Friday, May 30, 2008

Rose Festival


So, the Rose Festival has begun in Portland, Oregon. Flowers are in bloom, the waterfront will be beset by a carnival, there will be throngs of cranky folks milling around, and trying to find a parking place downtown? Good luck with that.

At least it's not raining.

Now.

One of my favorite memories of the festival was when St. Helens erupted. Everything in town looked like it had been downwind of a concrete plant for forty years; ash was falling, and the colors were all gone. Streets swirled like gray baby powder, you had to clean your air filter daily. People wore painters' masks. Jets flew around it to keep their engines from being ground apart. The post office was shut down for a time because people were mailing envelopes full of the ash to friends, and the envelopes were breaking open when they ran through the stamp-canceling machines.

Then, it rained, and gutters full of ash -- read: gritty sand -- soaked up the water and peeled off houses like ripe bananas thrown into a cage full of hungry chimps.

Ah, the good old days.

If you plan to go this year, take the MAX train, and even then, be prepared to wait ...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Editorial Comment

Free! Free at Last!


John Turner, psychiatrist, at age 67

So, after I climbed out of Procrustes's iron bed, did my time on the rack, and the funny/heavy ball toss, the physical therapist allowed this very morning as how I was on the mend enough so that I could tend to the rest of it on my own.

No more PT sessions! Huzzah!

In fact, he said, I was, overall, all things considered, generally speaking, not to put too fine a point on it, in terrific shape --

-- for a man my age ...

Sigh. I guess I am really going to have to go dig out my copy of Growing Old is Not For Sissies, and get myself a T-shirt ...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

This Might Heaven, This Might Be Hell

Last couple of years, I have gotten into reading bio- and autobiographies of musical groups from the 60' and 70's: The Beatles, together and separately; Clapton; the Band; Dylan; Janis Joplin; Warren Zevon. And there have been some associated books about various musical scenes -- the bands who lived in SoCal's Topanga Canyon; the folkies in Greenwich Village; blues; a couple by groupies or ex-wives, all like that.

The latest is by Don Felder (with Wendy Holden, who undoubtedly wrote most, if not all, of it) -- Heaven and Hell: My life in the Eagles (1974-2001).

Felder, aka "Fingers," is a Florida boy invited into the Eagles after they'd done a few albums, and notable as the guy who came up with the music for what is the most-played Eagle song, Hotel California.

Felder's early years were interesting -- where he grew up, dirt-poor in Gainsville, Florida; the kids he hung out with -- Steve Stills was one. He taught guitar lessons at a local store, and one of his students was Tom Petty. Garage bands, with Bernie Leadon. Duane Allman taught him how to play slide guitar.

His father didn't like his long hair and wanted him to get a real job ...

In the Eagles, players came and went, but there were essentially seven who mattered over the years: Bernie Leadon, Joe Walsh, Don Henley, Tim Schmit, Don Felder, Glenn Frey, and Randy Meisner. At their peak, the Eagles were the number one selling group out there, and one of their greatest hits albums sold 26 million copies, blowing right past Michael Jackson's Thriller. They were rich, famous, and most people didn't recognize them on the street, so they weren't mobbed with fans every time they took a walk.

Felder's autobiography is, like most, self-serving in places. When the talk turns to sex-drugs-rock-n-roll, he admits to finally giving in to temptation, after manfully resisting it for a long, long time -- and that it was more to be one of the boys than anything. This has a "Yes, but I didn't inhale." quality to it that isn't convincing. Felder was married, with a wife who spent a lot of time home pregnant and raising his (eventually-four) kids by herself. His offhand, you'd-have-had-to-have-been-a-saint to resist all the women who kept throwing themselves at him might be true, but his reluctance and guilt didn't seem to slow him down. He was sorry he smoked all that weed, drank all that booze, snorted all that coke and balled all those girls -- but not so sorry he stopped. And not much of this is in the way of specifics, but a generalized, sex-drugs-rock'n'roll, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean?

Interesting that the Eagles sued to keep the book from being published. It came out in the U.K. first, then eventually here. Not that much real dirt, save how Felder pretty much thinks Frey and Henley are dicks.

There are some sour grapes. There was so much money, and everybody wanted more of it. A kind of whining tone arises now and then -- yes, by his account, Felder was shafted. He started out an equal, but the subsequent deals whittled him down, and in the end, he was fired, mainly he figured, for pissing off the Gods by asking for his fair share. Still, he kept signing the papers and going along, as Frey and Henley became Orwellian: (All animals are equal in the barnyard; only, some are more equal than others.) At some point, the lesser Eagles became Frey and Henley's back-up band, and they resented it.

In the real world, it's hard to feel sorry for somebody raking in millions and living at the acme of the food chain when he pisses and moans about how hard his life is. Hey, tell it to the homeless guy panhandling down down on First Street ...

Felder was touring and gone most of his kids' early lives, on the road for months at a time, and when his wife developed a life past being essentially a single-mom and started her own business, he resented it. This, he says, eventually led to the break-up of their marriage.

What was sauce for the goose was totally unacceptable for the gander.

He mentions it, but tends to gloss over his participation in the weed, coke, and downers, and carloads of groupies in the infamous 3E -- third encore -- parties. Yeah, he was there and all, but it was more the other guys, hey? And hey, they were rock stars, so it was okay.

Much of the Eagles' arc is like any episode of VH1's Behind the Music. Talented kids get together, write a bunch of songs, find a groove that calls to audiences, and hit it big.
Almost from the moment they started, they started breaking apart, and what began as we-are-all-equal, and all-for-one-one-for-all devolved quickly into all-for-me-none-for-you. Egos inflated to the size of the Hindenburg, and eventually burst into into flames that burned it all up.

All of the rumors about how they didn't get along were, according to Felder's book, true. Efforts by the band to downplay this continue to this day -- Oh, we're family, and families don't always run perfectly smooth, you know ... -- but as Felder has it, it was ever gut-wrenching and about-to-implode the whole time, always on the razor's edge, and that by the end, nobody liked anybody. They would, as the Beatles did, go into the studio at different times to lay down their tracks, and never have to see each other.

Last year, 60 Minutes did a story on the Eagles, with the latest lineup -- no Felder, and after this book, I'd be surprised if that would ever happen again. There's an album, Long Road Out of Eden. They all say how they get along just fine, but if you watch the body language when they are together? Brrr ...

The reunion tour in the 90's was a cash cow the size of Jupiter, so the boys managed to grit their teeth and soldier on. Felder's revelation that he and the other lesser members (they did call Frey and Henley "the Gods,") kept themselves going by telling each other to tough it out and think of the money.

I had a chance to see Simon and Garfunkel on their reunion tour, and they had a guest appearance by the Everly Brothers, another duo who had broken up less than happily. You could tell there was no love between either pair. Yes, Paul and Artie were pros and they sold the music to an audience nostalgic for they days when they liked each other, but it showed that they were hitting their marks and singing their songs for a payday neither could match alone. It makes a difference when the audience can see that. The music might sound almost the same, but the heart and soul aren't there, and it makes you sad.

The Eagles had a long string of hits, a unique sound, and their a cappella version of Seven Bridges Road (written by folksinger Steve Young, here's a nice cover) was, when they were at their best, a thing of harmonic beauty. But behind the fake smiles and pretense, if Felder can be believed, it was only in rare moments anything but ugly ...

Another example of art sometimes being greater than the artists who produce it. An interesting read if you are into rock bios.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Life is Strange

Every now and then, when you think you might have seen it all, something like this pops up, and you realize, Why, no, you haven't ...

