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{Wednesday, December 31, 2003}

snow day

Hee hee, it's snowing here and I have the luxury of working at home because of it. I feel like I'm in school again.

by Shawn 11:25 AM

{Tuesday, December 30, 2003}

I'm swimming in my new shorts, and school starts next week. Mom says I'll grow into them, but they were too big on my birthday and they're too big now. I haven't grown in the three weeks of Christmas break, and I don't think I'm going to grow this weekend. They're too big.
My shoes, though, are too small. They fit three weeks ago and they're too small now, and they pinch my toes and make them sweat in slippery and hot ways when I walk. My heels hurt and I've got a blister starting on my achilles tendon that I wouldn't wish on anybody, not even JoJo the Dog-Faced Monkey-Boy, otherwise known as my brother Joseph.
I look bad, but he's Jojo the dog-faced monkey-boy, and everybody in school knows it. Before the Holiday break I told everybody in his class and mine that I called him that, Jojo the dog-faced monkey-boy. They all laughed and called him names. He yelled and hit me in the ankle with a stick on the playground and now they're all careful what they say to him. He hit me in the other ankle too, for good measure, when I wasn't looking, as I was limping home. He told me to watch out and that he'd do worse than that.
My shoes fit better now than they did that day. The blood on them from the knife gash made them all stiff and made them shrink a little. I liked those shoes, but Mom said not to worry: she was going to take me shopping for new clothes. We rushed through the store, picking out bad pants and ugly shoes. Dad didn't say anything at all. He just sat in his chair in the living room and smoked. Jojo the dog-faced monkey-boy sat there with him, watching cartoons.
After we went to the store, Mom said we were going to go visit Aund Rhonda, and we drove out to her house in Smithville which is like twenty minutes out of town. I never spent Christmas with Mom's family before, 'cause we usually have Hannukka and Aunt Ruth comes over and we light candles. Mom's family does weird things, like they only give presents on one day, and they have a tree.
The new year starts tomorrow night, and Mom says I can stay up all night and watch the hands go 'round my watch and watch the date skip over from 31 to 1. She says I can dance with Aunt Rhonda's neighbor's daughter and that we'll have a good time. She keeps telling me that and crying. She says I'll get the casts off my ankles tomorrow, and I can walk and I can dance all night.
She says all kinds of things, and I just smile 'cause I know I got Jojo the dog-faced monkey-boy good. He's gonna be sorry next week at school. You'll see. Mom says I won't 'cause she says I'm going to school in Smithville now, but you'll see. Tell me how it goes. Just watch out what you say to him if he has a stick.

by MisterNihil 4:01 PM

I talked with Bryan last night, and he mentioned that he couldn't think of anything to say for "Oof," and I confessed that, lately, I've just been writing whatever's been on my mind, and never mind the day's topic. So, what's on my mind today?

Sandman, largely. Work that I can't focus on. The knack to happiness. And friendship.

Jon gave me somewhere around 9 Sandman books for Christmas, filling out the collection he had been gradually chipping at over holidays and birthdays in one overwhelming fell swoop. I gots me lots of comic books, yo.

In book four, Season of Mists, Desire makes a passing taunt at Dream about his first mortal love, the "sparkly" one. My brain leaps immediately to Killalla of the Glow, from Dream's story in Endless Nights, "The Heart of a Star," written more than a decade after Season of Mists. He'd had this planned?

One wonders whether it is Morpheus or Neil who better wears the title Lord of Stories.

A bit of internet searching turned up more questions, namely what is the DC in-joke that Gaiman snuck in there? From his journal:

I finished Miguelanxo Prado's story for Endless Nights yesterday -- a very strange story, in which we get to see one of Dream's first relationships, and learn weird things about the DC universe at the dawn of time (so there will be some people who will find it really cool that Killalla of the Glow is from Oa, and some people will simply go "What a short name for a world").

Well, the internet really does know everything. I was finally able to coax from it a few facts: Oa is the planet that the Green Lantern rings come from. (Killalla is green, and she glows.) Rao, who also makes an appearance in "The Heart of a Star," is the god/sun of Krypton.

So, and this is news to no one, I'm sure: Neil is a comic book geek.

by Sharon 2:18 PM

"Be careful what you say to Jojo, the dog-faced monkey-boy."

by Fred 6:00 AM

{Monday, December 29, 2003}

When the bugs moved in,
Eating out my skin,
Crawling into empty spaces
And creating them,
I didn't complain.
It didn't occur to me
To complain.
Now they pull the strings.
Cavort and dance,
Funny puppet.
Tell them I'm normal.
Tell them I'm pretty.
Tell them I'm sane.
Slide up my flagpole,
Run down the rabbit hole,
And remember to smile, smile,
Wave to the bugs,
As you sail by,
Funny puppet.
Don't let them see the blood
On your gums.
With twisted up hair,
Tied up in knots,
And a vaseline grin
That belongs inside my pocket,
Waxed and shined and buffed
'Til I'm gleaming with the effort,
Tell them I'm normal.
Tell them I'm pretty.
Tell them I'm sane.
And don't let the bugs
Call you collect.
They wear pretty gloves
On their clever black hands.
White kid gloves,
Stained with raspberry sauce
From the party,
Hung out to dry,
Purple in the sun,
Washed in cold
And regret.
The bugs that wear my skin
Will invent a new game tomorrow.
It will have tricks and trumps,
And you can play it with checkers
Or an old deck of cards
Or discarded eyelashes
That fall from my face like lost wishes.
The only thing you can't do
Is win.
Tell me I'm normal.
Tell me I'm pretty.
Tell me I hurt.
But don't tell the bugs
Where to find me.

