Thursday, January 31, 2008

the weird gods

my first attempt at science fiction, a little story called The Weird Gods, can be read here. Thanks to Litsnack for posting it.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Battle Hymn Of the Republic

I caught myself messing around with my hairline this morning: trying to comb a little bit of hair up in the tip-top of my crow’s peak into just the right position to disguise the extent if its decline. This was all happening just below the level of consciousness at first because I was barely awake, but then I caught myself. What are you doing? I said to my reflection, and then defiantly parted my hair in a way that showed just how far my hairline actually does go back, just to teach my vanity a lesson. Then I covered it up again.

I remember a day when I laughed to myself (and sometimes with others) when I saw a middle aged man with a comb over, and here I am standing in front of my bathroom mirror following the exact same impulse that guides such people. How many times do I have to learn the lesson that what I criticize others for is often a trait that I possess myself to some degree? Touché.

I first noticed my receding hairline after looking at a photo my wife had taken of my son and I playing with hot wheels on the floor of our kitchen. ‘Hey honey!’ I said, pointing at the shiny round spot on my head in the picture, ‘Isn’t this one of those ghost orbs?’

Sadly, there would be nothing TAPS could do for me.

I was aghast. I have always had a crow’s peak, but hadn’t been monitoring its Sherman-esque march across the Carolinas of my scalp. I compared an old picture of myself to what I saw in the mirror, and saw that the form of my hairline had morphed from a wide, smiling U, to a narrow, anorexic looking V.

I accept that the hairline is going, and that the pattern that is evolving will eventually leave a small, fuzzy island atop my forehead. It’s humbling to know that no amount of cool can prevent the inevitable effects of time on the body, and is worth considering that even David Byrne at some point has probably wondered whether or not hair-in-a-can is actually as fake looking as they make it look in the movies.

It doesn’t matter how art-house you are, baby. When it goes, it goes.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Passenger 1/Passenger 2

Passenger one is looking out the window. He wishes he’d spent the extra hundred dollars and gotten a sleeper car. He is clutching an umbrella with his knees. His forehead is wrinkled.
Passenger two, sitting next to passenger one, has his legs crossed casually in front of him, though he’s not feeling casual at all. He’s wearing jeans, and his hairstyle is fashionable.
Passenger one and two share a similar dilemma. Only passenger two has a healthy tan. He acquired this tan at a nude beach on Fire Island; He is returning from an impromptu weekend getaway.

Were passenger one to have a similar tan--which would be unlikely, because his descent is Irish, and he burns-- both men would have the same noticeable white spot in the same place on their left hand, right at the point where a finger intersects; like a piece of land where the grass is particularly soft and green and busy with insects because it had been covered for years or months by a healthy sized log or flat stone.

Both men are fidgety though passenger two is skilled at concealing his fidgets by crossing his legs casually and folding his arms neatly behind his head. He also wears sunglasses; Inside his shoes his toes squirm, beneath his head his fingers wriggle, under his glasses his eyes shoot around the train like a mouse behind drywall.

Passenger one, being older and more experienced with discomfort, decides to strike up a conversation with Passenger two; casual conversation with strangers can often be distracting for passenger One.

-Fucking Democrats.
-…I’m sorry?
-These Democrats. They’re ruining the country.
-…huh. Your certainly not alone in thinking that.
-What, are you a democrat?
-well, I guess you could say I‘m sympathetic in many cases.
-oh…sorry. Fucking republicans.
-Oh, I know. It’s the age of machismo.

Passenger One is satisfied with this successful opening. Passenger two is surprised, and after a minute or two more of generic political banter, finds himself mentally compiling tracks for a new mix CD. This is very far from what he was thinking about before, and his fingers stop wriggling for awhile. The conversation dies off after a thorough weighing of Hillary Clinton’s chances of becoming the next president. They decide her prospects are slim.

-Hey, do you like soccer?

Passenger two speaks this time, subconsciously getting in on Passenger One’s game of diversion.

