Monday, November 22, 2010

No It's Not New, But It's New To Here

We're creeping up on the holiday season, which means I get to recycle old material.  Here's a bit I did a couple years back.  Still holds up and I'm still in the same place.  


Happy. . . Thursday?

We’re deep into November now.  There’s a bite in the wind and daylight has become scarce.  The bowl in the kitchen with all the Halloween sweets is out of chocolate and jellies, down to the chalky bits that no one wants. 

November is a slightly homesick time for me.  A few years back, I moved from Pennsylvania to Ireland.  By now, Ireland is Home, but November is always a time to think of Back Home.  This used to be a time for high school football with the marching band soundtrack, of hard frost and dead leaves crunching underfoot, a time for complaining about Christmas displays up too early, just like they were last year.  And of course, it’s time for Thanksgiving. 

It’s hard to describe to outsiders just why Thanksgiving is such a big deal.  There’s no presents, no costumes, no fireworks.  It’s just dinner with the extended family, sort of a Christmas dress rehearsal.  But it does matter.  It’s one of our biggest holidays, and from the outside, it can be hard to see why.  We’ll eat some turkey, cart out our family dysfunction for the annual outburst, and fall asleep watching Home Alone on TV.  True enough, but it still doesn’t scratch the surface of what the day’s all about.

Every year, my wife suggests that we do Thanksgiving here, and every year I say thanks but no. Thanksgiving is not a holiday that travels well.  For me, the day is about community, one of the few things my country does together. 

Most days, America doesn’t feel like a single place.  California doesn’t have much in common with New York, and less with Kentucky.  We’re a nation of subcultures, divided by ethnicity, religion, geography, politics, and personal taste, but Thanksgiving belongs to all of us, and it looks the same in Portland as it does in Boston.

When folks here ask about Thanksgiving, they try to compare it to Christmas, but that comparison just doesn’t hold up.  Dinner menus aside, Thanksgiving is not Christmas.  Yuletide traditions stateside vary from one state to the next, one town to the next, even one family to the next.  When my Irish December doesn’t match up with my own ghosts of Christmas-past, I can adapt without feeling out of place.  I’d face the same compromises anywhere, even in my own home town.  In this house, we’ve managed to keep traditions from both sides of the Atlantic, even adding a few that are all our own. 

That doesn’t work with Thanksgiving.  There are no local traditions to integrate.  Thanksgiving is exclusively American, and trying to do it on this side of the Atlantic can only remind of a community that doesn’t exist here.    Friends and family may wish me “Happy Thanksgiving,” but they aren’t marking the day themselves.  They’re off to work, just like me. 

My wife asked me again this year, reminding me that our son’s old enough to learn about his American roots.  I though about it, but I still said no.  For my family to experience Thanksgiving, we will have to visit America.  All that I can offer here is turkey dinner on a Thursday.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Suport Your Local Praisehound

I have a new flash fiction piece out on WeirdYear:

Seven Satin Nights: Forward by Henry Gaudet

Check it out.  Odds are, there's someone odd in your life that would appreciate weird short stories, so spread the word.   

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday In the Kitchen

thump thump grunt 
badword mutter mumble badword grumble strain
crunch thump thump turn squeak strain turn turn
slip bang ow 
Badword badword SLAM badword ow

thump thump ow thump clatter 
kettle bubble pop pour stir sit 
CRASH thump bumpbump heavybump 
I really, really hate DIY.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Just a Moment of Your Time

Okay, first thing's first.

I've been lax in my bloggery of late.  

Bad blogger.

Now that that's out of the way, on with the rant.


I don’t shop on my doorstep.  Ever.

And not only am I not buying, but I’m not listening either.  I don’t care what the product is.  I don’t care how great the offer is.  I don’t care if you’re giving it away for free or paying me to take it off your hands.  We’re not doing business at my front door. 
          I’m having a little trouble getting this idea across.  The first polite “no, thanks” doesn’t get much notice at all.  And even when I interrupt Sales Pitch X with a much more stoic “I’m not interested,” I still don’t get much traction.  Usually, the point doesn’t sink home until the door closes mid-sentence. 

Now, part of my frustration comes from the fact that I don’t hold the salesmen at my door responsible.  Door-to-door sales is a tough gig.  They work exclusively for commission, and if they don’t sell they don’t get paid.  That kind of pressure encourages hard sales don’t-take-no-for-an-answer tactics. 

Traditionally, the employer shoulders the bulk of risk surrounding sales.  Salesmen had to sell, sure, but even after a rough week with no commission, that basic salary was still there to meet the bills.  Door-to-door salesmen are working without a net.  No sales means no pay.

The businesses they sell for are saving some money on cheap labor, but the folks really cleaning up are the middlemen.  Promotion agencies hire out teams of salesmen to strip mine towns one street at a time.  Since they only pay commission, they run virtually no risk, passing all that worry down to the salesmen. 
          It’s a bad deal, but when jobs are scarce, a bad deal looks a lot better than no deal at all.  Turnover’s high, but when you don’t pay salaries, who cares, right?  Scared, hungry salesmen work harder and sell more, and if people get annoyed by dinner-time doorbells, so be it. 

Personally, I like to decide what and when to buy.  I can find out what options are available through conventional advertising, and once I’m interested I can find the details I need.  I might even ask someone in sales about an offer’s finer points, but I’ll be the one to initiate that conversation, thank you very much.  No need to swing by my house on the off chance that I’m ready today.  I’ll let you know.   

There’s nothing about this sales model that I like.  It’s short-sighted and takes advantage of a workforce trying to make ends meet.  It’s intrusive and aggressive, annoying the public en masse and alienating potential customers.  I don’t want to do anything to encourage this business model, so I don’t participate.  

Nothing personal, I just don’t think it’s a good way to do business.

Monday, August 2, 2010

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

It’s been a busy few weeks.

So I was driving home and I got caught in the rain, one of those waterfall-down-the-windscreen downpours. Couldn’t see a thing, including the road flooded at the bend up ahead. 

That’s right, at the bend. 

