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{Saturday, July 31, 2004}

I'm beginning to think that John Stewart is right when he says that the only bias in the media is laziness. It's not so much a desire to spin the news one way or another (with the exception of Fox News, which is very clearly spinning the news one way over another) as an unwillingness to actually get up and research.

The more I watch of mainstream news, the more dissatisfied I get with it. It's not merely a lack of investigative reporting - it's a lack of any research at all. Even the most basic research goes undone as the media rushes to get the story out in the fast-paced world of infotainment. After all, why bother with actually reading the bill you're reporting on when the current administration will just hand you a summary of it on a platter? Why bother double-checking a statement issued this morning? Nobody would have issued it if it wasn't true, would they?

It's laziness - plain and simple. The same reason that it was decided long ago that people could only learn in sound bites.

And the more I think about it, the more I realize that it's been going on for years. Reporters don't bother to question statements made in an interview except when it gives them an opportunity to attack. If there's one statement I'm sick of hearing, it's that a news commentator "cuts through the spin." I know when I hear that phrase that I'm in for a bumpy ride - the reporter in question is going to tear into his guests with gusto, misquoting them and re-interpreting them on the fly and then claim that by loudly stating their own opinions of what has been said they have "cut through the spin."

I remember the longest discussion ever held in my high school journalism class was on "spin." The question that led the discussion to drag on and on was whether or not it was even possible for a reporter to report the news without spinning it. After all, we all have opinions. Is it possible for a journalist to report without their own opinions colouring the story in some fashion or another? And in a fast-paced world with looming deadlines, how do you have time to check your own work for spin? Everything you do - your narration of events, your choice of adjectives, your selection of quotes - is an opportunity to spin a story, even without conscious effort.

In the end, we concluded that the best thing you could do would be to make sure you have your facts right and try to avoid prejudicial language.

But the modern news media doesn't even seem willing to go that far.

Feh. I'm getting old and bitter before my time.

by Glen 10:59 PM

It's all about context.

by Fred 7:00 AM

{Friday, July 30, 2004}

"Why write songs?"
I don't know the answer. It's something that happens when I stop watching. It's something unavoidable that escapes when I'm not watchful enough, an artistic fart. Songs fall out of me and are left to dry up and die along the side of the road, to be taken out to the meadowlands and thrown away like a baby. But like that little body, time & snow can't bury, and occasionally one of them escapes from the Jersey landfill, as it were.
It happened this week.
"Turn your eyes into the sunset/and Cut the ribbon from the tree," goes the chorus. It's a song about never coming home again,and I don't really know what to think. I can't claim all the blaim, though. Adam sort of showed up with the riff last night, and asked if we could make it a song. He said it should be about coming home, and the rest kind of happened.
Today, It's Dana's birthday and I've written an awful song about never coming home again. Tomorrow is a Saturday with no particular obligations. Maybe I'll write one about a dog dying.
OK, that's not fair. I often write songs about things which aren't death or sadness, it's just that those are such easy targets. There's so much rich soil there, why would a songwriter ever bother to plough the rocks of happiness or even the sandy loam of love? People keep doing it, though. For every "In the Garage" or "Hash Pipe," there are two "Blue Skies." I've written a song about love, I have to admit. It's fun. Tending the seed and turning it into a sickly little plant that grows into something like a song gives on a sense of accomplishment.
My love song, the one that's stuck, is about Toshi, my honey. She loves cheese. She loves me. The song writes itself.
Or at least, I like to blame it for its existance. That isn't really fair, but I like to do it. It's like hating somebody for asking to be born. It isn't fair. You don't ask to be born. It's something that happens to you when you aren't looking

by MisterNihil 5:24 PM

When you have a small child in the house, you find yourself trying to be everywhere at once, because you never know what will happen when you're not looking.  The mind tends to construct baroque fantasies of infantile self-destruction that are only a moment of inattention away should you dare to make a sandwich, get a drink of water, or go to the bathroom by yourself.

You find yourself aware of, even afraid of, silence--maybe for the first time in your life.  Sure, silence could mean the baby is playing peacefully with her safe, colorful, cuddly yet gender-neutral toys, or it could mean she's chewing up your books, rearranging your CD collection, or even bludgeoning herself with one of your shoes.  You forgot to put those away again, didn't you?

Everywhere I go I find myself scanning the room like the Terminator, looking for any possible thing that might endanger my child--and then, just when I figure it's safe, she'll find some hazard I hadn't thought about.

It's no wonder I feel like my head is going to explode, or that I'm going to just run screaming into the night.  And, I have to admit, I sometimes think there's no point in concerning myself so much when she'll probably end up spending the years between, say, 13 and 29 trying to find her own new and different methods of self-destruction--think tequila shots, body piercings, and sex with strangers.

What's a mother to do?

by Nyssa23 9:35 AM

what happens when you're not looking

by Nyssa23 9:26 AM

{Thursday, July 29, 2004}

"Where were you in October, '89?" is a question often asked and answered by Bay Area residents. Ever since the Loma Prieta earthquake, with its devastating damage and numerous deaths, nearly everyone who was present remembers exactly where he or she was when it happened.

I've told the story hundreds of times, and it is still as vivid in my memory as it was when it happened. I was sitting inside Pat O'Shea's, an Irish sports bar out on Geary Boulevard, waiting for some friends from work to show up so we could watch baseball. The Giants and the A's were in the World Series, the so-called Bay Bridge Series, featuring San Francisco's Will Clark and Robby Thompson and Jeff Leonard versus Oakland Bash Brothers Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. Oakland ended up sweeping the Series in four games -- and I got to meet Joe DiMaggio at Candlestick Park before it was over -- but the biggest story of that World Series was the earthquake.

With my beer sitting in front of me and my arm holding two chairs, trying to keep them in reserve until my buddies arrived, the floor beneath me started to shake. Drinks spilled, bottles fell and television sets high above the bar and around the room bounced and went dead. I looked outside at the Muni bus stopped in front of the bar -- it was an elongated, accordion-style double bus, and it was twisting and hopping about as people were in the process of disembarking. The windows of the bar undulated. Everything shook and danced and bounced, and the noise of it was as scary as the movement. Then, just as suddenly, it was over. Those of us in the bar all sucked in our breath at once, looked around the room, and then let out a long, collective whoop. I guess that was because we were all still alive, still relatively safe, and we had all just experienced one hell of a ride. As the waitress made her way around the bar, checking to see if anyone was hurt, I ordered a shot of tequila from her. I wasn't the only who did so.

I realized afterward that I was still holding on to the two chairs immediately next to me, and it didn't occur to me for some minutes that my friends probably wouldn't be showing up to watch the baseball game, given the circumstances. Even if they had, there was no TV to watch. The sets were all blank, and the power in the bar -- indeed, in much of the city -- was off. Eventually I made my way home, where our apartment was knee-deep in books and records and shelving. Sally was okay, though upset, and we managed to survive the aftershocks and the lack of gas and power and got on with our lives.

I've told that story innumerable times since then, but the best telling of all came while attending a baseball game in St. Louis nearly four years later. I got talking to a group of local guys there at Busch Stadium cheering on the Cardinals, and when I told them I was from San Francisco, the first thing they asked me was about the '89 earthquake.

"What was it like?" a couple of them said at once.

I bounced and shook and jumped in my seat like an unstrung marionette with Parkinson's disease, my arms flouncing about, my head jerking around, my feet hopping. "It was like that," I said.

by Generik 8:49 PM

The earthquake started a thousand miles from here. It didn't affect me in the slightest, at least directly. It was a small one, but dropped three power lines and disrupted phone lines through much of San Francisco. The epicenter was determined to be in or near Palo Alto, California. More than the disruption of telephone and power lines, it dropped three very important pieces of memorabilia from a wall in a store front in Fremont, California. These were a plate with an airbrushed picture of Elvis, painted by a local artist, a dish owned by Elvis' mother and used to serve pickles to guests, and a small glass bottle, no more than two inches tall, that Elvis himself had worn around his neck during every performance. The owner of the shop had no idea of the significance of these items, and had them priced at thirty-five dollars each. They fell on July the first, on the day I left Texas.
On July Second I arrived in California and on July Third I arrived in Fremont to visit my brother. On the fourth, I drove around Fremont to shop. I stopped at the curio shop, and browsed for a moment before moving on. I noticed the unfaded spots on the wall and wondered briefly what three items could have caused them.
Clueless, I moved on, never having seen nor heard of the plate, the dish and the bottle. I did not buy them from the owner, and I did not use their power to destroy most of the people who lived on the eastern seaboard.
Lucky, lucky humans.

by MisterNihil 12:43 PM

Boom, Shake The Room,
which is a DJ Jazzy Jeff+Fresh Prince song title, among other things.

