Saturday, April 30, 2016


Sisyphus is on my mind again—or still, if you prefer. Repetition, practice, focus, purpose. The myth stays with us because of its inherent truth.

* * *

Fuck, this is going to be one of those mornings. Let's try again.

“Hey, did you hear about Sisyphus?”

“No, what happened?”

“Dude, he rocks!”

See, now I'm not even trying. I'm shirking my obligation to keep pushing, even when the effort is futile.

* * *

Okay, so what is the alternative? Well, there's a photo of a purplish flower with dew on it at the top of the page. We could talk about that a little.

The photo was taken in Balboa Park, in February 2012. Those are exciting details. Don't you just feel like you were there?

* * *

The important thing about writing practice is to keep moving, keep pushing that rock up a hill. Sometimes you get so engrossed in the pushing that you forget about the rock. Other times, like know, you forget about everything but the rock.

* * *

Fine, we're stuck again. Keep pushing.

“Are we there yet?”


“Are we there yet?”

The answer will always be no. Keep pushing.

* * *

Free advice: Don't be a writer. Find a different rock to push.

More free advice: Don't listen to free advice.

Wait, should I be charging for advice? If an advisor falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make money?

* * *

I was hoping for better when I'd started this 11 minutes ago. I'm always hoping for better. I'm also stubborn, so even though I scream a lot, I keep pushing—a whinier version of Sisyphus. I can push a rock and throw a fit at the same time. Multitasking!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Sometimes It's Okay to Like Other Things

I was on a train with impossibly large rooms. It was bigger on this inside, like a TARDIS. A friend had invited me to a party in one of the rooms, which was really a convention hall. There were dealers and people in costume, but I couldn't find my friend. I went upstairs and found myself sitting in a regular commuter train, with no sign of the convention I'd just been visiting.

I arrived in someone's backyard, possibly mine. It had gotten late and the stars were shining. Then they were falling on us. More accurately, Earth was falling onto them. We were told that this was the end of the world. I could see planets and galaxies hurtling toward us. They looked as though they would crash through our atmosphere and onto the ground, although that is of course impossible.

My father had turned into a dog, a very old pug who could speak. He trudged to a spot beneath a tree and plopped himself down onto the ground. I wanted to help him but couldn't. There was nothing I could do, and he told me it was okay.

* * *

“Frontiers are where you find them,” writes the professor on the chalkboard at the end of EverybodyWants Some!! Well, you find them everywhere, whether you want to or not: trains, conventions, apocalypses. A human turning into a dog?

It's all very weird, but as a character from that same movie says, “Embrace your inner strange.” Speaking as someone who specializes in the odd, that's not the worst advice I've heard.

Being adaptable is good, too. I'm still working on that part. A recurring line in a novel I'm writing is, “People like what they like.” Sure, but sometimes it's okay to like other things.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Hills and Fires

As long as I'm telling stories about events I barely remember, here's one that stays with me even though it feels more like a dream than like anything that ever happened. I must have been 10 or 11 years old at the time. I still swam—not competitively or anything, just in general—and a buddy and I were crawling our way around the bay when we looked back and saw the hillside above on fire.

It wasn't actually the hillside, of course, just a house on the hillside. But from the water it looked like everything was on fire. We raced back to shore to... I don't know what our plan was. Notify the authorities that there was a very obvious fire blazing directly above them?

I have no idea what happened after that. Presumably the fire got put out and we ate lunch. Then we went to high school, college, and who knows what other shenanigans. I got married, maybe he did. That guy was really smart, he probably rules the world by now. He was a helluva Dungeon Master, I'll bet he'd make a great CEO.

Another time, not very far from there, an RV caught fire. They had to close down the southbound side of the road, which caused major delays. What is it about hills and fires?

Years later that hill had other problems. I forget the specifics, but it had something to do with houses sinking into the ground, which wasn't quite as stable as developers—apparently to the satisfaction of the appropriate government agencies (notify the authorities!)—had suggested.

It occurs to me now that I should tell better stories. Be assured that if I knew better stories, I would in fact tell them. Truth be told, I probably do know better stories, I just can't remember them.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Four of Us

There were four of us in the car. There were always three or four of us, but that day it was four as we cruised around the west side, near Santa Monica and Westwood. We weren't going anywhere in particular, just killing time. Sometimes we'd hang out at the mall and play video games or watch girls we'd never get up the nerve to talk to. Other times we'd just drive and look for whatever.

This day we found something. She had blond hair and looked kind of cute from a distance. She needed a ride, and we had room if we squeezed together. I was driving, so it didn't affect me except that it was my car. Well, not mine exactly, but close enough. One of the guys in back was pretty small, so you could work pretty much anything or anyone in around him.

We started driving again, and that's when shit got weird. I don't remember who did the talking for us, but let's assume it was me.

“Where are you headed?”

“I just need a ride back to the hospital.”

Hospital? Okay. I glanced in the rear-view mirror. The small guy in back had shrunk into the corner like he was trying to become one with the seat, in the hope that he might somehow escape her presence. The other guy had widened his eyes, but he often did that. He usually looked surprised by what life had to offer, and probably was a lot of the time, which seems like a pretty great way to go through life.

“What hospital?”

“I don't know where it is.”