Of course, I hydroplaned right off the road. Missed the telephone pole, but plowed right through the pole’s grounding wire. Did a number on the radiator and kicked the left wheels up in the air. My wing mirror popped as it hit the asphalt and I slid to a stop at the edge of the road resting on my door.

Relax, I’m okay. The air bag never popped. I never even felt a tug on my seatbelt. I was fine, perpendicular but fine.

It took me a minute before I thought to switch off the engine, to turn off the radio, to figure out my next move. I shoved open the passenger door, popping up like a tank commander, and waved to the cars behind me, letting everyone know I was okay.

The rain was still bucketing down, and I was pretty shaken up. I stood at the roadside, a bit lost and a lot confused. Some of the other drivers got out to lend a hand, to check on me and help me tip the car back off the road and onto its wheels. One gentleman gave me a lift back into town and got me home safely. 

I have no idea who any of you are or how to reach you, but thanks.

Once the emergency was over, once we got past the “thank God you’re alright,” then we had to deal with the aftermath: towing, scrapping, replacement. 

Pain in the hole all round.

When I came back later, the car started just fine, but it was never going to move again. What had once been a fuel-efficient little runaround had become a very large paperweight with a built-in radio. I was suddenly the proud owner of a car shaped box of car parts.

It took two weeks to get mobile again. Two weeks of calls to gardai (that’s cops for all you Americans), mechanics, insurers, and dealers. 

Two awkward weeks of walking everywhere, starting with the scrap yard – I had to collect all our bits and pieces left in the car: shopping bags, spare change, sunglasses, the road atlas, the booster seat and a blanket left behind after our last picnic. 

Two weeks of walking for errands, of dodging raindrops and shopping with a backpack, of walking slowly for younger feet when we went out as a family. 

Finally, we have wheels again, and we’re settling back into our routine.

It could have been a lot worse. I kept the speed down because of the weather and I had my belt on, but even so, if I’d hit the telephone pole instead of the wire, I’m pretty sure I’d have felt that. Even the fence behind would have done more damage. I came away addled, but without a single bruise or scratch. The soaking I got climbing out of the car probably did me more harm.

Still . . .

Discounting the odd parking lot fender bender, this was my first crash. I’m not sure what I expected, but the experience was underwhelming. One second I was driving, the next I was in the very same position, only on my side.

I think my exact words were “Hmm. Okay.”

I’m not wishing for more trauma or grief, but I was expecting . . . I don’t know. Something. There should be some pay off for all that noise and adrenaline. It’s a bit like coming away from a 3-second rollercoaster with no hills. Or a Matrix sequel.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Latest Buzz

I’ve got a housefly.

In this house, we most often see giant zeppelin bluebottle flies, the kind that get wedged in between the slats of the blinds and spend the next 72 hours bouncing off the window.  These brutes are noisy, but I’ve gotten pretty good at herding them to an open window, so they aren’t usually a problem.

But I don’t have a bluebottle.  I’ve got a housefly, a nimble, persistent little housefly who seems to have something of an ear fetish.  He keeps hovering about two inches from my earlobe until I take a blind swing and he switches sides.  So either Jeff Goldblum is in my living room desperately trying to enlist my aid, or I’ve got a fly who just won’t stay out of my ear canal.

He doesn’t bother landing either, and unless I can pull a Mr. Miyagi, I’m not about to take him down.  I suppose I could use Raid for cologne. . .  I’m pretty sure that’d do the trick, but I’ve got this thing about spraying my neck and face with poison.  Just this odd little quirk I have.

I tried luring him away, either outside or at the very least to another room, but he’s not interested in following me around the house.  Maybe he wants a comfy chair or maybe he’s hooked on reality TV.  I don’t know, but he ain't moving.  I can go make a sandwich in peace or have a few minutes to myself in the “reading room,” but when I get back to the sofa, he’s there, waiting for me.  No, not for me.  Waiting for my friggin’ ear!

I’ve got a housefly, which means the living room is No Man’s Land.  I’m not going to be on the console tonight or catching up on Cool & Trendy Cop Show X.  If you need me, I’ll be in the “reading room.”

Of course, I'm pretty sure I left my book in the living room…

Saturday, July 3, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different

I've decided to go trawling through the archives for an older piece.  By now fairly dated, but I think it holds up well.  If nothing else, consider it a mental snapshot, a picture of the Stuff Inside My Head seven years and one day ago.

I Have a Flag

I committed a cardinal sin last Christmas; I disappointed my wife. Oh, don't get me wrong. She loved everything she got. It was the gift she gave that disappointed her.

You see, my wife gave me a flag, a star spangled beauty in all its Old Glory, given with love and an understanding of just how long all those miles between Home and Back Home have grown. She moved heaven and earth to find it and shelled out a fair amount of cash to make it mine. And how did I react? I'm not quite sure, but I think my exact words were "Oh. Thanks."

Now, not all that long ago, I was flag hunting myself. Symbols can comfort in times of crisis, and in the wake of That September, I remember feeling so completely isolated, so far from home and helpless. I sat here just like everyone else, but while my neighbours watched an international tragedy unfold, I witnessed a very personal attack on Who We Are.

I remember the intense pride I felt for my countrymen, for their strength and perseverance in the face of disaster. I remember being moved to tears by the international show of support, an especially poignant rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone from the bleachers in Liverpool, and I remember, for reasons I still can't articulate, a need to publicly display the depth of that feeling, the pride and the pain. So I set off to find a flag.

It turns out I wasn't so alone after all.  Back home, flags flew off the shelves and they were a good deal rarer here. So I went without in the short term, and as the days turned to weeks and history unfolded, my sense of patriotic exhibitionism began to wane. In fact, it wasn't long before I was happy enough for the distance.

Which leads us to today. On this side of the Atlantic, it's just another Friday, but over there...

Over there it's Independence Day, a day set aside to celebrate baseball, Coke in green bottles, V8 engines, John Wayne, Motown, hot dogs, and a mythical army of rebels in powdered wigs who made their mark by telling King George to piss off. 

This is the 4th of July. . . and I have a flag.