by MisterNihil 12:31 PM

{Wednesday, July 28, 2004}

There's an attitude out there. It says that if you have enough heart, enough spunk, enough soul, you can do anything. It says that if you want to, and you try and try and squinch your eyes up so tight they hurt and wish, you can be the bestest there ever was.
Well, I call bullshit. Not on the wishing. Go ahead and wish. I call bullshit on the underlying attitude.
It's the attitude that says, if you can't play a sport on a professional level, why play at all? If you aren't Barry Bonds, get the fuck off the field. If you can't be the best, don't play.
I say that's what's wrong with humanity. I say that in striving to be the best, we've lost sight of why we strive to be the best. We don't strive so we can magically be the best. We strive so we can get out on the damn field and make the attempt.
And we'll fail. We'll go out there the first time and the floor will be wiped with us. We'll go make the efford and the effort will amount to a pile of shit. This attitude that if I can't win, I don't want to play, it's garbage. It's the process by which we systematically eliminate any and all form of personal drive from our lives.
And hell, if we can remove personal drive and personal culpability, what's left by to remove the person? I mean, if you have no drive and you aren't responsable for your own actions (the media made me this way. Fuck that noise, says me. The media only makes you informed. You make you do things with those data), what good are you as a human?
Boys, we've taken this game on the road and we've won and we've lost. We've scored points against teams we though were the best, and we've let other teams who were lousy score on us. The fact is, none of that matters today.
The fact is we have to go out there and play. Win, lose, whatever. The point is to go out and play. The point is to kick the asses you can kick and try to kick the ones you can't. Go on boys. Kick some asses.

by MisterNihil 11:59 PM

Sally and I met up with Scott this evening at the grand opening of Hi-Dive, the bar along the Embarcadero just underneath the Bay Bridge. It's been taken over and refurbished by the owners of our old haunt, Cafe Mars, and tonight was the "official" launch of it, even though it's been up and running now for a couple months. They had a VIP tent set up outside the bar itself, where they served drinks (free for us, though not for everyone) and hors d'oeuvres, and a salsa band played. Representatives from Malibu rum and Sauza tequila, impossibly thin and scarily good-looking young women, worked the crowd, offering free T-shirts and taking Polaroid pictures and dancing with the guests. The highlights of the evening were actually on the water -- first, a San Francisco Fire Deparment fire boat pulled up to the dock just outside the tent, then moved back out on the bay with its water cannons shooting sprays of water arcing up into the air; then, bartender/owner John Caine boarded a yacht and was tooled around the cove while he kept threatening to jump in the water from the boat's prow. He finally took his shirt off and dove from the stern into the cold water, while the yacht crew, after tossing him a life preserver, laughed merrily while the pilot gunned the engine and they sped away from him. John Caine is a large man, and the sight of him floundering in the dirty water of the bay was at once funny and disconcerting. They eventually came back and hauled him aboard before hypothermia set in.

After a couple hours of too-loud music and free finger food and drinks, we had had quite enough. We walked about a half-mile up to the Ferry Building to get a light dinner and to get away from the crowd. My car was parked back at Hi-Dive, so we had to walk back along the Embarcadero after dinner. Scott opted to cross the street and take the Muni Metro home, even though I offered to give him a ride. Sally and I then strolled along the water in the late twilight, enjoying the lights of the city and the looming Bay Bridge just above us. Sally had to stop every few feet to take pictures. She carries her digital camera everywhere, and loves using it whenever she gets a chance.

As we passed the fire station that is situated between piers -- the one where the fire boat is docked -- we heard the the distinctive warning claxon that meant that they were getting a call. We've lived across the street from a fire station for over twenty years, and so recognize that sound very well. We both knew that an engine would be screaming out of the garage in minutes, lights swirling and siren in full voice. Ignoring the sound, I kept walking. Sally, however, slowed down, and started walking backwards so she could watch, her camera in hand.

"What are you, from out of town?" I asked her.

"Sometimes it's nice to be a tourist in your own city," she replied.

by Generik 11:15 PM

We were visiting roots. I don't know why we were in Maine, me and my mom, but since we were there, we drove between moments in history.

I remember meeting Tigger. Or maybe I didn't meet him, only heard his story so vividly that it sufficed for meeting him. No, I think I did meet him. He was a childhood friend of my mother's. On that trip, over 40 years after the event, she apologized to him for hitting him on the head with a metal toy tractor. He didn't remember the incident and said not to mention it. It must be very liberating to unshoulder a 40-year-old guilt.

We visited an old house, but I don't think it was Mom's house. Maybe it was Tigger's. Mom's house isn't owned by anyone we know anymore. Her childhood was lonely, and nomadic.

And we drove through the small Maine town. Mom proudly proclaimed, "This is the town where I grew up. ...Wanna see it again?" Just like that, in the time it took me to lift my head and peer out the car window, we had run out of town.

by Sharon 3:46 PM

I grew up in a tourist town, and so, like many who have lived/grown up in tourist towns, I grew to regard those from out of town with a fine balance of tolerance and contempt. 

We used to joke that you could always tell the tourists in San Antonio because they were red in front and white in the back.  And, when I worked downtown, I got tired of people asking me for directions.  My sister told me once that people must have thought I was the "Direction Fairy" because of all the questions I got. 

The most memorable of those questions is definitely the time a woman tourist asked me, "Where's the Alamo?" and I had to gently turn her around and point directly behind us.  The look of disappointment on her face was priceless.

Of course, I don't live there any more, but so much of the attitude from the tourists still rankles.  When I first visited Hollywood, I tried my best to be a considerate tourist by not blocking foot traffic or being too ostentatious with my camera.  And yet, I still worried that I was like those obnoxious folks that swept in every April and out every May like a plague, leaving the natives confused, demoralized, and not really any appreciably richer.

The worst part is the wholesale whoring the city resorted to in order to make itself as attractive as possible.  Some of the things I saw back then still bother me.  How can a city treat its own people so poorly just to put on a happy face for a few rich visitors? 

And so, here's a few tips for all those ugly Americans:

Yes, that is the Alamo, and yes, it really is that small.  I know it looked bigger in the John Wayne movie.   I know this is tough to hear, but sometimes movies lie.

The best view of the Alamo cenotaph is not from any of those fancy hotels, despite what they tell you.  It is actually from the large picture window in the upstairs dining area of the Wendy's right across the street.  And don't forget to pick up a few souvenirs from the Walgreen's next door.  I hear the collectible spoons are especially nice.

No, the town doesn't always smell (or look) this bad.  Whenever it isn't tourist season, it looks (and smells) much worse.

Yes, San Antonio is delighted to host you and all of your condescending ways.  Please do not hesitate to ask any resident you might meet on the street how we can personally meet all of your needs.

And please, don't concern yourself with that young man you just saw two muscular policemen drag into an alley.  The city is beautiful and sanitized for your protection.  Did you enjoy Fiesta?  Have you been shopping on the Riverwalk yet?

by Nyssa23 12:59 PM

out of town

by Sharon 10:15 AM

{Tuesday, July 27, 2004}

Dr. Pretorious stroked the black and white curls that feathered back from her forehead in a vain attempt to calm her down, while the lightning and thunder flashed and crashed all around outside. This wasn't going nearly as well as he had hoped.

"Hush, my darling, hush," he soothed, his arm tight around her waist. "We only have your best interests in mind."

"HHHHSSSSS-sssss!!" she hissed, mouth wide open and eyes locked on the silent, lantern-jawed figure staring at her from the shadows. Chaos seemed to be the order of the evening as rheostats twirled, untouched, Tesla coils flashed sparks and Erlenmeyer flasks bubbled over with steamy, viscous fluids that smelled of sulfur and vegetable matter and blood. She tried to look around her, judge where she was and attempt to get her bearings, but there were too many distractions, too much noise and light and confusion. The last thing she remembered was lying in bed, feeling faint, her family sobbing at her side. Suddenly she was in some sort of laboratory, some sort of castle, surrounded by machines and lab equipment she didn't recognize, and people -- or reasonable facsimiles thereof -- staring at her.

"Sit here," Dr. Pretorious commanded her, steering her towards a slightly cushioned couch. "Here. Here is your friend."

He motioned with his hand to the figure in the shadows.

"Here..." he said, "here she is. This our creation, our gift to you. This is the thing that you will call friend."

"Frieeeeennnnddd..." the creature from the shadows waved his hands in a supplicatory plea, trying to gain her trust, her friendship.

"Aaaahhh!!" she screamed. "HSSSSS-sssss!!"

She swore to herself at that moment that, no matter how this turned out, she would never, ever go on another blind date.

by Generik 11:50 PM

"There's something I don't understand, Guy," she says to me.

"What's that?" I say.

"There was a concept you explained to me once. You spoke of deep personal connections between two people who find each other among all of the millions on your world. You said that such a connection was one of what you called 'brotherhood' and not of 'romance.' You said that these people become like the sides of a die - each different, but each completing the whole."

"Yes," I say. "I remember."

"You said this concept was 'friendship.'"

"Yes. You seem to understand the idea just fine."

"But you told me once about this one called Carlton. You said he was a 'friend.' This means that the two of you share this friendship, right?"

"Carlton's probably the best friend I have."

"That is what I don't understand. I thought that this friendship involved significant bonding - that you would watch out for each other, care for each other, and share in each others' victories and defeats. But this one called Carlton doesn't share these things with you. He does not treat you kindly, he leaves you alone for years at a time to fend for yourself, and he seems to revel in your defeats while diminishing your victories."

"You don't understand how he can be a friend, then?"

"It seems that he would be the antithesis of what you described, if such a thing exists."

"We call it 'enemy.'"

"Eh-nuh-me," she says, each syllable sounded out carefully with a round tone. "This is a word?"