La Musica, La Musica


So, I went to the Rolling Stone list of the Top 500 songs, just to see how many of them were love songs. I won't list them all, but here are the top hundred:

1. Like a Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan

2. Satisfaction, The Rolling Stones

3. Imagine, John Lennon

4. What's Going On, Marvin Gaye

5. Respect, Aretha Franklin

6. Good Vibrations, The Beach Boys

7. Johnny B. Goode, Chuck Berry

8. Hey Jude, The Beatles

9. Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana

10. What'd I Say, Ray Charles

11. My Generation, The Who

12. A Change Is Gonna Come, Sam Cooke

13. Yesterday, The Beatles

14. Blowin' in the Wind, Bob Dylan

15. London Calling, The Clash

16. I Want to Hold Your Hand, The Beatles

17. Purple Haze, Jimi Hendrix

18. Maybellene, Chuck Berry

19. Hound Dog, Elvis Presley

20. Let It Be, The Beatles

21. Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen

22. Be My Baby, The Ronettes

23. In My Life, The Beatles

24. People Get Ready, The Impressions

25. God Only Knows, The Beach Boys

26. A Day in the Life, The Beatles

27. Layla, Derek and the Dominos

28. (Sittin on) the Dock of the Bay, Otis Redding

29. Help!, The Beatles

30. I Walk the Line, Johnny Cash

31. Stairway To Heaven, Led Zeppelin

32. Sympathy for the Devil, The Rolling Stones

33. River Deep - Mountain High, Ike and Tina Turner

34. You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin', The Righteous Brothers

35. Light My Fire, The Doors

36. One, U2

37. No Woman, No Cry, Bob Marley and the Wailers

38. Gimme Shelter, The Rolling Stones

39. That'll Be the Day, Buddy Holly and the Crickets

40. Dancing in the Street, Martha and the Vandellas

41. The Weight, The Band

42. Waterloo Sunset, The Kinks

43. Tutti-Frutti, Little Richard

44. Georgia on My Mind, Ray Charles

45. Heartbreak Hotel, Elvis Presley

46. Heroes, David Bowie

47. Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon and Garfunkel

48. All Along the Watchtower, Jimi Hendrix

49. Hotel California, The Eagles

50. The Tracks of My Tears, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

51. The Message, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five

52. When Doves Cry, Prince

53. Anarchy in the U.K., The Sex Pistols

54. When a Man Loves a Woman, Percy Sledge

55. Louie Louie, The Kingsmen

56. Long Tall Sally, Little Richard

57. Whiter Shade of Pale, Procol Harum

58. Billie Jean, Michael Jackson

59. The Times They Are A-Changin', Bob Dylan

60. Let's Stay Together, Al Green

61. Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On, Jerry Lee Lewis

62. Bo Diddley, Bo Diddley

63. For What It's Worth, Buffalo Springfield

64. She Loves You, The Beatles

65. Sunshine of Your Love, Cream

66. Redemption Song, Bob Marley and the Wailers

67. Jailhouse Rock, Elvis Presley

68. Tangled Up in Blue, Bob Dylan

69. Crying, Roy Orbison

70. Walk On By, Dionne Warwick

71. California Girls, The Beach Boys

72. Papa's Got a Brand New Bag, James Brown

73. Summertime Blues, Eddie Cochran

74. Superstition, Stevie Wonder

75. Whole Lotta Love, Led Zeppelin

76. Strawberry Fields Forever,The Beatles

77. Mystery Train, Elvis Presley

78. I Got You (I Feel Good), James Brown

79. Mr. Tambourine Man, The Byrds

80. I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Marvin Gaye

81. Blueberry Hill, Fats Domino

82. You Really Got Me, The Kinks

83. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), The Beatles

84. Every Breath You Take, The Police

85. Crazy, Patsy Cline

86. Thunder Road, Bruce Springsteen

87. Ring of Fire, Johnny Cash

88. My Girl, The Temptations

89. California Dreamin', The Mamas and The Papas

90. In the Still of the Nite, The Five Satins

91. Suspicious Minds, Elvis Presley

92. Blitzkrieg Bop, Ramones

93. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, U2

94. Good Golly, Miss Molly, Little Richard

95. Blue Suede Shoes, Carl Perkins

96. Great Balls of Fire, Jerry Lee Lewis

97. Roll Over Beethoven, Chuck Berry

98. Love and Happiness, Al Green

99. Fortunate Son, Creedence Clearwater Revival

100. You Can't Always Get What You Want, The Rolling Stones

A quick hit, by my count: Sixty some-odd are love songs. A few more are less about love than about sex. Some are hard rockers, about no more than the the dance beat. A few are social commentary. A few are psychedelia, or offbeat counterculture things whose meanings are foggy at best. What is The Weight about? According to Robbie Robertson, it's about how hard it is to be a saint. Go figure that one.

Or what happened with Louie, Louie and the FBI ...

I make it that twenty or so of them are about lost love, and while not all of those are sparklers in this regard -- Hound Dog, for instance -- the most recorded song ever, Yesterday, is about as sad a lament over lost love as any.

Looking at the rest of the 500, the percentages seem to be about the same.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Somebody Needs a Life

Now and then, I come across something in the newspaper that amuses me no end. I saw one of those today, in The Sunday Oregonian. In the Business section, somebody had written into the Complaint Desk to grump about seeing dogs in stores. The woman was outraged. Filthy beasts, with worms, riding in the baskets where she puts her food! Can no one stop this outrage?

I couldn't help myself. I had to write a response. I suspect the editors won't publish it, but here it is ...

"So, in Sunday's Business Section, the Complaint Desk features a lament from Anna Faro. Faro, who identifies herself as a "serial complainer," doesn't like to see dogs in stores, especially in shopping carts.

I wonder, does Ms. Faro complain when she sees toddlers plopped into carts? Those small and lovable humans with leaky diapers, assorted communicable diseases, and sometimes, even her particular horror -- worms? I currently have a couple of grandsons down with Norovirus, and they didn't catch it from a dog.

I'd love to see any statistics that show anyone has ever caught worms from a shopping cart due to its once being briefly inhabited by a canine critter. Anybody?

Faro's lament ends with a comment that begins with "Sheesh." I gotta echo that. If that's the biggest worry in her life, she needs to get one ..."

Love and Death


There are, according to the old saw, only two things worth writing about: Love and death.
Most of us want the first, and all of us eventually get the latter, so they are something to which all readers can relate. "All you need is love," the Beatles sang, and maybe that's not so, but if you have that, the rest is easier to work out.

In music, at least that which has words to go along with the tune, the maxim seems equally true. My favorite songs are love songs, and there are plenty of those around.

Many of the most moving songs are those in which the death of love is the subject, and for some, that's worse than a meeting with the Reaper. If you have found love, then the idea of losing it can be frightening, and I can easily see why such music would resonate widely.

Hey, Jude and Bridge Over Troubled Water are songs offering hope for love.

Three-quarters of the blues and country songs ever written, are eulogies for lost love.

A quick look at songs that have touched me, and which I can play on ye olde guitar shows a lopsided balance toward this kind of lament: Don't Think Twice. Hide Your Love Away. St. James Infirmary. Layla. Long, Long Time. Different Drum. Walk Away Renee. We Just Disagree. Hallelujah. Angel from Montgomery, Hotel California.

Interesting.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Lost Another One

Robert Asprin
1946-2008

Apparently Bob Asprin died yesterday, looks like a heart attack, at his home in New Orleans.

We met but once, at a con somewhere back in the mid-eighties, and I didn't know him past that, but he could do funny, and did a fair amount of it. The Myth Adventures, the Phule's Company books -- I enjoyed his work. He edited, with his then-wife, Lynn Abbey, the first Thieves' World anthologies.

Bob got into some tax trouble with the feds, and started doing mostly collaborations in the nineties, so the IRS couldn't garnish all the money from his income. They supposedly worked that out. Had a bad bout with writer's block for a time, but apparently got past that, too.

He was about a year older than I, and what I remember about him was that he had a great laugh.

Life is too short.

PT

The Hell panel, from Heironymous Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights

PT doesn't stand for "physical therapy," but rather, I have discovered, "preternatural torture."

I wouldn't have thought it possible to completely exhaust my entire upper body in a mere thirty-minute session, but, boy, was I wrong. See, you can't really get full range-of-motion for the shoulders without using the chest and arm and other back muscles, plus the PT guy wanted to make sure I got some low back work, so there were the hyperextensions, while doing flyes ...