I pulled it out today, a tightly folded triangle of stars on a field of blue. I stared at it, thinking of my fellow Americans who made me so proud not so long ago. 

I wish I still felt that way.

Politics and foreign policy are topics for another day, but like so many viewing the U.S.from the outside, I find the current trends disturbing.  More disturbing still is the broad support these policies have found.

I have a flag, a gift from my wife, and I love her for her thoughtfulness.  I love my country too, love it dearly, and as much as I would love to shout that love from the rooftops today, I won't.  I know that what is intended as a show of love and affection will be seen as support and approval.

I put the flag away, for now at least, and wait for the day I can celebrate not just Who We Are, but What We Do.

Back to the here and now: I still have the flag, and it's found a permanent home in my son's bedroom alongside the tricolours.  It seems like a fitting display.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Football Ain't Round!

 I've got a bit of a problem.

I don't like soccer.  Football.  Whatever.

It's not that I'm just not a big sports fan, although I'm not. 

I actively dislike the game. 

There is nothing about soccer that I like.  The finesse is lost on me.  It's not a Beautiful Game.  It's slow and dull and I'd rather stare at a wall painted two years ago and think back to the day I watched it dry.  To me, it's just kicking the ball around and not scoring. 

And I'm sorry, a draw is not a result.  A draw is the lack of a result.   

Normally, this leaves me out of a fair few conversations at the pub or the barber shop, but I get by.  That was before the World Cup. These days, I can't seem to find any sort of human contact with less than 50% soccer content. 

I thought I'd managed to dodge a bullet when Ireland didn't qualify.  There was a bit of grumbling, and railing at the unfairness of the universe in general and the French in particular, but it blew over fairly quickly, and I could be sure there would be no local favorite to support.  There might be fairly universal support for whoever might be playing England or France at any given moment, but it looked like I was to be spared the full force of the World Cup experience.  To further discourage diehard fans, I decided to respond to any soccer comments with the phrase “Aw! Cute!”

Then the US started playing well.

Now, as I understand it, "well" is a relative term.  They didn't suck badly enough to fall at the first hurdle.   And “not all that bad” turned out to be good enough.

As a result, I'm expected to care.  I'm expected to cheer with the national pride denied my neighbors, to somehow take credit for the American team's success, referring to them as "we" and "us."  I’m supposed to run through the streets draped in the stars and stripes chanting “USA! USA!” and generally feeling quite good about myself because a bunch of guys with passports that look like mine weren’t as bad as expected.

Sometimes, I try to take the path of least resistance and just play along, nodding and smiling noncommittally as friends and acquaintances attempt to bask in the glow of my excitement.  That only works if they're willing to leave well enough alone.  Once they start asking questions, start looking for details and juicy morsels, I have to confess my apathy.  Everything I know of the World Cup, I learned in 10 word headlines before tuning out. 

To be honest, I sort of hope the American team doesn’t win.  I’m not being unfaithful or unpatriotic, and I don’t actually wish them ill.  I just think victory would mean more to another team. 

You see, I'm not alone.  The generation behind me grew up playing soccer, and it's far more popular than it was in years past, but as far as I can tell, the US still doesn't care about soccer.  I don’t see that changing any time soon, so I'd rather the winning team returns home to a heroes' welcome, not some half-hearted national pat on the head. 

Thursday, June 10, 2010

An Ill Wind

Over the past few years in this house, we’ve made a concerted effort to improve our eating habits. Cola, crisps, tortilla chips, chewy gooey jelly animals, chocolate covered peanuts named after rap stars, and assorted Enemies of Longevity have been stricken from the shopping list. Gone too are the ready made sauces, the instant meals, the just add water mixes and packets of flavoured powders, along with frozen meat covered in breadcrumbs and pressed into oddly familiar and reassuring shapes.

We’ve gone over to the other side.

Until recently, some of these steps had to be made covertly for the sake of our son. Thanks to a good tomato sauce recipe and a well used blender, his intake of vegetables was actually pretty good. Curry hides things well too, but he was still an unwitting and unwilling participant.

Then came the Food Dudes.

This was the name of a nutrition program implemented by schools all over the country. Kids got rewards for trying fruits and vegetables. Yes, they were bribed into submission.   And don't forget the propaganda! The Food Dudes (hmm, anyone else sense an American influence here?) promote food from the garden and trash sweet and salty snacks. Clearly, there is a concerted effort to brainwash our children with these radical antijunkist indoctrination techniques.

Worked like a charm too.

Since this program took off, our boy’s gotten a lot more adventurous, not just with fruit and vegetables, but with food in general. He’s more curious about foods, more open minded and willing to try new things.

He’s also a lot more nutrition conscious, and is proud of himself for making healthy choices. Being good parents, we do what we can to support this interest. We make sure he has plenty of good options, and we lead by example. Thanks to the Food Dudes, we’re all getting more fruit and veg in our diet.

Pop quiz for all the vegetarians out there: remember what happened when you first changed your diet? Remember when your intake of fiber suddenly went through the roof? Do you recall any consequences from this sudden shift?

Or here’s one for everyone: ever drive through the countryside with the family on a hot summer’s day with all the windows wide open? Ever scramble to roll those windows up when you strayed a little too close to a farm? Do you recall anyone making some reference to “fresh country air?”

We stink, people. Our home is awash in a haze of “fresh country air.” Thanks to the Food Dudes, we don’t dare light a match and our windows rattle with alarming regularity.

And speaking of alarming regularity… 

You'll have to excuse me.  I may be a minute.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Stunning New Evidence!

Dear Readers, I know that many of you were more than a little shocked and frightened at yesterday's post: SIMH: The Real Threat where I revealed that superintelligent giant dung beetles from Latin America (or SGDBFLA, for short), possibly from the late Cretaceous period, might be executing an elaborate attack on American interests, values, and fertilizer.

I'm afraid I have more bad news.

Brave loggers in the Amazon have been fending off wild animals, exotic diseases, and assorted treehuggers to uncover startling new evidence of the giant dung beetle invasion.

