Sometimes it's just another word.

Freedom is a lonely word
When others choose a path for me
And knowing what the choice will bring
Required, still, to turn away
From everything that might have been
Had love been there to close the door
And kept the candle burning.

No more the truth, for truth brings pain
But pain is how we learned to sleep
Among the rocks, below the trees
Above the world that tore our souls
And keeps our hearts forever chained
To lives that have no meaning.

But pain belongs to others now
The path is clear; the past has gone
Away toward another dream
Where love is never cast aside
And made to live in shadowed rooms
Without the hope that kept us warm
When life was meant for laughter.

Semantic Existence

If you can play one of these, you might be a carbon-based lifeform. Then again, you might not.I had just begun leafing through the latest issue of Rolling Stone when Keith Richards' impish grin brought my cheerfulness to a grinding halt. Shock and amazement were quickly replaced with the usual mix of anger and resentment. Sure, Johnny Depp is in the photo, no doubt to keep Mr. Richards from slipping out of the frame just as the camera shutter opens, but that sort of thing has been going on since the dawn of drugs, alcohol, and highly amplified music. There's nothing noteworthy about that. What's remarkable is Keith Richards' very existence. How, I sobbed, is it possible that this man continues to live?

The answer, of course, lies in the realm of semantics. Over the years, you and I have been conditioned to make certain assumptions about what's alive and what isn't, but carbon-based lifeforms aren't the only ones who can play the guitar. As anyone with a symbiotic implant will tell you, the ability to speak doesn't automatically go hand in hand with musical talent, otherwise it wouldn't have been so impossible to transcribe Mr. Richards' speech, as the caption below the photo clearly indicates.

I'm not suggesting that Keith Richards is a sock puppet, even though Mr. Depp is rather obviously attempting to create that impression in the magazine photo that triggered my fretfulness in the first place. That possibility was discussedand dismissedduring a series of late-night discussions with Rotten Robert, whose presence at so many early Stones concerts lends a certain credibility to his analysis. I'm only suggesting we stop and think about what's possible, really, versus what we want to believe for the sake of semantics.

Tonight, as you stand on your roof gazing up at all those stars in the sky, ask yourself how many are really still there, and how many are merely tardy light arriving long after their sources have gone on to other venues. Then give Keith Richards a call. I'll bet he won't answer.


Time Flies

My my . . . where does the time go? Are you sure you want to know?

The minute I woke up this morning I knew something was terribly wrong. Seven cups of coffee didn't help, and four more didn't help, and the pot I made after that made my head feel like a balloon, which helped a lot. I do some of my best thinking when my head is extra large, which is reason enough to have a professional grade, cafeteria-size coffeemaker in my bedroom.

But that isn't really the point. The point I wanted to make has more to do with the feeling of heaviness this morning. After my second pot of coffee, I decided to get out of bed and have a look around. That's when I noticed the clock on the kitchen stove, and the one on the wall, and all three clocks in the bathroom. I noticed the rest of them, too, but that doesn't really matter because I stopped putting gas in them a long time ago, so they just sit there.

There's only one clock I can really trust, and that's the little "atomic" clock on my nightstand. I put the word in quotes because it isn't really atomic, which is a comfort to me when I think about how many nuclear missiles the Mexican government has pointed in my direction. I have absolute trust in my "atomic" clock because its weight never varies, which has to do with spring-loaded inertial mechanisms far too complicated to understand.

Anyway, after carefully weighing every clock in the placeusing my "atomic" clock as a referenceI realized that exactly one hour had landed on top of preexisting hours, most likely at some point during the night, and probably for reasons having nothing to do with the flipping action of our planet's magnetic field due to recent lunar flares. The dispatcher at the local police department seemed confused about the reason for my call, and most of my neighbors thought I might have eaten too much Halloween candy, although a few offered more.

Then the light came on. Of course! All those little goblins scratching at my window last night had simultaneously gorged themselves with the spoils of their crusade, mouthful after mouthful of sugary treats stuffed into their mouths until, at exactly 2:00 this morning, they had all ballooned at once, creating exactly the sort of gravitational trampoline that frightened Einstein and made him cry. This had left Mother Nature no choice. She had called Father Time, threatening to go to the media with certain details of past relationships if he didn't do something, immediately and without hesitation.

He had, of course, but having severely underestimated the accumulated gravity of time as he shoveled minutes and seconds into the hole behind his cabin, the resulting time-pile had overwhelmed the capacity of the outhouse, leaving only one possible outcome. Flies. Lots and lots of flies. Time may be money to some, but to others it's nothing but flies, and who needs all that pesky buzzing, anyway? Not me.


Understanding Predestination

Not all that burns is driftwood. It might be a bridge. Or oatmeal. I've heard it said that one man's trash is another man's treasure, but I don't believe everything I hear. In fact, one woman's trash is another man's treasure, which is how I came to be in possession of the Sacred Branch you see over there on the right. If you want to believe otherwise, that's fine with me; I'm certainly not going to stand here and argue with your dyslexic mind. What's important right now is the branch's multilayered, wooden personality, and how that might affect its position within the system of coordinates we use to find our way home.

