…in a flash of pure destruction
no one wins.
and the remains…
-Ryan Adams, “Nuclear”
Trick or treat.
It’s Halloween, in many ways my favorite day of the year. I am blessed to work for a children’s center for my fourth Halloween in five years, allowing me to delve into the holiday as much as I would want to, usually from afar, as an adult.
I could barely sleep last night. I had various projects to work on, not the least of which was putting the finishing touches on my costume. I’m going to be an elephant, in a technical reprise of 1992, my last Halloween in Oregon and really my last childhood Halloween. That was also the night of the “real” Halloween haunts, when a strange old man in the backwoods of Oregon seemed to pretend to not know what Halloween was. Either he was very confused or I was making a really good move to back slowly off of that porch when he invited me in for a real meal.
Someday when I have more time, I’ll reprint that whole dialogue. Good times. In any case, I have upgraded my hastily thrown together gray outfit with paper-plate mask and sock trunk for a new elephant-head hat and recycled gray body from a costume of Emily’s past. Em says I’m easily impressed by a decent costume. I reminded her that I used to go to grade school wearing construction paper when the mood struck me. In the rain. On St. Patrick’s Day.
As joyous as Halloween makes me, there’s more to why I’m here this morning. I have had a post percolating for awhile about the symbolic passage of summer and the road the planet is traveling on. Picture a globe whistling nervously to itself as it takes what must have been a wrong turn into a haunted wood, watching as the scene darkens, owls and ghosts come out to play, and the globe’s watch breaks.
What? Globes don’t wear watches in your imagination? Well neither do I.
Maybe it’s just me, but this article hit me like a sign of the times. For those of you who can’t believe that the second news story I’ve posted on this blog is also from Fox News, the headline reads Scientists Find Oldest Living Animal, Then Kill It. A clam off the coast of Iceland was determined to be about 407 years old. Humans killed it within minutes of finding it.
1600-2007. RIP, clam.
And maybe the ghost of a clam coming back to haunt us doesn’t make you weepy this All Hallow’s Eve. But perhaps it should scare you.
The President, continually demonstrating either immense stupidity or chilling brilliance, is babbling about World War III if Iran gets the bomb. Here’s the problem. Iran will get the bomb. Everyone will get the bomb someday. This is the nature of technology.
I know nuclear bombs are very complex. But the idea of keeping technology in limited hands, especially limited along the lines of nation-states, is antithetical to the nature of the human experience of technology. When was the last time someone said that as long as Mongolia doesn’t get toasters, everyone will be safe? Would it even make sense to keep toasters from people? Or if you don’t like that example and want weaponry, how many nation-states failed to acquire cannons (the nuclear technology of their day) within a few decades of Napoleon’s time? Or firearms in their day?
The clam was alive for the whole Napoleonic era, by the way.
Sure, there was strategic advantage enough for genocides to be carried off with aplomb. But that was before the super-wired Internet Age. Information took months where it now takes nanoseconds to travel. Technology took centuries to advance where it now takes weeks.
I want to be clear. I think proliferation of nuclear weaponry is terrible. The creation of the weaponry in the first place was unforgivable. But now that it exists, terrible or not, the proliferation of information on how to spread this technology is inevitable. It’s not a question of if, but when.
And if this terrifies you, it should scare you more that the only people vile and ruthless enough to actually use the worst weapon ever on other human beings were the first to develop it.
The clam turned 345 during Hiroshima.
So the real question, as it is always going to be with issues of war and peace, is not staying one step ahead of the curve or killing enough people who might find out how to make nuclear bombs. After all, oft-labeled “terrorist states” Pakistan and North Korea acquired the bomb and the world still exists. Note how US rhetoric on these doomsday scenarios has neatly shifted to accommodate conflicting reality.
The real issue is how to get people to not want to bomb the world into smithereens.
But that’s not what Bush, raving idiot or cold calculator, wants to talk about. He wants you to envision our whistling globe getting pounded to pulp by the ability of humans to learn and develop technology that other humans came up with 60 years ago. Dead at the hands of the mere passage of time and obviousness, like so many quadracentenarian clams.
Iran will get toasters, my friends. And everyone else too.
Someone told me it’s all happening at the ER.
A day ago at this time, I was still holed up in the charming waiting room of Kaiser’s Oakland Emergency Room. I was waiting for Emily, as I had been for more than 2 hours prior. I had read through her copy of The Economist (magazine), haphazardly, almost cover-to-cover. I hate magazines.
Note to self: next time leaving for the ER at less than breakneck speed, bring the book you’re reading.
