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Category Archives: Life

Let’s Be Honest: There Were Distractions Along The Way

It was a dark and stormy night

The panacea that was, then wasn’t, then was again.

So not that long ago (though with all this sheltering in place and working from home, November sure feels like a previous epoch), I talked about my search for the perfect distraction-free writing instrument. At the time, I announced the results of my search: after much soul-searching, and even more web browsing, I had procured myself a New Old Stock Psion Netbook Pro.

(Fascinating side note: Psion trademarked the Netbook name years before the Eee PC and other makers came out with their generically named “netbooks” and there were several years of litigation involving who owned the name and whether trademark was being infringed upon. But I’ll leave those distracting details for you to look up yourself, should you be so inclined.)

At the time I wrote that blog post of discovery, I had yet to heavily use the PNP. But once I started, I came to calling it the Pain in the Neck Pro. Because, you see, the keyboard fell short of my expectations.

To be clear, I knew it would sport a less-than-standard layout and, given the form factor, would be cramped compared to my IBM Model M. I accepted those…compromises. If fact, it turns out (as will be seen shortly) that I was able to adapt to those particular idiosyncrasies.

No, the problem was the spacebar.

The physical-single-switch-only-at-the-exact-center-of-the-spacebar spacebar, otherwise known as the doesn’t-register-your-keystroke-unless-you-hit-the-dead-center-of-the-spacebar spacebar.

Now as you might suspect, it turns out that most typing of stuff, at least in the English language, makes heavy use of the ‘a’ key, the ‘i’ key, the ‘e’ key, the ‘t’ key, and, oh yeah, the effin’ spacebar!

I was constantly having to arrow back several characters to put in the space that I had typed but which had not registered. This was about 80% of the time I tried to use the spacebar.

If you let your fingers do the walking, have them skip over the spacebar

It’s a QUIRKY layout, not QWERTY.

(But hey, unlike the Freewrite and the Freewrite Traveler, at least the Psion has arrow keys!)

It was more than a little frustrating and after a few false starts, I gave up. I wrote it off as a close to $200 learning experience, but one I was too embarrassed to talk about on my blog because, well, it cost me close to $200.

Actually, significantly more than $200 if you factor in the next thing I did: I didn’t just kinda sorta give up, I whole hog gave up and bought a brand new Windows 10 convertible laptop. The one with all the distractions built in (the horrible OS itself, the web browser you feel compelled to use to look up things like the history of the word “netbook” and all the litigation surrounding it in the early ’00s, the music player you are unable to resist using to listen to the ballads about those “netbook” lawsuits, and the video depositions taken as a part of those lawsuits that you simply must watch on YouTube).

Yes, I had fallen off the wagon of focus and leapt, belly-first (and fully extended), into the packed, unsanitary public pool of distraction.

The Missus was so disgusted she took the kids and moved back in with her parents. For a couple of weeks. While it’s possible she was just visiting them, given the scope of my relapse, that seems unlikely.

Anyway, yes, I had ditched the old laptop running Linux for a fresh piece of kit.

Well, that’s not true – the old Linux machine went into the pile of old computers I’ve irrationally held onto since 1981 (“Why hello there, Timex Sinclair 1000”) because someday, maybe, I will need one of them as a backup when my main computer is hit by a super virus and the only thing preventing the evil villain who wrote said virus from taking over the world is a putty ssh connection into his mainframe from an old computer viewed so obsolete that he failed to make sure the virus could infect it.

This is also the excuse I give for why I have an old 33.6K external modem and parallel port cable.

Hey! It’s a legit excuse!

Now where was I? Oh yes, my new and shamefully distracting computer. With a stylus and touch screen and name-brand speakers and a cool, cool look that draws my attention away from the task at hand even when it is off. It was by using that shiny shiny computer that I may have accidentally searched about the Psion Netbook Pro spacebar problem and found out you can just cut out a piece of card stack, place it directly over the rubber dome under the spacebar, and solve that whole problem.

Well sh*t.

So, because I had so totally given up on and boxed up the ratty-keyboarded Psion and put it in storage and gone ahead and spent even more money on a brand new laptop…well, two things happened:

One, I was super annoyed with myself because if I had stumbled on this bit of info about the spacebar sooner, I either could have fixed the issue or, even better, avoided it entirely by buying my second runner up HPC candidate, the NEC MobilePro 900C. No matter how you looked at it, that would have been WAAAY cheaper than the new laptop.

Two, because I had the new laptop and didn’t care about the Psion anymore, I was willing to take the Psion apart and try to fix it. If I break the keyboard in the process (something I’ve done in the past when removing spacebars from keyboards), who cares? This particular HPC is already junk as far as I’m concerned.

But the spacebar came off fine, the square of card stock went in with little difficulty, and when I was done, the spacebar worked great no matter where on the key you actually struck it.

Which means I finally have my distraction-free writing tool!

And along with it, no more excuses.

Well dr*t.

Of course, the irony that I had to go down a rabbit hole (yet again) to learn about the relatively straightforward fix for my distraction-free writer is not lost on me. A fine $200 learning experience indeed!

