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{Tuesday, November 30, 2004}

I saw a stormtrooper this weekend (11/28):

stormtrooper on Hollywood Blvd

To top it off, it was next to the footprints of R2D2, C3PO, Darth Vader, and Harrison Ford, at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood:

droid footprints

The stormtrooper was there for the Hollywood Thanksgiving parade. (The droids are always there.) It was strange to walk down Hollywood Blvd at noon and then see it on television at 5. Television lights turn the street to day. Strange glaring bits of advertising are edited out of the shot. (Other glaring, paid for bits are strategically featured.) The street looks clean. The people look magnanimous and interesting.

The parade was really just like the Allentown parades I used to march in, except that the lame people getting rides in the slowly creeping cars are on television shows.

Marching bands came from high schools all over. The native Californian kids looked glamorous and acne-free, with amazing dental work. The kids from Pennsylvania looked frumpy and awkward and distinctly Northeastern. In other words, like me.

by Sharon 11:59 PM

Metaphors be with you

by Generik 10:03 AM

{Tuesday, November 23, 2004}


by Fred 7:00 PM

{Monday, November 22, 2004}

I was looking at the pictures and trying to decide if the woman I was seeing in them was real or not when the telephone rang and sent me off into the other room.

"Mr. Abbott," the voice on the other end of the line said, the man from the store. "It appears we accidentally gave you the wrong roll of film when you came in this afternoon. We were hoping you could come back in and exchange it?"

"Ah," I said, and I thought of the woman. "I thought these might be the wrong pictures. I didn't recognize anything except --"

Chad, I think that's his name, the voice from the store, was nothing if not apologetic.

"We're really sorry about this," said Chad. "It was Randy. The new girl. She had your last name confused, apparently. Or mislabeled. We're still trying to work out how it happened."

"Uh huh," I said. I wasn't completely sure how to approach this, what I was thinking of asking Chad. "It's just -- "

"We close at seven," Chad said. "But if you could get in before five, that would be great. We'd really appreciate it."

"It's just," I started to say. "This other person. The woman in the photographs, the ones you gave me. Well, I don't know, this might sound funny, but..."

Chad did not sound pleased.

"You...you didn't look at the photographs, did you?" he said.

"What? A few, yes. I don't know, I was looking at them when you called. It's just, it's weird. She looks familiar. And it's weird because I feel like it's because last night -- well, yeah, this does sound funny, but last night I think I dreamt about her."

"I really wish you hadn't looked at the photos," said Chad.

"Why?" I asked. "Who is she? Is -- is she someone famous?"

This had occurred to me as I leafed through the pictures I'd brought home with me from the store. I couldn't place the woman's face, at least not to give it a name -- if she was an actress or a singer or someone famous, I could not have said who or what -- but I knew that I had dreamt about her last night. I remembered her face, even if I didn't know whose it was. I recognized her, so I thought it must be one of those weird coincidences, that she must be someone I'd seen before but couldn't remember where.

"She's someone I should know?" I asked Chad.

"No," Chad said. "She really isn't anyone you should know. I really wish you hadn't looked at those pictures."

He sighed. And Chad, man of smiles, all smiles, was not a natural sigher.

He said, "Now we're going to have to get rid of you, too."

by Fred 7:30 PM

I have, in fact, spent good chunks of the last two days "looking at pictures." I've been intrigued by Flickr for some weeks; I think I started hearing about it from Jason Kottke. On the surface, it's an online photo management app, where I upload stuff and you look at it. But that's not what interests me.

Flickr is another piece of social software (she types into a piece of social software). People can comment on photos; conversations emerge. By invitation, multiple users can load photos into an album for an event. Groups become a kind of message board, like the fascinating Technique group, where individuals post altered photos and provide tutorials on creating effects. And then there are tags...

When I upload a photo, I can label it with zero or more tags. Tags are freeform; I can enter any single word as a tag. With that, though, I can surf to other photos that have the same tag. Mine are the only photos on Flickr for "victorychimes," but there are quite a few "ocean"s and "sunset"s. Tags seem to me to be a reflection of the zeitgeist. Flickr lists the most common tags, increasing the font size for more popular ones. From there, a kind of Darwinian selection takes over, and the most successful tags get used more and more often.

I found that the tags can help you create a soothing backdrop, something to, say, toss on a projector during a party instead of the Windows Media Player visualizer. Flickr will display pictures in a slideshow. It's a nice way to view our sailing pictures, but it's also a wonderful way to flip through sunsets and water and flowers.

I'm captivated and calmed.

by Sharon 4:16 PM

Looking at pictures

by Generik 10:34 AM

{Tuesday, November 16, 2004}

What else am I working on? Well...work, actually.

I got a job about a month ago. After some three months of mailing my resume and going for (actually kind of rare) interviews, I now work as an editorial assistant in Manhattan for Dekker. Well, actually CRC Press. Or, really, Taylor and Francis. It's not always entirely clear who I work for, or who I should say I work for, but by now I think I can safely put it like this:

My bosses, of which I have two, worked for Dekker. Dekker was bought by Taylor and Francis. This happened pretty recently. Like just a few months ago. Then -- I think it was then -- the imprint became or merged or something with CRC Press, also owned by T&F. So I work for CRC Press, sometimes Dekker/CRC (although not really), an imprint of Taylor and Francis, the company that writes my check.

