Category Archives: Stories
Crossing the tragedy streams: Local and Global
We didn’t have kids so we were really, really emotionally invested in our pets. We loved them, they put up with us, it was the perfect relationship you could have with a cat.
Living in Los Angeles, we had to keep them indoors, and this was a challenge. Just outside was this magical, mystical land of smells and sounds and the cats WANTED OUT. Lizzy made a couple half-hearted attempts but eventually settled for the inside life. She’d sit in the window sometimes, but she seemed to accept her lot in life. Forest, however… Forest was not a quitter.
Being a big, dynamic cat, he had a lot of energy and muscle and inertia. Being a little crazy, he also eventually worked out A System.
I remember one day watching him tear around the apartment in circles, faster and faster like some kind of superconducting kitty supercollider. “What the hell are you doi-” I began when he straightened out his path and beelined for the standard-issue armored metal screen door so many LA apartments have.
BAM! He slammed into the door at just the right angle and… it opened.
He’d figured out a way to pop it open by hitting a lower corner and, faster than you can swear, he was gone. A couple hours later, he swaggered back, covered in dirt and so happy with himself. He’d braved the outdoors and was ready to eat. We pulled him in, brushed him off, and thought that was that.
That was not, of course, that.
Once in a while, we’d hear a big BAM! and sure enough, he’d have let himself out. Without AC, the door was our primary ventillation so we pretty much HAD to use the screen like this, but it was unnerving. He kept coming back, though, so it eventually just became a part of life.
Until the day he got him by a car.
We were devestated. Absolutely shattered. Our emotions were so tied up in our pets, we were destroyed by this and we cried. We turned inwards, held each other, and grieved and it was so rough.
After a couple days, it still hurt almost as much and I was surprised when my sister called me one morning.
“Hey, you guys doing ok?” she asked. She sounded sad and I was really moved. We’d tried to play it cool about the cat, but family knows these things.
“We’re hanging in there”, I told her, but she could hear in the roughness of my voice that I wasn’t really that ok. It had been three days since he died, and I still couldn’t quite believe it.
“This is really tough”, she assured me. I agreed, and for the next couple minutes we had a nice conversation where she was asking after our moods and how we were ‘handling things’. I agreed it was hard, she talked about how little experience we had with situations like this, I was impressed at how much sympathy she had for us and our departed cat.
But the wheel of time turns, conversation progresses and passes and eventually… things start to break down.
After a few minutes of about 99% heart-felt platitudes and recognition of shared grief (I was moved at how strongly she felt about Forest dying, she’d maybe met the cat once), I could tell something was wrong. A conversation is… kinda like a machine. There are gears and springs. The movement in one area causes action in another, and a good conversation will have people bouncing these forces of ideas and thoughts back and forth smoothly so that at the end, both feel fulfilled and something productive has happened. The machine turns smoothly.
Today, there was sand in the gears. Also, some of the gears… were the wrong size.
The conversation machine was starting to tear itself apart from the inside out, and both of us were obviously confused. The responses we were giving each other weren’t landing quite right and both of us were getting a little upset because we didn’t understand why this was happening. Finally, one response was just a little too wrong, and my sister was the one to exclaim:
“Ben, what are you talking about?”
This is a question that’s about as welcome in the middle of a an emotional talk like this as a sheriff showing up in the middle of a wedding ceremony with a stack of warrants. It’s proof that something has gone horribly wrong, that somewhere along the way something terrible has happened and two people are very much not on the same page.
“I’m talking about our cat Forest… what are YOU talking about?” I’m absolutely gobsmacked, we’ve been on the phone for almost 5 minutes. What’s going on?
There’s a moment of shocked silence on the other end of the phone, then I hear: “Oh Jesus Christ, Ben, turn on the TV.”
Super puzzled, I hunt for the remote. As I’m picking it up, I ask “what channel?”. This time, she responds immediately.
“ALL OF THEM”.
It turns out, she was not calling about our dead cat. This was, of course, 15 years ago today.