-I’m actually more of a Football guy, but, yeah, soccer. Seems like a pretty exciting game.
-oh man. You really should check into it. It’s hot.
-I actually watched a piece of a game at this sports bar in Manhattan last week. I think it was Greece and England playing. It was pretty interesting.
-It is…actually, I play.
-Really? Professionally?
-no, I could‘ve been though. I was a halfback in college. No, I do a little coaching back in my town.
-I see. How’s that?
-Pre-schoolers. You know, just kind of a community thing. It’s all about community. It takes a village, right?

Passenger One is pleased with himself for connecting this most recent splurt with the original diversionary conversation.

Passenger one: Now, rugby…That seems crazy.

Passenger two, about to concur, is interrupted by a large grinding noise, and a heavy jerk of the train. Some other passengers gasp; someone says god damn fuck! Because she spills coffee on her lap. Not only is the coffee hot, but the dress is new.

After the train is still for a half an hour, and an attendant walks from car to car assuring the passengers that everything is alright, and that it’s just a mechanical problem, Passenger two’s finger’s toes begin to squirm again. He turns to Passenger one and says:

I’m going to go check it out.

Passenger One nods and sticks out his bottom lip meaningfully. This makes sense. Passenger two is entitled to know what’s going on. Passenger two, emboldened by Passenger One’s approval, darts out of his seat.
He’s back in only a moment.

-Did you find out what it was?
-A guy in first class said we hit something. His wife saw the whole thing. Said it was a cow.
-A cow? Jesus, how did the conductor miss that?
-Well, he didn’t miss it. That’s the problem.
-He’ll be fired!
-No kidding.
-I mean, what are you going to do, you know? But a cow!
-They have segmented stomachs, you know.
-Jesus. How do you hit a cow? Unbelievable.
-It takes awhile to break on a train. It’s not like on a car. It takes some time.
-These things are unsafe.
-I completely agree.
-Segmented Stomachs? Really?
-What is it, like compartmentalized? Like recycling bins? A stomach for each food group?
-No, I think it’s more for like, processing. It’s like sorting rooms, you know? This vitamin here, this vitamin there…
-Poor bastard probably didn’t even get to finish digesting his dinner.
-Who does?

The two meditate on the doomed cow for a moment, completely untwitchy. Eventually, Passenger Two speaks again:

-Let’s get off.
-They said we should stay on.
-Okay, you stay on. I’m getting off.
-Why are you getting off?
-I want to see the exploded cow.
-You’re sick.
-I need some fresh air too.
-Scenic trip.
-Be right back.
Passenger Two leaves his seat again, and is gone longer this time. When he comes back, he’s pale, and isn’t wearing his sunglasses.
-What is it?

Passenger One says with real concern. He turns to face Passenger Two.

-I don’t know how to say it, but it’s not a cow we hit.
-What? Really? But we did hit something…oh God…It’s not a person is it? Oh no.
-No, it’s not a person. We hit an elephant.
-An elephant? What? Holy shit, you’re kidding me?

Passenger One is agitated by this development. He half stands.

-No, we hit a goddamned elephant. It’s all over the tracks. All over the hillside. It’s a mess.
-How did we hit an elephant? You’re kidding me…
-no, I’m dead serious. It’s an elephant.
-…So, it’s an actual elephant?
-Yes. From the zoo. They say he escaped the zoo.
-An elephant from the zoo. Whew. A real elephant?
-From the zoo.
-Sweet Jesus.
-…what do you mean a real elephant?

Passenger One takes a handkerchief from his pocket and wipes his face. He may be the last man in America to carry a handkerchief in his pocket. He looks at Passenger Two, who is younger and slower on the uptake. He smiles the smile of a teenage boy who has just narrowly avoided having his stash discovered by a too-thorough mom on a house cleaning bender.

-Oh. Thank God.

He said.

-A real Elephant. What a relief. I thought you were being metaphorical.