I threw a bone up in the air and when it came back down it was a space station. It hit me on the head and knocked me out. When I woke up, this was next to me.

The USB port is on the other side. Allegedly.


This post (and the previous one) was written and edited on a Psion Netbook Pro using TextMaker for Windows CE. I will say this much: it works.

 

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Here’s Looking At Your Privilege, Kid

“Hey, you! Check your privilege!”

Occasionally clients would leave the club with a slab of beef instead of their privilege. It sometimes took a few days for them to notice.

“Don’t leave me!”

I was over the limit that allowed me to hold onto it, so I pulled my privilege from my shoulder holster and plopped it down on the sill of the check booth with a wet thwap. It eyed me reproachfully, a mottled blob of stumpy vestigial appendages shaking anxiously at the unexpected separation. Sure, it was punier than the other privilege already checked, but I still felt a pang of emptiness and sorrow at the parting.

The check person pulled down a meat hook on a tether, twisted it into the quivering mass, and let go with more flourish and relish than was strictly necessary, in my opinion. My privilege whip-snapped at the end of the tether and flew into the darkness of the check booth.

Even with my eyes down at the appropriate angle of obsequience, I could see the check person staring dourly at me presented as a strikingly attractive woman: youthful, flashing eyes, a nose you could only get from a skilled surgeon, and perfectly haphazard hair that telegraphed the impression it always looked this good, even when she had just gotten out of bed.

If I hadn’t been to the club on business, and if I was suicidally clueless, I would have tried to pick her up. Instead, I apologized. “Sorry, forgot I had that.”

“Of course you did,” she snorted, her thin, flawless nostrils flaring as she handed over my ticket. I took it from her and carefully secured it in a hip pocket. Privilege had a shockingly high tendency to wind up with a new and often less deserving owner at places like this. Mine was hardly a tempting target, but it paid to be cautious. When confronted, the clubs always claimed this was the legitimate transfer of debt, that gambling was the great equalizer. I had my doubts.

The good news, given I carried a couple kilos less privilege than the average patron at this particular club, was that checking it actually boosted my standing. Relatively speaking. While still technically part of the hard-working, unwashed masses, I was now entitled to the same treatment as everyone else here.

Which meant the staff still treated me like crap, but they did that to all the patrons.

It was currently quite the thing among the well-off and well-educated to be treated with disdain, but I gave the trend another six months before these clubs found their clientele had migrated elsewhere and demanded a government bail out. Even from the entrance, I could spot the occasional bored yawn from the murmuring crowd.

Of course, the guilty rich, looking to assuage their slightly less guilty consciences, weren’t the only high class people availing themselves of facilities like these. You also had individuals like the one I’d been hired to find, trying to lose themselves in the anonymity of the pseudo-privilegeless.

My mark was Lawrence Peabody, a New Roman Presbyterian on the lam with the not inconsiderable wealth that his church hierarchy had deemed to belong to his now ex-spouse. According to the Senior Bishop overseeing his divorce case, Peabody had seen the writing on the wall and liquidated his assets. Literally. By purchasing an extremely rare bottle of vintage schnapps that was worth just over one hundred percent of the (former) Peabody couple’s net worth and then pulling a runner, he got off smelling like peppermint while the ex-missus got left holding the residual debt.

Your standard booze bail scenario, and my bread and butter. You see, I’m not just a private eye. I’m also a board certified sommelier. Lapsed, but you know what they say: once a sommelier, always a sommelier. If there’s any alcohol within fifty meters, I can smell it. And identify the vintage. I have my parents to thank for that. Family money got me the education and certification, but after a couple of years sniffing and spitting fine wines and the like, I felt I wasn’t contributing to society enough. I switched to the far less lucrative but more guilt-assuaging sniffing out of mysteries.

I haven’t been invited to a Thanksgiving dinner since. Which is fine. The family has fallen on hard times, and the wine they serve is no longer up to snuff.

Now a 1897 (Big Fed calendar) Pimpernel Kuiper Peppermint Schnapps has a distinctive, minty odor that I could normally suss out faster than you can say, “Wager saugt Fledermausbälle!” But Peabody was no pea brain – he’d selected The Virtuous Signal, a club renowned for its cheap yet extremely, overpoweringly fragrant hangover-inducers. My nose didn’t so much recoil at the olfactory assault as go gibberingly insane.

Sammy’s sense of smell wasn’t going to help me today. Instead, I turned the peepers loose on the room, trying to spy anyone who wouldn’t be happy to see me and had a half liter bottle of vintage booze in their pocket.

With all of their privilege checked at the door, the crowd looked decidedly unimpressive. Their designer clothes had a manufactured shabbiness about them, their teeth looked just ever so slightly not quite straight, and their aristocratic accents lacked a sense of…authenticity. All arranged beforehand, no doubt, with the best tailors, dentists, and voice coaches money could buy. Not permanent, of course, just to blend in at the club. They wouldn’t have any work done that couldn’t be reversed with the flash of a Beryllium Card. But not until after they left, because these sorts of clubs only took cash, and only in small denominations and with lacerating looks of disapproval upon receipt.

