Being the Ongoing Chronicle of the Anticks, Misadventures, and Odd Deeds of an Overalls-clad Wanderer.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Shoulder high, we bring you home



Today is my mother-in-law's funeral. She was a beautiful, bright soul, and I'll miss her a lot.

She was an accomplished organist, and The Wife has always told me that she played a mean Toccata and Fugue in D minor by JS Bach. I never got to hear her play it, but in her honor, here's someone else playing it:


Toccata and Fugue in D Minor - Bach

Twenty-seven (!) things about me

This meme-thing has been sweeping through Facebookatopia the last few days, with everybody and their brother getting tagged constantly. It's just your basic "write X things about yourself" things, and I figured I'd cross-post my Facebook version here, since this blog is really my main homestead in cyberspace, as it were. Facebookatopia is a fun place to have a summer cottage, but Blogistan is always home!

Anyway, here are my twenty-seven things. Long-time readers of this blog already know some of this.

1. A new realization: I don't much like air travel at all, but I find airports to be utterly fascinating places. I think there's a story in there somewhere.

2. For the first time since high school, my regular wardrobe includes blue jeans. I still don't wear them that often, but I've got 'em. I didn't even own any jeans in college; in those years I lived in sweats, Zubaz pants, and occasionally my dressier khakis or whatever.

3. My first musical instrument was the French horn, in fifth grade. I switched to cornet a year later, and made the final transition to trumpet two years after that. (The cornet is virtually identical to the trumpet, except the tone is softer, although not quite so soft as a flugelhorn. The playing of each instrument is identical, though.)

4. Vegetables I hated for years, until the last few years: mushrooms, squash.

5. Vegetables I still hate and plan to until death: broccoli, asparagus.

6. I first discovered chicken wings as a food item in themselves when we moved to Olean, NY in 1981. However, the place we always went for wings, a little working-class bar across from a factory called The Roxy, didn't do Buffalo-style wings, so I didn't learn what those were all about for a while. The Roxy's wings were breaded and served plain, with the hot sauce in a little paper cup on the side.

7. When The Daughter was born, the first time I touched her was the brush her cheek with the back of my index finger. I think I did that to prove to myself that she was real.

8. My mother-in-law was a private music teacher and an organist for several churches. She was, in my estimation, very good on the organ.

9. Alan says he can compartmentalize his work life from his home life very well. I can't, and anymore I make very little effort to try. If something is seriously bothering me in either realm, it affects the other. I can't see expending the effort to separate myself into two people or lives. (Not to quibble with Alan's ability or suggest that he's wrong to do so. I just can't be like that.)

10. Extra-virgin olive oil is one of my newest great loves. I rarely eat bread with butter on it anymore; I dip the bread in the oil.

11. As a kid I tended to get unmercifully made fun of for many things, one of which was a tendency to suffer from, well, plumber's butt. To this day I'm paranoid about plumber's butt. Hence the overalls, which solves that problem very nicely.

12. The Wife and I dated five years before getting engaged. Yes, I know the test drive was ridiculously long, but she had to make sure she didn't think I was a complete dingus.

13. I don't spend enough time writing.

14. I love to cook, but I gravitate toward recipes with fewer ingredients. I get tired of cutting, chopping, mincing, dicing, cubing, and all the rest of it.

15. About the only genre of music I can't name a single song or work from that I actually like is rap. I don't think that rap is "noise", nor do I disparage it by saying that "rap isn't music", but it is so generally not my cup of tea that I can't name a single rap song that I've ever heard and liked.

16. I root for the Buffalo Sabres because they're the local team, but I don't know a thing about hockey, to be quite honest. So scant is my hockey acumen that I actually liked it when they superimposed that blue dot over the puck during telecasts of hockey games.

17. I discovered my favorite (living) author, Guy Gavriel Kay, by virtue of one of his books having a stunningly beautiful dust jacket.

18. Being in college in Iowa at the time, there were no Buffalo-style chicken wings to be found in town when the Bills played in Super Bowl XXV (the first of the four they lost). So for that game I made do with a large box of Hot Wings from KFC. For the next two years, I made my own wings with the deep fryer I bought. By the fourth time, I was at home again, but I decided that maybe the factor was my eating wings that kept them from winning. Thus I consumed no chicken wings during Super Bowl XXVIII. The Bills lost anyway. So, I decided that the real factor was nothing that I was doing, but just that the Bills for some reason didn't play very well in those games.

19. For all my love of sophisticated comedy with sparkling wordplay, I love some well-done slapstick as well. A pie in the face always makes me happy.

20. But oddly, despite the facts that I love good slapstick and pies in the face always make me happy, I've never much been fond of the Three Stooges. Abbott and Costello, however, bring me joy -- maybe because they combine sparkling wordplay WITH visual slapstick.

21. The two teevee shows whose cancellations vex me to the highest degree are "Once and Again" and "Firefly". And I didn't even watch all of Firefly until five years after it got axed...but really, that's all that FOX would give it?

22. I've been growing my hair out since early 2000, when I left the restaurant job where short hair was required of men. Since then I've only had a handful of maintenance trims.

23. I've had the beard since April or May 2004, when I was working for The Store and realized that I could grow a beard. I'd had a beard in college, but it had been a scraggly affair back then, with no mustache to speak of. Now I have the whole deal. I keep it trimmed myself.

24. My religious "problem" is that I've yet to find a religion that doesn't strike me as having SOMETHING very wise and worthwhile to say about humanity, the world, and our place within it. How can one be right and all others be wrong? I have no idea how to resolve this spiritual crisis, either.

25. Dogs scare the hell out of me.

26. I sometimes think that my entire life is an endless quest for something that makes me feel the way "Star Wars" did back in 1977, or "Lord of the Rings" did back in 1983, or Berlioz's "Symphonie fantastique" did in 1986, or Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 2 did in 1989, or Mark Camphouse's "Elegy" did in 1990, or "The Fionavar Tapestry" did back in 1994. I've come close a bunch of times and found a lot of wonderful stuff along the way, but I've never quite replicated those feelings.

27. All you men who have done this meme-thing and included the obligatory thing about your wives being the greatest women in the Universe: knock it off. Mine is. You're all a bunch of pretenders!!! (But seriously, the percentage of all of my happiest memories that don't include my wife as part of them is really, really tiny. And my goal is to make that percentage as tiny as possible with whatever time I have left.)


No tagging. If you feel like it, fine; if not, also fine.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

"The Balance in the Blood" (part seven)

Continuing a serialized novelette.

Previous installments: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6


“Doktor Muething,” Willem said. His skin tingled; he felt cold all over. “You missed a variable.”

“What?” Doktor Muething said, in the listless tone of someone not really listening.

Listen to me!” Willem grabbed the Doktor’s arm. “Uncle Gunther wrote that vampirism is balance. Life and death together. But there are other opposites that can be in balance, aren’t there? You never switched the vials!”

Doktor Muething stared at Willem, and then at the dead girl on the ground. Finally the light of realization formed in his eyes as well. “I only injected the men with blood from the male vampire....”

“And the women with that of the woman vampire! But the most reliable accounts in all your research are those of male vampires turning women, and woman vampires turning men. Vampirism isn’t just a balance of life and death; it is a balance of male and female.”

The Doktor glanced at the young woman’s body, and then turned back to Willem. “Get a syringe,” he said.

Willem sprang away and into the laboratory, where he quickly found a syringe and filled it with the very last of the blood from the male vampire. Then he ran back outside, to where Doktor Muething knelt beside the young woman’s body. Sirens and klaxons began to blare.

