Happy Birthday Pluto! : Song Pluto’s always a planet to me

So, it’s the 90th anniversary of the discovery of our 9th planet, Pluto.
Yes. It’s a planet. There are a LOT of reasons why the IAU decision is a steaming pile of manure. I put a couple of them into song! (To the tune of Billy Joel’s ‘She’s always a woman to me’.)

It can push and can pull, where another planet lies
Good Lowell had faith we would see it with eyes
In his tower in Flagstaff Clyde finally did see
They call it a dwarf now but Pluto’s always a planet to me.

Continue reading “Happy Birthday Pluto! : Song Pluto’s always a planet to me”

The man in the mirror…

Content warning : physical dysphoria

About two years ago, I grew a beard. My wife asked me too! And I’ll humor her just about anything she asks, at least once. I was expecting a short experiment. I had grown a beard about 15 years ago, or at least, tried. I tried to do a goatee, and by the time it got a few inches long, well… The hair grew in several different shades, fine and fuzzy, and every which way. It basically looked like I had reached into a vacuum cleaner bag, pulled out a large dust bunny, and SLAP, glued that sucker to my face.

Much to my astonishment, my beard hair grew in nicely. My mustache hair grew faster, it always had, so I ended up shaving it a few times until the beard was thick enough. My face with just a mustache looks just enough like my father to freak me out in the mirror. See, when I look in a mirror, it takes me a moment to parse that that’s me. And anything that makes me look like someone else, well, my brain goes there first. The one and only time I tried growing JUST a mustache, I woke up a few days in, looked at myself in the mirror, and had a panic attack. (I also can’t watch the live action Jungle Book with Cary Elwes for that reason. He has my father’s exact mustache. )

But the beard grew nicely. I noticed that I had two TINY spots of white on my cheeks, which left me quite chuffed. I had always said that I wouldn’t have minded starting to go bald at 17 if I had also gone silver, but nope. I kept it trimmed, and it became a look that I enjoyed. None of that bushy ass hipster lumberjack thing. I don’t need to keep a snack in there. It took me about a month with the beard to start instantly recognizing myself in the mirror with the beard, which seemed, at the time, normal. It was a very pleasing thing, the morning I looked in the mirror and went, yup, that’s me. In retrospect, it was VERY pleasing, although I didn’t understand why at the time.

Picture below by the very talented Keyhole Photography

The Scrivener – My persona in a local role play group

I’m going to back up a bit in my reminiscing here. I’ve always had a touch of body dysphoria. Specifically, there are times when my body feels too BIG. “Oh, that’s your brain’s way of telling you to lose some weight, fatty.” (Yes, I’ve had someone tell me this in response) No, fuck you, not like that. I mean… Watching Men In Black when it came out was the best thing I could reference. I feel sometimes like I’m piloting a meat suit. The “real” me is like, two foot tall, with spindly limbs, grasping nerves and tendons inside my body and pulling them to make me move. I have a bad sense of how much space I actually take in the universe, and bounce off walls, doorways, people. Because of that, I’ve always been extra careful and paying attention, and stay further away from things than I really need to.

The odd thing is, the times I feel the LEAST like that, are the times when I’m working out regularly. The bigger my body actually is, muscle wise, the more I feel like I “fit” in it. I’m just mentioning this to show that I have a minor understanding of this feeling of “This is not my beautiful body!? How did I get here!?”

ZOOM fast forward to today. My face has gotten ITCHY the last couple of months. I’ve got a bit of dandruff. I read that it is a good idea to give facial skin some time to air out now and then. Also, I’ve lost a LOT of weight since growing it. You can tell in pictures, even under the beard. I was kind of curious to see what my face looks like now. So today, my wife used the clippers and buzzed my face. (She insisted that if the beard was coming off, she was the one to do it!). She stopped halfway for a moment, and let me see it with just a goatee and mustache. Hilarious. I looked weird. But I still instantly recognized myself. She took the rest of it down. And I looked in the mirror. And… who the fuck is that? Oh, wait, it’s me. Hunh. It’ll probably take a month to start recognizing myself without the beard, but by then, it’ll have grown back, I though.

Move over Mr. Price! This man is eggs-actly the one to bring down The Bat.

And that’s when it hit me. And I realized why I was so happy that day I looked in the mirror and instantly knew who I was. I never had before. I see myself in photos, clean shaven, and I’m more likely to recognize myself from the back, than the front. In fact, I HAVE looked at photos of myself in a group, and asked, who’s that dude? And people stare at me. “Uhh, that’s you Alex.” No, really, who… oh shit it is.

I don’t recognize my own face, without the hair. I never have. I never really thought about it, but… My own brain doesn’t see me as me, without at least a thin ruff of hair on my face. It’s… an interesting feeling. The cold on my cheeks, splashing water on my face. That’s weird. Looking in the mirror? It’s downright disorienting. I can’t wait for this to grow back.

Peanut Butter Jelly Time! : Workplace memories

I was reminded today of one of the more interesting HR experiences I’ve had. At least, of the ones that I can actually talk about at work without getting sent to HR again…

I was working at a call center that had a decent kitchen in the breakroom. Actual fridges, several toasters, an electric kettle. I had settled into a decent filling breakfast routine of toasting an english muffin, and spreading peanut butter and jelly on the halfs while still warm. The peanut butter melts into the nooks and crannys, the jelly spreads smoothly in the heat. Yum.

Now, we didn’t have our own drawers. So the jelly was in the fridge, the peanut butter in a cabinet of the break room. Theft happened. Often. The levels of both containers would often be lower than I last left them. Ugh, but as long as they use silverware, and not fingers, I’m not going to complain TOO much. I did use masking tape and permanent marker to make sure my name was on both lids, and the body of each jar. To make it clear that this wasn’t company provided pb and j.