Scientists Find Ancient Geoglyphs Carved In The Amazon Jungle

Thankfully, these daring explorers have finally leveled enough of this mosquito infested jungle to reveal these so-called geoglyphs, huge tracks laid out on the jungle floor.

So what can we determine from these facts?
1) Whoever is responsible has a command of geometry and an understanding of advanced math.
2) They were able to create trails 40' wide and 12' deep, drawing straight lines hundreds of miles long, creating these huge geometric figures through dense jungle.
3) Until the area was cleared by loggers, these figures were hidden, meaning that we were never meant to see them.

Now if that's not going to convince you that the SGDBFLA are on the march, I don't know what will.

Of course, the academics in their ivory tower have once again leapt to the conclusion that these markings must be man-made.  Blinkered by this misconception, they are unable to see why anyone would go to all this trouble to make such elaborate figures with no clear function.

Will they ever learn?

Clearly, these ancient geoglyphs are only a piece of a much greater puzzle, revealing nothing less than  the SGDBFLA's master plan to take over the world, and in so doing, take over America.  These lines and shapes are the blueprint to the SGDBFLA's invasion strategy.

If we're going to stop this menace, we need to see this blueprint in its entirety, which of course is impossible with all the trees in the way.  We need to chop down every last tree and scrub the Amazon clean.  With the trees gone, and the help of Google Earth, we can finally see what those beetles are up to.

I urge every patriot to take to the streets and demand that we invade Brazil and defoliate like we used to in the good old days.  We have to burn, baby, burn to keep America, and to a lesser extent, the rest of the world, free from these giant insect overlords.  This may be our last, best chance to turn the tide and keep America safe from the SGDBFLA menace.

I urge you, Mr. President.  And you, Rogue Generals and Blaze-of-Glory patriots.  Burn the Amazon.  Turn it to a vast plain of death and ash from which the world may never recover.

Do it for America.  Do it for the flag.  Do it for the children.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Real Threat

I know, Dear Readers, that yours are busy lives and you often are so bogged down in the little calamities of day to day living that you don't have the luxury of stopping to consider the big picture. 

Fear not, I've got it covered.  Since I'm not constrained by having any sort of a real life, I'm able to search the globe, watch the skies, and keep watch over all of you.

A waste of time?  Maybe.

Until I found this:
Giant Balls of Costa Rica

It seems the place is lousy with perfectly round balls of rock.  Archaeologists seem to think they're pretty old, and can't figure out how people made these things with tools available at the time, or how they moved them for that matter.  They've been working on this since the '30s and they're still no further along.

Until now.

The big mistake made up until now was the assumption that people were responsible.  Sure, there was some noise that aliens might have made them.  Bipedal, humanoid aliens.  In other words, space people.

The truth is far simpler, Dear Reader, and far stranger.

Giant dung beetles.

That's right.  These balls are even older than we thought.  They're fossilized dinosaur dung, rolled into perfect spheres by ancient dung beetles, measuring an estimated 40' tall, which would weigh in at somewhere around 6,000 tons.  I know what you're thinking: dung beetles are renowned for their great strength and can move objects several times their own weight.  Surely, a beetle of 40 or 50 pounds could roll these balls which weigh no more than 32,000 pounds.

And you'd be right.  A 50 pound dung beetle would be well able to handle any of these stone balls.  Only, they weren't stone then.  They were poop.  They hadn't yet dehydrated and compressed, never mind the mass loss due to decomposition and... erm, ingestion.  Believe me, I've done the math.  We're talking about 6,000 ton beetles hauling balls 100 times heavier.

Only now, no one can find them.  No remains.  Nothing in the fossil record.  Not a single scrap of evidence.

They're that smart.

Scientists are right in assuming that the creation of these orbs requires advanced mathematical systems.  That's right, superintelligent giant dung beetles with advanced geometry and possibly calculus.  We can't be sure.

It's only 1,600 miles from Costa Rica to Texas.  They've had plenty of time, and we can assume that they're smart enough to evade immigration.  

For all we know, they're already here.

Now, some people will tell you that there's no such thing as giant dung beetles.  Some people, these so-called smart people, claim that there's no need to leap to such outlandish conclusions based on such flimsy evidence.

But can we really afford to take that chance?

That's why I want all of you, each and every one of you, whether you're a proud American or just wish you were, to write to Washington, write to your senator, your representative.  Demand to know what is being done to protect your nation and your excrement from Latin American, superintelligent giant beetles.

What if they're already here and ready to strike?  Can we really afford to be "reasonable" and "sensible"?  Act now, Dear Reader!  Our nation, our world, and yes, our poo may depend on it!

(Top that, Glenn!)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Any Given Sunny Day

We’ve had a few unseasonably warm days lately.  Hey, who am I kidding?  Around here, all warm days are unseasonable.  So naturally. . .

“Hey, Mammy?  Daddy?  You know what I think would be really cool?”

We brace ourselves. 

“No, what?”

“I think we should go to the lake.” 

Phew.  That could have been a lot worse.  Not a bad idea actually.

“Okay.  Let’s go!”

“Hey, Mammy Daddy?” 

Uh, oh, might have spoken too soon.  He fused our names.  He’s revving up. 

“Can I bring my Frisbee and my new hat?”

Wow, dodged another bullet!  So before we get hit with another “Mammy-Daddy,” we slather on the SPF 5 x 1010,000 (he is a redhead, after all) and hop in the car. 

Now, at this point, I should mention that here in the midlands we are blessed with an abundance of lakes, each dotted with several commuter-friendly spots.  We’re in the car and on our way. . .

“Hey, MammyDaddy?  Are we not going to the first lake?” 

We just share a glance in the front seats.  We don’t need to say a word.  Rookie mistake.

“Why don’t we try a new lake today?”

“Have I never been at this new lake before?”

“That’s right.  I haven’t been there in a while myself.  We can park on a hill and the lake’s at the bottom.”  My wife shoots me a look, and for a moment, I wonder why.

“Is it this hill?”


“No, we’ve got to drive for a bit first.  It’s not too far, though.”

“Mammy, Daddy says it’s on a hill close to here.  I think it’s that next one.”

