Still Not That Flated

I’d like to say how getting my tires replaced was a long merry series of silly incidents. But really, it’s been more of 2017. I mean, this year, you know? This morning they broke into The Price Is Right for the breaking news about Al Franken, and the station had to break into that with a news ticker about the Larry Nasser scandal, which is one of those local/state-level scandals that reading about leaves you feeling like you’re on one of the latter days of the flu, where you’re no longer contagious or even all that achy. Mostly you’re just tired of feeling tired and want to stay in a blanket bundle watching The Price Is Right and that’s exactly where the breaking news came in to break you.

So. I figured to go to a tire place that had served my love pretty well over the years. I’d expected it to go well, since I’d already built a reputation as a magician there. They put my love’s snow tires on and off. They could almost fit the four tires that were coming off the car into the Honda Civic’s trunk. But I know the trick to putting all four in. And, my love says, have astounded the people working there who realize, as they try fitting the removed tires back in, that they didn’t pay attention to just how I got all four in.

A tire (mine) with a maybe ten-inch gash where the sidewall's come apart.
Also while it turned out this was the worst of my tires, it wasn’t the only bad one, so, good grief.

With the help of the Consumer Reports buying guide that my love’s father gave us for Thanksgiving right before my tire exploded, because my love’s father does things like that, I picked out new tires. And ordered them, which I had to drive down to the tire place to put money down on because … I don’t know. But the next day they called to say the tires were in, and I could get them put on anytime. Great! … I went in and it turned out that while their web site figures my model car takes 17-inch tires, my actual car thinks it takes 18-inch tires, and my car won the fight, three falls to two.

I’d had to drive to their place to put down a deposit on the new tires, and I figured, might as well pay in full. Then had to come back the next day to find the tires were wrong. Also they found my tire pressure warning sensors had corroded to strange lumps of metal-like compounds no good for anything. So they refunded my tire purchase less the cost of replacement sensors. Also less the cost of the loaner tires they put on because I didn’t want to drive on the spare longer than I had to. And because another tire turned out to be maybe dozens of feet away from failing too.

I went back home to look up what tires were recommended in my size and learned the Consumer Reports Buying Guide had never heard of any of them. Picked some new tires anyway and had to go out to the tire place to put my money down on those. Also I appreciate that my credit card company finds nothing suspicious about a bunch of charges and reverse-charges, for ever-more-exotic amounts of money, going on from a place I’ve never had any dealings with before. I guess they’re just glad for the attention? Went back again Tuesday to finally get my tires on, and those seemed to work! Except that the tire pressure sensor was a solid light, interrupted by periods of being a blinky light. According to my owner’s manual, this is a signal for “pull off the road as soon as it is safe to do so, and flee the car, warning all within a 1,000-foot radius before the genetically engineered nanovirus is emitted and converts all nearby matter into locking lug nuts.”. Not what I’m looking for.

CBS News Special report on Senator Al Franken announcing his resignation is shrunk down for breaking news about Michigan's scandal involving Larry Nassar.
Fun Fact: of the 184 new episodes of The Price Is Right aired so far this year, only 23 of them have been shown in their entirety without a Breaking News update interrupting some part of them. Also a Fun Fact: nothing about this is the slightest bit fun.

So today in the latest round of this they said they could see me at 1pm, which turned out to be more like 3pm, in a quest that ultimately found the new sensors they put in were transmitting on the wrong frequency. Fair enough. I feel a reflexive skepticism toward mass agreement on stuff. If I were part of the tire pressure sensor community I’m sure I would want to see what those other frequencies were all about.

They didn’t charge for fixing this, of course. The guy at the tire place thanked me for coming back. I mean, they’d thank me for coming in anyway. But this was that service-apologetic tone you would get where, like, the Genius Squad at Best Buy admits, “I guess I see how every step in the situation built on the one before but I’ve still don’t understand how setting up an HDTV stereo sound bar resulted in your goldfish being on fire. Would it help if I gave you a discounted copy of The Nut Job 2?”.

The guy from the work bay pulled my car up. He said it was all in good shape now. And he’d left the keys in and the car running because the battery had died and they had to jump-start it, so, better leave it running some.



First, I apologize if this piece is rougher than normal. I have to put several hundred dollars into my car, through the funnel in the armrest that normally swallows up the iPod Touch. But the servicing takes time. And I have to try to make myself feel better about that, ideally by eating eighteen McRib sandwiches.

We were driving home from my love’s parents after Thanksgiving dinner, with four bags of leftovers packed in the hatched back of my car. I didn’t think much about the tire-pressure warning sign on the dashboard because my car is always throwing off warnings when it gets cold. I’d checked the tire pressure the day before and everything was fine. Then it wasn’t. The rear passenger-side tire burst open and started rattling and my love, as passenger, warned me: “[ Something I didn’t make out because I was looking at the rear-view mirror with disapproval ]”. Fair warning, though. We were right at an exit so I pulled off the Interstate and followed the bright lights to the large, well-lit, spacious parking lot of what turned out to be the Lion’s Den Adult Superstore.

A tire (mine) with a maybe ten-inch gash where the sidewall's come apart.
Yeah, so, I guess when I got my oil changed the dealership wasn’t just fishing around to see if I could be upsold into buying a replacement set of tires, and by their “I should look at this soon” they meant more like “We’re not all that sure we can legally permit you to drive home on these tires” and maybe I was missing some cues because of the distraction of HGTV people having silly things happen to their remodel.

They were closed, possibly because it was 2 am, possibly because it was Thanksgiving. Nevertheless, while we were waiting for AAA, three different carloads full of people drove in, looked at the front door, turned around and left again. Apparently the Adult Superstore underestimates their 2am-after-the-holiday foot traffic. They’re leaving money on the table, and I feel like there’s some slightly morally judgemental joke I could be making about that.

I didn’t go calling AAA right away, by the way. I’m confident that I can change a tire in my car myself. Three decades of car-based experiences have not turned up any successful cases of my changing a tire myself. But I’m like 80 percent sure I know the theory. It’s the tires that won’t cooperate. The problem this time is I couldn’t get three of the lugnuts off. They wouldn’t budge.

So with two lugnuts off we had to call AAA. While my love walked to the front door of the Adult Superstore, to see if they had a posted street address, I found out the phone operator at AAA had a low-key Thanksgiving since her dog just got out of surgery. Well, she asked how I was, and I told her “pretty good up to a mile ago,” which I still think was a solid line. And I only felt weird not asking her how she was so I learned her dog needed surgery and it all makes sense, all right? Anyway, her system had trouble finding the Adult Superstore. My love reported there wasn’t any address listed on the building, but that they did have a Christmas tree in the vestibule. “Surely you mean an X-mas tree,” I answered. Since my love did not punch me in the gut and walk away never to be seen again, I know it’s true love.

I could see the AAA guy’s truck pulling off the Interstate. It stopped, though, and the guy called us to verify our location. I got out of the car and waved and he said yeah, he thought that was us. It’s like he had some reluctance to pull up to the lone car in the Adult Superstore parking lot, with the motor running and the headlights off, at 2:30 am the morning after Thanksgiving. Or something.

He had power tools to undo the lugnuts and I’m proud to say he couldn’t get the lugnuts unstuck either. So I’m not a lifelong failure in tire-changing, see? It’s the tires. He declared, in another great line, “I’m not done giving up yet,” and took out a couple wood blocks. With them he could set up a rickety, ad hoc scheme of blocks leaning against each other, to brace the axis of the tire iron while he jumped on it. He only had to do this one or two times for each lugnut, and he didn’t slip and break his neck doing so. Also I needed to offer him the adaptor to go from the tire iron to the lugnuts like four times before he realized what I was offering. I must have been saying something wrong.

Anyway, after we had that sorted out it was like two minutes to finish the tire change. And now the interior of my car smells like leftover caramelized onion mixed with burnt-out flat tire. The second part of that isn’t what I would pick, but we have to go with the life we have.

Overall, this seems to me like it was a weird flat-tire experience. But I also don’t see where I did anything to make this weird and I’d accept advice on dealing with this better in the future. Thank you and good night.

On This Date: November 24, If You Will

2019. Highly disappointing opening of the canal between the fifth and the second floors of the West Mall in Bukit Batok, Singapore, with critics saying the whole system seems to be “just a slightly large elevator” and “not really better than riding a couple escalators would be”. The complaints are harsh but fair because riding escalators is a really grand thing. If there were some way to fix the problems of having to step onto or off of them then we’d really have something.

2020. The Internet has one of those weird spasms where everybody gets hung up on how the Dreamland amusement park in Margate, Kent, England, was renamed “Benbom Brothers Theme Park” in the 1980s just because that sounds like the name you’d create if you were in the 90s and doing a bad translation of a Japanese RPG. Within 14 hours, it passes, leaving no harm done.

2026. The “Inbox Zero” e-mail productivity fad gives way to the “Inbox Infinity” model as this turns out to be a great deal easier for everyone and their nerves needed it by this point.

2064. Last specific reprinting of Art Buchwald’s column about introducing Thanksgiving to the French, which is a shame since that bit about translating Miles Standish’s name as “Kilometres Deboutish”? That’s solid enough.

