Wednesday, November 19, 2014

It's That Time of Year . . .

My exploits in the artisanal coaster printing business are detailed in the last entry on The Tagalong Press blog, about nine months back, when I boxed myself in with coasters of various levels of silliness.
      Not included is the passle of coasters I printed for my friend, Piero Begali, who makes some of the most beautiful & useful Morse code keys & keyer paddles on the planet. Those coasters ended up being a rather big hit at the 2014 Dayton Hamvention, mainly 'cause Piero parked 'em all over his booth space at the Hara Arena convention hall. Since then I've printed more, one of which goes into every key that Piero sells. Which is a whole 'nother story.
      Which brings me up to the Yuletide season & the design I decided on for the family Christmas cards.
      The design I came up with involved the use of rectangular coaster stock, about 5.357"x3.875" (13.7cm x 9.8cm). This size was driven by my desire to use a linoleum block engraving that Dad had done somewhen back in the early 50s, which was a winter farm scene. I at first planned on running a silver background
over which I'd print the lino cut in light blue. In the end I reversed that & put the silver print of the cut over a light blue background with a green frame of piece border around it.
      Came out pretty nice, even if I say so myself.       Then on the back I put the usual postcard style stuff, since the coaster stock is about the size of a postcard. And it fit nicely in an A2 envelope.
      For the season greeting I used some freshly acquired 24pt Filligree Initials from Sky Shipley's Skyline Type Foundry, the same place that was the source of the border. That was in red. The rest of the greeting was in Sky's casting of 18pt Iroquois Condensed. Which also came out nice.
      One set was the usual quasi-religious greeting: "Merry Christmas" &c.
      Then I made one for the quasi-secular crowd, "Merry Solstice" &c.
      And then one in Norwegian. "Gledelig Jul" & "Godt Nyttår."
      And for those who think that I've caved to religionism by saying "Gledelig jul," the word for solstice which we use as yule comes from an ancient Germanic word (*jeχʷla-) which also got borrowed into Finnish as joulu. All of 'em mean "solstice." So that's settled, right?
      And with that I went through the process of printing up a huge pile (a 1000 pc carton, really) of the basic form, over which I printed a few hundred of the various greeting & stuff.
      But you can't sell Christmas/Solstice cards without envelopes, so I bought a 1000 envelopes.

I did tell you how lousy of a businessman I am, didn't I?

So now I've put all this stuff up on my Etsy shop site and now just have to wait & see how many other people come look at my stuff again & maybe spend some money with me. Or on me. Or whatever.
      At which reality enters:
      There are something like 3,581 entries on Etsy for "letterpress Christmas cards." Something like 2,529 entries for "letterpress printers." So yeah, there are folks aplenty out there with press, some with type (which is a whole 'nother subject) & each one of 'em printing Christmas cards, greeting cards, coasters & whotnots. Five thousand some entries just for folks doing letterpress anything.
      So I have competition.
      And now I've made mention of my letterpress printed Christmas cards & my Etsy store & all that stuff on this blog, by way of hopes that somehow all this will end up in the great gristmill of information spew that is the InterWebs today. Including Google. Which, shame to say, is shameless self-promotion by the cheap & greasy. The kind of guy who doesn't buy advertising on FaceBook 'cause he's too cheap & probably won't, as a result, make much money on this. But so be it.

Again I have become one of them.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Chas the Cat is Dead; Long Live the Cats

Sat down a couple three days ago to go over the inventory of cats that have passed under my paws. Comes to at least 80, only six of which are still alive. Others might be but I haven’t seen any of ‛em in years, ‛cept for Albert, who lives with some folks across the backyard & the next street back. He appears in good weather now & then but shows up otherwise so seldom as to almost forget he’s been part of this tribe.
      Eighty different cats over something like 40 years. Starts with Freddie the Cat around 1974 and goes from there pretty much non-stop to today, eight days after the death of the last feral-turned-sweetheart, Chas the Cat, who showed up two years back come spring. Many of them were inside cats who eventually passed on, usually shortly after being shown the outside with the door always open for them to return to comfort inside the house. Freddie was one who just one day disappeared after nearly 16 years of life with us. Others were poisoned by neighborhood kids (at least six of those), a couple who were grabbed by the tail & slung against buildings by the sociopathic neighbors we once had next door (at least two). And the rest either showed up with feline leukemia & subsequently died (six) or showed up FIV+ and after a short stay wandered off never to be seen again (three or four).
      Chas was one of the FIV+ guys. He showed up with horrible gum infections which we tried to treat but never fully cured. He left after having caught some respiratory illness & succumbed to that in his sleep on a heated pad in the print shop.
      Many of those passing went pretty much unnoticed. Cat doesn’t show up after a couple weeks, we can figure he or she is gone off to find a better home (which is possible easy when you have more than three cats living in one of your outbuildings, even with good food & water on a regular, daily basis) or was picked off by the coywolves in the wetlands or any number of other prey animals that take cats & small dogs.
      But the ones who show up, stay a while & then die on a bench or are subsequently found dead in the area – including the ones killed by my more highly devolved neighbors & their children – those ones bring tears to my eyes.
      I always think “I could have done more for him” or “I could have taken her to the vet sooner.” One way or the other, I end up blaming myself for the course that nature takes in all of life, what with the universe out to get you and all. And despite my devout disbelief in any divine hand active in the course of things in the universe, I spend a fair amount of time post death of the animal thinking that said animal’s anima or ghost or surviving energy is somehow nearby watching me, chiding me for being so careless or uncaring as to allow them to die as they do. It’s part of the human thought process, I’m sure, this animist attitude to death. And having been raised in the Roman Catholic church, which faith I gave up for Lent many decades ago, that little “soul” idea still hangs around my consciousness & feeds such superstitionist delusionalism.
      But those eighty cats, each with a name & a place in a spread sheet that I started back when computers first entered the house, each cat I remember seeing, petting, feeding, brushing, holding on my lap & talking to. The most recent passing, of course hurts. But I also find myself looking at the ones left alive, the four inside, and I recognize the need on my part to be diligent to the survivors so I never screw up things again by carelessness or uncaring egoism as to let any of the remaining fall ill.