by Sharon 12:44 PM

It's the sound of being hit in the stomach; it's the name of an egg in French; it's
(or, oeuf in French)

by MisterNihil 10:11 AM

{Monday, December 22, 2003}

I will not put a book through anyone.
It's busy today. The floor's a mess, the people are stressed and mean and doing stupid things. My head hurts. People are asking for things we clearly don't have or can't do (Do you have the out-of-print edition of this? Do you have this book in any other colors? Can I have a discount, not on this open display copy of the two volume slipcased editon, but on the shrink-wrapped one that I'm special ordering?). When I got into work today, I was whistling. Maybe when I leave I will still whistle.
I will not put a book through anyone.
We can't send hard-cover books to prisons. We can't send large softcover books to prisons. The fellows there will kill each other with them. Even this tool for learning or amusement is a weapon. The ones I've been walking around with, trying to shelve despite the spate of questions dropped on me are good weapons. They clock in at better than two pounds. They have sharp corners. They have a handy cover to keep the blood off the pages. They'd look so good popping somebody in the base of the skull.
I will not put a book through anyone.
Maybe once I've written it one hundred times, I'll belive it.

by MisterNihil 2:26 PM

"Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right."

by Fred 6:00 AM

{Friday, December 19, 2003}

Sometimes I'm amazed at how much I've changed. Binding contracts between two departments within the same organization seem not only normal, but a good idea. SLAs, we call them. Service Level Agreements.

I spent yesterday writing an SLA where I represented the service provider (i.e., the support group), trying to protect us every which way and ensure that we weren't getting trapped into unending, all-hours support for an environment that just isn't that important. I specified the hours of support (M-F, 8-5, CST), and wrote more than once that the business partners were responsible for having a contingency plan always at the ready, in case the environment could not be made available.

We'll see if that flies.

Today, I'm writing an SLA where I'm the business partner, and I need to wring as much out of this service provider as I can. (The need for an SLA is evidence of the state of the relationship. I'd kick people if I thought it would help.)

It's a strange role reversal. I'll tell you who really has the power, though.

Nobody reads anymore. Nobody here really writes much, either. People go to great lengths to shirk the responsibility of writing. So the one who makes sure that the SLAs say just the right things is the girl whom everybody expects will write them.

Heh heh heh.

by Sharon 1:55 PM

one ring to rule them all

by Sharon 6:19 AM

{Thursday, December 18, 2003}

My mother, whom I have no reason to doubt, once told me that the world was going to end. She did not believe in god, she told me. She did not expect the second coming, or even great catastrophe, but she knew the precise moment when everything that was would cease to be. She had mathematical formulae to prove it, she added, although she did not fully understand them herself, and it had only been the guidance of the aliens from Tau Ceti who had revealed to her their true implications. Before their arrival, my mother said, she had mistaken the formulae for just another set of missed answers on a little girl's fifth grade math test. That she had, at the age of eleven, accidentally guessed the date on which the universe would come to its end had not, she said, ever occurred to her. She had, in fact, failed that test. It was only the aliens, who she said appeared to her later that day on the playground after everyone else had gone for the day, who had explained the truth. The world was going to end. In the grand scheme of things, there was very little time. The aliens, my mother said, offered to take from her this knowledge and allow her to forget. The end of existence, they told her, was inevitable; it would profit her little to know of its precise arrival. Of course, she declined. It would be important, she said, to remember. Knowing that the end was nigh made the now all the more precious. The aliens, she said, had deliberated over this for many minutes, and had seemed poised to erase her memories anyway without her consent. But, in the end, they had agreed that perhaps the knowledge was important, and so they would leave it with her.

And that was that. My mother remembered, and she told me the day when the world would end, as I will tell my daughter. There is very little time left. The last moment is approaching. On certain nights, I look up into the sky at what my mother's books tell me is Tau Ceti, that yellow-orange dwarf only some twelve light-years away, and wonder how the aliens that met my mother on the playground are preparing for the end. I can only hope we do as well.

by Fred 10:07 PM

"I might just skip it this year."

I looked up from my knitting. This was typical--my husband and I go through this every year--but it still warranted a response. I looked over the top of my half-moon spectacles at him.

"You can't skip it, Chris," I said gently.

"Sure I can. Who would notice?" He shifted his weight grumpily. "eBay and Amazon could certainly pick up the slack."

"Well, that would be good for the economy, yes." Sometimes it is a wife's job to goad. It had the desired effect.

"Economy?" he huffed. "Humbug."

I focused on my knitting to suppress a smirk. I could feel his narrowed eyes on me. Finally, he decided.

"Fine, fine. I'll go." Chris heaved out of his easy chair. "Tell the damn reindeer to get back to the barn, if they haven't drunk all the eggnog yet." He stumped out of the living room.

You've got your Christmas traditions, and I've got mine. Try to remember the cookies, though; it makes him feel appreciated.

by Sharon 2:19 PM

Better at the Last Minute than Never

by MisterNihil 11:28 AM

{Wednesday, December 17, 2003}

"But underneath
There's another expression
That the makeup isn't making
Life under the big top
It's about freedom
It's about faking
There's an art to the laughter
There's a science
And there's a lot of love
And compliance" - Ani Difranco, "Freakshow"

At the bottom of the page, it read, "Orders may be adjusted for compliance with vendor restrictions." Ted had seen this, but skimmed over it, along with the "Prices and availability subject to change without notice" and all the other fine print. Nobody really read those lines. Well, lawyers maybe, and people standing in line or holding on the phone when something went wrong. Then contracts were important. Then you read the fine print. But he'd just ordered a book online. Nothing special, no cause for alarm, no binding, problem-causing contract that would have given him any reason to review the paperwork. It was only out of habit that he'd printed a copy at all.

Except, the book that came wasn't the one he'd ordered. "Vendor reserves the right to adjust orders in any way it sees fit," the encolsed invoice read. Your order, 'Jack Russell Terriers Complete Owner's Manual' does not meet vendor restrictions and has therefore been replaced with an item of equal value. The vendor apologizes for any inconvenience."

And, sure enough, the dog book Molly had wanted wasn't encolsed. There was just the invoice, the packing material, and something called the Necronomicon, in which there was almost nothing about puppies at all. Molly wasn't going to be happy about this, and it was doubtful that any of the incantations in the book were going to stop Max from piddling on the carpet. Ted wondered what he should do. He supposed a lengthy conversation with customer service was in order, although he wasn't much looking forward to that.