Turns out it was a mental institution of some sort and she'd gotten lost. We figured out where it was and took her there. Strange day.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

It's Your Call

Some days you just stare hard at objects and wait for them to make sense. Other days everything seems hopelessly out of focus, so maybe you listen instead. Why are those birds making noise? What could they possibly have to say at this hour?

You wake up, look at the clock. It doesn't make sense.

You make coffee, pour some in a mug, and drink. The world remains blurry, you no longer hear birds. Where have they gone?

Every part of your house is familiar, and yet, you sometimes wonder if there's a meaning behind it all. Something hidden behind the surface. Probably not, you think, but what if there is?

The coffee is warm, thick, and bitter. You'd like that to be a metaphor for something, but it's just a drink to help get you going, help you think of metaphors.

You don't see the sunrise, you only see evidence of the sunrise. You think about the tight range of temperatures in which humans can survive, and the margin for error on this planet. We are highly improbable beings, but as empirical evidence suggests, not impossible. Hooray for us.

Birds don't make sense. Words don't make sense. We don't make sense.

Can you see me now? No, still out of focus. Still trying to understand clocks that measure time as though it were a meaningful element, as though it mattered in any real sense of the word, as though words themselves weren't also artificial constructs.

It's not that thinking, in and of itself, isn't good. That particular human activity has been largely beneficial over the years. It's just that maybe sometimes you want to turn off the switch and simply exist for a while. Or maybe stop using your words, lest you write something incomprehensible like this. It's your call.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Least Interesting Man in the World

I'm in the process of making what I hope will become beer. Right now it's sitting in a tub in a closet. Five gallons of liquid that should be drinkable in a few weeks. If not, at least we'll have a lot of it.

It gives me a new appreciation for professional brewers.

* * *

False start, let's try something else. I don't even know what, we're just trying to fill the quota here. Literally nothing of interest happened yesterday. I watched a documentary about a bicycle race, continued watching Bob's Burgers, and made progress on H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds.

I walked to a Japanese market on Convoy to pick up some sushi and chicken karaage for lunch, listened to a few podcasts, and fell asleep in a chair in the backyard.

Face it, I'm the least interesting man in the world.

* * *

Which brings us back to beer. Or advertising. Here's a question: Why is it that the shittiest products have the funniest commercials? I've often found myself laughing my ass off at a pitch for what looks like the most disgusting hamburger in the world, thinking a) that's hilarious and b) I don't ever want to use their restroom, let alone eat their food.

* * *

Still short of the quota. Hopelessly stuck. Need words... need... words. Dying out here.

This is the part where I'm grateful that nobody reads my practice sessions. Read the finished product, not the process, which is nastier than those hamburgers in the hilarious commercial.

Hamburgers. Sausage. How is the sausage made? Seems like there's a joke here, but maybe not.

* * *

That's the thing with beer. You make it, stash it away for a while, and hope it turns into something good. Just like writing.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Wrong Stop

The moment she stepped off the train, she knew she had gotten off at the wrong stop, but the engine had already started away and the conductor shook his head sternly as she yelled and waved her arms. Nothing looked familiar here, except for a few old relatives she hadn't seen in some time.

“Catherine!” one of them cried, an uncle on her father's side.

Yes, it really was him. And her uncle's son was there as well. They smiled at her and waved her over. She was glad to see them, but why were they here? Why was she here?

“Uncle Ray, what a delightful surprise!” she embraced her uncle, who wore an over-large sweater and smelled like pipe tobacco.

He held her hard and patted her on the back before letting go.

“And Edmund, so nice to see you as well.” He embraced her cousin, who smelled like the sea.

“How long has it been?” said Edmund.

She looked him over and scarcely recognized him. They had been close once as children, but aside from his gentle smile, he bore little resemblance to the young man she'd known then. Of course, she probably looked no more familiar to him.

“Too long,” she said, still trying to get her bearings.

“We were just going for dinner,” said Ray, “why don't you join us?”

She still couldn't figure out where she was or how she had ended up here (or how they had gotten here, for that matter), but food sounded good.

“I'd be happy to, uncle. Lead the way.”

He smiled and placed her hand in his. The three of them walked away from the train station, toward a small village just down the road. It looked nice. She hoped it was.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

It Could Be Never

Then there's the matter of authenticity, of creating something real out of nothing. You might begin composing in your head, listening to voices and playing with spaces, manipulating them or letting them manipulate you and push you in a particular direction.

You envision a situation, then put characters into it and watch them react. You record their reactions. Where are they located in relation to one another? Are they standing, sitting, lying down? Are they happy, sad, somewhere in between?

You ask questions and keep asking. What paintings are on the walls and where did they come from? Whose photos are on the refrigerator and why? The key is to discover the essence of these people and the places they inhabit.

Sometimes you might leave this world for a while and return to it later. And when you examine it all again, everything seems off—maybe by a little, maybe a lot—and so you keep looking, keep digging until you figure out the truth.

What you originally believed or understood about this place might have changed in your absence. Maybe you misinterpreted a piece of the physical geography or a person's reaction or the reason for that person's reaction.

This is hardly cause for panic, of course, as we go through the real world constantly misinterpreting people and things that surround us. The trick is to gather more information, separate the proverbial wheat from the equally proverbial chaff, and make new judgments based on what is hopefully a more complete picture.