2065. Mutual occultation of Venus and Jupiter happens, two days late, following last-minute negotiations when the planets can’t agree about whether it should be the occultation of Venus by Jupiter or of Jupiter by Venus, and a furious debate on the Wikipedia talk page about “Crayons”, where the debate somehow settled in a process people were still trying to explain to their great-grandchildren.

2085. We fix the problem of having to step onto or off of escalators with the invention of shoes that can’t get caught in the teeth of those things but keep you pretty stable when you’re stepping into the belt.

2121. Bigfoot’s job hunt lands him a career as the mascot for the Jersey Devils. He lasts nearly eight years at the post before going on to greater fame as the official public greeter for Baltimore, Maryland (starting the 26th of July, 2129) and sees the Devils to two World Series appearances when their bus gets lost.

2200. The Universal Postal Union agrees that next year shall be 2200: The Gold Edition”, although it will be labelled as “2201” for the sake of not breaking anyone’s database software.

2243. 186th anniversary of the 24th of November, 2057, passes without turmoil but with many people asking “Huh?” and “Why?” and “This is a thing because of why?”

2371. Deep in a star system nearly 75,000 light-years from Earth the locals begin producing a program known as Star Trek: Voyager. It’s purely coincidence, though, as the vastness of the universe and the enormity of the number of peopled worlds and the relatively small number of sounds that are likely to be made into words cause a program that happens to have that name without actually being a remake or continuation of the United Paramount Network classic program. It is in fact a shot-for-shot remake of Star Trek: The Original Series except in this one Lieutenant Uhura gets along great with Elaan, the Dohlman of Elas, and critics say this one little change drastically improves the whole body of work.

2618. After years, maybe a decade, of cruel taunting about what work it does exactly that ‘S’ and ‘K’ don’t do just as well the letter ‘C’ declares it’s had enough and leaves the alphabet. While people are able to carry on mostly fine, what with having both ‘S’ and ‘K’ there, it does leave words such as “church” pretty well stuck. The letter ‘J’ steps up to remind everyone that it could totally do the hard ‘ch’ sound, and is told to sit down because it’s done “so much already” and is really appreciated “right where it is” by letters that are rolling their eyes.

4211. No end of discussion about the way the dates of the year line up, if you’re in the United States, and a lot of arguing that the United States way of listing the dates is just stupid and dumb and wrong. By the time it’s over very few people are still talking to each other. It’s a good way to figure out who you need to stop interacting with, though. Consider it.

On This Date: November 17, If You Like

765. Date of the historical incident believed to have inspired, in distorted form, the fable of Jack the Giant-Killer, when seven flies were indeed killed in one blow by a giant rampaging through a middle-Uressexshire hamlet. Less famously the incident is also credited with creating the village of Flattstone-Under-Stompenhedge. It’s a little baffling how the story ended up like we know it today. Most historians of legend suspect “political satire around the time of the Commonwealth or Restoration”. But we’ll admit that’s their answer to everything.

797. Kanmu, Emperor of Japan, changes his residence from Nara to Kyoto but the student loan people find him anyway.

1602. Birth of Agnes of Jesus, who’d go on to become a nun in what seems like typecasting but there you go. Sometimes you just know what your course is in life.

1777. The Colonial Congress sends the Articles of Confederation to the British Parliament for ratification in a deliberately-arranged “accident” that both sides fail to use as a chance to apologize and try to come to some reasonable settlement of the whole matter. It ends up making everybody feel eight percent more awkward.

1810. Sweden declares war on the United Kingdom in order to start the Anglo-Swedish War, since it seems like a shame to have such a snappy name for a war and nobody declaring it or anything. The war ends two years later when they notice everyone’s been so happy with the stylish name and the idea of Sweden and the United Kingdom being at war that nobody ever bothered to fight the other side, and that isn’t even my joke.

1858. Day zero of the Modified Julian Day scheme so that’s why your friend who does all this database stuff with dates is staring wistfully out the window and wondering why we have to have a February even today. We do not; we have a February in-between January and March.

1869. The Suez Canal successfully links the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea. Backers fail to reach their stretch goal of connecting the Mediterranean with either the Pacific Ocean, the Baltic Sea at Brunsbüttel, or Albany, New York. But they’re happy with what they did achieve and give out some commemorative coasters.

1933. The United States recognizes the Soviet Union.

1935. The United States recognizes the Soviet Union a second time when Guatemala explains how the two of them used to stand at the window outside the League of Nations building in Geneva staring inside and sometimes putting pickles from the burger stand down the way onto the window to see if they’d freeze in place there.

1946. Last use of a Murphy bed except in a black-and-white sitcom.

1952. Soap magnate Dr Emanual Theodore Bronner, serving his jury duty obligation for the civil court, is asked whether he is familiar with the law regarding trees and shrubs which overhang the property line. Both sides’ attorneys excuse him 36 seconds later. He finishes the first of many extremely considered sentences about the matter in December, and his whole thought about fallen branches by 1954 (estimated).

1961. The United States recognizes the Soviet Union again, but pretends to stumble and have to fiddle with its shoelaces a couple minutes while they pass on the sidewalk.

1973. One of the most successful weight-loss plans of the 70s gets started when Eater’s Digest publishes this compelling bit of reasoning. The reasoning: you can burn off more calories simply by going about your business while wearing weights. But what is fat except excess weight? And, better, weight that you can’t take off even if you want? Therefore simply by walking or standing or breathing or sleeping on your chest you’re burning off excess calories, thereby causing yourself to lose weight on the whole deal. And therefore being fatter is the quickest way to being thinner and, therefore, being overweight doesn’t exist and within two years everybody is.

2015. ‘Bob and Bert’ create the only podcast advertisement ever recorded that makes listening to the podcast sound appealing or desirable or even something other than just a bit of sadness. After the successful advertisement their Wheeler-and-Woolseycast releases one more episode, then misses four months for an unannounced hiatus, returns with a 15 minutes apology and explanation that it’ll be two months before they get back to their twice-a-month-schedule, and then never be heard from again.

On This Or That Date: November 10

1433. Birth of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, died 1477 before anybody could make font jokes at him, which is just as well, because after forty years of those he’d probably throw boiling serifs over the ramparts before anyone even got near him.

1551. Wait, is that just someone wandering through the background of the ‘Mister Food’s Test Kitchen’ segment on the noon news? She can’t just be wandering up to the fridge there for no reason, right? No, wait, she is. The heck? And there she goes again and Mister Food doesn’t acknowledge her at all? Oh, I guess she’s come in at the end to sample the macaroni-and-cheese he suggests people try cooking. Is it, like, her job to wander around in the TV kitchen and then eat macaroni and cheese at the end? How do I not have that job myself? Sorry, TV distracted me there.

1662. A daring attempt by that Old English letter that looks like an o with a tiny x dangling precariously on top of it to sneak back into the alphabet is foiled. An alert guard at the Tower of London notices something “funny” about the tic-tac-toe game the letter was trying to use as camouflage. But since it was the 17th century he explained his suspicions in a sentence that ran on for over 850 pages of court testimony. The letter was able to escape to Flanders and lead similar attempts to get back into the alphabet in 1717, 1896, and whenever it was they made up Unicode.

1774. Benjamin Franklin’s first, primitive, USB cable is connected to one of his stoves. Nothing much happens, causing the inventor and statesman to admit that he “didn’t know what I expected, really”. Sometimes you just get “a case of the giggles” and have to run with the idea.

1871. Henry Morton Stanley locates Dr David Livingstone, near lage Tanganyika, after a long process that I had always figured amounted to Stanley going into Africa and asking, “Hey, anybody seen any other white guys poking around?” and then following wherever they pointed. And then I heard that yeah, that’s pretty much what he actually did. And I’ve never gone to look up just how he did go searching for Livingstone because I don’t know if I’d be more annoyed if it turned out my joke actually happened or if I’d be heartbroken to learn it didn’t.

1929. Toontown’s so-called “Valentine’s Day Massacre” happens when a truckload of rapid-fire erasers falls into the hand of calendar reformers who think that we don’t have enough February in our lives.

1956. Aberdeen, Scotland, and the Malay state of Negeri Sembilan agree to end their technically never-resolved state of war dating to the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. When spoilsports note that neither Aberdeen nor Negeri Sembilan had anything to do with the Austro-Prussian War to start with they were helpfully shoved into the Old North Creek. Organizers then put up a memorial there to remind everyone what happens when you go knowing actual history in front of people.

1983. After a furious round of rewrites and arguments Dan Aykroyd agrees to shift the focus of his years-in-development labor-of-love project from a quirky comedy about animal control officials over to some guys who shoot special effects at ghosts. While the new project is successful the pre-revision script kicks around Hollywood for several more years before being finally kicked out again. It’s finally picked up and made as an indie project in 2014. Goosebusters goes on to win the East Lansing Film Festival’s coveted “… The Heck Am I Even Watching” Medallion With Dabs Of Cooking Oil Grease On The Ribbon.

2001. Stern Pinball signs a license to make the popular video game Roller Coaster Tycoon into a pinball machine. This is one of the early triumphs of the game company’s “license stuff picked at random from the US Trademark Office database” program. Other successfully licensed games include: CSI, Uneeda Biscuits, the Wendy’s Where’s The Beef Multiball Frenzy Arcade Experience, Cinerama, and Bally Pinball Games: The Pinball Game.