Ol’ Chas the Cat, however, stresses me hardest because I look at him – looking of course in my memory of the active cat who would greet me at the door with a grunting meow and grunts all the way to his food or water dish, as if chiding me for not coming to his service more quickly – and see one of the orphan inside cats as a relative.
      Chas did resemble Hobbes the Cat, and in grieving over Chas I think that I must pay more attention to Hobbes, whom I held in my hands the day of his birth and fed & cared for subsequently when his mother died the next morning.
      Yeah, like that: Hobbes & his brother, Calvin, were born the Saturday before Mothers’ Day of 2007. Their mother, Droopsy, had difficulties in birthing them & we brought her inside with her two babies. The next morning we found the mother hiding under a dresser in the downstairs bathroom with a dead kitten next to her. We took her to the emergency vet clinic and, upon conferring with the vet, decided to end the poor girl’s torment. Then we took the two babies home & set to keeping them alive with tiny formula bottles, cotton swabs, a heated bed pad & all the care we would have for our two human sons. Over the next couple months the kittens would go to work with us as they grew. (We fed them at lunch time & before leaving work for home, then again before bedtime & then again in the morning.) Now, seven years later, they are our babies, our children. They sleep with us, eat with us – but not on the table – and sit on us when we read or watch television.
      And it amazes me to think that between Calvin & Hobbes joining our gang of sentient beings and this day, seventeen different cats have come into my life & then quietly, one way or the other, left me with “my” two “boys.”
      So now, as the wind blows the birds off their perches in the trees & the drifting snow covers the bird seed that I set out this morning for the collection of songbirds & squirrels that come to fight over the food, I look at the list of 80 cats and wonder when or how the 81st cat will show up. Probably not in this weather, although I see plenty of tracks in the snow around the house that could be another cat besides the two who live in the heated cat hotel & shelter area in one of the sheds. And maybe not until the days get longer so whoever is leaving the tracks will come to feeding time at the zoo while there’s still light to see by. And I’m guessing that I won’t be confronted with a couple coywolves coming in to see if there’s any small mammals – or even large ones, if they’re interested in my tired old flesh – might be up for grabs, for want of a better term.
      That’s how it works around here, though: I have become – and have been for a long time – the Cat Lady of this little collection of humans off the highway & near the roar of the local air force base. Some years it seems that people purposely drop unwanted cats in my yard. I walk out one morning to feed Skiffy, the most easily frightened of the outsiders, and discover there’s another new cat in the neighborhood. Sometimes they’re shy or otherwise completely feral and untrusting. Sometimes they’re old cats nobody wanted, friendly & ready for a hand-out from the old guy. The ferals usually & eventually come around, letting me pet them or even get ‛em to the vet for neutering & a health check up, as happened to Chas. Sometimes they’re healthy; most times they’re not. And occasionally they’re pregnant. But the worst of that scenario is the ones who, having birthed kittens & maybe having brought them to near the point of weaning, end up in the yard hopelessly calling for their now vanished kittens. Which is a scenario that’s as crushing as finding a fearless, friendly, FIV+ cat dead in the printshop.
      And then there are the ones I find dead in the street.
      So eighty cats in, after all of four decades being the Cat Lady, it still hurts, even if I have to admit that I can’t save ‛em all. But I’ll keep trying to save the ones I can. And those I know will soon disappear into the universe of once animate beings I will comfort as best I can until they too are gone, until the day when I too am gone & the world will spin on without me, as if neither I nor my feline children had never been here at all.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Couple weeks back I was fishing around on eBay looking at stupid stuff like Lenin pins and crystal sets & old Soviet internal passport travel documents when I came across a guy in China selling military surplus radios. Like China is now going through the same strange bit that the Russians did after the Soviet economy tanked out. You know: The grand fire sale where everything that even had the slightest whiff of KGB blood on it was up for grabs, including rifles, guns, ammo, uniforms, travel documents, radios, televisions, people, places & things.
    Only this time it's the Chinese but it's not all the real stuff, it's the stuff that's left over from what they were building so Vietnam could whip our asses and get back to selling cheap but reasonable imitations of expensive French saxophones. Like these military surplus radios that China made during the Cultural Revolution for the Vietnamese to use in coordinating responses to our uncoordinated, football-style, half-time event war of imperialist persuasion over there.
    Yeah, like that stuff: radios.
    So I looked at the transistorized version of a formerly tube-style HF radio that was all pretty & green and looked pretty easy to use. Something like my R174/GRR-5 receiver that I bought milsurp decades ago at the Dayton Hamvention. Would have cost me about $450 to get the Chinese radio shipped from Beijing, tax, title & dealer prep. Which I thought was a little steep, given that, even if it was NOS, it wasn't much better than any of the other shortwave radios I've got. Like eight or nine of 'em.
    But still, the fire burned. Or smoldered quietly as an item on my Christmas wish list. That or the $840 Chinese version of the venerable R390 receiver that you can barely get anymore 'cause all the Vietnam era vets who were in comms look fondly on those heavy boxes. The R390s. Not the Chinese version, the Type 222-1.
    And then it happened: An advert appeared on eBay for a Chinese Type 102E radio set. Receiver, transmitter, all that.
    So I went looking at what a 102E was and discovered it was a receiver/ transmitter combo doodad made by the Chinese before they started making the little green beast that I'd noticed first. In fact, the receiver in the collection was the tube version predecessor of the little green box aforementioned. That and a tube-type 10W transmitter that
had a big meter in the middle of the front of it & a quotation from Chairman Mao on the cover of the crystal socket space on the front panel.
    Hell, both radios, the transmitter & the receiver, both of 'em had covers with quotations from Chairman Mao on 'em.
    So, not being too damn stupid I put a minimum bid on the piece via an auction sniper software package and got up the next morning to discover that I owed Harry at Red Star Radio in Ontario, Canada $300. Covered all of it: the gear, the shipping, all that. So I did the PayPal dance, paid up and got an email that afternoon that the box had been shipped. Yeah. Like a couple hours later the box is in the mail to me. Actually, on a UPS truck to me. With a tracking number.
    So I got to the tracking number and the damn thing is gonna show up on the subsequent Monday.
    I was like a kid waiting for his first . . . well, you know. I was anxious.

