Monday, June 30, 2008

Magic Jumping Beatle Coin


First public try at this sleight:

video

A Picture is Worth ...



I was having an email discussion with a writer friend, and the subject of how-to classes came up. I've done a few of those over the years, and I tend to mix and match material from previous classes, on the theory that you speak to a passing parade, and that newbies need to know the same basics.

Digging around in my files, I came across these -- from a time when I had read something about using pictures to help you remember better when you were giving a speech or teaching a class. Works well, if you have the time and even the smallest ability to cartoon.

Click on the images to enlarge them. See how a twisted mind works ...

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Summer Finally Arrives

Been a cool and wet spring -- big surprise in Oregon and SW Washington -- but finally, yesterday, summer got here. 101 degrees F. in beautiful Beaverton officially, a degree hotter than that at Steve's house, by two different thermometers. Dry, hot, great. Got the wading pool out for the dogs, kept the lights mostly off in the house, let the computers sleep when we weren't using them. We drank enough ice water to float a battleship.

We do have a window unit AC, but we generally hold off installing it unless it looks as if we are going to get a week's worth of such days. As long as it cools off in the evening, it's not so bad, and our house has storm windows and lots of trees in the yard, so it stays relatively cool until late in the day.

When you string four or five such days together, usually at the end of August, and it stays at seventy degrees all night so the house doesn't cool down, then we unpack the AC from the garage and stick it in my office window. Computer starts to do funny things north of ninety degrees, and that's not good.

Cooler today -- might hit ninety -- and muggier -- got some clouds, and a chance of isolated afternoon thundershowers. Rest of the country has been sweltering or drowning, so we can't complain because we had one day of a hundred-plus temperatures.

(You can cook an egg on the sidewalk when it gets hot enough, but it doesn't exactly fry. On top a dark automobile, though, it will cook pretty fast -- though it's not a good idea if you value the paint job ...)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

You're Gonna Need an Ocean/ Of Calamine Lotion ...

Fascinating article in this week's The New Yorker. Piece speaks of a woman, educated, married, with kids, whose life took an ugly wrong turn. She and her husband fought and split. She turned into a drunk. Got hooked up with a bad boy who drank and did drugs. They went down the road riding the white horse. She caught HIV from an addict while needle sharing. Lost visitation rights to her kids, her job.

So she decided to clean up her act. Lost the boyfriend, kicked the habit, then developed shingles, a nasty viral infection that produces blisters. When it went away, she had a couple years of relative peace -- but the shingles apparently killed some of the nerves in her scalp and left her with an itch on her head that nothing would touch.

She tried everything. During the day, she could maintain, but at night, she would scratch it while she slept. Would wake up bleeding. Scratched through the bandages, the scab, and nothing helped. Doctors tried the whole pharmacological arsenal; the even treated her for depression, and OCD, which she apparently did not have.

She woke up one morning with some funny-colored goop on the bandage that was left and went to her doctor. He took a look, then ran to call the ambulance.

During the night, she had scratched through her skull and into her brain.

That, friends, is an itch.

After surgery, she scratched the skin graft off, scratched it off a second time. Eventually, they tied her hands to the bed rails. She learned how to sleep wearing a football helmet and padded mittens, and the infection to her brain partially-paralyzed her.

Years later, the itch is still there ...

As the guy writing the article pointed out, itching has a psychological component -- at least some of you, while reading this, almost surely felt the urge to, and probably did, scratch. I did, and I wrote it. (As somebody who suffered horrendously from poison ivy when I was young, I feel for this poor woman.)

As the Coasters said:

"Measles make you bumpy/
And mumps'll make you lumpy/
And chicken pox'll make you jump and twitch/
A common cold'll fool ya/
And whooping cough can cool ya/
But poison ivy, Lord'll make you itch!!

Late at night while you're sleepin'/
poison ivy comes a creepin' arr-rroo-oo-uu-nnn-ddd ..."

Brrrr ....

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Who is Who ...


According to the 1990 census, the top ten most common last names;

Number % Frequency Rank
SMITH 2,501,922 1.006 1
JOHNSON 2,014,470 0.81 2
WILLIAMS 1,738,413 0.699 3
JONES 1,544,427 0.621 4
BROWN 1,544,427 0.621 5
DAVIS 1,193,760 0.48 6
MILLER 1,054,488 0.424 7
WILSON 843,093 0.339 8
MOORE 775,944 0.312 9
TAYLOR 773,457 0.311 10

For the whole list, go here.

It is worth noting, I think, that in the top twenty, you get to Garcia, Martinez, and other n0t-so-whitebread names, and I'm guessing those have moved up and will keep doing so.

Perry is at 84 ...

Fear or Terror?


I have a file of metaphors and similes and pithy sayings into which I drop things from time to time. Came across it, and rediscovered one I've always thought was amusing. If I haven't posted it here before, I should have.

Regarding the difference between "fear" and "terror."

Fear is the first time you can't get it up twice.

Terror is the second time you can't get it up once ...

If you are too young or inexperienced to understand these references, then you ought not to be reading this blog. Go and ask Daddy what "get it up" means. Don't tell him where you read it. Tell him you heard Uncle Bobbe say something about it ...

Mighty Dog


So, two a.m. this morning, and my little dog slips outside and commences a great barking that sounds like a squeaky toy gone mad. Normally, this is the sound she makes when she sees a squirrel, or as we call them, "ess-ques," because even the name spoken aloud is enough to start a claw-scrabbling hey-Moe-hey-Larry woo-woo-woo-woo run for the back yard.

Soon as the critter gets high enough up the trees, she usually shuts up.

But not this time. She's carrying on like the squirrel army is advancing and so I get up, go to the bedroom door and call her.

Not interested in coming.

Well, far be it from me to ignore my faithful dog if she is trying to warn me of some danger. Wolves, burglars, maybe the house is on fire, and wouldn't I feel terrible if I didn't attend the situation?

(Although my other faithful dog, lying on the bed, has barely deigned to rouse himself to look up. Whatever it is, Jude has apparently decided, Layla can handle it.)

Fine. So I grab my flashlight and the wall-hanger replica of the samurai sword McCloud carries in The Highlander, and head out to see what all the commotion is about.

(I know, I know, I should have taken a gun, of course, but if I have to shoot somebody, the neighbors, who are doublessly all awake by now from the little dog carrying on will hear it and that will be another brick on my half-asleep load I don't need. I figure if there is a burglar out there, seeing a large, naked man bearing a flashlight and a samurai sword will probably be enough to make him reconsider his choice of houses and depart the premises.

But, no. Layla has trapped a young opossum under a board I've set up over a depression under the laundry room window where upon I park the barbecue grill. Thing is about the size of a guinea pig -- hissing and showing teeth, but mostly wanting the noisy dog to go away.

I'm with the possum. I bring Layla back inside, make sure she can't get back out, and hope that the critter will decide that a yard with dogs in it is not the best place to live. Plus I'll go fill up the hole with dirt later today.