2008. The day’s Slylock Fox mystery doesn’t draw any complaints from anyone about the solution being contrived or requiring we make assumptions like, yeah, while dogs in this world can talk and wear clothes and hold down actuarial jobs they’re nevertheless still red-green color-blind.

Closing In Town

The hardware store that’s like two towns over is closing. This is a serious blow to our hardware-shopping needs. It’s a pretty good hardware store. By “pretty good” I mean I can imagine my father hanging out there talking for upwards of 150 minutes with people he just met about some obscure plumbing part that he needs while eight-year-old me sighs and presses his finger into the socket set attachments and wonders when we’re going to get to the Polish bakery and if so whether it’ll be before they run out of Poppy-Seed Thingies. I’m going to go ahead and assume the obscure plumbing part is a “flange”. Like all plumbing parts that aren’t toilet seats it’s a circular disc attached to a Y-shaped hinge on an axis, and mounted inside a cylinder.

Also whenever you select, like, the four washers and nuts-and-bolts that turn out not to quite fit the project you have, they put it in a cute tiny little brown paper bag and scribble on it some mystic scrawl, using one of those flat carpenter’s pencils that has to be sharpened by pocket knife, that somehow the cashier knows to ring up as $1.42 total. Or maybe a wax pencil. I’m not being too limiting in my categories here. The important thing is it’s a bundle of little metal shapes in a cute brown paper bag folded over and maybe stapled shut and it’s always $1.42.

But it’s also not too much a hardware store. By “too much” I mean “every aisle is occupied by grumpy men with scraggly beards complaining about how they can’t make good plumbing flanges anymore because of political correctness”. What they mean by “political correctness” is the flanges are made of PVC instead of the most rust-worthy iron in the history of rusting.

This is also a serious blow for the town. I mean, the town will still exist, but mostly as residential developments and medical clinics in strip malls. In terms of stuff people actually need there’s going to be little left except the Best Buy. The hardware store’s corner used to have a tolerable little crossroads’ worth of stuff. Like, there was a music-instruments store that got shooed off across the street so the fire department could use their old building for training. They lasted a couple months there before moving to climes where people weren’t visiting to ask about the check they weren’t supposed to deposit for another couple weeks.

Also at the intersection used to be the Travelers Club International Restaurant and Tuba Museum, which billed itself as the only Tuba Museum Restaurant in the world, and I think was owned by the same people as the music-instruments store. At least it would make less not-sense if it were. It was a great spot to bring friends from out of town, because they had a lot of tubas, some of them extremely long, all along the walls. Also the menu was twenty pages even before you count the pages that were just the staff’s poetry. They closed right before the music-instruments shop vanished, possibly because both were turned directly into quirky indie dramas about, like, a slacker time-traveller from the 23rd century going back to work a small town diner and finding that kind of loving relationship where you never actually touch or necessarily even look directly at each other.

For the hardware store’s closing (remember that?) they’re holding a clearance sale, which is fair enough. It’d be sad to have a shuttered hardware store in town. But to have a shuttered hardware store filled with hardware-store merchandise would just be too creepy-video-game of them. Even if plastic clothes hangers are in the hardware store for some reason. I guess they’re kind of hardware but, yeah? I don’t know. I really expected them to be metal. Possibly galvanized.

They’re also raffling off hardware. According to their rules sheet, which is copyright 1999 to somebody named “Wingate Sales Solutions”, everyone who signs up gets 100,000 raffle points. And there’s a thousand more points for every dollar you spend during the clearance sale. And even more bonus points for stuff like `Sweetheart Thursday’, a thousand points times your ring size. Or 5,000 points on Mondays for “wearing something blue”, a condition I do not want to judge because telling Navy Blue apart from Black is hard in the best of circumstances. In Mid-Michigan, in November, at the height of Clouds Rolling In season? (We won’t have direct sunlight again until June of 2019.) It’s almost impossible.

Also, a hundred thousand raffle points just for signing up? A thousand points for every dollar spent? A thousand points times whatever just for having a ring finger? But I guess the shop is closing. They must figure they aren’t going to suffer the long-term consequences of a loose-money raffle-points system. It always opens doors when you don’t have to worry about the budget anymore.

Why I Am Not A Successful Urban Fantasy Writer

So before you go ahead and take my Urban-Fantasy writing group’s side in throwing me out into the mall food court by the Chinese food stand with the unsettlingly outgoing staff let me explain my work-in-progress. The important thing is the premise. If you don’t have a premise all you have is a bunch of characters milling around. I’m going ahead and assuming that’s literary fiction. I don’t know, I can’t be bothered reading stuff.

So here in this story that’s just on the edge of tomorrow and the limits of possibility, how about a story built around the new digital genie of tomorrow? And it’s a digital genie based on the Freemium model. Yeah, don’t your eyes light up at this prospect? Because you can already hear the digital genie reporting, “You can modify the results of your last wish in 23 hours 58 minutes! Or you can hurry that up by spending 10 Sigloi. Did you want to buy a small bag of Sigloi, a medium bag of Sigloi, or a large bag of Sigloi?”

And I wasn’t even done cackling at my genius when some spoilsport asked, “Sigloi? Really? You can’t just say a bag of coins like every other stupid game like this ever?” and someone else asked, “What is your problem? Are you just in this to research … freaking ancient Persian coins? Is ‘Sigloi’ even plural or is it supposed to be ‘Siglois’ and it doesn’t look any more like a real word the more we look at it”. The person who brings windmill cookies to all the meetings asked whether I see writing as anything but an excuse to do weirdly specific bits of research. “And it’s not even deep research,” she pointed out. “You just put ‘ancient Persian coin’ into Google.” I explained how I did not: I use DuckDuckGo. The conversation was not productive.

My scene speculating this would come to the genie saying, “You don’t have to buy Sigloi! You can earn them by completing a quest! Your first quest: match these advertising slogans up to the fast-food companies that use them and share the results on Facebook!” before four of the group flopped over and played dead until the bookstore sent the Children’s Books section manager around with a push broom to nudge them.

I was barely through describing the central conflict of the book. It’s one of the digital genies coming face-to-face with the partially developed open-source clone digital genie project. There’s all kinds of deep philosophical questions about identity that raises if you don’t actually think very hard about deep philosophical questions. So it’s perfect for my kind of writing! I especially liked the scene where developers complain about people reverting the open-source genie back to the first wish. They say “it screws up the machine-learning routines plus we all see what you’re trying to do there”.

This prompted a customer to quit his project of reorganizing the books in the Computers section to fit his tastes and berate my failure to have the faintest idea of how revision control works. I pointed out that I could well learn plenty about how revision control works except it’s too boring. And the head of the writing group said, “How can a person who owns multiple books about the history of containerized cargo and has opinions about the strengths and weaknesses of them call the center of your own book too boring to learn about?”. Plus the bookstore café people came over to ask what all the shouting was about.

So just before they threw me out the group organizer asked, “Do you have even the slightest idea of what Urban Fantasy is?” No, I do not. I guessed it’s, like, the protagonist is coming to terms with learning she’s part-Billiken while she teaches English as a Second Language classes to zombies in-between her relationship troubles with Bigfoot, who’s always being called off for some crisis at his tech startup company.

They picked me up to evict me more effectively.

Oh but if Bigfoot’s tech startup is involved in the digital genie project then it all counts, right? They have to let me back in now, the rules say!

Why I Am Not A Successful Secret-History Writer

I had gotten nearly one-third of the way through the logline for my next book before the reading group tackled me, sending the manuscript flying into the air and threatening a turnover and significant loss of yardage. But I reached up mightily and regained possession and while it didn’t help me gain the down any, I was able to eventually make my voice heard over the howls of preemptive and I think unjustified pain.

So it starts with ancient alien astronauts and see that’s about where my group started to scream. I didn’t even get to explain how I didn’t mean this in the racist way where we suppose that, like, the Egyptians of thousands of years ago couldn’t think of “pyramids” without help. I don’t see why anyone figures ancient peoples needed help thinking of the idea of “build stuff using stones”. It’s not like they had a stone shortage.

Anyway, my premise — stop tackling! — is how what if ancient astronauts did come to visit the Egyptians in the era of the great pyramid-building phase? Only the aliens don’t use their advanced technology to help the Egyptians build pyramids. Instead the Egyptians are able to use their pyramid-building skills to give the aliens much-needed guidance on how to get their advanced technology to actually work? And then came another round of tackling and a question about “the heck are you thinking” and “even if there is some non-offensive way to do this” and I know, I know. But I’m willing to do the work to treat this material responsibly. I’m like this close to looking up like what millennium was the great pyramid-building boom and getting a book about what Egypt was like as close to then as the branch library has, so you know my sociology would be not provably wrong and that demonstrates my story to be worth telling!

And I can answer questions about how the pyramid-building era of Egyptians could have stuff to tell alien astronauts about their technology. Who are we to figure that they wouldn’t have stuff to teach the other thems? I mean at a responsible, appropriate tutoring rate. I figure any species sophisticated enough to traverse the stars is too ethical to take someone’s consulting advice without fair compensation. If they don’t I don’t want them in my creative universe anyway.

So what do the aliens need help on? Oh, heck, I don’t know. It’s alien technology. It’d be futuristic even today. How am I supposed to go into details? Maybe something about sphere-packing. That’s a mathematics problem about how you can stack together balls of the same size so there’s the least possible wasted space between them. And the best way to do this turns out to imagine you’re the grocer seen in the comedy putting oranges out on a huge stack for the hero to send the villain crashing into. That is, make pyramids.