So low and beheld tightly by a Mongolian wrestler, just before Cid comes home, the UPS guy runs a two wheeler with two boxes on 'em out to and up on the porch. Which boxes I then must wrestle without the two wheeler off the porch and out of sight quick before Cid sees 'em.
    That part was easy: I'd just that afternoon gotten rid of a four foot relay rack cabinet that I'd been saving for my radio astronomy telescope radar transmitter I was gonna use to contact the Community on Gzveldamrungabungabunga Pentra so they'd get here before the Greeb and the Voice start fighting with the Federales in . . .
    Which meant that I had room to hide the boxes before Cid got home. Which she did, later. After I'd opened the receiver box & extracted the
receiver, headphones & a bunch other loot came with the set. Like between the two boxes there were two radio pieces, the transmitter and the receiver, a Chinese copy of the Simpson 260 volt-ohm-meter with a manual featuring Chairman Mao smiling at the intended user of the doodad, two headphones, a very nice Morse code key, various green canvas bags, a tool kit that included a big screwdriver, a pair of insulated needle nose pliers, and a soldering iron that was obviously supposed to be heated up over a revolutionary camp fire, although for the life of me I couldn't figure out how anyone would be able to use it to fix a minor connection problem in any radio, imperialist or Maoist or just plain crazy.

Then all I needed was some power to fire all this stuff up. Oh, and some sort of manual to explain what all the Chinese characters on the front of each piece meant. Well, sort of.

See, the way it gets after you've done this for over forty years is that a radio is a radio. There's an antenna hole, a headphone hole & a knob to tune the band with. Sure, there's stuff like volume controls and band switches & stuff like that, but there pretty easy to figure out. You see a knob with the numbers 1, 2, and 3 above or around it and you know it's a rotary switch. And since you know that the radio has three bands, there's your band switch.
    It helps, of course, if you have found a copy of a translation of the original Chinese manual online, along with a bunch of other info leading you to a bunch of other morons similarly afflicted as yourself, having one or more of these radios themselves. A sort of support group you might say. And I'd found such a group and had found English translations of the front panel markings of the various bits & pieces and thus, once I had some Maoist power runnin' to light up the tubes, I was all set to listen.
    So I get the receiver power up. First thing I hear is Rev. Gene Scott going on about how he's right because Paul (Saint Paul, the crypto-Mithraist Christ-monger) is right and how God is a giving god and we should all be as giving as God obviously is. Which proved to me that Chairman Mao's juju must be mighty strong to bring a signal into a radio built during the Cultural Revolution of a preacher who's been dead for seven years.
    Say “Hallelujah!” No, go on: say “Hallelujah!”
    Or 哈利路亚 if you must. Just say it.

So the point of all this? Well, maybe that China, now having finished off the flop-belly Soviet attempt at building an aircraft carrier, is now in the business of selling off all its milsurp to pay for it. Which will leave thousands or millions – ain't important when you're talking about China – of gringos the opportunity to own a little piece of the green that we once considered too backward but equally too dangerous to trust with nuclear weapons. Back before we thought we could keep countries, despotically ruled or not, from having nuclear weapons. Like Pakistan and India and France and, yes, China.

    Or you can, as I am doing, put the radios on a shelf next to your Chairman Mao poster, ratty and torn after all these years since you were a hippie livin' in a commune as Mao intended, and put it next to that copy of 毛主席语录 that you got from listening to Radio Peking before it was Radio Beijing, when the Cultural Revolution inspired hippies or maybe it was hippies inspired the Cultural Revolution. Whatever.
    But you can have that now, comrade: You can have all that green or red starred stuff you can find 'cause obviously, China is open for business.

And on your way out the door, please thank President Nixon.

Friday, February 11, 2011

FaceBook se fue, pues.