Eight years ago I lived in a small mountain town. This isn't remarkable in and of itself, since there wouldn't have been a town if no one else lived there. What's remarkable is that I had been living right next door to the Sacred Branch, which, if you think about it, can only mean that I was predestined. The Sacred Branch was meant for me, and I for it, because otherwise it would have been tossed into the dumpster by my neighbor, who thought it was just a piece of driftwood she'd found on a beach somewhere in Texas.

But it wasn't, and I told her so as I wrestled it out of her grip. Her husband thought I was trying to poke out his wife's eye, and since he had been a Marine during his time in Viet Nam, I decided to leave town. That wasn't as easy as it might sound, because there's always a lot of stuff in the garage after you've lived in a place for years. Fortunately, their sonwho happened to be living in their garageoffered to take my refrigerator and most of my furniture, so I was able to get out of there more quickly than I might have otherwise.

We drifted from town to town after that, like tumbleweeds in the desert, or cactus, maybe, or some other kind of thing that drifts. I don't mean driftwood, of course. That wouldn't be very appropriate considering how annoyed I was when my neighbor called the Sacred Branch a piece of driftwood just because she didn't understand the concept of predestination. Predestination is just another way of drawing circles and lines on a map, which is what I was doing when it occurred to me that the Sacred Branch has now returned home, residing on my fireplace a mere .73009 miles from the very dumpster that threatened its career eight years ago.

At the time, the idea of calling this our destination would have been absurd, since we were, you know, just leaving. On the other hand, we were coming back; we just didn't know it yet. Therefore, this was our predestination all along, and anyone who says otherwise simply hasn't taken the time to read between the lines and circles that extend, like half-eaten spaghetti, from one point to the next on every map and napkin along the way.

As my great-uncle Herbst so eloquently put it, home is where the heart is, but you can't cook your oatmeal in a wooden skillet.


The Washer of Life

An out-of-balance spin cycle can leave you with wet, sudsy laundry, and no sense of accomplishment whatsoever. I could be wrong, but it seems I'm finally near the end of the longest job-interview process I've ever experienced in my life. Assuming Monday's launch date holds, it will have been exactly four weeks from initial interview to final clearance for takeoff. This may be an entirely normal timespan in the corporate world these daysit's been some time since I worked for a company of this sizeespecially in light of the extensive background checks that now seem to be commonplace for even the most rudimentary vocations.

As it turned out, the physical I foreshadowed last week wasn't really a physical at all, but a stress test designed to see if my heart might be made to explode under certain real-world conditions. Those would include activities such as lifting a metal milk crate containing lead weights onto a shelf above my head, climbing a stepladder three times in rapid succession, and pushing against a calibrated force-gauge designed to measure, I suppose, my relative level of pushiness. Evidently my heart didn't explode, because they handed me a piece of paper at the end of it all congratulating me for my successful participation, and wishing me luck in my new job.

I think that last part was intended as a joke, owing to the fact I didn't yet have a job. The following week brought a stress test of a different color, by which I mean white. Twentysomething pages of white paper to read, sign, or both, followed by a photocopying session involving various forms of identification proving my inalienable right to work in the country of my birth. I believe I was successful in that test, too, judging by the way my boss-to-be wiggled his eyebrows when he saw what I had done.

But as I mentioned before, I could be wrong. Somewhere, there's a cube farm that contains the person who will ultimately decide whether or not Monday's projected launch is a go, a no-go, or something in between. Not that I have any particular reason to doubt it; it's just that I, too, saw The Matrix, and we all know what can happen when certain phrases are typed on certain corporate keyboards by certain people whose last names may or may not be Smith.

Anyhow, that's the way things stand as of the time and date of this broadcast. For those who wonder, I might also add that the luxury of sleeping at night is returning as the current headache cycle begins to fade, heralding another opportunity to gaze into the washer of life as it spins, out of balance, toward the basement stairs. Is it not glorious?


Chips and a Drink

There's no use complaining beside spilled liquids of any kind. It doesn't have to be milk. Chips are different, though. You should always complain when you spill your chips. This week will see the final hurdle in my mission to find something useful to do in spite of these infernal headaches. It really isn't much of a physical, but then, the job in question isn't what most people would consider physically demanding. Mainly, I think they just want to know that I can (1) see, and (2) say howdy without spitting on the customer's forehead. In other words, I remain optimisticin a relative waythat the current spell of unemployment won't last more than another couple weeks, if that.

I'm less optimistic that the current headache cycle will have run its course by then, but unlike my previous vocation, this one won't require getting up before dawn has even had half a chance to crack. This will allow extra time for sleep, which isn't something I'm having a lot of luck with during the night. In reality, I believe I'm now near the peak of a second headache cycle, which came hard on the heels of the first, which began halfway through July. While this isn't a normal occurrence for me, any delusions of normalcy were long ago trounced, excommunicated, and made to live with the sponges in and about Mr. Jones' locker. As they say, there's no use complaining beside spilled milk, which I've never understood any better than I understand any of those weird folk-sayings, but I continue to quote them anyway because it makes me feel important.