Who’d have thought we’d actually be wishing for a simple “Are we there yet?”  Instead we get, “Mammy, Daddy, I’m going to need you to please alter the shape of the world so that we’re there right now, ‘kay?”

“Sorry, pal.  I’ve got to drive this way for a bit, then I’ll be turning to the right.”

“Hey, Daddy!  There’s a road to the right!  Mammy, I think that’s the lake road!”

It’s only about twenty minutes to the lake.  According to the clock, anyway.

Had a great time at the lake, but to be honest, compared to the drive over, it was a bit tame.  A little splashing, a quick play in the sand, some three-way Frisbee (the kid’s got an arm!) and it was time to go.

“Hey Mammy-Daddy?  Can we bring a ball next time?”

“Maybe we should pick up a lighter ball for trips like this.  That football is awfully heavy and hard.  Next time we’re shopping in town, we’ll have a look.”


“Mammy-Daddy?  I’m not ready to go home right now.  Can we go into town first and we can stop for something to drink?” 

And so it goes.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

And The Hits Just Keep On Coming!

Last week, I wrote about the music that's been haunting me lately.  To be honest, I was hoping that writing would purge my demons.  No such luck.

Like last week, the common link with all these songs was a lack of any personal meaning.  These are not songs I loved or hated.  I didn't think they were even songs I noticed.  I can't say that I've had any song stuck in my head for very long this week, but I've had a constant stream of where-did-that-come-from music lately, a tangent inspired jukebox with the strangest playlist you've ever come across. 

For instance, last night, for no particular reason the Beastie Boys crept into my brain.  No, not Fight For Your Right.  I got this little gem:

Beastie Boys - No Sleep Till Brooklyn

So, again for no reason, I start putting together a play list of pale rap acts, which get cheesier with each song.  Yep, Vanilla Ice visited, but I focused on Queen's baseline, so that wasn't so bad.  Then I somehow came up with this:

3rd Bass - Pop Goes The Weasel

Now, I didn't know that I knew 3rd Bass at all, but since YouTube needs more than "um... that pop goes song with the guys... it's kinda old, oh you know what I mean," I must have paid attention at some point.  Still, pulling that Trivia McNugget from my nether regions may require medical attention, or at least some sort of ointment.

It looks like my head is enjoying the exercise, with each lost hit inspiring three more.  As last night's playlist got cheesier, my head shifted gears:

NKOTB - Hangin Tough

This one at least makes some sense to me.  I know why I know this song, and I know who to blame. (You know who you are.  Don't worry. I won't out you here, but this one is all your fault.)

That was one night.  I've had a week of this, and I'm discounting every song that floated through due to a direct reminder.  These are just the out of the blue songs.  I've relived the Tom Tom Club, England Dan & John Ford Coley (yoink!), and a Ricky Nelson song that I heard on Ozzie and Harriet!  That's right, Sherman.  Set the Wayback Machine for old!

Somehow, I've tripped a switch and my subconscious decided to use every song I ever heard for a workout, digging up all the forgotten gold - and some fool's gold as well. 

I'll keep you posted on future developments.  Right now, I'm coping with an ELO attack:

 ELO - Strange Magic

What?  You were expecting Can't Get It Out of My Head maybe?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Mmmmm, Barbecue...

I'm in the mood to barbecue today.

Please note, especially those in the GMT, I didn't say it's time for a barbecue.  I won't be wearing a quippy apron.  I won't be calling friends and family over and gathering sausages and chicken wings by the metric ton.  There won't be cases of cold beer at hand, a collection of nieces, nephews and preteen neighbours playing tag.

I'm just cooking outside.

This seems to be a strange concept around here.  People just don't cook outside for the flavour or because it's already too hot inside.  It has to be an event, a celebration.  Maybe it has to do with the local obsession with sun, some sort of anti-rain dance.  So instead of a light meal for a hot day, there is a feast, usually scorched to somewhere between "Cajun style" and "extra crispy."

I've never been a sun worshiper, and I don't think of sunlight as rare, so I don't value it in the same way as my neighbours.  As long as the glare doesn't make me squint too much, I'm fairly indifferent to the sun, but given the choice, I'm just as likely to stay indoors.  Today, barbecued burgers sound good, so I'll make them outside, but we'll still be eating at the dining room table. 

I've also barbecued in the rain and the snow.  Just in the mood.

I get asked about my impressions on the local weather from time to time.  Usually, it comes out something like "Do you find the weather very bad around here?"  Every single time, my answer disappoints.  "Not really."  Sorry, folks.  It's a little bit damp and cool.  Sometimes, kind of grey.  The weather here is usually mild and rarely dangerous.

Since moving here, weather hasn't been a serious concern.  A thunder storm is unusual here; I couldn't tell you how many years it's been since I've seen lightning, an actual lightning fork, not just some flicker over the horizon.  I don't have to deal with droughts, killer heatwaves, tornadoes, hurricanes or blizzards.  I haven't had to chase my garden shed across the street or pull the car over because the wipers can't keep up with the waterfall running down the windshield.  I haven't lost electricity because the power plant can't keep up with all the air conditioners. 

I'm stepping on some toes by saying this.  It's almost like attacking the national identity.  But cool and grey isn't bad weather, just a little dull.  Today, for instance, it's warm and humid and the sky's somewhere between slate and gunmetal.  Not a great day for a party, but it'll do just fine for barbecue.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Walk In The Moonlight

The place isn't always easy to find.  It moves around when no one's looking.  Sometimes it's an old shack or a gingerbread house, or the apartment on the third floor that smells like cabbage and cat.  Sometimes it's a pile of rocks that used to be a castle looming in the fog.

Tonight, it's an old willow, a gnarled beast of a tree arthritic branches looming over the crossroads where no one travels anymore, under a mist-shrouded moon on a night flavoured with a hint of Bella Legosi. 

It's a night for shuttered windows.  It's a night to be a million miles away, enjoying a hot cup in front of a crackling fire, a lazy hound at your feet.  Instead, there is only fog.  And moonlight.  And an old willow tree.