Just to see, I started counting during the rubber band reps. After I got to a hundred, I quit, it was depressing me.

My torturer -- er, therapist -- added some new stuff this go-round, including a down-on-one-knee-throwing-the-two-kilogram-ball-
at-the-mini-tramp-using-the-whole-body that gives new meaning to the word "awkward."

Hey, you're doing pretty good. You want to use a heavier ball?

Whatever you think, I said. I'm just the victim here.

At one point, when my arms melted and fell off, clunking onto the floor, no blood because the wounds were internally-cauterized, he said, "You feeling the burn? I can lower the table a little."

If I'd had control of my hands, I'd have given him the finger. Well, if I could have moved my finger ...

I did ask about Steve VH's "tool." And after I heard what that was and what it did, I was glad I didn't seem to have any scar tissue that would justify it. It sounded like a cross between an electric butter knife and bamboo slivers under the fingernails ...

Remind me not to screw up my rotator cuff again, hey?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bulletproof

For those of you who think that once you make a sale you are thereafter bulletproof, insofar as your writing being shot at, let me disabuse you of that notion here and now.

You are not.

My agent didn't like our doorstop fantasy.

She didn't exactly say that in so many words, but, being a writer does teach you how to read between the lines ...

Some of what she had to say trips the "Did we tell the story we wanted to tell? Rule," so we won't mess with that. For us, the technology is part and parcel of the tale, and the dreadnaught and guns and the tanks and balloon have to be there. Pretty much, it' s a boy's book, and if we can get Neal Stephenson's audience? We'll be happy. We like to think of it as a magical technothriller ...

Some of what she had problems with we can see, since it echoed some other comments from our Faithful First Readers, so we are going to make another pass, the end result of which will be that the book will be a bit shorter, mostly in the first third, and perhaps easier to follow when it comes to character viewpoint shifts. (The general rule, which we seemed to have somehow mislaid, is when you shift characters' VPs, you need to identify the new head into which you've shifted PDQ. I've redone them so those are all in the first line.)

We are also going to eliminate one viewpoint character, so as to be a little less clutter. Much of what he says and does is still in the book, only from somebody else's view. (For those of you who read it, Dor is somewhat diminished.)

After that, we'll take our chances. If we get a sale and an editor wants more changes, then we'll see how that goes.

It's always something ...

Tribes

Humans are a tribal species. Some, we are born to; some, we have chosen for us; some, we elect ourselves -- but we tend to identify with our tribe(s), and many of us belong to several. What we eat, where we live, where we go to church, or temple or mosque, or stay home, who we hang out with, how we look at the world ... these all tend to come from things that, at their core, are tribal mores.

In this age, you can belong to a tribe whose members are far-flung and whom you have never met -- witness the power of the internet ...

This aspect of our being has been both strength and weakness, and I believe that ultimately, we will have to expand our vision of what constitutes "us" and "other" if we are to survive as a species.

Somewhere between twenty and twenty-five percent of the voters in Kentucky admitted, presumably to strangers doing the polling, that they voted against Obama because he was black. (I expect a percentage of those didn't use that polite a word.) Right in your face racism.

A certain percentage of people could not bring themselves to vote for Clinton because she's an innie and not an outie. Right in your face sexism.

A number of the tribe that identifies itself as liberal female is royally pissed-off at how they believe the media has treated Hillary. And, rather than vote in the general for her rival for the Democratic nomination, will either stay home or vote for somebody much, much farther away from Hillary than Barack could ever be.

Cutting off one's nose to spite one's face is generally not considered smart behavior.

There are plenty of reasons to vote for or against somebody. I'd love to live to the day when it would be for policy or philosophical reasons alone and not because of skin color or genitalia, but I'm not holding my breath against the day.

Subdivisions of the tribes seek to separate themselves from the other by belief and even by language. Many, if not all, major professions have their own patois, a secret language that only the insiders can truly understand -- lawyers, doctors, cops, reporters, engineers, gangbangers, rock stars, science fiction fans ... you name it. Some are subtle, some not. Hardcore science fiction fans -- don't dare call it "sci-fi!" -- call non-fans "mundanes."

There aren't as many of us, the sense of it goes, but we are smarter. Better. Naturally, our numbers will be small and we will be viewed as oddballs, but that's okay, because we know we're superior. Pick a group. Listen. Feel the groundswell when they don't notice you. You hear the sursurrus of, It's Us versus Them, and they don't have a fucking clue ...

People give themselves titles. They allow within the group that those outside cannot possibly understand Their Truth. They shake their heads at anybody who presumes to offer that they might have some inkling of the way things work. Un uh, no, sorry, you can't, we know, and you don't, end of discussion, move along. You aren't the droids we're looking for.

You may have seen the light, but it's the wrong bulb.

The ugly isms -- sexism, racism -- tend to arise from a sense of smugness -- our tribe is the best tribe, all others come after us.

The only path I can see that offers hope for our salvation comes with enough education, enough shooing away the complacent ignorance, until people begin to understand that the guy squatting next to the campfire in Laos is like the guy in his Escalade driving on the Autobahn, or the Avon Lady in Houston. Humans.

Humans.

But I think it's gonna be a long time coming.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Hand Jive

Just got started on the fingertip ring-roll, aka the Gryphon Roll. Still slow, but you get the general idea ...

video

And the basic three-coin roll and twirl:

video

Choose Your Weapon



So, my nephew, Jon, and his wife, TC, were up here last week. TC wanted to go to a trade show that featured exhibitors selling to the, um, wholesale fabric trade. There were sewing machines, quilting machines, lots of imported cloth, and every kind of gizmo you can imagine concerned with the care and feeding of such things. The show was big enough to fill up the Rose Garden, a not-inconsiderable space.

TC and my wife spent several days there, taking classes and shopping. TC is starting her own online business, crombieTree, retailing fabric and what-not, which should be opening in the next month.

As you might imagine, such a show is not really my thing; however, my wife wanted to show me something -- she's in the market for a new sewing machine -- so I went and looked.

I wonder if my eyes looked as glazed as they felt.

I know how she looks when I've dragged her to a gun show ...

Wednesday nights on the Outdoor Channel is range night -- got Midway's Cowboys, Shooting Gallery, the NRA's American Rifleman, Guns & Ammo, Shooting USA. You can watch gun stuff until midnight, if you want -- blam! blam! ting! (That last is a shot ringing out ...)

My wife falls asleep as soon as I switch the channel, and sleeps through howitzers and machine guns going off ...

Now and again, she likes to watch the Home Improvement Channel, which, far as I can tell, is peopled by gay guys with glue guns, who think that spray-painting styrofoam stars with purple glitter and sticking them all over your walls is height of home decoration. I begin to snore before the hot glue melts ...

Taste.

SCOTUS


So, the Supreme Court of the United States has upheld a provision in the anti-pornography laws, regarding children.

On the one hand, purveyors of such should be prosecuted, no question.

On the other hand, where you draw the line is kind of scary, if you are a writer or an artist.

One of the provisions, as I understand it, that you don't even have to possess the stuff. Go on line, ask somebody on a site or somewhere if they have any kiddie porn, that's good for five years. If you offer some for sale, that's also five in the Big House. Intent is enough.

If you pretend that you have some for sale, and you don't, that gets you a nickel. If you have something fake, like, say, a woman who is over eighteen, but who looks under-age, and you market it as kiddie porn, that gets you nailed, as well.

Okay, still not a problem for most folks, since anybody who is trying to buy (or sell) the stuff is probably already guilty and looking to add to his stock. But where it gets iffy is in the depiction of any such material in movies or books or the like.

Some years ago, I wrote a novel in which the villain, one Marcus Jefferson Wall, was a pedophile. I wanted somebody really bad, and I thought that was as evil as I could get. Not to give anything away, but a key plot point hinged on the fact that the little girl Wall thought he was corrupting was actually much older and surgically-enhanced to look underage, and part of a con game. Even so, as a result of his actions, Wall dies a particularly horrible death -- and good riddance.