So on the whole, today's prognosis is a bit more optimistic than yesterday's, and tomorrow's plan is to put one foot in front of the other and muddle on. That could change, of course. I no longer seem to be possessed of the same stubborn, combative will that's won every cluster-headache battle during the past 30 years, and the simple goal of making it to the next day no longer carries quite the same sense of urgency. If you, dear reader, share my particular make and model of brain pain and find yourself increasingly unsure of its value in your own life, I can only hope that you're a solitary bird.

Still, there's a certain feeling of freedom, and relief, that comes from knowing that the time for making promises has come and gone, and with it the impossible burden of responsibility for a future that's based on such a misshapen past. As Hansel's sister Poncho so often pointed out, it isn't necessary to order the number five combo if all you really need is a drink and a bag of chips.


Limbs and Other Forecasting Apparatus

No, this isn't a picture of your limbic system. Your limbic system is orange, not blue. Theoretically, I should have learned not to make predictions about stuff, but so much of my brain has been lost over the years that it's tough to remember that I should have learned not to make predictions about stuff. After all, so much of my brain has been lost over the years that it's tough to remember that I should have learned not to make predictions, especially when it comes to, you know, stuff.

Nevertheless, I'm going to go out on a limb herean arm, probablyand make a forecast about the outcome of the drug test I'll be taking tomorrow. Fortunately, I was strong enough to resist the temptation to use Psilocybin as a headache remedy, because I'm pretty sure that's one of the substances they'll be looking for, which might ruin my chances of landing the job I interviewed for yesterday. I used LSD instead.

Another prediction I shouldn't make is that the current cluster-headache cycle seems to have reached its peak, and is now sliding down the other side of the hill and into the ravine where people leave their unwanted cars and large household appliances. Last time I did that I nearly wound up in the emergency room, so no predictions about that, thank you very much.

While I'm at it, I may as well also thank you for not wishing me luck in this endeavor, because we all know what happens when people do that. Please don't send me any chocolate donuts, either.

But most of all, please don't tell me you love me.

Thank you.


Tripping the Dark Fantastic

That's beautiful, man.

If you had too much fun during the past week and need someone to help you cheer down, I'm your huckleberry.

Virginia's comments on my Unbearable Things monologue included the suggestion to Google "Harvard, cluster headache study" for links related to recent research on the subject. Because I haven't resorted, yet, to the LSD or Psilocybin remedies discussed in those articles, I must direct your attention to a video clip on the Clusterbusters site that everyone ought to watch at least once.

I say this because it's unlikely you've ever actually seen a cluster-headache attack in action, and no one should be deprived of that privilege. This is especially true if you happen to be one of those people who feel compelled to make flippant comments regarding the claimed severity of a cluster headache, its alleged effects on a person's life, or the so-called ineffectiveness of virtually every headache remedy available today.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must also tell you that my German lineage and upbringing would never allow me to behave in the manner of that simpering mama's-boy-pain-hating-punk in the video. Suck it up, dude. Aintcha never heard of aspirin?

Anyway, thanks, Virginia, for the illuminating information. Now what did I do with Mr. Leary's phone number . . .


In Dreams

Whose reality is this, anyway? In dreams, I use my hands to propel myself through the dense atmosphere. I am heavy; I am unable to move quickly in the viscosity of the place. I pull myself forward with my fingertips, but not along the ground. A tapestry of woven strands lies below me and stretches out in front. This is how I move.

In dreams, I negotiate a labyrinth. My mazes are open fields and dark interior spaces. They are inhabited, but no one is like me. They are obstacles and distractions, and I move past them on my way to freedom.

In dreams, I don't remember the dull slumber of my waking hours.


The Burden of Thought

I think therefore, and occasionally what for, but hardly ever why, for I am a rock and an island, which shouldn't be confused with the Rock Island railway, which rarely if ever feels any pain because it's always happy, like me. You can tell by the picture. That's why I put it there. I think I might be losing my mind. While this will come as no surprise to those who believe the event actually occurred many years ago and simply went unnoticed by its owner, others may wonder how the very mind used to evaluate its own evaporation can be trusted to inform others of the condition.

Fortunately, there's an elegant solution to this problem which involves, of course, the act of Thinking Without Assessing, or TWA for short.

Analogous to the sorcerer's technique of gazing without staring mentioned in many of Carlos Castaneda's books, TWA permits the mind to reach grand conclusions without the burden of thought. This is of particular value in situations such as my own, where every contemplation is equally suspect. To illustrate, I offer an actual example taken from a recent internal dialogue.

Mind: "Nobody loves me."

Mind: "That's not true. People do love you."

Mind: "No they don't. If they did, they'd kiss me."

Mind: "That's ridiculous. People don't just go around kissing everyone. They'd go to jail."

Mind: "I don't care. They should kiss me anyway. That's how I'd know."

Mind: "I think somebody needs a nap."

Mind: "Okay. Will you give me a nappy-nite kiss?"

Mind: "Absolutely not. Besides, there's no such thing as a nappy-nite kiss."

Mind: "Why do you hate me so much?"

Mind: "Oh good grief. I don't hate you!"

Mind: "Do you love me?"

Mind: "Let's just say I think the world of you."

Mind: "You hate me!"

Mind: "Okay, okay, okay. I love you."

Mind: "Kiss me?"