So, one morning, I’m making breakfast. I spread the pb, and dip my spoon in the jar. And another worker, one of the different departments, so not someone I knew by name or worked with, watches me, startled. “HEY! You shouldn’t do that!”

I’m very confused. I would expect this reaction if I say, stuck a metal fork in the toaster to pull out my muffin. Not use a plastic spoon to spread jelly. “Do what? I like peanut butter and jelly…?”

She steps up, getting indignant. “You shouldn’t use the same spoon for peanut butter and then stick it into the jelly! What about people with peanut allergies?”

I’m nonplussed for a moment. I’m fairly certain that I have found one of the people using my stock. I realize that she’s been waiting for me to finish at the counter, with two pieces of bread on a plate. The toaster is free, I’m not blocking it, and she’s got a plastic knife on the plate as well. But nothing visible with which one might expect a knife to be used ON. So…

“Yeah, but, it’s MY jelly.” I show her the lid with my name on it. “So no one else is going to be using it. Or at least.” I pause, narrow my eyes, and look at her bread, then look her in the eyes. “No one else SHOULD be using MY jelly. That would be stealing.”

She gets a bit nervous and steps back, but rallies. “Yeah, well, um, I mean, if someone BY ACCIDENT used it, you could cause an allergic reaction, you know? So, you shouldn’t mix them, just in case….”

I’ll admit, I was a bit ticked. What I did next was a touch childish. Justified, but childish. I showed her the labels on both sides of the jar as well. “Well, no one else has jelly in the fridge, both jars in there are mine, and labeled. So I’m not sure how someone could do so by ‘accident’. But just in case, you’re right! Lets make it clear. ”

I took a big spoonful of peanut butter, and mixed it into the jar of jelly. “There, like homemade Goobers!” I pulled out a spoonful of jelly, dark brown streaks through the glistening purple mass. I took a big sniff of the jar. “MMM MMM. Now it smells and looks like peanut butter, so anyone with an allergy would know better than to use it!”

I finished making breakfast, put my stuff away, wiped down the counter with a wet paper towel, as she stood there, getting redder and redder, spluttering on occasion.

And then two days later I get pulled off the phone to talk to HR.

“So, we understand that you were asked to not mix peanut butter into jelly that’s in the fridge, to avoid allergy issues?”

I blink, several times. “Seriously? That’s what you brought me in to talk about?”

“Do you recall this conversation”

“Yes, I ‘recall this conversation’. I pointed out to the person the same thing I’ll say here. It’s MY jelly, that I purchased. It has MY name on it in several places. Anyone other than me who would use it would be stealing. Did the person who made the complaint to you admit to stealing my jelly?”

HR director and subordinate, sitting next each other on the other side of the desk, glance at each other for a moment. The answer is obviously yes, and just as obviously, they can’t admit it. “Well, there’s a lot of possible room for misunderstanding, and we’d hate for an accident to happen, so we need you to take the jar that’s in the fridge home, and not mix allergens if you bring new jelly in the future. “

“So, is the company going to provide jelly?”

Another glance between them. “No, why would we do that?”

“Then no.”

A longer glance. They aren’t used to that word, I see. “I’m sorry, what?”

“No. Unless you demand that no employee brings a lunch in a sealed container that contains potential allergens, you have no right to demand that of me. Unless you intend to make the break room peanut free, tell people that they aren’t allowed to bring sandwiches that have peanut butter on them, you have no right to demand that I do so.”

Long sigh. “Alex, look, you have to understand, if there was an… accident… and someone had a reaction, then.”

I cut her off. “Then, per the signs that you put up a month ago after someone kept stealing lunches, the fact that they had a reaction would be proof that they stole food from the fridge, and you’d have no choice but to fire them instantly. And if you push further, and I make a complaint to the ethics committee via that number we all got an email and training about a few weeks ago, and they looked into the documentation, and there was any notation in the complaint that suggested that the complainer was knowingly stealing food from the fridge, well then…”

I paused for a moment, letting things work their way through her thoughts. “Then you would have a real fun time explaining to the ethics committee why that person wasn’t instantly fired, wouldn’t you?”

They looked at each other, at paperwork on the desk, at each other. “Are we done here? I should get back to the phones, we have a queue.”

They nodded, I got up and got back on the phones.

Princess bride being remade… I have thoughts

So, they’re talking about remaking Princess Bride. I have some thoughts. One, more rhyming Fezzig. Two, bring back the spider and the blue door.

Three….

The movie opens with a young girl, sick with a cold, laying on a couch, playing on her phone. Dad, played by Fred Savage, comes into living room holding a steaming bowl of chicken soup and a remote.

“How are you feeling, Buttercup?”

The girl smiles and takes the bowl, blowing on it. “Dad, stop. You haven’t called me that since I was a baby.”

Savage sits down next to her as she sits up a bit, then she snuggles into his side. He tousles her hair. “You’re still my baby. And I was thinking about it because…”

He looks at the remote, then up at the tv. Pan with his vision to a view of the tv, from the couch.

Next to the tv, large and black on the wall, is a shelf with DVDs. On the top of the shelf is a picture of Peter Falk, wearing the hat from the original movie. Among other dvds on the shelf, for the keen eyed, is the complete series of Columbo dvds, and a DVD labeled “Andre the Giant’s biggest hits.”

He sighs. “When I was your age, I had a really bad flu. My grandpa came and read me a book to make me feel better.”

Daughter looks up in concern at the hitch in Savage’s voice. “You… You don’t talk about greatgrandpa much.”

Savage smiles wryly. “I know. I should. I just… miss him so much.”