Not now that he'd seen the "Vendor may sacrifice first-born to eldritch gods" clause.

by Fred 10:49 PM

It would probably be a code-of-conduct violation if I talked in any detail about what I have to do to comply with our Change Management process, for changing a bit of code. I'll say this, though: There is much tape hereabouts, and most of it is red.

My department's stance on Change Management reminds me of digital watches. "Digital watches?" you ask. Yes, digital watches.

See, digital watches exemplify the foibles of precision without accuracy. Your watch (or, if you're me, your father) can tell you that it is 3:23:04, :05, :06... which is certainly precise. And wholly inaccurate. It is much more accurate to say that it is "a little before 3:30," but much less precise. Rather, because it is much less precise.

I mistrust people who wear digital watches. These are people who demand exacting details and are comforted by being lied to. It isn't any such thing as 3:26:34. At the moment that I type this, your computer clock says something utterly else. Even if we all went out to time.gov (where we set our watches last January 1st because, after all, it was a Geek Party) and clicked "OK" at the same instant, 3:28:16 would still be a lie. It isn't the same actual all the way across a time zone. We just all agree it is.

For that matter, the whole notion of minutes and seconds exists only because of mutual consent.

Analog watches are much more honest.

And no matter how many approvers sign off on my change ticket, it doesn't amount to a hill of beans if none of them have looked at my code. Ho hum.

by Sharon 3:32 PM


by Fred 1:20 PM

{Tuesday, December 16, 2003}

Say what you will about them, the Zealians were an energetic people.

At first, nobody was really sure where they came from, but once they were there, you couldn't get rid of them. You could be tunneling your way through the dark recesses of some forgotten asteroid in some far-flung corner of the galaxy, some place that wasn't on any star charts, and you'd turn some corner and there one was, wanting desperately to chat with you about the stock market, or Denebrian interest rates, or how it was just marvelous that time of year on Rygel-5 and for just a small investment you could be well on your way to a beautiful low-rent condominium atop one of its eight luxurious mountains. They never let up. They'd talk and they'd talk and they'd talk. Their enthusiasm for time-shares and pyramid schemes was astounding. It baffled scientists back on Earth for years. When they discovered that the Zealians didn't sleep, and that in place of a brain they had some weird mechanism that did nothing but spit out buzz words and loud, upbeat music, nobody was really surprised. The question became, what to do with them? They were everywhere. Their enthusiasm wasn't infectious, but they seemed to be, popping up where you'd least expect them, always there, always talking, always loud. When they finally discovered their home world, after who knows how many years of searching, it was only natural that they decided to carpet-bomb it back into the stone age. And then bomb it some more. You have to understand, the Zealians were just really annoying. Nobody goes to Rygel-5 in the summer. It's a scam. And nobody wants to hear about the same scam over and over by really eager people. Maybe they didn't know better. Maybe those machine-brains didn't let them be anything else. They were always friendly.

But thank god they're finally gone.

by Fred 5:18 PM

I was running reports directly against the database. It's easier that way. Gooeys are for sissies. And I was doing my best to tune out the incessant din of arguing men that serves as the constant backdrop in a cubicle farm full of software developers.

I had just left the where clause off my delete statement (14357 rows deleted.), when the character of the susurrations changed. It was more agitated, more indignant. I figured they'd started a conference call with Change Management.

But no, these were shouts of alarm. People were running (Programmers? Running??) into the main corridor. I needed to focus on the SQL statements I was composing. (rollback and press--)

A fleeing Frenchman arrested his flight and ducked into my cube.

"Alain, why is everyone arguing?" I asked him.

"Zeal! Zeal!" he cried.

"So it's zeal instead of anger. But what's going on?"

"Zeal!" he shrieked and dashed back into the flow of panicked programmers.

I couldn't remember what I was doing. I shook my head and turned back to the SQL window. Something made the monitor shake and the floor quiver. Something... big. I reread my last statement: delete from--

That was a seal.

A seal. A large aquatic mammal. Galumphing down the aisle. A seal. Big.

I closed the database window (Auto-commit is turned off. Do you want to commit your changes? Um... Yes.) and joined the pandemonium.

by Sharon 3:32 PM


by Bryan 11:07 AM

{Monday, December 15, 2003}

He woke up one day and the whole world was gone.
It just wasn't there anymore.
It wasn't under the bed or out on the lawn.
Not in the dresser. (He checked every drawer.)

He thought it quite strange his house was still there,
When everything else had gone poof.
But there were the walls, quite solid, not bare.
There were the windows, the the doorway, the roof.

But out through that door, past grass, was just void,
A gray and empty expanse.
The whole world, it seemed, was vanished, destroyed.
He stared as if caught in a trance.

Well, nothing to do but go read a book,
He thought with a hint of chagrin.
But then he glanced at the void and visibly shook.
"I hope what's not out there doesn't get in."