There's no point in turning back.  Roads can only go forward.

Just as expected, there's a hole, right there between two massive club-footed roots.  Maybe a rabbit hole, maybe the abyss. 

The hole is silent, black.  Moonlight knows where it's not wanted.  It could lead anywhere.  It could be anything. . .

Except, of course, a hole in the roots of an old willow tree.

Roads can only go forward.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Please Stand By. We're Experiencing A Brief Flash Of Talent

I was all set to give you something new today.  But you can't have it.

I wanted to put up some fiction, something a little different, so I put together a little something just for the blog.  Only, I think it might be something I can sell.  And publishers don't want stories that have already been released.

So I'm keeping it. Sorry. We can try again tomorrow.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Old Songs Never Die (No, Seriously! They Never Bleepin' Die)

I've been overdosing on nostalgia lately, due in no small part to my musings here.  Facebook's also managed to produce more than its share of sepia-toned flashbacks and Wonder Years voiceovers.  I've spent a good portion of the last few weeks replaying the last few decades.

It's starting to mess with my head.

Now, I'm naturally prone to getting a song stuck in my head, and when I get one, it usually gets lodged in there pretty solid.  A few years back, Colin Hay did a cameo spot on Scrubs and I quite literally spent months trying to free myself of his song, the not-so-much ironic as dead-on-accurately titled Overkill.  It took a heavy dose of Men At Work's Best Of CD to purge that one, and it still floats in from time to time.

That, dear reader, is the Devil I Know.

Lately though, I've been pulling songs out of nowhere.  They don't stick around as long, but the strangeness of the playlist is a little unsettling.  My internal iPod seems to be set for AM radio, and I've been coming up with songs I never knew that I knew.  Apparently, my head is full of Rumsfeld's unknown knowns.

And it's not like this is my music.  What's worse, it isn't even especially not my music.  These are songs that I thought I ignored decades ago, songs that should have been beneath my notice.  I shouldn't even remember that Steely Dan existed, much less wake up singing Ricky Don't Lose That Number.  That's right, I've got lyrics.

I'm  somewhere between embarrassed and horrified at this turn of events, but there's also an element of morbid curiosity.  The song selection process is completely baffling.  There have been cases in the past where an overheard remark has reminded me of a lyric.  That doesn't seem to be happening here.  I seem to be pulling songs from out of nowhere, or some other place where the sun don't shine.

I've done a good job of editing out the bigger hits of the past few decades.  Instead of a Best of the '70s and '80s compilation, I get Love On the Rocks, Cherish, and When Will I See You Again.  I even managed to come up with, get this, A Fifth of Beethoven.  There aren't even any lyrics to not realize that I know!

And bad enough that Kenny Rogers wanders into my subconscious.  The Gambler, I hear you say?  Oh, no no no, Dear Reader.  That would be far too mainstream for my subconscious.

Lady.  Does anyone apart from yours truly, and possibly Kenny Rogers, even remember Lady?!

Quality control does seem to be reasserting itself lately.  Paler Shade of Winter spent a few minutes floating around my head, and I woke up to Space Oddity this morning.  But I know for every Paul Simon, there's a Karen Carpenter queuing up, waiting for my mind to wander.  For every David Bowie, a Daryl Hall.

I had hoped that the soundtrack to my life would be a bit quirky, a little bit cool.  Something worthy of the odd strut, maybe just a little bit pretentious.

No risk of pretension here.  Instead of Rockin' In the Free World, it looks like I'm A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock n' Roll.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

And The Winner Is...

I'm taking the lazy way out today, but then, it's the weekend and I have a camogie match to get to. (Don't ask me.  Just look it up on Google.)

I posted this essay on Writing4All a little while back, and I just found out that it won the monthly contest for Best Nonfiction.

Why I Write

Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. They had a place in the Middle of Nowhere, a few acres of woods and a small lake. Thirty or forty years on, thanks more than anything to a mythic sense of nostalgia, that place sounds idyllic now, my own personal Narnia, or at least my Hundred Acre Wood. But that came later, after being fitted for my grown-up pair of rose-coloured glasses. Back then, it was just Grandma's.

Grandma's did indeed lie over the river and through the woods, where neighbours were friendly, but far flung and rare. Back then, the world was just a little bit bigger, and the Middle of Nowhere was a little further from the Edge of Anywhere. There weren't any other kids for miles around. My sister was there, but well, she was my sister, so clearly that wasn't an option. I was going to have to find another way to play.

What I did have was one big honkin' playground. The woods were filled with trails to explore. The rest would have to come from imagination. And so, during my time there, I chased monsters, fended off super villains and alien invasions, and generally defended the world from Bad Things which tended to show up in the woods, just out of sight of the house.

Between invasions and crime waves, I spent my time drawing. Sometimes, I illustrated my own courageous deeds, or came up with new adventures based on these earlier exploits. Sometimes, I just drew stuff I saw on Saturday morning television. I went through my share of crayons, markers, pencils, the odd bits of chalk, just about anything that would leave a mark.

There was no doubt that stories were going to matter to me. There was no escaping it. But the clincher, the real deal-closer, the reason I decided that I would have to tell my own stories, that would have to be my Grandad.

Late one evening, just a little before bedtime, I was sitting on the front porch swing, watching the fireflies and looking for all the world like a scene out of Andy Griffith. Grandad came out and joined me, sitting in his rocker. We sat there in the twilight for a few minutes before he lit up a cigar and he started to tell me a story.

He spun this amazing tale, about a farmer with a talking dog who fended off giants and dragons and became a hero by accident. It was funny and scary and magical. It was years later that I learned that the story wasn't his own. Tolkein's Farmer Giles of Ham was one of Grandad's favourite books, and he knew the story well enough to tell me off the top of his head and make it his own.

Grandad would tell me lots of stories over the years. Some were his, some weren't. Over the course of a summer, I heard about the adventures of Bilbo Baggins. He told me stories over the dying embers of campfires and in the flash of thunderstorms, stories of Arthur and Perseus and Coyote. He told me stories of his youth, the kind of true stories that may have never happened. He showed me how to make magic.