She nods

“But, Webfilms just released a movie based on the book a couple weeks back. I thought maybe we could watch it together?”

“I dunno. Is it one of those sports films, like that kid who played football?”

Savage smiles. “Yeah, it has sports. Fencing, wrestling, sailing, some parkour. Nature scenes, forests, swamps, oceans. Its got giants, miracles, torture, revenge, true love and magic.”

Daughter looks sideways. “Okay. I’ll give it a try….”

He hits a button, and the title sequence starts.

We then have several interruptions, whenever the movie departs from the original movie, or the book. We break to Savage and daughter, and he complains about some aspect, and then describes how it was in the book, while the daughter hushes him and tells him to unpause the movie.

In the opening farm boy sequence, before the “I love you” realization, we break to the daughter. “Finally, a heroine who knows how to handle dudes.”

Then, with the I love you reveal,

“Hold it, hold it! Are you trying to trick me? Is this a dumb romcom? Does the bad boy get redeemed through the power of her love?”

….

“She doesn’t get eaten by the eels.”
“What?”

“I just, you were grabbing my arm a little tight, you looked concerned.”

“DAAAD. It’s a movie. Of course the princess doesn’t get eaten by eels.”


At one point, we flip to them and Savage is on his feet yelling at the tv. Daughter is pulling his arm.

“Dad, dad! You know, I’m still really sick and you’re taking this movie very seriously. I think we better stop now.”

Savage freezes, looks down at her. “No, no, I’m okay. Sorry, let me sit down. I’m all right.”

“He can’t be dead. Dad, he’s not really dead, right? it’s a trick? ”

“You said no more spoilers.”

“Okay, but, who gets Humperdinck? Its not some lame Disney falling to his death thing, right”

“Nobody gets him. He lives at the end.”

“I swear dad, if he marries Buttercup and she redeems him through the power of her love, I’m going to scream. Why are you showing this to me!?” looks at photo of Falk, Greatgrandpa, why’d you read this to an impressionable little boy!?”

At the end, mom comes home with a sibling, calls daughter into kitchen to take her temp. Daughter looks back at Dad, “Thanks for staying with me today.”

“Anytime Buttercup. Think we should watch it with everyone tomorrow night?”

She smiles. “As you wish!” and walks out. We pan to Savage, standing in front of the TV. He puts two fingers on the base of the photo of Falk, and whispers. “As you wish.”

Webcomic review : Love Not Found

Webcomic review time!

Love not Found , https://lovenotfound.com/


I found this through an interesting advertisment on another comic I read last night, and suddenly two hours were gone and I was reading the most recent comic. PHEW!


First, since some people care about it, the art is consistent, wonderful, and COLORFUL! colors are used very symbolically and thematically, are bold, and pop. Every page is a treat for the eyes.


Story: So, you know Solaria? Asimov’s Solaria, in the Robots series, where people came to not touch / See people, only view them on screens? No human interaction after childhood, physical touch was a dirty thing? Okay, imagine Solaria as its starting that way. Lots of physical PRESENCE between people, but touch, especially intimate touch, is dirty/ disgusting. ( At one point, while on a phone call, our MC says, aww, if I were there, I’d give you a hug. The response is a dead serious, “A what?” the person doesn’t know what a hug is)


In this world of no touch, an accidental trip and fall into each other leaves two people obsessed with the feel and connection of having TOUCHED each other. They explore this, and the very nature of their society, we see relationships rise and fall, lots of family interaction, lots of discussion and musing on the nature of love, sex, intimacy, and connection. Its all.. just so much.

The writing is wonderfully done as well. There are many webcomics that would honestly not stand up as a novel. This one… there are definitely visual elements that would be lost, but the plot is wonderfully paced. Each character has a unique voice. We move through viewpoints seamlessly, and dialogue is natural. The occasional info dumps are done well through classic, but wonderfully executed devices. (My personal favorite is the same as used for the opening of Zootopia, the classic young children performing a class play that simplifies something all adults already know, but that WE don’t as the reader)

This story is set on a backdrop of human colonization of different worlds, humanoforming, ie, genetic manipulation of people to live in environments they weren’t meant for, and more. It’s Hard sci fi, done right, with people and emotions as the central focus around the technology and science You should read it. Its on my list now.

The Decade Mark

Thump. Thump. Thump. Squeak. THUthump.

The large round balloon that I have tied off to the handle of my grocery cart keeps thumping me in the side of the head. I turn a corner and it bounces twice. Memory flows. Part of my brain is imagining a pink dinosaur puppet with a pan. “NOT THE MOMMA!” A bigger part remembers The Momma, Tara, making the same joke many years ago, as a baby Flint, perched on my shoulder, thumped his head sideways, repeatedly, against mine, refusing to sleep. A bundle of squealing flesh the size of a large cat, eating, pooping, and slowing learning about the world.

Ten years. Ten years ago right about now, I stood in a hospital room, holding my wife’s hand, as she screamed in pain and triumph and popped our son into this world. (Literally popped. The doctor turned to prep something, turned back around, and he had gone in seconds from crowning to arms waving, nipples out, cord barely visible, about to slide out and fall on the floor. ) A decade. Ten years.

It’s a birthday balloon, popping me in the face. Big round globe, Star Wars, Jedi on one side, Sith on the other. Different sides of the same globe. Hmm. Thought for another day. A stack of cupcakes sit in the cart, and a giant donut, for an early morning birthday cake. Still need to get candles. Sparkling candles. He’s TEN! Regular candles just won’t do. And I can’t stop GRINNING as this helium filled plastic bludgeon bounces off the side of my head. THUMP.