by Fred 5:08 PM

"The Love Has Gone."
Not the best title for a monster flick, but I've heard worse. I hear it's an oblique Violent Femmes reference, and that the director wanted, originally, to call it "Beautiful Girl, Love the Dress," but the studio decided it was too oblique and too long. I sat through this one for the review, but I knew when I walked in that it was just too off center for my tastes. The plot unfolds about like you'd expect: boring characters bad dialogue, gratuitous sex, a shadowed figure stalking the cute heroine. From there, it gets weird. They catch the monster right away, in the first twenty minutes of the movie. You think it's over and maybe you just lucked out 'cause it's really just a half-hour movie, when everything goes to shit. The cute victim, it turns out, is actually a woman who travels from town to town, accusing men of horrible crimes so as to have them jailed. Then, she bilks the families out of huge sums of money, changes her name, and moves on to another unsuspecting town. This time, though, the man jailed really is a horrible killer, but he's also an alien monstrosity (watch for the Bad Tentacle Scene about 42 minutes in. You can see the fishing lines) and also spreads a viral disease that makes zombies out of Swedes. Why only Swedes? Because they filmed the movie in Minnesota and your choice of extras is limited to Swedes and Norwegans, and one group has to be the good guys. It's funny, really, seeing a group of thirty extras tromp through the snow in bad zombie makeup, only to be stopped by another group of extras tromping the other way. It's kind of "when an extra meets an extra a' passin through the rye." Following the Extra Battle Royale is a continuous shot, fully fifteen minutes worth, of two men shaking hands in front of a window with snow falling outside. By the end, fully twelve inches of snow have fallen, and you can see the level rise. There is no dialog in this scene. I hate to seem the philistine, but I just don't get it. Then, the movie jumps to an unknown hero who has not appeared previously in the film stabbing a ten foot pole through the monster and the woman from the beginning of the film (remember her? It's like she came from another story and just stumbled into the end of this weird, stupid monster movie thing.)
I give it three stars out of five. I don't know why, but I left the theater with a warm fuzzy feeling. The movie was terrible, but I felt good about it. I think some people will like it, I think I'm not one of those some people.

by MisterNihil 2:24 PM

if only you had seen it.
promises woven
in weft of wheat,
crystals kissed
on each sweet leaf,
where the sun rose
from a golden sea
and turned it to blood
and hope.
Every morning
it was mine alone.
until they mowed it,
turned the earth under
to let it dry hard and yellow
and dead,
ripped the trees by the roots
and left them
straining desperate thirsty fingers
into the callous air,
hid it behind a wall
of tall white stone.
i could write to you,
tell you about it,
but the field is gone,
and it is the feeling
(special, once.
I miss.

by Sharon 12:01 PM

gone, daddy, gone.

by Sharon 11:59 AM

{Saturday, December 13, 2003}

Who? Me?

by MisterNihil 3:40 PM

{Friday, December 12, 2003}

Get moving indeed. Question is, where?

I turned down a job interview today. I stumbled upon the company only last week and saw that they were hiring. I dusted off my resume (which has gotten more dusting than my apartment recently), and sent it along with the writing sample they requested. A couple of e-mails, another writing sample, and some traded phone messages later, and I was all set for a phone chat and editing assessment -- which is a far better response than I've gotten from most of the applications I've sent out. Except, I went and asked when they wanted the position filled. And then I went and told them I didn't think I could move across the country in that time frame, that I was really sort of hoping to stay where I was for at least four months longer than that. Which effectively killed my chances of getting this particular job. My contact there said she understands, and they'll keep my resume on file.

To be honest, I feel sort of guilty talking about this here, since I grumble and moan about it enough on my own weblog. But, given the topic, there's not much else that comes to mind. I need to move. I accept that as a given, and I'm taking steps to ensure that it happens. I've focused on Austin because it's a little less of an unknown than everywhere else. I was there for the second time this fall, and it's a nice enough city. It's interesting, and there are opportunities there. But it's also frightening, far away, and more than a little hot. (Really, what is it, like 70 degrees right now? In mid-December?) Moving there will take a lot of courage, blind faith, and the inability to tell the two apart. It will also take something more than a vague promise of writing or editing work. I feel like I've passed the point where I'd move for just any job -- not to be confused with any writing or editing job, however -- and if all Austin has to offer me is its heat, bad drivers, and weirdness, I'm not sure moving there is the right decision. I'm not going to work at an Austin McDonald's just so I can live in Austin. The city itself just isn't enough of a draw. The jobs in my field are more plentiful in New York, and, last I checked, rent was free at my parents' place.

But I'll figure it out. I hope. Or I'll kill myself trying. But I will keep moving.

by Fred 3:32 PM

(to the tune of "Corkscrew Bicycle")

Happiness will kick you in the ass and steal your wallet
Leave you lying in the grass wearing a grin.
A spade is just a spade when you must call it
You can have your satisfaction ordered in:

The star in the window
calls the dance in line,
Give in to the urge and
Call me some time.

Have your cake, and eat the balance of the moon
the stars in your eyes will tell the tale
There's a time and a place commence to swoon
visiting the queen of France who's out on bale:

The star in the window
calls the dance in line,
Give in to the urge and
Call me some time.

by MisterNihil 2:29 PM

Faith: put a new, better topic up if you feel like it when you post later.
The rest of you yahoos:
Get Moving!

by MisterNihil 2:20 PM

{Thursday, December 11, 2003}

Although I live reasonably near Seattle, I don't See Sharp.

... sorry, Shawn.

Interesting that Sharon is learning C# -- my father worked for IBM for 35 years, and he quit when they forced C on their programmers. He was one of the very first people to work on the now-ubiquitous touch screens; I remember myself as a small child on family-day (only once a year were we allowed inside IBM), watching with awe as my finger traced big clumsy red blocks across a monitor. Little did I know that I was tracing the future.

All through high school and college, my mother would comment how my thought patterns resembled my father's, and how it would make so much sense if I were to become a computer programmer, too. I rebelled against the idea, of course -- who could think of a more boring job than that of the desk-bound nerd? I majored in the humanities, straying as far from technology as possible. Yet inexorably I was drawn toward my fate.

I thought it was the allure of the high income, the easy job market. But those few times I pause to be honest with myself, I realize that the groundwork was laid long before the dot-com boom. I was one of the only kids in high school to hack the school's "Apple-talk" network. One of the first in college with an email address, at a time when gaining access was not automatic but meant trekking to the Computer Building (so named because, in the sixties, it housed The Computer), and filling out paperwork (on paper!).