What if you don't end up with a more complete picture? Well, then you repeat the entire process for as long as it takes to get things right. How long might that be? Ideally it would be within the span of a human lifetime, but who knows. It could be never.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Washed into the Sea

The opposite of writing is not writing, which seems obvious except when you're staring at a blank piece of paper or computer screen, thinking about what words to choose. That is thinking, or ruminating, or perhaps even procrastinating.

There may be valid reasons for engaging in such behavior. For example, you may need to think about a thing before you start writing. Very well, then: think. Do that thing instead, that one thing.

But when it comes time to translate those thoughts into readable symbols, focus all of your energy on that activity. Put the words on a real or virtual page and just go, until it's time to do something else. Then stop and move to that other thing, focusing all of your energy on it instead.

It's harder than it sounds. Like walking. Sure, it seems easy now, but how many reps have you had? Was it easy when you first started, or did you fall over a lot before mastering the movements? If you aren't sure, maybe ask your parents. They probably have some funny stories about that.

Okay, so you have words. That's all you need. The trick is using the right ones and arranging them in the right order. Planning is involved, though it's always helpful if you're ready to abandon any plans in favor of a better one should it arise during the actual construction.

Once the building commences, you may find yourself surprised at what takes shape. So flexibility is a good skill to have. If what you have looks different than what you'd envisioned, either push in the direction of your original vision or modify the vision itself.

You always have choices. You can always clean things up later. Like sand castles, which are always washed into the sea, you can make others.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Neil Sedaka

He was making strange noises with his mouth again while contorting his face, like he did every day when he boarded the bus. People knew him well enough to ignore him. Some had told him their names, which he often used against them in an attempt to engage what seemed like normal conversation.

One woman chatted with him for a while. He sang songs for her and asked her to name the tune; then he asked her name, and she refused. “Good idea,” he said, “you never know what kind of weirdos you'll meet on the bus.”

Points for self-awareness?

Another man with some biblical name like John or Luke came onboard and brushed past the vaguely self-aware weirdo, who called his name as he passed. Finally the weirdo got his attention.

“What?” said the man.

“Hey, you know that Neil Sedaka song that someone covered?”

“What about it?”

“What was the name of that song?”

“Which one?”

“We were talking about it the other day, remember? It's that song that someone covered.”

“Neil Sedaka has a lot of songs.”

“No, someone covered his song. We were talking about it the other day.”

The nameless woman got off somewhere around here. She held a piece of paper and talked to the driver before leaving. “You did a good job today,” she said as she finally disembarked. She stood on the sidewalk as we pulled away. Maybe she'd gotten off at the right place, maybe not.

“Lots of Neil Sedaka's songs have been covered. You have to be more specific.”

“Oh yeah.” Weirdo stared off into the distance for a while as though thinking about it, then spoke again. “Hey, you know he has a new album out?”

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

They Just Sometimes Need a Break

Strains of Grant Green's guitar fill the room, soaking it in cool, clean lines. The chill cats are here, enjoying downtime and whiskey. There's some chatter, but at a volume that makes it difficult to distinguish from the hi-hat and brushes. Mostly folks just nod their heads slowly, like whatever worries and cares they might have can wait until later. This is not the place for those.

The lights are low, as they always are here. The carpet is a deep, dark red that could pass for black. Men wear coats and hats, women dresses, bartenders bow-ties. Uniforms for everyone, places and roles for everyone. They all play an important part in maintaining the chill, as do Green and his band.

A saxophone steps to the front of the tune, and heads nod a little more vigorously. Still slow and cool, just with emphasis. A couple at one table clink glasses and smile. The group at the next table see them and smile at their neighbors. They raise a glass to the couple. Everybody drinks it in. They sip their drinks the way they sip the music, the vibe, and each other's presence. Everything is slow and cool.

One of the bow-ties leans over the bar to get an order as the vibes kick in. He'll have a Manhattan, and bow-tie smiles. Sounds good to him, in fact, he might make another for himself. Strictly speaking it's against the rules, but nobody speaks strictly around here. “I won't tell if you don't” is the unofficial motto of this place, and most folks are good with that.

On the down low, off the record, filled to the brim with chill cats looking to get away from the rest of their lives, which they don't hate. They just sometimes need a break.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Those Savages!

The thing is, everyone feels modern. That is, when we read something that was written in the 1920s, it's easy to think of the words as cliché and the views as quaint or perhaps even wrong-headed. We're all so enlightened now.

Well, yes, until 80 years from now when people read what we wrote and make similar pronouncements about their superiority over us. And then 80 years later another generation does the same.

Go back far enough and it's hard to believe that people ever lived that way. Learning that, for example, 90 percent of people in 1662 London didn't live to see age 46. That's greater than the percentage of people in current Japan who don't live to see age 95.

How did we even exist? Oh, the horrors!

So will successive generations say the same about us. Maybe our lives won't seem horrible at first, just a little dated. But 350 years from now, assuming we haven't killed ourselves off or been destroyed by something else, those that inhabit or at least come from Earth may look back at us with wonder.

“They did WHAT?!!!! Surely, you can't be serious.”

“I am serious, and please don't call me Shirley.”

Because, you know, that joke will always be funny.