“Air raid,” the Doktor said. “Perhaps being out here isn’t the best idea.” There were explosions in the distance, but they were still much nearer than they had been in recent days. The Allies were coming. The Doktor lifted the woman’s arm and tapped it, looking for a vein. “And these are hardly the correct conditions...Here, I have a vein.”

Willem slid the needle in and depressed the plunger, sending male vampire blood into the young woman’s body. The Doktor then kneeled over her and began chest compressions.

“Masculine and feminine,” the Doktor said, shaking his head. “I must be blind.” He continued the compressions, forcing the vampire blood through the woman’s body.

Get out of the street!” a soldier shouted from the sidecar of a motorcycle that rumbled past. Willem and the Doktor ignored him, for the transformation had begun.

It was less violent than the previous two. The dead woman began to slowly writhe and moan. Her flesh filled in and took on an appearance of health. The gaping wound in her back healed as though it had never been there at all. Her hair, roughly shorn by the impersonal barbers of the Reich, became long again and more lustrous. Then her eyes opened. They glowed with a pale, green light. Willem and Doktor Muething moved back as the woman climbed to her feet. She was unsteady in her stance, and her eyes flicked around nervously.

“My God, it is so beautiful.” There were tears in the Doktor’s eyes.

“What do we do now?”

“She is weak. She will need nourishment.”

Willem looked down at the woman. The look in her eyes was most definitely hunger, the same look he hadn’t been able to recognize in their previous failed experiment. How could he have missed it, surrounded as he was by hunger on a daily basis? The woman stared imploringly at Willem and Doktor Muething, but she would not come more than a few paces closer. Willem remembered the Crucifix around his neck. If not for that....

“MUETHING!”

It was Commandant Reger, who was approaching from the Officers’ Quarters with two guards in tow. His uniform was muddy and his hair was unwashed; he had obviously not been to bed in some time. Willem recognized the two guards; these two men – boys, really – had stood attention beside him on his first day in the camp.

“What is it, Commandant?” the Doktor asked pleasantly.

“You know damned well that the Allies will be here tomorrow,” Reger snapped. “It is time for you to leave – who the hell is this?” He gestured to the young woman, who was staring up at him with wide eyes. “Herr Doktor, is this prisoner troubling you? And what is a prisoner doing here anyway? I ordered them gathered and taken to...no matter, I will deal with her myself.” He unsnapped his holster and drew his Luger pistol.

“She is no trouble at all, Herr Commandant,” Doktor Muething said as he stepped forward and grabbed Reger’s arm. “Do not shoot her.”

“Get back, fool. I should shoot you as a Jew-lover.” He shoved Doktor Muething aside and raised his pistol – but then the woman was on him. His pistol dropped to the ground as he grabbed her wrists. She bared her teeth and panted horribly as she grasped at him with white fingers. Her strength was as unnatural as her new life, and it was all the Commandant could do to keep her at bay. Her eyes glowed brighter, and it swiftly became apparent that she was too strong for him. She forced the Commandant down to his knees, and terror filled his eyes.

“Shoot her, you idiots!” he screamed, and the two boy-guards awkwardly whipped their rifles around to shoot the woman. After a few seconds of handling their guns as though they were live snakes, both boy-guards fired. One rifle shot tore into the woman’s leg; the other bullet grazed the Commandant’s forehead. The woman barely noticed the wound, which healed over almost immediately. Blood streamed down the Commandant’s forehead.

“Relax, Herr Commandant,” Doktor Muething said as he stepped in close behind Reger and laid a hand on his shoulder. “She cannot harm you when I am this near to her.” As if on cue the woman shrank away, repelled by the crucifix around the Doktor’s neck.

“What have you done here, Muething?” Commandant Reger wiped blood out of his eyes with the back of his hand, and then he stared at the woman.

“I think you know,” Doktor Muething said.

“It’s not possible,” Reger said. “They don’t exist. You’re a fool and you’ve wasted your time on a fool’s task.” The woman panted even louder, and the Commandant lost his temper. To his guards he shouted, “Would you two PLEASE KILL HER!”

Willem shook his head silently. These boys had never once seen death this close. Willem had seen enough for a lifetime. They raised their rifles....

“Don’t,” Doktor Muething said. In his hand was the Commandant’s dropped Luger pistol, and his hand was steady as he leveled it at the two boy-guards. “I assure you, my young friends, I have no desire to kill the youth of the Fatherland – but I will do just that if you don’t put those guns down and get away from here.” And then he raised his other hand in a fist and brought it down, hard, on the base of the Commandant’s skull. Reger flattened to the ground, moaning. “Go, boys,” the Doktor said. “You do not want to see what is going to happen next.”

Willem glanced at the two boy-guards who stood beside him now, just as they had two months before. He remembered their names at last: Georg on his right, Herbert on his left. The young woman stared at them, eyes gleaming, as they nervously pointed their rifles at her. Willem took a quiet step back, and then two or three steps away. The woman crept closer to the two boys, and they dropped their rifles at the same moment and ran. The woman rose to follow them, but Doktor Muething called out to her.
“Don’t go, my dear. I have what you need.”

She turned back to Doktor Muething, who had tied the Commandant’s arms behind his back with the Commandant’s own belt.

“Muething,” Reger mumbled. “What are you doing?”

“She needs sustenance,” the Doktor said. There was a strange look in his eyes. The Commandant began to struggle, but Doktor Muething appeared to have far greater physical strength than Willem had ever given him credit for.

“No!” The Commandant’s eyes were wide and he kicked and squirmed to no avail. He could not get away. Willem’s flesh went to ice.

“Come, my dear!” Doktor Muething’s voice was calm, malevolent. “Your first meal awaits you.” He stuffed the Luger pistol into his belt and lifted the Commandant to his knees. Willem’s eyes were wide as he looked on. He saw the Commandant’s pants become wet inside the legs.

“Muething, no!” Reger’s voice, always so arrogant, now sounded of nothing but childlike terror. “You can’t do this to one of your own!”

Doktor Muething laughed at that. He actually laughed, a deep-throated laugh from the depths of his belly that was still harsh and without the slightest hint of mirth. “One of my own, Reger?” He stopped laughing suddenly, and his eyes glistened as he leaned forward and said through clenched teeth: “She is one of my own.” And with that, he shoved the Commandant forward. The Commandant landed with a thud on the ground just two or three paces from the woman. She looked up at the Doktor, who nodded once and then took four steps back. The woman sprang then, and Commandant Reger could do nothing but scream as she took him in her arms, pushed his head back, and sank her teeth into his waiting neck. His shrieks only blended in with the blaring klaxons, the air-raid sirens, the distant exploding bombs, the reports of gunfire from the newly-consecrated execution fields. Reger’s screams as he perished at the hands of a vampire were just one more voice in a fugue of death.

The Doktor turned away from the woman who fed on the Commandant and grabbed Willem by the elbow. “Come, young Schliemann. We will not be welcome here with either our own or with the Allies.”

Willem obediently followed the Doktor, finally managing to tear his gaze from the vampire they had created. “Switzerland?”

“The only remaining haven in Europe for men such as I,” the Doktor said. “How fortunate that I was assigned to the camp nearest the Swiss border, don’t you think? My mother’s diamonds were able to buy me that much.” A knowing smile played at the edge of his lips, and Willem understood.

“We murdered one of our countrymen,” Willem said.

“As I said before, he wasn’t entirely my countryman. As for yourself, I am sure the feelings of guilt will fade in time.”

Instead of going inside the officer’s quarters, Doktor Muething led Willem around the building to a low maintenance shed. There, under a tarpaulin, was a fully-fueled motorcycle complete with sidecar and two packed rucksacks.

