Category Archives: Stories

Crossing the tragedy streams: Local and Global

A few months before our first son was born, we owned a couple cats. One of them, Forest, my wife had had for years. She’d raised him from a kitten. He was a pretty wild cat, the kind who liked to jump from the ground up onto your shoulder even though he weighed 5+ pounds. He’d stabilize himself with claws, and whether you were wearing a shirt didn’t really make a difference to him because that’s apparently not a thing cats worry about. Some days we’d find him sitting on the top of a door because it was the highest place around from which he could lord over his domain. Somewhere along the way, he got an infection in his gums and needed to have his teeth pulled. Once he figured out he couldn’t bite things anymore, he learned to box. Hard. He could really, really whack something with this big murder mittens of his, it was impressive.

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

A few weeks ago, a “Yellow Pages” suddenly appeared in front of my house. I know within 10 minutes of when it showed up because it wasn’t there when I went into the house, but when I came out… Boom, ancient relic.

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

Many Earth years ago, one of my sons was 5 years old and made a color copy of a $1 bill (both sides), cut them out, and taped them together. As an added bonus, he wrote “20” on each corner with a green marker then tried to present it to me.

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

A quick thought: One day, my wife and I realized that we were adults and we owned our own home and that meant we could do CRAZY things and the first CRAZY THING we did was put a cat door on our bedroom door.

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.

Suspicious Purchases

Some online asked if the retail registers do anything different if you have a ‘suspicious combination’ of items.  The general consensus was no, but I shared the following experience that led me to believe otherwise.

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

I have been running a casual experiment for the past six and a half years and after letting the figurative cat out of the metaphorical bag at a recent literal dinner with friends, I decided that it’s time to go public.

gillette-fusion-powerFirst, 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.

Conclusions:
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!”.

The bullshit Logan's Run aloe bullshit strip
The bullshit Logan’s Run aloe bullshit strip

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…

The new Star Wars movie is getting closer each day, I think it’s time for a new trailer.  Here’s what I want to see:

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

Like all parents, my wife and I are trying to clone our kids to be just like us.  Why?  Maybe we know we’re messed up but figure at least it’s a “Known level of messed up”.  So what’s our plan?  ’80s All Day, Every Day’!

80sclothes80s 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
The Disney character my kids think is hunting Arnold Schwarzenegger

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.

The...  killers?
The… killers?

A platypus.

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….?

Perry predatorNo, 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!

Real Scientology rescue, slightly dramatized retelling

A few years ago, there was a news story about a woman who was rescued from a ship run by Scientology’s Sea Service.  On a discussion board, someone asked if anyone knew anything about the circumstances behind the dramatic rescue.

Unencumbered by the requested information yet having a few minutes of free time, I decided to read the Yahoo! News article once or twice, crack my knuckles, then fill in the blanks with the obvious back-story.  It’s possible my retelling may be as much as 1% true, but that 1% might be mostly punctuation.  So for the sake of the Scientology Lawyer reviewing this blog posting, I’m broke so this piece of fiction isn’t worth the standard Legal Hug Of Death.

Now, onto the story:

The Freewinds slid through the water, its powerful motors thrumming. On the bridge, the captain stood at attention, occasionally checking the course heading and nodding towards his subordinates.

The Attendant, the Church’s assigned highest religious figure and true master of the vessel, stalked in through the sliding doors, his robes narrowly avoiding their bite as they slid shut with a hiss behind him.

“Captain Monson, what is the meaning of reports I’ve just received that we just took a ship aboard?” His face hidden behind the Thetan-shielding black mask did little to quiet his booming voice.

“Lord Amalphous, it appears to be a simple fishing boat matching description of one that escaped from one of our docks nearby two days ago. It appears to have run out of gas and happened to be near our course. When we recognized the transponder code, I ordered us to rendez-”

The Attendant cut him off with a wave of his hand. “You say it was unmanned? Where are the crew?”

The captain, unfazed, responded. “One of the emergency rafts is missing, it appears they abandoned ship shortly after leaving the cove.”

The Attendant paused, thinking. Finally, “Send a team down to properly search the boat for clues. Nobody steals from the Church.”


In the rear tackle, stowed indoors alongside the ship’s two dinghies, the freshly recovered fishing boat swayed slightly. The floor panel to the bilge lifted up then was shoved aside from within as a man pulled his way out.

“We don’t have much time before they switch shifts or decide to convert this into the Church’s next special project, if we’re going to gas up, we’ll have to hurry. It was awful nice of them to store us near the ships boats. John, you find a fuel line, I hope they have gasoline. I’ll see if I can figure out this winch-crane of theirs.” He clambered out to the deck, the other two close behind him.