Our grief took a very unexpected turn that morning. I can’t add anything that a million better writers haven’t already captured about the events then or the years of worldwide change that followed, so I won’t try. From a personal perspective I will say… that in the following months, we had our first child, then shortly after, our second son was born. As happens, our own priorities changed and while we still really like our pets, our kids are obviously the vessels into which we put the hopes and optimism for the future that felt so distant that September morning. We still like our cats (A LOT, don’t get me wrong), but when one dies or disappears, it’s just a fact of life. It’s a brief interruption and then… things goes on. The people and animals pass in and out of our lives and we continue and I couldn’t tell you even what YEAR some of our beloved pets have died now or how old our cats are or any of the other little things that used to seem so personally important.
In one of those strange ways our brains work and associate global things to the personal, when it comes to remembering that our cat Forest died on September 8th, 2001, I’ll never forget.
Let your fingers do the plotting
Kanye West tweeted: “I hate when I’m on a flight and I wake up with a water bottle next to me like oh great now I gotta be responsible for this water bottle”. Deep down inside, I guess I’m like Kanye West, except with a phone book instead of a water bottle. Also, maybe not as talented or publicly ‘wacky’. Anyways, I didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t ask the world to be responsible for an outdated reference book that I’ll never use because it’s the year 2016 and I have the Internet. Deciding fast, I grab it and jump into my car. I know these books are distributed by someone driving through the neighborhood and throwing them. Like the Cylons, I have a plan.
I will give it back.
I will choose NOT to be saddled with this… burden. Driving, it’s easy to tell which houses have been hit by the phantom thrower. I glide quietly, my hybrid in “panther mode”, scanning back-and-forth. I’m trying to find a pattern. Am I heading towards them or just retracing the path that led them to my house? An old phonebook looks like a fresh one, there’s no way to tell.
I give up and decide to brute force the neighborhood.
I drive up and down every road, my head on a swivel. Every time I go through intersection, I do that thing we all do at supermarket when we’re looking for the person we came to the store with. A few times, I see something promising and look. Each time, it’s a false alarm and if there’s anyone in the car I’m checking out, they stare at me as I creep slowly past. What’s this LOOK like to them? Well, that’s a question that doesn’t occur to me until afterwards so I continue my mission, leaving a trail of freaked out helicopter parents and neighborhood watch enthusiasts in my wake.
About 15 minutes in, I finally realize this isn’t going to work. Either these people are way faster than I imagined, or we were the last house in the neighborhood. Maybe they’re halfway to Reno to blow their phonebook blood money on doing a gamblings or whatever it is physical spammers do with profits, I don’t know.
I give up. I tuck the phonebook in front of my seat and head back to the office.
A day or two later, my wife notices it on the floor of my car and asks what it’s doing there. I tell her, and she’s immediately practical. “Throw it away or put it in the recycling”, she tells me. “If your plan was to give it back and they’re gone, just get rid of it”.
This doesn’t sit well with me because I feel like then that means the world gets another victory over human decency. The kind of people who throw phonebooks at houses get a pass, and the rest of us need to deal with their anti-social behavior. It doesn’t seem quite right, like I’d would be giving up.
“Well, I was thinking”- I lie, having been doing no such thing, everything I’m about to tell her is occurring to me as I speak so nobody is more surprised than me when that sentence continues: “that maybe I’ll just wait until I see someone who’s parked terribly and maybe put the phonebook under their windshield wiper as some kind of silly, petty protest.”
Hearing it out loud, that actually doesn’t sound half bad. Out of the thousands of ways people have objected to antisocial parking over the centuries, this is a pretty inoffensive one. Yeah, I think maybe I could actually do this. It’ll be great!
Then I remember I’ve just been talking to someone, the level-headed practical bedrock in my life who keeps me together. I can sit here patting myself on the back all I want, but the woman whose opinion is important to me and whose judgment I trust would probably have some input on this grand scheme. I brace myself, this idea may not survive the cold light of logic and sense. These thoughts happen in a flash, she responds instantly.
“Then go get some more of those phonebooks from our neighbors”, she suggests reasonably, “there’s lots of bad parkers. If we’re going to do this, let’s do it right”.
Damnit, I love this woman so much.
Wisdom in the larceny of youth
After telling him about counterfeiting and the various problems, I added that it wouldn’t even work because most people would look at it and know instantly it was counterfeit.