"And eh-nuh-me, this is what you call somebody who is the opposite of your friend?"

"Yes," I say.

"Enemy," she says, smoothing out her pronunciation. I can't help but think that she learns the words so quickly - it's the concepts behind them that trouble her sometimes.

"You've got it," I say.

"This Carlton is your enemy."

"No, Carlton is my friend."

"But he sounds more like he would be your enemy."

"It's never as simple as that," I say, heaving a sigh. "It's like... it's just that sometimes you have a friend who is not what you usually think of as a friend. But they're not an enemy, because an enemy wants to hurt you. Carlton doesn't want to hurt me."

"Then why does he?"

"He doesn't."

There is only silence on her end.

"He doesn't," I insist, perhaps a bit too loudly. "But Carlton helps me in ways that people don't usually think of."

"By moving into your room," she says, "insulting your friends, eating your food, and sleeping in your bed."

"It's complicated," I say.

by Glen 11:30 PM

It was just a two-night stand.  I'd never had one of those before, and I've never had one since.  Therefore, I have to say that these were very special circumstances indeed.

I'd known him for a long time, known of his reputation as a great lover and breaker of hearts.  So it's not like I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this guy.  As a matter of fact, neither of us particularly wanted to be seen with the other.  Different circles, you might say.  Definitely a fuck-and-run situation.

The beginning of it was terribly exciting, and made more so by the lengths we both went to in order to conceal the event.  I admit, I had built it up quite a bit in my mind because of all the subterfuge.  This guy must really be great, I thought.  Otherwise, why would so many otherwise rational-seeming women have been with him?

Then he was there, in the bed, naked and waiting.  And where was I?  In the tiny bathroom, applying contraceptive foam while simultaneously rooting in my purse for a condom--I wasn't taking any chances. 

And then it was over.  And I must say that it was rather a non-event after all.  Hell, I even gave him a second go at it in case the first time was just nerves, or my fault, or something like that. 

I was left completely unsatisfied, and when I mentioned it, he seemed affronted, as though the dubious gift of his momentary attention should have been enough to leave me in ecstasy.

Turns out that thing, which he called friend, was considerably less impressive than I had been led to believe. 

by Nyssa23 3:11 PM

The inhuman chanting was stronger from the back of the room, but I knew it was actually reflected off of the radiator there. It sounded tinny and thin. The source of it, though, was anything but. That sound was coming out of the mass of flesh, the flailing arms and legs in the gelatinous blob of a hideously malformed body that I knew was in the basement. That foul chant was coming from the thing my uncle left there when he passed into greener pastures.
That Thing, Which He Called Friend
was growing every day, attracting first the neighborhood cats and dogs, and then moving up to children and weak-willed adults, calling them with the chugging, farting thing it called a brain, hooking them with the tickle of suspicion about what exactly it was in the basement that smelled so much like... like what? I never could put my finger on it. I never managed to be attracted to the beast. Uncle used to have long conversations with it. He learned its language. I'm just trying to keep it out of the kitchen and off the couches.

by MisterNihil 5:18 AM

{Monday, July 26, 2004}

Part the First | Part the Second | Part the Third | Part the Fourth | Part the Fifth | Part the Sixth | Part the Seventh | Part the Eighth | Part the Ninth | Part the Tenth | Part the Eleventh | Part the Twelfth | Part the Thirteenth | Part the Fourteenth | Part the Fifteenth | Part the Sixteenth | Part the Seventeenth | Part the Eighteeneth | Part the Nineteenth | Part the Twentieth | Part the Twenty-first | Part the Twenty-second | Part the Twenty-third | Part the Twenty-fourth

As it turned out, Elijah Hale's brand of magic was an even bloodier affair than the man had let on.

Alan and the dead man carried Father's body from the car outside into the house, where Hale hand spread his knives across the kitchen table. In total, there were seven different blades of varying length and design, no two alike, some curved with jagged teeth or pale, unpolished jewels at their hilt, some as straight and nondescript as a razor's edge. Alan could not guess at their individual purpose, much less at the original purpose from which Hale had first collected them, but he wasn't sure if that was because they seemed to have no purpose or because he, quite uncharacteristically, was finding it difficult to concentrate.

His thirst had not abated, and while he and the dead man were outside he found himself eyeying the night sky with a strange sense of longing. Eliza Merrick had not said that Alan was now definitely a vampire, turned by her bite, but she had bitten him. Perhaps she kept her silence only because she did not know, or because she felt remorse for what she had done. Alan, for one, felt fine -- better than, in fact -- but that in itself might be cause for concern. Given the events of the past few hours and the considerable stress in which Alan was now placed, better than fine might not be the healthiest response. As they lifted Father's body into the house, Alan found himself running his tongue absently across his front teeth, occasionally feeling for any that might be sharper or pointier than usual. All he knew was that something was wrong. And that, he thought, can't be good.

"You can put her there," Hale said, indicating the space in front of him on the table. "Just do me a favor and lay that plastic sheeting down first?"

From the white cloth in which he had wrapped his knives, Hale pulled a small round whetstone, with which he proceeded to sharpen the blades. Alan and the dead man placed Father's body briefly on the linoleum floor, then spread the plastic sheeting they'd retrieved from Hale's garage across the remainder of the table. Atop that, they placed the woman called Father, the line of blood long dried around her neck and her body looking every bit like one that had been dead for five or six hours. They dropped her and back away. Hale grinned.

"Well," he said, "guess it's time to get things started. Don't want you and your friends to think I'm all talk, right?"

And with that, as if it was something he did every day, Hale lifted one of the blades and placed it against Father's left cheek. He twirled it in his hand, tracing some kind of pattern along the skin, and then he sank the knife deep into the flesh.

by Fred 11:59 PM

You know you've been in China too long when you can drink the snake baijiu without even making a face. And when you can drink cup after cup of any kind of baijiu, it's either time to turn in your passport and work visa and declare yourself a citizen or just head back west for good.

In Japan, rice wine is called sake; in China, it's baijiu, pronounced "by-joe." Beer is pijiu, or "pee-joe," which most westerners find amusing, especially after they've had a few of them. But Japanese sake is nectar of the gods compared with most Chinese baijiu. It's an acquired taste at best, much like the sorghum-based Chinese liquor Moutai, which could easily substitute for carburetor cleaner or some strong solvent. Baijiu has a smoky flavor all its own, and does not lend itself to easy comparisons. The Chinese often infuse it with various animals -- snakes, birds, rodents -- believing that it gives the wine medicinal properties. Snake baiju, for instance, is the ancient Chinese version of Viagra.

Stevie Dymond and I were sitting at the bar in Minnie Mao's in Yangshuo trading shots of the green-jarred local alcohol, more to impress each other than because we really wanted to drink the nasty stuff. Stevie was an Irish kid who had been roaming around Asia with his girlfriend ever since he'd left college. He'd lived in Beijing and Shanghai and Hong Kong; in Vietnam and Malaysia and Cambodia and Taiwan. He did all sorts of work -- taught English, mostly (which was the main scam of nearly all the ex-pats who weren't keen on going back to the States or Europe or Australia any time soon), but also did computer repair and construction work and tended bar on occasion. As had most of us who had lived in China for any length of time.

"I've got a fookin' rock star name," he'd lament, "but I can't play a fookin' note nor sing worth a bloody damn." Musical talent was highly prized in China, especially if you could both sing and play an instrument at the same time. Stevie could do neither. I could do both, and was handsomely compensated for it whenever I got the chance.

Stevie's girlfriend Shannon was strictly a teacher, and a good one at that. She spoke fluent Chinese and a smattering of a few other languages. I got the impression that she was the one keeping him afloat in Asia.

I also got the impression that she was interested in me as more than just a drinking companion for her boyfriend. As we talked, I kept feeling her foot come creeping under the bar and touching my ankle or my calf. When I'd look at her, she'd smile and rub, then pull it away. Stevie never seemed to notice.

Maybe it was the snake baijiu working, or maybe it was the fact that my own Chinese girlfriend had been gone for nearly a month, but for whatever reason, I knew I had to get out of there fast. Either that, or ask Stevie to leave us alone. I bought one more round and slammed the nasty rice wine down, banging the glass on the bar.

"Gotta go now, kids," I said, rising to my feet. "Maybe I'll catch you at the Red Star this evening."

Shannon looked hurt, her lip pouting and her eyes questioning. Stevie just looked back at the bar and nodded. "Yah, mate, see ya," he said.

I was halfway down West Street when she caught up with me and tapped me on the shoulder from behind. I turned and saw that she was alone, and she pulled my arm to her and smiled, walking with me in the direction of my apartment.