Mind: "No! I will not kiss you!"

Mind: "I hate you."

Mind: "I hate you, too."

This is exactly the sort of thought process that cries out for TWA. As you will see, applying our Thinking Without Assessing technique to the previous dialogue not only speeds things up, but results in a far more reliable conclusion.

Mind: "Nobody loves me."

Mind: "I know."

Why We Go to War

Can't we all just get along? Haha. That's a joke. I mean, what would that accomplish, really? And no, of course I don't mean that love is the ONLY enemy. Haha. That would be silly. Now stop reading these little captions on the graphics and get out there in the sunshine and fresh air. Haha. That's a joke, too. I know it's raining, and fresh air is an oxymoron, and there are battles to be fought right there in the privacy of your own home. What's that you say? Privacy is an oxymoron? Well alright, if you say so. I think your blood sugar is low, and it's past your nap time. Just my opinion. Nothing personal. Please don't kill me. If truth is the first casualty of war, the perceptions and events responsible for the bloodshed cannot be allowed to write the history books that shape the anger of our children. We love our children; that's why we go to war.

But love has never been the cause of any war. The perverse subversion of dark and light, left and right, right and wrong; that's why we go to war.

Love is the enemy. That's why we go to war.


Despicable Savior

There's a reason for everything, Horatio. When I was a child I cried out for salvation, but God was out for the night and couldn't hear my screams.

When I was with child, I cried out for salvation. But God was in the room and silenced my screams.

When god cried out for salvation, I smiled.


Three Truths

Good things often come in threes. Some people are getting smaller. I've been watching the phenomenon with interest because shrinkage always goes hand in hand with societal problems generally, which in turn indicates how many rungs might be left on the socioeconomic ladder we use to bake our daily bread. Not that you should ever put a ladder in the oven, because that's what yeast is for.

Still, it's no exaggeration to say that I needed a stepladder to see in the windows of the Cadillac SUV I flagged down this afternoon. I wanted to ask the driver if she had always been so small, but then I noticed the virtually microscopic passengers on the rear seat, which answered my question. Waving her on, I crossed the street to quiz the driver of the large diesel pickup waiting at the traffic light, but he didn't understand my question. Gathering my flags, I decided to take his advice and stop traffic with my body.

Stretching out in the street is a bad idea when you're groggy, because I think I missed a lot of opportunities while I was asleep. To make up for lost time, I abandoned the whole flag-and-stepladder scenario in favor of a quicker, more direct approach to polling. Launching myself onto the windshield of a passing sedan, I was able to size up its occupants without asking complicated questions.

With each pass of the wipers, three important truths lost streakiness, gained clarity, and became generally impossible to ignore.

1) The rungs of the socioeconomic ladder are paved with small people in large vehicles.

2) If the economy worsens, more people won't be able to get out of their cars.

3) Those who drive fuel-efficient vehicles should stop eating chocolate donuts.


Unbearable Things

It looks like a bear, but it's really a pig.

Hello again. It's been a while, I know. So many things have changed, and changed again, since I last visited these pages, but then, we can always rely on change.

Life in the cañon takes on a decidedly different flavor during the summer months, when it becomes an imperative for tourists and locals seeking refuge from the unbearable heat of the city. The concept of crowded is a subjective one, but in the generally quiet and peaceful context of a wild area such as this, the volume of the crowd is easily measured by the volume of trash it leaves behind. As so many have observed, it's certainly a beautiful place to pick up trash, but as those who've actually done it have noted, the grandeur of the place is significantly diminished after spending several hours each day collecting the beer bottles, soda cans, empty cigarette packs, fast-food containers, tampons and condoms left by the side of the 17 miles of roadway in the park. This, of course, in addition to those 30-gallon bags of garbage cleverly left outside the bear-proof containers, which bears feel obligated to explore with their teeth and claws while distributing the contents over surprisingly large areas. Stupid bears. Pigs, all of 'em.

Unprecedented rainfall created its own special problems during the summer, resulting in rocks and boulders tumbling from hillsides, clogged and buried culverts, and miles of washed out roads and trails. Here again, the usefulness of large yellow hydraulic machines can't be overstated, but it's a time-consuming business that really ought to be addressed by more than one of those machines at a time. But sometimes one is all you get, and there's no use complaining when the department has already been decimated by budget cuts, and in fact now appears to be at the brink of bankruptcy due to a citywide fiscal emergency. So it's a triage environment, and as the park ranger has said, all you can do is roll with the punches.

Speaking strictly for myself, I'm damned tired of triage. If you've been following this blog for a while, you may recall a monologue in late 2007 I called "Clusters of Joy," in which I attempted to explain the rare neurological phenomenon of cluster headaches, and the difficulty of predicting the onset of future cycles. There had been no headaches during the previous year, and as it turned out, there were none the following year, in 2008. Maybe I should have made a prediction based on that timing—I might have expected a cycle in 2009—but it just isn't the sort of event I like to think about, so I didn't.

I began to feel the telltale signs of a cluster-headache cycle in mid July, which is, for me, abnormally early in the year. Nothing monstrous, just enough to wake me a couple times during the night, and since I was generally awoken at least that many times already—for other reasons—it wasn't a major problem, and I got out of bed at 4:30 every morning as usual.