“But I don’t have to fool all the people,” he responded, “I just have to fool one person”.
That left me thinking for a while.
Home ownership and cats
It was amazing. Suddenly, we were able to both sleep through the night AND have a door guarding against hallway monsters because everyone knows hallway monsters are too big to fit through cat doors. Later, when we had children, the closed door also protected against children that wanted to come and sleep with us JUST BECAUSE and that just would not do, yet our cats could still come and go like little karma chameleons without disturbing us.
When you own your house (or if you’re just very, very casual about the concept of ‘damage deposits’ on rentals) you can do this. It is a good thing.
In 2005, I tried to buy two small jugs of denatured alcohol at the Cottage Grove, OR Wal-Mart for my flamecannon (started as a pneumatic spud gun but then when I found out it would turn liquid into an aerosol mist, I put a torch at the end and started shooting 40′ fireballs and mushroom clouds instead) and the system would only allow the cashier to ring up one because of whatever else I was buying along with it.
“What? Why?” I asked, probably in more words.
“Computer thinks you might be making meth, dude” is roughly what the response was. They couldn’t override it and I had an insufficient amount of denatured alcohol to get my flame on but what could I do?
Later that evening after we almost immediately ran out of denatured alcohol from my one tiny jug, my brother-in-law asked if I thought acetone was flammable because he “has that”.
“Sure”, I allowed, “I believe it is”.
We poured some down the barrel, lit the igniter torch at the end, and fired it into the air. Now with the alcohol, the aerosol would punch through the flame and be slowly and majestically lit from behind as the flame ‘caught up’. End result, a low “boom”, a big fireball that climbed into the sky, and a fine mist of whatever alcohol didn’t ‘catch’.
With acetone, there was a measurable difference. First, there was no unused acetone. It ALL ignited. Second, it ALL ignited i a roughly 2-3″ sphere of pure energy at the very tip of the barrel where the flame was. It was one of the brightest things I’ve ever seen, and to this day, if I squint my eyes, I can just barely make out the outline of the barrel to my long-departed flame cannon with a round cutout at the end.
So yeah, I think there is some amount of computermization of things people purchase.
Fusion Powered Experiment Report
First, I shave. My face. I mean, that’s what THIS post is about, at least. I have been using a Gillette Fusion, a disposable razor that, as far as I can tell, is basically the winner of The Blade Wars (where the companies went back and forth daring each other to add more blades). There are probably razors with new blades now, but the Fusion won because not only did they cram extra blades onto it, they added BATTERIES.
To a disposable razor.
That’s not even the wackiest part of this story. That comes later, but let’s talk about the batteries for a moment because that’s semi relevant.
“What?” I imagine you asking in your head. “Why? How?” you might continue, gradually working your way towards defining the components of a successful newspaper article. Basically, you might be wondering what role a battery has in a disposable razor, and I’ll tell you: It makes it buzz.
It’s like there’s an angry wasp inside that’s trying to escape some sort of plastic cage but it can’t. Also, it only buzzes when you press the button. You may have made the mental connection to other devices that do what this disposable razor does, devices that traditionally do not have sharp edges but unlike the razor, it’s kinda a core function. That’s not true for the Fusion as far as I can tell.
So why does my disposable razor buzz and vibrate? I have no idea. If you’re looking for meaning in this marketing decision, I have none. I have dutifully replaced the AAA battery four or five times so I’ve actually made a financial investment in this feature but I don’t know why it exists. I think the box suggested that it would somehow help the blades get, I don’t know, some kind of closer shave or something through the magic of “razor waves” or something, but any time I try to imagine how that would work I just see the sharp steel of my razor filleting my skin even more effectively than before, leaving a trail of cytoplasm from ruptured cell walls as blood streams down the handle but for some reason, that’s not what happens. BZZZZZ…. BZZZ…. BZZZ? I have no idea.
But as I mentioned earlier, the Mystery Of The Batteries is not even the strangest part of this story. No, the strange part is the thing that I mentioned in passing to some friends and then realized from their reactions that my actions over the past six plus years were not those of a normal person.
Here’s the deal, the reason I’m writing this… I last replaced my disposable razor blade in August of 2008. All of those inexplicable battery replacements? They were while using the same razor blades.