I couldn't make him sympathetic, but I wanted to try and see if I could make a reader understand why he did what he did, even if they didn't agree with it. I dunno how well I managed it, but better to reach and fall than not.

However: Would I risk being sent to a federal pen if I wrote that today? It seems possible to me that the law could be interpreted that way if an overzealous prosecutor decided to pick it up and run with it. Would somebody doing an expose on child-prostitution rings in Bangkok get hammered? If you take pictures of your naked toddler in a swimming pool and send them your grandma online, are you and granny going to be spending the kid's tender years in stir?

This makes me nervous. I don't think child pornography is, or should be, protected under free speech, but given some of the ways the Fed has meddled in our lives since 9/11, I trust them even less than I did when Nixon was President.

Obama at Waterfront Park in Portland


(Image from The Oregonian's blog, on Flickr)

So, Obama drew a crowd in Waterfront Park on Sunday. Hot day, and seventy-two thousand people turned out -- according the estimate by the Portland Fire Department. Filled the park at sixty thousand, twelve thousand more outside the perimeter. Largest crowd he's drawn on the campaign trail, and the largest ever to turn out for a political candidate in Oregon, far as anybody can tell.

Oregon has a vote-by-mail process. Like a lot of us here, my wife and I generally wind up waiting until the last minute to fill out our ballots, and then I drop them off at an official collection station, over by the library. Today is the last day.

It's a hard state to forecast, because the ballots have been trickling in for weeks, but by tomorrow, we'll pretty much know which way we went. McCain is a given, of course.

Hill, Bill, and Chel have been stumping the state the last few days, and Bill is a master speaker, but me, I wouldn't bet against Obama here.

(DIAL UP Rocky's Theme and FADE OUT ...)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Meanwhile, Back in the Torture Chamber ...


So, the first follow-up PT session was today.

I've been faithfully doing the sissy-weight exercises, and I figured, well, they'll watch me do those and then I'm done, I can go home, right?

Wrong.

First, there was the hand-powered stationary bike, to warm up the joints. A mere eight minutes, pedaling up the side of K2. Okay, not that bad, maybe only Pike's Peak.

Then there were the rubber band thingees, the high-low; then crunch-the-shoulder-blades-together, for what seemed like, oh, I dunno, a thousand reps.

From there, we moved to the Chuck Norris infomercial machine, in which you lie down on a slant board with your heels by your butt and then do a kind of stretched-out butterfly stroke, pulling your bodyweight up and then lowering it. Another ten thousand reps.

Then came the ball toss, which involved using a weighted, rubbery, soft ball the size of a grapefruit, and various contorted ways of throwing it at an angled mini-trampoline and catching it when it bounced back. I'd guess the first ball weighed three or four pounds, and went we shifted to the throwing-a-shuriken from the hip position, we dropped down to one slightly lighter.

After which the PT guy manipulated my shoulder like somebody trying to separate a cooked chicken leg from the thigh ...

Good news is, I am getting better -- no pain during the process. I can started adding in more exercise at home, and I'm encouraged to do my djurus.

Bad news, is I have to go back again. More than once ...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

More Supple Hand Stuff

Relative sizes: American Silver Dollar; Canadian Silver Dollar, U.S. Half Dollar

Got a note from a correspondent, Jack, with some links to coin and ring tricks. I won't list them all, but this one is pretty impressive: De Ring, by De Vo.

My nephew, who was here visiting with his lovely wife the past few days, can do a pretty smooth rendition of the ring roll on the fingertips, aka, the Gryphon Roll. I can do it, but not fast nor smooth enough to show it off yet. When I get it, I'll post a vid here. A plain, smooth, man's wedding-band style ring is the easiest. Once you get it, you can do it with other rings.

For any kind of skilled sleights and manipulation, the important thing is, of course, practice.

For coins, the size of the coin needs to be a good match for your hand. Some tricks work better with different coins, so one size doesn't fit all.

When I started, I used a U.S. half-dollar -- but it was a tad too small for me to do a couple of the basic Downs' Palms, ala the Front and Back Palm, or the Thumb Palm.

An American silver dollar is too large for my hand to do those tricks, though it's nice and heavy for knuckle rolls.

What works best for me overall is a Canadian silver dollar. You can pick them up at a coin shop for a reasonable price, as long as you don't care about the condition or rare ones. They also work well for the poker-chip shuffle and stack, and knuckle and fingertip rolls. They are heavier than a U.S. half-dollar coin, so some of the tricks are going to be harder. (The muscle pass, which takes a lot of practice to learn, flies faster and farther with a small, lighter coin. This is a trick that, even if they know how it is done, still impresses people, because they can't do it even if you show them how.)

Close magic has always impressed me more than big tricks. Anybody can make an elephant vanish, if they have the gear. Making a coin or a card appear or disappear in front of somebody standing right there is much more amazing, if done well.

If you are going to play with money this way, you need to try different size coins, to see which works best for you.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Tango Wedding


So, Ximena and Rob got married, and did the tango. It looks like as if it was a good and true thing, and sorry that I missed it. But here are some pictures ...

Congratulations to the newly-weds, and a hope for a long and happy alliance.

Warped Sense of Humor


YouTube took down the Broken Home cover of Sandra Bernhard's cover of Prince's "Little Red Corvette." I've looked, and I can't find a vid of her doing it, but I did find a link to the audio. It's much more impressive to watch her wearing the flag and doing it in a tiny bikini, but it's a fun listen.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Meanwhile, Back at the Physical Therapist's ...

So I went to see the PT guy today. He did his evaluation -- pulled and pushed, tugged this way and that, and came up with his diagnosis:

I have injured my left rotator cuff.

Guy was good -- he asked all the right questions, did the tests, and even though I didn't prompt him with my own diagnosis, arrived at the same conclusion -- the focus was in the supraspinatus. A severe strain, i.e., sprain -- though they don't use the latter term much any more, and possibly torn. Only way to be sure at this point is to do an MRI, but since it seems to be getting better, we are going to do a cycle of PT. If, at the end of which, things aren't hurting and the weakness is gone or much improved, then it probably wasn't torn, or not much.

Look as if I have dodged a scalpel.

I have a little red rubber band, a set of exercises using it, along with some using itty bitty weights -- two or three pounders, max, and I go back for a follow up in a week.

I laughed at the pansy weights and rubber band -- but after fifteen reps on each of the exercises I stopped laughing. I thought I was passing fit, but the little muscles that help keep the shoulder stable and rotating hither and yon get tired real quick, especially on the injured side. I have to do a couple sets a day of each.

The good news is, I can mostly go back to doing my normal routines, exercise-wise, and in fact, the PT guy encouraged me to do my martial arts' forms, the djurus, since they work the rotator muscles in a good way. I can work the big muscle groups with things like chins or dips or weights, though I shouldn't climb the rope.

I'm not back yet, but I am on the way -- Boo-rah!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Zombies

The term "zombie," I am given to understand, originally was a snake deity from West Africa which found its way to Haiti with the slaves. Eventually, the term came to mean one who had died but had been recalled to life, generally under the control of an evil witch using forms of gris-gris and ju-ju, and then put to bad purpose. (There is some evidence that drugs were used to give the illusion of death, and to maintain control of the stoned folks after they got dug up, even a pretty bad movie -- The Serpent and the Rainbow -- made using this premise. Of course, that's pretty much rendundant isn't it, "Zombies" and "bad movie ... ?")

But whilst reading an article in The New Yorker on, of all things, contemporary artists doing stained glass windows for churches, written by Peter Schjeldahl, I came across this about one of the churches, a very old one found in Zurich:

"The Grossm√ľnster was built as a Catholic church on the site of a fancy miracle: in the year 286, St. Felix, St. Regula,and St. Exuperantius, decapitated for clinging to their faith, picked up their heads and climbed to the top of a hill, where they dug graves and buried themselves."

That's a pretty neat trick.