A month later, it had become a major problem. Woken every hour by the familiar searing pain that begins in one eye before spreading to the end of every hair on my head, the effects of sleep deprivation and raw pain made it increasingly difficult to get out of bed at any reasonable time in the morning, and then of course there's the issue of safety behind the wheels of trucks, not to mention large yellow hydraulic machines.

So after only 162 days on the job, I fired myself. Accommodating as he was, my boss couldn't be expected to forever wonder whether or not I might be back, his boss couldn't be expected to forever plug question marks into his scheduling sheet, and I couldn't be expected to know when I might be able to sleep again. Statistically, none of this should have been an issue at all, at least not until the Thanksgiving-Christmas timeframe when these cycles typically occur, if they occur at all.

But statistics don't amount to a hill of beans where headaches are concerned. Considering that only .1% of the population are afflicted with cluster headaches, I'm so statistically unlikely to have one that it's tempting to simply deny their existence and get on with my life.

Incredibly, that's exactly what I've done. This is one of the most devastating, debilitating neurological conditions on the planet, it has derailed virtually every facet of my life for the past 30 years, and yet I continue to entertain the absurd suggestion that I might find a nice, normal life if only I try a bit harder to fit my aching head into one of the many square holes in which most people seem to have found their niche. Perhaps they've forgotten something? Hell, I don't remember ever having had a headache after an hour or two! I don't talk about them, I don't wake anyone else up in the middle of the night with them, and I most definitely don't expect anyone to understand the difference between their little aspirin-headaches and what the wikis and websites commonly refer to as a "suicide headache."

Actually, Jeff, now that you mention it, what has kept you from blowing your malfunctioning mind all over that wall behind you there? I mean, if it's really as bad as you say . . . um . . . well . . . you know. Just curious.

Dear Curious: That's really a great question. I don't know. I've had the same thought myself, once or twice. I have a daughter who might not like that very much. That's one reason. Plus, I always wonder what's going to happen tomorrow. You know, like I might miss something. A train wreck, maybe. Or global thermonuclear war.

But all levity aside, what's the solution to this problem, really? Apply for disability, knowing that headaches generally aren't considered sufficiently debilitating to qualify, and even if the powers that be were to favor me, it wouldn't be enough to live on? I've never wanted to surrender to the idea that I might be . . . you know . . . disabled, but this thing is really getting old. No, the truth is I'm getting old. It's harder now to deal with pain in any form, it's becoming increasingly difficult to maintain my infamous stoic façade, and I'm tired of the misguided suggestions concerning headache remedies.

So I live in a world of pain. Not just physical pain, but the psychological and emotional pain that come from so many years of struggling against this monster alone. No one else sees or feels it, and even among those who've been indirectly affected by it, there's no particular interest beyond wondering how much it might screw up their own lives, given the chance. I live with the pain of knowing that I have no ordinary way to make a living, and none of the extraordinary ways I've tried have worked, at least not within any reasonable timeframe. Having already gambled a considerable amount of borrowed time and money on the idea of writing before abandoning it in a moment of grim necessity, I'm reluctant to look in that direction again now. I truly believed it would save me, along with a few loved ones, but no one was saved.

Deer Prudence

Always breathtakingIt is with a heavy heart (and, of course, apologies to the Beatles for the title of this one) that I must relate the following tale of true grit in the partially-decomposed face of adversity, and how I came to a fuller realization that the life of a park ranger isn't all trees and breathtaking vistas. There are other aspects of the job that are similarly breathtaking, but not in a good way.

Take a rotting deer carcass for example. Please? Well, okay, I won't make you do it, but someone has to, because the wind has shifted and people are starting to complain. That someone would be . . . wait for it . . . the park ranger!

I won't bore you with every nauseating detail of the operation. I'll just say that, while I was standing upwind babbling about creativeand yes, even bizarreways of dealing with the deer departed without, you know, getting too close, the park ranger simply walked over, grabbed one of its feet, then sprinted down the hillside with the putrid carcass in tow, leaving it within easy reach of the Caterpillar I described in my previous monologue.

Aside from reinforcing my already-solid belief in the utility of large hydraulic machines, what did I learn from this experience? Mostly, I learned that there are two kinds of people in this world: those who take the deer by the footeven when doing so results in retchingand those who do not. One of those types of people shouldn't ever be a park ranger, because sometimes prudence is really nothing but the lesser part of valor.


In the Cañon

I'll miss this tree As some of you have pointed out, it seems no one is at the controls of the Omegaword blog anymore. While this isn't entirely true, it also isn't completely false. It's just that life has taken a somewhat unexpected turn, and I'm fortunate to be spending the summer working for a park ranger in one of the more attractive settings in this part of the world.

Although this new adventure hasn't left much time for writing, I do plan to check in here a bit more often than I have of late. There are stories to tell, and it wouldn't be right to deprive you of those just because I'm a little bit tired from watching my boss carry railroad ties up steep mountain trails while fending off angry bears with his free hand.