You know what would be really funny? What if in that distant future, Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker are revered the way Shakespeare is today? What if there are stagings of Airplane and Naked Gun, with texts annotated for the reading and viewing audience to explain “Nacho Grande” and “sniffing glue”?

“They did WHAT?!!!!”

“Yeah, it says in the footnotes that nachos—deep fried corn meal topped with cheese and meat—were a food enjoyed by Americans in the late 20th century, often at sporting events.”

“Those savages!”

Monday, April 18, 2016

Fork in the Road

The feeling remains, though the events that spawned it died long ago. So, I've come to learn, did one of the men responsible. He almost certainly never realized the impact he had on me, and likely wouldn't have cared even if he did. Then again, the latter is an unfair assumption on my part given the brevity of our acquaintance.

Either way, the mystery of distant lands stays with me, even if those lands weren't as distant as they seemed at the time. I measured space in lives, not miles, and this was nowhere near my life. It was hard to imagine any place farther. The mountains of Southern California might well have been the mountains of Mongolia for all I cared.

Of course, I had certain advantages over folks in Mongolia. If I knew that then, I probably didn't care, as any sort of logic would have ruined my narrative of persecution. Not that life was easy, just that it could have been orders of magnitude harder, which I didn't necessarily appreciate at the time.

But that's how time rolls. It does what it does, no matter what. Where I once measured distance in lives, I now measure time in sighs. It's like a rainbow on the horizon that looks close enough to touch but that can never be reached. So instead of grasping at time, maybe we learn to enjoy its colors, its facets.

Maybe we learn to love the choices we make rather than lamenting the ones we decide against. Democracy's a bitch. Or maybe we're more inclusive and gather it all for later. It's like Kathy Acker said, “If you ask me what I want, I'll tell you. I want everything.” Or Yogi Berra: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Stand or Fall

We were coming back from a game, I forget where, and it was late. We'd stopped for In-N-Out along the way, in some town between mountains. Chatter and laughter filled the station wagon. I lay in the way back, where the trunk would be in a regular car, and stared at traffic on the highway and the stars above us. Everything was peaceful and still.

I don't remember any names, have no clue what has become of them 35 years later, but I distinctly recall hearing “Stand or Fall” by the Fixx coming on the radio. The music hit me in a way that music seldom did in those days. I can still lock into that precise moment and see the cars passing us, but names and faces have disappeared.

The entire experience hardly feels real. I sometimes wonder if I imagined it all. That would be a more convenient explanation. I could easily extend that line of thought to my whole childhood. I only have bits and pieces. They're very specific and not always the ones I want, nor the ones I need to complete a picture that remains forever out of focus.

At various times in my life I've been troubled by this notion of not knowing how I got here or, more fundamentally, who the hell I am. At others I've yielded to indifference, either of the sort that wants to give up everything or the sort that has no use for rearview mirrors and is concerned only with continuing forward into the unknowable.

The latter seems a healthier strategy, although not always the obvious one. It becomes a matter of choice to live each moment in that moment. Everything is a matter of choice. And so I must decide whether I wish to stand or fall.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Maybe That Was the Point

Darrell was up making coffee. Nick waved and pointed back toward the bedroom to indicate that Jerry was still sleeping. Darrell nodded and poured them both a cup.

Epic night, I'm glad you could make it.” He spoke in a whisper while handing the cup to Nick.

No doubt. What was in those martinis anyway?”

Darrell smiled. “Secret recipe. Good stuff, right?”

Nick nodded. He hadn't noticed the paintings in the kitchen last night. They were abstract—swirly, with bright colors—and provided a strange sort of comfort despite being indecipherable.

He pointed at the wall. “These yours?”

Yeah, it's a thing I do. Stuff inside me needs to come out. Painting's the only way I know how.”

There were three paintings in the room. One was green and yellow, one was red and orange, and one was blue and purple. All of them were hypnotic.

Like music for me. I get kind of crazy if I don't pick up my bass for a few days.”

I never thought of it like that, but I suppose so.”

Nick studied the paintings some more, but still couldn't quite grasp their meaning. Then again, maybe that was the point. “I dig 'em,” he said.

Thanks, man.” Darrell's face lit up, and suddenly Nick understood. Those were the swirls of colors.

Listen, I hate to ask, but Jerry's in a bit of a situation. You mind if he hangs here with you for a few days while I head up to Oregon?”

Sure, Nick, no problem. I'm not going anywhere.”

I promise to pick him up on the way back.”

Darrell chuckled, damn near spit coffee. Nick turned back toward the paintings. The colors all bled into each other, almost seemed alive. Like Darrell.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Acceptance of a Sort

Nostalgia is a funny thing, the way our minds fool us into believing a certain time was better than some other certain time. Because that moment is no longer present the memories become distorted and we filter out undesirable aspects.

At the same time, there's something to be said for being able to revisit what we once knew with a different perspective. Our re-creation is not an exact duplicate of the experience itself, nor should it be, but more a shadow of that experience.

Seen or even felt through such filters, our past has the potential to become even richer, so long as we recognize the time difference and the distortions produced by these filters. Why not have a pleasant memory of something that wasn't pleasant at the time? Maybe the memory reminds us of how foolish we once were or a lesson learned from actions we shouldn't have taken (or should have but didn't).