About a month ago, I was in Albuquerque at my Dad’s (first) cataract surgery. This was not an ER and had thus been planned, but the waiting room was similar. They’re all similar. The oppressive decks of fluorescent lights, washing everything in sight to pale apathy. The drone of the TV, always tuned to the most insipid show imaginable. (Seriously. “The View” during the cataract surgery. “Dr. Phil” at the ER. At night. I didn’t even know they aired Dr. Phil at night.) At some point, someone must’ve decided that the silence mixed with buzzing of fluorescents was too brain-rattling for a waiting room, so they posted up a TV in every corner. For distraction, I suppose. But there’s something so wrong about the normalcy of a terrible TV show that just makes my focus on whatever’s going on that much worse.
But in Albuquerque, I had brought my book. And I was at least able to wander inward, become engrossed as though on a train ride, and not constantly think about what was going on and what could be going wrong. Waiting rooms could not be more aptly named. But the whole game of surviving them is to make it less about waiting and more about being. A good book is extremely good at this purpose.
Instead, I had a magazine. Magazines are the compromise where everyone loses. They are too long to be sound bites of news (especially The Economist), but too short to be narrative. They are too old to be news and too young to be history. Advertising is overwhelming and garish. The pages rip easily. I can’t stand magazines and, perhaps more than any other container of written words, I don’t understand how they are successful.
So the waiting room was a lot about waiting.
I had a pretty good sense that Emily was going to be all right, though by hour three this feeling was starting to hit some snags. I had not carried her into the ER unconscious and bleeding from the head. She had not been shot. She was not missing anything. She had walked, more or less of her own recognizance, in through the front door. We would have gone to urgent care, but urgent care closes at 7:00 and she wasn’t convinced she had to go till about 7:35. Isn’t that always the way.
What she did have was a spinning head. She kept saying that her brain felt like it was moving. She was dizzy and disoriented, sometimes dropping scarily out of touch in the middle of conversation. She kept saying her brain instead of her head. And it had happened much of the day, but gotten much worse rapidly that night. It was time to go.
When one is sitting in an ER waiting room, with little to no idea what is wrong with one’s spouse, having surrendered said spouse to the care of those who deal with everything and anything, there is a sense of heightened awareness. In taking in the idle surroundings, normally a source of mild musing and perhaps casual scrutiny, one suddenly realizes the magnitude these memories may carry on later. For someone who naturally and unconsciously examines their life as much as I do, everything is constantly being analyzed, considered, and reflected. I recalled the things I would recall if something went terribly wrong… little omens, small annoyances, distractions that led me back to worst-case scenario thoughts, and the dissonant light-board that constantly scrolled, stacked, or built up the anachronistically cheery message: WELCOME TO THE KAISER EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT.
And on page 57, more about Darfur.
And then, after 11:00, the shootings in Oakland on the late local news. It was enough to make one consider whether anyone showing up on the screen was on their way to the physical location. At least this waiting room was wisely constructed to the side of the main entrance, ensuring that we would never know.
We. There were growing fewer and fewer of us. It seemed that many people had just missed the 7:00 cut-off when we entered a nearly packed room. By 11:10, it was just about myself, a homeless man who kept starting awake, and a very calmly reserved young man who either had everything or nothing wrong with him.
The triage nurses were chatting, crossing their invisible barrier where they independently intently stared at those seeking help and instead discussing weekends and relationships and weather. Just a job. Everyone has one, and every job has regular people in it. I will remember this, I knew (if something goes wrong). I will forever be bitter at the nurses who were just living life when.
And then my jacket pocket started shaking. It wasn’t an earthquake, or even the end of the world. It was Emily’s phone, which she’d insisted on leaving me, so that she could give them a number to call. Everyone has a cell phone nowadays. Emily has two. I have zero.
It was Emily. She was okay, even sounding relieved. She was on her way out.
She has vertigo. It is almost certainly not a prelude to a stroke. But, the doctors said, it was one or the other. And given those choices, it was good we came in. After all, she has never had vertigo or any symptoms thereof in her life. It is rare for this to start out of nowhere. Rare, but most fortunate when compared to.
Emily wants Drew Tirrell and Dan Stafford and even Pete Lee to know that she has a newly profound sympathy for them and their plight. Vertigo sounds like a bit of a trumped-up malady to most. It is an easy joke. Far too easy to ape and to question. Em described it as “just about the worst feeling in the world” early this morning.
No way of knowing if it’s permanent or temporary. Most likely the latter, but everything starts sometime. For now, she’s not driving and is taking work slowly. Getting up and lying down remain impossibly discombobulating. The medicine does little to nothing noticeable.
But it’s all good, relatively speaking. I can forgive the nurses their banter. I can let go of the grains of red sand building to the word WELCOME. I can watch “Dr. Phil” again (though, why?) or even the late local news.