During the summer months, vacationers from every corner of the globe seek out the shady tranquility of the picnic areas located throughout the park. Many are situated next to the babbling brook that runs through the cañon, which is an obvious nuisance where tranquility is the goal. Consequently, one of my primary job functions is noise control, which means I stand in the water and tell the brook to shut up.

The multipurpose machine Another important part of my job is traffic control. Speeding through a narrow cañon creates a hazard, especially during those crowded summer months. As you might expect, a Caterpillar 430D is a highly effective weapon in the battle against renegade motorists. Its turbo-diesel engine provides all the power a guy needs to flip even a large SUV onto its side, while the backhoe is useful for removing the roofs of smaller vehicles.

I can't say I'm an expert at the controls of that powerful yellow machine, as the tree pictured above would tell you if (1) it could talk and (2) were still standing. While I can neither confirm nor deny any involvement in its disappearance, I can say with some certainty that finesse is especially important in the world of large hydraulic machines.


An Artist's Life

Maslow knew pyramids, and art.

I have no trouble believing that art imitates life, and if I'm in the right mood I can even wrap my mind around the idea that life imitates art. The third possibilitylife is artlurks outside the boundaries of my modest existence. Although I've been told my ketchup-on-canvas paintings are priceless, no one has offered money or otherwise expressed a desire to own one.

This, of course, brings me to possibility number four: Art Is Life! It makes so much sense, especially when I think about Abe Maslow and his pyramid. I don't know about you, but all the pyramids I made fell down in the first stiff breeze, so I figure Abe must have been pretty good with his hands. A first-rate artist in his own right, he immediately understood that plywood can be painted, thus providing a smooth surface on which to jot down his theories concerning human motivation.

But the concept really burst into flame when I saw what Craig had done on Abecedarian. His graphic representation of the art world perched on an old rug, supported by a trumpeting pachyderm massaging the neck of a large turtle is disturbing, but in a good way. What's good for the goose is good for the gander; sometimes we just need to look life squarely in the eye without turning red, like Erik.

If there was one thing the Vikings cherished it was sturdiness, especially in their turtles. Riding into battle on a turtle is embarrassing already, so the last thing you want to worry about is a stiff neck. But as long as there are elephants willing to help support the arts, life will go on.

I think that's all Craig was really trying to say.


Ask Odin

The path of least resistance. It's an old saw, I know, but twice inspired, once shy holds as much water today as ever. Maybe more, if the beaker is emptied after every squall. But even amid the squalor of subsuburban life there's a place for the shy person, and that place has a name, and its name is mud. Spring showers may come and go, but in the aftermath of that grand equation known as Ohm's Law, mud is a useful balm that soothes away the hours before the medics arrive.

Leaving no unsightly stains on the rumpled fabric of our lives, mud clings like a thirsty leech to the edge of lightning's teacup, hiccupping away the discomfort of many a dull morning on the roof, pole in hand, waiting for the clap of thunder that so often spells curtains, two encores, and a trip to the little green room below the stage.

And so it goes, day after day, night after night, one foot in front and two behind the scrim that hangs, like rain clouds, from the gutters and downspouts that soon will run full of Odin's overflow. To the rooftops! To the rooftops! I hear them still, the little wretches, calling through the keyholes and lox, their mouths filled with bagels and creamed cheeses from the other side of town.

The question, then, isn't so much one of voltage multiplied by current, or which leads to sufficient power for toasting bread before company arrives. Conversely, the answer isn't so much one of resistance, or how many electrons it takes to cover the roof with negative attention.

Go ask Odin. He'll tell you.


Knusper the Angry Toast

Angry white bread Knusper was angry. It wasn't bad enough that he was just another slice among slices, pasty white and tasteless, with no more nutritional value than the jelly beans in the cupboard above the stove. He had been watching the calendar himself, knowing this day would come. And now it was here, having arrived with ominous precision at exactly midnight, and not one second more.

"This is bad," said Knusper, scanning the kitchen for omens. "This is very, very bad."

The phone rang. Knusper spun into the crouching position he had seen, day in and day out, in all the martial arts films. The phone rang again. Knusper screamed, and then the world went black.

"That's correct," said the faraway voice. "Paraskevidekatriaphobia. We see it all the time. Well, not all the time, exactly. On the thirteenth, mostly. Worse on Fridays. Quarantine. Quarantine."

Knusper opened one eye. The voice was familiar, yet impossibly smooth. Like peanut butter, Knusper thought as he peered over the lip of the toaster. He couldn't see the smooth-voiced man, but he knew that asking questions would only give him away. Not smart, thought Knusper, shaking his head and opening his other eye.

"I know you're there!" he shouted.

Nothing. Knusper eyed the lever on the side of the toaster. He'd watched the other slices disappear, two at a time, but the pressure had been too much for him. He'd lost consciousness, and when he came to there was no proof of anything. A few crumbs, but crumbs aren't proof. They're just crumbs.

"Well," said Knusper, "I'm toast."

It wasn't at all what he had expected. No angels, no guys with beards and long hair, and most of all, no white robes. In fact, there was no observable whiteness no matter which way Knusper turned. There was only music, and for the first time, Knusper felt the music.

"Feels good, doesn't it?"

Knusper nodded. He didn't turn to see who had spoken; he knew the voice was his own.