It's always something.

The 2nd Amendment: It Ain't About Duck Hunting ...


Photo by Stephen Crowley/The New York Times


In case you missed it: Read the story here.

And the opinion here.

The court, by a narrow margin, allowed essentially that individual rights did not require collective membership in an official organization to be valid; and that since the "militia" of the day was a de facto requirement for able-bodied men, citizens, of a certain age, and who might not be in the barracks when the call to duty came, having a firearm handy at home was a good idea.

Of course, times change, but the intent of the Constitution's framers by putting in this amendment right after free speech makes it clear that they thought the way to resist tyranny was to have access to the tools. And the SCOTUS agreed.

Of course, 5-4 isn't what you'd call a wide margin; still, this one I agree with.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Whip It



When I was a lad, my great-grandfather had a ten-foot-long black bullwhip that he told me he had used on the mules on his farm in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He had hung it up long before I was born, after he could afford a Ford tractor. This one was looped over a nail on the back porch, and you could smell the oiled leather before you were close enough to touch it.

Just out of curiosity, I went to check on the replica bullwhips made by David Morgan -- the guy who made 'em for the Indiana Jones movies. You can buy one if you want, here.

That is, if you have happen to have an extra $865 laying around ...

Ten feet long, 12-plait, kangaroo hide -- just the thing to liven up your next backyard barbecue: "Give me your car keys, Ted, you've had too much beer to drive home. Gimme. What? What will I do if you don't? Oh, I'm so glad you asked ..."

For the record, I enjoyed the latest Indy outing, The Crystal Skull. Yeah, it was silly, but so what? None of the Saturday morning serials I saw down at the Paramount back in the late fifties ever made any realistic sense, either. And you have to love watching the 65-year-old Harrison Ford doing so many of his own stunts -- no cutaways, you can see his face. Man deserves an Oscar, funny and fast isn't easy ...

Monday, June 23, 2008

... he said.


Somebody sent me a link. It's passing weird to see one's self quoted this way ...

Let's Get Physical

Plato said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." and I think he was wrong -- plenty of folks are happy without being introspective, and probably more so than many navel-gazers. However, for those of us who do stop and look around or within, certain epiphanies are possible, and sometimes, these can make the examination worthwhile.

I never thought of myself as a jock. This was because, back in high school, the football players were jocks, and I never played football. I did run track one semester, but was kicked off the team for sassing the coach. Still, track didn't count back then, football was king.

But, of course, I am a jock, in the sense that I've always participated in some kind of physical activity. I seriously ran, swam, lifted weights, rode bikes, did martial arts, hiked. Played the odd sandlot -- or down south, swamplot -- softball game, volley ball, badminton. Tried tennis, even golf, though those faded fast. Even did a short stint race-walking, but looking like a duck on speed didn't appeal.

I have been very lucky so far -- knock on wood -- to have mostly escaped serious injuries. Pulled this, strained that, broke a couple of those, but by and large, not much down-time given more than half a century of sweat and lactic acid production. The worst of these have been after I was well past my physical prime and into patch-patch-patch on the downslope. I have bad thumb joints I have to tape to keep from jamming them when I punch. I tore a calf muscle in my early fifties. Tore a rotator cuff a few months back. Bunged up knee a few weeks ago. Something is always sore, even if just from overuse and not injury.

So, why risk more of that? To what end? I get asked that sometimes by folks who don't see the need for all that huffing and puffing about. Why bother? You have a TV set and a car, right? Where is the fun in maybe getting punched in the face in a class you are paying for?
It ain't none of it gonna guarantee you'll live any longer, will it?

True. There is no guarantee that exercise allows you to live longer. Your number is going to be up, and maybe, maybe not, having a slow pulse rate and the ability to carry the garbage can out to the street rather than roll it will make an hour's difference. I happen to believe that clean living and moderation does shade the odds in your favor, but I don't know for sure. I could drop dead of a heart attack or a stroke this afternoon. Guys in better shape than I have keeled over dead and I expect they were really surprised at that.

What I do know is that the quality of life I've enjoyed -- and enjoyed it I have -- has been improved by feeling at least moderately physically-fit. That being able to climb the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator, or to move the file cabinet without having to call somebody for help has added to my joi de vive. That feeling as if I could handle myself in a push-come-to-shove situation has let me walk places without feeling the worry a lot of people feel.

I'm not a bug about it, I have no desire to summit Everest, nor rappel down the side of the Washington Monument, nor to do a Triathalon. I'm a jock, but not that much of one.

At sixty, I have to acknowledge that I am not bulletproof as once I thought I was, and that some of what I could shrug off at twenty, thirty, even fifty, is going to cost more than I want to pay these days. Still, I'd rather risk the twisted ankle or the strained back than settle for the inevitable decline without protest.

In Norse mythology, there is the notion of Ragnarök. The final meeting between the gods and heroes of Valhalla -- the Æsir and Odin -- against the Jötnar and Loki. The gods will go into the battle knowing they are fated to lose to Chaos, with creation being destroyed and then reborn. The real life Vikings fought and died to win a place at that table -- just to be on the losing side.

We are all going to go away in the end. Better, I think, to rage against the dying of the light and go down swinging ...

Another Guilty Pleasure

I'm not a fan of reality TV shows. I have watched enough of the biggies -- Survivor, American Idol, Dancing With Whomever -- to know I don't want to go there. Ten minutes is more than enough. There's no "reality" in them. After five minutes of listening to whining on the island, I was rooting for a volcano to erupt and bury them all in lava twelve feet deep. That anybody would submit themselves to Simon's snarkiness for any amount of fame and money amazes me. That football players can dance? That is not so amazing.

That said, I got hooked into one on the Food Network.

The Next Food Star is, of course, as silly as any of the other reality shows. The premise is simple: A bunch of young folks who want to have their own show on the cooking channel, are put into a communal house, and must face a series of cooking challenges given by well-known chefs. Each week, one of them is kicked off, until ...

In the end there can be only one ...

The contestants in this year's version range from a nineteen-year-old kid who blushes a lot, to a Dallas woman who looks like a Cosmo model with a private entrance at Neiman Marcus. Still left on is a shave-headed black guy who cooks in a hospital, a perky little thing who used to have her own cable access cooking show in college, and somebody's mama who cries at the drop of a hat. Plus a wanna-be stand-up comic whose main goal seems to be able to manage to cook something -- anything -- that isn't raw ...

Nipa the midwestern Indian girl got cut last night, and good riddance.

It is, by design, the bridge of the starship Enterprise. A Rainbow Coalition crew.

They get thrown into the pressure cooker: You have to prepare a meal for thirty Coast Guard guys, on the cutter, using their galley, you have one hour, and you have to use white chocolate or Fruit Loops or grape jelly in your main dish ...

Typically, one, maybe two dishes are edible enough to impress the three-judge panel, the rest stink on ice. On an earlier show, guest judge Iron Chef Morimoto allowed out loud that one pork dish was unfit for human consumption. Last night, one of the chefs said, I took one bite of that crepe and spit it out. Yet these cooks are still on the show ...