Now obviously I don’t mean to say the Ancient Egyptians had some supernatural powers of pyramid-building. I think we’ve got a decent idea of roughly how they went about pyramid-building. But imagine you’re an ancient astronaut and you’re put down somewhere with a big pile of stones and a sense that it’s important to start making pyramids. What would you start out by doing? Exactly. There’s all these little skills that you pick up by practice. You don’t just start out at the top of your thing-stacking game. You start out with what seems obvious and you share tips with outer people who want to do this stuff well, and you try some of what they do, and you get it a little wrong and maybe it works out all right. Eventually, you’re a master of the thing.

And that’s what I figure the Ancient Egyptians would be giving in this cultural exchange that I’m sure can be written up into a culturally sensitive and not at all insulting novel. I’m saying I think that issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine was premature in leaping off the shelves and slapping me senseless and into a balled-up mound of flesh over by the board games. I bet my next draft changes everything.

Is this even secret history? I don’t know what to call it. I just mean stuff we don’t realize happened because there was a lot of stuff that happened and we can’t hear about it all.

Why I Am Not A Successful Fiction Writer

So we begin with the Ken Russell’s 1975 documentary Tommy about the pinball cult growing out of Roger Daltrey mostly not looking directly at stuff. The cult was going great with people showing up at pinball holiday camps right up to the point they were expected to play pinball. I agree some of those old electromechanical games were brutal, but the mass riots were overreacting. Not really sure what they were expecting. They were expecting free love, by which “they” I mean “guys” and by which “free love” I mean “women don’t get to say no”.

Thing is, it was a worldwide utopian cult. The movie only shows one getting rioted into oblivion. But they showed the giant world map with light bulbs for all the camps all over the place. That sort of stuff doesn’t die easily. Not if you’ve reached the point you have a giant world map with light bulbs. When you’ve got past where you can do a poster from Staples with push-pins you’ve got too much momentum for one day to bring you down. There’s going to be true believers who aren’t going to be shaken off. They’re going to gather somewhere. So it’ll be in some place just rural enough that they can afford the property taxes, but just urban enough that people who want to join the utopian cult can rest assured if the free love doesn’t work out they can still find a department store.

So we follow one in I’m going to go ahead and say west Michigan. A bunch of dreamers who figured they were gonna take it, and go on having pinball contests for tourists who wonder why it doesn’t look like it did in the movie. “We’re fundraising to build a garish arena,” the guides would say. “We’ve almost got enough to build a shoe.” The tourists look on, wondering why the competition still doesn’t look quite like the movie. “Have you had anything at our snack bar?” the guide tries to direct people. “It’s quite good.” It isn’t, but it’s cheap and what, you’re going to schlep all the way to Ludington for lunch?

Anyway, they would offer “silverball” hoagies. They’re meatballs tinted silver. Well, they’re vegetarian meatballs, made of cracked wheat or something late-70s like that. They do something to so it seems exactly like meat when the right person makes it, and just an exotic substance someone can put in their mouth if they choose to, whenever anyone else makes it. Comes with cheese and, if you also buy a roll of color film, a 15-cent discount. Also, yes, baked beans, but you mark yourself as a total doof if you ask for them.

The color comes from a shocking amount of colloidal silver dosed into the “meat” balls, and eventually results in an investigation by the state into just what they’re doing buying that many boxes of dragees and grinding them up. “We don’t eat them regularly, we just feed them to strangers!” is the embarrassing quote that makes every statewide TV station during the 1985 trial for whatever the heck they were up to. The cult gets vindicated when the jury establishes that no, nobody takes the dragees off a cookie or cake before eating it, why would you do that? But it’s a blow to the cult’s attempts to get out of the “free love” image. Figures.

And there’s schisms, of course, because there always are. Electromechanical versus solid-state, obviously, because the early solid state games are totally different from electromechanical pinball machines in ways that are obvious to someone who’s not a pinball aficionado, what with the solid state games having electronic buzzing noises instead of bells. And then I bet when they got into modern games, with dot-matrix displays and complicated rule sets. Let me explain that to people who aren’t pinball fanatics: these are pinball terms. They mean things.

So I figure this gets to the present day, when the unleashing of the new Star Wars game — a game of such unbridled complexity that the only response to it is to sit down and weep some — the camp decides, yes, they’ve done all they can do. It’s time to close up. The last days of the last utopian pinball cult present scenes of such John McPhee-esque piquancy that they’re not even remotely pleasant to read.

My beta readers described it as “I guess what we were getting in for when we let you know we picked up that Murakami book we never did read” and “shocklingly involved arguments about whether it’s ethical to tilt your own ball away as seen from the perspectives of different decades so I guess that’s a thing?”, so hey, I’m in a good place now!

Why I Am Not A Successful Alternate-History Writer

So, it’s an alternate history where everything is like it was here, only instead of the gold standard countries drifted to the gold dragon standard. It’s 1893. Industrial-capitalism-driven finance, as embodied by J.P. Morgan, has after decades of fighting reached a tentative but solid-looking peace accord with the nascent environmental movement, as embodied by John Muir. But danger is mounting. The Granger movement is pressing hard for the re-adoption of silver dragons as a foundation for currency outside South Asia. And the so-called Treaty of Oyster Bay may collapse against the deepening of the balance-of-payments crisis in Washington. As Grover Cleveland fends off appeals from the Bryan wing of his own party, and arranges his own secret and possibly illicit cancer surgery, Muir and Morgan have to work out whose sides they want to be on, and what they want to press for, before the endangered North American Gold Dragon is lost forever.

My fellow reading group members described it as featuring “oh Lord even more words?” and bringing up memories of “how much my head hurt as a kid when I asked my parents what it meant that, like, France was buying Japanese Yen”. Other comments included, “do the dragons even do anything?” and “did you have to call it the Bland-Allison Act? Is that even a joke? What is this thing?” and, in what I consider a glowing review, “can you at least have a dragon eat Prescott Hall or something? Please?”

In the first sequel it’s 1898 and rumors of a major cache of gold dragons coming out of the Yukon threatens to scramble the worldwide recovery from the Panic of 1893. The rush of American settlers into northwestern Canada presents great new challenges to the meaning of Canadian — and Alaskan — national identity, just as biologists find their understanding of the development of dragons challenged by the extreme-cold-weather breed’s anomalous sides. The new potential for Canadian self-determination calls into question the whole constitutional settlement of the British Empire, at a time when Australia and New Zealand’s needs for local constitutions and the stirrings of a new war with the Boers occupy Her Majesty’s Government, and the scientific minds try to square paradigm-shattering data about evolution and thermodynamics into their worldview.

My beta readers describe the roughed-out novel as “incredibly many words between cool parts that have dragons” and “are you working out some crazypants obscurant flame war with somebody about this Lord Carnavon [sic] guy?” And when I bring new chapters to a group session at the bookstore people’s eyes light up and they hide behind the Coffee Table Art books and do that thing where they playfully feign tossing manuscript pages into the fireplace! The kidders. They have to know by now I know there’s a grate over the fireplace.

Now the second sequel is set in the early 1910s and pulls back from the questions of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Dominions and prospective Dominions to more closely examine United States monetary policy. Between the influence of the Populist movement on American politics and the passing of people like Morgan, the public’s coming around to accept the need for regularized, boring systems that can handle dragon-related crises instead of trusting that Great Men will somehow be found when needed. And so it’s a struggle among the followers and students of the previous generation’s greats to exactly work out the parameters of the Federal Preserve System.

I only have this in a roughed-out form, mostly notes on my laptop. But already Scrivener is so excited by this it’s set my computer on fire and several of its programmers have come around my house to holler at me at six in the morning, every morning, for a week now. But even they have to admit that the couple chapters I’ve written “don’t read nearly so much like a manifesto as I expected” and “wait, so, like, are banks just keeping dragons in vaults or something? Like, can tellers go in back during lunch and pet one? Do bank robbers come out with nests of dragons?” I don’t know, but that might be interesting if I can find space for a side story that petty in what I figure’s going to be a 700,000-word book!

Now I know all this sounds great, but I know my readers are trying to be nice so the stories aren’t that compelling. At that I still think the publisher might not have thrown me out on the street and kicked me in the back if I hadn’t insisted on naming it The Origin of Specie trilogy. I’m sorry, but her suggestion of The Gilded Age is a great title but it would need a story set in the 1870s to make the title sensible and I can’t think of anything sensible for that era.

PS no stealing my story, I e-mailed it to myself in an attachment I haven’t opened yet so I can prove it’s mine.

How To Dream

I have to explain right away what kind of dream I mean here. I don’t mean dreaming about how to alter your life so everything is great and happy and wonderful forever and ever. Those are all the dream to be an accomplished celebrity, and the trouble with that is you have to accomplish something worth celebrating. That’s a big pile of work, and even after that, you have to get really lucky, and after all that, you’ll just want to do something else anyway. And anyway the part you really want is people saying, “I’m sorry for all the times I wronged you”. It won’t happen. They’re waiting for you to apologize for the same thing.

