Monday, August 31, 2015

Painting My Granddaughter's Room

I did this for my granddaughter, Aife (Eefa).  It's a blast doing paintings like this.  You start with buckets of red, blue, yellow, black, and white and get cracking.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Pain, and How to Use It

I have torn my ACL and am under doctor's specific orders to keep off my feet as much as possible.

This is the sort of thing, which, if applied judiciously, makes the world a living paradise: all nectar, ambrosia, and that sort of thing.

The first thing you need is to be able to pull a brave face.  If you can't pull a brave face, you're not really going to derive the maximum benefit.  The trick to the brave face is you must neither smile nor frown; it's all a matter of nuance.  You can smile a little, but you must do it with clenched teeth and lips tightly pressed together, but not so tightly they begin to form a duck bill.  There must be a hint of the sardonic, but only a hint: the face of a man who has known things that must not be spoken to the fortunate ear of inexperience.  As I say, it's hard to pull off, but it's what really brings home the bacon.

Here's how it plays out in practice.

Self: Oh, let me do the dishes, darlin, you already made dinner.  (Begins to rise from sofa.  A surprised and muffled grunt of pain.  Pulls BRAVE FACE.  Returns to sofa.)  I think maybe I'll sit here just a little longer.  (Ruefully)

Nancy: No, honey, you just stay there.  You need to keep off your leg.

Self: (BRAVE FACE passim) No, really it's nothing.  (Lie back on couch.  Sigh.)

Nancy: Do you want be to put a pillow under that?

Self: (Very BRAVE FACE at this point, so brave it'd make you sick to look at it.)  Well, yes that might not be a bad idea.  (Bravely cooperates with the placing of a pillow under knee.)  And could you bring me a martini?  Two olives

You get the idea.  The injury is the necessary foundation, the roux, as it were, but you really can't get the full jambalaya without the brave face.  I do not wish to brag, but the true expert can make such claims as being unable to watch any movie with Susan Sarandon except Rocky Horror for fear of doing damage to his leg.  This sort of thing, however, should not be attempted by the beginner.  Start small.  You must be able to maintain your brave face without breaking into laughter.  That's the key.  It isn't easy, but well repays the effort.

(Originally posted 2012)

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Old Fogey, Me

The other day my neighbor asked me over to see if I couldn't help fix her tv.  I couldn't.  After trying the various remotes she has to operate it, as far as I could make out, the problem was with the little high-tech receiver box that's supposed to pick up the wireless signal.  I know this because of the number of lights that came on the box and the fact the tv screen reported "no signal."

Since I was quickly out of my depth, we had to call the cable company on my neighbor's cell phone.  We couldn't use the land line because of some unrelated malfunction.  Once we called, the computer voice verified we were calling from a cell phone and asked what the billing number was.  

She would patiently say (this is not the real number, I forget the real number) "555-121-2299."  The computer would repeat back, "999-121-2255" and she'd say, "No!  No!" and the computer would say "0-0" and she'd start again, this time keying in the numbers, but if she fat-fingered the wrong one on her little cell phone pad, she couldn't undo it and just had to start over. Finally we got through only to learn the service office was closed on Sunday, thank you very much, and could we call back Monday.  This, in case I haven't mentioned, is the second or third defective cable box she's gotten.

This is where the old fogey in me rears its ugly head.  I swear I'm not making this up or imagining it; there used to be a time you turned on the tv and watched it, and that was all there was to it.  You didn't use a remote because there was a knob, right on the tv that you pulled out and the tv came on, and that same knob would also control the volume, and there was another knob to change channels.  There were only four channels, counting public broadcasting, but they came in relatively dependably, and if there were ever a problem, it could generally be solved with a good solid whack to the side of the set.  

The shows were black and white, but once in a while, the title sequence would proudly say "In COLOR" in various shades of gray, and you had the pleasure of knowing that while you were seeing it in black and white, somewhere it was being broadcast in color.  The cameras for doing this, I believe, actually had three separate lenses.  

As for phones, they were made of a plastic so unbreakable you could crack walnuts with it and still carry on a conversation.  The dials were actual dials where you inserted your finger into a little hole so you knew damn well which number you'd chosen and weren't inadvertently dialing 5 instead of six or even 5,6,3 all at the same time.  Washers, dryers, and refrigerators, as far as I could make out, were immortal.  