It's brutal. Well, faux-brutal. And the funny thing about it is, they must have had thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of applications to be on the show, and these were the best they could do? People who can't cook an egg? Who cringe at touching a fish?

It's Moe, Curly, and Larry meet Joan Rivers in the kitchen. Woo-woo-woo-woo!

They can't possibly be picked for their culinary skills, but for how much people are going to be rooting for or against them. The producers shoot a lot of footage, and then show you what they want you to feel good or bad about. It's a Punch and Judy puppet play, more manipulative than a stadium full of chiropractors ...

The highlight of the season so far is when Lisa from Dallas, who wears three-hundred-dollar blouses, pearls, and hooker heels to cook, slipped and fell on her butt and spilled half a quart of sauce all over herself -- her presentation immediately after that was, hands-down terrific. She needs to slip and fall and coat herself in barbecue soak every episode ...

Ah, what can I say? It's a guilty pleasure.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Wordles


From the prologue and a later chapter of Champion of the Dead.

Want to do one? Go here ...

Deep and Narrow

Over on his blog, Steve VH brought up a subject that is near and dear to my heart, and I thought I'd take it out and play with it a little here.

In the dedication for The Musashi Flex, a novel that is centered around the creation of a dueling martial art, I wrote this: "And for the Eclectics, who have a point, but who also miss a larger one: Now and then, deep and narrow beats wide and shallow all to hell and gone, and you ignore this at your peril ..."

This was addressed generally, though there was a particular group, led by a well-known and supposedly bad-ass former streetfighter turned author, at which it was more specifically aimed. I won't mention his name here, but most of my martial arts readers know who he is. At one point, I was involved in a discussion with him and this fellow allowed flat-out as how monostyles did not work; that one needed to cross-train in many systems, and essentially, cherry-pick the best from each and discard the rest.

(He isn't the only guy to have made such claims. There are some other well-known and lowly-regarded "masters" whose rice bowls are filled selling this line: Hey, look here! I've taken this old.357 Magnum wheelgun, removed five of the bullets, and now it's a better weapon! Yeah. Right.)

I found it particular amusing that the BAFSTA to whom I refer who baldly stated that monostyles were worthless, spent a fair amount of money flying a well-known silat monostylist in to teach his group. And that this same fellow demonstrated no real skill when some of the students of the silat guy had a chance to move with him.

Talk the talk is not the same as walk the walk ...

The BAFSTA in question once told me that the silat guy he flew in was the deadliest fighter he'd ever seen, and that he wouldn't want to try him if he had a knife and the silat guy was bare. All those nasty, nasty elbows.

Um. I won't belabor the story, which is harder to follow without names, but the point is that the silat guy was narrow, but deep in his art, and that the bad-ass was wide and shallow, and that push come to shove, there was no question who would walk away, not in anybody's mind.

One of the problems with the eclectics approach is that they seem to believe that constantly re-inventing the wheel is both necessary and good.

They are wrong.

A punch to the temple does the same thing today it did ten thousand years ago. Human physiology hasn't changed, and while there are many broadly-educated fighters who have many more techniques from which to choose, five simple good ones are better than five hundred complicated ones. When push comes to shove for real, it's the simple stuff that will save your ass. When the hormones thrum, the fancy, tricky stuff goes away.

I also love it that while re-inventing things, they come up with "new" ideas that have been around forever. Here's one: Action is faster than reaction. If your gun is in the holster and the knifer is inside twenty feet, if he moves first, he can get to you before you can clear leather -- unless you are the reincarnation of John Wesley Hardin. If you just stand there and go for your piece, you can get sliced into hamburger.

Guy who moves first and hard has the edge. Guy who moves second is playing catch-up. Can this be overcome? Yeah -- you play a whole note and I respond with a triplet, I might get ahead. Simple. Not easy ...

People do need to be told stuff like action-beats-reaction, because some of them don't know it, but to claim you came up with the notion is, well, not so. There's an old Sundanese proverb, also quoted in the novel: "Batur arek uring enggeus." What this means is "When they get ready, we are already done."

If that isn't "Move first!" I don't know what is. And they knew it a long time ago.

I won't get into the purpose of martial arts and what they do and don't do generally -- read Rory's book, he offers a thoughtful, reasoned look at the subject. I will say, however, that because a thing is old, it isn't necessarily worthless. Look around and see which bottles of wine are the most expensive and considered the best by the experts in the field.

None of those wines were made yesterday ...

Friday, June 20, 2008

Meditations on Violence

Okay, so let's get this out of the way first -- Rory Miller's book, Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Traning & Real World Violence is one you need to read if you are a serious martial artist. There is stuff in it you probably know, but some you probably don't, and knowing it might save your ass ...

Probably wouldn't hurt to read it if you are a street cop, a reporter, a fireman, or a medic who is apt to find him- or herself in harm's way. Or just somebody who is interested in methods to stay healthy and alive.

Miller, a corrections officer with a lot of training in both martial arts and hands-on applications of it, writes cleanly, in a manner easily understood, as offhand as somebody telling the stuff over a cup of coffee. His is, if not unique, certainly a rare experience, and there is much to be gleaned from him sharing it.

Buy the book, read it, lend it to your friends, and buy another copy when they don't give it back.

It isn't a how-to, full of techniques. The book speaks more to the psychology of violence, and how one's reality map might be radically altered. And the title is a bit iffy -- martial arts is a big tent, and he can't begin to cover them all. I understand the intent, but even so, it's kind of like picking up one of those martial arts "encyclopedias" and finding that the one you practice isn't listed. Sins of omission count ...

Over the last couple of years, Rory and I have had some interesting exchanges, on his blog, on mine, and ... over a cup of coffee. We are in agreement on many things, disagree on a few, and I'd like to think there is a mutual respect; certainly there is on my side.

After reading this book, some of what I had questions about has been made clearer. And while I liked the guy before, I like him better now. He lets it all hang out, and that gets him points.

There are still things about which we don't see eye-to-eye, and probably won't. He has a world of experience that I don't, but I've got my own, and I have to go with mine. (He speaks to this early on: "Never, ever override your own experience and common sense on the say-so of some self-appointed 'expert.'" Be skeptical as hell of this book, he says, and he's right to say so. He doesn't agree 100% with any of the long list of authors in the bibliography included in the back, and that's understandable.

As he points out, the needs of a CERT team barreling into a cell with a psychotic biker are not the same as a woman trying to avoid rape, or a guy getting hassled by teenagers at a bus stop, so one size doesn't fit all. Of those three, I'm more concerned with the last. But many of the principles are applicable straight across, and that's useful to know.

I have quibbles, but it's a good book. You should buy it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Second Favorite Buddy Samurai Movie



Red Sun, with Charles Bronson, Tshiro Mifune, Ursula Andress, and Alain Delon. Also came out in the early seventies, a western/eastern movie.