The End

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Monday, January 14, 2008

Resource Conservation

my brother just sent this to me. I don't know where it came from, but it's the funniest thing I've ever seen in my life.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

don't take your kids to the slaughterhouse

When you are young,
You don’t know where the meat comes from.
It falls on your plate
From a pot your mom has been crocking in.

The salty ham.
The tender roast.
It is all as innocent
As a can of corn.

Somewhere along the line
Someone will say something
And washed hands
will stay dirty:

And the grime will add,
And redemption will be separated
From tender skin,
By the grime of everyday life.

There is so much blood
And there is so much sin
In the minds of the holy
(Among whom I do not count myself)

And it weighs on a mind,
And a person doesn’t feel at ease
To just sit
At the end of a long day.

Why not put that off a little while,
And let a kid eat a hot dog at a baseball game?
Riding on their daddy’s shoulders
All the way home.

I wrote this poem after listening to a woman I had met at a party talk about making her five-year-old watch PETA's 'Meet Your Meat' video. I have no problem with the aspect of the animal rights organizations that seek to promote humane treatment of animals, and I think it is perfectly reasonable and even noble to protest and document such bad treatment. But making a five year old watch the terrible stuff in 'Meet Your Meat' seems a bit much. Isn't there a level between 'Blues Clues' and 'The Passion Of the Christ'?

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The People

I just reread my post from yesterday (IOWA!) and was disturbed by how many times I used the phrase the people. Quite a few. The fact that the employment of this phrase was used in analysis of a perceived political mood makes things worse. Perhaps what I should've said was some people want change.

What I was trying to indicate in my post on the Iowa caucus was a bias of mine that individuals--while certainly subject to varying degrees and types of trends and social suggestions--are not simply cogs in a machine awaiting some larger force to press a button and set things in motion, but rather free agents, along the lines of what can be found in the writing of Sartre. I was happy that there are good movement type people out there who are willing to buck an established line for something that better suits their taste, or articulates their own hopes and desires in relation to political change, in the face of their respective establishments.

There are certain things that you can generalize across the face of humanity, but they are primarily biological things. There are more abstract sounding things--like the preference of society to solitude--that can also be generalized, but they too are relatively biological/logical in nature, the roots of which can be set in the soil of evolution theory.

We may accept all of Maslow's hierarchy, but when we get higher up on the list we must begin to add asterisks and footnotes. Maybe man's ultimate goal is self-actualization, but what form that actualization will take varies wildly from person to person as it meets the definitional requirements of the term. Nietzsche's quote that 'There are no facts, only perceptions' is applicable to the things of this higher order, where mankind will define meaning and the dynamic relationship between beings and values in the terms of their own hodge podge of created and borrowed mythologies through the lense of their perceptions.

All this to say I am as skeptical of people who claim to speak for the masses as I am of blanket critiques and analyzations of them. To say what one would do if one was the ruler of the world is different than saying whether or not those things would be what the world 'needs', if it needs anything at all. By observing a 'change' vote in Iowa, I am merely expressing pleasure that a political trend seems to be moving in a direction I would like it to go. It's not within my scope to say this perceived trend is what the people need. There is only one way to know 'the people' that is even remotely accurate, and that is one by one.

Friday, January 4, 2008


I am a democracy nerd, and that being the case, I woke up this morning like I used to on Christmas morning, when I couldn't wait to see what was waiting for me under the tree.

I was very happy once I got the wrapping off.

Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee won the votes of their respective parties in Iowa. Huckabee winning in spite of the best efforts of those in talk radio to take him out, and Barack Obama--seabiscuit-like--snatched himself a sizeable victory from the claws of the pre-ordained and ever grasping Hillary-Machine.

I don't want Mike Huckabee to win this thing, and I don't think he will, but his victory illustrates that when it all comes down, the regular person listening to Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck on their way to or from work isn't as big a tool or a sheep as they have often been painted.

The people want something new. This is something ingrained in the American spirit. You can dismiss it as 'identity politics' or whatever you want, but democracy is the best tool for social evolution, and this is where we are going.