The job should have been made easier by the fact that there weren’t a lot of people who qualified for this type of club’s services, so the crowd was fairly thin. But they all looked the same to me: mostly old and male, with the occasional glass-ceiling-busting female with, it seemed to me, surprisingly large hands.

The women were easy to dismiss, and not just because the big hands made me oddly uncomfortable. Per the ex, Peabody was and always had been male, so I could safely ignore the women. It was a habit I found came easy. But that still left a crowd of paunchy phallus-bearers to sift through, and I couldn’t be one hundred percent certain Peabody was even at this particular club.

My guess was Lawrence (no doubt ‘Larry’ inside these walls) would try and walk out with someone else’s privilege, hopefully a gob with enough to get him a berth out of town. Maybe to Happyville, Beet City, or if he was truly desperate, Trenton. Talk about checking your privilege: word on the street was that the denizens of Trenton couldn’t afford the vaccine for the latest pandemic! All this meant I needed to add to my search criteria: a down-on-his-luck on-the-lam bounder with half a liter of schnapps on him and trying to pickpocket people’s priv check tickets.

That made the task considerably simpler. With the new parameters, I spotted my mark in a jiffy.

Larry was making nice with a group of geriatrics at the craps table. Smart move, targeting the octagenarians. They, having lived longer, were more likely to have accumulated large amounts of privilege, assuming they hadn’t squandered it all on their offspring. Larry was playing the odds like a professional, and clearly was no dummy. They were having a spirited conversation about equality. It largely involved who could most magnanimously apologize for his success, but in such roundabout terms that it didn’t flag a reprimand from the staff.

I didn’t know which type was worse in these clubs, the sincere grovelers, the insincere grovelers, or the smug staff witnessing the display of self-flagellation. I found all three irritating and for the fleetest of moments, felt sympathy for Peabody, trapped in this no-win social circle. But then I remembered the cover charge to get in.

I put on my most determined (yet privilege-neutral) face and made my way to the craps table. I needed a drink, and it was going to be peppermint schnapps.

 

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Personal Hygiene in the Time of [Insert Current Pandemic Here]

Today I cut my own hair.

It wasn’t easy.

It wasn’t pretty.

It did end in tears.

Like all brutal acts of insanity and self harm, there was a triggering event.

Picture if you will:

The mild-mannered novelist, entering his fifth week of isolation. Laser-focused on his current task, determinedly chasing a particularly vexing fly around the house, his electric fly swatter at the ready, he ignores the terrified screams of his family.

They are of no consequence when a fly is about.

We can’t have flies inside houses. That isn’t normal.

They belong outside.

Yesss. Outside…

And then, tragedy strikes (for our erstwhile hero, that is, not the fly).

His overly long hair swooshes down in front of his eyes and in that terrible blinding moment, the fly…escapes.

ESCAPES, I TELL YOU!

Our hero can be heard to mumble, just above a broken whisper, “He tasks me, he tasks me, and I shall have him!”

So as the above, extremely reasonable anecdote clearly illustrates, the hair simply had to go.

As I stepped out of the bathroom, vision unencumbered by an overly hirsute state, the Missus took one look at me and laughed while simultaneously throwing up.

(You have not experienced true horror until you’ve seen someone vomit-chortle. It’s like a spit-take, but more colorful and far less pleasant smelling.)

The kiddos were more curious once they got through their dry heave-giggle fit. When one could finally speak, he asked, “Dad, have you ever been stupid enough to do this before?”

I’d be lying if I said no, and I raise my kids by example to not be obviously deceitful, so I just gave them an enigmatic wink as if to imply no.

Yes, it was stupid of me, a man who scars his face every time he shaves (with an electric razor, no less!), but I just couldn’t take it anymore. And the only other alternative was a…shudder…man bun.

Clearly that isn’t going to happen.

Honestly, if you had to go a month enduring with what I’ve been dealing with, you’d feel the same way:

  • Previously noted impaired ability to hunt down and punish flies.
  • Confidently running my hand rakishly through my hair to move it out of my eyes.
  • Flipping my full-bodied hair sexily in order to see who I’m flirting with (always turns out to be the Missus, fortunately, except that one time I gave the dog the wrong idea).
  • Facing down angry neighbors every morning after my shower, still dripping wet and with only a towel wrapped around my waist, because they don’t think my vocalizations while shampooing my hair with Herbal Essences is appropriate.

I could go on, but I don’t want to upset the frail among you. (Trigger warning: hair)

And given the present state of the world, clearly I can’t just go out and get a proper haircut.

Personal Grooming Secrets of the (not so) rich and (not so) famous

Even at the best of times, my personal grooming habits aren’t exactly top notch. Just ask my coworkers.

Oh sure, I’ve heard the rumors of the pop-up stealth salons and black market barber shops, clandestinely operating their “non-essential” services in contravention of local health ordinances.

But secretly slouching to one of their shops to partake of their illicit offerings only serves to validate the government claims that they should not be operating. That they aren’t essential. I’ll be damned! If I can’t walk openly into a hair salon to get a trim and a shave, well, I just don’t live in America anymore!