Not being a Catholic and knowing very little about such things, I do seem to recall that to be canonized by the Church and to get the "Saint" honorific before your name, you had to have performed a miracle or two and they had to be witnessed and verified.

I certainly think this would beat turning water to wine all hollow. More, I believe that, had I been the Emperor Maximian and word got back to me after I'd had people of the Christian faith beheaded, I would have serious doubts about continuing such a policy, since the Roman gods couldn't compete with that kind of mojo, no way, no how ...

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Guitar Music


Those of you who are Michael Chapdelaine fans will be interested to know, if'n you don't already, that his new CD, Guitar Man, is now available from his site. People who don't know his material can log onto the site and hear partials of most of the cuts.

Guitar Man


There are a handful of acoustic guitarists that I can sit and listen to whole albums and never find a piece I want to skip over -- Chapdelaine, McMeen, Pattis, Juber, like them, and this new one from Michael is most satisfying.

Fifteen tracks, and even though "You're Beautiful" was pounded into the ground, aided by that awful video that the YouTube denizens had a field day with a year or so back, even that cut is new in Chapdelaine's skilled hands. Better without the words ...

The tracks;

You're Beautiful
And I Love Her
Just Breathe
Come Away With Me
Guitar Man
Hit the Road Jack
Sittin' on the Dock of The Bay
Something
Sonny Came Home
Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough
Just Walk Way Rene
When You Say Nothing At All
Last Kiss
Marietta
Gavotte en Rondeau

Just Chapdelaine and his guitars, bare, and for a no-talent clam-hitter like me, fairly amazing just to sit and wish I could live long enough to get half that good ...

Got pop, 60's rock, 50's rock, adult chords, a classical piece and a Spanish one. I particularly like "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" and "Just Walk Away Renee" -- he gets a nasty bass line going with the melody and chords, and it's just not right that man can play like that and make it look so damned easy, not to mention having a high old time.

Bach on a steel string guitar sounds at times like a harpsichord. Classical purists will likely cringe, but it's the bee's knees and the cat's pajamas.

Few years back, Chapdelaine and McMeen had an intensive guitar class. I wish I'd had the chops to justify going to learn from these two.

Michael plays guitars by Kevin Muiderman, and they are cannons. He put the whole thing pretty much together by himself -- played, recorded, mixed, mastered, and the design.
(Somebody else shot the pictures.)

Gets my thumbs up. Have a listen.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Idle Hands ...

... are the devil's workshop ...

So my wife and I have gotten kinda interested in watching tournament poker. Texas Hold-'em, and if you don't know the game but saw the most recent James Bond movie, that's what they were playing.

What interests me more than the game is watching the players fiddle with their poker chips.
They twirl them, shuffle them, bounce and pop them around. All those hours at the table gives them practice time, and as an old coin magic guy, I find this more interesting than the cards.

Some of the players are celebrities -- also have a lot of time on their hands -- and the current hot player among the women is Jennifer Tilly. Impossible to spot a tell on her face. I dunno if that's because she's an actress or her face is shot up with Botox -- or both.

Anyway, I decided to get some poker chips and learn some of the tricks. I can already do the basic simple stuff, the thumb roll, the roll and twirl, with three chips, the knuckle roll, fingertip roll, like that. First of the new tricks is the shuffle, and I'm starting with six.

If you want to see some really sharp guys, check out YouTube. If my blog'll let me, here's my early attempt ...


video

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Old and Wise Ain't Everything

Of course, to flip that coin and show that sometimes young folks can nail down a feeling that you might not think they could, consider poets and rock 'n' roll stars. Listen to some of the lyrics written by kids in their early twenties, from Rimbaud and Poe, to the Beatles to Cat Stevens to Kurt Cobain. Or watch a young-but-getting-old-fast Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company -- a bar-band that seldom played the same song twice the same way in their entire career.

Janis was twenty-five when she sang this. She died at twenty-seven, same age as Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison when they shuffled off. So young. So talented.

Such a waste.

Why Men Need Post-It Notes


Now and then, while writing, I get to a place were I'm not exactly stuck, but I don't quite have a grasp of how best to say something. Doesn't feel quite right.

There are ways around it: I can brute force it -- just grind until I get to the end of a scene, knowing I will have to come back and rewrite it. Or I can skip it altogether, move ahead, and come back once I've added stuff that will suggest a better path.

The third way that works for me, when I have time, is to sic my subconscious on it. Put the whole cauldron full of sugar and yeast and water all into a warm spot in my mind's storeroom and let it ferment until, usually doing something totally unrelated, like walking the dogs, sitting in the hot tub, or just about to shut of the reading lamp and go to sleep, it bubbles up. Very often, it is a potent and almost-finished brew; a little straining, and it's ready to bottle ...

Okay, I've tortured that metaphor long enough.

Case in point: My main character in the new novel has uncovered the name of one of the bad guys and he needs to go and have a little talk with him. I know the bad guy's name, where he lives, and why he's doing what he's doing, though my hero knows only the first two and needs to know the third.

So, as I was about to finish reading a chapter in Greg Bear's new SF novel last night and shut it down for the evening, the whole chapter popped into my head. I didn't have a notepad next to the bed, so I grabbed a subscription form from the New Yorker on the floor and jotted down a few notes, so I wouldn't forget it. Here is what I wrote:

Lake Oswego
White curly hair
Jack Oliver kills Kane ---> Bardo Tinzen ---> bath tub ---> Peek
Hair dryer
Karma pass
Get-out-of-hell-free-card.

Believe it or not, that's a good ten or twelve pages of material, easy. And I'm amazed at how often, if I just put it away, my subconscious mind will continue to worry at a problem until it comes up with an answer. Sometimes it takes a while, but it almost always delivers, if I have time to wait.

On my desk, I have a little yellow (or blue or green) sticky pad, Post-It Notes, and generally these are how I outline chapters. A word or a line is enough for a scene. Four or five scenes is a chapter, and that's all I need. I don't outline every chapter, but if I am trying to move along, I will sometimes sit down and do four or five of these sticky-notes so I have that many chapters lined up.

These tricks may or may not work for you. Writers who say, "This is how I do it." and offer their advice might or might not be helpful to you. In my experience, those who say, "This is how it is done, period." cause more grief than joy. If you believe there is only one way to do it and you can't do it that way, you are stuck.

There are as many ways to get there as there are writers who take the trip. Don't forget that. Anybody who says their path is the only one is trying to sell you something.

And that includes me, of course ...

Monday, May 05, 2008

YouTube is Amazing

So, here is Broken Home's cover of Sarah Bernhard's cover of Prince's "Little Red Corvette."
(In the movie Without You I'm Nothing, it was Bernhard's encore, she came out, stripped to a bikini, wrapped herself in the American flag and sang this, and -- so I've heard -- Tori Amos was one of her back-up singers. It was, well, stunning ...

Bernhard is fairly amazing and very funny, if you are bent that way.

Two white girls and an acoustic guitarist covering her version of the song ... you gotta love YouTube ...

Might not be up long. Prince apparently gets pissy about people covering this stuff without his okay. I can understand why ...

Don't Look Back ...



There are some things better left in memory than brought back up for another pass. Some delights you recall with warm fondness that, upon reexamination, don't taste nearly as good as you remember.

Brown's Velvet Pineapple Sherbet is the lone exception from my childhood. It tastes exactly as I remembered it. Of course, said concoction was made of completely unnatural ingredients as I recall, artificial this, chemical that, no nutritional value at all, but hey, I loved the stuff. On a trip back to Louisiana a few years past, I bought and ate a half gallon of it and it was terrific. Probably as good a preservative as embalming fluid, too ...

My biggest disappointments on the don't-look-back book front could be narrowed to two: Atlas Shrugged and Stranger in a Strange Land. Ayn Rand and Robert Heinlein, respectively, the authors.

Rand, on her best day, wrote material so dense you could use it to stop X-rays, so that's maybe not such a surprise. If you are into the ideas, you tend to gloss over the expression.

Bob, however, when he was on, was a steppin' razor, so sharp was his prose. But he had his off-days.