It seems unreal. Having a child, then two, was unreal. For someone who spent most of his life desperately afraid of sharing what stains may lie in my genetics, in my soul, this is not something I really ever thought I’d be saying. I have a ten year old child. Tara and I have spent 10 years, over a quarter of our lives, as parents. And I remember. Thump.

Late night fevers, sleeplessness for us both as I held him with a cool cloth on his back, trying to ease his pain and suffering. Bottles, warming cold milk, mixing formula. Trimming nails, rubbing goop on rashes. Spoons of colored paste purporting to be fruit and or meat. Cereal. Smiles and goos and gurgles and frowns and laughs. All the laughs.

A baby’s laugh of discovery, of joy, everything truly new. A laugh that tugs deep into your heart and soul, at something bright and primal that no darkness can cover. Healing laughs that make you smile, make you laughing, pulling humor out of your body like a magician pulling scarves from a pocket.

First steps. First falls. Bandaging cuts. Answering questions. Explaining why things are dangerous, and sometimes having to shut up and let Flint learn for himself what “hot, burny burny, don’t touch”, really meant. Showing him the hidden things that exist just out of sight, unless you know where to look. Bugs in corners. Shiny rocks in the grass. Birds in trees. The hidden world when you lift the flap of fabric hanging off a couch.

Reading him books. Listening to him read aloud, the joy of discovery and emotion in his voice. Leaving favorite books of mine on his shelves, and seeing him, months later, having found one, and being nose deep in it. Watching him watching me, always learning, always growing. Doing research to answer questions, because he came up with realizations I never had to this day myself. Just a few days ago, asking him a question from his math homework, rephrasing it since it seemed to be causing him confusion.

“Okay, so you divided by 100. You moved the decimal point two places down. How do you know how far to move it?”

His whispered voice, afraid of being wrong, afraid of not understanding the question. The question isn’t confusing him. It was simply wrong. That sure knowledge in his head that he was RIGHT, and the world wrong, I could see it in his face. I didn’t know what thoughts were swirling in that developing brain of his, but I knew that face. I’d seen that face in the mirror so often, defiance against something that was simply WRONG.

“I didn’t.”

“You didn’t know how far? Then why did you move it?”

“No, I didn’t MOVE IT!” More confident now that he’s finally said it. “I didn’t move the decimal. Everyone says the decimal moves, but THEY’RE WRONG!” I was stunned. I was lost in memory, watching him suddenly snap, demand that the world make sense in the face of people repeating a falsehood that doesn’t. “I didn’t move the decimal, the decimal stays in the same place! The numbers moved around it!”

And he was right. It makes perfect sense seen that way. The decimal place is the rock solid foundation of a number. It doesn’t move. Add, subtract, divide, multiply. The decimal point doesn’t move. The numbers move around it. “I… you’re right.”

“I’m what?”

“You’re right. You’re absolutely right. That’s brilliant. Write it down.” I pointed at his paper. “Write that down, and if your teacher gives you a hard time, tell her to email me.”

You want to know what happiness is as a parent? The glow of delight when your kid is vindicated by you, when you say those magic words, “You’re right.” The victory they feel, and knowing that reaching that victory means they’ve moved past you, even in some tiny way. Thump.

Today is the decimal point. Today is always today. It never moves. Yesterday, tomorrow, they move. His birth, it’s moved. Today, it just moved from the tenths digit, to the hundredths digit. Tomorrow is in the ones digit, and the decimal point, it never moves. The numbers move around IT. The numbers of life move around Flint, my rock, the foundation of a world that I have been graced to be a major part of, but one that is not my world. One that I know I will slowly be less and less of.

I’m so proud. They say that the goal of the parent is to have a kid who’s better than you. And I do. He’s so far and above what I was at ten, and the sky’s the limit. I know that at a certain point, there will be less I can do for him, more and more he has to do for himself. And honestly? So many parents complain about how fast they grow up, how soon its out of their hands. Me? I’m looking forward to it. Watching as he becomes more and more self propelled. He’s going to get into trouble. So much trouble. With Tara and I as parents, there’s no helping that. But he’s going to get out of it as well. And get friends out of trouble. And learn things from the mistakes that no one else will ever learn, in quite the same way. He’s going to do some amazing things, and I can not wait to see what he chooses to become.

Ten years. Memories of that day, the whirl of activity around this crying babe. Testing, poking, prodding. Tara lying there, exhausted, stoned, beautiful, holding our child against her skin. Then finally sleeping, with a list of things for me to do. Thump.

His birth presaged a storm. The night she went into labor was the first time I was allowed to drive Tara’s Tracker. A new decimal point in a number that didn’t have one until that day. Heading home to get stuff for the next few days, clothes, supplies, I drove back through a blustery late August Monsoon that nearly threw me off the road. His tenth birthday seems calm. Hot, no clouds, no wind. Calm is deceiving. The next ten… its going to be something. But the decimal point won’t move. He’s going to make the numbers move around HIM.

Thump.

Okay, but first, I REALLY need to get a better weight for this balloon.

Music Review: Open Beta

“Hey brother, a friend’s band is playing on your side of town that I want you to see tonight. You in?”

 

This was the greeting I received after answering a call from one of my oldest friends, about two years ago.  Sadly, I was already booked with family stuff that night. This was the first, but far from the last, time that I would miss out on seeing Open Beta.  Open Beta

 

I missed them at Comic Con 17 by ten minutes, at Comic Fest 18 by an hour. I have had friends, strangers, and an author at a panel I attended tell me to go listen to them. The fates have conspired to prevent it, until Saturday.  I was kidnapped by the above mentioned friend, Michael Klopper. (Pausing for the chorus of, “Hey, I know that guy!” Of course you do…)  We went down to the old OCP (yeah, you know me.), O’Connor’s Pub at Dunlap and the 17.  I’ve never been there before, but me and that bar have become fast friends.  It’s that kind of place.  I kept looking around for a fat redheaded guy smoking a cigar.