“So my worldly belongings are in the end reducible to one of these bags,” the Doktor said. “Oh well. I shall start anew. It seems a good time for it, at any rate.” He pulled on a leather jacket and a helmet, and gestured for Willem to do the same. “You drive.”

Willem climbed onto the cycle, and the Doktor boarded the sidecar. Willem looked at the Doktor for a moment, and then he shrugged. “Reger was a pig,” Willem said. “The Allies would have executed him anyway.”

Doktor Muething gave Willem a squeeze of the shoulder. “Drive, Willem.” he said. “You are not so young anymore, I think.”

Willem kicked the motorcycle to life and drove off. They went unchallenged through the camp gates; there was a lot of coming and going these days. Willem knew the roads around here very well, and soon they were headed south. He took the smallest roads, the ones that wound up into the mountains and through tiny villages where he had come with his uncle to heal the sick. Eventually they came to the border, where a single guard merely nodded and opened the single wooden barrier across the road.

Anonymous-looking Germans heading to Switzerland were common enough, it seemed. Willem and the Doktor rode through the gate, out of Germany. Neither would ever return.

To be concluded....

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Is short fiction dead yet?

Realms of Fantasy, one of my favorite magazines and one to which I'd eternally hoped to one day sell my work, is shutting down. There are fewer and fewer markets out there for short fiction. I'm frankly starting to think, the hell with it, and just put all of my own stuff up right here and let whoever finds it, find it.

Oh well. I always enjoyed reading Realms, and I'll always have my stash of back issues.

UPDATE: Check out Warren Ellis's headline for this news.

Watching 24: 1 pm to 2 pm

Yeah, it's a crappy photo. I took it with my phone while watching the episode on my laptop when we were approximately 25000 feet in the air, winging over Indiana or Illinois or one of those states somewhere in the middle, between Boston and Phoenix. Not the best logistics for watching this show, either: my laptop isn't one of those small laptops, and the guy in front of me insisted on reclining his seat, so I had to tilt my computer so the screen was on my lap and the keyboard was against my chest. But I wanted to see what happens next, so I sucked it up.

As for the plot machinations, I was sad to see Tony's bad-guy ally bite the dust, as he was an interesting character, if villainous. Could they be sowing the seeds of another fall from grace for Tony Almeida somewhere down the road? And how will the First Husband get out of the mess he is in, since there are two bodies in that apartment now that have his fingerprints all over everything, even if we know that he's innocent of their murders? Did I miss it, or was there an explanation of just how Bill and Chloe, Jack's CTU compadres, just happened to have handy some clothes to give to Agent Walker, now that her old clothes are all bloody? How long can it be before the Bob Gunton character is revealed to be the bad guy? (Because Bob Gunton is always the bad guy, which kind of stinks because Bob Gunton is one of my favorite character actors working today and I'd love to see him in a role where he's not the jerk or bad guy. The best he's had, in a memorable episode of Star Trek: TNG, was a good guy who'd gone horribly awry due to emotional trauma.)

What I'm really thinking about in this picture, though, is how I'm sitting there in a passenger jet watching an episode of a teevee show in which the terrorist bad guys make their point to the President by using their techno-gizmo to hijack the nation's air traffic control system and crash two passenger jets together in mid-air, killing everybody and making a nice big fireball in the sky that's visible from the Oval Office window. This kind of made me think of the scene in Airplane! where the in-flight movie starts off with a depiction of a very fiery plane crash.

If I ever go on a cruise, I'm watching Titanic.

Always room for pie!

I didn't learn this until two days later, but last Friday was National Pie Day, unbeknownst to me until two days later. (Oddly, The Wife and I managed to inadvertently observe National Pie Day anyway without realizing we were doing so. Lucky, huh?)

But as awesome as pie is, deserving of a National Day, someone's decided that pie is too awesome for a single day. Some woman named Olivia Munn has decided that there needs to a National Pie Week, and she's decided to act: she has a petition going where if she can get 10000 signatures by this coming Friday, she'll jump into a giant pie. Of course, the Internet being what the Internet is, she's already well past 26000 signature as of this writing.

I have no idea who Olivia Munn is, but this is what she apparently looks like:



She doesn't look like the kind of person who spends a great deal of time consuming pie in the usual manner, does she? Hmmmmm.

Anyway, I was going to mention this in the upcoming Sunday Burst of Weirdness, but it's time-sensitive and I'm not sure if I'll even get around to a Burst of Weirdness this week. But National Pie Week isn't a terrible idea, anyway.

My cruising altitude is now zero feet

Thirteen hours, spent on three different planes. That's how long we were traveling yesterday. I know, I know -- when you have to throw together a cross-country flight plan literally the day before you need to be in the air, you're going to have some very odd hops across the nation. But it still defies imagination that in the 21st century, with however many hundreds of flights exist in this country on any given day, getting from Buffalo to Spokane, WA can involve first flying to Boston, MA -- five hundred miles in the other direction. Ye Gods.

:: The flights themselves weren't too bad, all things considered. Buffalo to Phoenix was on a small commuter jet, so The Daughter and I were sitting together behind The Wife, who was seated beside some guy from Canada who noticed her ringless fingers (she opted to not wear her rings because she'd likely swell up and have them be hard to remove later on) and proceeded to hit on her. I've never been able to watch anyone hit on The Wife before; it was kinda-sorta interesting to behold. Of course, I don't wear my rings very often at all*, and yet, somehow no women ever hit on me. I must therefore conclude that by sheer luck I managed to marry the one woman on Earth who finds me attractive. Yay, me!

:: Until yesterday, the longest flight I'd ever taken was five hours. Then we had a six-and-a-quarter hour flight from Boston to Phoenix, AZ. That was just sheer hell. I can't believe how long that flight was.

:: It was night-time, and therefore dark, when we were flying into Phoenix, so I got to see the entire city from above, all lit up. Very pretty, but Phoenix strikes me as a very unnatural city, even from the air at night. The streets are laid out in the most perfect grid I've ever seen. For someone used to northeastern cities, whose streets are often in a radial pattern or, in cases like Boston, actual remnants of the old horse trails from four hundred years ago, seeing a perfect grid of a city feels a bit unEarthly.

:: Due to headwinds, we were late getting into Phoenix, and that was going to be our shortest layover anyway. As it was, by the time we got off that plane, we had all of ten minutes to get to our next plane. Luckily, the next plane -- the one from Phoenix to Spokane -- was literally across the concourse. We had to go from gate A-7 to gate A-6. Yay!

:: Of course, due to how short we were cutting it for that flight, we were nervous about our luggage making it onto that last flight. Here we were saved by the screaming child. In front of us, on that plane, was a Hispanic family that spoke no English, and their little boy, who was no more than three years old, was having himself a massive temper tantrum. He would not sit down in his seat and get buckled, he would not sit on his mother's lap, he would do nothing other than run back and forth, screaming in Spanish. For some reason his parents refused to do the obvious thing -- grab him, force him into the seat, buckle his ass in and go with it -- so the flight attendants very nearly gave that family the boot from the plane. This all took a while as neither flight attendant spoke Spanish, so they had to grab another passenger to do interpreter duty. Finally, as they were just about to be kicked off the plane, the parents managed, with the advice of the Spanish-speaking passenger and a can of apple juice offered by one flight attendant, to get the kid to calm down and let himself be buckled in.

And then, for the remainder of the flight, that kid didn't make so much as a peep.

:: Living in the Eastern part of the country, one gets used to things being not so far apart. You're never more than an hour or two from the next big city. It's not like that in the West, which is something I tend to forget a lot. After the six-hour-plus jaunt from Boston to Phoenix, for some reason I figured that Phoenix to Spokane wouldn't be that long of a flight. I nearly burst into tears when the pilot came on and said, "Our flight time will be two hours, twenty-eight minutes." Ugh!!!