Inspired casting -- you have one of the guys who starred in Seven Samurai, and one who starred in the American remake of it, The Magnificent Seven.

Clever set-ups, good action, and a couple of the best movie lines ever, including a scene camping with a buzzing mosquito that is priceless.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Pachelbel Rant

I am Johann's biggest fan, what can I say? Yeah, it's been done to death, they beat it to a pulp at weddings and high school graduations, it's in bad TV commercials, but when I first heard it, I thought Canon in D was prima facie evidence for the existence of God. Simple, moving, hypnotic, and I love it. I am a simple man from a simple village.

But this guy? This is funny, and dead-on true ...

Stuttering Canon

A little tremolo practice, with the arrangement of Pachelbel's Canon in D upon which I have been working for what seems like most of my life ...

(Technically, you cannot fire this kind of contrapuntal canon with only one instrument, it's like a round, you need more than one voice, but what the hell, I'm gonna call it that anyhow. If I can ever get t the point where I can play it all the way through without screwing it up, I'll post it.)


video

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Nasty Bug


Yesterday, I awoke somewhat headache-y and queasy, and very quickly realized I had picked up some kind of bug. If I had to guess, I'd say was some variant of the Norwalk virus.

Those of you who have had such things, commonly referred to as stomach flu, or 24-hour flu, do not need me to elucidate the signs and symptoms. Pretty much any description of the symptoms is too much information, but the treatment is simple: A) Rest B) If you don't eat or drink anything, it won't come back to haunt you. Since I could manage water okay, yesterday was a fast day. (The good thing about fasting now and against on a regular basis, as I do is that you know you can do it without any problems.)

Late in the afternoon, I dropped my wife an email telling her I wouldn't be eating dinner, but that I could fix her a pot of rice or somesuch, and she allowed as how she was feeling pretty much the same way. She came home, we fell into bed, and went right past supper into nighty-night.

We are better today. So far, Mr. Coffee seems to agree with Mr. Stomach.

It's always something ...

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Handgonnes



One of the first European small arms -- called handgonnes -- that can be reliably dated was the Tannenberg Hand Cannon.

Using black powder as a propellant, and probably fired by sticking a red-hot iron into the torch hole, this weapon was discovered in a well under the Tannenberg castle ruins, and since they know the castle was knocked down in 1399, that is the latest the piece could have come to be there. Still had a round in the chamber. (The illustrations are of the original, and a copy, showing how a wood "stock" would have be used.)

It would have been held in the hand like a spear, or maybe tucked under an arm, nobody is certain. Could have had an assistant to touch it off.

Large cannons had been around for a while, but this seems to be among the earliest, if not the earliest example of a working pistol. It would have fired a big honking bullet, been accurate enough to keep four of five on a man-sized target at twenty feet, and able to blow a hole in a knight's armor.

Come a long way in a mere four hundred years with these things, haven't we?

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Yakuza

Okay, I'm a long-time Robert Mitchum fan. That sleepy-eyed look, the laconic drawl, the bust for marijuana, in like 1948, when nobody but jazz musicians smoked dope, gotta love a guy like that. Mr. Noir himself, and a tough guy to the end.

In the mid-70's, Mitchum, along with Tanaka Ken, starred in a Leo/Paul Schrader/Sydney Pollack movie called The Yakuza. It is the best contemporary samurai movie ever made, hands-down, no question.

I won't give any of the plot away, which is fairly convoluted in spots, but it concerns what the Japanese call giri, and when I first saw it, I was amazed.

It's not a chick flick. If you are a man and haven't seen it, rent it. You won't be sorry.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Car Culture

With gasoline currently running $4.25 a gallon locally, it is fun to turn one's memory to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when, as a dewy-eyed teenager, I could buy petrol for a quarter a gallon. Back in the day, a big hunk of Detroit iron, six-passenger sedan, got eight or nine miles a gallon, but when you could fill the car for five or six bucks? Not such a big deal.

And we all rode in Detroit iron back then. Sure, there were some funny-looking little pregnant roller skates -- German bugs, Swedish, French, and even English sport cars, but they were few and far between. Nothing Japanese or Korean on the road I can recall.

In those halcyon times, if you were solidly middle-class, you bought a new Ford or Chevy or Plymouth or DeSoto, or Buick or Olds or Pontiac -- there were a lot more choices -- kept it for a couple of years, and then traded it in on a new model.

If you've seen American Graffiti -- and if you haven't you should -- then you know what it was like in our town on a Friday or Saturday night during the summer. Everybody piled into a car and went cruising. There were drag races, spectacular crashes, and no such things as seat belts.

Yeah, you went to the drive-in or to a dance or roller skating or whatever, if you had a date, but even so, you went out cruising afterward. Hit Hoppers', then went to the submarine races ...

The seats in those steel dinosaurs were benches, front and back, like small couches, long enough to stretch out on, and if you were out with your best girl, she slid over and sat hip-to-hip with you as you drove. You had the window down, left arm draped over the door frame, and baby, you rolled ...

If you couldn't get a date, you would usually clump together with five or six other stags and cruise with whoever had the hottest car. Everybody chipped a buck each for gas, and you could ride all night long. Even at nine mpg, a twenty or twenty-two gallon tank was good for a while. It was cheap entertainment, the summer night prowls.

Round, round, get around, I get around ...

There were three Hoppers' drive-ins in town. One on Florida Boulevard, one on the Airline Highway, one on Scenic Highway. You and your five buddies would cruise through two of them in sequence several times each night. (The one on Scenic, over by the Plant, wasn't good for that, there was no drive around.)

One of the most fun games was, if you were three guys abreast in the front seat and happened to be riding shotgun -- sitting next to the passenger door -- would be to make the guy sitting next to you look gay. How you did this was, as you pulled into Hoppers', you'd say, "Shit, I dropped my cigarettes!" and you'd hunch way over, ostensibly to find them.

This would leave your buddy to your left sitting next to the driver, hip-to-hip, and from outside the car, it would appear that they were alone. Two guys alone, next to each other on the wide seat? In Louisiana, circa 1964?

We're here and we're queer ...

Of course, if your buddy realized what you were up to -- you could only pull the trick once -- he would start pounding on your back and yelling, "Sit up! Sit up, you fucker! Sit up!"

Okay, so we were easily amused back then. You had to be there. If you weren't, you missed something special, because those really were the good old days ...

Favorite Belt Test


There are no colored ranking belts in our version of silat; indeed, we have but two ranks: Guru (teacher) or student. (There was a third in the system my teacher learned, Pendekar, which is reserved for the head of the style, and he honors that, but since we were more or less booted out of that house, we don't use that term save when referring to my teacher's teacher, and infrequently so.)

Sometimes an honorific is added as a prefix to Guru -- Maha, meaning in this instance "great," as in, well, "great teacher!"

So, we don't have belt tests or certificates. A lot of martial arts systems do, and attaining the black belt, though it has been much devalued these days, for many and good reasons, was once considered a Major Deal.