Which, really, is neither here nor there. It alone doesn't explain why I'm not writing here much anymore when, in the past, I've gone out of my way to post something, at least a topic, every day that I could. I'm not sure how much they enforce the "computers for work only" policy, but I figure it's probably best not to test that my first month in with posts during the day to 600 seconds. If I could figure out a way to get the topics (when there are topics) sent to my e-mail, I'd try to write during my lunch break, or on the train ride home.

Because that's why I'm not writing as much. I have about an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. Depending on the trains, which are not known to be especially dependable. (One morning, we sat motionless for an hour and a half only to be told we'd have to change trains before we made it to the city.) I live on Long Island, with my parents, where I grew up, where I hadn't exactly wanted to be but where I am because Pennsyvlania just wasn't doing it for me and I couldn't afford anywhere else.

But I digress. I should digress, shouldn't I? I'm not really paying too much attention to what I'm writing, just trying to get the words down on the page, but I get the sense that I might be rambling and running on a bit, so I should probably take a breath (or let you take one) and digress.

But I digress. The long and short of it is, I got a job. I have a long commute. I get a lot of reading done on the train, but not a lot of writing. (It's a bumpy ride sometimes.) I could write during lunch, but I don't know the topics. Because I haven't figured out a way to get them to my e-mail. Or because no one else is writing and there aren't topics. Not that anyone else has to write. I'm not saying that. I'm just saying...well, I don't know anymore. I started out just wanting to write, because that's what this is for, and that's why it's important to me, but I'm not expecting anyone to wade through this now and actually read what I'm writing or understand what I'm trying to say or tell me the secret word is platypus -- which I only throw in there because I know one's reading this deep into it, no one's going to say, "Fred, the secret word is platypus?" I throw it in for no reason other than that I am rambling and I needed to write something before I wrote this:

But I digress.

I'm going to try to write more. And I'm going to try and keep it as unlike the above few paragraphs as I can. I'm going to try not to ramble. I'm going to try to write. I have a story that I'm telling, and I have more I'd like to discover. I hope I won't be alone.

by Fred 11:59 PM

"I mean, it's not like there's anything else in the world I'd rather be doing."
That's what he should have said. He should have said it when he had the chance. It was six weeks later now and he was almost finished with the stupid project. What kind of junior high bullshit was this, he wondered, that he "had to" write this novel for them. They couldn't do anything about it. They couldn't actually kill him, could they? He was torn, in the way one can be torn between the fact that one doesn't want to do something and the fact that one already has.
They weren't paying him, of course. When you extort something out of somebody and pay them it's called employment. He probably wouldn't complain if they were paying him, but he knew himself well enough to know that he still might. He'd worked for a software company as a tech writer for about three months and had pissed and moaned the whole time because they'd made him write. Writing, to him, was something sacred that couldn't be forced. It wasn't a trick to be done at a whim and it certainly wasn't something to be cranked out in measured doses like pasta.
And then they'd said that horrible phrase. Those bastards who were making him write the novel. They'd said "Well, what else are you working on?" And he had to admit, he wasn't doing a damn thing. So he started writing for them and now he was almost finished. The denoument had happened and the metaphorical fat lady had sung. In this case, a house fire had taken the place of the fat lady, and its consumption of the One True Love had taken the place of singing. He couldn't really complain, he supposed. He'd learned six new words, all of them meaning either "wither" or "crepuscule," and he learned that he could write in regular spurts when he had to. It became like going to the bathroom. A regular time and a regular schedule. He got to the point that he'd find himself gettin up and going to the computer ever couple of hours, just to get the words out of his head. It filled up and had to be emptied, and he kind of liked the feeling. He found that he had to recharge by watching the occasional movie, and that the best movies for him were Citizen Kane and Biodome.
He hated to admit it, but this was a good thing for him. After they took the novel which they'd extorted from him, he might try his luck again, this time one which he could keep for himself. Maybe something about little yappy dogs. He liked little yappy dogs.

by MisterNihil 11:55 PM

So, what else are you working on?
(John should be writing his novel.)

by Sharon 2:35 PM

{Sunday, November 14, 2004}

If I live to be a thousand years old (which would probably be about 910 years longer than I want or need to), I will never, ever forget the smell of Beijing.

A huge urban sprawl of approximately 20 million people, set in a natural basin and surrounded by mountains -- much like Los Angeles -- it is generally regarded, along with Mexico City, as one of the most polluted cities in the world. The Chinese work hard to help it maintain that reputation. Diesel buses, cars and trucks criss-cross the various roads and thoroughfares at all hours of the day and night, spewing black, noxious fumes behind them. Motorcycles and other often indescribable vehicles weave among them. (As an aside, traffic laws in China seem to be more suggestions than hard and fast rules -- the size of the vehicle combined with the boldness and/or stupidity of the driver often determines who has the right of way.) Coal smoke from the primary fuel used to both cook and heat homes mingles with the by-products of the millions of internal combustion engines, and both in turn combine with the heavy industrial pollution put forth by the factories making products that are sold for pennies to American distributors who grow rich by selling them here for highly inflated prices. In many places the smell of raw sewage is added to the mix.