:: The Buffalo-to-Boston flight, being on a small plane, had only one flight attendant. She was a very bubbly black woman who giggled her way through the safety lecture, even mussing up the lines at one point. But she was very friendly and nice. The flight attendants from Boston to Phoenix were also nice, but not so bubbly; they were the stereotypical "flight attendants", who in my experience smile a lot and are nice and professional but also give the air that they're not going to take any crap. The flight attendants from Phoenix to Spokane were both older men, one of whom looked positively gruff as he dealt with the family with the potential problem-child. It was like having your flight attendant turn out to be Ed Asner.

:: I hate it when food places, knowing that you're a captive audience, charge through the nose for simple things. Our lunch yesterday was three pre-made sandwiches, three bags of chips, and three bottles of water from a joint in the Buffalo airport. This all cost thirty-seven bucks and some change. WTF?!

:: I've decided that while I don't much like flying at all, I find airports to be incredibly fascinating places. The part of Boston's Logan Airport that we saw was quite an attractive place. We didn't see enough of Phoenix's airport to have any impression of it at all. Spokane's is pretty small, but they call it an "International" airport, so I imagine it must have some flights into Canada.

* I haven't been wearing my rings for two main reasons: one, they're very loose right now owing to all of my weight loss over the last year or so. I'll be getting them resized sometime soon, but for now, they spin around very freely on my fingers, and I'm always terrified they're going to fly right odd. Second, in my job, I tend to do a lot of physical work that involves power tools, carpentry, equipment repair, and things like that where I'm afraid that my rings could get damaged by a glancing hammer blow. I may get a chain at some point so I can have my rings at work, around my neck.

A very public service message

Sometime in the next day or two, or even in the next few hours, this blog will look odd, because I will have hit the data transfer limit on the third of the Earthlink e-mail profiles I use to store the images for my template. I'm not really in a position right now to do anything about this, though, being in Idaho for my mother-in-law's upcoming funeral. Well, yeah, it's all cyber-stuff, so technically I could do something about it, but I can't see there this is a priority right now, so make it a priority until I'm back in Buffalo at the end of next week. Luckily, the transfer limits re-set at the beginning of the month, so on Sunday the blog should be back to its normal appearance. Sometime in February I plan to make a permanent change when I sign up with an actual hosting company, but for now, the blog will have to look odd.

In the meantime, please enjoy a glass of your favorite sparkling beverage. Thank you.

Monday, January 26, 2009

"Yea, beds for all who come."



In summer of 2005 we traveled to the Coeur d'Alene, Idaho area for my sister-in-law's wedding. This photo is Little Quinn on the wedding day, asleep on his grandmother's -- The Wife's mother's, my mother-in-law's -- shoulder. This was taken at a very pretty park where the wedding photos were taken.

Over the last year, my mother-in-law became ill. She endured many treatments, lost a lot of weight and a bit of hair, but still mostly kept her spirits up. The Wife talked to her mother just two days ago.

But the end came this morning, very shockingly and very suddenly. She was only sixty years old.

Obviously, we're making arrangements to travel now, so blogging will be intermittent for a while. I'll have the laptop with me, but other than that, who knows.

Sentential Links #156

Time for linkage. Click and receive ultimate pleasure! Or just some good stuff to read. Your call.

:: Since I would like to be making music when I'm in my 80s, I was rooting for them every second.

:: It’s official now - I am older than the President. (I haven't got there yet. Maybe not even the next President, especially if that happens in 2013. But I expect that by the time we get to whoever takes over in 2020 or 2024, I may be older than the President.)

:: This thing took my entire lifetime to happen. This cycle lasted nearly fifty years.

:: Ford looks like a manufacturer that is starting to get it. (Alan is a car enthusiast. I'm a "Does it get me from point A to point B" enthusiast, but Alan's longtime theory is that maybe Detroit's car companies are in trouble because they simply don't make cars that people much want to drive. That's a pretty sound hypothesis; in my experience, people don't buy what they don't want to buy. Crazy, but true.)

:: Paterson's kung fu is pretty impressive.

:: I ran this before a couple of years ago and it still hasn't happened. There should be a star on the Hollywood Walk-of-Fame for John Candy. (He doesn't have one?!)

:: The phrase is "All present *or* accounted for" not "All present *and* accounted for." (Really? I confess that the latter sounds better to me.)

:: I am not in a business with a 4-6 year document retention cycle. I am in a business where I hope that what I wrote ten years ago will still be accessible a century hence. Microsoft's policy was deliberately destroying my life's work.

All for this week.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Well...I got nothin', folks. As you can tell by the content here the last week or so, I've not been spending much time online, so I haven't a lot of prime weirdness on display. By way of an old means of generating weirdness, here's a recipe for Cthulhu cookies.

Sorry. I'll try to do better next time.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A techie question....

Hey readers,

What's a good freeware video editing program? I have some AVI files that I'd like to edit down a bit, but I don't have the software to do it. I just need something pretty basic here; all I'm looking to do is isolate the two minutes I want out of a five-minute-long file.


Hey readers,

I appear to have completely lost all of my tech marbles this weekend. First off, they're not AVI files but MOV files, so Windows Movie Maker won't do the job. But Nero 8, which I've had installed on my computer for several months now, will. And I knew this. So why did I ask the original question? Because apparently this weekend I'm a complete doofus.

Thanks for the responses, though. I do appreciate the attempts to help.

Watching 24: 12 pm to 1 pm

This season is pretty gripping stuff already, but I'm wondering if the writers may have reached a boil too soon. It's getting really dense on this show, and one particular plotline -- the bit with the President's husband and his crusade to uncover his son's murderer -- is threatening to spin out of control a bit.

Anyway, I'm resorting to keeping notes now on what's going on. If this season runs true to form, the show will lose some steam between hours 9 and 14 (this year, roughly between 5 pm and 11 pm) before ramping it back up again toward the finale. From what I've read about how the writers work on 24 -- that they don't really plot it all out before they start -- that's generally when they reach the point where they don't know where they're going.

Oh, and Agent Walker is the prettiest FBI agent on teevee since Dana Scully.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Something for Thursday

A beautiful theme from the film Princess Mononoke, composed by the masterful Joe Hisaishi. Here's "Ashitaka and San".


Ashitaka And San - Joe Hisaishi

Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Watching 24: 11 am to 12 pm


Who are the good guys, now?, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

OK, I'm almost caught up with this series thus far; one more pic remains, from this week's episode. This is the last shot from the first four episodes, that all aired on Sunday and Monday last week. Wow!

Anyway, here I'm noticing a pretty blond FBI agent and realizing that she's played by Ever Carradine, an actress who formerly appeared on one of my favorite shows of all time, Once and Again, wherein she played Tiffany, the girlfriend of Jake Manning, the cheating ex-husband of Lily Manning (Sela Ward). What's funny about this is that Jake Manning was played by Jeffrey Nordling, who on this season of 24 is playing...FBI Agent Moss, who is the boss of the Ever Carradine character! It's a small TV world, huh?

Oh, and Jack Bauer rules.

Annoyances ahoy....

Well, my little roses that follow each blog post are missing, as is my American flag in the sidebar. This is because Earthlink has apparently reduced the amount of data transfer allowed for people like me who use its free webspace to store graphics and whatnot. Right now I'm averaging hitting my limit in about ten days' time, so I've had to create three accounts (they're free, you get up to eight or something like that) for my graphics, and then each month when one hits the limit I have to go through the template for this blog and change the HTML to point to a username whose transfer limit hasn't been exceeded. And then on the first of each month it all resets. The problem is, on the username I'm using right now, I don't have my roses or my flag. This irritates me.