 

We walk in as the trio are working their way through a, I’m going to stereotype from ignorance here, classic Irish Jig.  Heads are bouncing, drinks are rising.  The band pulls the eye, a mismatched yet balanced set.  To the left is the guitarist, pretty average looking guy, size wise. I later learn his name is Paul Schmidt. I try not to hold it against him. To the right is Brian Abernathy,  Mike McShane’s long lost brother, tall, wide, and tapping a stick on a large round hand held drum. He’s getting sounds out of the thing that would make Neil Peart look twice.  In the center dances a manic pixie on a violin that is just as modern and electric as Brian’s drums are archaic and unpowered.  Shorter and smaller than either of the guys, she nonetheless dominates the stage, the fiddle speeding up as she kicked and swung, the guy’s faces starting to contort as you could tell they fought to keep up.

 

Every table had at least a pair of people, most of them full up.  I stood at the door, watching and listening, and Klopper quickly and quietly made his rounds, hugging, hand shaking, responding to raised hands and quiet calls of his name.  I’m used to this. It doesn’t matter where I take him, this happens.  Everyone knows Klopper.  I’ve written about this before.  Eventually, the song ends, and Klopper motions to an open chair at a table with some friends of his.  I sit, as Erin leaps off stage and descends upon a large glass of coffee, whip cream piled high.  Brian swears loudly.  “More coffee?”  He looks out at the crowd. “We’re having a hard enough time keeping up, don’t give her MORE caffeine!”

 

The crowd roars, and Erin cackles with glee as she leaps back onstage.  This was repeated a few more times that night.  As well as a few shots done by all three together.  You know it’s a proper Irish band when the players are drinking more than the audience.  The band launches into a song with words, very folk feel, but not one I recognize. I think it might be one of theirs.

 

Klopper asks me what I’ll have, he’s buying the first round . I’m wanting something I can nurse for a while.  “Enh, a beer.”

 

“Cider.”

 

“What?”

 

He glares at me.  “It’s an Irish bar. You’ll have a cider.”  I agree, and he comes back with a couple of glasses and a basket of fried cheese curds as the band takes a break.  He leaves all three, goes to say hi to the band as they split off.  The cider half vanishes in one long pull, I need to find out what he got me, as it was delightful. The curds start vanishing as well. Speaking as a part Canadian who has had lots of experience with fried cheese curds, Wisconsin had better never find out O’Connor’s source of cheese, or they’ll send a crew to wreck the place in jealousy.

 

 

The band returns to the stage.  The next three hours go by in a whirl.  They have a pattern, Open Beta does.  One or two songs with words.  The guys take turns at lead vocal, though its mostly Paul.  Erin does a bit of backup for some songs, but not much.  Then we get an instrumental, just enough drum to keep a beat, a bit of guitar for tuned rhythm, and that violin.

 

There are not enough words to describe that violin.  Erin seems to flit back and forth between beating sounds out of it, cajoling a soft tune, and then just wrestling the strings into submission.  The music just channels through her, and guides her bandmates, and the audience.  Emotion pours out, wordless songs that are nevertheless sung, or a perfect counterpoint to words that are said, the emotions underneath highlighted by the soul of that bow pulling along the strings. I am not a dancing man, at least, not without a lot more than just a glass of cider in my belly, but several times that night, I glanced over to the pool table and wondered how easily I could move it out of the way to make a dance floor.

 

 

 

A little something about me and my tastes. I like building songs. You know, a song that starts with part of the melody, a bit of the instrument. Then on the repeat, adds some more.  Eventually, we have the full song played, every lick, every instrument, bright and loud. Open Beta appears to have a similar taste.  A lot of their songs, especially the ones that are covers of popular songs, build.  A light tap of drum.  A gentle long tone from the violin.  A basic repeating chord scheme from the guitar.  A bit of song.  Refrain and new stanza adds more drum, the guitar picks up some notes between the chords.  The long tones resolve into a touch of plucking and more notes. We come around the bend into the final verse, and the band drops it down into overdrive, guitar bouncing, drum throwing out a pounding that, if your eyes were closed, you would SWEAR was a full kit, not a single lonesome leather covered circle of wood (Bhodran, it’s called. I had to look it up. Bow Drawn. ) And that violin, and it’s player…  Bouncing and skipping across the stage, bow flying across the strings.  Several times that night, I thought to myself, they should do a cover of Devil went down to Georgia.  Because the fiddle part would give her a break, and let her relax her fingers in comparison to what she’s already playing.

 

 

 

They play sad songs, they play happy songs.  I find myself with wet eyes, not sure why, as I’m laughing at the same time.  And in between songs, or often during, the trio banter.  As Klopper says, deep into the third set, “See, you get a concert AND a show.”

 

 

 

Paul and Brian take turns playing straight man funny man, but much like the music, Erin brings the soul.  With a word here, a quip there, and lots of facial expressions aimed at the bawdy antics of the boys, they set the jokes up, and she knocks the crowd down.  One liners that would get a chuckle on their own cause the crowd to explode into laughter as she drops her gaze to the ground, wrist to forehead, bow sticking into the air, and sighs the sigh of the much oppressed and put upon.  Another mug of Irish coffee appears on the table in front of them, and she leaps upon it in glee, the others again exclaiming in dismay.  “Keep this up, and we’ll end up having to do kamikazes every time one of you buys her coffee.”