What I mean is the kind of dream you have between when you lie down at night, trying to sleep and thinking about all the people who wronged you, and when you wake up in the morning because someone, somewhere, in the neighborhood has a dog. Dreams are a good way to distract from the feelings of helpless and loneliness and it’s a pity people aren’t trying that more.

The fundamental unit of dreaming is to deal with a thing that is also, somehow, another thing. Let me show. Start with one thing, such as a living room. Now pick another thing, such as a dining room. Imagining a place that’s both a living room and a dining room probably won’t explode your mind, what with having heard of efficiency apartments. But remember, there are some people reading this essay who don’t know how to dream to start with. We have to work up to the more complicated ideas.

Take as much time as needed with the living-room/dining-room dream. Explore its implications, such as whether in this context you may set a fork on the throw pillow. Or set a throw pillow on the serving plate. No: that serving plate is too nice for a throw pillow. Try one of the nice souvenir pillows that you keep locked up in the breakfront because they’re too nice to put on the sofa. But wait: why are you putting the nice serving plate on the table when it isn’t even Thanksgiving? It’s too nice for that. Because it’s a dream. You can take all the nice stuff out for that even when nothing special is going on.

Suppose you’ve gotten good at the living-room/dining-room dream. Now you can advance to more complicated things that are also other things. For example, imagine a public library that’s also a friendly dragon. What are the implications of this? Are the books the dragon’s teeth? Or scales? Do you have to venture warily into the dragon’s mouth to get your card renewed? Might it be necessary to go into the more advanced parts of the dragon’s digestive system in order to get the DVDs you’d put on hold? No, of course not. The dragon is a public library only to meet certain zoning requirements. Left to itself the library would rather be a griffin. Now you can have adventures in arranging exemptions to municipal zoning policy. These go well, because you are having a dream, which does not have to comply with open-public-meeting requirements.

Now, you may occasionally hear about really wild dreams. Like, ones where a chance hop out of the excessively large convenience-store/art-museum by your rabbit tips you off to a plan by some gangsters in an Adam West Batman-style Dive Bar (it’s tidier than the efficiency apartment your parents had when they first got married) to finally rub out Shemp, of the Three Stooges. And then you have to help the Fun, Pleasant Batman and Robin on a chase through New Year’s Eve Boston to keep the Stooges alive and maybe make their big show(?). These should be left to the advanced dreamer, one who has experience with all the legal clearances required for this kind of scenario. While you’re learning, stick to imagining people telling you how sorry they are for wronging you. It’s way easier to get the rights.

Do remember, though, there’s no truly wrong way to dream. Whatever things you want to put together are fine. And there’s not any wrong details to expand upon. So make sure to write down all the salient details of each night’s dream, so you can compare them with other people in your dreaming circles, and see who wins.

How To Sketch A Thing

Drawing a thing can be a fun recreational and creative pastime, people who are able to draw tell us. For the rest of us it’s a lot of being angry at how we have this killer hilarious cartoon in our heads and it will never, ever be manifested in a way that doesn’t look like it was rendered by a squirrel that was handed a crayon and told there was an almond inside. And is now angry about being lied to. But still, you can’t get good at drawing without learning to sketch some, so let’s look into how to do that.

Before sketching the thing you should decide what kind of sketch to do. A “traditional” sketch is done with a pad of paper and pencils that have been handed down, from house move to house move, since you were in high school because they cost more than your house. I mean, yeow. They’re six-inch tubes of wood with colored lead inside, how do they run so much? Is the Koh-i-noor company thinking it will get rich piggybanking on artists? Have they considered, like, selling pencils to people with more money, like the folks with cardboard signs standing at streetcorners asking for any help and promising God blesses stopped cars? Good grief. Anyway. Traditional sketches are good because they’re easy and portable and you can hide them in your messenger bag for a quick getaway if someone asks why you’re drawing a picture of a squirrel without permission.

The other kind of sketch is “digital”, done on some glass-covered rectangular thing that has to be recharged. This is a popular choice not just because it means you can put off your drawing for the day for six hours while the battery fills back up. It’s also liked because you can effortlessly hit “undo” until your sketch looks not so completely messed up. And then you can try again, until the drawing program crashes. The main drawback is finding a good drawing program. There are six things that a drawing program needs to be good. Coding Law dictates that every drawing program has to leave one out. The one that looks like it has everything? I’m sorry, if you use that program now and then they send someone around to punch you in the stomach. It turns out there’s a secret seventh thing a good program needs: it needs to not sometimes send someone around to punch you in the stomach.

So, choose wisely, and then spend part of every day reconsidering your choice and wondering why you didn’t make a better one. It’s a little something to help you doze off better at work after staying up all night cursing the immutability of the past.

Now you need to figure whether you’re sketching something that exists or something that doesn’t. The advantage of sketching a thing that exists is you can check back on it to see what you’re doing wrong. The advantage of sketching a thing that doesn’t exist is that other people can’t say you draw it wrong. “But wait,” someone might say. “Sea serpents don’t have Popeye arms and warp nacelles!” And then you can glare at them and say, “Prove it.” This doesn’t help your sketch any, but it lets you win the argument, and isn’t that an even more precious thing in these troubled times? You get into some tricky metaphysical territory if you want to draw, like, Garfield, who as a creature of fiction doesn’t exist but who does have a well-agreed-upon appearance that you can’t vary from too much without getting fired by the Guy Who Does Garfield from your job drawing Garfield. If that’s your situation I got nothing for you. Sorry.

And the last thing is to decide whether you’re doing a realistic or a cartoony sketch. To make a realistic sketch, start by drawing a big oval on top of a slightly offset square. Then add cylindrical tubes to the side and the base. Then at the bottom put in a couple of rectangular boxes.

Realistic sketch of anything. Sorry, ArtRage wanted to round off all my lines.
Realistic sketch of anything. Sorry, ArtRage wanted to round off all my lines.

A cartoony sketch is very much like a realistic sketch, except that you draw while thinking about how you’re hungry. Start with an egg shape on top of a giant square food, such as a waffle. Instead of cylindrical tubes draw a couple of bloated hot dog shapes. Instead of rectangular boxes, draw mooshy dinner rolls. Then somewhere put in two dots with half-circles around so it has some emotion.

Cartoony sketch of anything. I forgot to put anything across the egg head.
Cartoony sketch of anything. I forgot to put anything across the egg head.

Now just add details to make your sketch look like the thing you wanted. Save it or scan it, and post it to your DeviantArt account with this caption:

Silly little sketch done to try getting back into the swing of things. Didn’t really come out like I figured but at least I like how that little mooshy dinner roll with the spaghetti curls came out. I’ll see if the art gods are nicer to me with tomorrow’s sketch.

Then, embarrassed by how much it is not what you thought the sketch would look like, put all your drawing equipment away for 34 months.

Sea serpent with Popeye arms and warp nacelles. He's happy, in his way.
Sea serpent with Popeye arms and warp nacelles. He’s happy, in his way.

How To Clean A Thing

We continue this department’s investigation into the getting-done of things that were left un-done and have no questions in mind for anyone about why they were not already done. We understand. We’ve got stuff to do too that gets in the way of anything being done. There’s probably verb tenses working against us.

How To Clean A Thing

The first most important task to do when cleaning a thing is to ask yourself. Having finished that, the next most important task is to determine: is this a thing which is bigger than you are, which is smaller than you are, or which is about the same size as you? If you don’t like the answer, are you able to alter your size enough to matter? Your relative sizes do affect how the cleaning gets done, and if so, whether it does, and good luck diagramming this sentence.

It is generally easier to clean a thing which is smaller than you. Your greater size allows you to intimidate the thing, by occluding its light or just by overpowering it. Even should matters not come to that, it’s useful to know that you could, if pressed, overpower (say) the pantry shelves or at least eat them. Not every interaction with things should be a matter of domination and submission, but the option helps clarify matters. So should you have to clean a larger thing, try to enlarge yourself, or to shrink the thing, and then proceed as you would with a smaller thing.

With that done, the next most important task is to determine what kind of cleaning the thing needs. For example, does it merely need tidying? Tidying is the best sort of cleaning because it is done by taking a thing and setting it atop another thing. By creating this stack of things, both are tidied. The stacks can themselves be stacked. It is within the Marquis of Cleansbury Rules to tidy your entire house by stacking everything in it on top of everything else. This is why when you visit the house of your tidiest friend the entire first floor is a vast, empty space, decorated with a single futon capable of seating two people uncomfortably and a wall-mounted television that only gets shows about people buying houses in Peru.

I should say, the tidying urge runs strong in my family. I’m not saying that we’re experts. But we are good. Behind my house is a stack of like four love seats, a dining room table, a roll-away dishwasher, 426 linear feet of books, and eighteen potted plants one atop the other in a writhing pillar of photosynthesis. But it’s all stacked, and neat, and won’t tip over as long as the guy wires don’t snap or we don’t get a breeze. If it does, that’s all right. I have my tidying instincts to rely on. I could stack all that into a good enough pile so fast it wouldn’t even use up all my stockpiled podcasts. Yes, I have a pile of unfinished podcasts. It’s only about fourteen inches tall, but you better find that impressive or I’ll come over and glare at you.