Some friends of ours shelled out big bucks for a fancy-shmancy dishwasher and within months the inside was all corroded and looked like one of those cautionary science fiction movies where the doctor discovers the elixir of immortality but then starts decomposing.  My wife and I bought a top-of-the-line refrigerator, and in a week the plastic supports that held up the crisper drawer had broken.  They're still broken because the manufacturer doesn't make replacements.  Our former refrigerator, which I believe was made out of salvage parts from World War II tanks, is still functioning perfectly well in the basement.

I'll get off my old fogey soapbox now.   (You can count on and old fogey to use a word like soapbox.)  And rejoin the modern world. 

Besides, it's time to feed the chickens.

(Originally posted 2012)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Good Bless Americuh

I was in a Subway ordering a sandwich and had the privilege of standing next to perhaps the most repulsive human being in Chamblee, Georgia.  He kept berating the server with comments like, "I don't speak that kind of English," and "You're in America, you got to learn to speak English."  One of these signs was brought to my attention by Mark Childress, and then I found the others on the internet.  I love America.  I love the English language.  And yet there are so many people who see it so differently from me. (Originally posted 2012)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Asterix and Obelix

My daughter and son-in-law got me the board game Asterix and Obelix.  She knows what a fan I am; on a previous occasion got me two hard-rubber figurines.

She and her Drew were sweet enough to play me a game.  You may notice that the box is labeled in German: the cartoon was a big international hit.

The Asterix comics were the creation of French cartoonists Goscinny and Uderzo, the story of a single Gaulish village holding out against the Roman empire.  They were made invincible by a magic potion from their druid, Getafix.  The stories were silly and convoluted, gorgeously illustrated, and laden with puns and word-play.  The speech of minor characters from other lands was rendered in different lettering so the Goths spoke in that all-but-unreadable Old English script and Ptennisnet, the Egyptian, spoke in hieroglyphics.  Of course, a lot of their puns don't translate directly from French to English, so that the dog Idee Fixe, for example, becomes Dogmatix in English.

I'm not sure I get the last frame in the above - why would the centurion think they'e giggling unless Obelix's "that's the lot," sounds like a giggle to a Roman?  I think the French is "c'est la tout," but that sounds like a sneeze.

But the one that still floors me is the panel below.  These pirates have just had the misfortune of tangling with our heroes.

The gag is the representation of the Raft of the Medusa by Gericault (Pronounced Jericho.)

But here's the thing - how would the word "framed" have the same two meanings in French as it does in English, and would our pronunciation of Gericault as Jericho (as in Joshua fit the battle of...) match theirs?  How is it possible for such an elaborate pun to work in two different languages?  And how would it have worked in German?

Don't tell me, I'd rather enjoy the mystery.

By the way, if you're curious about the outcome of the game: I won.

(Originally posted 2012).

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

My Monkish Fantasy

The other day I told Nancy I thought I'd like to try out being a monk.

She gave me one of those looks of hers I have so much difficulty interpreting, where the eyebrows flex and straighten, one side of the mouth goes up, and one side goes down, like she's studying a very large, multi-segmented insect and can't decide whether she finds it comical or repulsive.  "Yes," she said.  "Become a monk.  That's exactly what you ought to do."

She was in the process of cleaning out the silverware drawer. Somehow every fork, knife, and spoon, as well as the inside of the drawer itself had become coated with melted butter-pecan ice cream.  I know it was butter-pecan because when she opened the drawer, she asked, "What is this?"  I dipped a finger in the liquid and tasted.

"Butter-pecan," I told her.  She had just returned from a business trip to Orlando and, as seems so frequently the case after coming home from such junkets, was not in the best of moods.  She did not acknowledge my helpfulness in identifying the liquid, and in fact seemed more displeased than otherwise, so I steered clear of her.

My monkish fantasy strikes me whenever Nancy is away on business.  There's a monastery somewhere nearby where laymen can check in for an extended stay to share the tranquil spirituality of the brothers.  Wouldn't that be lovely?  But then, why go to all the trouble of moving into a monastery when one can adopt the monkish lifestyle in one's own home?

Whenever Nancy's going to be gone for a week, I imagine myself falling into my role as Brother Man, a humble, godly monk, going about his daily routine with the humble godliness so characteristic of him.  I would start with a simple breakfast of oatmeal (I would not call it porridge, that would be overdoing it.) after which I would wash the bowl and pot with simple prayerful mindfulness of all the Lord's gifts, as I watched my neighbors, the birds, go after the suet treats I have hanging from the eaves outside the window.  Then, light exercise and tending my simple garden, until lunch, when I might have a leafy salad with berries, and on special occasions, chunks of wild-caught grilled chicken.  Again, I would clean after my repast, then journaling, reading, and meditation for supper, for which I would enjoy maybe a nice lean piece of fish, snow peas, and that little pasta that looks like rice.  Perhaps a single glass of picturesque red wine and one of those apples like Cezanne painted where you realize the apples in those days weren't as good as what we have now.  I would clean up a final time, give the floor a good sweep, return the broom to the broom closet, and read until "lights out," when I would pull the chain on my beside lamp (my beside lamp does not have a chain except in this fantasy) and sleep until my routine began again.