At eighteen, I became an Objectivist, a philosophy so far to the right that it made John Birchers and Libertarians seem like commie pinkos. It was all so heroic and stolid, and that John Galt line about stopping the world's motor nailed me. Stand up and spit in the collective's eye, yessir, that was where I was going to go.

A couple years later, after living in the Real World, I let go of that pie-in-the-sky vision. I found a replacement that, while it didn't come to pass as I had hoped, at least had a heart instead of only a hard-on.

Heinlein wrote, as I recall, Stranger and Starship Troopers more or less at the same time, and they were polar opposites. Heinlein was closer to Ayn Rand in Troopers, very much Manifest Destiny and all, and that was more in line with his personal philosophy.

When I read Stranger, probably at nineteen or twenty, I was stunned. The sixties were cranking up, and although the book predates the hippie movement, having come out in '61, I didn't get to it until '67 or '68. Just in time.

The adventures of Valentine Michael Smith, the human-Martian more or less astounded me. "I am but an egg," and "Grok," and the Fair Witnesses, the sense of togetherness ... ah, a book for those of us looking for the Age of Aquarius, to be sure. Even came up with the waterbed, first of which we owned in '66, and the idea of water-brothers. I can still recall attending hippie weddings during which a silver bowl of water was passed around for all to sip from ...

Atlas Shrugged is so didactic and of such a heavy philosophical cant that it leaves the term "turgid" in the dust. There is a radio speech in the middle on economics that runs sixty pages that would have put John Maynard Keynes into a coma. Rand never offers a point but that she beats you over the head with it like John Henry swinging his nine-pound hammer, and the only reason that most people who have read the thing did so was because it was required in college philosophy classes.

Or, because they were young and dewy-eyed and actually believed it might work. Rand couldn't even do that in her own life. The first-person book accounts of what went on behind the facade, written years later by Nathaniel Brandon, and his ex-wife, Barbara, were real eye-openers to the faithful. When the woman who created the philosophy can't pull it off, that's a bad sign ...

Of course, I didn't know that until much later.

It is not surprising that, once you have given up the notion that sketching the dollar sign in the air is more spiritual than making the sign of the cross, that the book doesn't hold up. You could make it into armor-piercing shells it is so dense.

Stranger, on the other hand, is simply not nearly as well-written as I remember. Heinlein always bitched that it had been cut from his original ms by sixty thousand words, and thus made much less. Having read the "restored and uncut original" about fifteen years ago, I disagree. (Reminds me of Stephen King's novel, The Stand. When it first came out, I read that, and liked it, but thought that it could have been two or three hundred pages shorter. Later, King decided to revise the book and I thought, Great! So what did he do? He added another three hundred pages ...)

Part of this is, of course, that as a writer, I see strings where I didn't notice them before I started doing my own puppet shows. And part of it is that the utopia that Heinlein was postulating never had a prayer -- so to speak -- anymore than the hippies had of causing the Pentagon to levitate.

Part of it is that Heinlein liked to preach, and he often had a crusty old man in his story to do it for him. Jubal Hershaw offers some things that, in review, seem fairly racist and sexist, not to mention homophobic. (I believe it was in the novel Friday that Heinlein offered a dedication to a bunch of women, several of whom were writers of the day, that certainly sounded like "Here's how it's done, girls." Which was funny, since the character of Friday was never more than a man in skirts, big hooters notwithstanding ...

Um. Perhaps it's like the old joke, What is the Golden Age of Science Fiction? Answer: Twelve. It catches you then, or it misses you, and that might be the situation here: At eighteen, books about unworkable philosophies are more appealing than they will be, once you learn a little bit about how life works ...

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Horror! The Horror!


I don't think I've posted this here before ...