This can't be good, I thought.

by Generik 5:44 PM

...so, he was walking through the airport, jush, you know, on a lark, on a hhwhhim, asitwere, when is sees this stuardesh and she says Whoa! There! No!
Well, he wasn't having none of that, believe you I tell you what, so goes the other way, and she says to him, she says, that can't be good, and she starts talking all soft into her little, whaddayacall, radio, you know, that, that thing, that See-Bee thingy, you know, and she says security! and tourist threat and all that, and he's just walking all the time, heading back to gate 6C. Or C6. I don'remember how they do it, but he's goin'ta the six and the C, you know.
So, meanwhile, he's spilling beer all over and jumpin'over turnstiles and laughin'at the woman, and she's still calling security. So, he starts sliding down the escalator, down to the baggage claim, you know, cause there ain'ever anybody there at three oclocl in God's Own Morning, but he starts sliding, and he slides
and he slides
and he's sliding
and the security guard shows up and he's standing behind him, and he's tapping his foot, and he takes him by the back of the shirt and he pulls him off the escalator handrail, and my frien'he says "OH NO! THAT CAN'T BE GOOD!"
An tha's how he got arrested the fourth time.
Now, the nex'week, he's walkin' around in the YMCA, an'he's dead dhrunk...

by MisterNihil 4:40 PM

There I was, walking through the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.  It was my first time there, and I was feeling fine, despite the long walk through the horseshoe-shaped structure which causes some travelers to swear it must have been built by hell's own architect.  In fact, I was indulging in a little people-watching, as I am wont to do.

Then I saw the first one.  He seemed harmless enough, just sitting down with his luggage.  Fine.  No harm, no foul.  Just a face, an impression, no more.

And then there was another, this one drinking in the bar; and another, walking through the concourse in the opposite direction. 

"That can't be good," I thought to myself.  I started walking a little faster; I began to feel distinctly uneasy.  I tried to explain it to my ex, and of course he didn't believe me.  But who were they?  Where had they come from?  And what could they all be doing there at the same time?

Or, still worse, was I imagining the whole thing?  Sure, it was hot that day, and sure, the walk was long, but what could account for such frightening apparitions?

I made it through that day all right, but I feel I must warn all of you just the same. 

The Dallas-Fort Worth airport is full of Lee Harvey Oswald lookalikes.  And there's nothing we can do about it.

by Nyssa23 3:53 PM

that can't be good

by Glen 8:02 AM

{Sunday, July 25, 2004}

When I wake up, it's the eyes that I recall. The eyes of every single one of them, all seventeen. Seventeen pair of eyes. Thirty four in all. Brown, blue, green, gray, hazel... some of them seemed to have no color at all, others were just pools of inky black that you could lose yourself in if you looked too long. I made sure that the eyes were looking at me every time, every time I got to that final moment.

I'm well paid for my work, and I always do a good job. For the most part, I don't let my work get to me. Once I've gotten out of bed, once I've shaved and showered and dressed, I've forgotten all about the eyes. More importantly, I've forgotten the reason that they're the first thing that comes to mind when I wake up. It's only in those first few moments of half-sleep, when my mind is still drifting from the nebulousness of dreamscape and haunted memory into the clear light of the everyday, that I think of them. Or rather, that they come to me, unbidden.

If I try, I can remember more. I can remember their voices. I can remember their walks, their gestures, their facial features and hair styles. Most of the time I put those things completely out of my mind, because really, what's the point? I don't need that information anymore. It's not like any of them will be coming back, or that I'll need to know who they are or how they move again. That part of it is done. It's over. The cash has been transferred, and the incidents forgotten.

Tomorrow I've got another one to learn. I'll learn his habits, his daily routine, his weaknesses. Within a week I'll have it all figured out, have the play down cold, and then the only thing I'll have to look forward to is looking in his eyes at that last second. He might plead and beg; he might blubber and sob; he might try to calmly persuade me with reason and logic. It won't matter. The deal's been agreed to, the price set. The wheels are in motion, and all that's left now is for me to add one more set of eyes to the memory bank.

Eighteen pair of eyes. When I wake up in the morning some time next week, the first thing I'll think of will be eighteen pair of eyes. And then I'll get up.

by Generik 12:00 PM

My first memories concern my first birthday party.  Nobody (including my mother) believes this, so I don't expect you to either.  At any rate, the memories are not as solid as they could be and are mostly a series of impressions and feelings, images and sensations.

I remember the stupid party hat with the elastic that dug into my skin.  I never could stand to wear those things.  I remember the plaid sundress I wore--I never liked dresses either.  I remember the cake my mother had for me, a German chocolate cake stuck around with little "Spirit of '76" toothpick American flags.  German chocolate was my mother's favorite kind of cake, which tells you a lot right there.  I remember getting in trouble for sticking my finger in between the layers of the cake.  But, dammit, wasn't it my birthday party? 

I do not remember the guests at the party; my mother tells me they were children from the apartment complex in which we lived at the time.

I do not remember any of the gifts I got or any games we might have played.

I do not remember anyone asking me what I wanted to eat, what I wanted to play, what I wanted to do.

So what I remember are the bad things--the dress I hated, the hat I hated, the cake--my cake--which I was not allowed to touch.  Maybe that explains some of my attitude, of how I got to be this way; maybe not.  But I think it says something that my first memories are of being restricted and scolded on a day which was supposed to be happy. 

My daughter is now ten months old, so her first birthday is fast approaching.  I can't help feeling a certain amount of dread about a party, even suggesting to my husband that we not have one.  He, of course and quite sensibly, thought it was a terrible idea.

But it just goes to show how much I am haunted by what I remember of my childhood, so that I would do almost anything to make sure my daughter will not have memories like mine.

by Nyssa23 10:44 AM

The first thing I remember

by Generik 1:33 AM

{Saturday, July 24, 2004}

"He's making dolls," said Timmy, pouring himself a glass of orange juice.

"Who's making dolls?" said Mary.

"Freaky Freddy."

"What have I told you about that name, Tim?"

"You said it wasn't nice to call somebody a name behind their back."

"That's right."

"But we don't call him that behind his back. When he comes out of the house we call him Freaky Freddy until he chases us and we run away."

Mary sighed, pulling her hands out of the soapy water and wiping them off with a dish towel. "That's not nice, Timmy. You should apologize to him."

Timmy finished his glass of orange juice with a loud gulp and set the glass down on the table.

"Are you going to apologize to him?" said Mary.


"But what you did wasn't nice."

"He doesn't do nice things, either. Jeff says three people went into Freaky Freddy's house a couple of nights ago and they haven't come back out. We think he's making dolls."

"What makes you think that?"

"He hung them up in the tree," said Timmy. "I'm going back outside, now."

"Stay out of Mr. Finn's yard, Timmy. I mean it."

"I will."

Mary watched Timmy as he disappeared out the kitchen door and back out to the yard, then onto his bicycle and down the road. He turned at the corner and rode back up again, passing the house. Mary went back to her dishes.

Frederick Finn was an artist. At least, that's what Mary had figured from watching Finn through her window as he moved in and later as he made trips out to buy supplies. He had brought in wooden frames when he moved in - all different sizes - and a large sewing box with stickers all over it. She hadn't seen much in the way of clothes as he moved in, and he always seemed to cycle through the same three shirts and three sets of dark-speckled blue jeans. She had seen him carrying cans in on his trips to the store - chemical cans from the arts and crafts shop up the street. She figured he had to be an artist.

Which made him such an improvement over the previous tenants. The neighborhood had come close to having a block party when the Derringers moved out - taking with them the rusted-out car that had been up on cinder blocks for the past three years, the half-buried tire that had once been a swing, and any number of oddly-shaped pieces of metal.

Finn's decorating style was much different. Much more... normal, really. He had set out a garden gnome by the shrubbery. Nothing too garish, but a simple smiling gnome. There was the pink flamingo he had set out along the sidewalk ("He has got to be kidding," said Alvin - Mary's husband). And this past Christmas he had set out one of those giant inflatable snowmen.

Mary looked out of her window to see if Timmy was keeping way from Finn's yard as he had promised. Timmy was up at the other corner of the street, the kickstand down on his bicycle, and lying in the grass with one of his friends. Finn's yard was empty.

But now that Timmy had mentioned it, it did seem that the tree out front had a series of tiny little dolls hanging from it.

Mary shrugged and went back to her washing. Leatherworks, she thought. So that's what Finn's into. Leatherworks.

by Glen 11:41 PM

Living in San Francisco can sometimes seem like an embarrassment of riches in terms of scenic wonder. Those of you who have visited this area know that we've got a lot to brag about when it comes to beauty, what with our bridges, our hills, our bay and ocean, our sweeping vistas and so much more. But it's not just the city that is attractive; drive in virtually any direction from San Francisco and you can find untold wonder and unmatched splendor for miles and miles and miles.

One of my favorite drives is Highway 1 south to Santa Cruz. Past Pacifica and Devil's Slide, past Half Moon Bay, with its working farms and pumpkin patches, the road winds lazily past artichoke fields and pine forests in what has to be one of the most lovely stretches of coastline anywhere in the world. Turning left at Pescadero Beach, you come to the tiny town of Pescadero, about five miles from the ocean, dominated by Duarte's Restaurant, an old-time seafood place that has been in the same spot, serving pretty much the same menu, for over a hundred years. Keep driving east and you begin to make your way up into the pines and the redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains, up towards the forest town of La Honda. Once known as ground zero for Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, La Honda is now best-known for being the long-time home of rocker Neil Young. According to eyewitnesses -- of which I am not one, unfortunately -- when entering Neil's property and taking the winding road to his house, one encounters a road sign that reads "No Left Turn Unstoned."