That’s right, I’ve been using the same disposable cartridge for six and a half years and that’s with shaving almost every day.
“?!*#&#@” you’re thinking now, Q-bert style. That’s a sweet 80s reference, I like it. Anyways, the answer to your semi-coherent garbled mental exclamation is also symbolic: “$$$”. A few weeks after getting the Fusion (with a name like that, how can I NOT buy it? That’s what runs star trek reactors! That’s what happens in the Sun! It’s even a type of cuisine!) It’s got everything going for it, so of course I’ll buy the Gillette Fusion. So I went to buy a replacement cartridge a few weeks later and found it was like crazy expensive.
“No way am I giving up my money to these crooks” I said to myself, unconsciously stroking my perfectly shaved neck in contemplation. “I bet I can get a few more days out of it, no problem.” Days became weeks, weeks became months. I don’t remember ever actually deciding “I’m going for some sort of dumb record”, it just… happened.
Months became 6 years. Visualize this, the razor came with a little ‘Aloe strip’. I assumed it was some kind of marketing thing because it promised soft skin and the power of moisturizing aloe bullshit or something. Within the first week, the green ‘Aloe’ part was gone, obviously. It took a few months for the next real change, but once that had passed, the last remnants of the paper the Aloe had been applied to were gone as well. I think there was a day or two where little bits of exposed adhesive were sticking to my face, but I powered on through and now it’s nice and smooth. My face was basically a giant sheet of organic sandpaper, so this isn’t even surprising, but it worked.
But the blades…. I have no idea WHY they keep working, but I hardly bleed at all. I don’t have some giant misshapen neckbeard so the blades (however many there are) are still sharp enough to do SOMETHING, right? I mean, it’s not like it’s turned into some sort of unpowered Epilady because I hardly cry at all when I shave, so it must be still cutting.
Here’s how I maintain the razor cartridge:
1. About once or twice a month, I use our Waterpik dental water blaster thing (can be used to both stimulate healthy gums or cut plate steel depending on what setting you use) to blast the accumulated bristles out. I’ll turn it on (the pik) then direct the water laser at the back of the razor and get an instant shotgun blast of mini hairs at the wall behind. Because I’m a good husband, I then:
2. redirect the water long enough to rinse this off the wall. YOU’RE WELCOME, WIFE.
And… that’s about it. Oh, I guess I rinse and shake it dry after shaving (again, the razor) but other than that, nothing heroic. I figure I’ve gotten about 2,200 shaves out of it so far, assuming I shave 6.5 times a week (which is reasonable, I take vacations sometimes) and usually once a day.
Back in 2009 or 2010, my lovely wife actually bought me replacement razor carts because she knows how incredibly cheap I was and maybe was a little concerned about blood clogging the shower drains but I heroically set them aside. “No”, I seethed, “I won’t give them the satisfaction.” She gamely backed away and I set the gift aside before facing my next shaving experience.
This gets tricky. There are several possible, but personally I think the most important one is this: The razor cartridge is TOO GOOD for their business model so they’re using a gimmick to trick people into buying new ones.
Yes, I’ll repeat that. No, wait, I won’t, you can just read the previous paragraph again, that’s more efficient. Anyhow, I think the quality of the steel they’re using is just too high for a business that relies on people throwing these things away after a few uses and buying another one. If I know this, then obviously they know it too, so how do they push people to replace the cartridges if they’re still shaving just fine?
It’s obvious: THAT’S the true purpose of the Aloe strip. It’s not there to just be a line item on the box about how goddamn smooth your skin will be, it’s there to be something that visibly wears off so the customer will look at it and say “der, I guess I’d better replace this!”.
So what does this mean? It means that as long as you stay up to date on your tetanus shots and take some basic steps to clean your so-called disposable razor, you too can be a cheap bastard. Remember how I mentioned receiving the gift of replacement blades? A few months ago I actually found them beneath the bathroom sink. I dusted the package off, set it carefully aside and am ready for the day when the blades FINALLY need to be replaced. It’s nice to know I can pull the trigger any time, and I have my wonderful wife to thank for that, but I think I can hold out a little longer.