Because nights like this, like last night, they’re run-throughs. I have often distilled the fairness we are given in this lifetime down to this: We all (almost all) will either die prematurely or watch our loved ones die before us. Or some combination of a bit of both. This is the curious curse of existence on Earth, our blessed gift of tragic learning.
There are a few, several standard deviations out, who may watch everyone they love be slaughtered and then be killed at age 7. And some who pass at 89, just before everyone they ever cared for.
But almost all of us have the same lot.
So it’s a run-through. It may not be Emily, ever. But if not, it will probably be me for her. It may not be for years. It may be tomorrow.
So there’s something to be said for the experience. And for thanking God it’s not tonight.
On my walk home from Glide each day, I pass by the back end of the Hilton. The Hilton on the edge of San Francisco’s Tenderloin is a gargantuan 46-story hotel that Wikipedia tells me is the largest lodging facility (1,911 rooms) on the West Coast. There’s a joke around Glide’s disaster preparation circles about “depending on which way the Hilton falls” in the event of the Big One. If the Hilton, across the street from our main building, falls west, everything becomes a lot less relevant in our preparation.
The block covered by the back end of this monstrous hotel is also the block of “no-man’s land” that separates the Tenderloin from the high-end tourist district denoted by the Powell Street cable car turn-around and Union Square. That only one long block can separate these worlds (and that I cross between both every day) is an endless source of wonder for me. And the Hilton’s back end, replete with a massive loading bay and three full dumpsters, makes an eerily quiet neutral zone to secure this distance.
Not only do large stocks of brand-name food and drink come in and endless supplies of eternally foul-smelling refuse go out, but the back-side of the Hilton is also the designated smoking area for staff. No small number of them enjoy smoke breaks while seated on the immense marblesque blocks at the base of the structure. Sometimes they even push back on these blocks to nestle themselves almost invisibly between or behind the oversized pots for plants and trees that adorn this area. There is an insipid illustration on the wall of the “Team Member Entrance” of the Hilton at the center of the back-end, showing servility heightened to a virtue in a row of uniformed staff members. The live people, fortunately, tend to have a bit more spunk. Though sometimes one can detect exactly how their soul is being squeezed up out of their windpipe, and how much longer they can keep it down.
Amidst the descending fog and spirit of premature nightfall on this particular night (that would’ve been the first weeknight of real darkness, were it not for Congress’ determination to ruin Halloween and our Outlook calendars with an extra week of so-called Daylight Saving), I was somewhat heartened and even comforted by the thought of some two- to four-thousand souls bedding up for a long autumn night in that hotel as I walked by. Of course they weren’t yet bedding up at all, but the fleeting thought in my mind took me to one of my strange professional fascinations. Namely, to be a Night Manager in a hotel.
I have had many such fascinations (let’s not quite call them fantasies – that word implies a whole lot more than is involved in these particular fancies) over the course of a quarter-century of conscious life. Being a farmer is a big one, one that still tugs on the heartstrings sometimes despite my overall distaste for physical labor. Baseball player comes to mind. Rock star. But Hotel Night Manager might trump all the rest. Well, except baseball player.
With a few profound exceptions, being a Hotel Night Manager is a serene experience. There is quiet in everything. One has time to breathe, to read, to observe. Contact is incidental and completely devoid of context – the people who are staying in hotels are living a life outside of life, and one gets to live along with them. For the HNM, these contacts are predominantly insomniacs, lovers, the inconsolable, and the weariest or most spontaneous of travelers. Stellar company, altogether, perhaps a list of my ideal chosen cohorts.
It should be noted that this particular desire is not centered in a hotel like the Hilton – I can’t imagine there is just one HNM there, nor that any of them get much ease or quiet. It’s much more pictured in an idyllic hotel setting: a swanky but small downtown establishment, a National Park lodge, the La Fonda in Santa Fe, or perhaps the stereotypical New England inns (see “Newhart”, “Gilmore Girls”, Hotel New Hampshire). The La Fonda would be ideal. But there’s only one place like that in the world.
No small part of this daydream is encompassed in my own love of hotel lobbies, like the ones listed above, at night. The first inspirations for taking interest in such a job were probably little beyond spending many late hours in a wonderful hotel lobby and observing the Night Manager. It had to occur to me many times, as I turned the next page or chatted idly with a friend, that the only difference between us was that they were dressed up and got paid, while I could go to bed whenever I wanted.