But before you reach La Honda, there is a house on the north side of the road that catches every driver's eye, and has been known to make people stop in groups of two or three or more. It's known informally as the Flamingo House, and residents of the area mostly sigh and roll their eyes whenever it's mentioned. You see, for the past five or six years, the owners have decided that decorating their property with pink plastic flamingoes was not just a fun diversion, but mandatory. And if one or two flamingoes were good, then one or two thousand were surely a thousand times better.

The house sits on the side of a hill above the creek that runs alongside the road. There is a bridge to their driveway, and a couple of small outbuildings or sheds alongside the main structure. The entire hill, from the creek bed up to far above the house, is dotted with flamingoes. The driveway and the porch and the fences and the roof are lined with them. There are flamingo fans, with twirling wings, and flamingoes painted on the mailbox. Perhaps the residents found a long-lost stash of Kesey's LSD when they first moved in. Perhaps they simply suffer from OCFD -- obsessive-compulsive flamingo disorder. But for whatever reason, they win, hands down, the battle of the lawn flamingoes, wherever and whenever it might be staged.

Cue Van Morrison, singing "I wanna take you where flamingoes fly, flamingoes fly..."

by Generik 6:53 PM

So why do people put so much crap in their front yards anyway?  I suppose it must date back to the 1950s when cookie-cutter suburban houses mandated some minor homeowner revolt in the form of the pink plastic flamingo or the lawn jockey.  "Sure, you know, our house is the third one after the corner...the one with six flamingos and the little guy with the hoop."

Down the street from us there's a house that I am told several renegade Branch Davidians used to live in.  It's now an ostentatious family residence, a monument to conspicuous consumption with its own real full-sized flagpole (which flies a real, full-sized American flag every day) and a miniature railroad near a tree in the front yard.  I'm serious.  A miniature railroad complete with tiny scenery, like a barn with little plastic cows and horses and pigs.  Sure, it's an upgrade from the lawn jockey but still as pathetic.

I have to admit, I'm concerned about this rise in front yard ornamentation.  The proliferation of those stupid little flagpoles that jut out from the fronts of houses and invariably fly faded flags for every possible holiday (and the Laker flag when there's nothing else to commemorate) nearly reduces me to tears every time we drive through this town. 

Do these people seriously think that their flags and painted mailboxes, or, still worse, the faux-country crap that predominates around our neighborhood (examples:  signs reading "One Old Buzzard and One Cute Chick Live Here" and the "bending-over fat lady butt" garden ornaments that I believe are one of the signs of the Apocalypse) express their own sensibilities?  Or are they just fucking stupid?

Wait.  Maybe it's some kind of ironic statement. 

Nah.  They're just fucking stupid.

by Nyssa23 10:14 AM

Front yard kitsch

by John W. 8:32 AM

{Friday, July 23, 2004}

There are other people more qualified to talk about the Mostar Youth Theatre than I am. Many of my friends had the opportunity to spend weeks working with this amazing group - I had a few hours. But those hours were truly amazing. And in the absence of those friends, perhaps I will try to encapsulate something of the experience. This is written off the top of my head, so bear with me if it gets a little bit disjointed or hectic.

The Mostar Youth Theatre formed in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The theater in which they played was on one side of the river. The majority of their actors were on the other. They were connected by the Stari Most (translation: "Old Bridge"). The Stari Most was the one connecting bridge between the two parts of town - one side predominantly Muslim and the other side predominantly Croatian.

When fighting broke out in Bosnia, the bridge did not last long. The Stari Most was completely destroyed, cutting off the two halves of the town.

As the fighting began to die down, the Mostar Youth Theatre began to work. While many people about them couldn't conceive of why Bosnia needed theatre, they remained dedicated to the idea of bringing their experiences to the world. With no bridge crossing the river, Mostar Youth constructed rafts and ferried their actors back and forth.

The result was a show called Pax Bosnia - a show that almost perfectly encapsulated the experiences of the actors in Bosnia and that illustrated their desire to move forward with the future. Not many of the Mostar Youth Theatre spoke English well, but they could still communicate clear enough that they didn't need language.

In the year 2000 I worked with the Mostar Youth Theatre for a brief workshop. I was (and still am) a naive young man who had barely set foot out of his neighborhood, let alone out of the country. And I know that what they showed me that day of the experience and the trials they had come through is still something that I can only barely begin to comprehend. There are some who challenge that since that fateful day in 2001, we finally know what it's like to live in the war-torn countries of the Middle East. I say with confidence that we still have no idea.

But one thing I learned from Mostar Youth Theatre is that no matter how bleak their lives became, there was always hope and always some sliver of light.

So, yeah. It's corny and it took twelve minutes for me to write instead of ten. What can I say.

BBC: A team of high divers and dancers in traditional dress joined celebrations to mark the reopening of the historic bridge at Mostar in Bosnia-Hercegovina.

The 16th-Century bridge was blown up during the bitter fighting in the Bosnian war between the city's Muslims and Croats in 1993.

Its reopening is being seen as symbolic of the healing of divisions between Muslims and Croats.

Fireworks exploded in the sky in the culmination of Friday's noisy ceremony.

The new bridge proves "hope triumphs over barbarism", said Lord Ashdown, the top international representative in Bosnia-Hercegovina.

by Glen 9:33 PM

Mark Antonicci, a plain thirty-something, was looking at the sky when his head fell off. The process was painless and something of a surprise. He was lucky enough to get a last thought as his head made the short trip from his shoulders to the ground. That thought was not recorded.
     The cause of his decapitation was also not recorded, although most of the bystanders questioned at the scene had the same story. Of the forty people who saw the event, only four had conflicting tales.
     Miss Marieta Bierbaum said she saw an object, bladed, about the size of a pigeon in flight, pass over the heads of the crowd and detach Mark's head from his body. This story, Miss Bierbaum revealed some minutes later, was completely fabricated. She had not been watching, digging as she was in her purse for a camera to take a picture of the sky.
     Father Donald O'Malley claimed to see a black man aged 18 to 34, 5'10" to 6'3", of average build wearing gang colors exit the scene with a bloody knife. In fact, there were two men in the area loosely fitting this description, one of whom was carrying a knife which, according to police reports, had no blood on it. O'Malley's testimony was dismissed, and no charges were brought against any person based upon this evidence.
     Randall Perkins, age 6, claimed to have seen "a big, you know, big foot and he, you know, ran up and sort of, kind of, yanked off his head and she just kind of, fell off, and it ran off, um, south and like, a power ranger (uninteligible) until, like (uninteligible) and the she was, like, bleagh (pantomimes strangulation and death)." This quote is from the official police reports released later.
     A woman who did not identify herself claimed to have cut Mark's head from her body, but was later identified as an escaped mental patient. As cliched as this may seem, it does move the story along properly.
     The true reason is lost to the winds. The rest of the witnesses all gave, as I said, much the same account: Mark looked skyward at a particular rainbow, uttered his last words, and his head fell off. The general agreement on those last words stands at: "I've never seen anything like it. I'm coming home, Ma."

by MisterNihil 3:24 PM

Why are there so many songs about rainbows?  Is that a serious question?  I don't know any songs about rainbows, except maybe that one from Fraggle Rock about "leavin', there's no reason, just a rainbow in the sky."  But that's another story.

I do love rainbows, though.  As a child I had a huge paper rainbow poster hung precisely in the corner of the room I shared with my sister, so that it looked like half of it was arching across both sides of the room.  I love the rain, and I love to look out the window after it rains, seeking out that elusive rainbow.  Even the rainbows in soap bubbles and puddles of oil on the street are beautiful to me.

Of course, as I got older, rainbows took on a new significance.  Everyone knows that I love gay men (which, thankfully, ended up never really hurting my love life all that much), and I already loved rainbows, so I thought it was a great and fortunate confluence.   A sign, perhaps, that I had known more than I thought as a child after all.  

I still believe that there will always be rainbows, that maybe they really are the promise of a beneficent force in the universe which wants us to dream big and chase those dreams.  How could anything so beautiful and evanescent be anything but a reminder that our time is short and we should do all we can with it?

I never believed that pot of gold thing, though.  That would be silly.

by Nyssa23 10:02 AM

Will there be rainbows day after day?

by Fred 7:00 AM

{Thursday, July 22, 2004}

Part the First | Part the Second | Part the Third | Part the Fourth | Part the Fifth | Part the Sixth | Part the Seventh | Part the Eighth | Part the Ninth | Part the Tenth | Part the Eleventh | Part the Twelfth | Part the Thirteenth | Part the Fourteenth | Part the Fifteenth | Part the Sixteenth | Part the Seventeenth | Part the Eighteeneth | Part the Nineteenth | Part the Twentieth | Part the Twenty-first | Part the Twenty-second | Part the Twenty-third

"It's a little more involved than that," said Eliza Merrick.

"Not by much," answered Hale, returning from the back room where he had gone to get his knives. "It's not pretty, this kind of magic, no matter what Liza here might try and tell you. But at least it's free, mostly."

Hale was carrying a small brown shoebox, a little tattered along the edges and, Alan saw, held together along one side with black electrical tape. He placed the box atop the kitchen table.

"Don't get much use for these as I'd like," he said when he saw Alan eyeing the box. "After that thing in Bastrop...well..." He frowned and glanced for a moment at the dead man, who said nothing.

"Should be like falling off a bike, though," Hale added after a moment. "Always got the books if I accidentally carve the wrong symbol or something."