Somehow it never works out this way.  I get derailed.  I think it begins when I wake up.  I realize how foolish it is, and wasteful of time, to make the bed when I'm only going to unmake it by getting in a few hours from now, so I leave it as it is, as no doubt Jesus and Siddhartha once did themselves.  Then for breakfast, it seems equally silly to go to the trouble of oatmeal, when we have perfectly nutritious single-serve containers of yogurt in the fridge.  I eat a couple of these, fully intending to throw them away, but getting absorbed in Internet searches for important information and games of free cell, I somehow neglect this.  Lunch comes and I'm famished.  I don't have leafy greens, and actually don't care for that sort of thing, but it strikes me as almost as good to have a "walking salad," apple smeared with peanut butter and raisins.  I've already gotten out the peanut butter and had a sample tablespoonful, when I realize we don't have any apples.  Nor crackers.  Nor white bread.

Only an atheist will eat peanut butter on whole wheat.  So I eat the peanut butter straight from the jar along with handfuls of raisins.  A half-eaten jar of peanut butter with a spoon in it, a bag of raisins - some spilled onto the floor, where my office chair steamrolls them into large black dots - join the yogurt cups beside my computer while I hone my potentially-vital minesweeper skills.

For supper, I'm craving a good juicy rib-eye.  I've spent the last four hours watching reruns of the original Dark Shadows, from which I'm gathering additional research for an as yet unspecified future project.

I cook rib-eyes the way my mother did, thrown into the oven still frozen with the broiler set on high.  Knowing that dinner will be a while, I get out the box of butter-pecan ice cream.  Conscious that I still have not tidied my meager breakfast and lunch things, I decide to save dirtying a bowl by eating the ice cream straight from the box as my steak broils. 

The fascinating thing about Dark Shadows, a show with many fascinating qualities, I have begun to realize, is just how many episodes there are.  Although it ran for only a short time, there was a new episode each day, so there are hundreds of them.  They had gotten past the part where Barnabas Collins attempts to cure his vampirism with blood transfusions, and into the episodes with the parallel universe when I notice a smokey haze filling the intervening distance between me and the TV screen.  I leap from the chair, realizing the delicious aroma of cooking steak has become the delicious aroma of burning steak.  

I turn off the oven and extinguish the flames, and enjoy my steak - carbonized on the outside with little bloody ice crystals at the core as I watch the further adventures of Colinwood.  The thing is, that the episodes move with such arduous, excruciating slowness; it's like watching an old man climb a flight of stairs: the cane goes on the first step, a pause for reflection, then the left foot joins it, another pause, then the right foot, a pause, then the cane goes to the second step.  Finally, I have to call it quits, as vital as this research is, because it's nearly midnight and we still haven't caught sight of the extraterrestrials the script writers have been hinting at and dancing around for the last three hours.

The next morning I arise, and knowing this is the day Nancy returns, make the bed.

I enter the living room, and then begins the tempest to my soul.  I think it's seeing it through her eyes that makes it so terrible.  Much of the wreckage I can account for, even if I don't remember it being quite as bad as it now appears, but some of it is frankly mysterious.  For example, what possessed me to leave all these clothes lying on the floor of the shower?  It's almost as if some evil and extremely messy vampire had visited and left his calling card.  

The greasy steak plate, the yogurt containers, the raisins, and peanut butter are easily taken care of.  The odor from scorched beef is harder to deal with, and expending an entire aerosol can of freshener - which upon studying the label more closely proves to be hairspray - does little to amend the problem.  This however pales in comparison to the sight of the gallon bucket of butter-pecan ice cream which I neglected to put in the refrigerator and is still sitting on the counter. 

Thank goodness, when I pick up the container, I discover it's empty.  It looks as if the good Lord is watching over me after all.

All of which makes me think of how pleasant it would be to be a monk for a little while.  I think I'd be good at it.