The most memorable rank I achieved, however, was the first belt I got in Okinawa-te, the purple belt. We had six colors in that style -- white, purple, blue, green, brown, and black -- there were two degrees of brown, so there were seven possible ranks when I was there.

This test would have been late in 1967 or early 1968. It was a group thing, all of the tests up to black were. Black, you got on your own. After a hard workout, as you were getting ready to change into your street clothes, Sensei would walk over and say, "I think you are ready." and the test started right then, no warning, no preparation. Since I only got to first brown before we moved away, I never got that tap on the shoulder, but I got to help test a couple of guys who did, and it was a long and hard business. Generally took about five years to get to it.

After the test the night I achieved purple, we celebrated. Sensei had a soda machine in the dojo, and somebody had stuck a couple bottles of champagne in the bottom to cool. We took those, and went outside. Shook them up, and popped the corks, shooting those and a lot of froth into the middle of Sunset Boulevard. Dressed in our black pajamas and looking both fierce and exultant, nobody driving by on their way to Hollywood dared stop and hassle us. (These days, we'd probably have gotten shot by gangbangers, but the times were more gentle then.)

I remember standing barefoot on the sidewalk in my canvas gi, already faded from Rit Dye black to washed-out gray, sipping cheap champagne from a paper cup, and thinking I was one of the toughest bad-asses in the world ...

Ignorance is sometimes truly bliss.

Ah, the good old days ...

Unconscious Learning



Following up on the Jade post:

In 1967, my then-pregnant wife and I packed everything we wanted to keep into two trunks and two suitcases, sold or gave away everything else, and got on a plane to L.A.

There were two reasons for this: One, to get away from our families and establish ourselves on our own. In our youthful arrogance, we felt as if our parents were looking at us and saying, "Look, how cute -- they're married!" We were nineteen, by God, and adults!

So funny now to think about how much we thought we knew then.

The second reason was because I much wanted to continue my martial arts training, and in a place where there was more than one option; in Baton Rouge at the time, there was one karate school, and you had to go to the Y to study judo. In the karate school, we mostly studied forms, and we didn't spar -- our teacher thought it was too dangerous.

You can't learn how to fight practicing on your own in front of the mirror.

It was either L.A., San Francisco, or New York City if you were looking for Asian martial arts in those days, and I had a grandmother living in SoCal, so off we went.

It was an adventure -- no job, not much money, but we were just turned twenty and bulletproof. We played until our money ran out. I got a job, first place I looked, working backup/inside sales for an aluminum company. We moved out of the hotel, found a ratty apartment, and we were gold.

After visiting maybe twelve other MA schools, I began training in Okinawa-te. Place was close to our house, and I didn't have a car, only a little Yamaha motorbike. (First car we got, just before my son was born, was a '61 Corvair, aka The Death Machine, Usafe at Any Speed, with the driver's door roped shut because that side of the car had been bashed in.)

The sparring at the Okinawa-te class sold me: it looked brutal -- and was. I figured my Goju training, also Okinawan, would be useful. (It wasn't, but no matter. There we were.)

I was training three or four nights a week, consecutive classes each night, totaling three hours, and working at the aluminum company in my white shirt and tie, weekdays and some Saturdays.

The Okinawa-te dojo was old-style. You bowed when you entered the building. Took your shoes off inside the door. Bowed when you stepped onto the mat. Bowed to the teacher. Bowed to your fellow students every time you did anything.We bobbed up and down like one of those little perpetual motion birds that dips its bill into a glass of water ...

I didn't think anything of it. It was part of the trip. The bow was to show respect to the school, our teacher, our opponents, and we just did it without thinking.

One fine morning at work, I was summoned to the VP's office, to collect some worksheets for a bid we were working on for Boeing or Hughes or Douglas, I can't recall which. As I reached the doorway, I stopped, and automatically bowed.

I was horrified. Ohmigod, people didn't do that in this country! What if somebody saw? They already thought I was a weirdo, but if I was doing my Mr. Moto/Charlie Chan imitation, how much weirder would that make me?

It shook me, because I realized for the first time that doing something by rote over and over without thinking about could seep into your life, and not necessarily in a good way.

In real combat, range habits can get you shot. Stopping to collect your dropped magazine or to pick up your spent brass because that's what you always do at the gun club are bad ideas if somebody is shooting back at you, but people do it. You fight like you train.

This is why bowing, taking a stance, and always backing up when your fellow martial art student attacks, then counter-punching can be a dangerous sequence. That's how we did it in Okinawa-te, and it took me years to unlearn that when I got into silat. Backing up works in some cases. In some, it gets you creamed. You need alternatives.

The closer you can get in practice to how you might see it outside the dojo, the better. Street clothes, various terrains, starting from neutral or every day stances, like that, are more apt to be useful -- come the dill, as Mack Reynolds used to say.

Wait! Wait! Let me take my shoes off! You didn't bow! You cheater!

Any kind of training less than full-out, no-hold-barred will have, by its nature, limitations. The alternative is that every session, some folks won't leave class under their own power, and the authorities frown on that. If you keep breaking your toys, pretty soon you don't have any left. (Or you get broken, which is not any better ...)

So the balance is how to train at less than full-out, and to learn what you need, which is tricky. You can wear protective gear, alter your aim rather than pulling a strike -- hit somebody in the chest or shoulder instead of the nose -- and practice slowly and with less than full power until you and your opponent can speed up, hit harder, and deal with it.

At this stage of the game, if I miss a block and get thumped, it's my fault. I know that the guy is trying to hit me, and I have the skills to stop it, so shame on me if I don't take care of it.

In boxing, the referee says this before every match, it's the #1 rule: Protect yourself at all times. The bell isn't a stone wall, and lot of guys have been sucker punched after the round ended.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Incoming!



Each year, the knife company Cold Steel has a Challenge that involves various ways of playing with sharp and pointed thingees. In the mano a mano competitions, they don't use real weapons, of course, but padded ones, and there are ring judges and refs, much like a karate match.

In addition to the duels, there are throwing events -- knife, axe, spear, tomahawk, shovel, and torpedo (this last a steel rod that looks kind of like a big pencil sharpened on both ends.) This is less subjective -- there are scored targets and the winners are those who score the highest

In the current issue of Kung Fu Illustrated, Cold Steel has a congratulations-to-the- winners page in the back, with pictures of the top four finishers in each event. At the bottom of the page, however, there are only three winners shown in the throwing competitions --- second, third, and fourth. That's because Michah Posada, from San Diego, won all of the throwing events.

All of them.

This is the guy you want covering your back when the sharps start flying ...

The Yellow Peril



So, after watching the Lakers/Celtics game earlier tonight -- a contest in which the laws of physics were somehow suspended, since the ball had to have kept shifting in weight, from basket- to bowling- to beachball, given what was getting launched were bricks, airballs, and over-the-backboard shots, and nobody could buy a jam, those were bouncing to the roof at Staples ...