His particular brand of magic, he explained, consisted mainly of symbols carved into the skin, glyphs that he'd let bleed and scar on Father's flesh while certain passages from the books were read, certain rites invoked and incantations spoken. Father's body would, of course, be disfigured, horribly, but...well, the woman was already dead, wasn't she? A few people had even been known to thank him, Hale said, for returning them to life in such a fashion. So you never knew.

Again, he glanced hesitantly at the dead man, as if expecting him to say something or offer some argument, but the other man kept his silence.

"I don't know how much personal experience you have, if any, with magic," Hale said to Alan.

"Mr. Jones works for the convocation," said the dead man.

"What?" said Hale. He stared at the dead man, then at Alan, his hands frozen in front of him atop the shoebox. "He what?"

"We don't like to call it that," said Alan, "but yeah, he's right."

"I -- " muttered Hale. "I didn't know. He didn't -- "

He turned angrily towards the dead man.

"And you brought him here?" he asked.

"He doesn't know," said the dead man. "He doesn't care, Elijah. He isn't here because of you."

"Sure, you say that now, but -- "

Hale eyed Alan for a moment, then forced a smile and said, "It's just...well, I've had dealings with your employers before."

"Most everyone has," said Alan.

Hale nodded. "Right," he said. "It's just...well, should my name ever come up with them in conversation..."

Alan stared at the man.

"Is there any reason it should?" he asked.

"Well, um, no," said Hale. "None that I know. It's just -- well, I would just hope you'd remember this kindness I'm doing you today."

"Hey," said Alan, "I just want to figure a way out of this mess. Bringing Father back to life seems like the best way to do that, so, if you can help, I can't see how you and I have a problem."

Hale forced another smile. "I appreciate that," he said. "I just hope your employers are as kind."

After a moment, he nodded again, as if this settled things. He said, "Well then, to work?"

And, with that, Elijah Hale showed them his collection of knives.

by Fred 11:59 PM

There are people out there who don't show up for any reason and who don't come from anywhere. They just happen, like a bug splattering across your windshield - you don't see it, you can't avoid it, and before you know it it's happened. You open the door and there they are.

I open the door and there he is.

And he walks into the room without anything - without an invitation, without permission, without a "hello," and without any luggage. He walks into the room.

"What a dump," he says, completely without irony. Then, as if reasserting his own reality, he says it again. "What a dump."

And I close the door and sit back down at my desk.

He climbs up the loft into my bed and stretches out, and I know that if I manage to finish my paper tonight I'm going to be sleeping on the floor. He kicks off his low-rise boots and they land on the tiled floor beneath the loft with a thud.


And that's how life with Carlton begins again. As if he never left.

"What a dump," he repeats. "But at least the price is right."

I pay little attention to him and instead try to focus on my work.

"What time do they serve dinner in this dump?" he asks.

"The dining hall opens at five," I say. "It gets crowded around seven."

"I hope the food is better than the lodging," he says, and I hear the loft creak as he shifts his weight.

I realize that I've now read the same sentence fifty times without any comprehension, and realize that I no longer give a damn whether the women come or go, and that the subject of their conversation as they do (or do not do) so is of little consequence in my current situation.

I kick the chair back to its reclined position. "Nice to see you, Guy," I say. "How have you been, Guy?"

"Where'd you pick up the Jewish mother routine?" says Carlton.

"It comes naturally whenever you're around. You never call, you never write, you don't let me know how you're doing - you just show up at my door and act like nothing ever happened. Like nothing's different."

"Wake me when it's five," says Carlton. And the conversation ends.

by Glen 11:32 PM

With a nod to Tom Waits:
     It's got a limited warranty, replacable parts and a face that only a mother could love. It's got two flanges for every screw and a chicken for every pot of gold at the end of your rainbow.
     It's free for you to take home today if you ACT NOW!
     It's not a product it's not a gimmick it's not a service it will revolutionize your soul, it is the last word and it is the last thing you will ever need. It will clear up your personal problems, it will destroy your enemies it will win friends and influence people.
     It will influence global weather patterns, it will win the lottery, it will destroy the world with the flick of wrist. There is no greater power there is no greater need there is nothing that will change your life like this!
     And it's free for you to take home today if you Act Now!

by MisterNihil 3:48 PM

While putting old photos in an album recently, I came across a picture of my ex-husband and myself, a portrait shot where he's sitting and I'm standing behind him with one hand on his shoulder.  

Was I ever really that young and dressed-up and prone to wearing too much eye makeup?  I asked myself.  I had worn rather a bit of eye makeup then, even affecting kohl-black eye liner, and wore rings on most of my fingers just because I could.  Although I must say my ex didn't look too great either--I remembered pleading with him not to wear his "South Park" tie.  At least he'd cut his mullet by that time, although the too-long goatee persisted.   We weren't married then, or even engaged, so I suppose I'd had plenty of time to back out and really can't complain now.

I remembered the day we took the picture.  His insurance agent had sent a certificate for a free portrait sitting so we went.  The photographer, a middle-aged, balding man, set us up with the usual portrait poses of the two of us and us individually and then started talking--and talking--and talking--about his crush on P.J. Harvey.

"My wife and I have been married for twenty-five years," he declared proudly, "but she knows that if P.J. Harvey ever showed up on our doorstep..."  I silently pleaded for him to just hurry up and take the picture.  At least it's free, I thought.

Later, my ex's parents ordered lots of the pictures in a couple of different poses and framed them around the house as if to express their delight that he'd finally found someone to put up with him.  They even ordered some of me by myself (and none of the pictures of him by himself), which I considered odd. 

What I considered odder still, however, was that my ex's father hung one of the portraits of me--I think it might even have been an 8x10--over his bed.  Hmmm.  I wonder if it's still there.

by Nyssa23 10:38 AM

For my first topic in this enterprise, I humbly offer

at least it's free

by Nyssa23 10:14 AM

{Wednesday, July 21, 2004}

Part the First | Part the Second | Part the Third | Part the Fourth | Part the Fifth | Part the Sixth | Part the Seventh | Part the Eighth | Part the Ninth | Part the Tenth | Part the Eleventh | Part the Twelfth | Part the Thirteenth | Part the Fourteenth | Part the Fifteenth | Part the Sixteenth | Part the Seventeenth | Part the Eighteeneth | Part the Nineteenth | Part the Twentieth | Part the Twenty-first | Part the Twenty-second

"All right," said the dead man. "We will do this. But when it is over, when she has told us what we need to know, you will free her. I must have your word on that, Elijah."

Hale stared at the dead man, and Alan tried to read the expressions on each of their faces.

"You still don't trust me, do you?" Hale asked after a moment. "What happened with the girl in Bastrop, it still comes back to that, doesn't it? You know that wasn't my fault."

The dead man said nothing for a moment, then nodded.

"Perhaps," he said. "It was a very long time ago, and we were both different men. But I am aware of your...proclivities, Elijah, and if you allow them to interfere in this, if you try to do more than raise this woman and then let her go when we are done, I want you to know that I will kill you."

Again Hale said nothing for a moment, and the two men stared at one another. Whatever history lay between them, Alan could only guess, and even Eliza Merrick seemed taken aback by the dead man's threat. She, too, said nothing, but she eyed the two men cautiously, and not for the first time Alan wondered why his employers had insisted on the detour to Kansas in the first place, why they had contracted Father and her crew to raise the vampire from whatever hell it was to which her husband had banished her in death.

It was true, what Alan had told the dead man. He didn't think they could just walk into Samuel Merrick's home uninvited and empty-handed and hope to escape with both their lives and the book. The dead man's claim to vengenance might get them in the door -- Merrick was overly fond of ritual and tradition -- and Alan might be able to counter any attack mounted by Merrick's trained magicians and hired guards, but the chances for survival and success were slim unless Alan and the dead man managed to come up with a few new tricks to stuff up their collected sleeves.

So far, Eliza Merrick seemed less like a trick than a liability. Everything that had gone wrong in the past few hours was, directly or not, because of her, because of some shared history between her and the dead man -- a history of which Alan was still not completely cognizant and which, therefore, might continue to pose a problem.

Now they were relying on Elijah Hale to see just how big of a problem they had already created. Simply disposing of Father's body was not an option at this point. Alan knew his employers would be displeased if he did not at least try to honor their contract with the woman, and there was no guarantee that Mother would leave them be even if they cut his original quarry loose. The man -- or whatever he was -- was clearly unhinged and eager for violence. Alan agreed it was best that they have as much information about him as they could, should he continue to follow.

Mother had, after all, said that he and Alan would meet again.

"Fine," Hale finally said. "I promise. You get what you need, I let her go. You have my word. Good enough?"

The dead man nodded.

"You may get your knives," he said.

"Um, I'm still a little hazy on this whole skin magic thing," said Alan. "I don't meet a lot derma-mancers."

"Not a lot of us to meet," said Hale. "People usually like to go for the big magic, the spectacle, open up the higher planes of existence or something like that. This is strictly small plane stuff. Not a lot of mystic, whole lot of visceral. It's dirty, but it ought to get the job done."

"Uh huh," said Alan, for whom this had basically explained nothing.