(Originally Posted 2012)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Caring About Characters (Originally Posted 2012)

Raindrop and Flea have a conversation
I’m teaching my high school class The Great Gatsby. (In addition to being a world-famous and justly-beloved novelist, I teach high school. We all have little pet dreams, I suppose; mine has always been to be a high school English teacher; I just write novels to pay the bills until the teaching thing works out.) 

Anyway, you remember Gatsby, right? It was the book they assigned in high school only you just watched the movie and read the Cliff’s Notes. So we get to the part after Daisy, who is driving Gatsby’s car, runs down and kills Myrtle Wilson. Gatsby, who has been carrying a torch for Daisy for the last five years is naturally going to take the blame for the hit and run. And Daisy, that bitch – sorry, there’s no other word for it – is going to let him do it! She won’t tell a soul it was she, not he, behind the wheel, and she’s going to let him face, a legal expert tells me, five to twenty-five years hard time for a crime she committed.

The thing about it is, Daisy is nothing more than ink spots on a page, but when they’re arranged in certain configurations, it still outrages me.

This sort of thing happens all the time; we read about purely fictional creations – creations we know are fictional in a book with a big fat warning – “a novel” – and a disclaimer like, “Any resemblance between characters in this book and actual people living or dead is purely coincidental,” and in spite of all this, we still worry if Inspector Mudge will unmask the killer or Rodney and Darlene will find true love. That we care so much for people we know full-well aren’t real is like… Well, imagine a magician saying, “I’m going to reach through a hole in the top of this trick hat, through a hole in the top of this trick table where I have concealed a specially-trained rabbit which I will extract from the hat as if he had materialized from thin air.” And then the magician doing exactly that, and the rubes in the audience saying, “Gaw-lee…” as they rub their slackened jaws in stupefied amazement.

But stories get this sort of reaction all the time.

Have you ever shouted – or wanted to shout – a warning to a character in a movie. “Don’t hide under the bed! It’s the first place he’ll look!” Or been unable to sleep because you needed one more chapter to see if Bilbo was going to outsmart a dragon in a cave. News flash, Bubby. Movie characters can’t hear you. And in The Hobbit, there is no cave, and there is no dragon. There’s the word dragon. The word cave.

Humans have this weird, almost pathological, ability to empathize. We feel sad to hear a stranger has died in an earthquake, happy when some frumpy lump turns out to have the voice of an angel, concerned when a kid floats off in a runaway balloon. (Later we’re furious – but equally entertained – that the whole thing was a hoax.) At some point, we don’t even care if the people are real, so long as the events are interesting.

I think this surely must have started at the very dawn of man. Two cavemen – not Geico cavemen, the real thing – we’ll call them – oh, what’s a good caveman name? – Lamar and Loomis. They have been chasing this one mastodon across the tundra for the last week. Lamar got a good spear thrust in him, and he and Loomis left the rest of the tribe, trailing him, skirting the face of a retreating glacier. It has been a lean winter, and no opportunity for meat can be allowed to slip by.

Of course being cavemen, they have no concept of a “week,” they just know it’s been a long time since they’ve seen another human. They also know they lost sight of the mastodon two days ago, but they’ve been following its tracks. Loomis claims the footprints show signs that their prey is seriously wounded and weakening, but privately Lamar isn’t so sure. Loomis says you can tell a lot from an animal’s tracks, but Loomis says a lot of things.

To make matters worse, the spring rains come early and Lamar and Loomis take shelter under an outcropping. It is very cold, and they are wet. And it is dark of a darkness none of us in our light-polluted world can ever imagine. Shut yourself in a closet, put a bag over your head, and close your eyes. It’s darker than that.

The situation is desperate to say the least. So Loomis begins talking – just nonsense, anything to take their minds off themselves. Silly stuff, the first thing that pops in his head. There’s a guy named Raindrop, and he’s on his way down the side of someone’s face, and he runs into Flea. And Flea and Raindrop have a conversation, oh, about a far-off land neither has seen, called Big Toe, and the two of them decide to set off to find it.

And at first Lamar is just listening because you can’t help listening when it’s dark and raining and cold and you’re lost and your belly’s empty and you don’t know where your next mastodon is coming from, but little by little Loomis’ magic begins to take hold. Lamar begins to wonder, will they make it to Big Toe, and if they do, what will happen there? And Loomis – who, if you remember, is making the whole thing up – begins to wonder himself, and not that it makes their lives any better, not really, but in the cold, dark, lonely rain they find themselves wondering and caring about two products of their own imagination.

And that was how the whole thing started: the wonderment we have at a story.

Do Flea and Raindrop reach Big Toe? Do Lamar and Loomis get their mastodon?