It's been maybe a month now that I haven't been hooked up to FaceBook. I got on it in the beginning because it afforded me a link with my eldest's adventures as he headed from his digs in Cincinnati to Portland, OR. He posted pictures along the way and gave us little tidbits about what he'd seen or how many times he got pulled over for speeding on open ground in Utah or New Mexico. Then I stuck with it 'cause I'd found a bunch of folks whom I'd known or with whom I had or did have in the past some relationship or the other. Cindy & the boys were on it. A bunch of Cindy's friends and some of my friends were on it. My former commanding officer in Puerto Rico was on it. A couple ham radio friends also had FaceBook accounts.
     It was a social network thingie, just like they say it is.
     It was also very time consuming and, due to my open nature about political, religious or whatever else views, it was a great way to go through the day arguing with folks about things that neither they nor I were willing to make concessions or reconsider as erroneous.
     So I got tired of the fights.
     After the shootings in Arizona last month, I made a comment about gun control that I figured most folks would at least give me some hedge for and leave me alone. I expected at least to see folks I know admitting that the access to firearms by anyone at all was source number one of the problem & cause of the shootings.
     What I got in return was the usual NRA-inspired “liberty” and “freedom” illogicals that made me shake my head in disbelief, horror and dismay.
     After a couple days of back-and-forth diatribes, interjected bits of logic from my kids, which interjections were summarily refused, I went up to the menu item to turn off my FaceBook account.
     If you've done this, you know how it works: FaceBook wants to know why you're leaving.
     I'm leaving, I thought, because I'm wasting time & I'm getting sick of the idiocy of some folks political viewpoints, even if the people presenting them are, to all other indicators, just folks like you and me.
     I left, I thought, because I didn't want to waste my time or anyone else's trying to change the world digitally over huge distances & all that other computer culture stuff.
     Of course, the minute I disappeared from the “friends” list of many of these folks, I was beset with emails & a couple phone calls asking me what it was that had caused me to “defriend” them.
     Simple put, I hadn't defriended anyone. I'd gone off the FaceBook world and, unless the putative Messiah of creation suddenly showed up and told me it was going to fix everything in the world, including the superstition that makes Messiahs exist, I was off for good.
     A week went by and I heard less about my not being there.
     Two weeks went by, I heard from ham radio friends that they'd noticed my disappearance.
     Three weeks went by and, yes, I have to admit it would have been nice to share my adventures building an antenna tuner via FaceBook's picture publishing thingie. But I didn't and time passed without much further turmoil
     The turmoil, I can tell you right here, I have not missed one bit.
     Of course, I've seen stuff other family members have posted, pictures and news and whatnot via Cindy's account. She says something and shows me screens. I look, I see and that's that. Not one bit of turmoil. No arguments about insurrectionist bullshit. No blather about who wouldn't have been killed if a bunch of folks had been armed. How the West was won. How the Mexicans are causing trouble.
     No turmoil. No arguments. No news. No big deal.
     It's been a month at least now and I have to say that I haven't missed it a bit. Instead of keeping the world aware of whatever minor point of existence had intrigued me personally and with total narcissistic attention, I've cleaned up the office (again) after finishing a rebuild of the entire ham radio antenna steering system, taken the time to fix a couple really nice Turkish recipe dinners and sat down and read a book about gun control & insurrectionism and another book about the history of the Latin language. Among other things.
     At this point I seriously suspect that I won't be back on FaceBook again. The only things that would drag me back would be something where my communication with the world would be necessary for what are more mundane reasons than having my own Twitter posse. Like going out to Arizona with a bunch of data collecting doodads to find the places where Dad lived as a child and maybe take pictures of the school documents that are hiding out there in some historical society vault. And in fact, should I end up doing that trip, I don't really think I need FaceBook to track myself. I've cell phones and email and that should be good enough. Pictures? I'll post 'em in emails.
     Other 'n that, there ain't much of a draw for me any more. It's quiet and peaceful and reasonable to just be with the folks I am actually, physically with. FaceBook may sound like fun to some. Cindy's on there every night catching up on what the eldest and his lady friend are doing. Cid can track the youngest's travails in New Jersey and the rest of the family can drop in for a couple photo shows. Fine and dandy.
     Me? I don't need the trouble and waste of time. Or as Dad used to say with a wave of his hand, as if fanning away ghosts, “Chingado. Así sea.”

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Guns & Newspaper Editors

Since I dragged the 1942 Mosin-Nagant rifle into the hacienda, I've been catching hell from Cid about how guns are dangerous and guns kill people and guns don't belong in houses and cats and dogs might learn to use 'em and then they could bribe us for more food and warmer places to take crap.
      I usually respond to this stuff by pointing out how many gun owners there are on the planet and how many guns are in the hands of people at any day of the week and how, except for members of active duty military units actually in combat positions, there ain't that much shootin' of other people. And how most of the guns on the planet are hangin' on walls, stashed in gun safes or cabinets, or holstered on belts, some of which might be on the bodies of policemen and other law enforcement folks. And yes, them's is both long sentences but that's how it works.
      Guns in the hands of people kill people.
      Guns in the hands of military folks trying to make the other poor, dumb sonovabitch die for his or her country kill said poor, dumb sonovabitches.
      Guns on policemen's belts generally stay there unless they find themselves in combat-style situations, in which case the statement above applies.

And then there's the biggest one: Guns handled stupidly in social situations.

So up I get Sunday morning, awaked by a cat's plaintive call 'cause there was another, unknown cat on the front porch. And as much as I am sure the cat calling about the intruder probably would like to learn how to load and fire a Yugoslavian Tokarev and light off a few rounds at said intruder, I ignored the cat's demands for summary justice and hauled my coffee mug out of the dish washer.
      Part of the paper's sittin' on the table. The rest of it's sittin in Cid's lap in the living room.
      I put three pieces of old multi-grain, crunch-up-your-teeth bread in the toaster, which when toasted I then butter and slather on some Keiller's Dundee Marmalade.
      I sit down at the kitchen table, look in the obits to see if Paul Simmons had made it there yet, read the cry-baby tantrum letters to the editor and then Cid brings out the front section. We trade. I turn to page A13 and there at the bottom of the pages is a picture with a cut headline that says “Horsing Around at the Cattle Baron's Ball.” Sherry Oakes & Steve Rauch have a little fun . . . At which point I know that if I mention what I see to Cid, she'll go off like a rocket.
      I quietly read the bit under the picture and then go upstairs to write a letter to the editor.
      Holy shi'ite, Mask Man, check out the picture!