So, in the next week or two I'll be signing up with an actual hosting company. I'm looking for a cheap one so I can just host my graphics and not have to worry about things disappearing. I'll get that taken care of soon enough, but anyone wondering why the blog sporadically looks weird, this is why.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Watching 24: 10 am to 11 am (part trois)


Go Jack go!, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

Last reaction shot for this episode. I thought I was done, but then Jack did something really awesomely Jack Bauer-ish. He was trapped in a parking garage, with FBI agents on either side of him, so he broke into a car, hotwired it, crawled down onto the floor, put the car in gear, and then floored it with his hand on the pedal, sending the car smashing through the outside wall of the garage and into the surface lot next door, allowing him to escape. Before doing all this, Jack said: "This is gonna hurt."

But nothing ever hurts Jack Bauer too much, because he's Jack Effing Bauer.

Watching 24: 10 am to 11 am (part deux)


Huh-whuh?!, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

Several reactions to this episode. Here I'm wondering just who Tony Almeida is working for. Did he become a bad guy for real? Or is he so deep undercover nobody knows about it anymore? WHO IS TONY WORKING FOR?!

Watching 24: 10 am to 11 am


Sigh...., originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

Here I'm having trouble following the plot a bit, because I keep losing myself in Agent Renee Walker's eyes...sigh....

Bookending thoughts

What's the opposite of "Fail"?



And....



I didn't get to see much of the festivities at all, just the two Oaths of Office (I bet Chief Justice Roberts is slapping himself in the forehead all night), the John Williams piece (which I loved), and a the first bit of the inaugural address. I was at work, and the room I was in at the time had the Inauguration on streaming internet, which wasn't as reliable as we'd have liked. Oh well.

I just hope that whichever one of Obama's kids it was always remembers the day a Marine in full dress uniform plunked down a box in front of her for her to stand on.

Preserve, protect and defend....

Here's how today feels to me:



Godspeed, Mr. President.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Nevermore

Edgar Allan Poe was born two hundred years ago today. I've always loved Poe, and he wrote my favorite poem of all time, "Annabel Lee":



Way back when this blog was young, I wrote about "Annabel Lee".

And here's a reading of "The Raven", by Christopher Walken:



Tonight I shall sip some cognac in honor of Edgar Allan Poe.

Watching 24: 9 am to 10 am


Watching 24: 9 am to 10 am, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

I watched the first two episodes back-to-back, hence the nearly identical nature of these shots. I have a few more of these for this week, and then this will become a weekly feature, whenever I get around to watching each week's installment of The Jack Bauer Power Hour.

Anyway, here I'm thinking, "Oh no, Tony! Please don't crash the planes! Think of the children!!!"

Sentential Links #155 (the Final Bush edition)

Here we are with the final Sentential Links to appear in this space during the George W. Bush administration. Thank God. Yes, these will be political. Sorry.

:: It was my original intention to let the passing of the Presidency of George Walker Bush go unmentioned in this blog.

:: Thinking back to George W. Bush’s farewell address it’s striking that the best thing the man can say about his record in office is that only once during his term in office were 3,000 people killed by foreign terrorists. And it’s really striking that other people in the conservative movement seem to take this “accomplishment” very seriously.

:: Still, I sure hope that the public doesn't forgive Bush for a very, very long time. To this day I don't understand how such a manifestly unqualified candidate got either nominated or elected in the first place, and the damage this man-child has done to the country during his eight years in office is hard to even put into words. If Barack Obama is lucky, he might — might — by 2016 be able to get us back to where we were in 2000. The last eight years have taken us backward by almost every metric that matters, and as he heads off to Texas, hopefully never to be heard from again, Bush will go down in history as one of the very few presidents to have left the country in demonstrably worse shape than when he got it. It's an elite group indeed.

:: An Administration that came into being as a result of a legal ruling has operated outside the law, in absolute contempt for the processes that have distinguished America from tyrannies for the past 230 years.

:: It is enough to say he was a failure, and leave it at that. He can spend the rest of his life giving speeches to justify his actions. But he will never be able to drown out the roar of his record.

Ach...that's about it for that, actually. I really don't want to give this President any more space here than I already have. He doesn't deserve it. George W. Bush is, by any conceivable measure and by far, the worst President of my lifetime, and I was born during Nixon's first term. Ugh. Go away, George.

(And God help me if we ever elect Jeb.)

Anyway, some non-Bush-related links, just to clear the air here of Bushism:

:: The real hero of this story is not supernatural. He's a very natural, very human 57-year-old man named Sully Sullenberger. Good job, Captain. You deserve every plaudit you may receive for this.

:: Khan was as mysterious as he was popular, though, and we found 16 things that even Star Trek fans might not know about the lovable superhuman tyrant. (I've pointed this out before, but I've always felt that Wrath of Khan wasted an absolutely fascinating character on a simple revenge story. The results of Kirk's depositing of Khan and company on Ceti Alpha V should have been left for the Next Generation crew to discover.)

:: Can't forget good old Goom. (Goom? Yes, Goom. Believe it or not.)

:: I feel fun in my overalls, I feel relaxed in my overalls, I feel happy in my overalls. I dress to please myself and I love my overalls! (There you have it!)

More next week. Yes we can!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Trouble with Izzey

Anybody watch Grey's Anatomy?

Anyway: I suspect that Izzey's romance with Denny's ghost is actually due to a tumor or some other kind of brain ailment in Izzey's head. This will culminate in the season's final episodes; Dr. Shepard (McDreamy) will have to operate on her to save her life. There will be a final scene, then, before the surgery, when Izzey will say her final goodbye to Denny. That's what I think happens here.

(Although one possible hole in my theory is that the last episode specifically showed Denny sitting beside Alex, with Izzey out of the room. Now, Alex didn't see Denny, but if Denny's "existence" is dependent on Izzey's brain ailment, how could he be sitting there addressing Alex?)

OK, I'm done. Carry on.

(Actually, I'm not done. I think Sara Ramirez, who plays Dr. Callie Torres, is really a very pretty woman, and I think that Chandra Wilson, who plays Dr. Miranda Bailey, consistently turns in the show's best performances.)

OK, now I'm done.

Watching 24: 8 am to 9 am


Watching 24: 8 am to 9 am, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

I'm actually watching 24 this season, after I missed the last three seasons. The reasons I missed those seasons are mainly logistical: the timeslot is tough, since that's when The Daughter's bed time is. And yes, I could tape it and watch it later, but it's hard in this household to find time to watch taped shows (especially ones like 24, which aren't terribly appropriate for children), and FOX has been launching each season with four episodes run over two nights, which puts me in a big hole anyway. I tried following Season Four this way, but I quickly fell behind and dropped out.

Now, though, I can follow along by getting the episodes online and watching them on my laptop, with the earphones on, so it's back to following the adventures of Jack Bauer! Hooray! And now, I'll depict my progress throughout this season by posting a snapshot of me reacting to each episode's events. This is me reacting to the big reveal in the first hour of this season: Tony Almeida's alive and he's a terrorist now?!

Stay tuned!

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

This week's oddities:

:: This has already been all over the place, but it's completely hilarious: the story of the original Star Wars trilogy told by someone who hasn't really seen it. The animation is great.

:: Related to the above item: in the MeFi thread where they linked it over there, somebody accuses Star Wars of having an incoherent plot, and then says this:

Give me Star Trek, a science fiction show containing science.


Wait, what?!

(And geez, can't Fixing the Prequels ever get a little love from Geek Blogistan? Ye Gods!)

:: Letterman's Great Moments in Presidential Speeches, the final edition.