Often, I didn’t want. One of these key hotel lobby moments that springs to mind is in Baltimore in May of 1997. It was not exactly a good time in my life. I was at Catholic Nationals, the next-to-last debate tournament of my year, and I had all 5 preliminary rounds the next day. I couldn’t sleep and I had no desire to. The lobby of the hotel (my kingdom to recall its name) was gorgeous, and I spent hours with a walkman borrowed from Barrett watching the activity therein slowly dwindle and pondering what had become of my existence. I got not a minute of sleep. The tournament the next day swirled in slow surreality. Between rounds 3 and 4, someone started up a pickup baseball game on the pristine grass quad of the prep school hosting the tourney, and I got to live out two of my professional aspirations at once, never to be fulfilled. I debated well, but fell just short of the break rounds. They counted ballots and not rounds (3 judges in each round), and I would’ve made it had they just counted rounds. Or maybe it was the other way around. Barrett broke. The next day I would spend one of the most solitary days of my time on this planet at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, wondering how low the needle could go.
For all my dislike of corporations, there are some that I must admit provide a necessary service. Hotels must be one of these, though nice ones cause concern for my conscience. This does not mean, however, that I could ever really bring myself to spend significant time or energy advancing the will of a corporation (even a hotel) when there is so much else to be done in this lifetime.
Maybe. After all, the job would be a lot like bartending. Endless fodder of experience and conversation for the books.
But sooner than that, I have to get writing those books already. So the lobby will have to wait.
Sleep well, Hilton.
It’s a bit of a cliche in my family (both families, I suppose – that which I share with my parents and that which I share with Emily) that Sunday night is a dreadful time to be conscious. I expect this is hardly unique to any of the families which I could claim, even (perhaps) the human family. Even if you like your job, you probably don’t like Sunday night. Maybe because it reminds you of Sunday nights before you liked your job. Or maybe because no matter how much you enjoy your job, it’s still inferior to unfettered freedom.
I mostly enjoyed my job last week, for the first time in a while. I still didn’t enjoy last night.
Then there was the compounding factor – the Red Sox’ sweep of the Rockies that wrapped up at the same time. I’m sure this dulled the pain for a good deal of my friends, but I was actually rooting for Colorado. Somehow the combination of leaving Boston and 2004’s World Series has taken the teeth out of my Red Sox fandom, and who doesn’t like the Rockies? Especially this year. Though for the first time in, say, three years, I actually liked both teams involved. Before 2004, we have to go back to 1993 (Blue Jays/Phillies) to find a Series where I didn’t dislike at least one of the teams in the Fall Classic. And in ’04, I at least had a clear rooting interest. So this Series was certainly a luxury, and I still didn’t mind watching the Beantowners frolicking on the field.
But it was a disappointment. And a sweep? Was that really necessary? At least it was a close game.
So now we’re without baseball. It’s only four months till Spring Training and five till the regular season again, but watching Bill Bavasi’s off-season moves is going to make it seem so much longer. Or make me wish it were. I can’t wait till we sign some washed-up starting pitcher for $42 million a year. Maybe Steve Trachsel will be available. Or Dave Dravecky.
And we’re almost fresh out of October. I’m not really ready to let go of the month yet. Clinging to the familiar themes, Em and I went to Six Flags on Saturday for their annual “Fright Fest”. After meaning to go for years, there was really no excuse during the year which we owned season passes. It wasn’t quite a disappointment, but it could’ve stood to be spookier. I got funnel cake and three rides on the swings, though, and I was in a mood to wander around crowds at night.
But oh, Sunday, you just seem to take the life out of things.
There seems to be some sort of conflict in approaching weekends between the idea of relaxing and the idea of “doing something”. And the more one tries to do something, the less one can relax, and the less it feels like “having a weekend”. When it feels like work to have a weekend, one isn’t really having a weekend at all. But it’s almost worse to sit around and try to enjoy a Sunday where one does next to nothing. The paradox seems uniquely Sunday’s. Because even if one does nothing on Saturday, there’s a day’s worth of padding to follow.
And you’ll note that I have yet, in the history of this blog, to post on a Sunday.
I used to escape this dilemma by working 16 hours a day on Sunday. And Saturday never quite felt like Sunday during the Seneca era, though the dread of Saturday night was very real. This is the first full-time work setup where I’ve actually had traditional Sunday nights, between working 6 days/week, Seneca, or working from home. And I’m not about to become the spokesman.
The irony remains that one can often make better use of free time during workdays than one can during the weekend. Something about valuing it more and having to make good use of limited time. Which is one of the only things making me question the possible Next Big Step (TM) in this life. Though I have a more positive model (Summer 2001) than my fears.
Of course, we all know what happened when that ended.
Maybe I should start using Sundays as mini-Summer 2001’s. They can’t get any harder to get a handle on than they already are.
That sentence is just awkward enough to convey what I feel.
It’s in the game.
MVP 2005 is widely recognized by those who are obsessed with baseball video games (most of my friends) as the best baseball video game ever made. The only reason that we have not gone on to anoint EA-constructed games MVP 2006 and MVP 2007 as eclipsing this game is because they weren’t made. After the 2005 season of games, MLB sold their baseball license exclusively to 2K (for the next decade, I think), and we’ve been left to play 2005 forever. It’s fine, though, because MVP 2005 lets you play through 120 seasons and that’s enough to keep one plenty occupied. Plus, savvy people are releasing roster updates for the computer version every year.