 

 

 

Minutes later, a pair of shots are handed to them by the barkeep. The revelry continues. The classic folk songs, mixed with their own music, and covers, many geeky.  A low mournful song is played and sung. I listen to the lyrics. I know this song. I know it well, yet they’re playing it in a way I can’t identify, and the lyrics are… ah.   The melody flows into the one I know well, the original song that now serves as chorus, as the entire bar sings together. The words burst out of my own lungs, an anthem of the geeky and proud for the last decade and a half.  “Take my love, take my land, take me where I cannot stand.”  They roll through the song, building, as I mentioned before, and on the final chorus, the rafters are ringing from the audience singing along.  (For those curious, the full song they played is called “Mal’s Song”.  Its an expansion of the Ballad, written by Michelle Dockrey.  Look it up, it’s fantastic. )

 

 

Paul announces that they are about to play a song written by an ex member of their original band, who happens to also be the bartender serving us. It’s a relationship, in eleven minutes, he says.  Klopper smiles and taps me on the chest.  “This is the first song of theirs I ever heard, you’ll love it.”  The story he relates to me is that after a particularly bad breakup, one I remember helping pick up the pieces after, a mutual dear friend of ours dragged him to see the band that would become Open Beta, Talk a Little Treason, and this was the song they played as he walked in. He was ready to walk out, upset by the song, when it reached the final verse. That’s all he would say, and let me experience the song.

 

 

 

It opens with a plaintive request to spend some time together.  A impassioned description of a night spent in each other’s arms. And of course, waking up alone.  The song moves into doubt, wondering, are we or aren’t we a thing?  It strikes a chord, no pun intended.  In fact, it makes me think quite a bit about the mutual friend who introduced Klopper to this song and band.  And we’re well past wet eyes.  There are tears on my face, and I am dumbstruck by this song, and the power it has over me. And just when I’m about to excuse myself, and leave the room, the final verse starts.  And I’m joining the rest of the room is laughter, great, cathartic, side splitting laughter. I may be one of the few people in the room who doesn’t identify with the close of the song, but I still find it funny.  You’ll have to hear it for yourself. I won’t ruin it.

 

 

We’re nearing the end of the last set.  The band has already admitted to the crowd that they have a set list, but they don’t use it, completely. “They’re more like GUIDELINES”, Paul informs us.  The band is in close to each other, whispering, but from my vantage, I hear every word.  “We could.  Or what about Solsbury Hill?”

 

“Yes.” I whisper to myself. “Play Solsbury Hill!”

 

“What?”  Klopper, not having heard them, is looking at me.

 

“Oh, just whispering to myself, no worries.”

 

The song starts. Gentle drum. Just a touch of guitar.  Klopper recognizes their version instantly, and knows my tastes.  “Ooo! You’ll like this one.”  I nod, and listen.  True to form, first verse, vocals, a couple chords, long sweet sounds from the violin.  Brian takes the lead on singing this one, and he’s holding the mic like a lover, the drum aside for the moment.  Into the second verse, the music builds, and as the final verse starts, he’s belting the song out, Erin is dancing like a maniac, bow flying across the strings, Paul bouncing with the guitar, music pouring out of the stage.

 

They finally end, a few minutes past midnight.  I am wrung out. My head is full, my heart is lighter than when I came in.  I laughed, I cried, my hands still sting from clapping and my feet ache from tapping and pounding the floor.  I purchased an album, gave them my compliments.  Listening to the album the next day…  It’s good, but lacks some of the magic.  This is a band best experienced in person.  Go. See them.   http://www.openbetamusic.com/

The Angel Ensign on my Shoulder.

So, I’ve just received the second piece of art to be put permanently on my skin.

Uncle Josh with Lost Dutchman Tattoo put it there.  Wonderful artist, great guy, a delight to work with. Go buy his art, both on your skin, and on paper.

 

Behold, Wesley Crusher.  Let me explain

(also, its 12 hours old.  and a bad angle on my shoulder.  I’ll update the pic in a week or so)

 

 

Continue reading “The Angel Ensign on my Shoulder.”

Tech Support Super Hero, or, How I saved a life while working phones

Back at the turn of the decade, I was working for a company that did outsourced tech support for Logitech.  I helped out people with new gaming gear, got speakers installed and working, taught people about bluetooth, and helped lots of people with webcams.  Well, mostly grandparents and cam girls.  Lots of cam girls. Who often offered free credits to their next show as a tip.  But that’s another story.

You often hear things about tech support that shock and amaze and disgust.  Cup holders.  “Waxy” buildup on laptops.  Illegal exception, my gawd, what did I do, I’m going to jail! I have a story that has a hopefully happy ending, although I have to make it up myself, as I never did learn the end. I did get a piece of the denouement, which was great, but not the end.

I receive a call from a gentleman who has a problem with his speakers.  Now, he has bought the high end self contained speaker system, top of the line setup that Logitech made at the time.  The Z something or another.  Big old subwoofer, 9 speakers for surround, all the hookups, and more power than it needs.  No, really. We had a set in our test lab.  The windows at the front of the office, 100 feet away, would shake before you got it to top volume. I wanted one myself. And stupidly enabled someone at my office to steal almost a dozen sets. But again, that’s another story.

“So what issue are you having with your Z, sir?”

“Well, the sound is really great, but at a certain volume, the subwoofers start buzzing and get muddy.”

“Well, I do hope you’re keeping the volume to a safe level” (we had to say shit like that.  Lots of liability limiting language) “but we do want you to get the most quality and enjoyment possible out of your Logitech purchase.  Now, subwoofers move a lot of air, and if they get blocked, it can cause some problems.  I want to make sure that you have it on a hard surface, not carpet.  And that there is at least 6 inches of space on every side.”

“Well, I have them in my closet, but there is enough space around them.  And it’s wood floor.”