Never mind. Leave it. L.A. won -- ugly, but it counts.

After that, I was casting around for something more exciting to watch, being too lazy to get up and go fetch a book.

Came across TNT's running of Thank You, Mr. Moto, from 1937.

This was the second installment of what turned to be five or six of these things, I think, starring Peter Lorre as the wily Japanese detective, Mr. Moto. Wearing false and somewhat buck, teeth, and made up to look like what Hollywood thought was Japanese.

This was probably the best of the lot -- not saying much -- and undoubtedly the series was made to compete with the more-popular Charlie Chan films, starring Warner Oland (and Sidney Toler) -- another pair of fine Asian fellows, like Lorre. (In the credits for the Moto movie, you have to go down to the bottom of the list to find a Chinese name, and it's the only one on the page, Philip Ahn. Everybody else with credits is a white boy or girl. Half the Chinese extras are played by Japanese, too ...)

The plot, such that it was, concerned ancient scrolls supposedly offering a map to the tomb of Genghis Khan, a name half the actors kept pronouncing "Jengus." A great treasure was buried there, ten million or so, real money back then. These days, that would hardly fill up your SUV ...

Needless to say, bad guys want the scrolls, as does Mr. Moto.

Set in China -- they are in Peking -- Mr. Moto and Prince Chung, the owner of most of the scrolls, are buddies, which is amusing, given the relations between China and Japan at the time, The Rape of Nanking and all.

John Carradine has a turn as a Spanish? Portuguese? Italian? antique dealer, Periera, with an accent that was stunning in its awfulness. Had he chewed any more scenery, the set would have collapsed and killed them all, and it would have to have been considered a mercy killing ...

There is a Pretty Girl and a Handsome Dimwit American. Some Russians.

As the story went, Prince Chung lost face, his mother was killed, and -- being Chinese -- he had to commit ritual suicide, "Hairy Kerry." Moto then avowed to avenge him, and by the movie's end, there were dead bodies hither and yon, a couple of them taken out by Moto himself in as cavalierly a manner as James Bond would have done it. Burned the scrolls, too.

Harikiri? Seppuku? The Chinese? Hollywood writers apparently couldn't tell the difference between one Oriental and another -- they all look alike, you know -- and nobody seemed to care.

Apparently, the third offering in the Moto series had been written as a Charlie Chan movie, but when Warner Oland died, they changed the names and gave it to Mr. Moto. Chan's #1 son shows up in it, and I'm sure anybody who was Japanese or Chinese wondered what was up with that.

With the approach of WWII, wily Japanese detectives went out of fashion in a hurry. Peter Lorre was happy with that, wanting to move on. Casablanca. The Maltese Falcon. Arsenic and Old Lace. Muscle Beach Party ...

Several of the actors in these Moto/Chan things eventually wound up on Kung-fu on the tube, including one of the #1 sons, Keye Luke, as well Philip Ahn. Even old John Carradine guested on a couple of those.

Mr. Moto. Ah, they don't make 'em like that any more.

Thank God.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

For Dan'l

Miss Agnes

Short Heads-Up Reviews



I recently finished reading a couple novels you might find interesting. One is Lee Child's latest Jack Reacher novel, Nothing to Lose. The other is John Camp's (under his pseudonym, John Sandford) latest Lucas Davenport, Phantom Prey.

Child's character, Jack Reacher, is a former MP officer who travels about with no more than the clothes he's wearing, a toothbrush, and a bank card. A typical Reacher novel has him blow into a town, get involved in some bad situation through no fault of his own, then addressing the problem by kicking carloads of ass. If you are a Travis McGee fan, you'll recognize Reacher, since he could easily be Trav's bastard grandson. (McGee quiz of the day -- two points, but only if you can do it from memory and not by looking for it on the web: Meyer is Travis's best buddy. Who is Miss Agnes?)

Nothing to Lose is typical Reacher, the -- I think -- 12th adventure -- and Reacher makes other Competent Men look like Keystone Cops. These books are a guilty pleasure for me -- this guy fights like Mel Gibson shoots in Lethal Weapon -- great fun to watch, totally unbelievable ...

Lucas Davenport is a former cop, now working for a state agency, the Minnesota BCA -- the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension -- as an investigator, in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. He's rich, having started a computer game biz that he sold; married to a surgeon, whose name is "Weather;" a father; and has impeccable fashion sense. At one point, the Governor of the state tells him that socks and sleepwear should always be slightly gay, and he realizes this is true ...

Daveport is not nearly as invulnerable as Reacher -- he's been shot up a few times and he makes missteps, but he always gets the job done. There are eighteen "Prey" novels that center around Davenport, and a couple others that feature other cops with Davenport doing a minor role.

Camp has also written several novels featuring Kidd, a computer thief and artist, who gets mentioned in the Prey books now and again.

If you are looking for a good way to while away an evening, either of these writers are worth the trip, and if you like these books, there are enough others in the series to keep you going for a couple months.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Jade

In a discussion on Mushtaq's blog, regarding knives as dexterity tools, I was reminded of a story I heard once. I thought I'd share it:

In China, a renowned jade-carver was moved to take an apprentice. The young man, eager to learn an art and craft that was highly-respected and lucrative, showed up at the carver's house bright and early. The old man handed him a chunk of jade the size of a chicken's egg, told him to hold it in his hand, and began to talk at length about his upbringing -- his grandfather, his great-grandfather, and how he would get up each day to milk the cow, feed the horse, and do other chores on the farm.

This talk went on for a hour or so. The old carver took the jade and sent the young man home.

The next day, the apprentice showed up, and once again, the old man gave him another jade stone to hold, and told a long and -- not to put too fine a point on it -- boring story.

This went on every day for a month. The apprentice was beginning to get really pissed off at the old man. What did any of this senile blather have to do with learning anything?

Another week went by, same thing every morning: The carver would hand the young man a piece of jade and start to ramble.

Finally, after two months of this, the apprentice decided that his patience was at an end. He resolved that on the next morning, he would speak to the old carver about it, demand to be taught what he had expected to learn.

So he showed up in the morning, the old man handed him a green stone, and the boy started to speak, then stopped and frowned. He said, "This is not jade!"

The old man smiled ...

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Now, and Then ...



These days, you can get biometric locks for your front door -- works with a key, combination, or your fingerprint. Eye-readers -- retinal-pattern recognition -- are being put into airports; and vox-activated systems, using a code word or tuned to your unique voice are out there. I can make phone calls by speaking a name into my cell phone.

Face-readers, too.

When I put all these things into science fictions novels a few years ago, that's what they were, science fiction.

As a lad, there were still plenty of houses where I grew up that used spring-locks -- the classic keyhole-you-can-peep-through things that used keys unchanged since knights and castles. If you happened to lose your house key, you could hie yourself on down to Williams Five & Dime and buy, for fifteen cents, a skeleton key. There were two basic patterns, notched and solid, and with these two, you could open pretty much any residential spring-lock front door around.