“Everything happens for a reason” seems overly placating. “Everything that happened really happened” is more useful in my experience. Sometimes there's a lesson. Other times there's simply a feeling best described by certain songs, or movies, or paintings.

Dreams can have a similar effect. Who hasn't woken up feeling that what they just experienced was real or at least a jarring representation of something that had been real?

Living in the past is not only not desirable, it's not possible. But visiting it now and then is. And I'm not sure it's such a bad thing to remember who we are and where we've been. It's not necessarily that those times were better than these times; they were just different. And those differences add up to a richness of life worthy of celebration or, if not that, then at least acceptance of a sort.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Wait, Who Are They Again?

Beginnings and endings are a challenge. Get in, get out. Hook 'em while you got 'em. Sometimes you end up off center. That's okay, as long as you make it interesting enough that folks will follow, even if you go to strange and possibly even dangerous places.

What am I talking about? Good question, glad you asked. Truth is, I have no idea. I've been thinking about randomness and the role it plays in all of our lives. Apparently it's a much larger force than most of us care to believe. This is a survival skill, as if we acknowledged how much of life is left to chance, we might stop trying.

That's the theory, anyway. Seems like a good one, or at least plausible. Next question is what to do with this information.

Before we go there, though, here's the thing about good or even plausible ideas: sometimes they aren't. I'm not saying that's the case here, just that it's yet another bias to be aware of. An authority says something is true and we believe it. Because authority.

If this were an actual essay with an actual point, the premise would have been nailed by now and we'd be getting into supporting arguments right about now. But it's more of a sandbox with shovels and flailing inner children.

Okay, so it's not just beginnings and endings. Middles are hard, too. Each of those has a beginning and an ending. Break everything into smaller components. Go atomic, go nuclear, go whatever. Throw in some dialog.

“Hey, great idea.”

Seems like it, but maybe not. Maybe you're just deferring to my authority, which is based on nothing more than the words I just typed.

“They don't call it 'meta' for nothing.”

No, they don't. Wait, who are they again?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


What makes a thing hilarious? Not just worthy of a little chuckle, but the sort of thing that causes grown men to spit beer out their nose?

There's a setup and a punchline, but why do they work together to form a perfect whole? That's a damn tough target to hit.

“Trying to write jokes again, eh?”

It's your brother on the phone, calling at the worst possible time. He has disrupted your timing, the key to every comic's success. Without precision placement of words and actions, we are nothing. It's a lot like baseball. The hitter tries to time pitches thrown by a man trying to disrupt that timing.

“Let me guess, it's not going so well.”

Maybe you start with a certain scenario that brings with it certain expectations. And you build your story around those expectations, point everything toward a conclusion that seems inevitable. Then at the last second you reveal a twist that both surprises and satisfies. You disrupt reality, misdirect in a way that doesn't feel like cheating.

“Stop thinking about it so much and just do it.”

A guy walks into a bar. What guy? What bar? Why do we invest our time and energy into this stuff?

“Still thinking about it too much.”

Your brother is right, as usual. He isn't hilarious, or even worthy of a little chuckle, he's just right. It's irritating beyond description.

So you start dreaming up punchlines: That's not even my car. Yeah, you don't know the half of it. At least I still have a stove.

They're not funny out of context. And maybe they're not funny in context. You don't know because there's no joke, which becomes its own joke.

Did you hear about the comic who couldn't write jokes?


He sucked.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


They were from Pittsburgh, come to Portland for the show. On a date. She wasn't so much into the band as she was into him. He was definitely into the band, so there she was. There they were. In Portland. Next to us.

We sang, we screamed, we slapped high fives all night. It was a giant party, and even those who weren't here to see the band got a good show. A bunch of middle-aged men turned back to teenagers, whooping and giggling. When do you get to see that?

* * *

He made mead near Santa Fe. There was a light drizzle outside and it was almost time for lunch so we ducked into a cozy bar. He was there, reading the newspaper. Conversation happened, the way it does in bars. Unexpected, yet somehow comfortable, like we'd always known each other.

He asked the bartender to pour us a couple glasses. We fell in love and bought bottles to take back home. Months later, each sip reminded us of that conversation, that drizzle in Santa Fe. I wrote to thank him once, he was glad we'd enjoyed it. That was the end of our conversation.

* * *

I was swimming off the coast of San Diego in the '80s with a friend. A house on the hillside had caught fire and there was nothing we could do about it. I've probably told this story before because it's an image that sticks in my head no matter how hard I try to shake it.

What happened to that house? What happened to that friend?

* * *

I'd driven a different friend to Santa Barbara for Halloween. We parted ways and he got drunk, ended up arrested for climbing a light pole.

It was a quiet ride home.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Killed by Kindness

“Hey Reubel, you got nothing! We own you!”

This is '97 or so. I can't even remember the guy's face, just his voice, which droned on like a busted beacon. What was supposed to be a signal had turned to noise, and all we could hear was this guy stuck in a loop while some anonymous left-hander warmed up in the visitors' bullpen.

His name was Matt Reubel, and he pitched for the Pirates. Didn't last long as I recall because, much as it pains me to admit, he had nothing. I mean, he was good by human standards but not by big-league baseball standards. Everyone there is the best of the best of the best, sir.