The Barton-Upon-Humber Horror

by

Steve Perry

The night was moonless, and a heavy, opaque, greasy fog oozed fat tendrils onto the land from the icy waters of the Humber to dampen and thicken the darkness yet more. Cold it was, and stinking, and the night and fog enveloped the woods in a dank and sodden shroud of slimy and infernal stillness.
A perfect night, perfect -- except that ...
Bhulabhula, Youngest of the Real Real Old Ones, itched -- and he had nothing with which to scratch. When you were shaped and sized somewhere between a stately pyramid and a slightly -- but handsomely so -- squashed cone without limbs to mar your geometric perfection, scratching became a problem requiring some consideration to solve.
The nearby trees would not serve. Bhulabhula had learned eons past that leaning his beauteous bulk against a tree, no matter how stout it appeared, resulted in the tree simply falling over. In short order, a mere hundred years, such a process resulted in serious deforestation, and left him resting in the middle of a most large clearing, plainly visible for miles, and his older siblings -- and naturally all of the Real Real Old Ones were older, him being the Youngest -- would smile, and if they had heads, shake them, and call him insulting names, just as they always did. What was the word he had learned from men so long ago? Ah, yes -- bastards, they were bastards, every one of his brothers and sisters!
But never let it be said that Bhulabhula had not learned a trick or two even in his short life. To avoid denuding the forests in which he preferred to rest whilst awaiting the day the Real Real Old Ones would once again Take Their Rightful Place, Bhulabhula had indeed divined other ways of dealing with physical irritants.
He gathered his forces, and began to extrude a tentacle. Such work took energies, naturally, and these forces had to be, ah, borrowed, from somewhere where they would not be missed and an accounting demanded. He routed his metamorphic request through the Seventeenth Dimension, wherein time and entropy ran backwards, into the Ninth Dimension, where the Weak Force was strong, and finally into the Twenty-Second, where it was always yesterday and generally raining, and siphoned off a fair amount of etheric power. As the nacreous and pustulent-gangrene-colored limb began to take shape upon his south side -- he could not be said to have a “front” or “back” in the ordinary sense -- he added to the filament’s tip a bit of claw-shaped diamond. Alas, it was not the fastest of processes.
Was there ever anything more irritating than an itch that could not be scratched?
COME ON, COME ON -- ! He had no voice these days to express his thoughts, but the power of his radiopathic intelligence was great, and he could broadcast it for miles if he chose, though he usually did not. Why bother? There was no one around for miles, which was, of course, why he was here. He liked his own company, and mostly disliked that of anyone else. Except, now and then, for Sheelasheela, who could sit for a hundred years without uttering a single thought, and who was comely enough -- even though Sheelasheela now preferred to spend her time with Uugahbuugah, though Bhulabhula could not for his life understand why. Uugahbuugah was loud, unkempt, and obnoxious, and why anybody would wish to be around him was a mystery, no matter how large his chwingam was supposed to be. The female gender’s motivations were beyond reason and unknowable -- everybody knew that.
The scratcher seemed to take millenia, but finally -- finally! -- it was done, and he applied it to the itch ...
Ah ... yes ... right there ...
“There it is!” came an excited human voice.
Had Bhulabhula bothered to manifest eyes this century, he would have blinked. Excreta! Men were about! He should have known! No wonder he itched -- he was allergic to men! Did one of the little pests venture within a mile, his normally clear and beautiful skin would begin to erupt in swellings whose itches were vexing in the extreme!
And unless his ears deceived him -- he did like to listen to the water lap against the nearby shore from time to time so he’d kept a few auditory organs -- the bastard humans -- and there must be more than one, for one of them to be saying “There it is!” unless, of course it was mad and talking to itself -- and it if wasn’t mad, it soon would be, once Bhulabhula turned his attention to it more fully -- were almost upon him. But where were they, exactly?
It was but the work of a moment to route a sub-etheric moibetic function through several aethers to swipe another bit of entropic juice from which to manifest some optical visualization orbs. Half a dozen were probably sufficient. When they were in place, he turned them to see the source of the voice, and of course, he could not see squat because it was so fornicating dark and blasted foggy --
No, wait. There were some dim glows, in that direction ...
He focused his eyes, and discerned that there were three humans, tramping through the woods as men did upon their stubby little appendages, heading directly toward him.
The itch got worse. Alas, he had been concentrating upon the men, and thus his lack of attention had allowed the tentacle to dissolve back into incorporeality. Damn!
Bhulabhula hated humans, as of course he should, and could not wait until the Day When The Real Real Old Ones Arose Again and wiped the irritating little bastards off the face of creation.
Itch-causing bastards, one and all!
As his eyes began to work properly, he could see that the dim glows were some kind of lighting devices, and each of the three -- trio? triad? -- carried one, the devices emitting enough of a yellowish gleam to be just barely visible through the fog, even though they were practically bumping into him.
“I say, Howard!” said one of the men. “You were right! Good Lord, look at the size of that hideous creature!”
Hideous creature? Where? He swiveled a few eyes, but saw nothing. He had been in this spot five hundred years and had never noticed a hideous creature lurking about. He had better start paying attention, lest he be surprised.
Well, he could deal with that later.
Narrowing his focus this way always difficult, but Bhulabhula attended to it with care, and as the three approached, he was able to get a clearer picture --
KILL THEM! his primary hind-brain said. QUICK! QUICK! MANIFEST SOMETHING AND SQUASH THEM INTO THE MIRE!
His primary hind-brain was called Scunthorpe, and its first reaction to anything new was to kill-it-quick. Indeed, it seemed, it was Scunthorpe’s only reaction. The organ was violent in the extreme, and had it run things, half the world would have been squashed by now, with the other half but marking time for its turn.
SHUT UP, he told the hind-brain. WHEN I WANT YOUR OPINION, I WILL ASK YOU FOR IT.
I AGREE WITH THE BOSS, said Driffield -- the secondary hind-brain.
Had Bhulabhula a head, he would have shaken it in disgust. The secondary hind-brain was such an obsequeous sycophantic suck-up. No matter what Bhulabhula said, Driffield would fall all over himself to agree. Pathetic.
BOTH OF YOU BE SILENT! I AM IN CHARGE HERE!
Although he must admit it to himself, if not to the hind-brains, that squashing the approaching three instanter was basically a good idea. They were tricky bastards, men were.
Swatting them outright was never an entirely bad way to deal with them.
Then again, any secondary hind-brain could swat somebody and be done with it, and where was the fun in that? It was ever so much more interesting and amusing to drive them mad and send them back from whence they had come, as an example of what disturbing a Real Real Old One and making it itch would get you. Over the last few thousand years, he had driven quite a few batty and babbling, and another object lesson to show the bothersome insects who was really in charge was never inappropriate, either. In fact, if he did say so himself, Bhulabhula was the most expert among the Real Real Old Ones at this particular endeavor. Sure Thuluthulu could scare the garments off anything with eyes by dint of his sheer ugliness -- Thuluthulu was exceedingly ugly -- but that took no skill. No, he might be the Youngest, but he had his talents. Driving men mad was right up there at the top. Nobody better at it.
Bhulabhula formed another radiopathic essence, having only to wend it through the Fourteenth Dimension to gather a little steam, and aimed it at the three. Yes. He would drive them mad, soon as he had a handle on their minds, which he could easily read, just so ...
The radiopathic sub-etheric two-way enthropic communication essence enwrapped the three men, then returned, bearing a somewhat-abbreviated gist of their tiny minds.
Huh. Look at that.
One of the three -- the one called “Lovecraft,” was already mad, barely able to feed and clothe himself, and able to do that only by utilizing the most basic of skills, making up stories to tell his fellows, something any moron could do. Waste of energy to try and make him more crazed -- he had so little to go to hit the bottom, and where was the challenge in that?
The second, while not mad, was dull-witted to the point whereby madness would probably not even be noticed. The “Doctor,” this one was. No joy to be gained there, either. Drat.
The third -- ah, but here was a mind! Rows upon rows of neat thoughts, catalogued, logical, bright, sharp, here was a mind wherein madness would offer a wonderful arena in which to play!
Here was a field in which a being could romp! He had never seen the like. And this one was called ... the Detective --
“Good God, have you ever seen the like?” the Doctor said.
The smart one -- the Detective -- turned to observe the Doctor. “I believe there are several in Hyde Park.”
The Doctor’s face contorted in what Bhulabhula had learned eons past mean puzzlement. “Really? Odd, I’ve never noticed any. Toward Hammersmith? Or Westminster?”
“No, Doctor. I am being ironic. The only monsters in Hyde Part stand upon speaker’s boxes prattling about the government.”
“Ah. Yes. Quite.”
The Detective turned to observe the third man. “What are you about there, Mr. Lovecraft?”
“I brought my revolver,” the Lovecraft said. He waved a device he held in one hand, pointed it at Bhulabhula, who did not recognize it, having never seen one before. Some kind of talisman, perhaps? Men set great store by these, as he recalled. He would have to delve back into its churning mad thoughts and learn more about this.
“And have you filed the front sight from the barrel?” the Detective said.
“I have not, sir,” the Lovecraft said. “Why would I?”
“So that it will not hurt as much when this creature takes it from your grasp and inserts it with some force into your nether region.”