“I think I see some fuel stuff, I’ll be right back.” The young man tip-toed over towards the far end of the miniature boat hangar while the older man stayed behind.

“You realize that we have a unique opportunity here, don’t you? This is the Sea Service’s mothership in this region, the most visible element of their presence here.” He spoke quietly but stridently, his white beard moving rhythmically with every syllable like a snake eating a horse from the inside.

“I don’t care, I’m not here for the cause old man, I’m here to earn my money, and getting you to the mainland’s my ticket to paying off some old debts. Here, help me with this chain…” he hooked up a hauser to a winch and began stringing it through a pulley.

The old man grabbed the other end and attached it while continuing to talk. “This is the same organization that took my sister’s daughter, you know. Stole her right out from under us. If there’s justice to be done, I feel we must try.”

“Damnit!” The chain dropped, the other man nursed his bruised hand. “There’s no way we’ll get this out, the thing’s jammed. We need some tools and it doesn’t look like they’ve got any here.” He looked around helplessly.

The younger boy dragged a hose over, a big smile plastered on his head. “Found it! Looks like super unleaded too, these guys don’t cheap around.” He pulled it over to the boat and began filling the tank as the other two talked.

The old man nodded. “We’re going to have to look for some”, he announced, gesturing towards the hatch leading into the ship.

“Are you crazy? What if someone sees us?” Harmon shook his head. “They’d be able to string us up for piracy, and I’m happy with my neck the length it is.”

The old man shook his head sadly. “If we don’t get that boat out of this hangar, it’s going to be a real short trip as is. I’ll see if I can find you something, wait here if you want.” He walked towards the hatch.

Harmon followed him. “No, hang on, I’d better come with. You’re right, we’re pretty much screwed already, might as well go down fighting. Keep your eyes out for a toolkit or something.”

John secured the fueling line and hopped down to chase them out into the corridor. “Hey guys, wait for me!” They dogged the hatch behind them, leaving the fueled up boat swinging in front of the rectangular exit to outside.


Valeska wiped the back of her hands on her forehead, but that didn’t so much dry the sweat off as transfer more grime to her face. The goddamn condensers on deck three were stuck on again, and guess who got assigned swap-out duty?

As she tried again to muscle the bolt loose from it’s paint-welded position, she heard feet clanging down the corridor towards her. Affecting her most bored look possible, she looked up, ready to lay into one of her captors.

“Hey pal, mind if we borrow this?” The scruffy goatherder in front of her didn’t look familiar at all, and novelty was the most precious possession on this dull prison.

“Do I look like a ‘pal’ to you, ass face? And no, you can’t have my damn tools, they’ll take it out of my hide. Go ask your precious space bishop to buy you your own damn tools.” She spat on the deck in front of him, microscopically missing his boot.

“Holy shit, you’re a chick!” The man stood back, looking shocked. The old man behind him walked up, looked down, and his eyes almost popped out in surprise.

“V…. Valeska? Paris?” He stuttered, his composure gone.

She frowned. “Yeah, did they warn you about me or something?”

“Vally, don’t you recognize me?” He leaned in close. She recoiled.

“Hey, whatever you’re selling, go somewhere else gramps. Unless you can get me off this fucking water jail, I don’t owe you shit.” She turned her back on the three strangers and went back to studiously trying to loosen the balky bolt.

Behind her, the three looked at each other, stunned. Harmon pointed at the girl, eyebrow raised. Lafayette, the older man, nodded, dazed. John looked back and forth between the two, puzzled but quiet.

Valeska felt someone tap her shoulder lightly. She spun around, wrench in hand, but the three had stepped back and had their hands out non-threateningly in front of them.

“Ma’am, we may be able to help each other out after all. But first… could you grab your toolbox and follow us? I think it’ll be worth your while.”


The winch fixed, she put away her tools. In the boat, the young man was stowing some supplies they had grabbed while Harmon yanked some plug wires from the tenders and dinghys sharing the bay. “Won’t stop ’em long, but should be enough to get clear”, he muttered.

The old man stood by the hatch, still teary eyed. Valaska didn’t quite understand everything he had told her, but she understood that they were agreeing to take her out of this hellhole.

In the boat, John glanced over at the hatch on the other side of the bay and saw the wheel turning. Eyes suddenly wide, he shouted “We’ve got company! Let’s get out of here!”

Closest to the hatch, Lafayette grabbed the wheel and tried muscling it back shut. They thought they had dogged it, but apparently the other guys had noticed it was locked and must have taken it apart on the other side. Straining against the wheel, he yelled at the others.