A group of south suburbanites (Dayton, Ohio speak for “rich people”) are standing around while a grinning woman, identified in the paper as Sherry Oakes, holds a Winchester Commemorative 94 lever action rifle and waves the muzzle of the piece around. One of the guys in the picture seems to be turning away and pushing the muzzle out of the way of the guy next to him. The rest of the gang has the silly monkey look.
      Right there on page A13 of the Dayton Daily News is the picture of someone doing something stupid with a very powerful, albeit pretty, Winchester. And there are other stupid gun tricks on the newspaper's website for the event.
      Remember thing about guns and stupid people?
      The “Guns handled stupidly in social situations” part?
      Right there on the page, waitin' for Jimmy Nobrain lives down the street with his grandparents 'cause his own parents stupidly shot each other playin' with a couple .357 Magnums with real elephant ivory grips one evenin' while drinkin' whiskey shots around the family's nightly bonfire.
      Right there on the page, waitin' for anybody who thinks that guns are dangerous and guns kill people and guns don't belong in houses and children might grab one subsequently shoot themselves, their parents, a guy drivin' down the street or their own little brother of three years age.
      As, I will admit freely and with complete horror, happens every so often around here and likely elsewhere in Gringolandia.

So I get on my high horse of horror & disbelief and send a letter to the editor of the newspaper saying that they should be ashamed of themselves publishing that picture. I didn't mention that the person with the rifle in the picture should be taken out for brain scramblin', although not much would be necessary, given the evidence for having no brain at all presented in the picture.
      At the same time – and I didn't mention it – the picture is all you need for Cid's proof, of course. Never mind that my Mosin is hangin' on the wall behind me with one of those obnoxious trigger locks on it that defeats any safety that the rifle might have had – which is an argument for ancient firearm design – by holding the trigger pulled all the time. Or that everyone I know who has a gun or guns gets real nervous when they pull the piece out of a holster or a gun safe or off the wall, even if they know that there ain't no way it's gonna light off a round, basically because, as I said in my letter to the editor
As a gun owner and veteran, I know such “horsing around” as a public invitation for someone to get shot or killed. Obvious in the picture is the simple fact that two primary rules of gun ownership and handling are being ignored.
      Treat every gun as loaded is the first rule. The second rule states that the only safety on any gun is the person holding it.
      It makes no difference whether you're talking about grandpa's 1890s pump action .22 rifle, Uncle Igor's 1942 Mosin-Nagant, a Winchester Model 94 commemorative, a rusty Tokarev pistol brought back from Vietnam or the 1911 Colt service pistol Dad carried in Guadalcanal.
      All firearms are potentially dangerous and deadly mechanical contrivances. Nobody should “horse around” with any fiream. Ever.
      And never mind how many gun owners there are on the planet and how many guns are in the hands of people at any day of the week and how, except for members of active duty military units actually in combat positions, how many people don't get shot. And how most of the guns on the planet are hangin' on walls, stashed in gun safes or cabinets, or holstered on belts, some of which might be on the bodies of policemen and other law enforcement folks. And yes, them's is both long sentences but that's how it works.

In the end it all comes down to stupid humans doing stupid things. Leaving a gun under a bed – as if you're gonna be awake enough to choose a target if you hear a bump in the night – is pure ignorance and a callous disregard for the curiosity of children. Keeping your father's 1911 Colt .45 auto loaded 'cause that's the way Dad carried in in the war is asking to get shot or to shoot yourself. And putting five rounds in the mag of your Mosin 'cause that's the way Uncle Igor carried in the Revolution when every day was strйggle and then install a trigger lock that turns the Mosin into a quick trip to the morgue is outrageously moronic.

The rules are simple:
  • Treat every gun as loaded.
  • The only safety on any gun is the person holding it.
  • Never point the muzzle of any firearm at anything or anyone you don't want to shoot or kill or maim.

  •       Any firearm is a dangerous & deadly mechanical contrivance, as dangerous as a moron settin' his car to launch on a highway. As dangerous as a cast iron printing press built in 1875. As dangerous as a gas oven, an open frame high voltage power supply or that switchblade you bought in Genoa on the '71 Med Cruise that you carry in your right pants pocket.
          You can die horsing around with guns. You can kill people horsing around with guns.
          Wealthy society folks obviously don't understand that. Mental defectives.
          And the Dayton Daily News should be ashamed to have published that picture.

    Wednesday, July 21, 2010

    And Now at the Dissertation Lounge . . .