I, however, play on the PS2. And until recently, I’d been following a very predictable and stable pattern of sports video games. In the first season (in this case, obviously, 2005), I win the World Series on a relatively easy (but not the easiest) level. For 2006, I upgrade to the next level and, again, win the WS, but winning far fewer games. For 2007, I upgrade to the highest difficulty (in this case, the eponymous MVP level). Normally, I would expect to make the playoffs barely or just miss them, and probably have to wait till 2008 to return to a world title.
However, my ’07 Mariners, built into grandeur by the reputation of back-to-back championships and intelligent front office management (I’m coming for your job, Bavasi!) are 5-36.
It’s not even like I’m getting better. After a dismal 4-22 (.154) April, I am 1-14 (.067) in May.
I have tried everything. I have tried taking almost every pitch, not swinging till I have 2 strikes. I have tried starter-by-committee, where no one is allowed to pitch more than 3 innings. I have lost plenty of 1-run games, including a back-to-back 2-1, 1-0 set of losses that were so profoundly frustrating because the pitching was actually good. Loss #36, incurred this morning, extending a losing streak to 10 games, was 13-5. 5 runs would have been good enough to win any of the 4 previous games.
I even get thrown out of about 25-30% of games lately (usually in very late innings), which is consistent with a real situation in which defending champions who brought their same starting 5 pitchers back for the next season (in this case, Mark Mulder, Randy Johnson, Joel Piniero [but good], Curt Schilling, and Gil Meche) would be like. I just got an e-mail from my front office warning me of a possible firing if I don’t turn things around. After all, my team is rated to be the 5th-best in the majors, with the 3rd-best pitching and the best speed.
This is mind-numbingly frustrating in a way that video games almost never are. I adore this video game, putting it in an echelon with Civilization and SimCity, maybe DAoC, and trumping all prior baseball video games. This is the baseball game I always wanted to be playing, from the days of the Miller Associates all-text adventure and my hand-held 2-player game I used to play with friends on car rides to Seattle. It has everything, from detailed general management to management to stunning graphics. It has taken out most every other video game for the better part of a year, even securing the cessation of my addiction to Dark Age.
And yet, I hate it. I hate playing it. It is really not fun to lose 88% of the time. Even the Mariners never did that in real life.
So I now go through this weird Pavlovian shocking situation every time I want to play video games. I immediately want to play MVP (even after exactly 365 regular season games, plus 6 rounds of playoffs), but then recall how aggravating the experience has been. I usually end up turning it on, only to wonder why when I contemplate breaking my controller over my knee after swinging at a terrible pitch, or screaming swear words after giving up another homerun that was barely a strike deep in the opposing hitter’s cold zone.
I hit up Russ, grand guru of this game, for some advice, since he has been winning championships on MVP mode while having 5 players break the home-run record in the same season. He gave advice that was good at getting most games down to being close, but still not being enough to, say, win more than one game out of 15.
At this point, I am cleanly torn between trying to reap the benefits of hating my favorite video game (more time for other more productive pursuits) and switching back to the last level at some point in the season to see if I can claw my way out of this colossally deep cellar.
But video games usually take up free time when I wouldn’t otherwise be productive (probably like drinking-alcohol-time for most people). And if I hate this enough, I will find another one to play. So when is the right time to switch back? I was originally going to wait till the All-Star break, but I somehow think hitting the halfway point with 11 or 12 wins is going to be questionable. Even by switching to the easy mode, it would be hard to salvage respectability from that point.
Maybe at 50 losses. If they don’t fire me first.
But the bacteria are coming
to take us down
that’s my prediction
it’s the answer to this culture
of the quick-fix prescription.
-Ani DiFranco, “Garden of Simple”
I think I have a staff infection.
No, not a staph infection. I’m fond of plays on words. People are freaking out about something that resists drugs, because it’s what people themselves can’t do. Drugs are almost universal, they infect almost everyone. Something that can resist drugs is the scariest thing we can fathom. No wonder I’ve always been interpreted as intimidating.
Yeah, it’s that kind of mood today. I’m torn asunder somewhere between righteous fury and complete apathy. Between leading a rally of one into the center of the earth and demanding to speak to the “leader” and crawling into a hole with water, a book, and a prayer of survival. Everything seems stark and vivid, like a world of sharp high-contrast shadows. Not a form in sight. Not a shade of gray. Someone flipped the scanner setting from grayscale to monochrome.