“Get in the boat! I can hold them off another minute, but you guys get the hell out of here!” Harmon Hit the switch on the winch, powering it up, and the fishing boat started to move towards the big open door open to the ocean. He grabbed Valeska and pushed her towards it.

“Jump in!” he shouted, then turned back to the old man. Lafayette shook his head. “Go, maybe I can talk my way out of this, but if she’s who I think she is, there’s no way they’ll let her off alive. Go now!” Slowly, he began to lose ground to the wheel. Harmon nodded and jumped over the gunwale of the little boat just as it began to pass out of the bay into the sun.

With a crash, the door was shoved open, throwing Lafayette aside. He lurched to his feet unsteadily, then turned to face the imposing figure in the doorway, a figure from his nightmares. Someone he had never thought to see again.

“Attendant Amalphous, we meet again.” The robed figure stalked into the bay, gesturing at the men behind him to secure the winch and retract the boat back, then turned back to Lafayette.

“Indeed we do… Former Attendant Hubbard.” The old man ‘Lafayette’ shook his head sadly.

“Nobody has called me that in quite a while, and I rather prefer it that way.”

Lord Amalphous’s dark Thetan mask reflected Lafayette Ronald Hubbard’s haggard face back at him, but the old man ignored the withered-looking image and concentrated on his opponent.

“You and the Church have done quite well for yourselves since my escape,” he mentioned, almost casually moving between the winch controls and the advancing crewmen. Behind him, he heard the starter for the little boat whine as they attempted to start the engine on the hanging boat. A few more seconds…

The imposing figure shook his head mightily. “No, L. Ron, we just finished what you started. You built this amazing structure yourself, we simply allowed it to flourish into the amazing creation it is today. You were foolish to attempt to destroy it, you know.”

L. Ron waved the uncertain-looking men back as they rapidly figured out who he was. Just a few more seconds… He laughed mirthlessly at his berobed opponent.

“Amalphous… or little Davie Miscavige as you used to be known, I built this ‘church’ as a tool for my writing, not so it could become this…” he gestured around him, “this monstrosity. Faking my death was the only way to keep my real family safe, but I wish I had managed to pull this thing apart when I did it. Little did I know that you and Heber would be so effective at keeping it going.”

Amalphous/Miscavige chuckled behind his mask. “You may not have been serious when you started this, but it is, I assure you, very real now. Why, we’ve even built an entirely new type of E-Meter with a completely new effect. I think that perhaps you’ll find it very interesting.”

Pausing for time and listening to the little starter turn over behind him, L. Ron Hubbard responded with half his attention. “Oh yeah? Where is it?” Why wouldn’t that damn motor start?

“Why, it’s all around us.” Amalphous gestured at the ship walls, and suddenly Lafayette realized what he was saying. The heavy-duty masts, the antenna, the ominous round opening near the front of the ex-cruise ship….

“My god… you’ve built it into this ship? What the hell kind of E-Meter is it?”

Amalphous burst out laughing at this. “Into the ship? Why doctor, no, you misunderstand. It IS the ship! With this new E-Meter, we can perform DIRECT injection of lawsuits in any jurisdiction in the world! The special software onboard allows us to sue thousands, even MILLIONS of people at once!”

L. Ron Hubbard gaped.

Behind him, the motor roared to life. He spun around, waving at the people in the boat. “Go, goddamnit! Get out of here now!”

Harmon swung the axe he had ready and severed the line holding the horsetackle above him and the boat dropped into the water far below with a splash. He jumped into the seat up front and firewalled the throttle, sending the deceptively quiet looking boat leaping ahead as the 1,500 horsepower Mercuries blasted. The little boat shot away from the Freewinds and towards freedom.

Seeing the boat off, Lafayette Ron Hubbard turned back to Lord Amalphous slowly. “You have created… a terrible evil, David. You must stop before it’s too late, a system like this could cripple the world legal system overnight.”

David Miscavige shook his head once more. “I don’t intend to cripple it, Mr. Hubbard. I intend to use it. No matter that one little boat got away, we’ll catch them in the net of our law system once they touch ground.”

Perhaps, thought L. Ron Hubbard, but then again perhaps not. For he knew, even if Attendant Amalphous didn’t, that the girl being sped to safety was not, in fact, his niece as he had told Harmon earlier.

The girl was in fact the sister of someone else much more powerful.

As the hood came down over his head and he was trundled off towards imprisonment belowdecks, L. Ron Hubbard smiled where nobody could see and imagined what 4chan’s moot would say when his long-lost sister suddenly showed up.

He expected it would be memorable, and didn’t envy the Church the redoubled efforts of their age-old enemy that would undoubtedly come shortly.


(star wipe) The end.