:: For some reason, this morning I suddenly remembered that when we lived in Portland years ago, a constant source of amusement was the TV advertising for Ranier Beer. Well, wouldn't you know it: there's a YouTube channel with nothing but old spots for Ranier Beer. Check 'em out: Beer Crossing, Raniers in the Fog, and of course, a 1978 spot clearly based on the Star Wars cantina scene, featuring Buster Crabbe as "Fresh Gordon"!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Once



"Take this sinking boat
and point it home.
We've still got time...."

-"Falling Slowly", song from Once


A vacuum-cleaner repairman in Dublin works on the side as a street musician, playing his guitar and singing his songs on the streetcorners for whatever change he can get from passers-by. Occasionally he does well, other times he does less well. He has to contend with the occasional thief who tries to run off with his guitar case and the money inside it, and he has to refrain from singing his own songs for night-time when foot traffic is lower, since most people are more rewarding of a musician playing songs they know, this even though his performances of his own songs are searingly emotional. There's something eating away at this guy, though; we can see it, although we don't know what. He looks young but weary, idealistic and cynical at the same time; his guitar is so old that it has a second hole worn through its face and the strings are not neatly trimmed but have lengths that dangle off the ends of the frets. He wears a black overcoat and a scarf tied around his neck, even oftentimes when he is inside.

Along comes a young Czech woman who also works the streets of Dublin, selling her own wares: magazines, individual flowers. She hears one of his songs at night, and compliments him; he is trying to end the conversation when he lets slip that he's a vacuum cleaner repairman, and her face lights up because she has a broken vacuum cleaner! She vows to bring her broken cleaner to him tomorrow, and she does. They then begin a brief friendship that deepens quickly into love as they walk the streets together, him carrying his guitar and her pulling the vacuum behind her like a dog. She seems more open, more willing to smile, more idealistic than cynical, but it soon becomes clear that she is masking her own series of hurts as well; there's a sadness in her eye that she hides except for when she thinks no one is looking, she has a two year old daughter with no father in sight, she buys her clothes at a cheap mens' store, and she too spends much time wearing a heavy overcoat with a scarf round her neck.

It turns out that she is a piano player too, although she keeps that part of her life carefully secret, only playing an hour a day in the studio of a music shop while the owner closes for lunch. She offers to play for him there, and he goes to hear; after she plays him some Mendelssohn, she asks him to play, and he does, to her accompaniment, teaching her one of his songs. He seems slightly skeptical of this whole thing, until she begins to sing along with the lyrics he's placed in front of her, harmonizing his own vocals. He smiles in pleasant surprise; he's made a connection with this woman, a musical connection, the kind that comes when we discover entirely by accident that someone we've just met is, on at least one level, completely in tune with ourselves.

Is that when they fall in love? I'm not sure. But it starts there, with that smile of surprise and delight. It happens early in the movie Once, about twelve minutes in, and the rest of the film follows the guitarist and the pianist through the next few days as they get to know each other and to love each other and to make music together. (The scene is helped by the fact that the song, "Falling Slowly", is a wonderful song that would eventually win an Oscar for Best Original Song.)

The feel of Once is very similar to Before Sunrise, another great romance film about two people in similar circumstances who find each other and get to know each other over a fairly short period of time. Here it's a few days, but it's still fairly brief. There is a girl in his past, and a husband in hers; both lean on the other in efforts to deal with their respective pain and find their ways to their respective next steps. Those steps make sense, in the end, and if I found myself hoping for a different outcome, the one the film depicts is still moving and satisfying and right.

A movie like this can't possibly succeed unless its performances are good, and there's not a false note of performance in the entire movie, from the leads (who are never named; the credits list them as "Guy" and "Girl") all the way to the jaded soundbooth operator who first thinks he's recording a bunch of yahoos but soon realizes different once he's heard the songs. The leads are played by Glen Hansard and Markita Irglova, who have paired as a singer-songwriting duo, penning some of the songs used in the film. And the film's songs, by the way, are really very good, with one, "Falling Slowly", being a truly excellent song indeed, the best movie song I've heard in years. This song won the Oscar last year for original song, and this was richly deserved. (And I cited it as my song of 2008.)

Once is a beautiful, beautiful movie. This is what movies are for.

Twenty-five Cents (part one)

Here's a lark that seems to me to be exactly why blogs were invented: I'm going to opine on all fifty of the Statehood Quarters! Now that all fifty are in circulation (or at least have had their designs released), it's time to either praise them or rip them to shreds. The disclaimer here is that when I make fun of a quarter that I think stinks, I'm attacking the quarter. Not the state. The quarter. Just because I may think your state's quarter is poorly designed doesn't mean I don't like your state, or you. (Of course, the reverse also applies, but let's not discuss that.)

We'll do this over a series of posts, to keep the length down. I'm indebted to the US Mint website for the images of the quarters themselves, as well as occasional bits of background info on the designs themselves. Each quarter will be ranked, logically enough since we're dealing with quarters, on a scale of one to twenty-five cents. Let's begin, shall we? Starting in the northeast, with New England and the Middle Atlantic states!

Maine




OK, right off the bat, we hit one of my favorite designs. I prefer the quarters that take the limited amount of space they had to work with (less than an inch in diameter) and depict an actual scene. They've got a masted yacht sailing out there in the Atlantic, past a lighthouse. They could have gone lazy here and just had the lighthouse, or the yacht, but what makes the quarter for me isn't just that they got both, but they got the rocky slope from which the lighthouse rises, finely textured, right down to the large fallen rocks sitting partially submerged at the edge of the sea. I also like the sea birds in flight, the pine tree off to the side of the lighthouse lot, and the picket fence surrounding the lighthouse property. The quarter doesn't just convey that Maine's got lots of seashore, but the character of that seashore. This one's well done. Bonus points for avoiding words entirely.

Maine's quarter: $0.23

New Hampshire




This probably seemed a better idea in a larger picture than as an actual quarter; in the actual size and in actual cold metal, the picture of the Old Man of the Mountain doesn't come off all that well. Plus, I always found that selection of image odd, anyway: the Old Man of the Mountain didn't really convey anything about New Hampshire, really, other than the fact that it used to have a rock feature that by pure accident of erosion looked like the profile of a geezer. It also doesn't have much to do with the inclusion of the state's motto, "Live Free or Die". (And I can't hear that motto anywhere without thinking of George Carlin, who noted, "I don't want to live anyplace where they mention death right on their license plates.") And it's not New Hampshire's fault at all, but it doesn't really help that the Old Man of the Mountain collapsed not long after their quarter went into circulation in the first place. So I don't like this one all that much.

New Hampshire's quarter: $0.14

Vermont




Here we have a good example of a state designing its quarter to reflect what that state's generally known for these days: Vermont's got a guy tapping maple trees for sap. Nothing wrong with that, as far as I'm concerned; I'm a big maple fan. I like this quarter quite a bit, actually. It's a little quirky, kind of like Vermont itself; this quarter doesn't take itself terribly seriously and it lays its claim to Vermont's justifiable pride in its maple industry. I do think that the mountain in the background muddies the design a bit, drawing the eye away from the symmetrical central scene, and I don't know why the motto "Freedom and Unity" needed to be there at all.

Vermont's quarter: $0.20

Massachusetts




Here's the first of our series that doesn't do much for me at all. It just reeks of design-by-committee, as many of the statehood quarters do. They really would have been much better served in coming up with something more evocative of the Revolutionary War theme than just having a generic Colonial soldier standing in front of a generic outline of Massachusetts itself. And the words "The Bay State" add nothing. You can hear the design committee saying, in effect, "OK, we're the Bay State and we had the Revolution. We gotta get both of those on there." Meh.