    I've had three friends go through the academic system deep enough to end up with PhD after their names. One guy got his degree in chemistry, a task that I would consider absolutely more daunting that getting a PhD in, say, literature or communications. The other guy got his degree in history, but he did it in Portugal, which is "old Europe" and thus, at least to what I understand of education in Europe, a bitch. The third guy is hauling ass toward his PhD in biology, which I consider just about as daunting as a degree in physics or, even, chemistry.
         One way or the other, each of these people put in serious reading time and huge amounts of personal energy by way of study and memorization, plus research time -- which is the whole point of the paper chase in the first place, some folks believe -- and all the fears and frustrations of going into something so deeply that you end up looking like the comic book guy on the Simpsons, all nerdy and obsessively focused on every tiny little detail you could ever find about a corner of a molecule somewhere on the skin of a cell.
         Like that, yeah.
         Now, given this preamble, let me say straight up here and now that I am in no way comparing my experience of writing a novel with the experience of my three friends. Sure, it's been a pain in the ass, all the editing and spell checking and rewriting this and inserting this bit of text into that. I've sweated here and there over how it looks, at the currency or specificity of this or that bit of info that is supposed to inform the reader of where the hell whatever is going on takes place.
         But I really think that, after what looks like seven or eight months, not counting all the time I've thought about this or that part of the book just sittin' on the can or marching back and forth across the lawn with the mower, if this is anything like getting close to going for a PhD, I think I'll pass.
         There's all the data, first of all.
         You start out writing a book about a guy travels through time and space by way of having been found all dead and dried out in his little space ship by a very advanced extraterrestrial species, you're gonna run into trouble. Like the physics of time travel itself. That and the physics of going from one universe to another -- since true time travel would involve dimensional travel as well, given what little I understand of the physics of time travel.
         And then there's the geography of things.
         Where's this home world that this so-called "singularity species" called the Community come from? How'd it get to be like it is, this planet with this one organism covering it from sea to rippling sea? How does this species communicate with itself, given that it's got little brain nodes all over itself, everywhere it can stretch out and catch the sun on this home planet? And how'd they learn to travel through space and time?
         And how did they find the main character? How'd they revive him? Did they just do that once?
         I mean, you gotta settle that question, the grandfather paradox lookin' question about what happens if they send him further back in time than his own particular place in the timeline of the universe in which he was found.
         If they find him -- which is one temporal event -- and they revive him with a copy of himself -- which is another temporal event -- what happens to the universe he came from when he's sent back in time to before human beings were what they are today? It's another temporal event, this sending back thing, after all. So . . .
         Are you starting to get the idea here, chum?
         'Cause I already did a half dozen times in the back yard, sittin' on the can, walkin' down the street and, yes, and even while I was writing all this crap.

    Holy shit is it a pile now!

    At which point we go back to that dissertation & PhD interrogation thing.
         See, right now it's a 250 pages of text -- minus the few extra blank pages that are part of the typographic conveniences & the stuff book printers know about, with my access to such secrets being a completely different rant.
         At 250 pages of text, it's almost big enough to be somebody's dissertation and if not that big a deal, certainly a chapter in one. In a dissertation, that is. Thus, for all intents, I will say that writing this thing has been about the same amount of time at the keyboard as most folks I know would have spent on the their dissertation, counting in all the pre-writes and the chapter-by-chapter hacking away at making sure the point of all this scrivening is understood by the reader. By the dissertation review committee and all that, that much work.
         Only thing is, right here, there's a big difference between a dissertation on, say, a moderately well-known Latin American writer whose work spans not only decades but also political upheaval and a couple handful revolutions, juntas and take overs and the dissertation that my friend wrote for his chemistry degree.
         See, there's the hard science part of a PhD in chem or bio that just has to trump the artsy-fartsy work going into a dissertation about literature. Yeah, sure, there's dates and names and publication dates and political moments and all that. But you write a hard science dissertation, you have written about lab-assailed & assured facts. Numbers and figures, equations and the simple bottom line of literature being very much a soft science when it comes to what is.
         Science is about stuff you can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt.
         Literature is about stuff you can tie together with other stuff, some of it facts but most of it figurines, to make the literature important to talk about.
         Like William Faulkner, who, as far as I figure it with my meager credentials, is known today only 'cause somebody wrote a dissertation on him which might have become a book.
         And it's here that the whole bit about writing a novel versus a dissertation comes under bleak inspection.
         I think that I've suffered the work here on this book. I put in my time trying to get the physics of the book look at least something like the physics of the world I live in. I've worried the placing of the action, the actions of the characters, the interactions between various bits and pieces of the plot line, all that. I've worried out.
         And I've worked on making sure the typography makes the story legible and readable, that. Which ain't nothin' in a dissertation 'cause the review committee and all them overlords have their own ideas of what is good typography so get over it and stand up like a man!
         So, yes, I'm whining. Big deal.
         But I think that what I've written -- beyond whether anyone later on writes a dissertation about it -- amounts to at least the same amount of work that a dissertation writer might have tossed into getting started on book of knowledge that every dissertation becomes. But I'm sure as hell not arrogant enough to think that my work on this book has any close glitter to the PhD that my friend is gonna have after his name in a year for spending all that time in the lab.
         It's nice for me to think of it that way. And it's nice for me to think that this book -- and the one I'm going to start on once I get through the hell of making this first one "perfect" (and oh, what perfectionism costs, my children) -- are dissertation quality.
         So I can hope.
         As if.


    Sunday, June 13, 2010

    While I Was Away . . .