But maybe the thing needs a real, proper cleaning. If the thing is smaller than you, great. Pick the thing up and carry it to a riverbank or body of water. A pond, say, or if you need something larger a hyperpond. And now I’m thrown because my spell checker is not objecting to “hyperpond”. I can’t have put that in my dictionary. There’s no way that’s a real word, though, right? Is my spell checker broken? Flurple. Cn’tr. Flxible. No, these things are getting highlighted. This is all very disturbing and I don’t know that I can continue from here. Knwo. Cnotineu. Yeah, it’s just broken about hyperpond. Hyperlake. No, it allows that too. Hyperocean. That too. Apparently my spell checker thinks “hyper” is a legitimate prefix to any body of water. Hyperriver. Hypercreek. Ah! It doesn’t like that one. Hyporiver. No, it doesn’t mind “hyporiver”. Hypocreek gets rejected. I’m sorry to get bothered by this but if you’re not bothered by this, what are you bothered by?

My TextWrangler window showing the paragraph with words like 'hyperpond' in it and not underlined for being suspect misspellings.
The eternal debate: when you discover a happy accident like this, work it into the piece or separate it out into something else? On the one hand, breaking the flow of an essay is a kind of comic path that can feel very tired to the reader. It’s a little stream-of-consciousness and that can read pretty cheap as a joke. On the other hand, it’s delightful to be surprised like that and why not embrace that delight?

I have to conclude that there’s some serious cleaning-up needed on my dictionary. Anyway, uh, for cleaning up your things I don’t know, try working from the top and getting to the bottom and use small, gentle circular motions. That usually does something. Good luck.

How To Connect To The Hotel Wi-Fi

There is a good deal of interest in these parts about how to get various things done. So this department will provide some explanations of how to handle some common tasks. Why you would do them is your own affair.

How To Connect To The Hotel Wi-Fi

  1. Be at or near a hotel with a computing device capable of interacting by Wi-Fi. This may sound obvious, but you might be surprised at the number of people have come up to us, holding a plastic abacus and insisting they can’t get on the Internet with it. The figure’s less surprising if you discount sarcasm.
  2. Open a web browser on your computer. There’s no sense opening a web browser on your pillow. You don’t want Internet-equipped bedding. It never ends well.
  3. Look through the list of public Wi-Fi networks. It should look something like ‘RestIn’, ‘RestIn_4’, ‘Rest_In_5’, ‘RestIn_26’, ‘Rest_In_26’, and ‘RestIn_27’, ‘Applebees_Guest’, “RestInn_Nonpublic”, “U_SPYING_ICE”, ‘IHOP_STAFF_ONLY’, “Resting6”, and (with the faintest of one bar, flickering in and out of the menu) “Asperience_Guest_Lounge”. Select the one that most nearly matches the name of your hotel (“Rest Inn”) and has the number that looks least threatening to you.
  4. Enter the user id (“guest”) and the password (“restinnguest”). The system will then ask you to accept the terms and conditions of service. Accept the conditions, but refuse the terms, as they include some which were not covered in the reading material and are not on the study sheet, such as the “Bland-Allison Act”.
  5. Go to any web site to test your connection. Wait for the screen to change to a solid color, with one strip of banner ad on the top, the ad that’s supposed to be on the left side of the page running down the middle, and some text sprawled off past the right side of the page where you can’t read it and can’t scroll to it, at which point the computer gives up. This should take about four minutes.
  6. Try one of the other hotel Wi-Fi networks with a less-friendly-looking number until you get the same result.
  7. Try the hotel Wi-Fi network with the weakest signal strength and that finally lets things through and pops up, like, forty Facebook messages even when you aren’t on Facebook somehow. Then the connection dies again.
  8. Turn your computer’s Wi-Fi off and on again and try the first network you used again.
  9. Try the Applebee’s one. What the heck.
  10. Scream into your pillow.
  11. Never, ever, ever go to a hotel ever again.
  12. Try sitting on the corner of the bed with the laptop in your lap, which you don’t really have. But if you cross one leg over and fit it under your knee there’s just enough leg space there to balance the laptop without it getting too hot and without your foot necessarily being put to sleep by the pressure of your knee on top of it.
  13. That’s getting a little better, but maybe if you sit closer to the edge of the bed where the signal is a little bit … different? … somehow and you know the wall is right past you where maybe you could lean into it?
  14. Throw your abacus into the pillow.
  16. You leaned back, didn’t you? You got yourself wedged between the bed and the wall, didn’t you?
  17. All right. Don’t panic. We’ll sort this out. No, it’s premature to hack your legs off. For one, you haven’t even tried shifting — oh, you’ve gone and wedged yourself in tighter then? All right. No, don’t go crying out for help. The last thing anyone in a hotel wants is cries for help from the next room over. It’s just going to spoil their trip too.
  18. So, better than hacking your own legs off to escape the bed-wall trap is to use your legs’ pre-designed detachment points. They can be reattached later by any reputable auto mechanics or certain advanced kinds of stereo salesmen. To find your detachment points refer to your year of birth, where discernable, and check the manufacturer’s web site for what spots you have to touch and in what order to — oh, right. The web.
  19. I don’t know, did you try the IHOP network?
  20. Have you tried a mobile hotspot? A mobile hotspot is a great way to turn someplace that doesn’t have Internet into someplace that is supposed to have Internet but doesn’t.

From The August 2017 Scraps File

More text that I couldn’t do anything with. If you can, congratulations!

Another problem is my speaking voice I sound like I’m being sarcastic. It’s an endemic problem with my family. Something in our upbringing caused us to transmute all our deepest Jersey vowels and verbal tics into, instead, conveying an eye-roll with the way we say words like “Hello” and “which”. I don’t think it was just my siblings and I trying to preemptively put one another down. We love each other, so far as we tell each other. But I can’t even say, “I spilled some tea and wanted to wipe it up” without sounding like I’m the one being hostile. I didn’t spill the tea on purpose. Anyway, a heavy dose of sarcasm is fine for some conversations, but not if you’re trying to make a real argument that, like, William Shatner showed a deft touch in some of the scenes he directed in Star Trek V: The One William Shatner Directed. See? You already think that’s me being sarcastic. — Cut from last week’s discussion about my lack of podcasting because it’s one of those paragraphs I thought up while in bed and figured oh, I’m definitely putting that in when I get up in the morning, and it was two days after I posted it.

ham sanitizer — Look, sometimes when you want to write a high-volume humor thingy you just go into these free-association free-form things and jot down whatever comes to mind and then you look at it afterwards and have to shrug because it doesn’t always pan out.

“The Tasmanian rainforest is considered a Gondwanan relic.” — Yes, that old Wikipedia statement once again, because I just can not make myself believe there’s nothing in there. But August was another month where whatever is there didn’t turn up for me. Maybe September.

hand satirizer — Again from the free-association free-form thingy and the thing to remember is that just because an idea pops into your head doesn’t mean you owe it the slightest gratitude for doing so. If it’s a good idea it’ll do some heavy lifting on its own and show why it’s a good idea and you don’t have to try building up every pair of words until it’s something.

Oh, yeah, I know how these things come about. You’re minding your own business and then you see this bolt of light and stop the car to examine. It’s this desperate, crashed alien who rallies himself from death long enough to transfer onto you a weird tattoo that tingles with a body-encompassing energy. The alien turns out to be this mutant human who half a millennium ago was a minor Dutch nobleman before being struck by a comet that granted him astounding superpowers he struggled to keep secret in his new not-quite-immortal life. Then you go on to discover that your own son, born with the powers of your now mutating body, will travel back in time hundreds of years to create a comet bearing the superpower tattoo, that proceeds to hit his own later self, given amnesia and planted in the Netherlands to be hit by the energy-bringing comet that sets this whole time loop into motion. I must know like twenty guys that’s happened to. — Cut because the person who was talking about this said no, he thought the character just inherited magical abilities from his father, and I pointed out that technically speaking that’s true in my scenario too, and the person shook his head sadly and walked away. This led us into a good argument about whether this would have been creating a paradox, or resolving a paradox, or avoiding a paradox altogether, and long story short we’re not speaking anymore and that person is justified.

yam sani– — No. Just, you know? No.

If you or someone you love is able to make use of these scraps please submit a comment care of the Bishopric of Utrecht, 1024 – 1528. Please be advised that responses might be delayed, as, according to a quick skim of Wikipedia’s articles abou the history of the Netherlands, it seems like there was a lot of investituring and annulling was going on back then and that probably has everyone quite distracted.

Thanking You For Listening

As a white guy who’s liked Popeye’s Fried Chicken I’m often asked why I don’t host a pop-culture hangout podcast. “Hey, you!” people will gather around my house to cry out. “There’s stuff you watch and read and listen to that you think is bad! Why aren’t you snorting into a microphone about that with some of your friends?” It’s becoming a nuisance. “I’m just putting these old fenceposts out for someone on Freecycle who says they’re going to pick it up tomorrow but is lying,” I answer. “I don’t have time to podcast!” They’re unmoved. But I have reasons.

First is that I have this problem with my voice. I mean, I have one that I use almost every day. But I’m hard to understand. I’ve avoided having my New Jersey accent be incomprehensible by not saying much of anything out loud. I’m not trying to hide my voice. I just don’t know how to talk loud enough to be heard over other people, or ambient music, or background noise like our pet rabbit breathing. Or my own breathing. When I say something the words come out of my mouth, then plummet, bouncing off my feet and rolling underneath the bookshelf, there to be harvested by mice.