I bluffed my way into my first computer job (as a Visual Basic programmer, fairly easy to bluff). From there, I could claim "experience in industry" and rapidly became entrenched in the New York tech sector. Five years spent serving the corporate gods, and I'd had enough. I ran away, escaped to tranquility, to the Pacific Northwest. And I still can't use C#. Or see Sharp, for that matter, through all this bloody tranquil rain!

by Faith 10:01 PM

I'm fishing today.
Jesus has made me a fisher of men.
Actually, it wasn't "Jesus" Jesus, it was Jesus Gonzalez, my manager, but who's counting, right? He calls me Eagle-Eye to my face, but he still calls me Billy behind my back. It's my name, so I shouldn't be sore about it. I try not to hold it against him.
I'm a fisher of men. And women. They tell me that the people to watch are the middle-aged women with purses. The bait is out, the stage is set, the fish are jumping, the cotton is high. My dad, though, isn't rich, or I wouldn't be working retail; I'm not the guy to judge my Mom's hotness.
One of these days, I'm gonna rise up singing.
As soon as he walks through the door. A man, forties, has slipped a small gift book under his arm and closed his coat around it. I follow at a discreet distance.
He walks toward the door, nonchallant, fast but not looking hurried. He's walking casually, but trying not to look like he's walking casually. He passes the security post and the alarm sounds.
"Sir? Could you please step back in here?"
Yeah! I live for this. I signal a manager, who takes over the distasteful bit involving the police and charges. I drift back into the store. There's a gaggle of people "admiring" our mini-book selection. I saunter by, noticing the skinny teenaged girl slip a journal into her purse. It never ends.

by MisterNihil 3:14 PM

Where is Sherbie this week? She is learning
see sharp

by Sharon 8:37 AM

"...drive on, it don't mean nothin', drive on." --Johnny Cash

He tried to shut out the sound of her sobs and the image of her tear-stained face as he revved his engine and waited for the light to change. He didn't want to hurt her, but he couldn't wait until she calmed down and saw the situation his way, either. Things just had to be this way. It was for the best.

. . .

She listened to the door slam, followed shortly by his tires squealing out of her driveway. Reassured by the rapidly receding engine sounds, she quickly straightened her body and dashed lightly up the stairs to her room. Tossing a suitcase onto the bed, she permitted herself a grin of relief as she filled the valise with the efficiency of a woman with a Plan. Tired of pretending, she intended to put as many miles between herself and this town that knew her only as a meek and frightened little girl. Back then, she mused, that pretense had been for the best. But now came the time for things to go her way.

by Faith 12:13 AM

{Wednesday, December 10, 2003}

I have a dream that comes back to me in the blackest part of the night. In it, I'm walking alone along the boardwalk, when I realize that I'm not in San Francisco: I'm back in Dheli. Old Colonel Baker is walking toward me from what seems to be miles away, and I can see him along the main street. There are two small children between us, huddled and crying. I see what is about to happen again, and I call out first to them and then to the Colonel. He looks directly at me, and I see that he didn't know there were children there until I called out. I know it's too late now, and that I'm going to have to see it again.
In the dream, Baker seems to grow taller, thinner, and his already intimidating canines grow longer, running lasciviously down the sides of his cruel mouth. He holds his hands out like a vampire in a bad German movie, and rushes toward the children. They are still crying, oblivious to him. I call out, but they do not hear.
Just like reality, I do not remember picking up the rock in my left hand, but I feel its weight. I hoist it to my ear and throw it like shot. It strikes the smaller child, the boy, on the leg. He howls and looks up, still not seeing the fiend bearing down on him.
Baker looks up at me as he rushes the urchins, and winks on horrible, red-rimmed eye. A tear of blood runs down the side of his nose. The moment freezes, and I cannot move.
This is, generally, when I awaken.
Last night was different, though. The moment froze there, with Baker poised over these two tots, a hideous characature of evil attacking a pathetic characature of innocence. Then, all of us unmoving, the real Baker stepped into the tableau. Time unfroze, and he and the tall, evil thing stood side-by-side. They couldn't have been more different.
"I'm not like that, you git," he said. The slur sounded foreign to his refined accent that I could never place. Sometimes I'd be sure he was from the north of London, and others from the south of Scotland.
I couldnt' speak. I moved my mouth, but the only sound that came out was a roaring moan that seemed to shake the whole world.
"I'm giving you latrines for a month," he snapped. Then, he took firm hold of the vampire's arm and marched it away toward the barracks. The children and I stood dumbfounded. They turned to look at me, looked a little bored, made eye contact with each other and sodded off down an alley.
I stood there in what looked less and less like a street in Dheli and more like any street anywhere. Now that I examined it, there were no details I could place. There were no stores or people; no landmarks or buildings peeking over the top of the alley; no horrible begging lepers, spitting diseased teeth at tourists; no signs of the war that had called us to Dheli. I must have assumed that, because the Demon Baker was there, this was the city of my several years' service.
I walked the streets of this generic dream city for several hours and awoke feeling refreshed and invigorated. I could not find my barracks, nor did I run into Baker again, demon or man. In fact, I saw no people in my nocturnal ramble, and I am quite satisfied with this.

by MisterNihil 12:40 PM

Try this on for size:
Lying Bastard


by MisterNihil 7:53 AM

{Tuesday, December 09, 2003}

This isn't my story, but I'm dramatizing it. It actually belongs to Toshi's friend, who is far cooler than I, and who has better stories.