"Essentially?" said Hale. "What I'm gonna do is cut her open. That's why the knives. That's why the skin. For this to work, I'm gonna have to slice her up and let her bleed."

by Fred 11:59 PM

We tried to hide our disappointment. We wanted to be such good parents. I mean, at first, it was easy, we were so overwhelmed, but gradually, we had to face facts. He just wasn't growing.

School was the worst. Kids called him "seg," as in "short segment." How clever. Doctors kept assuring us he would hit a growth spurt, so we encouraged him and we waited. But then we started to worry about his social standing. From any side you viewed him, he looked too much like the base of... I hate to say it, but you know what I mean. Very acute.

He'll be graduating from high school soon. We're not sure what careers there are for Flatlanders like him. But we're sick of denying it, of lying. We're going to face facts, and we don't care who knows it. Our son is a small plane.

by Sharon 11:59 PM

"You're not really expecting her to show up, are you?"

I crossed my ankles and pulled my knees up to my chest. It was a new sensation - it had been a very long time since I had been able to. I crossed my arms over my knees and lowered my head.

"She said she'd be here," I said.

"Guy," he said, lowering himself to my side, "come down from the mountain a minute. What makes you think she's actually going to show?"

"She said she'd be here," I said, again.

Carlton lay back, stretching out. Laying back was relative, of course, in the empty white expanse. For all I knew, he could be standing up, and I would be the one sitting perpendicular to the ground. In the featureless expanse, it was easier to change orientations than to change socks, really.

"You're building yourself up for a letdown, you know," he said. "First of all, she'd have to actually want to show up, and we all know how your history of that has gone. Second, she has to find the place - you almost didn't make it, and you had me helping you. Third, if she decides to come and she actually manages to find her way here, you have to realize that long-distance relationships rarely ever work."

"That's the point," I said. "That's why this place exists. It's neither here nor there, and not really in between. It's its own place - a tiny universe between universes."

Carlton effortlessly pushed off from his lying position and rotated slowly as he headed up (out?) into the air.

"And how did you take so quickly to this place?" I asked him.

"It's all a matter of time," he said.

"I've been here just as long as you have."

"Yes, but time treats me differently than it does you. I'm eternally moving forward at a rapidly-increasing rate. You, meanwhile, are stuck in an eternal teatime like a goddamned March Hare - only without the endearing insanity."

"It's not fair," I said.

"It's not?" said Carlton, coming to a rest and sinking to look -upside down - into my eyes. "Right, then. Sorry."

"I want to be able to do all of that stuff, too."

"Then why don't you try?"

"I have," I said, feeling myself tilt forward just a little bit. "All I've managed to do is turn end-over-end."

Carlton sighed. "If I can do it," he said, "then you should be able to, as well. Once you've learned that, you might catch up to me.

"I'd hurry, though," he said, pushing off and away from my slowly tumbling form. "I think I've already outstripped you by a couple of centuries."

by Glen 11:35 PM

The light glittered and gleamed off the diamond ring, sending little rainbows around the room. I bent down to get a closer look. It was a classic, "Round Brilliant," cut: 33 facets on the crown and 25 on the pavilion. 58 small planes. You learn a bit when your landlord's a jeweler.

Each small plane reflected a different part of the room. In one, I saw smoke curling lazily from the ashtray, her cigarette still warm. In another, the lamp, overturned and flickering intermittently. There, that glint of light was my own eye, wary and suspicious. Was that a gun she held? I knew she wasn't holding a gun because she had a drink in one hand and I was watching the other. Another look: I saw a package wrapped in twine. It wasn't in this room, but a different room altogeth...

"Mr. Steele?" Her voice, combined with the honking of horns outside brought me out of my fugue like getting doused with a bucket of cold water. Ashtray? No smoke; the cigarette in her hand. Lamp? Still intact. Guns? Just the heat on my hip. I shook my head to clear it and took another gander at the dame. I knew my goose was cooked, so I figured I'd make a meal of it.

"You can call me Flint, sweetheart. Pass me a Jackson for the retainer and I'm on the case."

by jal 10:24 PM

I've never understood why some people are so afraid of flying.  I never have been, not even on the flight to my second wedding  in October 2001 (let's just say the planes weren't too crowded. )

But perhaps that's because I once rode all the way to Mexico from San Antonio, Texas, in the bed of a pickup truck with no tailgate.  So I'm not exactly used  to a smooth ride. 

In fact, the first time I flew was on a very small plane indeed, an American Airlines prop jet (See?  I've even flown American Airlines without fear.  I know, you're impressed) so tiny it only had two rows of seats on one side and one row on the other.   I took the window seat, my ex-husband took a Dramamine.  For the next hour or so, I sat entranced, looking out the window at those tiny perfect patches of farmland that make up a good portion of Texas, at the arcane loops and lines of the roads that crisscross the state.

What these people don't understand, maybe, is how incredibly amazing it is to fly.  My mother's never flown, and she's nearly fifty years old.  She doesn't want to, either, not even to see her newest grandchild and not even if she could afford it. 

But didn't everyone want, as a child, when things at home or school got particularly bad, to fly away?  Just to rise up and feel the air around you and leave everything behind? 

That's the interesting thing about a small plane, it feels like you're really in the air, not just riding on a long, skinny bus.  You can feel the shifting wind, the pockets that send you bobbing like a bird. 

Anyway, it's probably the closest I'll ever get to heaven.

by Nyssa23 11:29 AM

I think Faith is in a small plane between Here and There. In her stead, I'll offer
small plane

by Sharon 10:30 AM

{Tuesday, July 20, 2004}

I am in love with skin. To be more specific: I am in love with a strip of skin -- The small of the back to the tops of the hips. The area relatively recently revealed to public view by low-rise jeans.

Not the ultra low-rise jeans, mind. Just the low-rise. The conservative but slightly daring display of this part of the body previously covered by belts. This is where my attention is focused.

And you know what? I don't particularly care who's. I have a friend who insists that some people shouldn't wear low rise jeans because they don't have the figure for it. "Practically no one," she says, speaking figuratively and not meaning the image that immediately pops into my mind, "can pull off low-rise jeans."

I disagree. I have impolitely stared at the small of strange women's backs without much regard for weight. I'm fascinated by the curve of hips and the apparent softness of the flesh there. As a point of fact, the only people I've seen who do not look good in low-rise jeans are those people who are so skinny bones destroy the lines of the sweep of flesh and those who wear jeans that ride so low they direct attention lower.

And I really do mean "love," not "lust." It is not a puerile charge, an pornographic charge. It is more like art. Place me behind someone with a naked small of the back, and I am as transfixed as I am by the art of the pre-raphaelites. If there is a part of skin more romantic than the small of the back, I don't know what it is. Perhaps the nape of the neck.

Yeah, I suppose it is creepy. But you asked.

by John W. 11:56 PM

"What we have here," said Geoff, scanning the paper in his hands, "is a shotgun blast to the head."

"What's the damage?" said Molinari.

"Well, let's see. We've got a large blotch of blood and brain on the wall, plus a few splatters across the floor.

"We'll also have to do a quick scan of the area to check for skull fragments that the coroner's office may have missed. What about cloth goods?"

"Cloth goods?"

"Curtains, carpets, placemats - anything cloth that might have gotten in the way of the blast."

"There's a window near the splotch, but it's about six feet along the wall."

"Those curtains will have to go."

"They're six feet away."

"It's a shotgun blast. You ever hear a customer who comes home and finds a few flecks of blood on the curtain?"

"Check. Curtains have got to go," said Geoff, drawing an "X" through the curtains on the diagram.

"Any carpet to worry about?" said Molinari.

"Not according to the layout."

"What kind of floor are we dealing with?"


"Real tile or those linoleum sheets that look like tile?"

"Paper just says 'tile.' I'm guessing real tile."

"Well, let's hope it's linoleum sheets."

"Sure," said Geoff. "But it's going to be real tile."

"Bet you ten bucks it's linoleum."

"You're on."

"Twenty bucks says we're done by lunch."

"Are you kidding? It's a shotgun blast," said Geoff.

"Shotgun blast is nothing. Call me when you've done a beheading. Or a meth lab clean-up. Those are a bitch. The worst I've ever seen was a live skinning."

"A what?"

"Serial killer. Mean bastard. Strung his victims up with wire and skinned them alive."

"Geez Louise," said Geoff.

"You're telling me," said Molinari. "You know, they always tell you that there's more than one way to skin a cat. What they never tell you about is the poor bastards who have to clean up afterwards."

by Glen 10:43 PM

I am a tube. A torus. A doughnut. Skin, all the way around the outside, and all the way up the inside. I think of it, now and again, that even parts of me I think of as internal are really contiguous and lined with skin. They are, in a way, external.

I read a story by the guy who wrote Fight Club about a kid--I should say, a first-person account, making it gruesomely plausible--who turned himself somewhat inside out, owing to a pool filter intake valve and teenage masturbation. I don't think I will ever forget that story. It still creates a visceral reaction, a pressure behind my breast bone that might be my stomach turning. He warned us. Even said people have fainted during readings. "Pshaw," said I.

The other thing that makes my stomach tight is the knowledge that I have deadlines racing farther and farther into the past. The stress of being so late is making it hard to do the work. I wish people would leave me alone and let me program, but programming is not the task that is late.

I'd have an easier time getting that work done if I went to sleep. But before I can sleep, I have to go through all this night-time routine, especially washing my face and all.