My running buddies and I, circa age ten, had these keys, and we used to prowl empty houses using them. We didn't steal stuff -- probably because the houses were emtpy and there was nothing to steal -- but we liked to play at being spies and adventurers, and we did enter illegally every vacant house we could find, come summer. Never got caught, and probably we did it two dozen times in half a dozen places. Always locked up when we left, too ...

I wonder how easy that is with a modern electronic lock? Or how much fun today's computer-generation kids would think it was ... ?

Friday, June 06, 2008

So, In Honor of Obama's Victory ...

A reprise of a little tune I wrote for Steve Barnes, who brought this deficit in American big-budget movie-making to my attention. And, expecting that if Obama wins the whole shebang, things will change, the No Nookie Song, before it gets made moot ...

video

Have a Nice Day

Once again, Stephen Pastis has his finger on the pulse of the times ...

Living Here in the Future, Part 3

I have a classical (nylon string) guitar that is considered non-traditional, in that, while the top is cedar, the back and sides of the instrument are from osage orange wood.

The traditional top-of-the-line wood for such guitar bodies was for many years Brazilian rosewood. Dense, heavy, and with tonal qualities that luthiers and players like, and pretty to look upon.

Most of the sound on an unamplified guitar comes from the vibrations of the top, and these have traditionally been spruce, cedar, or certain kinds of redwood.

Braz has become an endangered species, can no longer be legally harvested from living trees, and these days, the only way to get it is from stumps, old furniture, or boards cut before the interdiction. Now and then, somebody finds a trove of sunken logs, or old church pews, and such items are much coveted, and expensive. To get a handmade guitar using good-quality Braz for the back and sides will add a thousand bucks or more to the cost from the git-go.

These days, Braz has been largely replaced by Indian rosewood, which has similar density and tonal qualities, is easier to work, and more stable. And there are others coming up -- Australian blackwood, Madagascar ebony, bubinga, koa, walnut, maple, etc. Osage orange offers, according to the luthier who made mine, a tone somewhere between Braz and Indian, and is considered a trash tree in the US.

But now, we have a new entry. Carbon fiber.

CF guitars have been around a while -- Ovation has made a steel-string with a carbon fiber back for years, and has -- I think -- a nylon-string model. But the idea of a guitar made completely from the stuff, including the soundboard, is relatively new, and certainly on the classical end.

The Blackbird version, of which there aren't many, is kind of spendy, and I haven't seen, nor had a chance to play one. I suspect that because the things will be waterproof and almost bulletproof, there will be a market for them, and they are supposed to start showing up in numbers this summer. Classical guitartsts tend to be somewhat, um, less adventurous in choosing high-end instruments. They want guitars that look like the ones Segovia played; the basic shape and sound of these has changed but little in the last few decades. Many of the changes are unseen or subtle -- double-tops, sound ports, bevels, bracing.

It will be interesting to see if the new CF's have the sound, because they won't have the look or feel.

It's kind of like Kydex for a handgun holster or knife sheath. On the one hand, such accessories are tough, long-lasting, waterproof, and relatively cheap and easy to make. On the other hand, fine leather has a feel, a look, and even a smell that attracts folks.

Glock in Kydex? Or a charcoal-blued-steel revolver in horsehide? Both have their uses, and for some, form follows function straight across. For others, the look matters.

Time will tell, I suppose ...

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Slow Learner

I have been trying to teach myself a guitar technique called tremolo. this is a repeated quick strum of a string so that it has a quavery, echo-effect. Mandolin players can wail on this using a pick, but using a classical guitar, you do it with two or three fingers.

I haven't gotten it. Probably would be helped some if I didn't keep breaking one of my damn fingernails, as I did only yesterday, fetching the laundry out of the washer to transfer to the dryer. (Real classical guitarists get out of housework this way -- sorry, honey, I can't risk breaking a nail, you know? That doesn't go 'round here, alas.)

Anyway, this is going to be my baseline vid on this technique. I'm going to record it again in six months, then at a year, and see if I have gotten any closer ...


video

Star Wars Redux

As these things sometimes do, a paperback edition of the Death Star novel has been scheduled to hit the racks in late November, just in time for Christmas shopping.

I got in today's post a few cover flats. On the flip side, it tells the who-where-what-when stuff about pub dates, author info, marketing, and notes that might convince booksellers to stock more copies. Pretty much the same cover, different slug on the back.

People who weren't willing to shell out twenty-six bucks for a hardback book are sometimes willing to plunk down a third as much for the paperback version. My own reading habits are such that there are writers I will buy in hardback because I don't want to wait for a year for the paperback; there are others for whom I will wait. It's a matter of economics -- if you can get three new paperback novels for what one hardback costs, or six used paperbacks for the same amount and you read a lot? More cost effective. I read a lot. The books I have in my house totaled up? Cost way more than my car. Probably more than we paid for this house, though not what it is worth now.

Um. The SW's hardback made the NY Times bestselling list, though not by much. We hope the pb will also do so, and maybe a little higher. The royalty rate on these is so tiny that we have to sell a whole bunch before they'll give us any more money. Plus, if you sell a lot of a title, that disposes the book stores to pick up on your next title.

What to Do Until the Messiah Comes


Couple years back, I mentioned, in a posting about playing guitar, a quote from George Emery. Emery was a member of an organization based at Sunrise Ranch, in Loveland, Colorado, the Ontologists, later to become the Emissaries of Divine Light. My wife and I heard him speak at LSU, circa 1970 or so, though that could have been '71 -- the Sixties weren't really over until Nixon resigned, and that whole period is really hard for some of us to time-bind, for a lot of reasons. Blue pill, red pills, the nature of reality ...

Emery, who had been a Methodist, left the church after eighteen years as a minister. He had a strong Bostonian accent, and his opening statement, if I recall it correctly was, "In 1965, at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago, Timothy Leary said to me, 'George, you need to take a Trip.' And so I did ..."

Emery was funny, a good speaker, and by the time he was done, we were all on our feet, linked arm-in-arm, laughing and singing and swaying side-to-side. Kumbaya, y'all ...

The crux of that speech centered around the statement: "When you know who you are, you know what to do."

The trick is, of course, figuring out that first part. The Ontologists had it that metaphysically-speaking, you already had all you needed, you just had to clear away the crud in the way it to see it. You didn't need to go to India to find yourself, you just had to clean your mirror. The truth waits for eyes unclouded by longing.

When you know who you are, you know what to do.

You know when and where to do it, and with whom.

I have found that simple, but profound, statement to be true for me -- though at times, I have wandered away and temporarily lost sight of it. (And, having the warped sense of humor that I do, I sometimes laugh and link it to the Buckaroo Banzai line, "No matter where you go, there you are." because that makes such great fun of bumper-sticker profundity. But, still ...)