We were driving to California, the two of us, and we didn't want to stop on the way. For you who've driven from Texas to California, you know full well that means driving at night, through some areas where weird things can't help but happen. It's like there's so much nothing that the accumulated vacuum calls strange things into being.
We made it as far as the Grand Canyon, and took the road that would take us nearby. I suppose that the hope was to see the Canyon at sunset, which was beautiful. We took pictures of the big hole surrounded by flat nothing and marveled at the beauty that the absence of anything can have. Once the sun was set and we were through being tourists, we started on our way, in the dark.
In that area, the road makes many turns, blind in the darkness. As we turned through one of those, there stood a black man, more than six feet tall. This is nothing unusual. He wore a sequined mini-skirt and blouse, and stood, the skirt hiked up past his waste, slapping his bare ass. I looked at my fellow passenger, and he looked at me.
We just kept driving.

by MisterNihil 4:36 PM

Given Faith's new purchase (and that it's past noon):
just keep driving

by Fred 12:30 PM

(I am secretly posting mid-morning on Tuesday but backdating. Just so's you know...)
Mister's Mountain of Paperwork Weekend
or, What I Did On My MidWinter Vacation Between Work Weeks
By Mister Nihil, esq
Backdated, December 8, 2003
The week started with paperwork. It ended with paperwork. It's the week after Thanksgiving, and every bozo in the world feels the need to come into the store and, "Oh, Just Browse..." Particularly as Hillary Rodham Clinton just signed in the morning here on Friday. I needed to get away.
I'd been promising a friend of mine and his girlfriend (both of whom I can call by their first and second initials, MK) that I'd visit, and it was out of town. It sounded good, but first I had to deal with A Huge Work Project and Christmas Screwing The Bookstore Up, and then my Scheduled Saturday Amusements.
No big deal. I'll spare you most of the details, other than work=paperwork. Then, I had a guitar lesson, which was very nice, but added a little paper to the pile, and then therapy, which added the kind of mental paperwork that you just have to file away and worry about later. These made the promise of some light drinking with good friends not just a comfort, but inevitable. Flash forward to Sunday at noon. I'm feeling good, relaxed and happy, taking a kind of aimless drive, like ya' do, heading home and then to climbing from out-of-town, when my little car is hit by a big truck.
I'm avoiding referring mentally to the driver as "some asshole." His hitting me doesn't make him an asshole. It's just more mental paperwork, followed by verbal paperwork on the phone to the insurance.
And Monday was jury duty day. It's odd: they never needed to see any form of identification from any juror. I mean, you'd think, but no. There was no paperwork involved. They threatened to have to see our summonses (summoni? how do you pluralize summons? Is that plural? grumble.), but never did. The least paperwork of the last week, at least for me, was my direct involvement with government bureaucracy.
When I got back to work today, I couldn't see the surface of my desk. The most paperwork: an "independent," company that professes to be free of "corporate influence." Corporate is my job title. I oughta know better.

by MisterNihil 1:05 AM

The inspiration for today's topic came because Monday is Bryan's "paperwork day." He gets all of the store's numbers and I-don't-know-what-all in order, and it takes all day, but then he doesn't have to touch it again for another week.

But now I have another avalanche of paperwork in mind... buying a new car. So many things to sign! We signed on the first dotted line at 5:30, and informed the folks we had to be out by 6:30 as we had company coming. "No problem," said they.

At 6:45 we left them a deposit to hold the car and bid them a good night, leaving the rest of the paperwork for another day.


Privacy statements (that, when you read them, say basically that you have none), loans, pre-purchase maintenance agreements, warrantees, scheduled maintenance plans, whee! So many things our hands cramped. And yet we still aren't finished.

There's always tomorrow!

by Faith 12:21 AM

{Monday, December 08, 2003}

Instructions: write a story in which the phrase "an avalanche of paperwork" is taken to its most logical and literal extreme. Mountains accumulate. Intrepid climbers prepare their ascent. "Because it's there," someone says, despite the weather-worn face, the hands still scarred with fresh paper cuts. At base camp, a memo is discovered, an invitation to the company picnic. "Wasn't that like eight months ago?" asks another. He peers up into the unfathomable distance between their camp and the summit of the in-box. "Too late to RSVP now, I guess." In the morning, they begin to climb. The going is difficult, the terrain ill-suited to their equipment: carabiners fashioned from paper clips, staple removers serving as crude pitons. If they were wise, they would turn back now. The air becomes thinner, the paper just the opposite. They reach a territory of bundles, held together with rubber bands, twine, wishful thinking. The crags become difficult to negotiate. They stumble over words like merger, interface, workshop, bake sale, disciplinary action. An outcropping that turns out to be a discarded invoice nearly kills one of them. He worries that the last thing he will see is the itemized tally of sales taxes long since spent and forgotten. They each think of their children, their families, their lovers, all those whom they may never see again. But it is too late to turn back. They will reach the top now or they will die. And then there it is: the peak, majestic in the afternoon sun. They straddle it, triumphant, and a victory cheer escapes their leader's lips.

And then, of course, some idiot opens the office window and a breeze sends all the papers tumbling down.

by Fred 4:12 PM

An avalanche of paperwork

by Faith 11:33 AM

{Sunday, December 07, 2003}

A day that will live in infamy

Blogger just didn't want me posting today it seems

by Shawn 3:45 PM

{Friday, December 05, 2003}

Ruth will learn magic.
When I was seven, more or less, Dad came home from a magic shop with the best toys ever. Part of the joy was that we didn't know he'd just come from the magic shop. Part of the joy was that magic is the coolest, best, most wonderful thing ever, hands down, at least when you're seven and don't know about all-night ice cream parlors, 24 hour coffee shops or the beauty of sex between two consenting adults with a couple of hours to kill.
But I digress.
Dad had two tricks: a lightbulb that would light if you hid a penny in your hand with it, and a coloring book that would change, depending on how you flipped through the pages. He held the lightbulb out to us, to prove it was a normal lightbulb. When you're seven, you don't ask why your dad is carrying lightbulbs, or at least we didn't. He screwed it carefully into his hand, and it lit up. We were dumbfounded. He then handed the lightbulb back to Angelbob, and we pored over it, looking for the gimmic. Angelbob is my brother. Now you know.
"I also bought a coloring book for you, Angelbob," he said. We were puzzled. He showed it to us: the Life of Christ. He flipped through to show us the pictures, all blank line drawings. "But I know Angelbob doesn't like to color, so I figured he'd like one that was already colored in," and he flipped through the book, the drawings now filled in with bright colors that were not, I am absolutely sure, there before. "But of course, Angelbob doesn't like to read, and would prefer to draw." And the book was blank.
We were shocked. We were mystified.
And now Ruth will learn magic. I got her a book of tricks geared to her, and we're planning a trip out west where I know of a little magic shop. She'll be the most popular kid in her class. Admittedly, her class is two kids, combined with another class of two kids, and she's arguably the most popular kid in the class already, but that's not the point.
The point is, she's going to learn magic, and eight's a good age for that.