So we're sitting there watching the game. The Padres weren't good that year. So it was a usual year for them except that they were good the year before and the year after. That's the thing about baseball is it's so damn unpredictable, which is why we keep watching.

Why this guy kept yelling the same thing over and over again, I have no clue. I should have asked him. As regrets in life go, that's not high on my list, but I'd be curious to know his motivation. Did he think Reubel would nod in acknowledgment? Or even say something? What the hell would he say?

“Hey man, thanks for coming out to the game this evening. Hope y'all are having a nice time at the ballpark. I'd love to stick around and chat, talk about what I do or don't have and what not, but they might need me to pitch so I have to get back to work now. We'll catch up some other time. Take care!”

The headline would be epic: Heckler Killed by Kindness, Southpaw Subdues Sucker.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Straight Up Sexy

“No, I didn't bring it. That was supposed to be your job.” She crawled over the seat and started rummaging through various items of, well, crap in the backseat. No luck.

He kept driving along that straight and mostly featureless highway. They were in Kansas or Nebraska or some other place that he didn't care to be. He kept one eye on the asphalt and one eye on her ass, which looked even better than usual—probably because she was pissed at him. Anger always brought out the sexy in her, which meant that he was always pissing her off.

“I don't recall agreeing to that,” he said. Pastures to the left, farmhouses to the right, a yellow stripe right down the middle. Damn, this place was flat.

She stopped rummaging and returned to facing forward in her seat. She stared straight ahead with cold blue eyes and tight wrinkles above them. Her breathing was hard, and he smiled, hoped she would catch him smiling. Heck, he'd even forgotten what she was looking for back there.

“Where are we?” she asked.

He pulled his right hand off the wheel and, palm up, spread it across the horizon. “Right here.”

She turned toward him and her wrinkles tightened even more.

“What are you smiling about?” she demanded.

Straight up sexy. Made a boring drive a lot less boring, that's for sure.

“I was just thinkin' about somethin'.”

He felt the cold of her eyes, couldn't stop smiling.

“Yeah, I'll bet you were.”

He focused on the yellow stripe in the middle of the road, a ribbon stretched out before them that promised to lead from here to wherever it was they were trying to go.

More pastures and farmhouses, sometimes a car. Each with a story.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Meaningless Purpose

I'm walking along an unfamiliar street, in an unfamiliar town. Dogs bark in the distance, the occasional car passes by. How did I end up here?

“Hey amigo, you got a smoke?”

How did he end up here? He speaks in a neutral tone, not threatening, just someone looking for comfort in the night. I shake my head and he shrugs, keeps walking in the other direction. We are two ships passing through a pocket of loneliness, almost connecting but not quite.

More dogs. Stars above. Possibly an airplane, although who would be flying at this hour and where would they be going?

Where am I going?

* * *

It wasn't always this way. I used to take care of business during the day, sleep at night... same as everyone else. Somewhere along the way—and who knows where (one minute you're walking along without care, the next you're sliding down some slippery slope)—I got lost.

So here I wander, aimlessly in search of something to search for.

A bus passes. There are three people inside, including the driver. One passenger sits directly behind her, the other sits at the very back, head tilted to the side from not enough sleep or too much booze.

I want to turn around, see where my amigo has gone, but I don't dare. I don't know this place. I don't know these dogs.

* * *

Today will be tomorrow soon. It would be good to stop wandering, but I'm not sure how or what else I would do instead. It's good to have purpose, even of the meaningless sort. Sisyphus and all that.

The stars are beautiful, burning incomprehensibly far from here. They give me something to focus on as I walk with meaningless purpose toward a destination I'm hoping I'll recognize.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Serenity: A Treatise on Human Limitations

“Miranda,” whispers River Tam, who then proceeds to kick literally everyone's ass. Thus begins Act 2 of 2005's Serenity, the theatrical conclusion to the short-lived but much-beloved TV series Firefly.

Here we learn that River, played by Summer Glau, is more than just a broken young girl. She is an engineered weapon of mass destruction, which comes in handy later.

There are many ways to view Serenity. It is the story of:
  • a rogue captain (Malcolm Reynolds, played by Nathan Fillion) and his renegade crew's quest for survival
  • one man's (Hoban “Wash” Washburne, played by Alan Tudyk) sacrifice for the greater good
  • belief and its power over us (Sheppard Derrial Book, played by Ron Glass; The Operative, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor)
  • a brother's (Simon Tam, played by Sean Maher) unyielding love for his damaged sister, River
  • much, much more
When River's full power is finally unleashed at the beginning of Act 2, setting up what is yet to come, a larger theme emerges. This theme incorporates all the others listed above (survival, sacrifice, belief, love) and forms a deep philosophical question: How far can humans push themselves before they cease to be human?

The “enemy” is ambiguous. The dreaded Reavers, who rape and kill everything in their path, are an obvious choice. The story goes that when confronted by the edge of space they went mad from seeing the void and turned into something else.

However, as we come to learn, River's whispered “Miranda” points to a much darker reality. If the truth doesn't entirely absolve the Reavers of responsibility, it at least pins much of the blame on the Alliance, an all-encompassing government that Reynolds fought against (and lost to) in a bitter war long ago.