(More like Amerika, amirite?)

Plus, these places charge a lot and really up-sell you hard on hair care products when you try to leave. While I may be privileged, I’m not that privileged!

Instead I’ve been forced to take a long, hard look at myself in the mirror, a pair of scissors in one hand, a fistful of hair in the other, and trying to figure out how to hold those scissors at the right angle to actually snip away some of that pesky growth.

And so it will continue as long as I am locked in my home, sheltering in place.

Or, as my kids are constantly putting it, “We’re not locked in here with you! You’re locked in here with us!”

The Missus tells me I have to love them, and that weeks of forced proximity is not an excuse to turn my electric fly swatter on them. But I tell you true, tomorrow I might start eating my own. And that’s despite being a pescaterian.

Assuming I can see well enough to find them.

 
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Posted by on 17 April 2020 in Angst, Life, Pandemic, Parenting

 

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Every Crisis Has Its Silver Lining, Right?

I'm worried that going to the hospital could expose me to the virus

Dude! You’re sick! Stay away!

So looks like we’re in the grip of another crisis in this country. Not since election night 2016 have things looked so dark…

And I just so happen to be lucky enough to live in one of the more badly impacted regions for this pandemic.

But I find solace in the knowledge that even in the face of this medical, economic, and extroverts’ social interaction disaster, there is always a silver lining to be found.

No, it’s not that I’m an introvert.

(Though I am, thank goodness!)

No, it isn’t the lack of crowds at the store.

(Quite the opposite of late, actually, plus the damned shelves are all empty due to the panic buying that occurred before I got round to panicking myself.)

And no, I’m not talking about the news stories coming out about people offering to get supplies and the like for the more vulnerable so those people can stay safely isolated at home.

(That lining is tarnished by all the stories of greedy capitalists buying up and then re-selling hand sanitizer and toilet paper at a huge mark-up.)

No, it isn’t any of those.

It’s the traffic.

My daily commute has been, at the risk of sounding a tad insensitive, awesome! All the Google and Apple employees are working from home, so I don’t have nearly as many Telsas to navigate around.

(Cars that on a normal day, even with Autopilot engaged, still manage to cut me off regularly.)

But unfortunately, even this silver lining is tenuous at best.

Back in 2008 when the Great Recession struck, I noticed the same thing. People lost their jobs as their companies folded and my commute got really pleasant. I could leave for work later and get home earlier, providing me with just that much more time to spend with my wife, who was pregnant. With twins.

(Fans of clichés can probably guess where this is headed…)

So yes, I enjoyed the lack of traffic even if there was a tinge of survivor’s guilt associated with each uncharacteristically speedy round trip.

Then I lost my job.

And didn’t have a commute at all.

Fast forward to now and as I zip into and out of work, I can’t help but worry about the economy and job security as well as the health of me and mine.

Last time the crisis was economic only, and the worst that could (and did) happen is that my company went bankrupt, screwed us on severance packages, I was unemployed for 13 months, and calls into the Unemployment Office, due to high volume, involved waiting on hold for a couple of hours before maybe, just maybe, you’d get a human.

(And the hold music / prerecorded messages were only about ten minutes long before they looped. Over and over and over again!)

So this time there’s the health concern as well, and knowing my luck, I won’t just get laid off – I’ll get sick too.

Plus Spring came early and along with it my allergies. Which means my eyes and nose have never been itchier or in more need of being touched, rubbed, scratched, and whatever else you aren’t supposed to do to your face during a plague.

And do you have any idea how hard it is to find facial tissues right now? I’d blow my nose in toilet paper, but holy crap, that stuff, gram for gram, is more expensive than gold these days!

So I’m feeling a little down at the moment. But that might also be because I will be working from home for the foreseeable future, which means I won’t get to take advantage of the traffic-free commute.

Some silver lining.

 
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Posted by on 15 March 2020 in Angst, Life, Pandemic

 

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I think Tesla may have been involved in the manufacture of my glass bowls

Ever have one of those days where you break some glassware, and as a result trap your kids in a room that they can’t leave until you sweep up all the glass because they aren’t wearing shoes and when you ask where their shoes are, of course they don’t know, because why would they and you have to sequester the dogs because they never wear shoes and you can’t have them hurting themselves when they come to investigate the source of that loud crashing sound and oh yeah, said dogs chewed up your only dustpan at some point in the past so it doesn’t work well and while you’re looking for the vacuum cleaner the kids suddenly really need to go to the bathroom but they are at that age and size where there is no way on this green Earth you can carry them over the danger zone and then, as the icing on the cake, just as you vacuum up the last remnants of the broken glassware you knock over another one and it crashes to the floor and shatters into a million pieces in a million directions, covering the area you just picked up then swept then vacuumed and all the while the dogs are howling because they want to be let loose and probably need to go to the bathroom too and oh, did I mention that you’re really tired and had been planning to go to bed right after putting away the glassware you’d taken out of the dishwasher but in the process bumped some other glassware causing it to break?

Yeah, me neither.