Of course, over time, kids outgrow Neverland. Mostly. Oral storytelling will always be something special to me, but I adore a well told story, regardless of the medium. A good story, whether aloud, in print, or on the big screen, is still magical. I took the scenic route before coming back and trying to tell my own stories, but I was always going to wind up here.

It's in the blood.

I have a few other pieces of varying quality there as well.  You can see them at:

Henry on Writing4All

There's a lot of good work on the site, and it's worth checking out some of the other writers as well. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go support the school team.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Thrilling Tales of Yesteryear!

As anyone who knew me before 1980 will tell you, as a kid, I was completely hooked on superheroes. I lived and breathed four colour adventure, filled with Meanwhile captions and sound effects. I'm fairly certain that at least 1/3 of my waking hours were spent with a towel safety-pinned to my shoulders, making whooshing noises as I ran with arms outstretched. I was one heavy-duty industrial-grade geek in the making.

That being said, source material was sometimes limited. As a child of the '70s, the TV could only take me so far. I could catch Adam West every day after school, and as mentioned before, I had Saturday morning covered, but I'd be waiting a while before I could pick up a DVD box set. Instead, I had LP's.

As a kid, I had a lot of records, and most of them didn't feature music. I remember listening to the tales of Sinbad and this amazing double album of Danny Kaye telling Hans Christian Anderson stories (which may come up in a future entry), but the records I kept coming back to were Batman and Superman.

The Batman record came in a thick, heavy box, perfect for the fanboy in your life. There was a Batsignal pin, a "signed" poster from Batman, and a reprint collection of comic book stories. The record was a full cast reading of these stories from the '40s and '50s. This was where I first learned about Bruce Wayne's parents, and about Dick Grayson's parents as well. (Yep, lots of orphans in tights out there.) I loved this record and played it over and over while I sprawled across my bed following along in the comic.

It had nothing on Superman.

Back in 1974, Kellogs ran a promotion, offering a collection of original Superman radio broadcast for boxtops. My grandmother surprised me with the stack of albums, and I commandeered the hi-fi for weeks. I listened to Superman every chance I got, starting with the very first episode where Krypton is destroyed (seriously, what is it with all the orphans?!). Somehow the commercial spots for Rice Crispies and Pep (whatever that was) added to the experience.

Out of curiosity, I looked up the collection on Ebay. It listed a pretty generous price for the 4 record set, although I seem to remember a set of 5. Either way, my records were for listening, and maybe scribbling across the cover, but definitely not for collecting. They didn't hold up very well. The scratches added up and they eventually became unusable, but by that time, I'd nearly memorized every episode line for line.

From these albums, and later listening to my Grandad's cassettes of the Shadow (which may also be worthy of a future entry) and even some NPR broadcasts of Hitchhiker's Guide and Star Wars, I've got a soft spot for radio adventure. When I discovered podcasts, I managed to find some real gems, including my beloved Superman program:
Superman Radio Program

I also found a new generation of audio drama.

Okay, pay attention. This is not going to happen often. I don't want to make a habit of promoting products or websites. I'm not about to start doing anyone's selling for them.

That being said, I adore Decoder Ring Theater. This is new old time radio, a fantastic homage to classic radio. They have two ongoing shows: The Red Panda and Black Jack Justice, and I'd be hard pressed to recommend one over another. Both take advantage of some great scripting, dialog that, if I'm being honest, makes me truly jealous, and wonderful acting. These folks put on a great show.

For that matter, the Summer Showcase, which does one-off and short runs, has some fantastic stories as well. A two-part western (the name escapes me, sorry) stands out in particular.

Believe me. This is worth checking out. You can get the podcast on iTunes or you can find them here:
Decoder Ring Theatre


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Living In Not America: Would You Like Fries With That?

From time to time I get to ramble on about being an immigrant. Without fail, I'll be asked what I miss, and without fail, food tops the list.

America's ridiculously good at exporting itself, and there's not a whole lot from Over There I can't lay my grubby little paws on with a minimum of fuss. Contact with friends and family is pretty straight-forward at the dawn of the 21st century, and it looks like it will just keep getting easier. So there's no huge gaping Americana-shaped hole in my heart. I may grumble once in a while at the lack of Stephen Colbert in my life (can't even get him on the computer!) and every once in a while, I still try to get in the wrong side of the car. But the biggest change in my life, day to day, is food.

It's never the good stuff either. I can make that myself. It's the guilty pleasures, the unrepentant junk that I miss. I haven't had Nutter Butters, Taco Bell, Little Debbies, Mountain Dew, a really-good really-bad chilli dog or even a convenience store burrito in over ten years! No amount of skill in the kitchen is going to make that happen for me.

Eating at home isn't all that different. Or rather, any differences are intentional and have more to do with the fact that I'm ten years older than with my position five time zones to the right. For better or worse, supermarket shelves look a little more American every year, and while I have yet to find fluorescent orange mac n' cheese and no packaging yet contains the suffix a-roni, I'm sure it's just a matter of time.

Eating out is another matter.

Yes, I can still visit the Golden Arches. I've got plenty of fast food options, and although it's a slightly different experience ("Do you want curry sauce with your McNuggets?"), it's close enough.

Around here, more often than not, dining out has a sense of occasion. Americans on the other hand often have a more functional relationship with a restaurant. We're not here for an evening out. We're here because we're hungry, and it'll take too long to get home and cook. We're looking for good, quick and cheap food, not neccessarily in that order.

We probably haven't gotten a babysitter either, so the place has to be kid friendly. Sure, we have fancier places where you can go for that special date or to celebrate that big promotion, but you'll have an easier time finding the row of family restaurants just off the interstate.

My biggest problem here is scheduling. I never seem to get hungry at an appropriate time. Pubs often serve food at lunch, but finding a decent meal at around 3:30 in the afternoon can be tricky, especially if you're a bit off the beaten path. That's when my Inner Yank gets all huffy and indignant, genuinely shocked that I can't get what I want right now. That whole immediate gratification thing? Yeah, the rest of the world's catching up, but we're way out in front.