Also I have to cough, a little but insistently, every 26 seconds. I’ve had this condition since like 1997. I’ve tried to ask my doctor about this, but she can’t hear me. We could edit around that, but editing seems like a lot of work for a pop-culture hangout podcast.

I could set the microphone on my feet so when words tumble onto them some get caught. But then there’s my sentence problem. At some point I figure I’ve said as much of any sentence as could benefit anyone to hear, and then I stop. I trust people to work out the rest. For example, suppose my love wants to know what that racket out back was. I might say, “I knocked over two of the empty flowerpots, but they didn’t break.” But that takes more words to say than interest in the subject warrants. I’m sorry to spend so much time on it now. So I would answer, “I knocked over two”, and figure that’s as much of that as anybody could stand. Oh, I’ll drift off, letting my voice get somehow even softer. My love can probably work out the rest of the sentence from context anyway. That and the flowerpots. But I know that’s not good asynchronous radio.

Plus there’s getting together with friends to record something. I’ve got friends, people I know well enough to help them move furniture. But most of them are online. We could only record a podcast by organizing whatever the Internet equivalent of a conference call is. I hear there are people who can do this. But I also hear there are people who can climb Mount Everest in their shorts or who can magic Magic-Eye Puzzles work. I’ll never manage the trick. People I know in real life — people near enough that I could lick their bodies — are mostly folks I see at pinball events. They’re fun to hang out with, but who could record over all that pinball and bar noise? I don’t know how pinball podcasts do it. I imagine a lot of shouting.

Oh gads and then there’s voices. I’d probably have to do some characters by way of funny voices. I can’t. I haven’t got any way of making my voice do anything on purpose. I could do a character that’s “me, only talking a little faster”. Or I can do “me, only talking a little slower”. But could I do, like, Columbo? Popeye? Any of the supporting cast of The Simpsons? Not even remotely. I’d have to call in experts to support me. That runs into money and social obligations.

Plus there’s having feelings about stuff. You can do a pop-culture hangout podcast about stuff you like, or about stuff you hate. But that means you have to like or hate stuff. I don’t trust strong feelings about stuff, even if they’re my own. It’s asking a lot out of me to have them, never mind to keep them viable for, what, a half-hour of recording before I can get to letters from listeners?

So that’s why, despite my record of being a guy who sometimes likes dumb stuff, I don’t figure on starting a podcast anytime soon. Thanks for listening, and remember, Patreon subscribers at the $5 or above level get my monthly special episode about which Funky Winkerbean comics most make you want to slug the guy who writes Funky Winkerbean. Next episode’s dropping Sunday. See you then. If you need some fenceposts, please, come take them now. They’re just taking up space.

Getting Ready For The Eclipse

So we’ve only got a couple days left before the eclipse. I think we’re basically set. But we should go over some last-minute arrangements before we do.

First. I’ve talked with about two-thirds of all the dragons I know and they’ve agreed they aren’t going to go eating the sun while everything’s happening. They also agree not to eat the Moon. They’re making no promises about not eating Saturn, though. I know, I know, I kept pointing out how much we like the rings. This one silver dragon asked when’s the last time I looked at them and that’s just not fair. I’m not on Saturn-ring-watching duty. That’s, like, I want to say Eric? I think Eric signed up for that.

Second. We don’t need paper plates or plastic silverware. We have Jakebe signed up to bring them, and we’ve even got someone who’s going to tell him. Don’t worry. I’ve known him for years and I’m pretty sure he’s got this. Or will. Ooh, do you think he has those little wicker baskets you put the paper plates in? They make picnics just so much better.

Third. Egg salad. Here we do need help. We need someone who’ll whip up enough egg salad for everybody who’s on the path between 80 percent and totality. We’ve got enough egg salad for the 40 percent through 80 percent bands, and we’ve found that most of the people in the 40 percent and less bands are figuring to get their own lunches so we’re not worrying about them. They’re missing out, though. Should say, we want the egg salad with a little bit of dill picked from the yard just as if it were all right to grow plants in your yard and pick them and eat them. I know, we’ve been doing this for years but it still feels like we’re getting away with something. Please check the sign-up sheets and it’s all right if we have extra left over.

Fourth. As the sun passes behind the mountains of the lunar horizon we may see Baily’s Beads. We need about four more people to get up and polish them to a good shine so they’re really presentable. We’ve got the polishing rags, since we somehow have twelve camera-lens-cleaning cloths and we don’t know why we needed more than, like, two.

Fifth. Cloud cover. After the Transit of Venus we’re all rightly fed up with clouds obscuring stuff like this. We’ve got enough volunteers to go up in the sky and eat as many clouds as they can. That’s not going to be able to cover all the eclipse path, so we also need people who can go up and wave fans around to blow any clouds out of the way, then get out of the way before totality sets in. Please bring your own fans! We can’t arrange everything. Pro Tip: write your name or e-mail address on the fan’s handle so if it gets separated from you we know how to get it back.

Sixth. People to handle leftover egg salad. Yes, I said it’s all right if we have extra left over. That’s because we are going to have people to handle this left-over stuff. Look, it’s hard enough getting a big event like this organized. I’m not going to waste my time trying to make sure we exactly match up egg salad needs with egg salad availability. I say, make all the egg salad we can and we’ll work out what to do with the extra. I’m thinking spare lunches, but am open-minded.

Seventh. Oh, this is important. The music. Our band backed out because the guy who plays guitar has some impossibly complicated problem going on. You know the sort, where everything is caused by like four other causes and they’re all cross-feeding each other. So. I know how great it was back during the Annular Eclipse of 1994 when we just grabbed whatever CDs we had in our cars and did a jam of that. It’s temping to do that again but there’s a shocking number of you have cars that can’t even play CDs. I think we’re just going to have to stick to everybody listening to whatever podcasts they’re already behind on. Disappointing, but these are the times we live in. But if you do know a good band that’s got guitarists who aren’t caught up in crazypants drama please let us know. No, we’re not doing Pink Floyd covers again.

So I think we’re all set. If you want to do any last-minute sign-ups do it by 11 am Sunday. We are not pushing things to the last second and this time we mean it. And let’s try to get this right; this is our last full rehearsal before April 2024. Good luck and enjoy!

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The trading floor is empty today. After a bit over a year at this and growing the Another Blog, Meanwhile index from 100 to 400, the analysts and traders agreed that they had done everything they could have hoped for, and that to carry on would just be to spoil the memories of what they had accomplished. All have agreed it was some of the best times of their lies, and agreed to stay in touch, all the while knowing that while everybody basically likes everybody else, they’re going to dissolve into bunches of at most two or three people who stay Facebook friends. They’ll now and then think of one of the others, and maybe even make contact, agreeing that they should totally get together sometime again, but never exactly do. And that’s all right. It’s fine to have friendships that aren’t ended, or estranged, or anything, just left after a contented while and occasionally revisited like an old home that’s not yours anymore.

No, The Space Whale Probe Can Hold Off, Too

Remember back when the world was young and Star Trek IV: The One With The Whales first came out in theaters? Me too. There’s this scene where Kirk and Spock are riding a bus because it’s the mid-80s, and there’s this young punk playing annoying music too loud. So Spock neck-pinches him, and he falls over, knocking his boombox off. Everyone on the bus applauds because, hey, so far as they can tell this man wearing a bathrobe in public has choked a kid to death for being snotty! And everyone watching the scene chuckles too because, hey, don’t we all want to choke the youth to death? Yes.

What’s haunted me, as an annoying Star Trek fan, is the lyrics for the punk’s music. They run like this:

Just where is the future, the things we’ve done and said
Let’s just push the button, we’d be better off dead

‘Cause I hate you, and I berate you
And I can’t wait to get to you too

The sins of all the fathers been dumped on us, the sons,
The only choice we’re given is how many megatons?

Thing is, in the universe of Star Trek, that kid on the bus is less than a decade away from the Third World War. So is whatever British Punk Band That Works “Berate” Into Its Chorus that recorded the song. (In the full version they let “eschew” into the verse. My music tastes run more towards “sounds like that theremin’s calving”, but I can appreciate solid punk writing when I hear it.) And I keep thinking: what did that kid, and what did that band, think later on when The Bombs were falling?

(Yes, yes, I am very aware that as this was an Original Series movie the Third World War that bus punk would experience was explicitly non-nuclear. It was conventional warfare that killed 37 million people and that’s better I guess? It wasn’t until the more optimistic and utopian Next Generation that they rescheduled the Third World War to the mid-21st-century and killed over a half billion people.)

We’ve been thinking about a civilization-wrecking nuclear war for a long time. Or at least we’ve been thinking we’re thinking about it. We don’t really picture nuclear destruction, though. We don’t even picture ordinary destruction. What we imagine is a tense half-hour listening to news anchors trying to keep it together while the camera keeps drifting off-center, and the newsroom is weirdly quiet apart from off-camera voices sometimes shouting. Also taking phone calls from estranged friends with last-minute repentances for wronging us. Good luck those getting through. Even if the phone lines weren’t jammed apparently we’d all be having consequence-free sex with people we’d never see again anyway? Or so you all might. I’d be busy trying to download my Twitter archive so I could re-read some choice digs I got in on someone back in May.