“Okay, well then lets…”  Penny drops.  Plural. Them.  “Sir, did you say them?  Do you have the other speakers stacked on top of the subwoofer?”

He laughs.  The, my god, did that idiot just tell me to reboot my computer? AGAIN? Laugh.  “Man, no, you can’t have the highs too close to the lows. I know that!  I’m not stupid.”  (In the history of all tech support, the customer saying, “I’m not stupid!” is invariably followed by them saying something that proves them stupid.  In 3… 2…)  “The regular speakers are all up on a shelf.  I’ve got the subwoofers all together though.”

I’m processing.  I’m confused. I’ve run out of coffee about half an hour before, and just had Marco, the pc Call of Duty gamer positive that we were hiding the magic formula to let him head shot with a game pad on his laptop. But again, thats another story.

“But the Z only comes with one subwoofer.”

1…

“Yeah, and a gorgeous set, loved the sound in the store. So I bought four of them.”

“Four… Z speaker sets.  Each with 9 speakers and a subwoofer.”

“That’s right.”

“Sir, I…”  (Choose your words with CARE my self.  Saying what you really want to say WILL get your ass fired. ) “So, you have the subwoofers stacked.  All four in a column?”

“Naw, two side by side, with two on top of them.”

“I see…  well, I’m…  glad you enjoy our product enough to buy four, but with the subwoofers together like that, they could definitely interfere with each other.  I would suggest maybe spacing them out around your room?”

(Abort mission, countdown restarts at 3..  2…)

“No, that can’t be it.  I’ve got four Sony ( similar type of set, I forget the name, comparable to the Z ) set up that way under my window, and they sound fine. ”

Stunned silence. Someone managed to say something that made me shut up and think without talking. Everyone who knows me just gasped.  Countdown however, continues.

“In the same room?”

“Yup.”

“You have eight subwoofers with the connected speakers in one room?”

 

1…

 

“Oh hell no, those are just the newest. I’ve got 22 subwoofers, 153 regular speakers, and 10 tweeters.  I’ve got a few different racks they all hook into to split the sound. Some are sets, some are individual, I even have have a dozen car speakers hanging on the wall. Scavenged them from a totaled car. Top end shit, (Insert brand name I dont recall here.) I paid pennies on the dollar for them. But man, when I get this going, sweetest sound you ever heard. Music just pushing in from all sides. Concerts are like cheap headphones in comparison.”

My mind is whirling. I’m concerned for the dude. Downright upset and afraid. “Sir…  hanging from the wall?”

 

“Yeah, thats the great thing about car speakers. put in a nail, hang the frame from it. ”

“So, not shielded or boxed in any way. all these speakers, all running at once, just out and about in your room? How big of a room?”

“Enh… 10 by 20?”

 

“Sir..  thats… thats not safe.”

 

“Not safe? I mean, sure, I might go deaf, but that’s life! (Had the phrase yet been invented, he would have probably said YOLO.  Thankfully, it had not yet been first uttered by man.)

“No, I mean…  have you ever heard of EMF radiation?”

“Yeah, that’s the shit they scan for on Ghost Hunters.”

“Yes!  But they scan for it for two reasons.  One, because some people believe that EMF activity can mean ghosts, but also B, because high amounts of EMF from other sources can… affect people. ”

 

He goes silent, then speaks again. All levity in his voice is gone. He is now SERIOUS caller. “affect them how?”

 

“Well, and I have to say, I am not a doctor, and please do not take this as medical advice, but…  Paranoia. The feeling of being watched.  It’s been known to cause visual hallucinations, which is why ghost hunters care, if someone is under intense emf, they could have just been seeing things in their brain. ”

“My wife put you up to this, didn’t she.”

 

WHOA! WHATTHEFUCKWHOA!

 

“Sir, you called me.  I didn’t even know you were married until just now.”

“Well, not for much longer.  I’ve been having… problems.  Lashing out. Seeing things. White flashes, mostly, but sometimes people. My doctor, he’s put me on a bunch of different medicines, and they all just make it worse. We’re separated right now, but.. I can’t hold a job, I keep getting more..  off, and she’s going to leave me soon.  All I have left is my room, and my music. ”

Now, I’ll admit that my first thought is, if you’ve lost your job and are being supported by your wife, whom you’re separated from, the FUCK are you doing dropping three hundred bucks times four for some damn speakers. My second was… shit.  I…  have to talk to this guy, but if this call is monitored, I’m giving medical advice, and I’m admitting that the company product may be harming him. I am SO FIRED.

 

I go into the Councillor voice. I’m good at it. Very soothing. Not deep, i don’t have a deep voice, but I can sound like your best friend.

“So, would you say you’re spending more and more time in your room, lately?”

 

“Yeah, the worse my symptoms get, the less I want to go anywhere, the more I sit here and listen to my music.”

“So… the more you stay in that room, speakers running, the worse it gets?”

 

“Do… do you really think my room is hurting me? My one joy in life… is what’s taking my life away?”

(Folks, I guarantee thinking about this later made me cry, but right now, I’m a fucking professional. not a quaver in my voice.)

“I… I can’t say, but it might be.  You said you’re seeing a doctor?”

 

“Yeah! Hey, cmon man, if this could be caused by EMF, why wouldn’t he tell me? ”

“Well, its not a common thing to run into, a room of a few hundred speakers.  Does he know about your room?”

 

“No. ”

“When’s your next appointment?”

“A couple days. You think, I should tell him?”

“Yeah, i think you should.  and maybe, turn off all but a couple of speakers? I dont mean turn them down, actually unplug them all from the wall.  See how it sounds with just one Z going. It’s still a pretty awesome speaker, right?”