Just wait and see what happens when you try to order iced tea.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Isn't This Where We Came In?

I just spent the last little while reading up on the Panic of 1837.

Yeah, I do that.

It's actually pretty interesting. I won't bore you with the details, but it hit when this huge property bubble, pumped up by cheap and easy credit, suddenly burst.

The president decentralized national finance and let state and private banks look after themselves. Everyone did really well for a few years, but the banks were overextended and suddenly found they didn't have enough cash in reserves. Credit dried up overnight.

Everyone got hit pretty hard. Businesses went under nationwide. Foreign investors took a big hit too. Bankruptcy was commonplace. Unemployment hit double digits. Worst depression these folks would ever see.

People lost everything. Some were speculators who bet it all and lost, but most were regular folks just trying to get by, people who didn't know they were taking a chance at all.

Yup, pretty interesting.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Saturday Morning, 1974

Thanks to Facebook and some shared childhood memories, it's been a bit of a nostalgic sort of day.

I've been reliving my childhood through theme songs and YouTube clips all day.  Snapshots of Rice Crispies and Saturday morning television.  Of dictatorial control of the TV for those hours.  Of sunshine ignored until I was bodily removed in a bloodless coup.

Back in the pre-cable days, kid’s television came in very specific windows.  You could usually find a something before and after school, but it was all about Saturday morning.  That was when the three (that's right, three) big networks got in the game.  That's when I'd catch up with Scooby, and Bugs, and Fat Albert, and just about anything that someone took the time to draw.

Most of this was safe enough, harmless.  But empty.  These shows promised to do nothing more than to pass 30 minutes with me (eight of them in commercials), but they made no demands either.  They may not have been good, but they were easy.  They paved the way for the family friendly sitcoms that would follow.  The kinds of shows that made me flabby inside and out. 

Every once in a while, though, I'd strike gold.  Not because I'd found something especially good.  Dear God, no.  Most of them were no different from the rest of my junk food television diet.  They were just as vacant, just as empty as everything else out there.  But they would have me riveted, studying every word, every line.  There would be a few over the years, but Superfriends came first.

I remember seeing it for the first time.  Mom flicked on the TV to keep me busy, and there was Aquaman.  He wasn't the first superhero I'd seen, and no, he's not typically the most impressive (he talks to fish!), but in that moment, he was a giant.  Every hero since has had to endure Aquaman's shadow.

Superfriends was ridiculously squeaky clean and, no, it doesn't hold up well.  Superheroes defending the world, not against supervillains, but against well meaning geniuses.  There were no epic battles, just investigation, cooperation, and wholesome understanding.  But there was something there that spoke to me, something about being a hero, about saving the day, something elemental.  It would set me on the road that would shape my imagination for decades, my love of the impossible and the epic, my love of the heroic.

For decades, influences have jockeyed for position to take charge of my imagination, to flick that switch that makes me grin like a junkie about to shoot up.

I pulled up that opening sequence today, heard Ted Knight's over the top narration, and for just a second, I was 6 again.

Original Superfriends Intro

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Not Even A Hang In There Kitten?!

Sorry folks.  I got nothing. 

No cool links. 

No holiday pictures. 

No naughty limericks. 


Bad blogger.

Here's my promise to you though:

It's going to happen again.  And next time, I'll have nothing.

No cool links. 

No holiday pictures. 

No naughty limericks. 



Saturday, May 8, 2010

Steampunk Jack

So, you may have heard that we've had a bit of a problem lately with a volcano.

Luckily, my 5 year old son came up with a solution.

Apparently, he learned all about it in school, how the volcanic ash fouls jet engines, making it dangerous for them to fly, how the volcano in Iceland made a big cloud of ash that blew our way, how that cloud kept any planes from flying here at all.  For 5, he had a pretty solid grasp of the situation.

That evening, he was filling us in over dinner.  After he gave us all the details, he stopped for a moment to have a bite of garlic bread.  Then he says, "Hey, Dad.  Do blimps not have jet engines?"


Yep, that would do it alright.  Blimp engines aren't as vulnerable to ash as jet turbines.  They don't fly as high either.  I'm not an expert, but I'm pretty sure that airships could safely fly under a cloud of ash. As far as I can tell, it should work.

Now all we need is a fleet of blimps.  Every time the wind blows out of the north, we're going to be grounded, so if anyone can put us in touch with the folks at Goodyear . . .

Friday, May 7, 2010

Living In Not America: Episode 1

I've been an immigrant for over ten years now, long enough that it can be hard to remember details of my former life. After ten years, a lot of the details I do remember just aren't relevant anymore. After all, that was back in the 20th century!

I can't say that I have any great pearls of wisdom to pass along to new immigrants. I can't see this ever turning into Living Abroad For Dummies, but I do like the sound of my own voice, and this is a subject I know. I imagine I'll be coming back to this from time to time with another peek into the life of an alien.

Today, I'll start with the big picture: identity. When I moved overseas, I became the American. Everything else, personality, taste, appearance, that all took a back seat. I wasn't the clever one, the funny one, the one with glasses. My single, defining feature became my nationality.

That was a bit of a Twilight Zone moment for me. On the left-hand side of the Atlantic, “American” is one of those big tent words, so inclusive that it becomes meaningless. As often as not, when people over there talk about Americans, they mean Everyone. Don't believe me? Try this one some time. The next time you hear a senator talking about “Americans”, try substituting “everyone.” Or better still, “people.”

“Americans don't want a tax hike.” “Americans love their iPhones.” “Americans want better health care.”

Completely meaningless. Empty fluff.

When I moved, American became an identifiable group, a group that does not currently surround me. American is no longer inclusive. American is Other. I am Other.  The word suddenly took on a meaning, a real meaning, and I was completely unprepared. It blew my mind. If I'm being honest, it still does.

So now, ten years in, I'm the American. As people have gotten to know me, I've gained a few adjectives along the way. I get to be the clever one again, or the funny one, or the devastatingly handsome one (eh, it was worth a shot), but those tags will always trail behind. First and foremost, I'll always be the American one.