    Back when it was still mørketiden, Cindy decided that we should hie hence to Portland, Oregon, to visit the eldest young'n. Personally, at the time, I was quite willing to sit in the northern wintertime darkness and fiddle hours away playing with radio junk, playing with printshop junk or collecting junk so I can be on Hoarders. At the time.
         So up comes June and off we go, Cid & me, to Portland. We spend five hours crammed into a metal tube with wings and end up, eventually, at the same hotel we stayed at last time we did this dance, a year ago more or less.
         We both nodded off a bit 'cause we'd gotten up plenty early our local time & it was afternoon when we arrived. A short recharge later we were down in the lobby with Ian and Sarah, ready to go. As if. And off we went, eating dinner together at some place I ain't sure I remember but that ain't all that uncommon any more, me bein' retired and all.
         Then it turns out we were just in time for the Rose Festival Starlight Parade, which came at the end of a race of sorts. I say "of sorts" 'cause after all the serious sweating went by, along came the folks who just went on the run/walk for the hell of it. Including six guys in women's one-piece swimsuits with leotards and pink rubber shower hats, doing a pose-a-ballet as they went by. The crowd applauded & hooted in approval. After some more of that kind of silliness, the real parade started, with flags and politicians and clowns and service organizations, including ER medical staff in scrubs, waving and walking and having a good time.
         About 10:30 pm, which would have been 1:30 am in Ohio, Cid ran out of steam and we left the parade to its own, well, devices.
         There must have been fifteen highschool bands. And a band called The MegaBand, which went two blocks long and had all the instruments & marchers & musicians that didn't fit in the other bands, including the retired guys band, which was a hoot of its own.
         So we went back to the hotel & passed out.
         Up early the next day, we did some more stuff I don't remember, but there was a trip to Mt. St. Helens and to one of the northerly beaches.
         Ian drove. I just looked out the windows.

    It's been 30 years since Mt. St. Helens blew top and blasted out a range of destruction running miles off from the main crater. In all those three decades, a lot of the area has been re-seeded. Weyerhaeuser, which uses the land for a vast tree farm, sent in thousands of workers to replant the areas blown off the map. Thus today you can drive up the road to the volcano pretty much enveloped in green. Until you get to the serious blast zone, which looks just as lunar today as it did three decades back when everything over a micron off the surface was scorched, burned, pummeled, buried and snuffed out. Withered, weather-beaten, dried tree trunks stick up out of soil and rock nearly without any signs of life. Six different kinds of rock litter the area, covering some stuff and providing home to the tiny animals who can live in such arid devastation.
         It's flat-out humbling.
         At the same time, what happened on Mothers' Day in 1980 and what continues to happen at the volcano site today has advanced volcanology and volcano geological knowledge more in thirty years than all that geology knew previously. Add to this the Icelandic volcano activity of recent and we are getting a much better picture of how active geology works.
         And if you are not into active geology -- or otherwise abjure the depth of time that the planet's been circling the sun -- leave now. If there were no active geology, we wouldn't be here today to argue about it. Period.
         So we did those tours.
         Then we took the two-stop electric rail car to the Portland train station and got on a train to Seattle.
         I hadn't been on a train since I was a kid, probably something like 50-odd years ago. In truth, given the decline of the American dream to the level of know-nothing tea-baggery, I wasn't expecting much.
         What I found was completely different. Like courteous folks with pleasant voices. Easy boarding and seat-finding.
         And the room!
         Oh yes, the room!
         We could stretch out completely between our seats and those of the folks in front of us. We had big windows to look out of. We didn't have to fasten seatbelts of worry about where to stash our carry-on crap. And we got to see eagles in trees and one little Oregon town after another, simple, peaceful and quiet. We found ourselves asking why anybody would want to fly.
         And me bein' retired? Hell yes! I'll let Cid fly to wherever 'cause she has to be there quick in and out. I'll take the train and meet her there.

    Yeah, even cross-country.

    So we detrain in Seattle, catch a cab to the Sheraton and take a break before meeting my eldest niece & her son for dinner at a very spiffy Hindi restaurant of their experience. I ordered the mattar paneer. Spice level three. It was delicious.
         In the process of all this, either 'cause I once knew and have since forgotten or because I didn't think of it before, we find that Tiffany, along with her son and kinda her daughters, is one of them vegetableaireans. You know: no meat. Not quite "I don't eat anything that casts a shadow," but good enough.
         Which ain't a problem, 'cause I tend to vegetables a lot more easily than chunks of meat, and that more 'cause it's better for me at 64 years, what with a desire to live longer than the old woman in Kazakhstan to lives off yogurt and is 162 years old, according to dubious Soviet-era records.
         The next day Cid & I wandered around the market area of Seattle, a short downhill walk from the hotel -- and I must mention, should you go to Seattle, get a USGS topographic map so you can choose the less high angle slopes to walk around. We saw the flying fish market sites. I swear that Andy Montesano's doppelganger works there. We saw a food vendor truck that looks like a huge metalic pig. We listened to buskers making enough money to afford iPhones. We bought some expensively fresh fruit and some rolls for the next day's pre-departure breakfast. We saw the place they make cheese at. Very tasty cheese. Very expensive but very tasty cheese. And the guy who had a parrot did tricks and all that too. We saw that.
         During all of this, however, we found time to sink more cash into a lunch at Cafe Campagne, where the chef is a madman who refuses to reveal the secret of the killer quiche they serve there. It was like . . . like . . . like buttah! Seriously. Melt in your mouth, nearly custard without being that dense, down good and tasty quiche. Something a real man would enjoy.
         Then I found a place where Cid could put me in photo with one of my many tentacle buddies. You know, like the guys in anime . . .
         And then we met Tiffany and Ryan again for dinner, this time at Wild Ginger.
         Damn place had too many options on the menu. But the food was excellent and the conversations quite amazing.
         We came to see that some parts of the clan are just as crazy as the others. Or that we're the normals and the other members of the clan with whom we have interactions may be, well, a bit this side of tetched, see?
         And then it was back to the hotel, pack & crash and get up the next morning to catch a train from Seattle to Portland.

    Did I tell you how cool it was, this train business? Well, it is.