Had he a mouth, Bhulabhula would have smiled. Ah. He got it. the Detective was informing the Lovecraft that his talisman was useless against a being of such wondrous and formidable stature. Decidedly a clever one, the Detective. It would be a delight to bring him to gibbering lunacy. Why wait? He would start now ...
“I assume you can hear and understand me,” the Detective said, addressing Bhulabhula.
Bhulabhula blinked several of his new eyes, intrigued. They usually didn’t try to talk to him, the fear was ordinarily too great. Generally, once they saw him, they tried to flee, wise, but too late. The sane ones, anyway. But, truth be known, the combination of a crazy one, a dull-witted one, and one with a mind much stronger than ordinary was outside Bhulabhula’s experience. A novelty, indeed. He could perhaps bide a moment before crushing this one’s mind.
I HEAR YOU. WHAT DO YOU WANT?
DON’T DO IT, BOSS! Scunthorpe said. KILL THEM!
THE BOSS KNOWS WHAT HE IS ABOUT, Driffield said.
HEY, WHO ASKED YOU? CONSUME EXCRETA AND PERISH, YOU MISERABLE SLACKWIT SECONDARY TOADY!
Had he lungs, Bhulabhula would have sighed. Those two had never gotten along, Scunthorpe and Driffield.
And the third hind-brain, who for whatever reason preferred to be known as “Bruce,” awoke. Bruce, who was down in the most nether regions of Bhulabhula’s most august and lovely person, generally roused himself but once or twice every thousand years or so, and then usually had nothing better to offer up than, “Mmm. What is going on?”
Bruce said, MMM. WHAT IS GOING ON?
GO BACK TO SLEEP, BOWEL-WIT, Scunthorpe said.
OH. OKAY.
ALL OF YOU WILL BE SILENT OR I WILL REPLACE YOU WITH NODES.
Scunthorpe and Driffield immediately fell quiet. Bruce had already drifted back into hibernation.
“You plan to drive me mad,” the Detective said, “is this not so?”
Startled, Bhulabhula blinked all of his eyes this time. Demonishly clever, the Detective was. He had never met the like.
YES, THAT IS THE PLAN, Bhulabhula admitted.
“I have a proposition for you. Let me offer you a riddle. If you can answer it, then you can cause me to go mad and send me on my way. If you cannot answer it, I will instead do the same to you.”
Had Bhulabhula a forehead, he would have wrinkled it, perplexed. What manner of offer was this?
I HAVE NO NEED TO ANSWER YOUR RIDDLE. I CAN MAKE YOU MAD AS I CHOOSE! YOU CANNOT DO THE SAME TO ME!
“Perhaps,” the Detective said. “Or perhaps not. But now, having heard that I have traveled here and am willing to bet my sanity on a riddle, are you not ... intrigued?”
Well, yes, Bhulabhula admitted to himself, the Detective had him there. He knew of riddles, of course. His old female friend the Sphynx had been an adept with those, offering them to humans, and then gobbling them down when they failed to answer them. Bhulabhula seemed to recall something about a human who had offered her one in return and stumped the Sphynx, but the Sphynx had not been nearly as clever as she fancied herself. Nor nearly as attractive, for that. Could not hold a candle to Sheelasheela for looks, even though she did have some moves ...
A Sphynx was not a Real Real Old One, in any event. No human mind could begin to compare with Bhulabhula’s mind. He had nothing to lose, and it might be momentarily amusing. It was something to do.
DON’T!
WHAT DID I JUST SAY TO YOU, SCUNTHORPE?
BETTER TO BE A LIVE NODE THAN A DEAD HIND-BRAIN, Scunthorpe replied.
I SHALL DEAL WITH YOU LATER. SHUT UP.
UH ... BOSS? That from Driffield.
WHAT?
SCUNTHORPE MIGHT, UH, HAVE A POINT.
Had he a jaw, it would have dropped. Not in ten thousand years had Driffield agreed with Scunthorpe about anything.
EXPLAIN.
I, UH, HAVE A FEELING ABOUT THIS, BOSS.
WELL, OF COURSE YOU DO -- YOU ARE THE EMOTIONAL COMPONENT OF THE BRAIN STEM. DO NOT TROUBLE YOURSELF WITH WORRY. I CAN HANDLE THIS PUNY HUMAN.
Bhulabhula returned his attention to the Detective: I ACCEPT YOUR OFFER. SPEAK YOUR RIDDLE.
The Detective removed from his garments a short and curved artifice. There was a hole in the wider end of the object, into which he packed some herb that had a sharp smell. Bhulabhula had kept a couple of his better olfactories active, so he could detect An old memory stirred. A ... pipe?
Indeed, the Detective caused a tiny fire to erupt from a short twig, applied the flame to the herb in the pipe, and inhaled, shortly thereafter producing a fragrant cloud of bluish-gray smoke. He smiled -- another recognizable expression that men had.
“Do you know what hands are?” he asked.
DO I LOOK LIKE I JUST FELL OFF THE ASTEROID? OF COURSE I KNOW WHAT HANDS ARE!
“And do you know what the sound produced when two hands are brought together sharply with some force is called?”
Bhulabhula considered this for a moment, but found no memory of it.
As if he had known that Bhulabhula did not know this, the Detective continued without waiting for an answer. “It is called a ‘clap,’ he said.
To show the Detective that he was paying attention, Bhulabhula stole a little poly-entropic energy from the Ninety-Seventh Dimension and quickly extruded a pair of hands from his magnificent body, extended them on short arms, and whacked them together smartly, producing a sound with sufficient volume that it had the Doctor and the Lovecraft reaching up with their own hands to cover their ears.
YOU MEAN LIKE THIS? he said, feeling quite proud of his feat.
“Precisely,” the Detective said. “That is the sound of two hands clapping. The riddle is: What is the sound of one hand clapping?”
Had he a mouth, vocal chords, and lungs, Bhulabhula would have laughed aloud.
PREPARE TO GO MAD, the Detective. THE SOUND OF ONE HAND CLAPPING IS HALF THAT OF TWO!
“No,” the Detective said. “That is incorrect.”
Bhulabhula was tempted to extrude himself a forehead so that he could frown.
YOU LIE.
“No. You may access that portion of my mind that shows if I am lying or telling the truth -- but no other portion.”
As if the Detective could stop him. But for now, he would keep it fair, so Bhulabhula did just that.
Bastard! the Detective was not lying.
ALL RIGHT. FINE. THIS IS THE SOUND! With that he waved one hand, producing a faint swishing noise in the fetid air.
“No, that is a swish, not a clap. And also incorrect.”
Without bothering to ask, Bhulabhula snuck into the Detective’ mind again. Sure enough, he was telling the truth. Damn!
What was half of a sound that had not yet been produced?
I TOLD YOU YOU SHOULD HAVE SQUASHED THEM. BUT, NOOO, YOU ALWAYS KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING. YOU DON’T NEED MY HELP. FINE.
NOT EVEN A NODE, Bhulabhula said. A GANGLION. A DENDRITE. THE METABOLIC WASTE OF A DENDRITE.
WHAT DO I CARE IF I’M LIVING INSIDE A MAD MIND?
Bhulabhula metaphorically waved Scunthorpe off. He worried over the riddle for a time. He noticed the the Detective take another device from his garments, a small, round, golden metal object with a chain connecting it to the recess from which it came. There were what appeared to be inscriptions upon the face of this device. The the Detective put the device back into his ... pocket? was it? Yes.
The Doctor said, “Do we have an appointment?”
“Ideed, Doctor. Our friend here is not the only one of his kind in our region. If we are to catch the packet to the steamship docked at Kingston-upon-Hull for a noon departure, we shall have to cross the Humber and be on our way by first light. We have other fish to fry.”
The Detective blew more smoke into the fog. He smiled.
The night wore on. Bhulabhula circled the riddle from every angle and he could find no way to grasp it. It slipped from him at every turn. Even in those dimensions where time ran sideways or backwards, there were no answers that seemed to fit, though he tried offering several. He grew exceedingly irritated at hearing the Detective say, “Incorrect.”
Finally, after some hours, he said, THERE IS NO ANSWER! IT IS A TRICK QUESTION!
“There is an answer,” the Detective said.
I WILL RIP IT FROM YOUR MIND!
“No need for that. I will give it to you. But it is too late. You have lost. It won’t help you now.”
TELL ME!
“Very well. Do you know what a dog is?”
YES, YES!
“And a yew?”
A KIND OF TREE! GIVE ME THE ANSWER, NOW!
“All right. The answer is, ‘The dog peed upon the yew.’”
WHAT? THIS IS NONSENSE!
“Nonetheless, it is the answer.”
YOU CANNOT TRICK ME! I WILL HAVE THE TRUTH!
With that, Bhulabhula lanced his way into the Detective’s brain, sped straight to the compartment which held the riddle’s answer, tore it open, and found therein --
The dog peed upon the yew.
Had he shoulders, they would have slumped. Had he a mouth, he would have spat. Had he a sexual organ, it would have drooped into the dirt.
Something was very wrong here ...
It made no sense! How could a domestic animal urinating upon a plant have anything at all to do with a sound not yet made? It was madness! Madness ...
The horror of that thought fell upon Bhulabhula like an comet from out of space. No!
No, no, be calm. He could do this. He had the riddle, he had the answer, if he could make sense of them, if he could see how one related to the other, he would triumph!
Something in the urine? Some chemical component, perhaps? Or maybe it was in the kind of wood produced by the yew? The noise of the urine striking the tree? But -- but how could that possibly connect to about-to-be sound from hands? There was no thread he could see, no causal way to get from here to there!
YOU SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO ME, Scunthorpe offered.
I HAVE A BAD FEELING ABOUT THIS, Driffield added.
SHUT UP! HELP ME! WE MUST MAKE SENSE OF THIS!
But Scunthorpe and Driffield had little to offer. The puzzle of it consumed Bhulabhula. There had to be a connection! Had to be! If a mere man could devise such a puzzle and an answer, he could at least see the fornicating connection!
So deep was he in his ruminations that he noticed the men were gone only as dawn began to seep through the trees, trying vainly to burn the thick fog away -- a fog that seemed to have invaded Bhulabhula’s very mind, making his thoughts dank and slippery and hard to see. They were gone, fine. That did not matter. What mattered was the bastard riddle.
Dog. Pee. One hand?
Bhulabhula had a sudden premonition. Out there in the fog, hidden in the trees, madness slinked nearer, edging in to pounce. Coming for him, after all the times he had sent it to claim others. He could feel it! It was ... there ...
NO!
But the fear was upon him, and he knew. He would never understand the answer. Not in a million years. And yet, he had to try! All right, maybe it would take two million years.
In the wood, the madness inched closer.
STAY AWAY FROM ME! he ordered. He thought about the riddle again. One hand clapping ...
Had he hair, he would have torn it out. Bastard! Bastard!
And deep in Bhulabhula’s nether regions, the tertiary hind-brain Bruce whimpered in his sleep ...

-30-