This aroma permeates every inch of the city, seeping into the subways and lingering in the hotel lobbies. It is strong in the downtown sections, of which there are too many to count, and is quite noticeable even in the historic sites such as the Forbidden City or the Summer Palace. Taking pictures in Beijing poses a special difficulty simply because the haze of the air affords poor visibility.

After spending just five days there, both Sally and I were having respiratory difficulties. I didn't get over mine until more than a month later. Sally was physically sick every day in Beijing, using plastic bags and other improvised containers to keep from soiling the back seats of the taxis in which we rode. She probably lost ten pounds in those five days, mainly from not being able to keep food down.

And yet... every once in a while, I'll catch a whiff of something in the air, some hint of diesel mixed with coal smoke mixed with burning plastic mixed with untreated sewage, and I'll think, you know, I'd sure like to go back to China again.

by Generik 1:18 PM

The Smell of the City

by Generik 1:15 PM

{Friday, November 12, 2004}

the great un-American novel

by Fred 5:10 PM

{Tuesday, November 09, 2004}


by Sharon 8:26 AM

{Thursday, November 04, 2004}

I don't post during the day only because it's against
company policy

by Fred 6:04 PM

{Tuesday, November 02, 2004}

A funny thing happened on the way to voting booth...

by Fred 6:12 PM

{Monday, November 01, 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 | Part the Twenty-fifth | Part the Twenty-sixth

But once, before all that...

The door creaks open, and although he has no words to describe the thing that walks through it, knows somehow that no words could ever truly be up to the task, Alan knows also that this is the thing his employers have sent him here to kill.

The creature is hideous beyond comprehension, beyond the power of Alan's words (of which he has many), and it radiates nothing but death. For half a moment, Alan allows instinct to take over, and fear washes over him as the thing enters the room; but although Alan knows that it could kill him easily, and likely will, he knows that if he fails here, now, there are worse things than death that may await him. Alan is willing to risk many things -- it is this trait, perhaps more than any other, which has brought him to his employers' attention in the first place -- but he knows that he cannot risk displeasing them, that failure in this task will displease them more than anything, and so he must act.

"You have come here to kill me," the thing says. "I can see it in your eyes."

It does not seem possible, from the look of it, that the thing could even be capable of speech. It has no lips or mouth or throat that Alan can see. There is, in fact, nothing familiar about it at all, nothing that could easily be said to be suggestive of comething else, no features that Alan can claim to recognize or hope to describe. It is, he thinks, this overwhelming sense of unfamiliarity which so terrifies him, the sheer incomprehensible alienness of the thing -- around which his brain can barely wrap itself without the added problem of hearing such a thing speak. The thing is death, is disease, fear, pain, and yet it speaks quite calmly, clearly, in a voice which, if he did not know it to be impossible, Alan might almost mistake for his father's.

"If you have come here to kill me," the voice says, "the least you can do is tell me your name."

Alan has been warned not to listen to the thing, and he knows that he has a job to do. He steps forward, away from the wall, and draws the knife from his bag.

"I cannot give you my name," Alan tells the thing, and as he does so he realizes that it is true. "It is no longer mine to give."

"Yes," the thing answers. "I can see that now." If the beast can be said to have eyes at all, then Alan is convinced they are upon him now. "They know I would have stripped you of it. So they have left me only your flesh to strip."

Without warning, it moves closer, and Alan becomes acutely aware of it, of the stench that surrounds it, permeates the air until Alan can barely breathe or believe that he was not aware of it sooner. The thing that is nothing but fear and death and black -- which, if Alan had to name it, he might be tempted to call evil -- steps closer still until Alan feels enveloped by it, suffocated. He stares in desperation first at the door through which he entered, and then at the one behind the creature, through which he knows he must leave. Alan feels himself grow weak, small, afraid, and he knows that it was a fool's mission to attempt this, that his employers have, as the creature says, sent him to his death.

"I will pull it from you, you know," the thing says. "Your flesh. I will tear it from you in tiny strips. I will let you bleed and let you die, and they will know, as they ought, that I am not to be trifled with or disturbed."

Alan can hear it now, in his head, the sound of the creature's laughter. He feels the sound echo through his bones, and he knows suddenly that it is his father's voice, and that terrifies him still even more.

"They sent you here with nothing," the creature says, "because they have nothing to give you, and because they cannot come here on their own. You will die, for nothing. The ones they send here from time to time, that's all they ever do. They die."

The creature holds Alan there in its grip, its stare, and he can feel the loathing of it, its hatred of both Alan's employers and of Alan himself. From somewhere far away, he hears it tell him:

"Because I am inevitable, you know. I am always and infinite, and I will be the death of you. What could you hope to say against that?"

And so Alan says the only thing he can say, the one thing his employers have told him to say. He says:


And he plunges the blade arm-deep straight into the beast.

by Fred 11:59 PM

the door creaks open...

by Sharon 8:21 AM


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