Massachusetts's quarter: $0.12

Rhode Island




This quarter works pretty well. It doesn't excite me all that much, but it does tie the motto in with the illustration, which Massachusetts didn't even try to do. The Ocean State shows us the ocean! And apparently Rhode Island has a really big suspension bridge somewhere. The water's nice and choppy, but they could have thrown in some birds or something else. Anyway, this is OK.

Rhode Island's quarter: $0.18

Connecticut




Maybe I should have started this series on the West and moved my way eastward, which would have put the Connecticut quarter in the final post of this series instead of the first one. I say this because Connecticut's quarter is my favorite of the entire series. I just love this quarter, and I remember when I first saw it when it was issued, I thought something along the lines of "Wow, forty-some states are going to have a hard time topping this." And, in my opinion, none did. Connecticut doesn't include a state motto or anything like that; instead, they give a wonderfully rendered picture of a venerable oak tree, a picture whose circular nature beautifully fills up much of the quarter, along with the grassy field that tree stands in and the stone fence beyond it. They nicely identify this specific tree as "The Charter Oak". And as an added bonus, I'll bet very few people who don't live in Connecticut know what the Charter Oak was, so this quarter invites further exploration of the state's history. Great quarter.

Connecticut's quarter: $0.25

New York




Again with design-by-committee; you just know that somebody was in that room insisting that no possible New York State quarter could exist without depicting the Statue of Liberty, so there she is. Maybe there's a point there, but leaving Lady Liberty off the quarter and just having that picture of New York State with the motto "Gateway to Freedom" would have worked nicely. I'm not, as we'll see thoughout this exercise, a big fan of pictures of states and their outlines, but this one's interesting on two levels: first, when you contrast this with, say, Massachusetts above, you see that New York doesn't just show the state outline, but rather a topographical relief map of the state, which I find a fascinating choice. Second, the map ties in with the "Gateway to Freedom" motto by showing the line of the Erie Canal. Plus, this is my home state's quarter, so I'm a bit biased on that regard as well.

New York's quarter: $0.20

Pennsylvania




More design-by-committee afflicts this one, and it's one of my least favorites. At least Massachusetts gave its state outline some texture; Pennsylvania just gives the outline with no features within. Boring. They stick a little keystone in there (because it's the Keystone State), they have a statue from Philadelphia, and the motto "Virtue Liberty Independence". It's a design that accomplishes the fascinating feat of being (a) too busy, and (b) too lax with the space they had to work with. I really don't like this one much at all.

Pennsylvania's quarter: $0.08

New Jersey




There's really something romantic about the notion of a crossroads, isn't there? Several states use their quarters to pronounce themselves the "Crossroads" of something or other. New Jersey declares itself the "Crossroads of the Revolution", whatever that means...did General Washington get there with his army and then look at the signpost and say, "OK, fellas, do we turn left and take New York, or do we swing right and head down toward Delaware? Guys? Guys! Hey, it's not my fault the winter sucked!" But joking aside, the picture of Washington crossing the Delaware is, of course, one of the iconic images of American history, and double kudos to New Jersey for going with that image and not fouling it up with a state outline of Jersey itself. They could have ditched the motto here, but that's a small quibble. This is an excellent quarter.

New Jersey's quarter: $0.23

Delaware




Don't you forget it, folks: Delaware's the First State. Until someone else came along, the United States was really the United State, and that state was Delaware. Since the quarters were issued in the order of the states' admission to the Union, this was the first quarter to come out. I first saw it when I was doing a nightly cash count at the restaurant I was managing at the time, and since I'd heard nothing of the Statehood Quarters initiative, I didn't even know if the coin was real or not! (This was when the Internet was not yet the repository of rock-solid, reliable information that it is now, and when 56K modems were exotic things that only rich folks had.) So I set the quarter aside and didn't include it in our nightly deposit. Funny, that. But the quarter itself? It's got some nice design there, I think; it conveys action by having its American Revolution figure riding (as opposed to just standing there waiting for the Redcoats to shoot him, like the guy on the Massachusetts quarter). I'm not thrilled about "The First State" being on there; doesn't this make Delaware the "First Poster" of the statehood quarter initiative? And who is Caesar Rodney, anyway? Well, he was a delegate from Dover who rode all the way to Philadelphia to cast the deciding vote for Independence. Another quarter inspires further research!

Delaware's quarter: $0.21

Maryland




Meh. Maryland's the Old Line State, and they've got an old building somewhere with a nifty looking dome. And they grow some kind of plant there, so that plant's on the quarter, curling up the sides. Not much to say here; this is a really boring quarter. Surely the state of Chesapeake Bay and of Edgar Allan Poe could have come up with something more interesting than this. How about a crab fisherman? Or just a raven with the word "Nevermore"? That would have been cool. An old building, a motto, and a plant? Not so much.

Maryland's quarter: $0.09

(Here I'll note that I think that Washington, DC should be a state.)

That's where I'll stop now. Next time we'll continue moving southward, toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Huh?!

Wow, tonight's episode of My Name Is Earl has a strange opening, doesn't it? Instead of opening with Earl in the hotel room or in Crabman's bar, we've got...some guy, sitting in an office, talking right into the camera. Who is this guy? Is he a new regular or something? Maybe they're setting up a spin-off of the show, where this guy will go off after his job ends and try to make things up to everybody on his Karma list. I can see it now:

VOICEOVER: Boy, Karma keeps kickin' me in the pants. I'd thought I'd done pretty well at that last job I had, but to judge by the people who keep comin' up to me on the street and hockin' loogies on my shoes, I guess not. So after I ran into the hundredth woman who'd seen her son go off to war in some really hot and dusty country, or after I saw the fiftieth guy who'd lost his house when a really big storm hit that city down there where they make all that gumbo, I figured I had to do something to get back on Karma's good side. So I made myself a list, just like that guy Earl, of everything wrong I'd ever done. His list is a lot shorter than mine, though, but you can't cheat Karma! So I'm gonna start with Number #42 on my list: "Started a war on false pretenses against a non-threat of a country." My name is George!


I'll bet they could get a really long-lived series out of that premise....



(Apologies for the crappy photo editing!)

Something for Thursday

Warning: this is one of the saddest songs I have ever heard. It was featured on an episode of A Prairie Home Companion, and...well, it's sad.

Here's Suzy Bogguss and "In Heaven".


In Heaven - Suzy Bogguss


Sigh....

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

It's full of Scots

Two in one day?

Here's Patrick McGoohan as King Edward Longshanks:



One of my favorite lines by a movie villain ever: "Arrows cost money. The dead cost nothing."

So long, Mr. McGoohan.

I spit my last breath at thee!!!

Ah, man....

The memories:



Saturday nights when I was a kid! And who could forget:



and, of course, closest to my geeky heart...



So long, Senor Montalban.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Final Reminders!

Delurking week ends tonight, and it's last call for the Five Question game, if anybody else wants five questions. I'll be getting my questions out over this coming weekend.

Moving on....

Mmmmm...deep fried goodness....


Homemade fish fry, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

I made my own fish fry last week: beer-battered catfish filets and hushpuppies. 'Twas yummy, it was!

The Balance in the Blood (part six)

Continuing a serialized novelette.

Parts One, Two, Three, Four
and Five published previously.


“He is dead,” Willem said, looking up from the corpse.

“Then let us begin.” Doktor Muething injected the vampire blood into the second dead Jew. This one was an older man than the first, with a face that had been careworn even before the Nazis had come. Willem studied the man’s features as they waited for the vampire blood to take effect.

“Do you ever wonder about the lives they led before we took them?”