I initially couldn’t think of anything to write about this morning, but it seemed there was nothing more important I could do with my time. I took a shower, hoping for inspiration. All I found was the same self-inflicted diatribe on leadership, the lack of it, and how the natural traps of age and capitalism combine to imprison us all. We should try twenty years where all the Presidential candidates have to be under 35 years old and see where we get. Or have to act like it. This isn’t about straight-line age, any more than it’s about anything else simple. I know 20-somethings who act like they’re 60. I’ve met at least a few people over 70 who think they’re 25.
I like scary movies. It’s October, after all. A couple weeks ago, before all the good movies came out, I dragged Emily to “The Last Winter”. It was terrible (though not, as she dubbed it, “the worst movie ever”). The central issue causing the horror was the issue of the Earth fighting back and expunging the human virus. It would’ve been a lot scarier if they hadn’t manifested this desire through the form of ethereal ghost-caribou whose most fearsome weapons were snarling and pointing their antlers.
But apparently the planet is fighting back with resistance that would make the Democrats look strong. 18 inches of ocean in 93 years! It’s going to be really hard to adjust to that. A veritable tsunami. Somehow, I don’t think that was quite the nature of Noah’s flood of legend. Fearsome retribution comes for all those who stand in the same place for a long lifetime.
And maybe that’s the lesson, and the only metaphor we can hope to grab here. Don’t stand in the same damn place. Don’t stand in the doorways, don’t block up the halls. Maybe we won’t be drenched to the bone, but I guess our knees could get wet. What does it take to make people take themselves, each other, some sort of composite reality seriously? Allegedly a bunch of millionaires are coming together in a stadium in San Diego, uniting in the common bond of their losses. I suppose it’s a start.
The BART train is whistling down from Richmond, calling me to another day of head-butting walls as hard as I can. My only regret is that I have but one skull to give for this lifetime. If anyone has a helmet, drop me a line.
I have spent the better part of the last 2.5 hours finally updating the list for OMBFP. (This stands for One Million Blogs for Peace, but I really only call it OMBFP. That’s how I roll.)
Anyway, updating this list for the first time since 9 September (read: +67 blogs), laboriously copying and pasting into my detailed database (read: spreadsheet), and sifting through the attempted splog signatories (read: many many cialis many) has transformed my mood from, say, somber and reflective to, perhaps, giddy and punchy. (I seem to really lack a giddy-n-punchy post here as yet, but parts of this are close.)
So I was wending my way towards the end of my computer evening by doing my last nightly round-up of websites, many of them to see how the Blue Pyramid’s doing today. (Despite this blog’s resurgence, October is a way down month after a banner September and a very good August.) And I got this post as one of the recent updates, which of course reminds me of the fact that if you type in “best books ever” on Google and click I’m feeling lucky, you get the list I made. And not even the updated list I made or the good list I made with tens of other people. It’s this list I made in 1998. For years now, that has been Google’s definitive #1 answer to the question of what the best books ever are. With quotes or without. Rain or shine. Lucky or discerning. And boom.
The irony? About the not being widely read in fiction (yet) but my opinion on books is my great Google success? Oh yeah.
You’d be amazed at how often people try to find the “best books ever”. A lot. Just since switching to my new servers on 3 October, people have headed for the BP after searching for best books ever 1,095 times, best books of all time 325 times, best books ever written 240 times, greatest books of all time 110 times, and greatest books ever written 83 times. There are seven more similar search strings with 50+ times.
Why me? To what do I owe this bestowal of random authority on books?
One of the only things I’ve ever been able to discern about this supernaturally high ranking (a cool 142 million sites show up for best books ever) is that my posting of this to the web on 22 February 1999 just gave me “dibs”. (Someday I will again be able to think of this phrase and not think of the crunchy ice cream snack. Curse you, Dreyers, for replacing my thoughts of swell 50’s-era phraseology!) I got in the door first, and everyone had to get in line behind me. This is not exactly how search engines work, but it’s close to some principles thereof. It hasn’t held up for the quizzes as much, which have flirted with front-page rankings and since subsided. But dibs in 1999 and dibs in 2003 are way different animals. Ice cream aside. (Incidentally, Dibs the ice cream has overtaken Wikipedia’s article on dibs the calling-aide for the coveted I’m Feeling Lucky spot for dibs. I wonder if they called dibs.)
There has to be more to it than getting in the door first, though. And I think a lot of it has to do with people being afraid of using a term so definitive as “best books ever written”. There has been much made throughout my educational history of it being intellectually savvy to equivocate. It occasionally backfires for politicians, but it’s quite sound for an academic. As long as one is willing to hem and haw, to go back and forth, and to constantly modify every statement (“‘I’ statements, please!”) with qualifiers, then one can’t possibly be driven off their point, however watered down into oblivion. I, being an extremist, had no problem dubbing (note: not dibbing) my list with an incredibly over-the-top phrase. (Though note again, not without some self-awareness, in tacking on the all-important “(More or Less)” to the back end of the list. See, that’s being able to laugh at yourself while still being an extremist! Note also that, to date, not a soul has found the BP by searching for the phrase more or less.)