I’ll wrap this up because I need to go sand my neck callouses, but here’s a suggestion: next time you get ready to replace your blades, take a long hard look at it and ask yourself: Are you REALLY willing to trade your hard-earned cash for a measly pain-free shaving experience? If you ask me, THAT’S the REAL crazy.
The New Star Wars movie creeps closer, and I’m ready for more tease but I want something darker…
Leaning over a table, space cigarette drooping out of the side of his mouth in the back of a hazy bar, the old Gungan takes a swig of something foul looking and stares off into memory. There’s a hint of music and conversation but it’s distorted and hushed. He begins to speak.
“When the rebels killed meesa friend Palpatine, dark times came to tha peace-a-ful peoples of the Empire.”
The view shifts to a montage of rebellion. Aircars on fire off the shoals of Coruscant’s government districts, blaster beams glittering everywhere as the Empire’s elite fell before the rampaging civilians.
“Not-a since the Jedi betrayal was-a there so much unrest!” he continues, voice growing shrill with anger. Shown, a Star Destroyer plummets out of the sky over a desert planet, driving into the deep sands in a giant explosion of fire and debris. Overhead, X-wings dart past in triumph.
Jar Jar’s voice drops to a slow growl. “Over the years, meesa friends, dead. Lord Vader, dead. Thousands, MILLIONS -a brave troopers… dead. But the time has come…” Fade back to Jar Jar, looking down then slowly bringing his bloodshot eyes up to stare into the camera, “fors the Empire to strike ba-”
Suddenly, a blaster shot rings out from off frame, slamming into the Gungan. He shrieks and collapses forwards in his seat onto the table. The rest of the bar comes into focus and the sound levels return to normal. We’re at the suddenly silent Cantina in Mos Eisley. The camera pans across the familiar scene; the aliens have changed (some are older, some are new, some are missing) but it’s recognizably the same general crowd from the original movie. It pans around to the shooter and stops just as an old Han Solo finishes putting his Blastech blaster back into his holster.
“You already tried that once, it didn’t work out so good.” Pulling a few coins out of his pocket he starts to chuck them at the table, pauses for a moment with a smirk on his face at a similar remembered moment a long time ago, then completes the movement with a flash of silver as they clatter and slide onto the table up against the smoking corpse. “Sorry about the mess”, he calls to the bartender as he saunters out. The Modal Nodes are standing on the stage silent, then break back into their signature theme song from the first film.
The crowd goes back to what it was doing before as he walks out of sight. The camera pans up through the ceiling to the blue skies of Tattooine and into space and we cut to the Star Wars logo and music in a fast wipe.
= STAR WARS =
THE FORCE AWAKENS
F Minus 326 days, folks. May the franchise be with us, always.
Bored folks with tools
My dad used to work off a barge in the North Sea. They had these long pipe segments stacked on deck and he described an X-week pause in work because of problems upstream that left a barge full of bored guys with access to welding equipment and raw materials.
The final product was apparently a 40 foot (if I remember right, it’s been years since I heard the story) pipe suspended by one end with a crane that had a steel plate with a tiny hole welded to the other end. An institutional-sized can of peaches fit the inside the pipe snugly most of the way down and a nicely tuned mixture of O2 & acetylene was introduced between it and the plate.
The hole was sealed, heat was applied, and the ad hoc cannon spoke.
Moral of the story: Don’t let a bunch of folks with know-how and materials get bored.
Perry the Predator
80s Music, describe Hypercolor shirts , try to make them jealous of our sweet Garbage Pail Kid cards collections… We’ve got a plan. They’ll like the 80s. No, they’ll LOVE them because that’s when WE were kids. The main way we’ll indoctrinate them into the magic of The Greatest Decade, though, is to show them all the movies WE watched. Maybe if we really want to turn them into little clones of ourselves, it’s not 100% effective, but it’s a start, right? It’s a plan, and it’s a plan that involves watching movies instead of having to go out and really effort, and it’s working kinda! They cheer and clap at Back to the Future, we watch The Goonies then go to Astoria,OR to find landmarks, maybe we watch Die Hard then sit down as a family and discuss mistakes hero Hans Gruber made and how he took his eye off the prize. Basic 80s family stuff, and our best bet at getting shared experiences.