 
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Posted by on 24 November 2019 in Angst, Life, Parenting

 

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Rabbit holes, unlike their makers, are not cute…or to be trifled with

I have friends who are always going on about getting lost down a rabbit hole on the internet.

This post is for them, assuming you stumble across it in your online queries.

Be careful about rabbit holes. They are dangerous.

Just as an example of the type of peril you may face, take my recent foray into the topic of “rabbit holes” on Wikipedia.

Reading about the warren of twisty little passages, all alike, soon reminded me about Watership Down.

Watership Down is a book (and a subsequent animated movie) about rabbits. Well, it’s about people and society and government, but dressed up in cute fuzzy cotton tail bodies. I saw the movie first, probably around the age of eight or nine.

My parents, with a desperate gleam in their eyes, said, “We need a break from you, even for just an hour and a half. There’s a movie about rabbits on the telly. That’ll be fun, yes?” Which seemed like a good idea all round until the fate of the first warren is revealed.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen the movie, don’t. The stuff of nightmares. For young children and, shortly thereafter, the parents who have to deal with those children.

I read the book a few years later, 7th or 8th grade. And loved it. Amazing book. So good I tore through it at a considerably faster pace than the teacher expected us to. Which meant I was so far past the point she would quiz us on every Friday (to prove we’d been reading it) that I failed each and every test.

This of course leads me to the movie Se7en.

Like the book Watership Down, it’s a great movie, amazing. Fincher is one of my favorite directors. Right up there with Wes Anderson.

Like the movie Watership Down, I will never watch it again. Grueling. Soul-crushing. The non-rabbit stuff of nightmares.

Fincher also directed Alien 3, which was maligned at the time by the Alien fans, but which I think is actually the best movie of the bunch. Yes, it had problems: budget overruns, studio interference, and (surprising in a Fincher movie) really bad CGI. But the story is the kind of dark-humored, grisly horror that doesn’t involve a stomach-churning ending with a box that I can get behind.

Speaking of unexpected deliveries, Amazon shipped us an Amazon Fire TV stick with a tablet we bought. We didn’t order it, didn’t really want it, but assumed it was some sort of promotion. Fast forward a couple of years. We decide to use it. Except after considerable effort to set it up, we discover we can’t log in.

Contact Amazon tech support.

What’s the serial number on the box it came in?” Um, don’t have the box any more.

What’s the order number from when you bought it?” Um, we didn’t. You sent it to us for free, with a tablet. Here’s that order #.

Amazon never has, and never will ship Amazon Fire TV sticks for free.” And then, the implication that we’re thieves so thick we can detect it in the chat text, “What is the serial number or order number?

The conversation ended with “You might as well just throw it away.

But aren’t our landfills full enough already? Especially with e-waste? How is that being a responsible steward of the economy, Amazon? China’s not taking that crap any more, so it’s just gonna start piling up and at some point, if we aren’t careful, it’s gonna crush a rabbit warren and wipe out a whole community of cute little bunnies.

So you see what I mean? Rabbit holes aren’t just dangerous…they are downright deadly!

 
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Posted by on 2 September 2019 in Angst, Life, Reading, Technopocalypse, Writing

 

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Look! Up in the Sky! It’s a Moonlighting Superhero! No, It’s Just An In Over His Head Improv Student!

If you were peeking surreptitiously through my window tonight and saw me groaning in pain as I reached under the kitchen sink to grab a garbage bag, you could be forgiven for wondering:

“Is he a mild-mannered writer by day who uses Krav Maga to fight crime at night? Is that why he’s so stiff and in such obvious agony now, having over-exerted himself during the off hours in his zeal for intemperate Justice?”

Honestly, right now it feels exactly like I do go out at night, but not to pummel ne’er-do-wells. Nope, sadly I think it’s more akin to them pummeling me.

But that is not the source of my discomfort.

No.

It’s something much simpler:

Improv comedy.

That darkest and deadliest of the comic arts, requiring its oh-so-foolish practitioners to work…without a net.

Dangerous stuff. Really gets the heart a-pumpin’.

Yes, instead of finishing his latest short story or the third book in the Marlowe and the Spacewoman saga, this mild-mannered author / engineer by day is moonlighting as an adrenaline-seeking improv artist during his “down” time.

And I’m not very good at it.

You see, in Comedy Which Is Improvised, as lay people call it, the audience expects to laugh. Ideally by something you or your fellow artists are saying and performing on stage.

You know, acting out wacky and hilarious scenes based on prompts from the people sitting in the dark in front of you, fidgeting in their seats, hungry for entertainment.

Ravenous, even.

And if you aren’t wacky and hilarious?

Well, the audience still needs to feed. And if they don’t get the delicious comedy they expect, there is a substitute they will accept.

Pain.

Turns out if you can’t make with the funny using words, the audience will eat up pain.

A very specific type of pain.

Self-inflicted.

Sure, you may think it’s funny to punch a castmate in the face and break their nose. Especially if they’ve been hogging the stage all night and stepping on your lines.

But not the audience. Oh no. From them it’s nothing but shocked gasps and indignant muttering and offers to testify on your castmate’s behalf at the assault trial.