by MisterNihil 12:43 PM

Sleight of hand.

by jal 8:00 AM

{Thursday, December 04, 2003}

"Memory, prophecy and fantasy -- the past, the future and the dreaming moment between -- are all in one country, living one immortal day. To know that is Wisdom. To use it is the Art." - Clive Barker

"You're looking at now, sir. Everything that happens now is happening now." - Spaceballs

There's a lot they don't tell you about time travel when you sign your name on the dotted line. They don't tell you about the future, how that's not really what it is, how it's just one of a million million different possibilities, like branches on a tree. They don't tell you that time's a big goddamn tree. See the future, that's all they say. Marvel at its wonder. But just by using their machine and going into the future, you're affecting it. You're changing things. Which makes it surprisingly difficult to apply anything you might learn. You can't go ahead and see yourself, for instance, because you're visiting a future in which you don't exist, in which you disappeared who knows how many years ago by using a time machine to go into the future. They don't tell you about that, how confusing it can get. And they don't tell you how everything you see isn't necessarily guaranteed to happen, how an infinite number of permutations divide then from now. And they definitely don't tell you what to do when then follows you back home. Those alien invaders, for instance? They only came into being in the future because they followed me back from that future into the past. If I hadn't gone ahead eighty years, they'd have never been here to invade. The agency doesn't tell you about that sort of thing, about paradox, about how going into the future can create the future. Or stop that future from being created. When I went ahead seventy years -- you know, before the aliens came out of hiding and invaded -- I discovered that the time machine had been sitting in a wharehouse for decades, that they'd tried to sell it real cheap seventy years ago, thinking it didn't work. A fella could make a fortune with that kind of machine. Except, by going back, I proved to them that it did work. And they decided not to sell. Instead, they decided to market the thing, offering rides into the future to anyone who could afford them, and keep the fortune for themselves. But hey, it's not all bad, I guess. At least they lost it eighty years from now when the aliens take over. At least, I think they take over.

by Fred 4:04 PM

There's always tomorrow.

by Fred 1:39 PM

{Wednesday, December 03, 2003}

It takes great courage to write without knowing where you're going. To just sit down and put one word in front of the other, which is all writing really is, when you think about it, but if you think about it too much, you're thinking, not writing, and that's where the trouble starts. The thing you need to do is keep typing, keep writing, keep putting one word in front of the other. Don't worry if they're not any good. They're not. Accept that as a given. Forget about it. They can't all be gold. Some are going to be absolutely dreadful. But that's why the good lord invented editing. Writing is about putting words on the page, and sometimes the only way to do that is to just put words on the page, one after the other, without caring which words or what order or how they connect to one another. Take this, for instance. I have no idea, really, what I'm writing about. I'm just typing. Putting words on the page. One after the other. Because that's what writing is. I think I covered that. I was going to write something really interesting, something about courage, but that requires thought, more thought than writing, really. I was going to quote Mark Twain. Mark Twain knew about courage. He called it the mastery of fear, not the absence of fear. Courage isn't about doing what you know you can do. Courage is about risking yourself, trying something you think you can't do. If you think you can't write, courage is sitting down and writing. It's persevering even when what you're writing isn't any good, or when it's unclear if it's any good. I was also going to mention the Cowardly Lion, from the Wizard of Oz. He calls himself a coward, but he's not, because he acts in spite of fear. He's really the bravest of them all. You find that a lot in the story: the Scarecrow has no brain, but he's the smartest; the Woodsman has no heart, but he cares the most; Dorothy always has the power to go home; and the Lion is actually quite courageous despite his fear. I was going to put this into a terrific essay, something much more than just one word after the other, typed out in a mad rush before I leave work for the day, but that's not what writing's all about. That great essays are produced is wonderful, and a writer should of course always strive to be better. And I'm not trying to imply that one should try to publish complete crap. But sometims it's necessary to write complete crap, to not care if it's crap, to just write. Sometimes, that's all that matters. Fear of failure won't go away if you don't try. Nobody cares if you have great unwritten novels inside your head. Sometimes, you just need to start writing. That's the theory behind Nanowrimo. And I tried to follow through on that, but stalled after about a thousand words. They were better words than these, chosen much more carefully, and maybe that was my problem. I overthink my writing. I agonize over sentences, paragraphs, words. What I need to do is what I'm doing here, just write. None of what I've written here is particularly brilliant or interesting, but it's a start. Every story, every essay, every writer needs someplace to start. Everyone needs the courage to start with crap and dig for the gold.

by Fred 4:04 PM

Ladies and gentlemen, honored guests, my fellow Americans:
I won't waste a lot of your time on flowery language. I'll just start with something I received in a letter from a 12 year old girl from Vermont named Molly. Molly says: Americans are dying. Why, Mr. President?
Well, to you and to the rest of America I say this: They are dying overseas, they are dying at home; they are dying in the heat of battle, they are dying ambushed and scared in the streets; they are all dying to protect your way of life. Every American who dies, anywhere in the world is dying to protect the way you live, so that you, who are not dead, do not have to change.
It takes great courage to die for your fellows, and I think we all understand this. To give ones life for ones country is the highest honor one may receive. The conviction to fight for what others believe in is the noblest conviction.
It is that conviction that allows us to continue to be Americans. We don't have to speak other languages, and that right is guaranteed with blood. We don't have to understand any history, ours or others', and that right is guaranteed with blood. We don't have to plan for the future, look toward a distant horizon or do anything short of watching television, and those rights are guaranteed with blood. We can cut down any tree, rape any landscape, burn any bridge, and the right to do so is guaranteed in the blood spilt by those who have cut, raped and burned before.
My father told me a wise thing: They give you the amount of money you will spend. How do they know how much, you ask? Blood determines it. How do they stop the money you wouldn't spend? Blood sucks it away. How do they obtain the money you will spend? We spend the blood of Americans to obtain the GNP of Americans.
It's as simple as that.
You ask my why Americans die, Molly? It's so you can slog your way through twelve, sixteen or twenty years of school and come out knowing nothing and thinking you know everything. It's so you can live your tiny, soft, ignorant life and never be bothered by the harshness of what we call the "real world."
What is that real world. I'll give you this insight into it: It's where the blood is spilt and spent on your behalf. It's where your freedom to be who you want to be is guaranteed.
It is a harsh reality, and you can avoid it. Just remember: they die so you never have to.
Thank you, and good night.

by MisterNihil 3:15 PM

It seemed like such a little thing, which in fact it was, literally and figuratively. It was little, or would be, were it not such a huge and intimidating thing.