The point is that anyone else who was willing to make a list of 100 books that they thought were the peachy-keenest (peachiest-keen?) would also be very careful to moderate their title for it so it seemed reasonable. And so it was probably years until anyone else went grandiose on their title. And by then, they had to get in the back of the line.
Not all of my Googular victories are so coveted. It’s possible the Weakerthans already had some inkling of who I was, because I’ve topped the list for weakerthans setlist since shortly after the show in SF in December ’04. Depending on whether you put a space in setlist (please, sir, can I have more semantics?), there are only 5k-19k competitors. I get both, despite the words “set” and “list” not appearing separately in the aforementioned setlist. Google is getting smarter.
Despite feeling so lucky here, only 8 times has someone landed at the BP after searching that string (this October).
I was pleased to note just today that I also top the list for 2008 presidential ticket, mostly (I would surmise) because of the ungainly nature of that phrase. Despite the election year fervor, this string shows up less than a quarter-million times on the interwebs. And I named a quiz after it!
It’s also worth noting, though (lest I feel too lucky), that not once this October, but twice, someone has shown up at the BP after entering the following words into Google:
the parralel between jim crow and to kill a monking bird
Maybe it’s time to start a third incarnation of the Search of the Week. That or start investing in the acquisition and sale of monking birds. I hear they’re like crows.
My father had his second cataract surgery today. There were complications. In the dormant period of time between Introspection and StoreyTelling, you may have missed the fact that I attended his first cataract surgery, an unfettered success. Both were held in Albuquerque, and we decided to forgo me making a second trip because the first went so smoothly. No matter the ridiculousness, one feels a certain amount of responsibility for something like this.
A friend is having communications today. There are complications. In the dormant period of time between Introspection and StoreyTelling, you may have missed the fact that this friend visited Berkeley and imparted to me tales of a series of life-changing events. It seems I am uniquely placed in this world to help this person through this struggle and, in so doing, find another reason for what has transpired in my life. I used to say “happened to me”. I almost did again. One starts to take a certain amount of responsibility for something like this.
Hillary Clinton is running for President today. She is a woman and a Democrat. But she is also complicated. She typifies neither women, nor Democrats, if anyone does. And what would that even mean? I am not prone to doing anything other than laughing at FoxNews, which makes it all the more chilling that they are the source of one of the most compelling political articles I’ve ever read. The man writing it is a libertarian, coming from a vantage point I have significant distaste for. Yet there is something deeply common in our perspectives that allows us to see through all this absurdity of partisan illusion and realize that Clinton is Bush. And Bush is Bush. And Bush is Clinton. And when Hillary extends the dynasty’s reign over America past the twenty-year mark, will anyone take responsibility for this?
My Dad is okay. He had an allergic reaction and is due for a rough night, but the morning’s return visit should fix everything. And my friend will be okay as well, through the choppy surf of sine curves that eventually ease, but never subside. Hillary will be more than fine, but what of the rest of us? Note the definitive tone that Balko uses toward the end of the article, despite raising electoral vulnerabilities of Hillary, taking solace in what will be fun to watch in the destined presidency ahead.
We all like to tell ourselves stories. Things are easy, straightforward, simple, monochrome. There are good guys and bad guys, and we are all good guys. There are villains out to get us, but we can stay strong and triumph.
The truth is a lot muddier than that. Ariel once told me, I think paraphrasing a more well-known source, that one’s “friends are just assholes you like.” I think there’s something to that, although I might be more tempted by “one’s enemies are just people you hate.” It’s complicated.
Doctors, lovers, and Democrats are not here to save us. They are not perfect people, blessed by the right holy hands, ready to bestow their graces in turn on an otherwise hopeless population. They are corruptible, fallible, often terrible people. And getting sick, being betrayed, voting Republican – these are not the unmitigated vices they may seem. Surely they hurt. But sometimes pain is our only hope of positive change.
As we were setting up for our Second Annual Pumpkin-Carving Extravaganza at the house on Saturday, our neighbor intoned in a horrified whisper: “You’re not going to light those, are you?” I choked back a hundred wry comments to instead mumble something about “not during the day…” only to quickly cover it with “We’ll be careful.” She replied with paranoia about fires and thinly veiled threats of police action. For candles. In pumpkins. On Halloween.
Even that which we take for granted is complicated.