But.

But!

Fall flat on your own face?

First a silence so deep descends upon the audience they can hear your teeth crack from the impact.

And then, a beat later, laughter.

Uproarious, gleeful laughter.

The more self-inflicted and gasp-inducing your injury, the more they lap it up.

And once they’ve supped on your personal misery, they discover too late they’ve developed a taste for it.

They want more.

They need more.

They. Must. Have. MORE.

More of your saucy, delectable pain.

So this past weekend I ended up flinging myself upon the hard, unyielding boards I was trodding in a desperate attempt to find a balance between killing myself (too much pain) and angering the audience (not enough).

Oh, how they laughed at my anguished wailing, how they chortled at my plaintive whimpers, how they guffawed at the gush of my hemoglobin all over the floor of the stage, hot and sticky and metallic.

Which is why today, I don’t have the strength to lift my damp, still blood-stained costume out of the washing machine.

Or a garbage bag out from the cabinet under the sink.

Today I learned it’s a good idea to have, if not a medical degree, at least an Associate’s Degree in anatomy if you want to get into the dangerous, high-stakes life of improv comedy.

Or, if you have the knack for it, be funny.

Either way, I think I’m in over my head.

 
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Posted by on 26 August 2019 in Art!, Conspiracies Out To Get Me, improv, Life

 

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Oh No, My Kids Are Nerds!

All of my D&D dice are loaded

Guess which of those die rolls was mine. Think “unlucky” if you need a hint.

The other morning, out of nowhere, the kiddos burst into our bedroom, jumping up and down and screaming about playing D&D.

Now when I say morning, I mean “morning” in the sense of “weekend morning when I can sleep in until 10:30am or so without consequence” and when I say “burst into the room” I mean in the sense of “very, very much before 10:30am”.

I’m an ugly man. I need my beauty sleep. But it seems like, ever since I had kids, I keep getting uglier.

(Unlike the Missus. With these early bird spawn, I have no idea how she avoids it.)

But I digress, and will distract you from my unsightly visage by returning to the tale at hand.

My kiddos somehow learned about Dungeons & Dragons and now are extremely anxious to play it.

Like right now. Not five minutes or an hour or a day from now, but five minutes ago now.

I did not play D&D when I was a kid. Not that I didn’t want to. I found the concept intriguing.

Exciting.

Exotic.

But my friends were too cool to play D&D. Or any other role playing game.

No, they wanted to log into BBSes, use a z-modem client to allow for interrupted downloads, play chess, and use numbering schemes involving mega-Hertz and / or baud rates and nothing else.

You know, cool, non-nerdy things.

Or at least the coolest, non-nerdiest things you can do without atheletic prowess and above average hand-eye coordination.

As you can easily imagine, the trauma of being denied D&D games as a child resulted in my psyche forming a protective layer of scar tissue when it comes to all things RPG-related.

It was a purely defensive response that came about shortly after I realized playing D&D by myself just wasn’t cutting it.

Six weeks into that disastrous, sanity loss inducing solo campaign…

The long and the short of it is that I had a miserable childhood full of self-loathing, bitter disappointment, and a lot of shiny, mint-condition dice with a varying number of sides.

I was filled with as much ennui as an overworked and illiterate Parisian barista with dreams of writing the Great French Novel.

Years later, when I became a father, holding two red-faced, howling baby kiddos in my arms (they never liked it when I held them), I had two epiphanies:

One: Holy crap babies can be loud!

And two: I will never let them suffer the way I suffered when it comes to RPGs.

I vowed to raise them in a world without the siren lure of D&D.

The nurses were unimpressed with this vow.

Initially, I planned to go back in time and prevent Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson from ever meeting, let alone creating the game. But I could only figure out how to quantum leap into my own body during that time period, which was, in 1979…well, let’s just leave it at too young to dissuade anyone from becoming friends with or inventing anything.

So time travel was out. I had no choice but to go with Plan B:

Hide it from them.

While the kiddos were very young and not very mobile, it was easy to protect them from the existence of such games. But no growing kiddo is an island, so I knew I could only delay the discovery.

Inevitably, they would learn about role playing games.

Some hooligan on the school playground, furtively beckoning them over and asking if they wanted to try some GURPS. For free.

At first.

Most likely it was the seven year old next door who talks non-stop about Pokemon and My Little Pony and that the Missus and I decided was a bad influence. We banned the kiddos from hanging out with her, but they must have anyway, just to spite us. Her mom probably drove them to the local gaming store in the mall, where they have weekly gaming sessions.

WHY DID I NOT KNOW OF SUCH THINGS WHEN I WAS A KID?! So much pain could have been avoided!

But, availability of weekly mall sessions aside, I’d made up my mind about my kiddos and RPGs, and I wasn’t going to waffle or flip-flop now.

I had a plan. A beautiful plan, which I thought I’d executed flawlessly.

When the kiddos were old enough to understand and start experimenting with nerdy things, I locked them in a closet with a tablet and didn’t let them out until they’d watched all three seasons of Star Trek.

