Like a highly amplified tour bus. While discussing current events with one of my charges, the problem of negating false positives during the testing phase rose to the top of the stack, resulting in a noticeable puff of smoke that alarmed the fire department's chief observer, who chided us for leaving the lightning rod unplugged during the height of the storm.

When he had finished plugging in, the familiar strains of an old Hendrix song woke the neighbors, who came over to complain, but changed their tune when they realized that the drummer hadn't removed her breathing apparatus. As midnight came and went, it became obvious that the fire department intended to play until someone apologized for interrupting their sleep. They didn't see the humor in our reckless disregard for fire safety during a thunderstorm; they said we might as well have been on the roof, naked, with a metal pole.

They were right, of course. Like grounding a charging horse, a negative charge on the lightning rod guarantees a few extra winks in the firehouse, where the path of least resistance often leads to a brass pole, even at night.

wonder if horses understand electricity.


Multiple Choice

One of these things is not like the others.

There is only one correct question for each answer.

a) Reciprocity failure.
a) The intersection of two Venn diagrams.
a) I know this one.
a) A rectifier.
a) First there is a mountain.
a) The last owl.
a) Self-perpetrating prophesy.
a) I don't understand.
a) Beyond the shadow of reason.
a) Mere portals.
a) A catalyzing event.
a) There is no beep.

q) Is not the reciprocal a negative quantity?
q) When did his watch stop?
q) Molybdenum, as in Molybdenum?
q) If a lightning rod isn't connected, is it still a lightning rod?
q) How many quantum mechanics does it take to change?
q) Why not block the number?
q) Was that a comet?
q) You call that codified?
q) What hyperbolic chitchat?
q) The set of all known Venn diagrams?
q) What has happened here?
q) What color was the sky?
q) Where has all the flour gone?
q) If the bow breaks, what then?
q) That came from your printer?
q) If lightning strikes, who will take the reigns?
q) Did you come alone?


A Drop in the Dream Bucket

This is not a drop of golden sun. Compared to their nocturnal counterparts, my daydreams are sunsoaked romps in green meadows; they're happy-go-lucky strolls in the park; they don't require shoes. On the other hand, nighttime is the right time for laboring in labyrinths, which is a pretty good description of my after-dark dream activities, so I won't be editing this sentence anytime soon.

When I fall asleep in the daytime, it's almost always because I can't keep my eyes open. If I also happen to be stretched out, with the sun in my face, the odds of sundrenched romping aren't even worth calculating. Mechanical contraptions become increasingly unreliable with age, so it's better to save the abacus for reckoning beans, or lumber.

Returning to my original point, a recent episode of Jeff Takes a Nap featured exactly the sort of eye-popping antics that have made me a lifelong fan, and keep me coming back no matter how much I have to pay for popcorn. Not only did my dream unfold entirely on and about a bed remarkably similar to the one where I lay napping, it raised the bar for future productions by forcing the lead characterthat would be meto continually pry his eyes open with his fingers in order to avoid bumping into the other cast members and ruining the play.

Interpreting a dream's underlying meaning has never been my strong suit, but desperation leads me to conclude that a simple lack of sleep is to blame for this one.


Cat o' Nine Tales

All cats are gifted comedians. And they're dark, too. When I see a cat racing through the house with loony eyes and a severe case of pooftail, my first thought is that I forgot to close the front door before I went to bed. On second thought, it generally occurs to me that the cat lives here, and is merely pursuing one of the local phantasms who seem to think that life is one big joke.

Cats know that life is considerably more complicated. While the average human muddles through, at most, one life at a time, cats are forced to juggle nine, leaving precious little time to practice their routines before a live audience. Fortunately, cats are gifted comedians, a trait that is only amplified by nine simultaneous lives in a multiverse known for its dark sense of humor.

Like the multiverse, cats know that a lighthearted story sells fewer copies than its shadowy counterpart; they understand that profitable storytelling relies on the accumulation of apprehension, and dread. This is why cats store dark matter in their tails.


The Soundtracks of Our Lives

Play that funky soundtrack, white boy. They say the truest test of infamy lies in the soundtrack that accompanies what we do when we think no one else is listening. This is just another way of assuming that the soundtrack has left its earmarks on the listener's tympanic membranes, but I don't believe everything I assume. If hearing is believing, I choose to believe that Craig knows a thing or two about soundtracks, and said so, thus leading me to a "'quartet of solo harmonica tunes, with a "strong degree of unselfconscious spontaneity, glee, and abandon"' that made me cry like a baby, or would have, if babies had pink mustaches.

They don't, of course, and therein lie the rubs that ruined the tape heads on my own portable Panasonic cassette recorder, which is why the harmonica sounds like a kazoo. But it isn't, and anyone who says otherwise should wake up and smell the frosting, then find his own soundtrack instead of staring at mine all the time.

So this is goodbye, Charlie Lewis, wherever you are. Finders keepers, losers weepers, and that goes double for the photograph of someone who may or may not look exactly like me, but will have to do until the surgeon arrives. In the meantime, everyone should go to their rooms, because it's my soundtrack now.


The Element of Surprise

Elementary, my dear Prudence. No longer the exclusive province of milk crates and cinder blocks, turning the tables on comfort and reliability has become something of a sport for those with nothing better to do. Unlike the label on the hyperallergenic mattress purchased by your farsighted friend, the element of surprise is considerably more difficult to ascertain, corrective lenses be damned.

Left outdoors in subzero temperatures, even the most elegant air furniture is no match for elements that change state on a whim, especially when liquids fill the spaces intended for carbon dioxide, or similarly vapid emissions. Left to the elements, a periodic table is an uncomfortable table, showing its grain to the world even as splinters accumulate in the elbows of visitors with no other place to sit.

Like an episodic relationship, the periodic table is rarely there when guests arrive, leaving hospitality to take up the slack, and serendipity to dish out the specific symbol required to make sense of star-crossed chemistry, with all the awkward surprises it brings to the table.

Aren't you hungry?