The American people are a pretty easy-going bunch. Machete sales do not go up here, as they did in Kenya, because the people are unsatisfied with their current political situation. We know that if things get too bad, we can just throw the bums out. And we do from time to time. There is no entitlement in American politics, and the Iowa caucus--however questionable an indicator of ultimate outcome it may be--indicates this.

I am excited for our future. It is a common thing for people to think that things are getting worse. The sensationalist media bombards us with cultural stereotypes and worse-case-scenarios. Life events can knock the wind out of a person. It's easy to become cynical.

In the end however, such cynicism is unfounded. Science is progressing unhindered these days. Wonders and advancements show up all the time. Pluralism, at least in this country, is fast becoming the accepted norm. People live longer now, and have so much more opportunity to pursue happiness, and court potential failure on their own terms. Surely it's no utopia, but I'm glad I am alive when I am, and I can't think of any better seat in the house than right here in the heart of a working and flourishing example of what mankind can acheive when given the autonomy to choose for themselves.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Dog Is Fact

I was helping my oldest son with his writing today by dictating sentences to him. One sentence was, ‘The dog is fast’, and he switched the s in fast with a c, and ended up with ‘The dog is fact’, which made me laugh. He was like, ‘oh, oops.’ but I said no, that’s actually a much better sentence.

I am the last person to catch onto many things. I have just ‘discovered’ Bob Marley. I am currently listening to Burnin', and it is really hitting the spot. Why is it that I’ve heard Marley’s music all of my life, to the point that I know many songs by heart and can easily recognize his sound, but have never been affected by it until now? It was like that for me with the Beatles and Johnny Cash too. Just muzak in the elevator. My son (6) got into the Beatles somehow, and that’s what got me listening to them, and as much as I hate to admit it I didn’t care about Johnny Cash at all until I saw Joaquin Phoenix play him in the movie.

Some Mormons came to the door as my sons and I prepared to go sledding this evening (the snow was nice and fluffy today, so it reflected the driveway light in a neat way, but was no good for snowballs), and I listened without asking any questions, and then, on the key moment where I disclose that yes, I have a book of Mormon in my house, and an elder asks ‘Would you be willing to pray and see if it’s true?’ I say that I am not particularly inclined to do that, but I think it is fine for them. This seems a little bit like a cop-out, but who has time to get into talking about the different ways that people manifest their personal quests for meaning into different religions, and that truly grasping God has to be more like that story about the blindfolded men who've never seen an elephant, being told to grab onto different parts of said animal and being asked to describe what the animal is than something as simple as reading an instruction manual? It would’ve become a whole-thing. They were very earnest though, and polite, and I find that appealing.

I am excited about the Iowa Caucus. I am the only person I know who is excited about the Iowa Caucus. I’m glad that my state (Ohio) is as important in national elections as it is, and would love to be an early primary state as well. It is also a small point of pride to note that Ted Strickland, our governor, is one of the first names that pops up as a potential running mate for Hillary Clinton. Governor Strickland has been doing a good job in Ohio, sending through the first budget in state history with unanimous yeses. The Governor is also very good at bipartisanship, and managed to not raise taxes in his first year. A democrat with fiscal discipline: a mythical beast if you listen to talk radio.

My dad bought me a watch today and brought it down to the house. It was a nice surprise. He bought himself a matching one. I like impromptu gifts like that. I had actually been considering buying someone a pocket knife a few days earlier, though I wasn’t sure who I wanted to give it to. I’m sure it will come to me.

I was reading about the subterranean world that exists beneath the continental ice sheets of Antarctica today in an article Mariana Gosnell wrote for Discover. Far beneath all of that ice is all of this rock, and these rivers and lakes. The sixth biggest lake in the world, Lake Vostok, is frozen under there. As I was looking at the little diagram at the beginning of the article, I was reminded of the underground world in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and decided I would concoct a story around the world under the ice-sheets for my boys, and see if they would help me populate that icy-underworld with monsters.

I think that’s about it. Dog is Fact.