 

“Yeah, okay.  Thanks. ”
Click.

Fast forward about a month. My supervisor pulls me into a conference room for a “comp call”.  YAY!  Those are great.

 

“Alex, I listened to the original call that the customer called to compliment you on.  I’m not filing this comp call, cause them Eric will listen. (Eric was the MANAGER of the center. My bosses boss.) And if he hears it, you’ll be fired. ”

 

…. “How can I get fired for a comp call?”

“Room full of speakers.”

 

My mouth clamps shut. I take a drink of water. “Yeah, okay. Thanks. I appreciate that. Um… what did he say?”

“He said his doctor said you’re right. Hes gotten rid of most of the speakers. Including all four Zs, he says the sony sounds better. ”

My sup and I both shrug at this.  We’ve both heard that before. It’s probably true.

“His hallucinations have gone away, he’s getting a lot better with other people, and his wife is talking about moving back into their house. He’s really grateful.”

I smile, I can’t help it.  You don’t often get to actually change a life doing tech support. I mean, helping grandparents see their newborn grandchild across the country is awesome.  Helping someone set up a headset to use their computer as a phone is cool.  Hell, even keeping the cam girls online and creating boners has a bit of satisfaction. But this?  Warm golden sunshine.

 

“Alex… look, you did good. Thats really awesome. DON’T DO IT AGAIN. You are not a doctor.”

I nod, and go back to the phones.

“Thank you for calling Logitech support, my name is Alex.  Can I have your name please?”

 

“Yeah man, its Marco.  I’ve tried the settings that the last guy set for me a couple of days ago, but its still laggy.  I get fragged every round man. You gotta help me get some headshots.”

I tap mute on my phone, and chant loudly.  “I GOT MARCO!”   A chorus of groans erupts from my fellow gaming techs.  “Better you than me, man!”

The creeping horror that infests my happy place

I must open with a confession.  On this All Hallows Eve, I must spill a dark secret that will earn me enmity, derision, and scorn.

 

I really really really HATE Nightmare Before Christmas. I didn’t always hate it, but I never liked it.  It was… okay.  The songs were generic, trying to be all gothy while still being sugary pop (An Elfman staple.  Sorry, his music is hit or miss for me. )  The story was…  blah. Jack as a character was… blah.  I rooted for Oogie Boogie, really.

 

All that changed one fateful October, after years away, visiting the Happiest Kingdom on Earth with my mom and brother.  I raced for the Haunted Mansion. Unaware of what waited. I saw the additions on the outside, and was all… well, okay. As long as they didn’t mess with the inside.  15 minutes later, exiting the Mansion, my rage slowly rising the entire time, I now HATED that movie with a passion. How DARE they.

 

Anyways, a couple weeks ago, a coworker announced they were going to Disneyland for Halloween weekend. I scoffed.  “I do not go to Disney in October. It’s too… painful”

 

Another co-worker, who has heard me rant before, rolled her eyes.  “Jesus Alex, you’re so dramatic about it.”

 

I… may have been temporarily possessed by the ghosts of Houdini, Vincent Price, and Ken Anderson. That is the only thing to explain the next few minutes.  Note, this is from memory, I MAY have tweaked a few lines below.

 

“Dramatic? Too dramatic?  NAY!  I say I am not dramatic enough about this… evil.”

 

I looked at the original coworker, the one who as you read is enjoying the Mouse. “You may be unaware. But my feet will not find themselves passing under the gates this month, or the next, no. Not even until after the Yule season has passed, and the three Kings have finished their annual pilgrimage to the manger, can my soul walk with ease upon the grounds of the so called, Happiest Place on Earth.”

 

I fluffed an imaginary cape behind me, and stood straight.  My voice was carrying, and carrying a mild unidentifiable accent, and I started drawing a crowd. The last three words, Happiest Place On Earth, were said with a sneer and slow sarcastic cadence that I hope would have made Price proud.

 

“You see, there is an unholy abomination this time of year.  There is a blight, a disturbing blasphemy that winds its tendrils through the Temple of Terror. A creeping evil that grows along the walls of that shrine of darkness, that plot of land where all may bask in true darkness.

Yes, within the sacred graveyard where I have buried my very heart, to forever thrill in horror and dream sweet in the concentrated nightmare of Glory, the seeds of disdain are planted, and growing vines of decay. My beloved Haunted Mansion, the Manse of Macabre where my true self can be free, is BOUND.  BOUND I SAY!

Bound in chains of crassness, bound with shackles of commercialism, bound by the gauche gaudy ungainly streamers hung by that… that villain.  That KNAVE of pumpkins, who would DARE attempt to claim the crown of Halloween and name himself King, the Man Jack. ”

 

At this point, my coworkers were evenly split between giggling and backing away slowly.  I may have spun a few times and gesticulated wildly with my hands.  I do that.

 

“But his profane influence wanes.  The Glorious Holy Imagineers who, caught in his spell as the summer fades, and fall begins, will soon find their minds clearing.  Yes, even they whose hands did the dirty work of the Pumpkin Knave will doubt, and the true Unholy Peace that is the spirit of the Mansion will cleanse their minds of his taint.  And LO, in the cleansing powers of the new year’s frost, they will put right that which they themselves have put wrong, and Jack and his Ilk will find themselves again in boxes, gathering dust through spring and summer, waiting for their time to again blaspheme. And then, once its halls are restored to their rightful sinful terror.  THEN, and not one moment before, will my feet once again walk the Main Street, and find happiness in the darkness as I wander the tombs of those who have gone before, and enter the Halls of the Haunted Mansion. ”

 

At this point, the crowd was a bit tense.  I figured, enh, cathartic end.

 

“And don’t even get me started on Space Mountain.”