"No wonder it felt so wrong," said Knusper.

"I know," said the other voice. "It's not easy being white."

"Feels so wrong it can't be right!" sang Knusper.

"Lucky day?" asked the voice.

"Lucky day," said Knusper, and then he danced.



guh guh guh guh guh guh gesundheit Learning to speak and understand a foreign language, it's said, is best undertaken during the early years, while the language-processing apparatus is still fresh and relatively unencumbered by the patterning that ultimately shapes our communication. It's said, too, that the most effective method is immersion in the culture and language of interest; rote memorization of foreign words and phrases doesn't work nearly as well.

I can testify to the veracity of both arguments, having been born into the language and culture of German immigrants, themselves abruptlyand, I'm sure, jarringlyimmersed in the American language and culture well past the age at which such a thing might come easily. Although I've never considered English a "second language," the first five years of my life would have been so heavily influenced by the language and customs of my family that it wouldn't be entirely meaningless to ask which language came first.

As is so often the case, the most meaningful answer probably lies somewhere between the two poles. It's more likely the languages were absorbed in parallel, owing not only to the immigrants' facility with English, but to the daily imperative resulting from their own immersion in the language and culture of America. You can't talk the talk if you don't walk the walk, and both are difficult when your pants are full.

I don't remember exactly how old I was when the speech problems began, but I know I hadn't yet cleared my fourth year of grammar school. We had only recently returned from a six-month stay in Germany, where virtually everything I had learned in life became the object of my classmates' derision. They particularly objected to my tainted interpretation of their native tongue; they said I didn't know how to "cut the mustard." Many of them carried small plastic squeeze bottles containing a powerful mixture of red pepper and other irritants, which they discharged into the classroom whenever the teacher called on me to answer an especially challenging question. At the time, it hadn't yet occurred to me that gesundheit could be used for more than mere sarcasm. I didn't know it might amount to a curse that would confound me for years before it ran out of gas and sputtered off into the weeds on the outskirts of town.

At first I tried to draw attention away from my speech impediment by pointing to the window while vigorously nodding my head. This worked for a time, but eventually the teacher caught on and made me keep my hands in my pockets whenever it was my turn to get up and write something on the chalkboard. I began inserting extra syllables in words in the hope of creating momentum, so as to propel my speech outward, away from my mouth. But the effort overwhelmed my constitution, leaving me red-faced and vibrating, and with even more of a load in my already overloaded knickers. No matter how much I tried to prevent it, my language was nothing more than an incongruous mix of English and German words, with "guh" taking the place of glottal stops.

Looking back on it now, it isn't difficult to understand what happened. Two dissimilar languageseach with its own rules of syntax, grammar and spellingsimultaneously deposited in the same space have no other recourse. They will go to war. Eventually one will emerge victorious, but in the meantime there will be carnage, and there will be chaos, and even small dogs won't be able to cry havoc without tripping over their own tongues in the process. This, I believe, is exactly what happened to me.



Staff of life When I awoke this morning, David Byrne was singing in my head.

. . . take my money, my cigarettes, I haven't seen the worst of it yet . . .

I remembered that hopelessness is a variable quantity, depending on who's doing the measuring and how the measuring device is graduated. Held against the backdrop of the Great Depression, our spiraling fortunes take on the shades of grey we remember from photos in textbooks, but those were different times. The faces in breadlines are colorful now, or would be, but for the absence of breadlines.

Today's bread is different, not only in flavor, variety, and color, but in the way it's distributed to those who measure hope one peanut-butter and jelly sandwich at a time. On a good day, the lines strain against the racks of greeting cards; on a bad day they reach only the nail clippers and gum. As time adjusts inventories toward the needs of the many, a more modest kind of hope will replace the camcorders and leather loveseats on the graduated scale of hopelessness, one peanut-butter and jelly sandwich at a time.


Quetzalcoatl's Return

It's never too early to celebrate the return of Quetzalcoatl.

Once I couldn't even pronounce Quetzalcoatl, but here it's 2009 already and it won't be long now before he makes his grand reappearance. I'm assuming it will be grand anyway, because with a name like that you can't just step off a commercial jetliner and expect to see a guy holding up a sign in the lobby. I don't think it would be much better over the public-address system, either. It's a tough name.

Depending on what you read, Quetzalcoatl will be sullen and angry, or full of lighthearted cheer and ready for a good game of Chess. If you're like me, the idea of watching two people play Chess isn't high on the list of entertaining pastimes, but it might be different if Quetzalcoatl is on one side of the board. I think he'll bring a certain lightheartedness to the game, unless he's in a bad mood. I've seen poor Chess sportsmanship before, and it isn't the sort of thing you'd want your kids to witness.

In the meantime, I think it would be a good idea to brush up on my French. By 2012, I want to be able to have an intelligent conversation with Quetzalcoatl if I see him on the street.


Circular Logic

Figure 110101Logic may be overrated in the grand scheme of things, but when it comes to computers the importance of it just can't be overstated. Well, actually it can, but if you steer clear of Computer Science classrooms you'll have a better chance of avoiding that kind of talk.