In discussions of various aspects of life, the universe, and everything, I sometimes have people challenge me on why I think this or that, or how do I know I'd behave like I think I would? Truth is, you can't know anything about the future for sure, but I'm comfortable with the notion that I damn sure know more about myself than anybody else does -- and probably more about myself than a lot of folks do about themselves, being a proponent of the examined life and all -- so I can smile and shine it on. I don't have to convince them, I only have to know it for me.

It's kind of like the old martial artist challenge: "Yeah, but what would you do if I did this?" To which the answer is, "I dunno, something. Do it, and let's find out, hey?"

Getting to know who you are is a big part of life's work, least in my mind, and you might be more like sand than stone, insofar as how you shift around, but still, if you are going to have a bumper-sticker to live by, it's a pretty good one ...

Never Too Young to Rock 'n' Roll



How to Get a Groove Going

While you are there, check out his versions of "The Sultans of Swing, " and "Africa ..."

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

... and The Agony of Defeat ...

Read the responses in the previous post ...

Mr. Sardonicus -- or is it Dr. Evil?


You don't tug on Supeman's cape/
You don't swim in front of the ferry/
You don't pull a gun on the Cisco Kid/
And you don't mess around with Perry ...

But one of many, Kid, and the nicest example. In the words of Current Occupant of the White House: Bring it on ...

Non-Survival Characteristic


Thanks to Frank Aquino for passing this one along ...

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Man


has a reason to smile.

Helluva speech in Minnesota tonight. Helluva speech.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Scene from the New Book


Kane finished his lunch. He put a twenty on the table and stood. Might as well get to it.

The tail -- a stocky, balding guy who sat well, hadn’t ordered any food, but he had two beer bottles on the table in front of him and as Kane approached, he saw that those were Chimay.

Must pay well, being an undercover op.

He smiled. He’d had a buddy once -- a beer-snob -- who had loved that stuff. Had gone on and on about how wonderful it was. It was, he’d said, made in Belgium, by monks. Kane used to razz his friend about it being Nazi beer, since the Germans had occupied that country during WWII and taken over most of the industry there, including brewing. What Kane remembered about the brand was that it was over-priced, kind of stale, and highly alcoholic, two or three times as potent as regular microbrews. Portland and vicinity had a bunch of such places, and the local beers and ales were, the few times he indulged, much better than the bottled brew shipped halfway around the world to suckers willing to play premium prices for no more than bragging rights:

“Oh, yes, this is Chimay! From the loving hand of the monks in Belgium!”

As far as Kane was concerned, it tasted like it had come from a part of the monks’ anatomy somewhat farther south, and all they got right was the color ...

Kane knew that the stocky man who’d been tailing him might make a move, and he figured that he likely had some skill, so he needed to head it off.

Kane paused at the table. He looked down. “Hey, Chimay! That’s really good, isn’t it?”

The stocky man relaxed a hair. “Yes, yes, it is.” Maybe, he must figure, he hadn’t been made; Kane was just caught by the sight of the beer. Could be.

“You mind?” Kane reached out slowly and picked up one of the empty bottles, ostensibly to read the label.

Stocky started to rise. He sensed danger, but because he had drunk a couple of the potent brews, his reaction time was slow.

Kane slammed the empty bottle down on top of the man’s head. The bottle-glass was heavy -- it didn’t break.

The guy, stunned, stopped halfway up, as if puzzled.

Kane circled his arm and smacked the bottle into the guy’s temple. He collapsed, his lights out. Again, the glass held.

Good bottle. Had to give them that.

He set the empty onto the table, and headed for the door. This tail wouldn’t be following him for a while. Most of the diners missed it, and the ones who didn’t stayed in their chairs. Might be dialing 911, but by the time the police arrived, Kane would be gone, and Stocky the sleeping beer snob wasn’t going to be registering any complaints.

Kane smiled at that last thought.

Gathering of the Tribes


Bobbe Reads Aloud:

"See Jip juh-juh-jump? J-J-Jump, Jip, jump!"

My friend Mushtaq offers a space a couple times a year for non-aligned martial artists to come and play. (The non-aligned part comes from the fact that most of those who show up have gotten so disgusted with assorted organizations to which they once belonged that they quit, or set themselves up to get booted out. If you know little or nothing about martial arts and the organizations that grow up around them, know that they tend to be replete with giant egos, know-it-all attitudes, and more than a bit of back-stabbing, back-biting, slander, libel, and general stupidity.)

What this gathering does is get some of the nastier players in some of the nastier arts together, to exchange techniques -- using the term "nasty" here as a New Orleans jazzman does when he says "bad" when talking about a piano player. "Man, that cat is a bad player.")

Um. Anyway, some pictures are here: Tribes. And also here: Buzz.

I make fun of Bobbe a lot because he makes it so easy, but the picture above is of him reading from a certificate that he made honoring Buzz Smith, a kuntaw teacher of note. The Kid is okay -- when he stays away from Nazi beer.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Judgmental

I have a judgmental streak going way back. I see somebody, blam! instant opinion, based on what the Germans call Augenblick,( literally, "eye blink.")

This weekend, we took the camper and went to the coast. Dianne was exhausted from a long and difficult week at work, and even though it was going to be cloudy and cool, we have a pretty full schedule at home the next few weeks, so we decided to go for it.

So we're set up, the county park is half-empty, quiet, and a camper pulls in nearby. Guy, mid-thirties, maybe; two little girls, about nine and six. Another car pulls in behind them, and I figure it's the wife. She gets out, and I revise my opinion slightly -- it's the trophy wife.

She had long, bottle-blond hair, piled high; wore an expensive, designer sweatsuit, cut to show the navel; expensive sunglasses, not the least bit necessary. Her face was an unnatural bronze color that indicated heavy makeup or a fake tan, and had no wrinkles, so maybe Botox. I guessed her to be mid-thirties, trying to look mid-twenties. Fit, busty, trim.

After watching them set-up their camp -- a canopy over the picnic table, chairs next to the fire pit, the usual, I revised my appraisal yet again: Not a trophy wife, but a new girlfriend.

Married folks, or long-time couples, have a kind of energy about them and I didn't detect it. She was not the mother of the little girls, and the three of them took turns trying to get daddy's attention. The blond help set stuff up, but she had that helpless, clumsy look that indicated she hadn't done this particular chore before.

She could have been a fine young woman just not used to outdoorsy stuff, but my gut reaction was that she was -- not to put too fine a point on it -- a bimbo.

Well, well, Mr. Judgmental sneers down his nose again ...

If I were being fair, I'd have dropped round, said hello, and engaged them in conversation to see how accurate my assessment was. She could have been Mensa member with a Ph.D. in quantum mechanics, though a couple hours of applying makeup every morning would cut into her research time.

I did walk by with the dogs, and discovered that none of them were dog people. Generally, when I'm out with Jude and Layla, who are passing cute, dog people will come out of their RVs or trailers to say hello. Especially the guilty ones who left their dogs at home ...

Everybody has to be somewhere, and even airheads need love, so I don't begrudge the woman her right to share the communal air, but she was so dead-0n a type that it tickled me.