But it was my father who told me at a young age that what makes the phrase “Love thy neighbor” so compelling is the fact that one tends to have a really obnoxious neighbor. You might get along well with the whole neighborhood, but there’s that one neighbor… And until recently, this probably wasn’t even her. But love? What’s love got to do with it?
Compassion for complication. Today, it may be our only hope.
My thoughts are scattered and they’re cloudy.
The Blue Pyramid, despite the fact that it’s still deciding what exactly it wants to do with itself and where it’s going next, is quite popular according to Technorati. And Technorati should know. But despite spending at least a week with its listing as being in the coveted Top 100 of Technorati blogs, it still fails to actually show up on this list. It should be about 71st, they say. But it isn’t.
This could be due to many factors, including the gut-check reality that the Blue Pyramid itself is not, strictly speaking, a blog. But this isn’t keeping it from being listed as one anyway. In any event, I will be happy with the BP for exceeding the likes of Andrew Sullivan and CNN’s Political Ticker and Cute Overload.
I really wanted to post yesterday. It was one of those dramatic crazy days where most of the people one knows have become pod-people overnight, often losing their self-awareness in the process. Everyone was able to recognize that it was a tremendously weird day, but also insisted on finding organic reasons for the problem. Including it being close to “the holidays”.
Not even in my world, where Halloween reigns supreme, are we close to “the holidays”.
So what is it about October, anyway?
I spent too much of the other morning and last night trying to track down a foreword or afterword from Ray Bradbury where he succinctly cuts through so much of the October mystique. Bradbury, already my favorite author when I read the passage the first time, cut through so much of what I’d felt about October my whole life in a single series of passages, with bone-jangling clarity. I was taken aback and, like the Watership Down passage I quoted a few days ago, it has stayed in the back of my mind ever since.
But try as I might, especially in a dedicated quest last night, I couldn’t find it among any of my seemingly endless Bradbury tomes on the shelves. Granted, our books are still disorganized 20 months after moving into our current apartment, so searching is not as straightforward or likely to be fruitful. I searched about twelve times through The October Country (the man has a book about October and it’s not in there?!) and just got frustrated.
I went and updated my Facebook profile. Facebook asked me for favorite quotes. All I could think of was the increasingly resonant line from “Magnolia” (the movie), “The book says we may be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with us.”
I went back to the bookshelf. Yestermorrow seemed like an impossible longshot, but let’s give it a go. All I found, buried against the spine like it was trying to hibernate through a long winter, was a movie ticket on page 5 from a special theater showing at Century Rio of “Gone with the Wind” from 7/26/98.
Today, I almost thought it was the prologue from Something Wicked this Way Comes. But it wasn’t quite extensive or thorough as I remember. It might be the one I was remembering, buffeted by the continual references to the seeping of the October world into one’s mind in a novel set entirely in the last week of this pivotal month.
But I somehow don’t think it was. And I still can’t find it.
There is something in this fruitless search that is like the month of October itself. Elusive, frustrating, and yet exciting and seeming perhaps more monumental than it really is. I tried to put some ghost lights up next to my pumpkin lights today at work. They flickered and died shortly after being hung. They spent much of the morning going on and off at will. Now they’re just off.
They are ghosts, after all.
Perhaps I can substitute Bradbury’s exposition on October with my own attempt to capture this fleeting spirit in Loosely Based (not coincidentally the opening paragraph of Chapter Thirteen): “It was the first night in October, but Matt would’ve bet money that it was the last. He had a sense of foreboding that could easily be associated with Halloween, with the prowling night and its wayward spooks. Leaves had already begun to flee the trees, and a large branch, now barren, swung between a lamppost outside his dorm window, leaving a continual silhouette against the cloth shade. The outlines of this haunting shadow were just visible in the descending night, as darkness fell a hair earlier on this eastern side of the building.”
Things come alive in October. That life you always knew you were living, but couldn’t quite place amongst the day-to-day comes ricocheting out of its cocoon at 120 miles an hour, knocking everything in its path sideways. You are in its path, and go sideways, and suddenly see how it was all supposed to be all along, horizontal turned vertical. Sick to your stomach, you wonder why every day can’t be like this, why everything is half-asleep and tepid. After three days of it, you burn for the tepid, or anything calmer and slower than this.
Yesterday, I was burning. Today, the tepidity is challenging me with its own brand of fiery madness. It’s like 2002 has smashed right into 2007. And why not? Five years. Is it time to let go of this phase, this chapter, this repackaged but lucrative version of time in the seat? If I didn’t respect it in school, why do I respect it here? Because I have the illusion of more control and of change? Because I like feeling part of something larger, with many hands on deck? Because a little bit of schedule seems like the only anchor between me and a life of Octobers?
The baseball commercials remind me “There’s only one October.” And how. This is my twenty-eighth, and I promise you they’re all the same.