We’ve got vague thoughts about what happens after, too. Post-apocalypse planning works out to be thinking we’ll get to pick the best stuff out of the landscape. Maybe go into business as a local warlord, trading supplies and shelter with trustworthy-looking stragglers. This from people who can’t handle there not being a dividing bar on the checkout conveyor belt at the farmer’s market. What if the guy ahead of us gets my two bunches of curly parsley? These aren’t the thoughts of someone up for handling the thirtieth day in a row of eating cream-of-celery soup. It was the only thing left that better scavengers didn’t get to first at the Neighborhood Market that mostly sold cell phone cards and lottery tickets. It’s reconstituted using water from where the now-former paint factory is leaking toluene into the aquifer. And it’s cold.

We’d need help, that’s all there is to it. And I don’t know what to do. On my bookshelf alone I have enough World War II books to teach how to win the war, except for how to fight. But they all end with lots of people in rubble-strewn cities. Even the ones about the postwar situation skim over what there is to do in it. There’s dramatic photos and talk about people clearing away rubble. Then it’s 1948 (for Europe) or 1950 (for Japan) and the United States decides the rubble cities should have an economy again. That’s over three years of people clearing away rubble. They had a lot of rubble, yes. But they also had to agree on where to put the rubble. And that takes social organization. And I don’t know where that comes from either.

This may be controversial, but I say ending civilization and destroying the world is a bad move. We should tough out our problems as they are and try fixing what we can. Thanks to YouTube you’ve seen all the footage of news anchors trying not to lose it that you could possibly need, and it’s about the same every time. Trust your estranged friends when they drop hints that they’d take an apology happily. Drop your estranged friends a hint that you’d take an apology happily. Stop looking for consequence-free stuff to do with or to people. For me, I’m going on TrekBBS to yell that they do not build the whale tank out of transparent aluminum. They build it out of the six-inch-thick plexiglass they traded the transparent aluminum formula for. Come on, people, watch the movie you’re watching. We can at least get that right.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell eleven points today as traders started getting all giddy thinking about how they used to be at, like, 80 points and now they’re up so way high nobody can even see 100 or even 200 anymore, which doesn’t sound at all like the sort of hubristic declaration that leads to incredible pain.


On Foot

You probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the history of tying shoes. This is a wise choice. There are so many other things that need thinking about. You know, like that odd smell that’s maybe of burning plastic that’s sometimes in the hallway when you were gone all day? Or what responsibility we have for that seam line visible on Saturn’s moon Iapetus? Or why all those people are setting up circus tents in your backyard? There’s got to be someone to ask about that. I broke from my habit of non-thinking about tying shoes so that we could have this done once and for all. No, I am not reading about the history of socks. You know why.

For the second-longest time there just wasn’t any tying of shoes. This had four reasons, one of them being that there were no shoes. Shoes were invented for Napoleon Bonaparte’s army after it was noticed that tromping through a thousand miles of Russian snow was really hard on the bare foot. It didn’t help the snow any either, but this is the wrong time of year for me to write about the history of snow-clearing or maybe ice-skating. Napoleon agreed this was a lot of trouble for feet and ordered experts to come up with a way to cover the foot. They did this by the simple process of covering the foot. It was a rousing success and everybody agreed they should have been making shoes for hundreds of years now. This and the overcoming of the other three reasons let shoes become really quite popular.

Still, the earliest shoes weren’t easy to put on or take off. They were slabs of leather that one would fit around the foot and, using needle and thread and Grandmom who knows how to use those sewing tools that look faintly like surgical instruments, stitch closed. This could take until well near bedtime. The British Army spent most of the 1830s with its soldiers never leaving their bunks, just sewing and unsewing their boots all day. This lead to peaceful times and the First Reform Act.

The countries of Western Europe competed to find ways to easily tightening and loosening shoes. Through much of the Civil War the Union armies experimented with welding shoes into place, an action that resulted in many burned ankles and slugged welders. In Scotland rivets were tried. These were of limited use as the striking action of putting rivets in place could magnetize the iron slugs, causing people to walk to the north and find they ran out of Scotland, to their chagrin.

So naturally the breakthrough came in the Ottoman Empire. In 1878 a shoemaker for the Sultan Abdul Hamid II asked, “Why don’t we just punch parallel rows of uniformly spaced holes in the shoes, and then thread a strong string or small rope through the holes to fit them together?” The Sultan, who was in another room, didn’t hear the suggestion but approved it. When this turned out to be a pretty darned good idea after all he nodded as if that had been his intention all along, and quickly ordered an investigation to just what was going on with shoes. I hope this doesn’t end up in his report. He’s got to be expecting something really great if it’s taken all this while to get something on his desk. I’m not arrogant enough to think my essay here that great, but I am earmarking it for this year’s Robert Benchley Society essay contest. Just saying.

Still the early forms were not precisely what we see today. When are they ever? The first attempts used separate laces and loops for each pair of holes, which took forever to deal with. Folks trying to save time as telegraphs and railroads got all snappy and romantic started just tying the top loop together. This made their toes pop out the middle. So they retaliated by poking laces through the other, non-top holes. And so by 1889, on a Tuesday, shoes were finally tied in ways that we would recognize today, on a Friday.

Is there room for improvement? Surely. The glue-covered shoelace solved the problem of unraveled knots, but at the cost of being a right mess. And nobody has anything but embarrassed coughs to say about the frictionless superfluid lace that would slither out of its holes and into the pantry. We may yet scrap the whole project and go back to being barefoot.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose another five points to another record high and at this point it’s getting kind of dull and the fun is draining out of it all. I’m not looking forward to how this implies we’re going to get a really big and fun and exciting crash down to, like, 14 points within the next week.


Where The Time Went

Over twelve of you have noticed this phenomenon. It’s actually over twelve percent of you, but I’m supposing there’s more than a cent of you out there. There will be anyway. But you’ve seen this. You look at a clock. It’s got seconds on it. That second just doesn’t change. It sticks to whatever time it currently is (let’s say … 8:49:46) for a good long while. More than a second, as you figure it. Maybe five seconds. Maybe as long as fourth grade took. Finally as you’re about to get up and give the thing a good nudge it moves again, going back to about one second per second. Even then, though, look away and snap your eyes back and you might get the second frozen there again. What’s going on here, and why are clocks messing with us to see if we’re watching? Well, wouldn’t you mess with people like that, if you were a clock? What else would you have to do?

What’s important her is a fundamental principle of time. We only know time passes because we see something happen. Like, we see the time that a clock shows changing. This is a good one because we’ve put all our time sense into clocks. If we need to rely on ourselves we just guess that the time feels like three-ish, maybe, or that it might be a Thursday but it sure feels like when you’re at the zoo and get some hay or something stuck in your shoe just outside the camel enclosure. We use the clock to let us know that time is even moving.

Think back to childhood, if you have one. Remember how experiments like lying on your back seeing if you could breathe just right to make a tennis ball roll into and out of your belly button before a sibling came over and sat on your face? And you had to turn to biting? Remember how you could spend as much as four days straight at that between the last cartoon of the morning and the start of Password Plus on channel 4 and still have time to punch another sibling? Well, the last cartoon finished at 9 am, and Password Plus came on at 10. All that time was squeezed into under a single hour.

Mouse running down the Hickory-Dickory-Dock clock at Story Book Land in Egg Harbor, New Jersey.
I use this picture to represent the concept of “time” because I had a fun day at Story Book Land amusement park and because people like it when there are pictures.

As kids we didn’t need clocks. We could just have experiences. The most we needed was the clock in school, and the clock in our parents’ car’s dashboard that was set to the wrong time. We would only feel time accumulating during social studies and while being driven somewhere you don’t want to go, probably in another state on a trip that would be fun if you weren’t stopping at educational spots and scenic overlooks where the picnic tables are all like two inches two high for where the bench seats are.

As adults we fill our lives with more clocks. Clocks on the nightstand, on your watch, on your phone, on your computer, on your other phone, on the wall, on the TV, the thing on the DVR that looks like it’s the time but actually is the channel number, on the toaster oven, on the other end of your computer’s screen, on a web page, on your Internet-connected Smart Towels, and on the car dashboard where it’s satellite-tuned to the right time. Every single one of these things is ticking off seconds and of course they add up. These days you can’t have one second of time pass without it being at least twelve seconds all at once.

If you’ve got a proper modern lifestyle you can get all your clock-ready things going and then notice that as best you can tell, 2010 was at most forty minutes ago. This is a sign that you have too many clocks in your life, multiply-counting all your time and slurping it up before you can tell it’s gone. Try de-clocking your surroundings; see how well you do if you get back to the basics of time, the way you did as a child. Then you had the inaccurate car dashboard clock, and a calendar to make sure you didn’t miss Christmas or your birthday, neither of which could ever happen. Maybe it won’t work, but if you do want to give it a try, I recommend you hurry.

Password Plus was never scheduled to air earlier than 11:30 Eastern/Pacific. You were thinking, believe it or not, of Card Sharks.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

And after getting a much-needed hushing yesterday the trading floor went and rose the Another Blog, Meanwhile index by twenty points, bringing it to another all-time high. At this point I think they’re just trying to cross me up. Why do I not get behavior like this from my money-making investments, like those ten shares of the Tootsie Roll company I own? tells me this is a D-grade investment, but all I can say is, it’s the thing in my portfolio that actually returns something, and if all else fails I can eat forty of them and then remember that’s maybe too many Tootsie Rolls to eat at once.