The snake itself was nearly as small and certainly as harmless as they come: a garter snake. Missy knew it represented no real danger to her or anyone else. There was no logic, no rationale behind her absolute and debilitating fear of snakes after all, as she had told Mike on more than one occasion, if it were rational it wouldn’t be a phobia would it? Further more, it always seemed that if you were going to have an overwhelming fear of anything that your rational brain told you was utterly undeserving of a panic-inducing case of the heebee geebee, snakes was a good choice. After all, some, many, most even were quite dangerous, poisonous, sometimes even deadly. But not this little, green fellow.

Her breath came shallow and quick; her mouth was dry; she felt faint and her vision seemed cloudy, unfocused and so when her hand reached out with a will of its own it was as if in a dream. Her fingers came to rest on the smooth, cool skin of the little snake and immediately monkey brain reflexes honed by thousands of years of “don’t eat me” self-preservation kicked in and her hand jerked away. Still, in that brief moment of contact she realized that this was something she could do after all. Maybe not with great enthusiasm and she certainly would never go so far as to own a snake as a pet, but, touching, yes, this was something she could do.

by Shawn 11:50 AM

It takes great courage.

by Sharon 9:06 AM

{Tuesday, December 02, 2003}

Just another ten minutes left in the day!
I'm bored and I'm tired, but they can't make me stay!
Just ten minutes more says the clock on my screen
'til I can run out the door like a work-quittin' machine!
Now there's eight minutes left; time's goin' fast,
But I can't think of a rhyme -- another minute's now passed!
Now six minutes left. Soon it'll be five.
And I'll have to stay late just to make this thing rhyme.
See, already I've flubbed it with just four minutes left
The rhymes should be simple and witty and deft.
But with two minutes left, that's hard to accomplish
Without resorting to nonsense like a blackberry swamp fish!
I don't even know what that's meant to mean
But there's just one minute left on the clock on my screen!
And now it appears that it's time to go
(Well actually it's passed; hey, I typed slow.)

by Fred 4:05 PM

Hush, little Panda, don't you fret.
Sherbie's gonna buy you an Ice House set.

And if that Ice House set stabs your foot,
Sherbie's gonna buy you a Get Fuzzy book.

If that Get Fuzzy book don't deliver,
Sherbie's gonna buy you an Iron Chef dinner.

If that Iron Chef dinner makes you puke,
Sherbie's gonna buy you a baritone uke.

If that bari uke should go flat,
Sherbie's gonna buy you a new crash mat.

If that crash mat turns you to sticks,
Sherbie's gonna buy you some Hero Clix.

If those Hero Clix have no rares,
You can still slaughter the neighbors upstairs.

If those upstairs neighbors move away,
We'll just play Inevitable all day.

by Sharon 3:45 PM


by MisterNihil 3:03 AM

{Monday, December 01, 2003}

Paul poaches eggs.
His dog, Stanley, begs
Paul offers the dregs
So Stan bites his legs

Frank fries a fish
That won't fit in the dish
So he splits it with Trish
Which earns him a kiss

Sam sautees some shrimp
With Mongo the chimp
That arboreal imp
Who escapes in a blimp

Bea boils lobster
For an unscrupulous mobster
Who only just robs her
Of the bibs and the pots there

Keith cooks kangaroo
(It's either that or stewed gnu)
With nothing else left to do
You'd cook kangaroo, too.

by Fred 4:12 PM

Great. I have a topic and nothing to say. And it's nobody's fault but mine.
It's like, and I'm stretching, the feeling of seeing something that you don't really want, like an old couch on the side of the road, and you drive past it three or four times on the way to and from work, looking at it and thinking "I don't need a new couch, and that one's got some strange stains on it anyway," and then somebody puts a sign on the couch that says "FREE!" and you take it home and, and here's the rub, you have to fight off three other people who you know also drove past it for two days to and from work and didn't want it.
And here I am, coming up with a slow ten minutes worth of words. Maybe I can at least think of some good words. I like "Didactic," but the irony there is a little much right now, as my stomach isn't quite stable enough today for irony. I could just have written for ten minutes on the topic for yesterday, but the only thing I had to say, really, was "AN E SHAPED PIE!" which doesn't strike otherse as quite funny, or, more accurately, it doesn't hit them as haven't read Martin plays as quite funny.
So, yeah, I'm poaching the day. Maybe Jon will post anyway and I can do a sorta more real one on his topic.
But it's only been seven minutes.
And seven minutes is, lemme think, um, four hundred twenty seconds. Oooh, now it's 8 minutes, so four hundred eighty seconds. That leaves just a scant hundred twenty seconds.
I wonder if I know any words that sound like "Poaching." Sure I do. I mean, there's the old standbys, coaching and stoaching. Also approaching and encroaching. And Poachling.
And I wonder why I didn't finish my novel. Sheesh. I mean, here I had a perfectly good topic and I wasted it. Oh well. Next time, then.

by MisterNihil 12:10 PM

Since Jon hasn't posted a topic yet, I'm

the day from him.

by MisterNihil 12:00 PM


<blockquote class="topic">your topic</blockquote>