When the Operative is forced to see what his blind belief in a better world and those that would create it in their image has wrought, he ceases to exist. Everything he believed in is gone. There is no meaning left for him.

And in the end, it is not the void of physical space that turns humans into Reavers, it is the human desire for unattainable perfection. The limitations are not physical (i.e., they didn't go mad from looking into an actual void) as told in stories but rather are moral (i.e., they were turned into killing machines by other people mucking about where they shouldn't have been).

Just as Doctor Frankenstein had his monster, so the Alliance have their Reavers. Who is the real villain: the created, or the creators? Should those who have been programmed (perhaps inadvertently) to behave a certain way be held accountable for the actions of those who programmed them?

In a world of ever-evolving technology (and this goes back to the discovery of fire, if not earlier), such questions are of paramount importance in defining ourselves as human. How far can we go? How far should we go?

The answers can have far-reaching and perhaps even unintended consequences. Consider carefully, choose wisely.

This post is part of Chris Sturhann's Blogathon from Another World.

Thursday, April 7, 2016


Tanks for everything. Tanks for everyone. What if we all had tanks and just plowed our way down the freeway during rush hour? Hell of a way to get home.

“Honey, I have some good news and some bad news, which would you like first?”


“The good news is we have a new car.”


“The bad news is it ran over our neighbor's house.”

“That's not funny.”

“I know, but I'm new at this... still working out the kinks.”

“But nobody confuses 'thanks' with 'tanks'... what is this, Vaudeville?”

Back to the drawing board. Ten uses for a tank:
  1. Transport for zoo animals.
  2. Oversized yurt.
  3. Place to eat walnuts.
  4. Vacuum cleaner (needs attachments).
  5. Umbrella (not recommended).
  6. Tricycle substitute.
  7. Shark tank.
  8. Random number generator (how would that even work?).
  9. Quality control (shoot whatever fails, such as this attempt at a list).
  10. Giant pea shooter.
Okay, that didn't work either, but the important thing is we tried. If at first you don't succeed...

“Give up already.”

“No, I was going to say 'Try, try again'.”

“Already been done, what else you got?”

I rubbed my temples, the way they do in movies. I had nothing.

What if we all had actual temples, instead of the things on our foreheads? Why is a tank a vessel that contains solids or liquids but also a vehicle that transports and shoots? Why is a temple a part of the human anatomy but also a place where humans worship? It's very confusing.

“You're an idiot.”

“Yes, but it's still very confusing.”

Temples and tanks, beetles and banks, waffles and wanks.


Wanks for everything. You've been great, I'm out of time.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

They Enjoy It More

Some days a random encounter will surprise and inspire. My wife was standing outside the garage yesterday when an older gentleman came walking down the street, a neighbor we'd never met in our 16 years of living here.

“The only thing I miss about Europe,” he said, “is that we don't all know each other on this street. That would never happen in Spain. I would invite you into my house for a glass of wine, or you would invite me into yours and we would talk. Nobody does that here.”

He asked us to guess his age. We said 70.

“I'm 84 and six months. I've lived in 41 countries and traveled around the world three times. I speak 11 languages. Guess where I'm walking to now?”

We had no idea.

“There is a bar,” he said, pointing to the northwest, “where many of us meet. One from France, one from Greece, one from Germany. Three times a week, we talk about nothing, stupid things.”

It sounded like a nice place.

“There is a saying in my country, 'Un paso entre la vida y la muerta.' It means, there is one step between life and death. I could go to sleep tonight and never wake up. So I have fun. I go talk to my friends at the bar.”

He said many other things in the span of a remarkably dense five minutes, all with a smile and a zest for life that I hope I have when I reach his age, assuming I do.

Maybe someday we'll invite him over for wine. Well, no, but it's a sweet thought.

I wonder what they talk about when they talk about nothing. Probably the same as the rest of us, only they enjoy it more.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Everything Repeats

“There is a certain sameness to it all, don't you think?” She was looking at the fountain in front of her, thinking of where the water had been and where it would go.

“I suppose there is,” he replied, “but maybe that's the point.”

She nodded and noticed patterns in the pool surrounding the fountain. She thought of patterns in her own life and in the universe itself.

“Everything repeats,” she said.

“It's kind of beautiful, though.”

She smiled. It was hard to argue the point. Even the ugly parts, if you examined them closely enough, had their appeal.

Sometimes she forgot to examine things. She took the sameness for granted and grew tired of it.

“I'll have to remember that,” she said and tried to focus on individual droplets. She couldn't, but the effort made her feel good, made her feel alive again.

* * *

Many years later, at a different fountain in a different city, she sat mourning the loss of someone that had once been dear to her. He would have loved this place, she thought. But then, he would have loved any place.

She tried to focus on individual droplets again. She'd been practicing for a long time now but still couldn't do it. But the effort made her feel good.

“Everything repeats,” she muttered.

“Pardon me?” came the unexpected reply. An older gentleman was standing to her right. She'd been so focused on the water that she hadn't noticed him at first.

“Nothing,” she said, “I was just noting that everything in life repeats.”

He looked at her and then at the fountain. “Oh, you're right. I never thought of it like that.”

She smiled. The pattern was changing. It made her feel good.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Not Nice, but Kind

“What about your parents?” she asked. “What were they like?”