I had a dermatologist's appointment this morning, which prompted the topic of skin. But that reminded me that I'm a torus, and I can't sleep for thinking about it.

by Sharon 10:36 PM

Part the First | Part the Second | Part the Third | Part the Fourth | Part the Fifth | Part the Sixth | Part the Seventh | Part the Eighth | Part the Ninth | Part the Tenth | Part the Eleventh | Part the Twelfth | Part the Thirteenth | Part the Fourteenth | Part the Fifteenth | Part the Sixteenth | Part the Seventeenth | Part the Eighteeneth | Part the Nineteenth | Part the Twentieth | Part the Twenty-first

"No," said the dead man. "You cannot do this."

Oh great, thought Alan. Here we go again.

"Why not?" asked the man who had introduced himself as Elijah Hale. "I don't mind, and besides, I owe you."

He and the dead man had re-entered from the back room of the house, where they had kept themselves sequestered for the better part of the last hour. Eliza Merrick stood up and eyed both men expectantly as they entered, but Alan remained sitting at the kitchen table, eyeing the empty glass directly in front of him. He had refilled it from the sink at least a dozen times while he and Eliza waited for the two men, but he was still unable to completely quench his thirst. He was not sure he liked what the vampire woman thought that might suggest.

"What you're offering," said the dead man, "it's too dangerous. I won't let you take that kind of risk."

"It's not that dangerous," said Elijah. "You know I've done it before." He grinned. "For a cadaver, you worry too much."

Alan still did not know what to make of Elijah. He was a short, pudgy, balding man, the hair at his temples gone gray but otherwise what Alan might have called nondescript, and he looked like nothing so much as the retired accountant he professed to be.

"I used to do Danny's taxes," the man had said with a laugh when they were introduced. "Used to do taxes for a whole bunch of Sam Merrick's employees. Big business."

Alan, who thought he knew his fair share about Samuel Merrick and the man's employees -- and, more to the point, knew almost to the day when the dead man had been in his employ -- thought this unlikely, but he said nothing. Beggars could not be choosers, after all, and Alan supposed that, given the circumstances, beggars were exactly what they had become.

"Whatever happened to those people you used to know?" Eliza Merrick had asked back in Mr. Yu's car. "Couldn't one of them help? Jacob maybe. He used to -- "

"Dead," said the dead man. "Burned alive. He and his brother Gabriel both."

"Oh," said Eliza. "That's too bad. I always liked Jacob. I used to think he had a little crush on me."

The dead man made some kind of noncommittal noise in response. Not for the first time, Alan wondered at what was really going on here between the two of them, at how little he himself knew, and -- now that he thought about it -- at just how good the dead man's night vision could be only one eye.

"Um, maybe I should drive..." Alan suggested.

The dead man did not answer.

"There's always Elijah," he said after a moment. He did not seem particularly happy about it. "Assuming he's still in Topeka, he's the only one we'd be able to reach before sun-up."

And so they had driven another two hours from the outskirts of Wichita to meet Elijah, to see if he could help them. Alan was still not exactly sure what kind of help they were seeking, much less what help Elijah could offer, but there could be little hiding the fact that they were in need. There was a dead woman in the back seat of Mr. Yu's minivan, a dead man behind the wheel, a vampire woman beside him, her blood possibly now in Alan's veins, a crazed prognosticating demon creature calling itself Mother on their trail, and at least three different corpses in their wake. And Alan still had to get them to New York in order to steal that damn book away from Samuel Merrick.

He'd known the assignment wouldn't be easy when his employers had offered it, but this was bordering on the ridiculous.

"Here's the thing," Elijah was now saying. "You need to know what she knows, right? You need to know who's after you. I can help."

"I cannot ask you to do this," said the dead man. "It is too dangerous."

"No," said Elijah," it's not. At least do me the courtesy of being honest. You don't like what I do. You find it distasteful. You haven't got the stomach for it, and that's why you're refusing to let me help."

"She does not deserve this," said the dead man. "If I had not tried to free Eliza... if I had not so badly misjudged how far the hunger had taken her... this other woman would not be dead."

"Yeah," said Elijah, "but she is dead. And I'm offering you a chance to maybe undo that, at least for a little while. Long enough to get some answers. You said yourself if was only luck that let you escape this Mother person the first time around. You don't know everything he's capable of. But that one does. And, if you let me, I can bring her back so she can tell you."

Yes, thought Alan, he definitely didn't know what to make of Elijah Hale.

"Assuming you're both talking about Father," said Alan, "how do you propose to bring her back?" He himself was no stranger to reviving the dead, so he supposed he was simply asking out of professional curiosity more than anything else.

"Elijah," said Eliza, turning back to Alan, "is a derma-mancer. Skin magic."

"It's a lost art," said Elijah. "But I think it'll help you, given the circumstances."

Ah, thought Alan, circumstances. Beggars and choosers.

"Sure," he said. "Why not?"

"Only if we're all agreed," said Elijah to the dead man. "We begin the ritual, we don't turn back. So let me know right now, Daniel -- should I break out my knives or not?"

by Fred 6:37 PM

Skin was frequently on my mind as a child, whether consciously or unconsciously.  My father was dark-skinned, my mother light, and they both placed a premium on the lighter coloration.  I had my mother's coloring, my sister had the dark.  And so, we were like the proverbial night and day.
My mother had been a migrant farm worker as a child, and told us how she wore long sleeves and hats to avoid darkening her skin, with varying success as the summers wore her down.  Therefore, we were admonished not to spend too much time in the sun lest our skin become that unfavorable dark shade.  I heard anecdotes about my late paternal grandmother, whose skin was so light that she "passed." 
White people, I was warned, didn't really like people whose skin was too dark--so if you wanted to achieve success by working in their businesses rather than their fields, you'd better try to look as close to them as possible.  I worked hard and gained admission to an exclusive prep school on a full scholarship, barely tolerated by the school's Aryan social elite, mindful at all times that when they looked at me or heard my last name, they were probably reminded of their gardeners and nannies.  I withstood their abuse.  What choice did I have?
It wasn't until later that I realized what a backlash there would be within my own family.  Because, for all that time, my sister's anger at being second best had grown and festered.
My mother is proud of my success, limited as it is at this time.  Perhaps she is even proud that I "married white."  Most of my cousins hate me.  My sister seems to wish she didn't have that trace of consanguineal bond so she could hate me with impunity; her every lifestyle choice appears determined to be the exact opposite of mine.  They all accuse me of thinking I'm better than them, of trying to be "too white."
My daughter was born with soft golden-brown skin.  I don't know what skin color will mean to her generation.  I only pray it won't bring her the pain it did me.

by Nyssa23 11:27 AM

     I fell to my knees and tore the front of my pants. Tiny pieces of skin hung in strips around the gash. I knew that when I stood, the blood would seep down the front of my pants and, if they weren't ruined by the rip, they would be ruined by the blood.
     They were good pants, too. Once upon a time, I'd bought them from an old man I knew when I was young. Mr. Krupnick wasn't so old when I was so young, but he'd aged obligingly. When I was six, he promised me he'd add a wrinkle every year until I asked him to stop. The first one came at the corner of his eye. It arrived on my seventh birthday. I lost touch with him when I went to college, but he'd looked quite affably wrinkled at my graduation. I bought the pants from him before I left for college. He told me I'd be able to wear them eventually, and that he needed the seventeen dollars. I wasn't in the habbit of asking him his personal business, really, so I paid the seventeen dollars and took the pants.
     Some eighteen years later, I found a matching sport coat in a small store off Mass Ave, on Newberry in Boston, where I was living at the time. It's not often you find a shiny green suit coat at the funky shops of the back bay, but it's one of those ubiquitous places where, if you'll find it, you'll find it there! Ha! etc.
     I got the letter from the old man's wife the next week. She said he'd died. Out of respect, I put the pants and coat into storage and kept them, airtight, in a safety deposit box.
     I forgot about them until this morning.
     I went to his funeral another three days later. She said there wasn't even really enough of him to identify. Here's the story they were pretty sure happened: He was shopping at Miracle Mile in Miami, where he and the missus had moved, when a tanker truck of flammable liquid overturned outside the Chocolatier. He was the only one who didn't get away in time. They say he went back to pick up a little girl who was standing inside, chocolate running down the sides of her mouth, her hands smeared and brown, screaming.
     I paid the forty years back rent on the box and took out the pants this morning. They were still clean, pressed and in their little bag, as was the coat. I took them home and, in a moment of reverie, put them on. Outside, a woman screamed. As this is Boston and not New York, we're proud to say, I went to the window to see what was happening.
     There in the street was a huge mass of alarming skin. It must have been twelve feet high, splotchy red and rotted green, puckered and blackened in places. Underneath could have been anything. It was moving up the street to my apartment door. As a noble Bostonite (and not a New Yorker, thankyouverymuch) I ran down the steps in the building, to the lobby and outside. The inhuman beast moved up to me as I fell to the ground, tearing the pants.
     "You can stop now, Mr. Krupnick. Please stop."
     The beast slowed, halted and looked at me. "You tore the pants," it said in Zombie Wrinkled Mr. Krupnick voice, "but at least you got to wear them."

by MisterNihil 10:20 AM


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