But then… there’s the one film they saw VERY differently than we did. It’s a film that had me terrified and thrilled in equal measure because of the mystery and casual brutality of a hidden foe. I’m talking, of course, about Predator. If you haven’t seen this, it’s a heart-warming story of some buddies out on a ‘camping trip gone wrong’ that’s a metaphor for the struggles of reaching middle-age and our sense of mortali-no, I’m just kidding. It’s an awesome gun-gore-fest where all the real action movie heroes of the 80s curse their way through a jungle in a knock-down drag-out fight against a super duper alien hunter. The creature variously stabs, disembowels, and decapitates the cast but you don’t actually SEE it until near the very end because it’s wearing a ‘cloaking suit’. It’s kinda like those Harry Potter books where Harry does mischief with the Cloak of Invisibility, except instead of sneaking his wand past Argus Filch to get a good Hufflepuffing, the Predator uses HIS invisibility to sneak his SPACEKNIFE into a bunch of PEOPLE.
So here’s where my kids start to see a very different movie; while you don’t SEE the Predator until the last few minutes of the movie, you HEAR it. It makes this terrifying clicking noise that echoes through the jungle. It’s inhuman, it’s menacing, and you hear it every time something terrifying happens to anyone. It sounds like this:
We’re watching it and each time the monster clicks, I peek out from my blanket to see how the kids are doing and they seem… ok with it. In fact, you might say they’re sanguine about it. This is a little joke because while mainly meaning ‘optimistic in a bad situation’, it can also mean ‘blood red’. (For the record, I DID say this was a ‘little joke’, so you have nobody to be disappointed in but yourself if you feel a little let down. Yes, you.)
So anyway, this is really confusing me because I remember being pretty scared of this critter. Actually, I’m a little scared of it right now and I’m just sitting here in front of a computer typing. ‘What does it look like?!’ I remember thinking. You can only see a rough outline through the ‘cloak distortion’ and I remember my imagination going wild. Does it have huge teeth? Does it have some kind of crazy biting mouth? I didn’t know! But my kids seem pretty comfortable with the Predator, like he’s some old friend of theirs. WHY AREN’T THEY SCARED?!
It’s a complete mystery to me until I hear one murmured comment about halfway through the movie that answers everything. I can’t make out the whole sentence, but I heard one word clearly: “Perry”. There’s only one ‘Perry’ that my kids know, and that’s…
Perry the Platypus.
If you’re not a parent or if you’re over 15, you might not know Phineas and Ferb. It’s a Disney cartoon with some wise-cracking kids who go on mysteries and adventures and blah blah blah blah, but relevant to this post: they have a pet duckbill platypus named ‘Perry’ who is also secretly a crime-fighting super agent who never talks. He doesn’t talk, but… he clicks. A lot.
And he sounds, I realize, exactly like the Predator.
Listen for yourself:
(it really starts getting good around hour 4)
So when the big reveal of the Predator happens and you see his weird mouth and beady little pig eyes and space dreadlocks, the kids are startled and make appreciative noises, but it seems like it’s kinda a letdown for them because they’ve been imagining a large duckbill platypus the entire time. Let me repeat this:
For them, Predator was a movie about a platypus that was tearing out spines and knifing people.
These have to be one of the most ridiculous animals out there (is it a bird? Is it a mammal? What’s the deal?) that nobody can really take seriously, so for my kids, the clicking horror that had young me at the edge of a heart-attack was just a big, goofy looking platypus with basically magic Harry Potter pants.
So I have to ask myself, could they know something about Perry I don’t? Could… could THIS be the big match-up we should REALLY be considering after the AvP franchise died out….?
No, that’s ridiculous, but I entertained the thought, and that’s what makes me a good parent according to this one book I think I saw once but please don’t ask for the name because it was a while ago but I’m pretty sure it’s legit advice.
So here we are. On one hand, I’m a little sad that I couldn’t clone my exact experience onto their malleable little brains and make them more ‘Me’-like, on the other hand, people keep saying they’re going to be their own people and grow into unique individuals. WHATEVER, but that’s what they say.
But by the gripping hand… why’d they have to think this ultimate 80s bad-ass was THIS?!
Curse you, Perry the Platypus!