“I honestly couldn't tell you,” he replied and stared at the water, at ripples in the water, at clusters of trees beyond the water, at the sky beyond the trees.

She wore no shoes and started carving letters in the sand with her toes. It was a habit she'd picked up when she was younger. Many habits she had dropped over the years, but not this one.

“Loss is a funny thing,” she said, still carving.

The ripples kept coming. Even when they were tiny, they always kept coming. Driven by forces he could not see, they were unstoppable, which he admired.

“What are you writing?” he asked, noting her handiwork in the sand, her sandiwork so to speak.

“Letters. It's how I used to pass the time.”

“Used to pass the time?”

She paused and smiled. “Seems I still do it.”

“Seems so.” He stopped looking at the ripples and barely caught her smile, which warmed him.

She went back to her letters, he went back to his water. Time moved, but neither of them noticed.

“My parents were kind,” she said.

He rubbed at his chin. “That sounds nice.”

“Not nice, but kind. There's a difference.”

“Is there?”

She smiled again. His questions were charming, even a bit naïve, just like he was. It gave her more comfort than it should have, and she couldn't explain why, which was part of his magic.

“These letters are for you,” she said, finishing the letter A.

“P-E-A,” he said. “As in pea soup?”

“I'm not finished.”

He forgot about the water and watched as she carved a C and then an E: PEACE.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

We Must Try

“I can't say I've ever seen anything like it,” she said, staring at the tree branches spread across the ground in front of them, blocking their path.

“Nor have I,” he agreed, shaking his head. “What sort of madness is this?”

It was a good question, with a troubling answer. She'd read about something similar happening, but that was in a mythology book. Could it have been based on reality? If so, what she saw was much more disturbing than either of them could have imagined.

“We should leave,” she said.

“But we've come so far.”

“Yes, we've come too far. We are not meant for this place.”

The branches just lay there, beneath a yellow sky with dark clouds in the distance. It all looked more like a scene out of that same mythology book than any realm known to humans.

He gazed at the trees and the clouds and the sky, took a deep sigh, and nodded. “Much as it pains me, I'm forced to agree with you.”

Did it pain him to agree with her, or with her conclusion? She would have to ask him about that, after they had escaped to safety, wherever that might lie.

She turned and looked back at the mountains in the east, whence they had come. Retreat was not an appealing option, but other directions lacked geographic features that might help them hide from whatever was about to rain down upon them all.

If this place was what she thought it was, they had gone too far. They had tread on lands considered sacred by others. They were not meant to be here, nor was anyone or anything, not even the trees.

“We might not be able to escape,” she said.

“We must try.”

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Like a Diamond in the Sky

“What you focus on grows,” she said as they walked along the city street, in an unfamiliar but appealing neighborhood where dogs barked and children rode bicycles.

Some called this place paradise, she called it home away from home. Even though she didn't know this particular area, she knew others like it, knew the people. She felt comfortable, and what she focused on was the diamond in the sky, which despite her admonition did not grow.

“How do you mean?” he asked. There was a store around here that sold fresh fish. It had a great reputation but was easy to miss, being surrounded by humble houses on a hillside overlooking the ubiquitous ocean. He stared at his phone, hoping it would reveal great mysteries, such as where the store was. But it only hinted at the truth, and he stumbled over a crack in the sidewalk, broke his momma's back.

“One life,” she replied, “don't waste it.”

He paused in his tracks and looked up at the hills ahead. She'd said that to him before, many times. Somehow he never quite believed it. He understood the words, as sounds coming from her mouth, but their meaning didn't resonate with him in the way he knew it should.

“Sure,” he said, “but do you know where the fish store is?”

She looked at the clouds, which held the threat of rain but no answers to his question. She looked at him and grew distraught at his distress. What had she gotten herself into this time?

“Not really,” she said. “Did you feel drops?”

He held out his hand. It stayed dry. “No, did you?”

“I thought I might have, maybe not.”

She kept focusing on the clouds and hoped for rain.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Free of Worry

There was much to plan that day, not the least of which was where to start. He had no instruction booklet, only a head full of dreams yet to be fulfilled.

I could partition the day into quadrants,” he muttered to himself, envisioning his words. He literally saw the day in quadrants above his head. Midnight to six represented sleep, six to noon work, noon to six relaxation, and six to midnight more work.

It seemed simple enough, all he had to do was execute. He rose from his desk and ambled out onto the balcony overlooking a city that might have been his kingdom had he been a king with a city.

Of course, then I'd have to partition the quadrants into further quadrants.”

Sleep would take care of itself, but what of the rest? He could divide the first work shift into four segments of 90 minutes each. That would allow him to complete multiple tasks without getting bored by any one in particular.

But what was the limit to such logic? Should he divide each of those into four segments of 22 ½ minutes? Should he think of work as 16 sitcoms lined up back to back, without commercials?

No laugh tracks, though,” he said while gazing at his imagined kingdom. “And it should be funny, unlike sitcoms.”

Yes, there was much to plan. How he spent the rest of his day depended on how he chose to partition it. And the next day, and the next after that. Why, soon he would be dead.

In a way, he looked forward to that day. There would be no more planning. Like sleep, it would simply take care of itself.

Free of worry,” he said, thinking he'd like that before remembering he'd be dead.