“Always.” Doktor Muething nodded. “Many insist that we shouldn’t think of such things, that concerns such as those have no place in the advancement of science. But yes, I do think of them.”

Willem stared at the dead Jew, and then it began.

With the shock of the first experiment behind him, Willem was now able to concentrate on the details. They were much the same as the last time. The second dead Jew’s eyes formed the same commanding stare as the first one, but now Willem was already wearing the Crucifix and thus felt none of the compulsion he had experienced before. He was able to watch without fear as the second dead Jew opened his mouth, revealing canine teeth that had certainly not been there before. He didn’t even notice the Doktor standing close behind him.

“Yes,” Doktor Muething whispered. “Yes...see the world through new eyes, my friend.” Willem was startled at the words, and he was not sure if they were meant for him or for the second dead Jew.

Now that Willem was protected from the vampire Jew’s horrible gaze by the power of God, it seemed to him that there was something else in that gaze, something beside malevolence and bloodthirst. What was it, though? Longing? Sadness? A passionate yearning for freedom? Willem pondered that gaze, and it was then that the reaction began to sour.

This, too, was much like the first experiment: the vampire Jew convulsed violently, hurling his body against the double set of bonds; his shrieks pierced the air which filled with the stench of rot.

Damnation!!” Doktor Muething slammed his palm against the wall. “This cannot be!”
The vampire Jew’s convulsions became so ragingly brutal that the surgical table itself began to rock against its moorings. The shrieks were so loud and so piercing that Willem’s ears hurt even with his hands clasped over them. He looked at the Doktor, who was already moving for the window. A flood of golden sunlight, several moments of horrible decay, and it was over. The vampire Jew was dead, just as before.

“I don’t understand,” Doktor Muething said. “I don’t understand. It has to work. I can’t think of anything else to try!” He clenched his fist, and his body trembled. His calmness, his icy detachment was gone. Was it the voice of a man who keeps falling short of a goal years in the making? or was it something more than that? Why this goal, and not some other?

Willem stared at the dusty remains of the dead Jew as sirens began to blare outside.

***



“We are confident that our local forces will be able to turn the Americans and the British troops aside,” Commandant Reger said. “Until then, we will step up the pace of our operations here.” Thus he ordered the round-the-clock operation of the ovens. They would burn twenty-four hours a day until they were shut down by the Allies themselves. The Allied armies were sixty or seventy miles away; soon they would be at Hamerstadt – unless the tattered remnants of Der Fuhrer’s army were able to turn them aside. Noting the mournful expression on Commandant Reger’s face, Willem concluded that any such outcome was so unlikely as to be impossible. Doktor Muething had been right: the thousand-year Reich would die in mere weeks.

Willem paid almost no attention at all to the meeting. His thoughts kept returning to the pleading desperation that had formed in the Doktor’s eyes after their failure that morning. Why was this so important to him? And most importantly, what were they doing wrong?

After the meeting adjourned Willem went to the laboratory, where he learned that the Doktor had gone to town again on urgent family business. There he found all of Doktor Muething’s notes and journals from all his years of research. Unable to resist, Willem began to read. He found one book particularly interesting: it was Doktor Muething’s personal journal of all the experiments he had conducted, in all the camps, in the course of the war. He had performed a hundred such experiments on Jews from all over Germany. At the end of the notes on each experiment Doktor Muething had written, “God forgive me.” Was he seeking absolution even as he plumbed the depths of death?

And why did it always fail?

Willem studied for hours, reading all of the old accounts of how vampires had created their….”offspring”. Perhaps there was something in these papers, something even the Doktor’s brilliant mind could not remember; perhaps there was a missing connection somewhere. Perhaps a pair of young, fresh eyes coupled with a young mind could find whatever it was that had been overlooked. But as the hours went by, Willem despaired of finding any such master stroke. There was nothing here that he could see – but there had to be! Why couldn’t he see it?

“Young Schliemann?”

Willem awoke with a start to find Doktor Muething standing over him. It was dark outside the laboratory, and the only light came from the streetlights. Sirens blared, and Willem hadn’t even heard them until now. Willem rubbed his eyes.

“It is not there,” the Doktor said. “Do not trouble to look for it. The experiments will not succeed, and our time is up. We have failed.”

“It must be here somewhere, Herr Doktor!” Willem straightened up and rubbed his stiff neck.

“The answer—”

“There is no answer, Willem.” Doktor Muething shook his head. “The only conclusion possible is that Gunther’s hypothesis is wrong. The vampire blood is not sufficient to complete the transition. I’ve tested all the variables. It is over.”

“No!”

“It must end now. I have failed, and there are things to be answered for. That monument to pomposity Commandant Reger won’t tell you, but I know that this camp will be liberated within two days. I spent today making my travel arrangements.”

Willem blinked. “Travel? Where are you going?”

“South.”

“Switzerland?”

Doktor Muething nodded. “I do not wish to explain this to the Allies. It will be difficult enough explaining it to God.” He looked at the notes on the table and sighed. “This wasn’t meant to be. There truly are areas where we are not meant to dabble. I see that now.”

“You don’t truly believe that!”

“The luxury of choosing what I believe is no longer mine.”

Willem groped for a reply, something to say that would convince the Doktor to reconsider. He was still thinking when a loud commotion arose from outside. A truck had pulled up, and there were shouting voices.

“Now what could that be?” the Doktor said, and the two went outside. In the middle of the street was a truck which was full to overflowing with prisoners. Guards no older than Willem stood about brandishing guns, and one officer – Willem recognized him as one of the Commandant’s key assistants – was barking orders at the others. This officer saw the Doktor, and marched right up to him.

“Stand aside, Herr Doktor,” the man said. “I am on the orders of Commandant Reger.”

“Of course you are, Lieutenant Spengler. We are all on someone’s orders.” The Doktor stood aside, allowing ten guards to go past and into the tiny barracks behind the laboratory that contained the remaining four of the six prisoners that had been originally assigned to Doktor Muething’s scientific program.

“What is happening?” Willem asked.

“They are taking our research subjects,” the Doktor said. As if on cue the guards began reemerging, pushing the prisoners ahead of them. “They will all be killed here, probably by mass firing squad. They won’t have time to gas them all. And the bodies will be left where they fall. No more neat, orderly stacks of the dead.”

They watched as the four prisoners were pushed, one by one, onto the truck. The last one was the young woman, the one Willem had thought would be lovely if she was not….No. She was lovely, even now with her hair roughly shorn and her body emaciated, even as she walked with the starved listlessness that afflicted every one of the other thousands of prisoners in the camp. A sick feeling formed in Willem’s stomach.

“Move!” Lieutenant Spengler shouted, and the truck began to move – before the young woman, being the last of the prisoners, had climbed all the way inside. Whether from the cold air or from he weakened state Willem could not be sure, but all the same she lost her grip. As the truck rolled away she tumbled off the back end, landing on the ground in a heap. In seconds three guards were around her screaming for her to get up, the remaining guards having jogged off after the truck. She tried to push herself back up but the ground was muddy and she slipped again. Willem took an involuntarily step forward, but Doktor Muething restrained him.

“Don’t,” the Doktor said.

Lieutenant Spengler came back now to see what was going on, and when he did he shook his head in frustration. He gestured for the guards to step back, and then he drew his pistol and shot the young woman in the back. She flattened to the ground. Willem felt his gorge rising. Doktor Muething shook his head at the bitter tragedy playing out just twenty feet away. Willem swallowed several times in succession, forcing the bile in his throat back down. The guards laughed and congratulated Spengler on a good shot as they walked away after the truck. Willem stared at the young woman’s body, her blood spreading across the ground. Her blood, spreading across the ground....

Her blood....

And there it was.