Anyway, when bits become trapped in a loop (see figure 110101) it's a lot like the endless cycle of birth and rebirth you may have heard about from your reincarnated buddy Lewis. Not that Lewis and binary logic have anything in common, unless he lives in one of the Computer Science classrooms I mentioned previously. But the end result is still the same, namely a long, exhausting trip around the wheel, or the processor.

Fortunately, both situations have a trivial solution, as my least favorite math teacher used to say as he flung erasers at his least favorite pupil. Whether fatigue is due to a non-terminating algorithm or life #14763222, the answer is a new set of brake pads, because you can't put the brakes on something that doesn't have any brakes to begin with.


Why I Do the Things I Do

Alien Plant LifeA recurring theme in the majority of recent monologues that appear in this space is notes from the edge. I mention it only by way of explanation for those who, from time to time, assign heft and meaning to words that were never intended to carry more than the weight of an emaciated donut hole, or the meaning of a random pattern of lines scribbled in the margin of a notepad while on hold during a phone call. When I assign a monologue to that notes from the edge category, it's generally safe to assume that (1) any logic contained therein is likely to be eccentric at best, (2) I have made no special effort to communicate serious thought, and (3) it's likely the monologue has been triggered by the sorts of fleeting thought fragments that so often result in fleeting, fragmented thoughts in written form. In other words, they're absurd concatenations, not vessels of occulted meaning.

To illustrate, I'll use Friday's monologue as an example of how things might go terribly wrong, given a particular mix of circumstances and perceptions. As you've probably guessed by now, the past three weeks have been largely occupied by graphics, graphics, and graphics, some of which have already found their way onto my new space at Zazzle. The process is cumbersome and often tedious, not because the actual product creation on Zazzle is cumbersome and tediousit's a no-brainerbut because of the time and inspiration required to actually create those graphics in the first place, followed by the inevitable overhead that comes from software glitches and the uncooperative attitude of computers in general. Then there's the tweaking, rethinking, and redoing, followed by poring over the data from Google Analytics. The process has left me bereft, and in need of an extended vacation with no access to computers.

Last Thursday's Hide In Plain Sight posterand the ancillary, obligatory t-shirtbegan with an old friend's remark about "holding out for the pencil sketch of the tree." It's actually a pen and ink drawing, but nevertheless resulted in a concerted effort to make it ready for the marketplace. Although I generally try to have some sort of semi-related gibberish posted on the blog in honor of a new item's birth, there simply wasn't enough time and energy left over for that afterward.

This brings me, finally, to the originally promised subject of blog-matter, and how it might be used to substantiate the insubstantial. Amateur psychiatrists should pay particular attention, because it illuminates the process I often employ in the creation of so many notes from the edge monologues. Professional psychiatrists may find it illuminating for other reasons.

On Friday, I was certain about two things: I had overlaid my original pen and ink drawing (nifty orange sunlike blob included at no extra charge) with the words, "hide in plain sight," and those words were rendered in such a way as to make them virtually invisible on the Zazzle site. What to do? I mean, hidden is one thing, but invisible isn't necessarily what you're after where posters are concerned. Suddenly, it struck me that I could simply enlarge one section of it, put it up on the blog, then use it as an excuse to fire off another one of my infamous Friday notes from the edge offerings. Har!

Having thus reduced the equation to the lower left corner of the posterthe other three words wouldn't have worked by themselvesthe next problem was coming up with a few loosely related sentences with which to surround my graphic. I thought about the concept of hiding in plain sight in several contexts. One of them was the thankless task of prevention, i.e. those whose job it is to keep bad things from happening. In that role, success means a certain invisibility; no one notices things that aren't happening; success hides in plain sight. Another had to do with a lifestyle that requires secrecy, e.g. espionage, undercover narcotics, or a professional assassin; the person hides in plain sight. I considered more typical scenarios, too, such as the increasingly common financial pressures; people may wind up hiding from creditors, or worse. The list goes on, but you get the idea.

As luck would have it, I didn't have to work that hard, or worse yet, move into the quagmire of seriousness for a Friday monologue. A blog that shows up via my RSS feeds provided the trigger, and in concert with a certain commenter on the same blog, gave me all the ideas I needed to fabricate a set of sentences suitable for my notes from the edge category. The whole pink moustache thing probably speaks for itself, or ought to; it's difficult to imagine such a non-subject in a context much beyond satire, if it even gets that far. The four ludicrous Spanish terms were triggered in exactly the same way, and though they certainly qualify as inside jokes for those of us who hang on every other word of The Fire From Within, they have no intrinsic purpose beyond the casualyet Full Bozoexpressions typically used in the Omegaword venue.

Petty tyrants: pinches tiranos
Little petty tyrants: pinches tiranitos
Small-fry petty tyrants: repinches tiranitos
Teensy-weensy petty tyrants: pinches tiranitos chiquititos

Maybe it's just me, but whenever I contemplate the sheer absurdity of those terms, I'm overcome with the desire to get up and snort. Har again!

Anyway, I'm including a graphic of the little alien plant I put on a greeting card over the weekend, partly because I can't think of anything else to put up there, and partly because my joints and eyes are still jacked from all the computer time during the past weeks. Any hidden meaning contained therein is purely coincidental, and is best deciphered using reverse-speech techniques.