    Once we were on the train but before we left the station, they announced that the lounge car had some electrical problems and was being pulled from service. Thus there would be no vending point for sandwiches & drinks, such as one might want if one did not want to go to the fancy dining car like Dad did when we were kids. Go to the dining car.
         Which is a neat segue to . . . When I was a kid, the dining car had cloth table covers and fancy china & all the amenities of a full-scale, kick-ass restaurant of the late 1940s. I know this 'cause I remember at least one time that we got breakfast on the train in the dining car. I remember that because the waiters were all thin black men in white uniforms like the guy on the cover of the Cream o' Wheat box.
         This, of course, was back in the day when the train would have to stop now and then for the brakeman or some other organ of trains to go out and applied oil to the rags stuffed in the journal boxes (as opposed to the roller bearings that now smooth the ride of the train over the rails). This was back when trains had steam engines with multiple drive wheels larger than most large men. Back when railroad/road crossings had the crossed white thingies that said "Stop! Look! Listen!" and not those sissy "Watch out, you might get killed and it will be our fault!" crossing gates.
         Yeah, back in the late Pleistocene.
         And being as how Cid and I were enjoying the comfort of the train ride, we decided to eat lunch in the dining car.
         At which point things got really interesting.
         See, because of the demise of the lounge car, the dining car had to roll double duty. There was a line of folks going to the dining car to pick up what few sandwiches &c they had managed to squeak into storage on the dining car. From there, those folks, having lined up not to eat at the dining car, would take their stuff back to their seats elsewhere on the train and snack down.
         We of the reserved space in the dining car, we were different.
         We got to sit down "community style," as they called it, to eat with people we didn't know.
         Kinda like in bootcamp but without the DIs and all that.
         So our table partners were two women, one named Cindy and the other named Myken. Cindy worked for an environmental clean-up outfit. She reminded me of my back-door neighbor. Very friendly, killer sense of humor. Straight up person. Myken was a runway model.
         I pegged Myken walking through the train station before we boarded. She was tall and thin and very attractive. Nearly slinky, but in a nice way. I said to Cid: "Very tall and very thin."
         "She's probably a model," Cid replied. "I was wondering if you'd notice her."
         We chatted during the meal, of course. Afterwards, Cid said we probably sounded like a couple mid-west dweebs, the cat-lady and his wife, going off to see our son who has been in Portland a year and still can't find a job. And how the garage needed painted and it was so nice to see all those crafts at the Seattle public market. Something right out of Burroughs.
         "Mother and I would like to know . . . "
         Cid noticed that Myken drank two beers, ate nearly all the entre, including the salad and bread that came with it. I think Cid was hoping to see someone who played with her salad and then ran screaming from the room for having eaten too much.
         I just noticed how amenable she was. Myken. Nice smile, friendly face, pleasant voice & demeanor. It was soooo PostModern.
         Once we'd paid for lunch we all went our separate ways, back to the cars where we had our seat assignments.
         The rest of the ride was pretty much like the first ride: eagles, water, riverways, green this and green that, and little railroad towns with quaint stations from a time when my father was a youngman, riding the rods, as he used to call it.

    Now, out of all this travel -- and I'm not going to bore you with more details of plane rides or boarding passes or the woman who was traveling alone, on a plane, with six children, the oldest of whom was probably not more than ten -- I have come to see the need for a couple really strange things.
         First, I must begin the finishing touches on the beginning of the next novel. Between where we ate and the whacked-out conversations we had with Ian and Sarah and the conversations we had with Tiffany & Ryan and the stuff we saw and heard or ate on this trip, I have tons of material to plaster the walls.
         Twoth, I am seriously considering giving up on plane travel. Sure, it's quick and greasy. You can actually arrive someplace before you left. You don't have to plan for a couple days of driving or worrying about where you're going to sleep, should you be driving. But jebus in a hopper of malt for a Seattle micro-brewery, it is too much like being stuffed into a miniature submarine with almost no room to stretch while being surrounded by loud engine noises and the possibility of turbulent air interrupting your sit on the can. That and the hustle and hassle of all the trappings, baggage weight limits, people trying to make full army backpacks into carry-on luggage, and the vexation of trying to find a restroom after you get there, well, it gets old, yo.
         It gets very old very quick.
         And we won't even mention how close it gets to being strip searched before you get to the boarding gate. Thus I suggest to myself the following item:
         Threeth, rail travel may take more time and it may require me buying a ticket with sleeping accommodations, and it may be more expensive in that frame, but holy hell, Hanna, look at what I get!
         Room to stretch out without banging my shins of the seat in front of me.
         Room to get up and walk about, should I feel the need, say, to visit the mobile outhouse or maybe go all the way to the end of the train -- as my father did with me over five decades ago -- to see the track running away from the train as it moves on down the line.
         Big roomy cars with roomy seats!
         Did I mention the room?
         Dining facilities, which, even in their most minimal application, as much more commodious than a fold-down tray table that pokes at my belly, upon which I can put a little plastic tray with a bit of fruit and a small milk carton, all of which might at any time fly off the tray table as the plane runs into bumpy weather. (And I notice the airplane folks no longer say "turbulance." They say "bumps.")
         And even if the sleeping accommodations are not as luxurious as they were when I was a kid -- mainly 'cause Dad spent money like a sailor when we traveled -- I'll gladly take a snooze in a chair in a position closer to prone than the horrible back aches I get from being stuffed into and sitting immobile in a metal tube smaller than a submarine torpedo room. Any day of the week.
         Yeah, it takes three days to get from Chicago to Portland.
         I'll look out the window with my feet stretched out in front of me, resting on the foot rest, my laptop plugged into the nearby recepticle, taking notes as I slip along the surface of the countryside . . . while the rest of travelling humanity looks down a mile or more to where the train track looks like a scratch along the landscape.
         And, as I did many times during this trip, mostly 'cause of the people I was with, I'll smile.