(The original series, since there is no other legitimate Star Trek and you all know it!)

I thought it worked. Not only did they avoid Star Trek, but after that just looking out the window at the night sky gave them fits.

No way they’d want to experiment with anything even remotely nerdly, no matter how “cool” or “da bomb” their friends said it was.

My plan seemed to be working. I put a basketball hoop up in our backyard, and they took to it like tuna to a can. Running, shooting, taunting each other every time they missed.

It was perfect.

Until this recent morning, when, out of nowhere, they dragged us out of bed at the crack of dawn and made us buy the Player’s Handbook 5th Edition.

(Well, wait outside the local bookstore until it opened, then buy it.)

And now I’m crying.

Crying tears of joy.

I’m having the second childhood I always wanted but never had.

For the first time since my age hit double digits, I’m happy.

Inexplicably happy.

Almost happier, even, than the day the kiddos were born, except I just rolled a three on my check initiative, and that kinda takes the edge off the whole thing.

 
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Posted by on 21 July 2019 in Angst, Life

 

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If you cut down a tree in a forest while on Ambien and don’t remember, did you make any noise when it landed on you?

Black hole phobias and baggage retrieval concerns aside, 2019 has provided plenty of material for me to stew over. And when your D&D alignment is Lawful Worrier, you don’t really need a large portion of angst to get a good ol’ knot in the stomach rolling (or is that roiling?).

But 2019 has definitely been the year that giveth when it comes to bad news, and halfway into the year it has started to take its toll.

In particular, the irrational fears gnawing away at me have made it difficult to sleep. Difficult enough that I ended up with a prescription for Ambien.

The doctor’s thinking went something like this:

Worries prevent sleep → Lack of sleep inhibits ability to deal with worries → Worries prevent sleep

Robert Jordan’s less famous Wheel of Fear concept, which he eventually cast aside for the Wheel of Time concept. Would have been a very different series had he stuck with his original idea.

Basically, the expectation is if I can finally manage to get a decent night’s sleep, I might be able to snap out of it.

Why am I blathering on about this? Because it’s important to convey to you that I’ve been prescribed sleeping pills to help with my anxiety.

Remember that.

Which leads us to the side effects of Ambien, or, in my case, the generic version called zolpidem tartrate. This is all straight from the information sheet provided to me by the pharmacist along with the pills themselves:

After taking zolpidem tartrate tablets, you may get up out of bed while not being fully awake and do an activity that you do not know you are doing. The next morning, you may not remember that you did anything during the night. (Emphasis theirs, and it case you can’t tell, that whole thing is in bold!). Reported activities include:

  • driving a car (“sleep-driving”) Holy F*ck! And come to think of it, I had a friend who sleep-drove naked while on this! I weep for my neighbors.
  • making and eating food OK, that doesn’t seem so bad…unless I’ve sleep-driven to the drive-thru and didn’t bring enough cash (BECAUSE I’M NAKED!!!!).
  • talking on the phone Hello there, Mom. It’s 2am. Do you know where your kids are? Besides me, obviously, since I’m on the phone with you.
  • having sex Also doesn’t sound so bad, except bummer that I won’t remember. Wait, who am I having sex with? That’s an important detail!
  • sleep-walking Compared to the rest of this crap, that seems downright tame. It’s not like I’m apt to start using trapezes without a net…right?

So there I am, having gotten through the side effects list, feeling understandably…anxious. But hey, no problem, I tell myself. Just hide the car keys, my cell phone, warn the Missus about surprise conjugal efforts, maybe barricade the bedroom and/or refrigerator door. And strap on a parachute, in case I find my way into a Cirque du Soleil show.

But then I kept reading the info sheet, more out of curiosity than anything else since I’d understandably, having read to the end of the list, thought I’d gotten through the side effects section.

Expect it turns out I hadn’t. The initial list of side effects was on page one. The continuing list of side effects was on page three. And in between? A lot of dry material about calling your doctor if anything weird happens, how to safely use the medicine, etc. You know, standard boiler plate: don’t take with alcohol or while operating heavy machinery and the like. So I can be forgiven thinking I was done with things that might go wrong and kill me.

Buried on page three is where the manufacturer listed the “most common” side effects (shouldn’t the most common stuff be on the first page???), and at this point things got a little surreal. Either that or Big Pharma is screwing with me.

So what are the most common side effects of Ambien née zolpidem tartrate? Allow me to enlighten you:

  • drowsiness Um…OK? Are you sure that isn’t a primary effect of a…sleeping pill?
  • dizziness I suppose that isn’t too shocking. You’re really tired after taking the pill, probably gonna have a balance issue…
  • diarrhea Will I, should the urgent need arise, go to the bathroom in my sleep to prevent an unpleasant mess/embarrassing episode, or will drowsiness and dizziness prevent me from preventing a horrible incident?
  • grogginess or feeling as if you have been drugged What the actual f*ck! Are you trying to tell me that if I take a drug designed to make me sleep, I will feel tired and drugged? No way! How is that possible? How on Earth could the FDA possibly let you market a sleep aid drug that makes you…GULP…sleep, but at the same time have a distance suspicion that maybe, just maybe, you took a drug to get that way?

So at this point I honestly don’t know whether to feel worried about this drug or be looking around for the hidden cameras capturing my reaction to the absurdity of this moment.

The only thing I do know is that the thought of taking this pill to help me deal with my anxiety is making me…anxious.

 
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Posted by on 9 June 2019 in Angst, Life

 

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Talk about a phobia that really sucks

The way things have been going in my life lately (dark, generally unpleasant, pulling me inexorably downward, outright terrifying), I suppose it’s only reasonable to talk about my biggest phobia (which is second only to my abject terror of Cuisinarts).

I’m deathly afraid of black holes.

I know it’s irrational. We aren’t near any black holes. I’m not in any danger of enduring extreme time dilatation and coming back to see my kids old and dying. I’m not about to get thrown into one and experience that latest slimming fad, spaghettification,

Though I could stand to lose an inch or two from my waistline…

But phobias aren’t rational now, are they?

A movie about extreme sucking that sucked extremely

Not visible: the heart of the black hole. According to my nightmares it’s a spinning Cuisinart blade.

Two space movies that sucked came out at the same time. Who woulda thunk it?

Dad eventually took us to both. Could have been worse: it could’ve been Star Trek: Generations.

It all started when my dad couldn’t decide which movie to take us to, The Black Hole or Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Ultimately, there was no good choice on this front, but still he rolled the dice and took my sibling and I to see Disney’s The Black Hole.

He must have thought it was a safe bet. I mean, it’s a Disney movie. How could it traumatize a young child?

In a Disney movie, it’s not like you have to worry about things like a momma deer getting killed by a hunter, thereby orphaning an adorable baby deer which then has to fight off a pack of hungry rabbits that announce their imminent attack via ominous thumping sounds, right?

So we saw it in the theater and, quite predictably, I cried when Old B.O.B. died.

But that’s not what launched my ignorant, child’s-eye view of terror when it came to black holes.

It was when Maximilian, the evil red hovering Cuisinart, killed Dr. Alex Durant (played by Anthony Perkins), slowly advancing on him with that rotary weed-whacker on steroids.

(I mean, what the hell does a robot in space even need with a built-in food processor unless it is a chef bot, which Maximilian definitely was not? Thanks again, Disney, for feeding my childhood nightmares so lavishly! I guess Bambi wasn’t enough, huh?)

So I forever associated that swirling black hole image from the movie with a whirring, shaky, shredded-paper-flying-everywhere death.

Later, I got older and in the arrogant manner of a teenager, tried to conquer my fear by knowing everything about it. Now, if you’ve read even a tenth of what is out there about what black holes can do, you know that further education, in this particular case, is a doozy of a mistake! The more I learned, the stronger and denser my fear became until nothing, not even cool rational thought, could escape it.

So I did what anyone else in my place would do: Avoided all references to Soundgarden and then went to a hypnotherapist who, after months of intense sessions, erased all awareness of black holes from my conscious mind.

(Apparently I also lost some of the details from Bambi, but to be honest, I’m not really sweating that.)

Flash forward a few years and, not knowing much about the plot, I went to see Interstellar (in IMAX, no less!!). All those hours of expensive hypnotherapy? Flushed down a black-hole powered toilet.

And, considering the (somewhat) more scientific accuracy of Interstellar, my nightmares were now even worse.

But with the help of an understanding wife who brought me a steady supply of food, I found solace in an extended stay in an isolation tank. An isolation tank, I should add, with one minor addition: it had a light.

When I first went in, I wasn’t thinking clearly and hadn’t added a light. It took me a week to claw through the sound-proof door of that chamber and make the necessary modifications. A week that felt like years. Or a different sort of relativity than what Einstein came up with. I call it the Not So Special Relativity. The closest way to experience Not So Special Relativity if you don’t have an isolation tank and a fear of black holes? Watch all of Carrot Top’s movies at full volume but half speed, twice.

I was forced to come out of my warm, brightly lit, comfy tank once my Medical Leave of Absence expired, but fortunately the respite served me well and I was mostly recovered. I was certainly well enough to resume a useful, productive life. Dark stars were a fleeting thought bubbling far back and in the depths of my psyche, only really bothering me in an occasional recurring nightmare (that also, for some reason, featured Carrot Top).

And then, this. This image exploded on the internet and I couldn’t go anywhere without seeing it:

Think you're having a bad day? Try waking up one morning, pulling open the blinds, and being greeted by this.

Objects in mirror are larger than they appear. Image credit: NSF

I used to think of science as a friend, but now that friend has shown its true colors: black and orange and oh so cruel.

These days I find myself staying clear of open spaces, lest I find myself plucked up off the Earth and dragged into relativistic hell, and strapping myself into my chair every time I sit down at my desk (the seat was…recently…bolted to the floor). That, a steady diet of the Twilight books on audio (as read by David Hyde Pierce, of course!), and a root canal or two should have my brain numb enough to cope with existence soon enough.

 

 
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Posted by on 18 May 2019 in Angst, Astronomy!, Life, Science!

 

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